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Today in Black History 05/27/2015 | First African American Navy Cross

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May 27, 1942 Doris “Dorie” Miller was awarded the Navy Cross, the first African American to receive the decoration, for his extraordinary courage in battle. Miller was born October 12, 1919 in Waco, Texas and enlisted in the United States Navy in 1939. On December 7, 1941, he was serving as a cook on the USS West Virginia in Pearl Harbor when it was attacked by the Japanese. Although he had no anti-aircraft gun training, Miller took control of one and fired until the gun ran out of ammunition. In recognition of his actions, he was awarded the Navy Cross, the highest decoration bestowed by the Department of the Navy. Miller died November 24, 1943 while serving on the USS Liscome Bay which was hit by a Japanese torpedo and sank. The USS Miller was commissioned in his honor June 30, 1973. Also, a number of schools, streets, and parks are named in his honor. Miller’s biography, “A Man Named Doris," was published in 2003. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 2010.
 

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Courage to Care: The Wright's Weekly Update May 25 - 31

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Today in Black History 05/26/2015 | Miles Davis

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May 26, 1926 Miles Dewey Davis III, hall of fame jazz trumpeter, bandleader and composer, was born in Alton, Illinois. Davis was a member of the musical society and playing professionally by 16. He moved to New York City in 1944 to study at the Juilliard School of Music. He entered a recording studio for the first of many times during this period as a sideman in 1945 and was a member of the Charlie Parker Quintet from 1945 to 1948. Davis began to lead his own ensembles in the late 1940s and over the years was at the forefront of several major developments in jazz music with recordings that include “Birth of the Cool” (1949 & 1950), “Kind of Blue” (1959), “Sketches of Spain” (1960), “Bitches Brew” (1969), “Tutu” (1986), and “Amandla” (1989).His album “Kind of Blue” has sold more than 4 million copies. Davis won nine Grammy Awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990. He was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1962 and was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor that the United States bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1984. Davis died September 28, 1991. He was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 2012. Biographies of Davis include “Milestones: The Music and Times of Miles Davis” (1989) and “Miles: The Autobiography” (1989).

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Today in Black History 05/25/2015 | Bojangles

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May 25, 1878 Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, hall of fame tap dancer and stage and film actor, was born in Richmond, Virginia. Robinson began to dance for a living at six. Robinson served in the United States Army from 1898 to 1900. He gained success and fame on the Black theater circuit and did not dance for White audiences until he was 50 years old when he was featured in “Blackbirds of 1928," a Black revue for White audiences. Robinson appeared in 14 motion pictures after 1930, most frequently as a butler opposite Shirley Temple in such films as “The Little Colonel” (1935) and “Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm” (1938). He also performed on the stage in “The Hot Mikado” (1939) and “All in Fun” (1940). Despite earning more than $2 million during his lifetime, Robinson died penniless November 25, 1949. A statue of Robinson was unveiled in Richmond June 30, 1973 and in 1989 a congressional resolution declared National Tap Dance Day to be May 25
th, Robinson’s birthday. Robinson was posthumously inducted into the National Museum of Dance’s Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame in 1987. His biography, “Mr. Bojangles: the biography of Bill Robinson," was published in 1988.
 

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Today in Black History 05/24/2015 | Coleman Alexander Young

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May 24, 1918 Coleman Alexander Young, the first African American Mayor of Detroit, Michigan, was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama but raised in Detroit. During World War II, he served in the 477th Medium-Bomber Group, Tuskegee Airman, as a bombardier and navigator and played a role in the Freeman Field Mutiny in which African American officers were arrested for resisting segregation at a base in 1945. Young was elected to the Michigan State Senate in 1964 and became the first African American member of the Democratic National Committee in 1968. Young was elected Mayor of Detroit in 1973. One of his top priorities was to more fully integrate the police force which was approximately 19% African American at the time of his election and over 60% at the end of his tenure. Over his 20 years as mayor, the General Motors “Poletown” plant, the Renaissance Center, the People Mover, Joe Louis Arena, and several other landmarks were completed. Young was also the driving force behind the construction of the current Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History building. He was awarded the 1981 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal. Young died November 29, 1997. His name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the museum. The Coleman A. Young Municipal Center and the Coleman A. Young Municipal Airport are named in his honor.  Young published his autobiography, “Hard Stuff: The Autobiography of Mayor Coleman Young," in 1994.        
                                                                   

