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Today in Black History, 9/7/2012

• September 7, 1854 Free Frank McWorter, the first African American to incorporate a municipality in the United States, died. McWorter was born enslaved on August 11, 1777 in South Carolina. In 1795, his owner moved to Kentucky and took him along to build and manage his holdings and to lease him out to work for others. McWorter used his earnings to create a successful saltpeter production operation. By 1817, he had earned enough to buy the freedom of his wife and two years later his own freedom. In 1830, McWorter and his family moved to Pike County, Illinois and in 1836 he founded the town of New Philadelphia, Illinois. By the time of his death, McWorter had bought the freedom of 16 members of his family. McWorter’s gravesite is listed on the National Registry of Historical Places and a portion of I-72 in Pike County is designated the Frank McWorter Memorial Highway. The New Philadelphia town site was listed on the National Registry of Historical Places in 2005 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 2009. McWorter’s biography, “Free Frank: A Black Pioneer on the Antebellum Frontier,” was published in 1983.

• September 7, 1900 James Madison Nabrit, Jr., civil rights lawyer, college professor, and deputy ambassador, was born in Atlanta, Georgia. Nabrit earned his bachelor’s degree in 1923 from Morehouse College and his Doctor of Laws degree from Northwestern University in 1927.In 1936, Nabrit joined the faculty of Howard University Law School and established the first civil rights course for a United States law school. During his time at Howard, he also successfully argued a number of significant civil rights cases, including Lane v. Wilson (1939) concerning the registration of black voters in Oklahoma and Terry v. Adams (1953) concerning the right of African Americans to participate in primary elections in Texas. In 1958, Nabrit became dean of the Howard University Law School and two years later was appointed president of the university, a position he held until 1969. In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Nabrit U.S. deputy ambassador to the United Nations. Nabrit died December 27, 1997. The Howard University School of Law annually hosts the James M. Nabrit Jr. Lecture Series.

• September 7, 1919 Jacob Lawrence, painter and educator, was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Lawrence attended classes at the Harlem Art Workshop and earned a scholarship to the American Artist School. In 1943, he enlisted in the United States Coast Guard and served with the first racially integrated crew. Throughout his artistic career, Lawrence concentrated on depicting the history and struggles of African Americans. In 1940, his series of paintings of the Haitian general Toussaint L’Ouverture were shown in an exhibit of African American artists at the Baltimore Museum of Art. This was followed by a series of paintings of the lives of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and John Brown. In 1942, Lawrence completed the sixty-panel set of narrative paintings entitled “Migration of the Negro,” now called “The Migration Series.” In 1944, Lawrence was given his first major solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art and became the most celebrated African American painter in the country. In 1970, he was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal. That same year, he moved to Seattle, Washington and became an art professor at the University of Washington. In 1974, the Whitney Museum of American Art held a major retrospective of his work and in 1983 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 1990, he was presented the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President George H. W. Bush and in 1998 he received the Washington Medal of Merit. Lawrence continued to paint until a few weeks before his death on June 9, 2000. After his death, the New York Times called him “One of America’s leading figurative painters” and “among the most impassioned visual chroniclers of the African American experience.” His last public work, the mosaic mural “New York in Transit” is installed in the Times Square subway station in New York City. His work is in the permanent collections of numerous museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum, and the Detroit Institute of Arts. In 2007, the White House Historical Association purchased Lawrence’s “The Builders” for $2.5 million. The painting hangs in the White House Green Room. Lawrence’s biography, “Jacob Lawrence: American Painter,” was published in 1986.

• September 7, 1925 John Wesley Work, Jr., the first black collector of Negro folksongs, died. Work was born August 6, 1871 in Nashville, Tennessee. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Latin and history from Fisk University in 1895 and 1898, respectively. In 1904, he began teaching Latin and Greek at Fisk. While teaching, Work became a leader in the movement to preserve, study, and perform Negro spirituals. He collected and published a number of collections of slave songs and spirituals. The first of these collections was “New Jubilee Songs as Sung by the Fisk Jubilee Singers” which was published in 1901. In 1907, he published “New Jubilee Songs and Folk Songs of the American Negro” which included the first publication of “Go, Tell It On The Mounain.” In 1915, Work published “Folk Song of the American Negro.” Work resigned from Fisk in 1923 and became president of Roger Williams University, a position he held until his death.

