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Today in Black History, 7/25/2014

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• July 25, 1824 George Boyer Vashon, the first African American graduate of Oberlin College, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At an early age, Vashon displayed an aptitude for languages, speaking Sanskrit, Hebrew, and Persian, and being well versed in Greek and Latin. In 1844, Vashon earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Oberlin and was valedictorian of his class. In his speech titled “Liberty of Mind” he stated, “genius, talent, and learning are not withheld by our common Father from people of color.” In 1846, Vashon applied for admission to the Allegheny County bar but his application was rejected because of his race. He therefore moved to New York State and successfully completed their bar examination in 1848, the first Black lawyer in New York. In 1849, Vashon moved to Port-au-Prince, Haiti where he served as a professor of Latin, Greek, and English. In 1851, he returned to the United States and joined the faculty of the predominately White New York Central College. While there, he wrote “Vincent Oge” (1854), an epic poem on the Haitian insurrection. In 1863, Vashon became the second Black president of Avery College. He later became a professor of mathematics and ancient and modern languages at Alcorn College where he served until his death October 5, 1878.

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Today in Black History, 7/24/2014

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• July 24, 1802 Alexander Dumas, playwright and novelist, was born Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie in Picardy, France. Dumas’ paternal grandfather was from the colony now known as Haiti and his grandmother was an Afro-Caribbean Creole. In 1822, Dumas moved to Paris, France and began writing plays for the theater. His first two plays, “Henry III and His Court” (1829) and “Christine” (1830), were successful and brought him much acclaim. After writing more successful plays, Dumas turned to historical novels, including “The Three Musketeers” (1844), “Twenty Years After” (1845), and “The Count of Monte Cristo” (1846). Despite his success and aristocratic connections, his being of mixed-race affected him all his life. In response to a man who insulted him about his mixed-race background, Dumas stated, “My father was a mulatto, my grandfather was a Negro, and my great-grandfather a monkey. You see, Sir, my family starts where yours ends.” Also in 1843, he wrote the novel “Georges” that addressed some of the issues of race and colonialism. Dumas died December 5, 1870. His stories have been translated into almost 100 languages and have inspired more than 200 motion pictures. A Paris Metro station was named in his honor in 1970. Biographies of Dumas include “The Incredible Marquis: Alexandre Dumas” (1929) and “Alexandre Dumas: A Biography and Study” (1929).

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Voices of the Civil War Episode 30: "Battle of the Crater"

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JULY 2014: The Voices of the Civil War is a five-year film series dedicated to celebrating and commemorating the Civil War over the course of the sesquicentennial. Each month, new episodes cover pertinent topics that follow the monthly events and issues as they unfolded for African Americans during the Civil War. Within these episodes there are various primary sources – letters and diaries, newspaper reports, and more - to recount various experiences of blacks during this period. We encourage your feedback and commentary through our Voices of the Civil War web blog.

Click here to visit the Voices of the Civil War blog to see previous episodes.

Stuck in a stalemate during a particularly hot and humid Virginia summer, on the morning of July 30, 1864, General Ambrose Burnside decided to take drastic measures: Union troops would dig a tunnel, pack it with explosives, and blow up the Confederate line. The explosion immediately killed 278 Confederate soldiers. For African American soldiers, the Battle of the Crater proved particularly devastating. Caught in the deep hole of the crater, black troops became easy targets of Confederate soldiers thirty feet above them, even as many tried to surrender. African American survivors of the Battle of the Crater viewed their sacrifice and valor on the battlefield as an integral process of transformation in American society that they hoped would result in the rights of full citizenship.

Credits

1 General Research & Reference Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations

2, 4, 5, 7, 11-17, 19, 21-24 Library of Congress

3, 6, 9, 11, 12 Library of Congress

3, 6, 8-10 National Archives and Records Administration

18, 26 Painting by Don Troiani

20 Image courtesy of liveauctioneers.com and Cowan's Auctions

25 Photo courtesy of Cowan’s Auctions Inc., Cincinnati, OH

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Today in Black History, 7/23/2014

