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Today in Black History, 9/28/2012

• September 28, 1785 David Walker, abolitionist and author of “David Walker’s Appeal,” was born in Wilmington, North Carolina. Walker moved to Boston, Massachusetts during the 1820s where he served as the local distributor of “Freedom’s Journal,” a weekly abolitionist newspaper, and began to speak and write against slavery and racism. In 1828, he joined the Massachusetts General Colored Association which was committed to promoting the interest and rights of African Americans. In 1829, Walker published a 76 page pamphlet entitled “Walker’s Appeal, in Four Articles; Together with a Preamble, to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America.” In the appeal, Walker argued that African Americans suffered more than any other people in the history of the world and called for immediate, universal, and unconditional emancipation. He also openly praised enslaved people who used violence in self-defense against their masters and overseers and suggested that enslaved people kill their masters in order to gain freedom. Many historians believe that this was the first written assault on slavery and racism to come from a black man in the United States. Southern slave owners labeled the pamphlet seditious and placed a price on Walker’s head. On June 28, 1830, Walker was found dead on the doorsteps of his home.

• September 28, 1833 Lemuel Haynes, the first African American to serve as pastor of a white congregation, died. Haynes was born July 18, 1753 in West Hartford, Connecticut. At the age of five months, Haynes was given over to indentured servitude and remained until he was freed at 21. After being freed, Haynes joined the minutemen and served during the Revolutionary War. After the war, he began to write extensively, criticizing the slave trade and slavery as an institution. He wrote “liberty is equally precious to a Black man, as it is to a White one, and bondage is equally as intolerable to the one as it is to the other.” By the early 1780s, Haynes had become a leading Calvinist minister and starting in 1783 ministered to Rutland’s West Parish for 30 years. In 1804, Middlebury College granted Haynes an honorary Master of Arts degree, the first advanced degree bestowed upon an African American. The home that Haynes lived in the last 11 years of his life in South Granville, New York was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1975. His biography, “Black Puritan, Black Republican: The Life and Thought of Lemuel Haynes, 1753 – 1833” was published in 2003.

• September 28, 1864 Richard Berry Harrison, actor, teacher, and lecturer, was born in London, Ontario, Canada, the son of formerly enslaved parents who had escaped to Canada via the Underground Railroad. As a young man, Harrison moved to Detroit, Michigan and began dramatic studies at the Detroit Training School of Dramatic Arts. From 1892 to 1896, Harrison traveled the country performing as a dramatic reader. His repertoire included works from Shakespeare and the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar. Harrison became well known for playing “de Lawd” in the play “The Green Pastures.” The play opened on Broadway in 1930 and he appeared in over 1,650 performances. This was his only professional appearance in a play. Harrison also taught elocution and dramatic courses at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College. In 1931, Harrison received the NAACP Spingarn Medal and in 1934 was awarded an honorary Master of Arts degree by Howard University and honorary doctorate degrees in dramatic literature by North Carolina A&T and Lincoln University. He was featured on the cover of Time Magazine on March 4, 1935, days before his death on March 14, 1935. The Richard B. Harrison Library in Raleigh, North Carolina, Richard B. Harrison High School in Blytheville, Arkansas, and the Richard B. Harrison Auditorium at North Carolina A&T are named in his honor. The book, “De Lawd: Richard B. Harrison and the Green Pastures” was published in 1986.

• September 28, 1868 The Opelousas, Louisiana massacre started when three local white men beat-up a young white abolitionist named Emerson Bentley who was registering black men to vote. When local black men came to his rescue, 12 of them were arrested by the sheriff, taken to jail, and hung that night. In the next few days, bands of armed whites scoured the countryside killing blacks in what was described as a “Negro hunt.” It is estimated that 200 blacks were killed in the fields and swamps surrounding Opelousas.

• September 28, 1895 The National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. was formed in Atlanta, Georgia, representing the successful merger of the Foreign Mission Baptist Convention (organized in 1880), the American National Baptist Convention (organized in 1886), and the Baptist National Education Convention (organized in 1893). Today the convention has over 41,000 churches and over 8.3 million members. It is the second largest Baptist organization in the world after the Southern Baptist Convention.