• September 7, 1930 Theodore Walter “Sonny” Rollins, hall of fame jazz tenor saxophonist and composer, was born in New York City. Rollins received his first saxophone at 13 and first recorded in 1949. By 1954, Rollins had recorded with such jazz giants as Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and Thelonious Monk. By 1956, Rollins was leading his own groups and that year he recorded his widely acclaimed album “Saxophone Colossus.” In 1957, he pioneered the use of bass and drums,without piano, as accompaniment for his saxophone solos. He was inducted into the Downbeat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1973 and in 1983 was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts. Rollins won the 2001 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Album for “This Is What I Do” (2000) and the 2006 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Solo for the single “Why Was I Born” which was on the album “Without a Song: The 9/11 Concert” (2005). In 2004, Rollins was presented the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and in 2007 he received the Polar Music Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Music. In 2010, Rollins was presented the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President Barack Obama and in 2011 he received the Kennedy Center Honors. Several biographies have been published of Rollins, including “Sonny Rollins: The Journey of a Jazzman” (1983) and “Open Sky: Sonny Rollins and His World of Improvisation” (2000).

• September 7, 1934 Little Milton, hall of fame blues singer, guitarist, and record producer, was born James Milton Campbell, Jr. in Inverness, Mississippi. By the age of 12, Milton had learned to play the guitar and was a street musician performing in clubs across the Mississippi Delta. In 1952, he signed a contract and recorded a number of singles that were not successful. In 1958, Milton established Bobbin Records and signed and produced records for Albert King and Fontella Bass. Milton had his own first hit single in 1962 with “So Mean to Me.” This was followed by such hits as “We’re Gonna Make It” (1965), “Who’s Cheating Who” (1965), “Grits Ain’t Groceries” (1969), and “Age Ain’t Nothin’ But a Number” (1983). In 1988, Milton was the W.C. Handy Blues Entertainer of the Year and was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. He died August 4, 2005.

• September 7, 1935 Abdou Diouf, the second President of the Republic of Senegal, was born in Louga, Senegal. Diouf studied law at Dakar University and then at the Sorbonne University in Paris, France, graduating in 1959. He then returned to Senegal where he moved through a number of government positions until he was appointed prime minister in 1970. In 1981, Diouf became president, a position he held until 2000. During his tenure, he began an anti-AIDS program in Senegal which kept the country’s infection rate below two percent. From 1985 to 1986, he served as the elected president of the Organization of African Unity. After leaving office, in 2003 he was elected secretary-general of La Francophonie, an international organization of governments with French as the customary language.

• September 7, 1944 Earl Manigault, street basketball player known as “The Goat,” was born in Charleston, South Carolina but raised in Harlem, New York. Manigault grew up playing basketball and set the New York City junior high school record by scoring 57 points in a game in the late 1950s. Manigault was famous on the streets of New York for his signature move the double dunk. He would dunk the ball, catch it with his left hand, switch it to his right hand, and jam it through again, all done while still in the air on a single jump and without hanging on the rim. Unfortunately, personal problems plagued Manigault and he never played on the college or professional level. He did play on the streets with some of the best players of his time, including Earl Monroe, Connie Hawkins, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In fact, when Abdul-Jabbar was asked who was the greatest player he had played with or against, he answered “that would have to be The Goat.” Much of Manigault’s later years were spent working with kids on the court, including his “Walk Away From Drugs” tournament to prevent them from making the same mistakes he had made. In 1996, HBO aired a made for television movie about Manigault’s life entitled “Rebound: The Legend of Earl “The Goat” Manigault.” Manigault died May 15, 1998.

• September 7, 1971 Briana Colette Scurry, retired women’s soccer goalkeeper, was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. In high school, Scurry was an All-American soccer goalkeeper, All-State basketball player, and Minnesota High School Female Athlete of the Year. She attended the University of Massachusetts where she earned her bachelor’s degree in political science in 1995. From 1994 to 1999, Scurry was the starting goalkeeper on the United States women’s soccer team. As a member of that team, she won Gold medals at the 1996 Atlanta and 2004 Athens Olympic Games. She also won a Silver medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. In 2000, she became the first male or female goalkeeper to play in 100 international matches and her career total of 173 is the most among female soccer goalkeepers. In 2001, she was a founding member of the Women’s United Soccer Association where she played for three seasons. Scurry has been called the “Jackie Robinson” of soccer as the only African American starter on the U.S. women’s soccer team. She retired in 2010 and is currently active in the fight against childhood obesity and an advocate for AIDS awareness and research.

• September 7, 2006 Robert Earl Jones, stage and film actor and the father of James Earl Jones, died. Jones was born February 3, 1910 in Senatobia, Mississippi. He was a sharecropper and boxer prior to moving to New York City to pursue a career in acting. Jones made his film debut in the 1939 film “Lying Lips” and appeared in more than 20 other films, including “One Potato, Two Potato” (1964), “The Sting” (1973), and “Witness” (1985). On stage, Jones appeared in “The Hasty Heart” (1945), “Infidel Caesar” (1962), “The Gospel of Colonus” (1988), and the 1991 production of “Mule Bone.” Jones was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Black Theater Festival.

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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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