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Today in Black History, 9/4/2012

• September 4, 1848 Lewis Howard Latimer, draftsman, and hall of fame inventor, was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts. Latimer joined the United States Navy at the age of 15 and after receiving an honorable discharge joined a patent law firm as a draftsman at the age of 17. On February 10, 1874, Latimer shared patent number 147,363 for an improved toilet system for railroad cars called the Water Closet for Railroad Cars. This was the first of the seven patents that he received over his career. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell employed Latimer to draft the drawings required to receive a patent for Bell’s telephone. Although Thomas Edison is credited with the invention of the light bulb, Latimer made significant contributions to its further development. On January 17, 1882, he received patent number 252,386 for the Process of Manufacturing Carbons, an improved method for the production of carbon filaments for light bulbs. Latimer died December 11, 1928. He was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006 for his work on electric filament manufacturing techniques and Lewis H. Latimer School in Brooklyn, New York is named in his honor. Latimer’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan. His biography, “Lewis Latimer: Bright Ideas,” was published in 1997.

• September 4, 1908 Richard Nathaniel Wright, author, was born in Roxie, Mississippi. At the age of 15, Wright penned his first story, “The Voodoo of Hell’s Half-Acre” which was published in the local black paper. In 1937, Wright won first prize from Story magazine for his short story “Fire and Cloud” and in 1938 he gained national attention for “Uncle Tom’s Children,” a collection of four short stories. In 1940, his first novel, “Native Son,” was selected by the Book of the Month Club as its first book by an African American. Wright received the NAACP Spingarn Medal in 1941. In 1945, Wright’s semi-autobiographical “Black Boy” was published. In 1946, Wright became a permanent American expatriate when he moved to Paris, France where he died November 28, 1960. In 2008, Julia Wright, Wright’s daughter, published his unfinished novel “A Father’s Law.” In 2009, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor.

• September 4, 1918 Gerald Stanley Wilson, jazz trumpeter, big band leader, composer/arranger, and educator, was born in Shelby, Mississippi, but raised in Detroit, Michigan. In 1939, Wilson started out as a trumpeter and arranger for the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra. He later played and arranged for the bands of Benny Carter, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Dizzy Gillespie. Wilson has written arrangements for a number of other artists, including Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Lionel Hampton, Dinah Washington, and Nancy Wilson. He also has led his own band, recording albums that include “Moment of Truth” (1962), “Eternal Equinox” (1969), and “Suite Memories” (1996). In 1990, Wilson was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor that the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1998, he was commissioned by the Monterey Jazz Festival for an original composition, resulting in “Theme for Monterey” which was nominated for the Grammy Awards for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Performance and Best Original Composition. Wilson has also taught jazz history at California State University and the University of California for many years.

• September 4, 1960 Damon Kyle Wayans, comedian, actor, and author, was born in New York City. Wayans began doing stand-up comedy in 1982 and made his first film appearance in “Beverly Hills Cop” in 1984. During the 1980s, he briefly appeared as a featured performer on the television series “Saturday Night Live” and “Solid Gold.” From 1990 to 1992, he appeared on the TV show “In Living Color,” part of a team of performers that were nominated for Emmy Awards all three years. After “in Living Color,” he starred in films such as “The Last Boy Scout” (1991), “Major Payne” (1995), “The Great White Hype” (1996), and “Bamboozled” (2000). From 2001 to 2005 he appeared in the series “My Wife and Kids,” which earned him four International Press Academy Golden Satellite Awards. In 2010, Wayans published his first book, “Red Hats: A Novel.”

• September 4, 1979 Norman Thomas “Turkey” Stearns, hall of fame baseball player, died. Stearns was born May 8, 1901 in Nashville, Tennessee. He began his professional career in 1921 and from 1923 to 1931 played for the Detroit Stars of the Negro league. Stearns retired in 1942 and over his career batted over .400 three times and led the Negro league in home runs seven times. Despite his baseball success, Stearns worked winters in Detroit’s automobile plants to survive financially. Stearns was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000. A plaque in Stearns honor is on display outside the centerfield gate at Comerica Park in Detroit.

• September 4, 1981 Beyonce Giselle Knowles, singer, songwriter, actress, and model, was born in Houston, Texas. At the age of eight, Knowles, along with LaTavia Robinson and Kelly Rowland, began performing with the group Girl’s Tyme. In 1993, the group changed its name to Destiny’s Child and in 1998 they released their self-titled debut album. The group went on to become the best selling female group of all time, selling more than 50 million records worldwide. In 2003, Knowles released her debut solo album “Dangerously in Love” which was a commercial and critical success, earning her five Grammy Awards, including Best Contemporary R&B Album and Best R&B Song for “Crazy In Love.” It also was listed as one of the top 200 definitive albums in music history by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Other albums by Knowles are “B’day” (2006), “I am…..Sasha Fierce” (2008), and “4” (2011). In total, she has won 16 Grammy Awards. In 2006, Knowles starred in the film “Dreamgirls” and in 2008 she appeared in “Cadillac Records.” She also serves as a celebrity endorser for many products and has established her own fashion line. In 2010, Forbes Magazine listed her second on its list of the 100 Most Powerful and Influential Celebrities in the world. Also that year, Knowles and her mother opened the Beyonce Cosmetology Center in Brooklyn, New York to train adults in the cosmetology field. They have pledged $100,000 a year to operate the center.

• September 4, 2011 Lee Roy Selmon, hall of fame football player, died. Selmon was born October 20, 1954 in Eufaula, California. He played college football at the University of Oklahoma where he was an All-American in 1974 and 1975. In 1975, he won the Lombardi Award and the Outland Trophy as the best college football lineman in the country. Selmon was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1976 NFL Draft. Over his nine season professional career, Selmon was a six-time Pro Bowl selection and in 1979 was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Selmon retired after the 1984 season and in 1986 the Buccaneers retired his uniform number 63. From 1993 to 2001, Selmon served as assistant athletic director at the University of South Florida before being promoted to athletic director at the college. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1988 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1995. In 1996, he was named Walter Camp Alumnus of the Year, an award given to an individual “who has distinguished himself in the pursuit of excellence as an athlete, in his personal career and in doing good works for others.” In 1999, the Lee Roy Selmon Crosstown Expressway in Hillsborough County, Florida was named in his honor.

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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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