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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, 05/16/2015 | 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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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, 05/08/2015 | 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 05/04/2015 | First Black owned and operated hospital in the United States

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May 4, 1891 Provident Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, the first Black owned and operated hospital in the United States, was established by Dr. Daniel Hale Williams. At that time, Black physicians had limited, or no, hospital privileges and nursing schools in Chicago did not admit Black students. The original building housed 12 beds. By 1897, the hospital had moved to a larger building, had 189 patients, and an outpatient clinic that treated 6,000 patients. In the early 1930s, Provident purchased a seven-story building, built a four-story outpatient clinic, and purchased two apartment buildings to house student nurses. Provident was forced to close in 1987 due to financial difficulties but reopened in 1997 as part of Cook County’s Bureau of Health Services.

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Today in Black History 05/03/2015 | "Grandmother of the Civil Rights Movement"

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May 3, 1898 Septima Poinsette Clark, “grandmother of the Civil Rights Movement,” was born in Charleston, South Carolina. As an African American, Clark was barred from teaching in the Charleston public schools therefore she began teaching on John’s Island. She returned to Charleston to teach at Avery Normal Institute, a private academy for Black children, in 1919 and became active with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Clark taught in the Columbia, South Carolina public schools from 1929 to 1947. During that time, she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Benedict College in 1942 and her Master of Arts degree from Hampton Institute in 1946. From 1947 to 1956, she taught in the Charleston public schools. Clark became vice president of the Charleston branch of the NAACP in 1956. That same year, the South Carolina legislature passed a law banning city or state employees from being involved with civil rights organizations. Clark refused to leave the NAACP and was fired from her teaching position. Beginning in 1954, she was active with the Highlander Folk School where she ran an adult literacy program. One of the participants in her workshops was Rosa Parks. In response to Southern states which required literacy and knowledge of the United States constitution in order to register to vote, Clark established “Citizenship Schools” throughout the Deep South. The program became so large that it was transferred to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Clark became SCLC’s director of education and training. Clark retired from the SCLC in 1970 and served on the Charleston County School Board, the first Black female member, from 1974 to 1982. President Jimmy Carter presented Clark a Living Legend Award in 1979. Her autobiography, “Ready From Within: Septima Clark and the Civil Rights Movement,” was published in 1986. Clark died December 15, 1987.

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Today in Black History 05/02/2015 | Elijah J. McCoy

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May 2, 1843 Elijah J. McCoy, hall of fame engineer and inventor, was born in Colchester, Ontario, Canada. His parents had escaped enslavement to Canada. McCoy studied engineering in Edinburgh, Scotland and after returning to Canada found work with the Michigan Central Railroad. He received patent number 129,843 July 12, 1872 for Improvements in Lubricators for Steam-Engines. This was a boon for railroads because it allowed trains to run faster and more profitably with less need to stop for lubrication and maintenance. McCoy continued to invent until late in his life, receiving 57 patents mostly related to lubrication but also including a folding ironing board and a lawn sprinkler. He formed the Elijah McCoy Manufacturing Company in 1920. McCoy died October 10, 1929. A Michigan historical marker was placed at the site of his Detroit, Michigan home in 1975 and Elijah McCoy Drive in Detroit was named in his honor. He was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2001 and the 2006 play “The Real McCoy” chronicled his life and inventions. His biography, also titled “The Real McCoy,” was published in 2007. McCoy’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, 05/01/2015 | The Memphis Riots of 1866

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May 1, 1866 The Memphis Riots of 1866 began after a shooting altercation between White policemen and Black soldiers recently mustered out of the Union Army in Memphis, Tennessee. For three days, mobs of White civilians and policemen rampaged through Black neighborhoods. A report by a joint Congressional Committee detailed 46 Black people and 2 White people killed, 75 persons injured, over 100 persons robbed, 5 women raped, and 91 homes, 4 churches, and 8 schools burned. No criminal charges were ever brought against any of the perpetrators of atrocities committed during the riots. The riots did result in major changes toward modernization of the city’s police force.

