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Today in Black History, 9/3/2012

• September 3, 1843 Andrew Jackson Smith, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was born enslaved in Kentucky. With the outbreak of the Civil War, Smith’s owner joined the Confederate military with the intention of taking Smith with him. When Smith learned of his intentions, he escaped and joined the Union Army. By November 30, 1864, Smith was serving as a corporal in the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. On that day, he participated in the Battle of Honey Hill in South Carolina and his actions during the battle earned him the medal, America’s highest military decoration. His citation partially reads, “Forced into a narrow gorge crossing a swamp in the face of the enemy position, the 55th’s Color-Sergeant was killed by an exploding shell, and Corporal Smith took the Regimental Colors from his hands and carried them through heavy grape and canister fire. Although half of the officers and a third of the enlisted men engaged in the fight were killed or wounded, Corporal Smith continued to expose himself to enemy fire by carrying the colors throughout the battle. Through his actions, the Regimental Colors of the 55th Infantry Regiment were not lost to the enemy.” Smith was promoted to color sergeant before leaving the army. He was initially nominated for the medal in 1916, but was denied and he died March 4, 1932. It was not until January 16, 2001 that President William Clinton presented the medal to Smith’s descendants at a White House ceremony.

• September 3, 1864 Patrick Francis Healy became the first Jesuit priest of African descent. Healy was born enslaved on February 27, 1830 in Macon, Georgia. Although he was at least three-quarters European in ancestry, he was legally considered a slave and Georgia law prohibited the education of slaves. Therefore, Healy’s father arranged for him to move north to obtain an education. Healy graduated from the College of the Holy Cross in 1850 and entered the Jesuit order. In 1858, the order sent him to Europe to study because his African ancestry had become an issue in the United States. He earned his doctorate from the University of Leuven in Belgium, becoming the first American of African descent to earn a Ph.D. In 1866, Healy returned to the U.S. and began teaching at Georgetown University. In 1874, he was named president of the institution, the first American with African ancestry to be president of a predominantly white college. During his tenure, he helped transform the small 19th century college into a major university for the 20th century. He modernized the curriculum and expanded and upgraded the schools of law and medicine. He also oversaw the construction of Healy Hall, a National Historic Landmark named in his honor. Healy left the college in 1882 and died January 10, 1910. In 1969, the Georgetown Alumni Association established the Patrick Healy Award to recognize people who have “distinguished themselves by a lifetime of outstanding achievement and service to Georgetown, the community and his or her profession.” Patrick Francis Healy Middle School in East Orange, New Jersey is named in his honor. “Passing for White: Race, Religion, and the Healy Family, 1820-1920” was published in 2003.

• September 3, 1891 Annie Elizabeth “Bessie” Delany, the second African American female dentist licensed in New York State and author, was born in Raleigh, North Carolina. Delany graduated from Saint Augustine’s School (now college) in 1911 and moved to New York City in 1918. In 1923, she earned her Doctor of Dental Surgery degree from the Columbia University School of Dental and Oral Surgery, the only black female in her class. Delany was active in the community, participating in many protest marches and encouraging civil rights organizers to meet in her office. In 1993, Delany and her sister Sadie published “Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years” which dealt with the trials and tribulations the sisters had faced during their century of life. In 1999, the book was made into a television movie. In 1994, the sisters published “The Delany Sisters’ Book of Everyday Wisdom.” Also that year, Columbia’s School of Dental and Oral Surgery awarded her its Distinguished Alumna Award for “her pioneering work as a minority woman in dentistry.” Delany died September 25, 1995. In 1993, Delany and her sister were included in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s oldest authors.

• September 3, 1895 Charles Hamilton Houston, former dean of Howard University Law School and NACCP litigation director, was born in Washington, D.C. Houston earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Amherst College in 1915 and was valedictorian of his class. In 1917, he enlisted in the United States Army and served in Europe during World War I with the American Expeditionary Forces until 1919. He earned his Bachelor of Laws degree in 1922 and his Doctor of Laws degree in 1923 from Harvard Law School. During his time at Harvard, Houston became the first African American editor of the Harvard Law Review. Over his career, Houston played a role in nearly every civil rights case before the U.S. Supreme Court between 1930 and 1950 and was known as “the man who killed Jim Crow.” He also trained future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Houston died April 22, 1950 and was posthumously awarded the NACCP Springarn Medal in 1950. In 1958, the main building of the Howard University School of Law was dedicated as Charles Hamilton Houston Hall. In 2005, the Charles Hamilton Institute for Race and Justice at Harvard Law School opened. His biography, “Groundwork: Charles Hamilton Houston and the Struggle for Civil Rights,” was published in 1983.

• September 3, 1910 Dorothy Maynor, concert soprano and founder of the Harlem School of Arts, was born in Norfolk, Virginia. Maynor earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Hampton Institute in 1933 and another Bachelor of Arts degree from the Westminster Choir School in 1935. Maynor made her debut at The Town Hall in New York City in December, 1939 and as a result of that performance received the Town Hall Endowment Series Award for 1940. Despite the racism that precluded her from performing at many opera houses, Maynor toured extensively throughout the United States, Europe, and Latin America. In 1964, she founded the Harlem School of Arts to provide music education to the children of Harlem. Under her leadership, the school grew from 20 students to 1,000 at the time of her retirement in 1979. In 1979, Maynor became the first African American to serve on the board of the Metropolitan Opera. Her biography, “Dorothy Maynor and the Harlem School of the Arts: The Diva and the Dream,” was published in 1993 and she died February 19, 1996.

• September 3, 1948 Levy Patrick Mwanawasa, the third President of the Republic of Zambia, was born in Mufulira, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). After earning his Bachelor of Law degree in 1973 from the University of Zambia, he worked in private law firms. In 1982, he was appointed vice-chair of the Law Association of Zambia and from 1985 to 1986 was the Zambian Solicitor General. In 1991, Mwanawasa was elected to Parliament and from that year to 1994 served as vice president of Zambia. In 2001, Mwanawasa was elected president where he served until his death on August 19, 2008. He is credited with initiating a campaign against corruption, lowering inflation, and increasing the economic growth of the country.

• September 3, 1956 Jeff Chandler, hall of fame boxer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Chandler began his professional boxing career in 1976 after only two amateur fights. He won the WBA Bantamweight Championship in 1980, becoming the first American to hold that title in over 30 years. Chandler successfully defended the title nine times before losing it in 1984. He was forced to retire after that fight due to an injury to his eyes. He retired with a record of 33 wins, 2 losses, and 2 draws. Chandler was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2000.

• September 3, 1985 Jonathan David Samuel “Jo” Jones, influential jazz drummer, died. Jones was born October 7, 1911 in Chicago, Illinois, but raised in Birmingham, Alabama. He worked as a drummer and tap dancer at carnival shows until joining Walter Page’s band in the late 1920s. In 1933, Jones joined Count Basie’s band and played with them until 1948 except for 1944 to 1946 when he was in the military. After leaving Count Basie, Jones led his own group and recorded several albums, including “The Jo Jones Special” (1955), “The Drums” (1973), and “Our Man Papa Jo!” (1985). Jones had a major influence on many drummers, including Buddy Rich, Kenny Clarke, Roy Haynes, Max Roach, and Louie Bellson. He was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz musician, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1985.

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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.

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