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Today in Black History, 11/29/2013

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• November 29, 1887 Granville T. Woods of Cincinnati, Ohio was granted patent number 373,915 for the synchronous multiplex railway telegraph. His invention allowed communication between train stations from moving trains. Woods was born April 23, 1856 in Columbus, Ohio and dedicated his life to developing a variety of improvements related to the railroad industry and controlling the flow of electricity. In 1884, he and his brother formed the Woods Railway Telegraph Company to manufacture and sell telephone and telegraph equipment. In addition to the synchronous multiplex railway telegraph, Woods received approximately 60 other patents and was known to many people of his time as the “Black Thomas Edison.” Despite this, Woods died virtually penniless January 30, 1910. The Granville T. Woods Math and Science Community Academy in Chicago, Illinois is named in his honor. Woods was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006.

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Today in Black History, 11/28/2013

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• November 28, 1868 William Henry Lewis, college hall of fame football player and coach, lawyer and politician, was born in Berkley, Virginia but raised in Portsmouth, Virginia. Lewis played football at Amherst College, and is thought to have been the first African American college football player, where he was the team captain in 1891 and graduated in 1892 as the class orator. He then attended Harvard Law School where he also played football and was named All-American in 1892 and 1893, the first African American All-American. Lewis earned his Bachelor of Laws degree in 1895 and then coached the Harvard football team from 1895 to 1906, compiling a record of 114 wins, 15 losses, and 5 ties. In 1896, he published one of the first books on football titled “A Primer of College Football.” He was elected to the Cambridge, Massachusetts City Council where he served from 1899 to 1902 and was appointed to the Massachusetts legislature for one year in 1903. In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Lewis an Assistant United States Attorney, the first African American to hold that position, and in 1910 President William Howard Taft appointed him United States Assistant Attorney General which was reported as “the highest office in an executive branch of the government ever held by a member of that race.” In 1911, Lewis became the first African American admitted to the American Bar Association. Lewis was outspoken on issues of race and discrimination, calling for “an army of Negro lawyers of strong hearts, cool heads, and sane judgment, to help the large number of Negroes who are exploited, swindled and misused.” In 1919, Lewis was one of the signatories to a call for a National Conference on Lynching. Lewis died January 1, 1949. He was posthumously inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2009. A Virginia Historical Marker commemorating his life is located in Norfolk, Virginia.

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Today in Black History, 11/27/2013

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• November 27, 1891 John Denny was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration, for his actions during the Indian Wars. Denny was born around 1846 in Big Flats, New York. He joined the United States Army and served as a sergeant in Company C of the 9th Cavalry Regiment (Buffalo Soldiers). On September 18, 1879 at Las Animas Canyon, New Mexico his unit was involved in battle when Denny’s actions earned him the medal. His citation reads, “removed a wounded comrade, under a heavy fire, to a place of safety.” Not much else is know of Denny’s life except that he died November 26, 1901.

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Today in Black History, 11/26/2013

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• November 26, 1878 Marshall Walter “Major” Taylor, hall of fame bicyclist, was born in rural Indiana. At the age of thirteen, Taylor was hired to perform cycling stunts outside a bicycle shop while wearing a soldier’s uniform, hence the nickname” Major.” Taylor was banned from bicycle racing in Indiana because of his race and therefore moved to the East Coast. In 1896, he entered his first professional race in Madison Square Garden and won. Over his career, he raced in the United States, Australia, and Europe, including winning the world one mile track cycling championship in 1899 and becoming known as “The Black Cyclone.” Although he was celebrated in Europe, Taylor’s career was held back in the United States and he retired in 1910, saying he was tired of the racism. Although he was reported to earn between $25,000 and $30,000 a week while racing, Taylor died a pauper June 21, 1932. Taylor was posthumously inducted into the United States Bicycling Hall of Fame in 1989. A statue to memorialize Taylor was unveiled May 21, 2008 in Worcester, Massachusetts and Indianapolis, Indiana named the city’s bicycle track the Major Taylor Velodrome in 1982, the first building in Indianapolis built with public funds to be named after a Black person. Nike markets a sports shoe called the Major Taylor. Taylor published his autobiography, “Autobiography: The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World,” in 1929. Other biographies of Taylor include “Major Taylor: The Extraordinary Career of a Champion Bicycle Racer” (1988) and the television miniseries “Tracks of Glory: The Major Taylor Story” (1992).