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• July 23, 1840 John Adams Hyman, the first African American to represent North Carolina in the United States Congress, was born enslaved in Warren County, North Carolina. As a young person, Hyman had a thirst for knowledge and was sold at least eight times for attempting to learn to read and write. After the Civil War, he was freed and returned to North Carolina where he became a landowner and leader in the Black community. In 1868, Hyman was elected to the North Carolina constitutional convention. That same year, he was elected to the North Carolina State Senate where he served until 1874 when he was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives. The election was challenged and Hyman was not officially seated before his term ended in 1876. He unsuccessfully ran for re-election in 1876 and 1878. After that, he moved to Washington, D. C. where he worked for the U. S. Postal Service and U. S. Department of Agriculture. Hyman died September 14, 1891. A North Carolina historical marker honoring Hyman is located in Warrenton, North Carolina.

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Today in Black History, 7/22/2014

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• July 22, 1827 James Varick, founder and the first Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, died. Varick was born January 10, 1750 near Newburgh, New York. He acquired an elementary education and for many years worked as a shoemaker and tobacco cutter. In 1800, after leaving the predominantly White church he had been associated with for 30 years over their racial policies, Varick and other Black members established the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. Varick was ordained a deacon in 1806 and in 1822 was elected the first bishop. He was re-elected in 1824. Varick was a fierce opponent of slavery and fought for equal rights for African Americans. He was one of the Black leaders that petitioned the New York State Constitutional Convention to grant Black people the right to vote. He also actively supported the establishment of Freedoms Journal, the first Black newspaper in the United States. The James Varick Community Center was established in New York City in 1973.

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Today in Black History, 7/21/2014

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• July 21, 1818 Charles Lewis Reason, mathematician, educator and civil rights activist, was born in New York City. A mathematics child prodigy, Reason began teaching the subject at fourteen at the African Free School. He later studied at McGrawville College. In 1847, Reason co-founded the Society for the Promotion of Education among Colored Children, an organization authorized by the state legislature to oversee Black schools in New York City. In 1849, he was appointed professor of fine writing, Greek, Latin, and French and adjunct professor of mathematics at New York Central College, the first African American professor at a predominantly White college. Reason left that position in 1852 to become principal of the Institute for Colored Youth (later Cheyney University), a post he held until 1855. That year, he returned to New York City where he served as a teacher and administrator in the public school system until his retirement in 1892. Reason was committed to the antislavery cause and worked for improvements in Black civil rights. He founded the New York Political Improvement Association which won the right to a jury trial for previously enslaved fugitives in the state. He also headed the successful 1873 effort to outlaw segregation in New York schools. Reason died August 16, 1893.

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Today in Black History, 7/20/2014

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• July 20, 1874 William Henry Ferris, minister, author and one of the founding fathers of African studies, was born in New Haven, Connecticut. Ferris earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale University in 1895. He then studied for the ministry at Harvard Divinity School and earned his Master of Arts degree in journalism from Harvard University in 1900. He then taught school for a number of years before being ordained a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1910. Ferris was an active defender of civil rights for African Americans and was a member of the Niagara Movement and the American Negro Academy which promoted higher education for African Americans. In 1913, Ferris published “The African Abroad, or His Evolution in Western Civilization, Tracing His Development under Caucasian Milieu” which challenged societal norms in history, theology, and philosophy as they pertained to African Americans. In 1919, he became assistant president general and literary editor on the Universal Negro Improvement Association’s Negro World newspaper. Ferris died in 1941.

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Today in Black History, 7/19/2014

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• July 19, 1783 Richard Potter, the first successful Black magician in the United States, was born in Boston, Massachusetts. Potter was the son of an English baronet and an African American serving woman. As a result, he was educated in Europe and traveled widely before becoming an entertainer. Potter was known for his skills in ventriloquism, hypnosis, and magic and performed throughout New England and Canada. He became a wealthy man and in 1813 bought a 175 acre farm in Andover, New Hampshire in a village now known as Potter Place. Potter died September 20, 1835.