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Today In Black History, 04/30/2015 | Anthony Renard Foxx

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April 30, 1971 Anthony Renard Foxx, United States Secretary of Transportation, was born in Charlotte, North Carolina. Foxx earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Davidson College in 1993 and was the first African American student body president. He earned his Juris Doctor degree from New York University in 1996. After law school, he worked for the U. S. Department of Justice and the U. S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee. Foxx was elected to the Charlotte City Council in 2005 and re-elected in 2007. He was elected Mayor of Charlotte in 2009 and served until 2013. During his tenure, Foxx worked to create new jobs and reinforce Charlotte’s role as a major energy industry hub. Foxx was sworn in as U. S. Secretary of Transportation July 2, 2013.

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Today in Black History, 04/29/2015 | Lincoln University

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 April 29, 1854 Lincoln University, the first degree granting historically Black college, was established as Ashmun Institute in Chester County, Pennsylvania “to provide a higher education in the arts and sciences for male youth of African descent.” The institution was renamed Lincoln University in 1866. The first African American president was named in 1945 and the institution began admitting women in 1952. Between 1854 and 1954, Lincoln produced 20 percent of the Black doctors and 10 percent of the Black lawyers in the United States. Today, the institution offers 37 undergraduate majors and 5 pre-professional programs to approximately 2,500 students. Notable alumni include Roscoe Lee Browne, Cab Calloway, Langston Hughes, Thurgood Marshall, and Kwame Nkrumah.

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Today in Black History, 04/28/2015 | Sojourner Truth

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April 28, 2009 Sojourner Truth became the first African American woman to be honored with a bust in the United States Capitol. The over-life-size bust shows her in a cap and shawl similar to those in which she was often photographed. Truth was born Isabella Baumfree November 19, 1797 enslaved in Swartekill, New York. When she was nine, she was sold with a flock of sheep for $100. Truth escaped to freedom in 1826 and changed her name in 1843 and began traveling and preaching about abolition. Her memoir was published as “The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave” in 1850. Truth attended the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention and delivered her famous “Ain’t I a Woman” speech May 29, 1851. During the Civil War, Truth helped recruit Black troops for the Union Army and later met with Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant. Truth died November 26, 1883. She was posthumously inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1981. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor in 1986. A number of biographies have been published about Truth, including “Sojourner Truth: Slave, Prophet, Legend” (1993) and “Glorying in Tribulation: The Lifework of Sojourner Truth” (1994). Truth’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, 04/27/2015 | Hubert Henry Harrison

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  • April 27, 1883 Hubert Henry Harrison, writer, orator and political activist was born in St. Croix, Danish West Indies (now U. S. Virgin Islands).  Harrison moved to New York City in 1900 and started writing letters to the editor of the New York Times on topics such as lynching, Charles Darwin, and literary criticism. He also began lecturing on a wide variety of subjects and his outdoor speeches were instrumental in developing the Harlem tradition of militant street corner oratory. He began working for the Socialist Party of America in 1911 and founded the Colored Socialist Club in 1912 and became America’s leading Black socialist. Harrison founded the New Negro Movement in 1916 as a race conscious, internationalist, radical movement for equality, justice, opportunity, and economic power. His movement became the basis for Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association. Harrison also founded the Liberty League as a radical alternative to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Harrison became the editor of the Negro World, the newspaper of the UNIA, in 1920 and soon developed it into the leading race conscious, radical, and literary publication of the day. During the 1920s, Harrison’s book and theater reviews and other writings appeared in many of the leading publications of the day. Harrison founded the International Colored Unity League in 1924 which sought political rights, economic power, and social justice and urged self-reliance, self-sufficiency, and cooperative efforts. They also called for a Negro state in the United States. During this time Harrison was considered the “father of Harlem radicalism” and the “foremost Afro-American intellect of his time.” He influenced a generation of Black militants, including A. Phillip Randolph, Marcus Garvey, and Cyril Briggs. Harrison died December 17, 1927. A sampling of his varied work and poetry is included in “A Hubert Harrison Reader” (2001). He also wrote “The Negro and the Nation” (1917) and “When Africa Awakes” (1920). His biography, “The Voice of Harlem Radicalism,” was published in 2008.
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Today in Black History, 04/26/2015 Ma Rainey

