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Today in Black History, 9/29/2012

• September 29, 1905 James Daniel Gardner, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, died. Gardner was born September 16, 1839 in Gloucester, Virginia. He worked as an oysterman before enlisting in the Union Army in 1863. On September 29, 1864, Gardner was serving as a private in Company I of the 36th Regiment United States Colored Troops when his actions at the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm earned him the medal, America’s highest military decoration. Gardner’s regiment was among a division of black troops assigned to attack the Confederate defenses. The attack was met with intense fire and over fifty percent of the black troops were killed, captured, or wounded. Gardner advanced ahead of his unit into the Confederate fortifications, “shot a rebel officer who was on the parapet rallying his men, and then ran him through with his bayonet.” The day after the battle, Gardner was promoted to sergeant and on April 6, 1865 was issued the medal. In 2006, a memorial commemorating him was unveiled in his hometown.

• September 29, 1908 Thomas Edward Tolan, hall of fame track and field athlete known as “the Midnight Express,” was born in Denver, Colorado. Tolan moved with his family to Detroit, Michigan when he was 15 years old. He attended Cass Technical High School where he set state records in the 100 and 220–yard dashes. Tolan then attended the University of Michigan and graduated in 1931. At the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games, Tolan won Gold medals in the 100 and 200 meter races and was the first African American to receive the title “world fastest human.” In his career as a sprinter, Tolan won 300 races and loss only 7. During the 1940s and 1950s, Tolan worked at a variety of jobs, including teaching at Irving Elementary School in Detroit. In 1958, Tolan was inducted into the Michigan Sports Hall of Fame. Tolan died January 31, 1967 and was posthumously inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1982.

• September 29, 1910 The Committee on Urban Conditions Among Negroes was formed to assist blacks that were migrating from the South to the North to successfully adapt to urban life and to reduce the pervasive discrimination they faced. A year later, the committee merged with the Committee for the Improvement of Industrial Conditions Among Negroes and the National League for the Protection of Colored Women to form the National League on Urban Conditions Among Negroes. In 1920, the name was shortened to the National Urban League. Today, there are more than 100 affiliates in 35 states and the District of Columbia.

• September 29, 1933 Samora Moises Machel, the first President of the Republic of Mozambique, was born in Gaza Province, Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique). In 1962, Machel joined the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) which was dedicated to creating an independent Mozambique. He received military training in other parts of Africa and returned in 1964 to lead FRELIMO’s first armed attack against the Portuguese. By 1969, Machel had become commander-in-chief of the FRELIMO army. When Mozambique gained its independence June 25, 1975, Machel became its first president and served until his death in an airplane crash on October 19, 1986. A memorial at the site of the crash was inaugurated in 1999. Machel’s biography, “Samora Machel: An African Revolutionary,” was published in 1985.

• September 29, 1942 Hugh Mulzac became the first African American captain of a United States Merchant ship when he took command of the SS Booker T. Washington which was the first ship to be named after an African American. Mulzac was born March 26, 1886 in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. His life at sea started right after high school when he served on British schooners. In 1918, he immigrated to the United States and within two years became the first African American to earn a shipping master’s certificate. In early 1942, he was offered command of the SS Booker T. Washington which he initially refused because the crew was all black. He stated that “under no circumstances will I command a Jim Crow vessel.” The Merchant Marines relented and agreed to an integrated crew and he commanded the ship until 1947. After the war, Mulzac could not get command of another ship because of his race and because he was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. Mulzac died in 1971 and his biography, “A Star to Steer By,” was published in 1972.

• September 29, 1948 Bryant Charles Gumbel, television journalist and sportscaster, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. Gumbel earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Bates College in 1970 and began his television career in 1972 as a sportscaster for KNBC-TV in Los Angeles, California. Gumbel was hired by NBC Sports in 1975 as the co-host of its National Football League pre-game show “GrandStand.” Between 1975 and 1982, Gumbel hosted numerous sporting events for NBC. In 1982, Gumbel became principal anchor of the “Today” televison show on NBC. He served in that capacity for 15 years, earning four Emmy Awards. From 1999 to 2002, Gumbel was the co-host of CBS television’s “The Early Show.” Since 1995, Gumbel has hosted the HBO investigative television series “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel.”