• September 28, 1914 Christian Abraham Fleetwood, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, died. Fleetwood was born July 21, 1840 in Baltimore, Maryland. He received his early education in the office of the secretary of the Maryland Colonization Society, went briefly to Liberia and Sierra Leone, and graduated in 1860 from Ashmun Institute (now Lincoln University). After the Civil War started, Fleetwood enlisted in the 4th Regiment United States Colored Infantry and was given the rank of sergeant. On September 29, 1864, his regiment participated in the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm outside of Richmond, Virginia. His actions during the battle earned him the medal, America’s highest military decoration. Fleetwood was awarded the medal April 6, 1865 and his citation reads, “Seized the colors, after 2 color bearers had been shot down, and bore them nobly through the fight.” After the war, Fleetwood was instrumental in organizing the Colored High School Cadet Corps of the District of Columbia in 1888. He served as their instructor until 1897 and developed a tradition of military service among the young men which led some of them to enlist during World War I. Fleetwood’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

• September 28, 1918 Freddie Stowers, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was killed in action. Stowers was born January 12, 1896 in Sandy Springs, South Carolina. He was drafted into the United States Army in 1917 and by this date was serving as a corporal in Company C, 371st Infantry Regiment, 93rd Division. His actions on this date earned him the medal, America’s highest military decoration. His citation partially reads, “His company was the lead company during the attack on Hill 188, Champagne Marne Sector, France, during World War I. A few minutes after the attack began, the enemy ceased firing and began climbing up onto the parapets of the trenches, holding up their arms as if wishing to surrender. The enemy’s actions caused the American forces to cease fire and to come out into the open. As the company started forward and within 100 meters of the trench line, the enemy jumped back into their trenches and greeted Corporal Stowers’ company with interlocking bands of machine gun fire and mortar fire causing well over fifty percent casualties. Faced with incredible enemy resistance, Corporal Stowers took charge, setting such a courageous example of personal bravery and leadership that he inspired his men to follow him in the attack. With extraordinary heroism and complete disregard of personal danger under devastating fire, he crawled forward leading his squad toward an enemy machine gun nest, which was causing heavy casualties to his company. After fierce fighting, the machine gun position was destroyed and the enemy soldiers were killed. Displaying great courage and intrepidity, Corporal Stowers continued to press the attack against a determined enemy. While crawling forward and urging his men to continue the attack on a second trench line, he was gravely wounded by machine gun fire. Although Corporal Stowers was mortally wounded, he pressed forward, urging on the members of his squad, until he died. Inspired by the heroism and display of bravery of Corporal Stowers, his company continued the attack against incredible odds, contributing to the capture of Hill 188 and causing heavy enemy casualties.” Shortly after his death, Stowers was recommended for the Congressional Medal of Honor, but the recommendation was never processed. In 1990, the Department of the Army conducted a review and the Stowers recommendation was discovered. After an investigation of the circumstances of his death, on April 24, 1991 President George H. W. Bush presented the medal to Stowers’ two sisters. The Stowers review led to another army study in 1992 which found that several African Americans deserving of the Congressional Medal of Honor during World War II had not received it because of bias on the part of the Decorations Board. Freddie Stowers Elementary School in Ft. Benning, Georgia is named in his honor.

• September 28, 1922 William Joseph Seymour, minister and initiator of the Pentecostal religious movement, died. Seymour was born May 2, 1870 in Centerville, Louisiana. As a young man, Seymour was exposed to various Christian traditions. In 1905, he heard the Pentecostal message for the first time and developed the belief in speaking in tongues as a confirmation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. From 1906 to 1909, Seymour conducted the “Azusa Street Revival” which drew thousands of worshippers. Seymour rejected racial barriers in favor of “unity in Christ” and also rejected barriers to women in church leadership. His movement became known as Pentecostalism and spread around the world. In 1998, the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary dedicated their new chapel to Seymour’s memory and in 1999 the Religion Newswriters Association named the Azusa Street Revival as one of the top ten events of the 20th century. Seymour’s biography, “The Life and Ministry of William J. Seymour,” was published in 2006.

• September 28, 1928 Koko Taylor, hall of fame blues singer popularly known as the “Queen of the Blues,” was born Cora Walton in Shelby County, Tennessee. Taylor moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1952 and during the late 1950s began singing in Chicago blues clubs. In 1966, Taylor recorded “Wang Dang Doodle” which became a hit and sold over a million copies. During the late 1970s and 1980s, Taylor dominated the female blues singer ranks with albums such as “The Earthshaker” (1978), “From the Heart of a Woman” (1981), and “Queen of the Blues” (1985) and winning 25 W. C. Handy Awards, more than any other artist. She was also a significant influence on Bonnie Rait, Shemekia Copeland, and Janis Joplin. Taylor won the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album in 1985 for “Blues Explosion” and was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship in 2004. She was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1997 and received the Blues Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999. Taylor died June 3, 2009.