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Today in Black History, 11/25/2013

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• November 25, 1874 Joe Gans, the first American born African American to win a world boxing championship, was born in Baltimore, Maryland. Gans started boxing in 1891 in “battle royals.” Those were matches where several young Black men were blindfolded and put in a ring to fight until there was one winner. In 1902, Gans won the World Lightweight Boxing Championship and held the title until 1908. He retired in 1909 with a career record of 145 wins, 10 losses, and 16 draws. Gans died August 10, 1910. He was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. Biographies include “Joe Gans: A Biography of the First African American World Boxing Champion” (2008) and “The Longest Fight: In the Ring with Joe Gans, Boxing’s First African American Champion” (2012).

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Today in Black History, 11/24/2013

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• November 24, 1868 Scott Joplin, hall of fame composer and pianist, was born near Texarkana, Texas. At eleven years old, Joplin was taught music theory, keyboard technique, and an appreciation of folk and opera music. As an adult, he also studied at George R. Smith College, a historically Black college in Missouri. He achieved fame for his unique ragtime compositions and was known as the “King of Ragtime.” Over his career, Joplin wrote 44 ragtime pieces, a ragtime ballet, and two operas. One of his first pieces, “Maple Leaf Rag,” became ragtime’s first and most influential hit and sold over one million copies of sheet music. Joplin died April 1, 1917 but his music returned to popularity with the 1970 release of “Scott Joplin Piano Rags,” which sold over a million albums, and the 1973 movie “The Sting” which featured several of his compositions and won the Academy Award for Best Music. In 1970, Joplin was posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame and in 1976 was recognized with a Pulitzer Prize for his contribution to American music. In 1983, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor. Several books have been published about Joplin, including “King of Ragtime: Scott Joplin and His Era” (1996) and “Dancing to a Black Man’s Tune: A Life of Scott Joplin” (2004). In The biographical film, “Scott Joplin,” was released in 1977.

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Today in Black History, 11/23/2013

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• November 23, 1897 Andrew Jackson Beard received patent number 594,059 for his improved rail coupler design. Before automatic car couplers, railroad workers had to manually hook railroad cars together by dropping a pin between the two connectors of the engaging cars. Often the workers could not move away from the cars fast enough and many, including Beard, lost limbs after becoming wedged between the cars. Beard sold the rights to this patent for $50,000. Beard was born March 29, 1849 in Woodland, Alabama and spent his first fifteen years enslaved. After emancipation, Beard worked as a farmer, carpenter, blacksmith, railroad worker, and businessman. He patented his first invention, a plow, in 1881 and sold the rights for $4,000. He patented a second plow December 15, 1887 and sold the rights for $5,200. He then invested the money from his inventions into a profitable real estate business. On July 5, 1892, he received patent number 478,271 for an improved rotary steam engine which was cheaper and easier to build and operate than conventional steam engines. Not much is known of Beard’s life after 1897 except that he died in 1921. Beard was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006.

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Today in Black History, 11/22/2013

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• November 22, 1871 Oscar James Dunn, the first elected Black lieutenant governor of a U. S. state, died. Dunn was born around 1826 in New Orleans, Louisiana. During the 1850s he became a member of the Prince Hall Masons, eventually serving as Grand Master of one of the lodges. This provided him a power base that would be the foundation of his political career. Dunn was also a businessman, running an employment agency that assisted in finding jobs for freedmen and serving as secretary of the advisory committee of the Freedmen’s Savings & Trust Company. In 1866, he organized the People’s Bakery. Dunn actively promoted and supported the Universal Suffrage Movement, advocated land ownership for all Black people, free public education for all Black children, and equal protection under the law. In 1868, Dunn was elected Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana, a position he held until his death. During his time in office, he was president pro tempore of the State Senate and president of the Metropolitan Police, with both positions commanding million dollar budgets. Dunn also served on the board of trustees and examining committee of Straight University (now Dillard University). Dunn’s funeral is reported to have been one of the largest ever in New Orleans with 50,000 people lining the streets for his funeral procession and newspapers across the nation reporting the event.