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Today in Black History, 7/18/2014

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• July 18, 1753 Lemuel Haynes, the first African American to serve as a pastor of a White congregation, was born in West Hartford, Connecticut. At five months, Haynes was given over to indentured servitude and remained until he was freed at 21. After being freed, Haynes joined the minutemen and served during the Revolutionary War. After the war, he began to write extensively, criticizing the slave trade and slavery as an institution. He wrote “liberty is equally as precious to a Black man, as it is to a White one, and bondage as equally as intolerable to the one as it is to the other.” By the early 1780s, Haynes had become a leading Calvinist minister and starting in 1783 ministered to Rutland’s West Parish in Vermont for 30 years. In 1804, Middlebury College granted Haynes an honorary Master of Arts degree, the first advanced degree bestowed upon an African American. Haynes died September 28, 1833. His home for the last 11 years of his life in South Granville, New York was declared a National Historic Landmark May 15, 1975. His biography, “Black Puritan, Black Republican: The Life and Thought of Lemuel Haynes, 1753 – 1833” was published in 2003.

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Today in Black History, 7/17/2014

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• July 17, 1794 The African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, the first Black church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the first Black Episcopal Church in the United States, opened its doors. The church was founded in 1792 by Absalom Jones as the African Church of Philadelphia. It developed from the Free African Society, a non-denominational group formed by Jones and Richard Allen who left St. George Methodist Church because of discrimination. While the church has been located in several different building, it has operated continuously since its founding. The church was the first Black church in the country to purchase a pipe organ and the first to hire a Black woman as organist. A historical marker was erected at the original location in 1984 by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. In 1966, the church dedicated the Absalom Jones chapel with a Festal Eucharist and enshrined his ashes in the altar.

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Today in Black History, 7/16/2014

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• July 16, 1862 Ida Bell Wells-Barnett, journalist and civil and women’s rights activist, was born enslaved in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Wells was freed at the end of the Civil War. She attended Rust College but was expelled for her rebellious behavior after confronting the president of the college. In 1889, Wells became co-owner and editor of Free Speech and Headlight, an anti-segregationist newspaper in Memphis, Tennessee. In 1891, a grocery store owned by three Black men was perceived to be taking away a substantial amount of business from a White owned grocery store across the street. The Black owned store was invaded by a mob resulting in three White men being shot and injured. The three Black owners, who were friends of Wells, were jailed and subsequently lynched. The murder of her friends sparked Wells’ interest in investigative journalism about lynching and becoming the leader of the anti-lynching crusade. In 1892, she published “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in all Its Phases” and in 1895 published “A Red Record, 1892-1894” which documented lynchings since the Emancipation Proclamation. In 1893, Wells and other Black leaders organized a boycott of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois to protest lynchings in the South. Wells was also significantly involved in the founding of the National Association of Colored Women, the National Afro-American Council, which later became the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the Women’s Era Club, which was renamed the Ida B. Wells Club. Wells spent the latter 30 years of her life working on urban reform in Chicago. Wells died March 25, 1931. In 1990, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor. “Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells” was published in 1970. Her life is also the subject of a musical drama, “Constant Star,” which debuted in 2006. The Ida B. Wells Housing Project in Chicago is named in her honor. Wells-Barnett’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, 7/15/2014

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• July 15, 1864 Maggie Lena Walker, hall of fame businesswoman, educator and the first female bank president, was born in Richmond, Virginia. Walker attended the Colored Normal School to be trained as a teacher and received her diploma, with honors, in 1883. After graduation, she taught for three years. In 1899, Walker was elected Right Worthy Grand Secretary-Treasurer of the Independent Order of St. Luke, a Black social and civic organization. In 1902, Walker founded the order newspaper, St. Luke Herald, and opened the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank with her as president November 2, 1903. By 1920, the bank had loaned money to purchase 600 homes. In 1930, the bank merged with two other Black owned banks in Richmond to become the Consolidated Bank and Trust Company with Walker as chairman of the board. The bank operates today as the oldest continuously operating minority-owned bank in the country. As a result of her business acumen, the order became financially successful and by 1924 had 100,000 members, 1500 local chapters, and assets of almost $400,000. Walker served as the leader of the Independent Order of St. Luke and chairman of the bank until her death December 15, 1934. She was the founder and lifelong head of the Colored Women’s Council of Richmond which raised money for local projects and maintained a community house. She was the co-founder and vice president of the Richmond branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and served on the national board for ten years. She also served as a trustee of Hartshorn College and Virginia Union University. Her home in Richmond was designated a National Historic Landmark May 15, 1975 and was opened as a museum in 1985. The Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School for Government and International Studies in Richmond is named in her honor. In 2001, Walker was posthumously inducted into the Junior Achievement U. S. Business Hall of Fame. “Maggie L. Walker and the I. O. of St. Luke: The Woman and Her Work” was published in 1927.

