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Today in Black History, 9/6/2012

• September 6, 1877 Charles Joseph “Buddy” Bolden, cornetist and a key figure in the development of ragtime music, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. Not much is known about Bolden’s early life but by the mid-1890s he had formed a series of bands and created a looser, more improvised version of ragtime and added blues to it. Between 1900 and 1906, Bolden’s band was the hottest group in New Orleans. In 1906, Bolden began to show signs of mental instability and in 1907 he was confined to the State Insane Asylum where he died November 4, 1931. There are no known surviving recordings of his performances but he is associated with several songs, including “Careless Love,” “My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It,” and “Funky Butt.” Many other New Orleans jazz musicians, including Joe “King” Oliver, were inspired by Bolden’s playing. Jelly Roll Morton described Bolden as “the blowingest man since Gabriel” and several jazz historians have referred to him as “the father of jazz.” Several books have been written about Bolden, including “The Loudest Trumpet: Buddy Bolden and the Early History of Jazz” (2000) and “In Search of Buddy Bolden: First Man of Jazz” (2005).

• September 6, 1905 Atlanta Life Insurance Company was founded by Alonzo F. Herndon, a prosperous black barber and entrepreneur. Atlanta Life started as a small insurance association with a capital investment of $5,000 and offered one contract, an industrial health and accident policy which paid a small sum upon the death of a policyholder. By 1909, the company had more than 23,000 policyholders and in 1916 the firm became a stockholder organization. Herndon died in 1927 and was succeeded as president by his son Norris. By the time of his retirement in 1973, the company had $84.5 million in assets and more than $346 million in insurance in force. In 2001, the company adopted a new direction as a financial services organization and a new name, the Atlanta Life Financial Group. Today, it has $20 billion of life insurance in force, $202 million in assets, and serves 2 million customers.

• September 6, 1925 Mathis James “Jimmy” Reed, hall of fame blues musician and songwriter, was born in Dunleith, Mississippi. Reed began playing the guitar at the age of ten. After spending several years performing in Mississippi, Reed moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1943. By the 1950s, Reed had established himself as a popular performer and from the mid-1950s to the early 1960s had a string of hits, including “Ain’t That Lovin’ You Baby” (1956), “Honest I Do” (1957), and “Baby What You Want Me to Do” (1960). His recordings of “Big Boss Man” (1961) and “Bright Lights, Big City” (1961) are included on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll. Reed died August 29, 1976 and was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991.

• September 6, 1929 Charles Calvin Rogers, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Claremont, West Virginia. Rogers joined the United States Army and by 1968 was serving as a lieutenant colonel in command of 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Infantry Division during the Vietnam War. On November 1, 1968, his battalion was manning a fire support base near the Cambodian border when it came under heavy attack. Rogers’ actions during the attack earned him the medal, America’s highest military decoration. His citation partially reads, “In the early morning hours, the fire support base was subjected to a concentrated bombardment of heavy mortar, rocket and rocket propelled grenade fire. Simultaneously the position was struck by a human wave ground assault, led by sappers who breached the defensive barriers with bangalore torpedoes and penetrated the defensive perimeter. Lt. Col. Rogers with complete disregard for his safety moved through the hail of fragments from bursting enemy rounds to the embattled area. He aggressively rallied the dazed artillery crewmen to man their howitzers and he directed their fire on the assaulting enemy. Although knocked to the ground and wounded by an exploding round, Lt. Col. Rogers sprang to his feet and led a small counterattack force against an enemy element that had penetrated the howitzer positions. Although painfully wounded a second time during the assault, Lt. Col. Rogers pressed the attack killing several of the enemy and driving the remainder from the positions. Refusing medical treatment, Lt. Col. Rogers reestablished and reinforced the defensive positions. As a second human wave attack was launched against another sector of the perimeter, Lt. Col. Rogers directed artillery fire on the assaulting enemy and led a second counterattack against the enemy forces. His valorous example rallied the beleaguered defenders to repulse and defeat the enemy onslaught. Lt. Col. Rogers moved from position to position through the heavy enemy fire, giving encouragement and direction to his men. At dawn the determined enemy launched a third assault against the fire base in an attempt to overrun the position. Lt. Col. Rogers moved to the threatened area and directed lethal fire on the enemy forces. Seeing a howitzer inoperative due to casualties, Lt. Col. Rogers joined the surviving members of the crew to return the howitzer to action. While directing the position defense, Lt. Col. Rogers was seriously wounded by fragments from a heavy mortar round which exploded on the parapet of the gun position. Although too severely wounded to physically lead the defenders, Lt. Col. Rogers continued to give encouragement and direction to his men in the defeating and repelling of the enemy attack.” On May 14, 1970, President Richard M. Nixon presented the medal to Rogers. Rogers rose to the rank of major general before leaving the army. He later became a Baptist minister serving U.S. troops in Germany where he died on September 21, 1990.