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Today in Black History, 11/21/2013

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• November 21, 1865 Shaw University was founded in Raleigh, North Carolina by the American Baptist Home Mission Society as the first college for African Americans in the South. The university was named for Elijah Shaw, benefactor of Shaw Hall, the first building constructed for the college. The Leonard Medical School was established in 1881 as the first four year medical school in the South to train Black doctors and pharmacists and operated until 1918. Today, the college has a faculty of 207 with 2,700 undergraduate and 100 postgraduate students. Notable alumni include Ella Baker, James E. Cheek, Willie E. Gary, and Shirley Caesar. “Shaw’s Universe: A Monument to Educational Innovation” was published in 1973.

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Voices of the Civil War Episode 22 "The Gettysburg Address"

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NOVEMBER 2013: 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.

On November 19, 1863, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, President Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address, just 272 words, lasting 3 minutes. The location of the Gettysburg Address had its own special resonance for African-Americans. Since the eighteenth century, the town of Gettysburg had maintained a small, vibrant African-American community. But during the Battle of Gettysburg, the two armies damaged or destroyed much of the property belonging to African-Americans, and many of the black residents who fled the town did not return. Though no one could mistake the meaning of the "new birth of freedom", the Gettysburg Address remained silent about the fate of African-Americans. The "great task" mentioned by Lincoln was not emancipation, but the preservation of self-government. Though words cannot end a war or bind up a nation's wounds, the Gettysburg Address lives on as perhaps the most significant speech in American history.

Credits

1, 3, 9, 11 National Archives and Records Administration

2, 5, 7-8, 10, 12, 13, 15-20, 24 - 25 Library of Congress

4, 6 Massachusetts Historical Society

14 Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University Library

21, 23 Adams County Historical Society, Gettysburg, PA

22 Courtesy of Special Collections/Musselman Library, Gettysburg College

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Today in Black History, 11/20/2013

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• November 20, 1695 Zumbi, also known as Zumbi dos Palmares, leader of the Quilombo dos Palmares in Brazil was captured and beheaded by the Portuguese. Zumbi was born free in Palmares in 1655 but was captured by the Portuguese when he was six years old. Despite efforts to pacify him, Zumbi escaped when he was 15 and returned to his birthplace. He became known for his physical prowess and cunning in battle and was a respected military strategist by the time he was in his early twenties. In 1678, Zumbi became the leader of Palmares and for the next seventeen years led the fight for the independence of Palmares, a self-sustaining republic of Maroons who had escaped from the Portuguese settlements in Brazil. Today, Zambi is honored as a hero, freedom fighter, and symbol of freedom in Brazil and a bust of Zumbi sits in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, with a plaque that reads “Zumbi dos Palmares, the leader of all races.” Also November 20 is celebrated as a day of Black consciousness in Brazil. Zambi dos Palmares International Airport in Macelo, Brazil is named in his honor.

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Today in Black History, 11/19/2013

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• November 19, 1797 Sojourner Truth, hall of fame abolitionist and women’s rights activist, was born Isabella Baumfree and enslaved in Swartekill, New York. When Truth was nine years old, she was sold with a flock of sheep for $100. In 1826, Truth escaped to freedom and in 1843 changed her name and began traveling and preaching about abolition. Her memoir, “The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave,” was published in 1850. Truth attended the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention and delivered her famous speech “Ain’t I a Woman” May 29, 1851. During the Civil War, Truth helped recruit Black soldiers for the Union Army and later met with Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant. Truth died November 26, 1883. Truth was posthumously inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1981, in 1986 the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor, and she became the first Black woman to be honored with a bust in the United States Capitol April 28, 2009. 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, 11/18/2013

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• November 18, 1900 Howard Thurman, author, theologian, educator and civil rights leader, was born in Daytona Beach, Florida. Thurman earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Morehouse College in 1923 and his Bachelor of Divinity degree from Colgate Rochester Theological Seminary in 1926. In 1929, he earned his Ph.D. from Haverford College. Thurman was selected as dean of Rankin Chapel at Howard University in 1932 and served until 1944 when he left to help establish the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, the first racially integrated, intercultural church in the United States. In 1953, he became the first Black dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University where he served until 1965. A prolific author, Thurman wrote 20 books, including “Jesus and the Disinherited” (1949) which greatly influenced Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1953, Life Magazine rated Thurman among the 12 most important religious leaders in the United States and Ebony Magazine called him one of the 50 most important figures in African American history. Thurman died April 10, 1981. That same year, “With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman” was published.