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Today in Black History, 7/14/2014

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• July 14, 1848 Walter “Wiley” Jones, one of the first wealthy African Americans in the South, was born enslaved in Madison County, Georgia but raised in Jefferson County, Arkansas. When Jones’s owner enlisted in the Confederate Army in 1861, Jones became a camp servant. After the war, he moved to Pine Bluff, Arkansas and worked as a barber and waiter in a hotel. He saved his money and invested in real estate and opened several businesses, including a successful saloon and horse-racing park. In 1886, Jones became one of the first African Americans to receive a franchise to operate a mule-drawn streetcar system, the Wiley Jones Street Car Lines. Although he never ran for office, Jones was one of the most influential political citizens in Arkansas during the 1880s and 1890s. He was a delegate to several Republican National Coventions and served as Circuit Clerk of Jefferson County from 1892 to 1894. Jones also supported the Colored Industrial Institute and donated land to the St. James Methodist Church. When Jones died December 7, 1904, he was the richest Black person in the state with an estate valued at $300,000.

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Today in Black History, 7/13/2014

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• July 13, 1863 The New York Draft Riots started. Initially intended to express anger at the draft for the Civil War, the protests turned ugly and degraded into “a virtual racial pogrom, with uncounted numbers of Blacks murdered in the streets.” Numerous buildings were destroyed, including an orphanage for Black children. Many of the protesters were immigrants and viewed freed African Americans as competition for scarce jobs. Order was restored after four days and it is estimated that 120 people were killed and 2,000 injured. At least eleven Black men were lynched. Several books have been written about the riots, including “The Armies of the Streets: The New York City Draft Riots of 1863” (1974) and “The New York City Draft Riots: Their Significance for American Society and Politics in the Age of the Civil War” (1990).

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Today in Black History, 7/12/2014

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• July 12, 1849 William Hooper Councill, educator, author, and first principal of what is now Alabama A&M University, was born enslaved in Fayettville, North Carolina. In 1857, Councill, his mother and one of his brothers were sold and eventually ended up in Alabama. His two other brothers were sold separately and he never saw them again. Councill and his family escaped to the North during the Civil War. Councill returned to Alabama in 1865 to attend a freedmen’s school and graduated in 1867. In 1869, he opened Lincoln School in Huntsville, Alabama to educate Black children in the region. In 1875, he was appointed the first principal of the State Colored Normal School at Huntsville (now Alabama A&M University) with the mission to train Black teachers for Alabama’s segregated school system. In 1877, Coucill founded the Huntsville Herald which he edited and published until 1884. He also founded St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church. Council wrote several books, including “Lamp of Wisdom” (1898), “Negro Development in the South” (1901), and “The Bright Side of the Southern Question” (1903). Councill died April 9, 1909. Hooper Councill High School, the first high school for Black students in Huntsville, was named in his honor and operated from 1867 to the 1960s.

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Today in Black History, 7/11/2014

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• July 11, 1821 Lucy Terry, creator of the oldest known work of literature by an African American, died. Terry was born around 1730 and stolen from Africa as an infant and sold into slavery in Rhode Island. On August 25, 1746, Native Americans attacked two White families in Deerfield, Massachusetts in an area called “The Bars.” Terry composed a ballad about the attack titled “Bars Fight” which earned her local acclaim. A successful free Black man purchased Terry’s freedom and married her in 1756. A persuasive orator, Terry won a case against false land claims before the Supreme Court of Vermont in the 1790s. She also delivered a three hour address to the Board of Trustees of Williams College to support the admittance of her son to the college. Although unsuccessful, the speech was remembered for its eloquence and skill. Her poem was preserved orally until it was published in 1855.