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Today in Black History, 05/23/2015 | Samuel Sharpe

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May 23, 1832 Samuel Sharpe, national hero of Jamaica, was hanged for leading the Christmas Rebellion. Sharpe was born enslaved in 1801 in St. James, Jamaica. Although enslaved, Sharpe was allowed to be educated and became a preacher and leader in the enslaved community. On December 25, 1831, he organized a peaceful strike of several estates in western Jamaica during sugar cane harvest time. As a result of reprisals by the plantation owners, the strikers burned the crops. This caused the peaceful protest to turn into Jamaica’s largest slave rebellion, resulting in the death of hundreds of Black people and 14 White people. The Jamaican military ended the rebellion within two weeks and many of the leaders, including Sharpe were hanged. Just before he was hanged, Sharpe stated “I would rather die among yonder gallows, than live in slavery”. The government of Jamaica proclaimed Sharpe a National Hero in 1975 and Sam Sharpe Teachers’ College was named in his honor. Sam Sharpe Square is located in downtown Montego Bay, Jamaica. Sharpe’s image is also on the Jamaican $50 bill.

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Today in Black History, 05/22/2015 | Sun Ra

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May 22, 1914 Sun Ra, hall of fame jazz pianist, composer, bandleader and poet, was born Herman Poole Blount in Birmingham, Alabama. Sun Ra was a skilled pianist as a child and was writing original music by 12. As a teenager, he would see big band performances and produce full transcriptions of the music from memory. He was performing professionally as a solo pianist or as a member of various jazz and R&B groups by his mid-teens. Sun Ra took over leadership of a group in 1934 and renamed it the Sonny Blount Orchestra. Sun Ra led The Arkestra from the mid-1950s to his death May 30, 1993. He was one of the first jazz leaders to use two basses and electronic instruments. He was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1982 and was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1984. Sun Ra’s poetry and prose is available in “Sun Ra, The Immeasurable Equation”, published in 2005. His biography, “Space is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra”, was published in 1998.

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Today in Black History, 05/16/2015 | John Conyers, Jr., longest serving Congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives

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May 16, 1929 John Conyers, Jr., the longest serving Congressman in the United States House of Representatives, was born in Highland Park, Michigan. Conyers served in the United States Army from 1950 to 1954, serving one year in Korea where he was awarded combat and merit citations. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1957 and his Bachelor of Laws degree in 1958 from Wayne State University. He was first elected to Congress in 1964 and has been reelected 25 times. During his time in Congress, Conyers served as chairman of the House Government Operations Committee from 1989 to 1995 and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee from 2007 to 2011. He was a founding member and is currently the dean of the Congressional Black Caucus and he introduced the first bill in Congress to make Martin Luther King’s birthday a national holiday. Conyers received the 2007 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal.

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Malcolm X Day, African Liberation Weekend & More: The Wright's Weekly Update May 18 - 24

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Today in Black History, 05/15/2015 | First African American Greek Lettered Organization

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May 15, 1904 Sigma Pi Phi, the first African American Greek lettered organization, was founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The organization was founded by four doctors because Black professionals did not have the opportunity to participate in professional and cultural associations organized by White professionals. The organization is known as the Boule which means a council of noblemen. Today, the organization has over 5,000 members in 126 chapters throughout the United States and the West Indies. Notable members have included Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Arthur Ashe, Vernon Jordan, L. Douglas Wilder, and John Lewis.

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Today in Black History, 05/14/2015 | Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights Trail

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 May 14, 1996 The Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights Trail was declared by Congress a United States National Historic Trail because of its national significance in American history. On March 7, 1965, the first Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, Alabama march, led by John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Reverend Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, with approximately 600 marchers was attacked by state and local police with billy clubs and tear gas at the Edmund Pettis Bridge. The televised images of the “Bloody Sunday” attack galvanized support for the Civil Rights Movement and approximately 8,000 marchers successfully completed the 54 mile march to Montgomery March 24, protected by 2,000 soldiers of the U. S. Army and 1,900 members of the Alabama National Guard under federal command.