• September 29, 1955 Gwendolyn L. Ifill, journalist, television newscaster, and author, was born in New York City. Ifill earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in communications from Simmons College in 1977. After graduating, Ifill worked for the Boston Herald-American, Baltimore Evening Sun, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and NBC Television. In 1999, she became moderator of the PBS television program “Washington Week in Review.” She is also a senior correspondent for the “PBS NewsHour” and moderated the 2004 and 2008 vice presidential debates. Ifill published her first book, “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama,” in 2009.

• September 29, 1975 WGPR-TV (Where God’s Presence Radiates) began broadcasting in Detroit, Michigan as the first wholly African American owned television station in the United States. The station was owned by the Detroit based International Free and Accepted Modern Masons and the station president was William V. Banks. In the early days, the most popular shows on the station were a Middle Eastern variety show called “Arab Voices of Detroit” and a nightly dance show called “The Scene.” In September, 1995, the station was sold to CBS and the call letters were changed to WWJ-TV.

• September 29, 1979 Sir William Arthur Lewis became the first black person to win a Nobel Prize in a category other than peace when he won the Nobel Memorial Prize in economics. Lewis was born January 23, 1915 in Saint Lucia. After earning his Bachelor of Science degree in 1937 and Ph.D. in 1940 from the London School of Economics, he lectured at the University of Manchester until 1959 when he was appointed vice chancellor of the University of the West Indies. Key works by Lewis include “Economic Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labour” (1954) and “The Theory of Economic Growth” (1955). Lewis was knighted in 1963 and served as a full professor in the Department of Economics at Princeton University from 1964 until his retirement in1983. After his retirement, he became president of the American Economic Association. Lewis died on June 15, 1991 and was buried on the grounds of the Saint Lucian community college named in his honor. In 2007, the Arthur Lewis Building was opened at the University of Manchester in his honor.

• September 29, 1998 Thomas Bradley, the first African American Mayor of Los Angeles, California, died. Bradley was born December 29, 1917 in Calvert, Texas, but raised in Los Angeles. In 1940, he became a member of the Los Angeles Police Department and rose to the rank of lieutenant, the highest ranking African American at that time. In 1956, Bradley earned his Bachelor of Laws degree from Southwestern University School of Law. He was elected to the Los Angeles City Council in 1963 and served until 1972 before becoming mayor on May 29, 1973. Bradley served five terms as mayor, making his the longest tenure of any mayor in the city’s history. In 1982, Bradley ran for Governor of California and all the polls had him ahead, but he narrowly lost the election. This gave rise to the term “the Bradley effect” which refers to the tendency of voters to tell pollsters that they are undecided or likely to vote for a black candidate, but then actually voting for a white candidate. After the election, Bradley practiced law with a focus on international trade issues. Bradley was the 1984 recipient of the NAACP Spingarn Medal.

• September 29, 2001 Mabel Fairbanks, hall of fame figure skater and coach, died. Fairbanks was born November 14, 1916 in New York City and fell in love with figure skating in the 1930s. Despite her ability, she was not allowed to join skating clubs because of her race. She was often told “we don’t have Negroes in ice shows.” She eventually left the United States and joined the Rhapsody on Ice Show where she wowed international audiences. When she returned to the U.S. she found that the situation had not changed. After retiring from skating, Fairbanks started a skating club and coached many future champions, including Scott Hamilton, Tai Babilonia, Randy Gardner, Kristi Yamaguchi, and Tiffany Chin. In 1997, Fairbanks became the first African American to be inducted into the United States Figure Skating Hall of Fame.

• September 29, 2001 Gloria Foster, stage and film actress, died. Foster was born November 15, 1933 in Chicago, Illinois. She made her Broadway debut in 1961 in “A Raisin in the Sun.” In 1963, she won her first Obie Award (Off-Broadway Theater Award) for her performance in “In White America.” In 1965, she won her second Obie Award for her performance in “Medea” and in 1989 she won her third for “Forbidden City.” In 1995, Foster returned to the stage as 103 year old Sadie Delany in “Having Our Say,” for which she received rave reviews. Foster made her film debut in “The Cool World” (1964), but is probably best known as The Oracle in “The Matrix” (1999) and “The Matrix Reloaded” (2003).

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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.