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April 26, 1886 Ma Rainey, hall of fame vocalist and the “Mother of the Blues,” was born Gertrude Malissa Nix in Columbus, Georgia. Rainey first appeared on stage at 14 and began performing with her husband as Rainey & Rainey, Assassinators of the Blues in 1904. She made her first recording in 1923 and between that year and 1928 recorded more than 100 songs, including “Moonshine Blues” (1923), “C. C. Rider” (1924), and “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” (1927). She earned enough money that she was able to retire from performing in 1933 and run two theaters that she owned until her death December 22, 1939. Rainey was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor in 1994. In 2004, her recording of “C. C. Rider” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as a recording of “qualitative or historical significance” and included by the National Recording Preservation Board in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” Books about Rainey include “Ma Rainey and the Classic Blues Singers” (1970) and “Mother of the Blues: A Study of Ma Rainey” (1981). Rainey’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, 04/25/2015 | Chuck Cooper

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April 25, 1950 Charles Henry “Chuck” Cooper became the first Black player to be drafted by a National Basketball Association team when he was selected by the Boston Celtics. Cooper was born September 29, 1926 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He served in the United States Navy from 1945 to 1946. Cooper played college basketball at Duquesne University where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1950. Cooper played six seasons in the NBA before retiring from basketball in 1957. He worked in various non-profit programs before being named director of Pittsburgh’s parks and recreation department, the city’s first Black department head. He also earned his master’s degree in social work from the University of Minnesota in 1961. Cooper served as an urban affairs officer at Pittsburgh National Bank from 1971 to his death February 5, 1984.

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Today in Black History, 04/24/2015 | Duke Ellington

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April 24, 1969 Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Richard M. Nixon. Ellington was born April 29, 1899 in Washington, D. C. He began taking piano lessons at 7 and wrote his first composition, “Soda Fountain Rag,” at 14. He and his band began playing at Harlem’s Cotton Club in 1927 and weekly radio broadcasts from the club gave them national exposure. Ellington delivered some of his biggest hits during the 1930s and early 1940s, including “Mood Indigo” (1930), “Sophisticated Lady” (1933), “Caravan” (1937), and “Take the A Train” (1941). In 1943, he began to compose and perform longer form jazz suites with “Black, Brown, and Beige,” which told the story of African Americans and the place of slavery and the church in their history. Other innovative recordings include “Such Sweet Thunder” (1957), “The Far East Suite” (1966), and “The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse” (1971). Ellington also worked on film scores, including “Anatomy of a Murder” (1959) and “Paris Blues” (1961). He earned 13 Grammy Awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1966, and 9 of his recordings were inducted into Grammy Hall of Fame as recordings of “qualitative or historical significance.” Additionally, he was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1956, received the 1959 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal, inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1971, and awarded the Legion of Honor by France in 1973. Ellington died May 24, 1974. He was posthumously inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1978. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 1986, he was awarded a Special Citation by the Pulitzer Prize Board in 1999, and the U. S. Mint issued a special Washington, D. C. quarter in 2009 featuring his image, the first African American to appear alone on a circulating U. S. coin. His autobiography, “Music is My Mistress,” was published in 1976.

 

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Today in Black History, 04/23/2015 | Ralph Waldo Ellison

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April 23, 1985 Ralph Waldo Ellison was presented the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President Ronald W. Reagan. Ellison was born March 1, 1914 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He entered Tuskegee Institute on a music scholarship in 1933 but after his third year moved to New York City where he met Richard Wright who encouraged him to pursue a career in writing. Ellison had over 20 book reviews, short stories, and articles published in magazines between 1937 and 1944. He published the novel “Invisible Man” in 1952 and it won the 1953 National Book Award. Ellison published “Shadow and Act,” a collection of essays, and began to teach at Rutgers and Yale Universities in 1964. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Lyndon B. Johnson January 20, 1969 and the following year became a permanent member of the faculty at New York University. He was elected to The American Academy of Arts and Letters and Oklahoma City honored him with the Ralph Waldo Ellison Library in 1975. Ellison died April 16, 1994. His manuscripts “Flying Home and Other Stories” (1996) and “Juneteenth” (1999) were published posthumously. “Ralph Ellison: A Biography” was published in 2007. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 2014.