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President's Message, July 2014

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The song of summer is upon us, and I am happy to report several pieces of what I call our Grace & Mercy news: an award of $1 million from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to support children's programming, and a donation of $100,000 from LJ Holdings Investment Company CEO and museum Trustee Jon E. Barfield. We are so grateful to the Kellogg Foundation and Mr. Barfield, and to the hundreds of others who have stepped up since the beginning of the year to help support the institution envisioned by Dr. Charles H. Wright, whose 96th birthday will be commemorated at this year’s Legacy Dinner Saturday, September 20. As we come closer to the 50th anniversary of the founding of the museum, it is incumbent upon all of our stakeholders that we move beyond thinking of our gifts as merely support, but also sustenance – an ongoing source of funding that by its very nature will insure the sustainability of The Wright for its next 50 years. Our history and the gifts of our ancestors require nothing less.

But still, like dust, (we’ll) rise.

Jon Barfield knows this, as his $100,000 gift is but one of several he and his wife, Dr. Vivian Carpenter, have made over the years, including the hosting of fundraisers in their home. So does Howard Sims, who provided a $100,000 match to the Give A Grand, Make a Million campaign. Then, there is our Alma Greer. A retired teacher, principal, and 30-year veteran of the Highland Park School Board, Greer made it a point to take her kindergarten class to visit the International Afro-American Museum when Dr. Wright and his partners opened it in 1965. In 2013, she dedicated her 80th birthday celebration to the museum by asking family and friends to raise funds in lieu of birthday gifts. And just this past June, her foundation made it possible for a group of kindergarten students to not only visit, but also enjoy a fine dining experience – something many of them had never had the opportunity to do before.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still (we’ll) rise.

For a living institution like the museum, the work, and financial need, never ends. Like time and tides, they have their ebb and flow. But the very real effort of attracting talent, expanding capacity, and building towards sustainability has never been greater, or more necessary. We are at a cusp, having attracted over a quarter of a million guests this past year for the first time in our history, with the promise of so many, and so much, more. We must go from "good to great," from great to awesome, and awesome to (nationally) accredited.

Up from a past that’s rooted in pain…

Bringing the gifts that (our) ancestor(s) gave…

As the late Maya Angelou said, "We need to remember that we are created creative and can invent new scenarios as frequently as they are needed." In making my appeal that your continued gifts to The Wright be seen as necessary to allowing it to enact its mission with the highest levels of scholarship and service, and in accordance with the stature and dignity of the history and pride it represents, I hope Maya will forgive my liberties with her poem that inspired the name of our core exhibit, And Still We Rise.

"Behold, I will do a new thing; now it shall spring forth; shall ye not know it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert."
- Isaiah 43:19

Together, we will.

 

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Click here to download our July 2014 Member Newsletter

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Today in Black History, 7/10/2014

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• July 10, 1826 Peter Williams, Jr. became the second African American Episcopal priest ordained in the United States. Williams was born in 1786 in New Brunswick, New Jersey. His family moved to New York City where he attended the African Free School. He was also privately taught by the leader of the Episcopal Church. In 1818, Williams led the organization of St. Phillip’s African Church and on this date was ordained a priest. In 1827, he was a co-founder of Freedom’s Journal, the first African American owned and operated newspaper in the U. S. In 1833, he founded the Phoenix Society which provided assistance for impoverished Black New Yorkers. He also served on the executive board of the American Anti-Slavery Society. He helped raise money for the emigration of African Americans to Canada. Williams died in October, 1840.

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Today in Black History, 7/9/2014

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• July 9, 1793 The Act Against Slavery was passed by Upper Canada, that part of Canada that would eventually become Ontario, to prohibit the continuation of slavery. It was the first attempt to abolish slavery in the British Empire. The Act did not immediately abolish slavery but ensured the eventual elimination. The Act stated that all enslaved people in the province would remain enslaved until death, that no new enslaved people could be brought into Upper Canada, and that children born to enslaved females would be freed at age 25. It further stated that any children born to this second generation while they were still enslaved would be free from birth. The Act remained in force until 1833 when the British Slavery Abolition Act abolished slavery in most parts of the British Empire.

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Today in Black History, 7/8/2014

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• July 8, 1777 The Commonwealth of Vermont abolished slavery in their constitution. The constitution declared that all men are born equally free and independent and that no male over the age of 21 or female over the age of 18 may serve another in the role of servant, slave, or apprentice. When Vermont was admitted to the union in 1791, it carried over that constitution and thus became the first state in the United States to have abolished slavery.

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