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Today in Black History, 11/17/2013

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• November 17, 1834 Nancy Green, storyteller, cook and one of the first African Americans hired to promote a corporate trademark, was born enslaved in Montgomery County, Kentucky. In 1890, Green was hired by the R. T. Davis Milling Company to represent Aunt Jemima for a ready-mixed, self-rising flour. In 1893, Green was introduced as Aunt Jemima at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois where it was her job to operate a pancake cooking display. Her personality and cooking ability made the display so successful that the company received over 50,000 orders and she received a medal and certificate from the Expo officials. After the Expo, Green was given a lifetime contract to adopt the Aunt Jemima moniker and promote the pancake mix. She traveled on promotional tours all over the country and gained the financial freedom to become an activist and engage in antipoverty programs. Green died September 23, 1923. In 1998, “Slave in a Box: The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima” was published.

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Today in Black History, 11/16/2013

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• November 16, 1873 William Christopher “W. C.” Handy, hall of fame blues composer and musician, was born in Florence, Alabama. In 1892, Handy received a teaching degree from Huntsville Teachers Agricultural and Mechanical College. At age 23, he became band master of Mahara’s Colored Minstrels and over the next three years toured throughout the United States and Cuba. From 1900 to 1902, he taught music at Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical College for Negroes (now Alabama A&M University). In 1903, he returned to leading bands and touring with the Knights of Pythias which he led for the next six years. The 1912 publication of his “Memphis Blues” sheet music was credited as the inspiration for the foxtrot dance step and many consider it the first blues song. By 1917, Handy had also published “Beale Street Blues” and “St Louis Blues.” Bessie Smith’s recording of “St Louis Blues” with Louis Armstrong is considered one of the finest recordings of the 1920s. In 1926, Handy authored “Blues: An Anthology – Complete Words and Music of 53 Great Songs” which was the first work to record, analyze, and describe the blues as an integral part of the history of the United States. He wrote four other books, including his autobiography “Father of the Blues: An Autobiography.” Handy died March 28, 1958. That same year, a movie about his life titled “St Louis Blues” was released. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 1969, he was posthumously inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1983, and awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993. Streets in New York, Tennessee, and Alabama are named in his honor and the W. C. Handy Music Festival is held annually in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

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Liberation Film Series presents “Negroes With Guns: Rob Williams and Black Power;” Free film screening & discussion focus on Black self-defense

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The documentary film Negroes With Guns: Rob Williams and Black Power tells the dramatic story of Robert F. Williams (1925 - 1996), an often-forgotten civil rights leader who urged African Americans to arm themselves against violence and oppression. In doing so, Williams not only challenged the Klan-dominated establishment of his hometown of Monroe, North Carolina, he alienated the mainstream Civil Rights Movement, which advocated peaceful resistance. A free film screening and accompanying discussion on Black self-defense take place Saturday, November 23, 2013, at 2 pm at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History, located at 315 East Warren Avenue in Detroit.

The story told in the documentary, Negroes With Guns: Rob Williams and Black Power, is a remarkable, yet widely unknown, portrayal of Robert Williams, one of America’s most important leaders in the 20th century and of the black liberation movement. Williams was president of the Monroe, North Carolina NAACP, president of Republic of New Africa and Chairman of Revolutionary Action Movement, and lived in forced exile in Cuba, China and Tanzania. Negroes With Guns focuses on Williams’ militant fight for African American human rights, armed self-defense and self-determination against the KKK, police, the FBI, and civil rights pacifists.

Following the conversation will be a discussion with Williams’ son, Reverend John C. Williams, Esq.; Dr. Gloria House (Aneb Kgositsile), Director of African-American Studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, who wrote and will read from the Forward to the book Negroes With Guns; and General Baker, Jr., a founding member of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers who visited Cuba in 1964 specifically to meet Robert F. Williams and later distributed Williams’ banned The Crusader Newsletter in the United States. Robert William’s wife, Mabel Ola Williams, and brother, John H. Williams, will be special guests, and Detroit Council Member JoAnn Watson will present an official City proclamation.

After reflecting on the life and legacy of Robert F. Williams, Dr. Aneb Kgositsile (Gloria House) stated the following, "A man of immense personal courage and vision, Robert Williams's fight and example compel us to be vigilant now, and to resist racist violence as it pervades and fractures every aspect of our lives, steadily eroding our human rights."