• September 6, 1967 Rodney Maxwell Davis, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was killed in action while serving in Quang Nam Province of the Republic of Vietnam. Davis was born April 7, 1942 in Macon, Georgia. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1961 and by 1966 had been promoted to sergeant. By September 6, 1967, he was serving as a platoon guide with Company B, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division. His actions on that date earned him the medal, America’s highest military decoration. Davis’ citation partially reads, “Elements of the Second Platoon were pinned down by a numerically superior force of attacking North Vietnamese Army Regulars. Remnants of the platoon were located in a trench line where Sergeant Davis was directing the fire of his men in an attempt to repel the enemy attack. Disregarding the enemy hand grenades and high volume of small arms and mortar fire, Sergeant Davis moved from man to man shouting words of encouragement to each of them firing and throwing hand grenades at the onrushing enemy. When an enemy grenade landed in the trench in the midst of his men, Sergeant Davis, realizing the gravity of the situation, and in a final valiant act of complete self-sacrifice, instantly threw himself upon the grenade, absorbing with his own body the full and terrific force of the explosion. Through his extraordinary initiative and inspiring valor in the face of almost certain death, Sergeant Davis saved his comrades from injury and possible loss of life, enabling his platoon to hold its vital position.” The medal was presented to Davis’ family by Vice President Spiro T. Agnew on March 26, 1969. In May, 1987, the USS Rodney M. Davis was commissioned in his honor.

• September 6, 1968 The Kingdom of Swaziland declared independence from the United Kingdom. Swaziland is a country in Southern Africa bordered by South Africa to the north, south and west and by Mozambique to the east. The country is approximately 6,700 square miles in size with a population of approximately 1.2 million. More than 82% of the population practice Christianity.

• September 6, 1972 Anika Noni Rose, stage, film and television actress and singer, was born in Bloomfield, Connecticut. Rose earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in theater from Florida A&M University and her Master of Fine Arts degree in drama from the American Conservatory Theater in1998. That same year, she made her professional stage debut in “Valley Song.” In 2001, she won an OBIE Award for her performance in the off-Broadway production of “Eli’s Comin.” Rose’s big break came with her role in the 2003 Broadway production of “Caroline, or Change” which won her the Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. She has also appeared on stage in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” (2008) and “Company” (2011). Rose’s debut in movies came with the 1999 film “King of the Bingo Game.” In 2006, Rose starred in the film “Dreamgirls.” She also starred in the television series, “The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency” in 2008 and 2009. In 2010, she appeared in the movie “For Colored Girls.”

• September 6, 1980 Hale Aspacio Woodruff, artist and educator, died. Woodruff was born August 26, 1900 in Cairo, Illinois. He moved to Paris, France in 1928 to study under Henry Ossawa Tanner. Woodruff returned to the United States in 1931 to teach at Atlanta University. One of Woodruff’s major contributions to the development of African American art and artists was the inauguration in 1942 of an annual exhibition devoted to the works of black artists from around the country at Atlanta University. The annual exhibition ran successfully until 1970. In 1946, Woodruff accepted a teaching position at New York University where he taught until his retirement in 1968. Examples of his work are the three-panel mural “Amistad Mutiny” (1939) at Talladega College and the six-panel mural “The Art of the Negro” (1950) at Atlanta University. “Rising Up: Hale Woodruff’s Murals from Talladega College” is currently on exhibit at museums around the country.

• September 6, 2007 Allan Rohan Crite, Harlem Renaissance painter, died. Crite was born March 20, 1910 in North Plainfield, New Jersey. He graduated from the Boston School of the Museum of Fine Arts in 1936 and earned his Bachelor of Liberal Arts degree from Harvard University in 1968. Crite’s paintings generally reflect religious themes or the African American experience. He is quoted as saying, “I’ve only done one piece of work in my whole life and I am still at it. I wanted to paint people of color as normal humans. I tell the story of man through the black figure.” Crite’s paintings are in the collections of many major museums, including the Smithsonian, the Museum of Fine Arts, and the Art Institute of Chicago.

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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.