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Today in Black History, 04/22/2015 | Henry Thomas Sampson, Jr.

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April 22, 1934, inventor, film historian and writer Henry Thomas Sampson, Jr. was born in Jackson, Mississippi. Sampson earned his Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering from Purdue University in 1956 and his Master of Science degree in engineering from the University of California in 1961. He earned his Master of Science degree in 1965 and Ph. D. in 1967 in nuclear engineering from the University of Illinois, the first African American to earn a doctorate in nuclear engineering in the United States. Sampson received patent number 3,591,860 July 6, 1971 for his invention of the gamma-electric cell for nuclear reactor use. His invention produces stable high-voltage output and current to detect radiation in the ground. Sampson is also a writer and film historian. He has written “Blacks in Black and White: A Source Book on Black Films” (1977) and “The Ghost Walks: A Chronological History of Blacks in Show Business, 1865-1910” (1988). Sampson is on the board of Los Angeles Southwest College Foundation and is a technical consultant to the Historical Black Colleges and Universities Program. The Henry Thomas Sampson Library in Jackson is named in his honor.

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Today in Black History 04/21/2015 | Milton Lee Olive

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April 21, 1966 President Lyndon B. Johnson presented the Congressional Medal of Honor to the father of Milton Lee Olive, III who was killed in action during the Vietnam War. Olive was born November 7, 1946 in Chicago, Illinois. He enlisted in the United States Army at 17 and was serving as a private first class by 1965. On October 22, 1965, his actions earned him the medal, America’s highest military decoration. His citation partially reads, “Pfc. Olive was a member of the 3rd Platoon of Company B, as it moved through the jungle to find Viet Cong operating in the area. Although the platoon was subjected to a heavy volume of enemy gunfire and pinned down temporarily, it retaliated by assaulting the Viet Cong positions, causing the enemy to flee. As the platoon pursued the insurgents, Pfc. Olive and four other soldiers were moving through the jungle together when a grenade was thrown into their midst. Pfc. Olive saw the grenade, and then saved the lives of his fellow soldiers at the sacrifice of his own by grabbing the grenade in his hand and falling on it to absorb the blast with his body. Through his bravery, unhesitating actions, and complete disregard for his safety, he prevented additional loss of life or injury to the members of his platoon.” The City of Chicago recognized him by naming Olive Park on Lake Michigan in his honor in 1979. The Milton L. Olive Middle School in Long Island, New York is also named in his honor. 

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Today in Black History, 04/20/2015 | George Faison

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April 20, 1975 George Faison became the first African American to win the Tony Award for Best Choreographer for choreographing the 1974 production of “The Wiz.” Faison was born December 21, 1945 in Washington, D. C. He entered Howard University in 1964 to study dentistry but dropped out in 1966 to pursue a career in dance. He moved to New York City and joined the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1967 and remained there until 1969. He formed his own group, The George Faison Universal Dance Experience, in 1971. He served as dancer and choreographer, creating original works such as “Suite Otis” (1971) set to the music of Otis Redding. He also created pieces with a historical or political bent such as “Poppy” (1971) which dealt with the problem of drug addiction. Faison made his choreographic debut on Broadway with “Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope” in 1972. He has choreographed more than 30 other plays and musicals, including “Via Galactica” (1973), “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue” (1976), “Porgy and Bess” (1983), which earned his a Tony Award nomination for Best Choreographer, and “Sing, Mahalia, Sing” (1985). He was nominated for the Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Choreography for his work on the HBO production “The Josephine Baker Story” (1991). Faison co-founded the Faison Firehouse Theater in 1997 and serves as artistic director. 

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