General Baker, Jr. added, “Robert F. Williams accomplished more in one lifetime than the average person could accomplish in three! U.S. - China relations during the Kissinger-Nixon period occurred because of Robert F. Williams’ work as a scholar-researcher and consultant at the Center of Chinese Studies at University of Michigan (Ann Arbor).”

The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History’s Liberation Film Series: 2013 - 2014 Season, entitled Injustice& Resistance, brings into focus the escalating injustice experienced by people of African descent in America today. The purpose is to leverage the collective knowledge of scholars, students, community activists and the grassroots community in a meaningful conversation that focuses on the examination of important films of our history.

The Liberation Film Series is supported by the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History and the Black Studies Departments of Michigan State University, University of Michigan - Dearborn, University of Michigan - Ann Arbor, Wayne State University, Eastern Michigan University, Wayne County Community College District, Oakland University, University of Massachusetts – Amherst, and Dr. Errol Henderson (University of Pennsylvania), Media Education Foundation, National Council of Black Studies, The Walter P. Reuther Library at Wayne State University, Wayne State University Press, Black White Look Optical, ASALH-Detroit, community activists, and individual contributors. Charles Ezra Ferrell, a consultant to The Wright Museum, is the LFS Founder and Program Director.

The 2013 - 2014 season of the Liberation Film Series runs through June 2014, and is free and open to the public. For more information, including the complete series schedule and respective speaker profiles, discussion topics, trailers, reading lists, supplemental educational links, and insightful statements of endorsement, please visit www.TheWright.org/liberation.

About Reverend John C. Williams, Esq.
At the tender age of eight, John was actively involved in the struggle for civil and human rights led by his parents in their home town of Monroe, NC. In the summer of 1961, the Williams family was forced to leave their hometown and country of birth under the threat of violence and death. As a result of this government-sanctioned racism, the Williams family went into political exile for eight years during which time they continued the struggle by bringing into focus on the international level the plight of African Americans in the United States.

At the age of nineteen, John C. Williams returned to the U.S. with his parents and older brother. Upon returning to the States, John received a B.A. Degree in Chinese Studies at Michigan State University and graduated with a Juris Doctorate degree from Indiana University, School of Law at Indianapolis.

John C. Williams has been a resident of Detroit for thirty years, twenty-nine of which have been committed to ministering the Gospel of Jesus Christ. During this period John has also worked with Detroit and other regional Public Schools, Life Directions, Inc., Joy of Jesus Ministries, Inc., People’s Community Services, Inc., Focus Hope, Inc. and a host of other youth and human development entities striving to make our world a better place for all.  Since 2003 John has served as Pastor of Cass Park Baptist Church located in the Cass Corridor of Detroit.

About Dr. Aneb Kgositsile (Gloria House)
Dr. Aneb Kgositsile (Gloria House), Ph.D is a Professor of Humanities and African American Studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, and Director of the African and African American Studies Program. Dr. House is also Associate Professor Emeritus in the Interdisciplinary Studies Department of Wayne State University, where she was a member of the faculty for twenty-seven years. During her career at Wayne State University, Dr. House won distinction as an excellent teacher, a pioneer in comparative cultural studies, and a leader for more equitable treatment of minority students, faculty and staff.

Dr. House earned her bachelor's degree in French and Political Science and her master's degree in Comparative Literature at the University of California at Berkeley. Her doctorate in American Culture was completed at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where she was a CEW Scholar and recipient of a Rackham Fellowship.

About General Baker, Jr.
General Gordon Baker, Jr. is a national and internationally-known labor leader who has been called the most important 21st century American revolutionary. He was a leader of the Detroit wildcat strikes in the 1960s, a founder of the legendary League of Revolutionary Black Workers, Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM), and the first American to refuse induction to fight in Vietnam. His case was a landmark in draft resistance, symbolizing the beginning of the anti-war movement. He travelled to Cuba and met Che Guevara and religiously listened to Robert F. Williams' radio show, "Radio Free Dixie," broadcasted from Cuba.

In the book, Detroit: I Do Mind Dying - about the worker revolts of that era - General Baker is cited as the "soul of the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement (DRUM)." DRUM was the driving force behind the wildcat strikes. The ideas emanating from that period inspired Black autoworkers throughout America.