• September 28, 1941 Charles Robert Taylor, hall of fame football player, was born in Grand Prairie, Texas. Taylor played college football at Arizona State University and was an All-American two years in a row. He was selected by the Washington Redskins in the 1964 NFL Draft and that year was the NFC Rookie of the Year. Over his 14 season professional career, Taylor was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection and when he retired in 1977 was the NFL’s all time leading receiver. After retiring, he served as the Redskins’ receiver coach from 1981 to 1994. Taylor was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1984 and the Charles Taylor Recreation Center in Grand Prairie is named in his honor. Taylor now serves as a consultant to the Redskins.

• September 28, 1991 The National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee opened to visitors. The museum was built around the former Lorraine Motel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Foundation purchased the motel property in 1982 and construction of the museum started in 1987. The museum chronicles key episodes of the American civil rights movement and the legacy of this movement to inspire participation in civil and human rights efforts globally.

• September 28, 1991 Miles Dewey Davis III, hall of fame jazz trumpeter, bandleader, and composer, died. Davis was born May 26, 1926 in Alton, Illinois. By the age of 16, Davis was a member of the musical society and playing professionally. In 1944, he moved to New York City to study at the Juilliard School of Music. In 1945, he entered a recording studio for the first of many times during this period as a sideman. From 1945 to 1948, Davis was a member of the Charlie Parker Quintet. In the late 1940s, Davis began to lead his own ensembles and over the years was at the forefront of several major developments in jazz music with recordings that include “Birth of the Cool” (1949 & 1950), “Kind of Blue” (1959), “Sketches of Spain” (1960), “Bitches Brew” (1969), “Tutu” (1986), and “Amandla” (1989). His album “Kind of Blue” has sold more than 4 million copies. Davis won nine Grammy Awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990. Davis was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1962 and was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor that the United States bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1984. He was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006. Biographies of Davis include “Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis” (1989) and “Miles: The Autobiography” (1989).

• September 28, 2003 Althea Gibson, hall of fame tennis player and the first black woman to win the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament, died. Gibson was born August 25, 1927 in Silver, South Carolina, but raised in Harlem, New York. As a teenager, she won table tennis tournaments sponsored by the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation. In 1947, she won the first of ten consecutive national tournaments run by the American Tennis Association, the governing body for black tennis tournaments. In 1953, Gibson earned her Bachelor of Science degree from Florida A&M University and began work as an athletic instructor at Lincoln University. In 1955, the color barrier was broken in tennis and Gibson won the 1955 Italian Championships. The following year, she won her first Grand Slam title, capturing the French Open Championship in singles and doubles. Over the course of her career, Gibson won five singles and six doubles Grand Slam championships. She was named the Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year in 1957 and 1958. In 1964, Gibson became the first African American to play in the Ladies Professional Golf Association. In 1971, Gibson was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame and in 1975 she was appointed New Jersey State Commissioner of Athletics. She also authored two books, “I Always Wanted to Be Somebody” in 1958 and “So Much to Live For” in 1968. On the opening night of the 2007 U.S. Open, she was posthumously inducted into the U.S. Open Court of Champions. Her biography, “Althea Gibson,” was published in 1989.

• September 28, 2005 Constance Baker Motley, hall of fame civil rights activist, lawyer, and judge, died. Motley was born September 14, 1921 in New Haven, Connecticut. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from New York University in 1943 and her law degree from Columbia Law School in 1946. She began her career as a law clerk at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, eventually becoming associate counsel and the LDF’s first female attorney. In 1950, she wrote the original complaint in the case of Brown v. Board of Education. In 1962, Motley became the first African American woman to argue a case before the United States Supreme Court in Meredith v. Fair. She was successful in winning James Meredith’s case to be the first African American student admitted to the University of Mississippi. Motley was successful in nine out of ten cases that she argued before the Supreme Court. She had a succession of firsts for an African American woman, including in 1964 being the first elected to the New York State Senate, in 1965 the first chosen Manhattan Borough President, and in 1966 the first appointed a federal court judge. In 1993, Motley was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. In 2001, President William Clinton awarded her the Presidential Citizens Medal, the second highest civilian award in the United States, and in 2003 the NAACP awarded her the Spingarn Medal. Motley’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

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Founded in 1965 and located in the heart of Midtown Detroit’s Cultural Center, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History is the world's largest institution dedicated to the African American experience. The Museum provides learning opportunities, exhibitions, programs and events based on collections and research that explore the diverse history and culture of African Americans and their African origins.