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Today in Black History, 05/13/2015 | Stevie Wonder

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May 13, 1950 Stevie Wonder, hall of fame singer, songwriter and record producer, was born Stevland Hardaway Judkins and blind in Saginaw, Michigan. Wonder began playing musical instruments at an early age and was signed by Motown Records in 1961 as Little Stevie Wonder. Wonder released his debut record, “I Call It Pretty Music, But the Old People Call It the Blues” in 1961 but his first big hit was the 1963 release of “Fingertips (Pt. 2).” Over his career, Wonder has sold more than 100 million albums, recorded more than 30 top ten hits, and won 26 Grammy Awards, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996. He also won the 1984 Academy Award for Best Original Song for “I Just Called to Say I Love You.” Wonder was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. He received the 1999 Polar Music Prize for “significant achievements in music” and Kennedy Center Honors in 1999. He received the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000. In 2009, Wonder became the second recipient of the Library of Congress’s Gershwin Prize for Popular Song and was named a Messenger of Peace by the United Nations. He was awarded the Commander of the Arts and Letters by the French government in 2010. Wonder is also noted for his work as an activist for political causes, including his successful 1980 campaign to make Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday a national holiday in the United States. Wonder received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Barack H. Obama November 24, 2014. “Signed, Sealed and Delivered: The Soulful Journey of Stevie Wonder” was published in 2010.

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Today in Black History 05/12/2015 | Samuel “Toothpick Sam” Jones

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May 12, 1955 Samuel “Toothpick Sam” Jones became the first African American to pitch a no-hitter in the major leagues. He accomplished this while pitching for the Chicago Cubs against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Jones was born December 14, 1925 in Stewartsville, Ohio. He began his professional baseball career in the Negro leagues in 1947. He began his major league career with the Cleveland Indians in 1951. During his major league career, Jones pitched for a number of different teams and was a two-time National League All-Star, led the National League in strikeouts three times, and was named the 1959 National League Pitcher of the Year by The Sporting News. Jones last year in the major leagues was 1964 and he retired from baseball in 1967 with a major league record of 102 wins and 101 losses. Jones died November 5, 1971.

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Today in Black History, 05/11/2015 | George Edmund Haynes

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May 11, 1880 George Edmund Haynes, sociologist, educator and author, was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas but raised in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Haynes earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Fisk University in 1903 and Master of Arts degree from Yale University in 1904. He began working for the Young Men’s Christian Association in the Colored Men’s Department in 1905. During 1905 and 1906, he visited almost all of the African American colleges in the South to assess Black higher education. He then moved to New York City where he became the first African American to graduate from the New York School of Philanthropy (now Columbia University School of Social Work) in 1910. Haynes became the first African American to earn a Ph. D. in economics from Columbia in 1912. He then became involved with organizations helping to ease the transition of African Americans moving from the South to New York City. Haynes co-founded the National League on Urban Conditions Among Negroes (now National Urban League) in 1910 by merging the Association for the Protection of Colored Women, the Committee for Improving the Industrial Conditions of the Negroes of New York, and the Committee on Urban Conditions Among Negroes. He served as the first executive secretary of the organization from 1910 to 1917. Haynes served as director of Negro economics for the United States Secretary of Labor from 1918 to 1921. In 1921, he became the first executive secretary of the Department of Race Relations for the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America, a position he held until his retirement in 1947. After retiring, Haynes taught one of the first African American history courses at a predominantly White institution at City University of New York. In 1948, he was appointed to the first board of the State University of New York. He published “Trends of the Races” in 1922 and “Africa, the Continent of the Future” in 1950. Haynes died January 8, 1960.

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Today in Black History, 05/10/2015 | Pickney Benton Stewart Pinchback

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May 10, 1837 Pickney Benton Stewart Pinchback, the first African American to become governor of a state in the United States, was born in Macon, Georgia. He made his way to New Orleans, Louisiana in 1862 and raised several companies of the Corps d’Afrique for the Union Army during the Civil War and was one of the few officers of African ancestry. Pinchback resigned his commission because of racial prejudice against Black officers. He was elected to the Louisiana State Senate in 1868 and became the acting Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana in 1871. The incumbent governor was removed from office and Pinchback became governor December 9, 1872 and served until January 13, 1873. During that brief 35 day period, he received vicious hate mail from around the country as well as threats on his life. After his governorship, Pinchback was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives in 1874 and the U. S. Senate in 1876. Pinchback also served on the Louisiana State Board of Education and was instrumental in establishing Southern University and served on their board of trustees. President Chester A. Arthur appointed Pinchback surveyor of customs in New Orleans in 1882. Pinchback later moved to Washington, D. C. where he practiced law until his death December 21, 1921. His biography, “Pickney Benton Stewart Pinchback”, was published in 1973.