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Today in Black History, 11/15/2013

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• November 15, 1825 Sarah Jane Woodson Early, educator, activist, and the first African American female college instructor, was born in Chillicothe, Ohio. Early graduated from Oberlin College in 1856 making her one of the first African American female college graduates. She was hired by Wilberforce University in 1858 to teach English and Latin and to serve as lady principal and matron. In 1868, Early began teaching at a school for Black girls in North Carolina. Early taught school for nearly four decades, believing that education was critical for the advancement of her race. She also served as principal of large schools in four cities. In 1888, she was elected national superintendent of the Colored Division of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and during her tenure gave more than one hundred speeches to groups in a five state region. At the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, Illinois, she was named “Representative Woman of the Year.” Early published “The Life and Labors of Rev. J. W. Early, One of the Pioneers of African Methodism in the West and South,” a biography of her husband, in 1894. Early died August 15, 1907.

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Today in Black History, 11/14/2013

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• November 14, 1856 John Edward Bush, co-founder of the Mosaic Templars of America (MTA), was born enslaved in Moscow, Tennessee. Bush and his family were freed after the Civil War and moved to Little Rock, Arkansas. Bush graduated with honors from Capitol Hill City School in 1876 and served as its principal for two years immediately following graduation. In 1883, he co-founded MTA, an African American fraternal organization which by 1930 had grown to international scope, spanning 26 states and 6 foreign countries. It was one of the largest and most successful Black owned business enterprises in the world and Bush was acknowledged as one of the wealthiest Black men in Arkansas. In 1898, President William McKinley appointed Bush the receiver of the United States Land Office in Little Rock and he was subsequently reappointed four additional terms by Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. Bush died December 11, 1916.

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Today in Black History, 11/13/2013

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• November 13, 1894 Albert C. Richardson of South Frankfort, Michigan received patent number 529,311 for the casket lowering device. Prior to his invention, caskets were simply buried in shallow graves or lowered with ropes into deeper graves. This required several people to work in unison to ensure that the casket was lowered evenly. Failure to do so would cause the casket to slip out the ropes and be damaged from hitting the ground. Richardson’s invention consisted of a series of pulleys and ropes which ensured uniformity in the lowering process. The same concept is used today. Richardson created several other devices. He received patent numbers 255,022 March 14, 1882 for a hame fastner, 446,470 February 17, 1891 for a butter churn, 620,362 February 28, 1899 for an insect destroyer, and 638,811 December 12, 1899 for an improvement in the design of the bottle. Not much else is known of Richardson’s life.

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Today in Black History, 11/12/2013

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on Tuesday, 12 November 2013
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• November 12, 1875 Egbert Austin “Bert” Williams, hall of fame comedian and the pre-eminent Black entertainer of his era, was born in Nassau, Bahamas. Williams moved to San Francisco, California to study civil engineering but instead joined a minstrel show. In 1893, he formed the team of Williams and Walker with his partner George Walker and they performed song and dance numbers, comic dialogues, and skits. In 1896, they headlined the Koster and Bial’s vaudeville house for 36 weeks and popularized the cakewalk dance. Williams and Walker appeared in a succession of hit shows, including “Sons of Ham” (1900), “In Dahomey” (1902), which on February 18, 1903 became the first Black musical to open on Broadway, and “Abyssinia” (1906). Williams composed and recorded many songs, including “Nobody” which sold between 100,000 and 150,000 copies, a phenomenal total for the era. In 1909, Walker was forced to leave their partnership due to ill health and in 1910 Williams joined the Ziegfeld Follies as the featured performer amid an otherwise all White show. By 1920, when 10,000 sales was considered a successful release, Williams had four songs that shipped between 180,000 and 250,000 copies and was one of the three most highly paid recording artists in the world. Williams died March 4, 1922. On November 18, 1944, the U. S. Liberty ship SS Bert Williams was launched in his honor and in 1996 he was posthumously inducted into the International Clown Hall of Fame. The many books about Williams include “Nobody: The Story of Bert Williams” (1970), “The Last Darky: Bert Williams, Black-on-Black Minstrelsy, and the African Diaspora” (2005), and “Introducing Bert Williams: Burnt Cork, Broadway, and the Story of America’s First Black Star” (2008). Williams’ 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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