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My Sister's Keeper: The Wright's Weekly Update May 11 - 17

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Today In Black History, 05/09/2015

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May 9, 1948 Calvin Murphy, hall of fame basketball player, was born in Norwalk, Connecticut. Before basketball, Murphy was a world class baton twirler. He won a national championship in baton twirling in 1963 and won the 1977 Texas State Men’s Twirling Championship. As a basketball player in high school, Murphy was a two-time All-American and at Niagara University he was a three-time All-American. Murphy was selected by the San Diego Rockets in the 1970 National Basketball Association Draft and over his 13 season professional career was one of the best free throw shooters ever, setting NBA records for the most consecutive free throws made and for the highest free throw percentage in a season. Murphy retired after the 1983 season. After retiring, he continued to work for the Rockets organization in numerous roles and hosted “The Calvin Murphy Show” on ESPN radio from 2007 to 2010. Murphy was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993, the shortest player ever inducted, and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. The address of his alma mater, Norwalk High School is 23 Calvin Murphy Road. 

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Today in Black History, 05/08/2015 | Phillis Wheatley

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May 8, 1753 Phillis Wheatley, the first African American woman to have her work published, was born in Senegal, West Africa. Wheatley was enslaved at seven. She was tutored by her owners and learned to read and write. Her book “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral” was published in London, England in 1773 and immediately brought her fame. As a result of her fame, she was emancipated by her owners and went on to publish other poems. Wheatley died December 5, 1784. Today, there is a building named in her honor at the University of Massachusetts and a statue of her is one of three included in the Boston Women’s Memorial unveiled October 25, 2003. Her biography, “Memoir and Poems of Phillis Wheatley, a Native African and Slave,” was published in 1834. Robert Morris University named their School of Communications and Information Systems building in her honor in 2012. Wheatley’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

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Today in Black History, 05/07/2015 | Lonnie Johnson and The Power Drencher

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May 7, 1986 Lonnie George Johnson received patent number 4,591,071 for the Power Drencher, high powered water gun. Johnson was born October 6, 1949 in Mobile, Alabama. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering and Master of Science degree in nuclear engineering from Tuskegee University in 1976. After graduating, he worked for the United States Air Force and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in various capacities from 1978 to 1987. After receiving his patent, it was 1989 before Johnson could find a company to manufacture and distribute his invention. By 1992, the Super Soaker was the number one selling toy in America and over the years has generated close to $1 billion in sales. Johnson formed his own company, Johnson Research and Development, in 1991. He continues to create gadgets ranging from a new type of rechargeable battery to an advanced dart gun. Johnson has close to 100 patents in his name. His Therm-Electrochemical Converter System was named one of the Top 10 World-Changing Innovations of the Year by Popular Mechanics magazine in 2008.

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Today in Black History, 05/06/2015 | Richard Austin

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May 6, 1931 Richard Henry Austin, the first African American to be elected to a state-wide position in Michigan, was born in Stouts Mountain, Alabama. Austin graduated from the Detroit Institute of Technology in 1937. He became the first Black Certified Public Accountant in Michigan in 1941 and co-founded the accounting firm Austin, Washington and Davenport in 1959. He served as Wayne County Auditor from 1967 to 1970. Austin was elected Michigan Secretary of State in 1970 and served until 1995, the longest serving secretary of state in Michigan history. During his tenure, he supported the enactment of laws mandating the use of seatbelts and child safety seats. He was also often referred to as “the father of the motor voter law” which combined the driver and voter registration processes. Austin died April 20, 2001. The Richard H. Austin State Office Building was dedicated in his honor in Lansing, Michigan May 11, 2006. Wayne State University also established the Richard H. Austin Fund for Accounting Excellence which annually provides scholarships to students who demonstrate the ability to excel in the accounting profession. Richard Austin was honored by The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History on May 5, 2015 and inducted into the museum’s Ring of Genealogy as a part of the 17th Annual Ford Freedom Award.

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