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Today in Black History, 6/8/2014

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• June 8, 1823 Robert Morris, one of the first Black lawyers in the United States, was born in Salem, Massachusetts. He became the student of a well-known abolitionist and lawyer and was admitted to the Massachusetts bar in 1847. Shortly after starting his practice, Morris became the first Black lawyer to file a lawsuit on behalf of a client in the U. S. The jury ruled in favor of Morris’ client. Morris was active in abolitionist causes and worked in opposition of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850. He also filed the first U. S. civil rights challenge to segregated schools in the 1848 Roberts v. Boston case. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled against Morris in 1850. In the early 1850s, he was appointed a justice of the peace and was admitted to practice before U. S. district courts. When the Civil War began, Morris helped in the recruitment of the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, the first officially sanctioned African American unit in the U. S. Army, while also advocating for equal treatment of African American soldiers. Morris died December 12, 1882.

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Today in Black History, 6/7/2014

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• June 7, 1917 Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks, hall of fame poet and novelist, was born in Topeka, Kansas but raised in Chicago, Illinois. Brooks published her first poem in a children’s magazine at 13 and by the time she was 16 had a portfolio of 75 published poems. In 1945, her first book of poetry, “A Street in Bronzeville,” was published and it received instant critical acclaim. She was selected one of Mademoiselle magazine’s Ten Young Women of the Year. She also won her first Guggenheim Fellowship and became a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her second book of poetry, “Annie Allen,” was published in 1949 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry May 5, 1950, the first won by an African American. In 1962, Brooks began teaching creative writing at several institutions, including Northeastern Illinois University and Columbia University. Her book length poem, “In the Mecca” (1968), was nominated for the National Book Award for Poetry. Also in 1968, Brooks was appointed Poet Laureate of Illinois and in 1985 was selected the Library of Congress’s Consultant in Poetry (now titled Poet Laureate). Brooks was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1988 and in 1994 was chosen as the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Jefferson Lecturer, the highest honor in the humanities given by the federal government. She was presented the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President William Clinton October 5, 1995. Brooks was awarded more than 75 honorary doctorate degrees from colleges and universities worldwide and there are a number of schools in Illinois named in her honor. Brooks died December 3, 2000. Her biography, “A Life of Gwendolyn Brooks,” was published in 1990.

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Today in Black History, 6/6/2014

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• June 6, 1902 James Melvin Lunceford, bandleader and alto saxophonist, was born in Fulton, Mississippi but raised in Denver, Colorado. Lunceford earned his Bachelor of Music degree from Fisk University in 1926. While teaching high school in Memphis, Tennessee, he formed a student band which eventually became the Jimmy Lunceford Orchestra. In 1934, the band began an engagement at the Cotton Club in Harlem, New York and by 1935 they had achieved a national reputation as one of the top Black swing bands. The Lunceford Orchestra recorded 22 hits, including the number one “Rhythm Is Our Business” in 1935. It was the first Black band to play New York’s Paramount Theater and tour White colleges. Glen Miller was quoted as saying, “Duke Ellington is great, Count Basie remarkable, but Lunceford tops them all.” By 1942, the band began to have internal problems and suffered a decline in popularity. Lunceford died July 12, 1947. The Jimmy Lunceford Jamboree Festival is held annually in Memphis and in 2011 a Mississippi Blues Trail marker dedicated to Lunceford was unveiled.

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Today in Black History, 6/5/2014

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• June 5, 1889 Ernest Charles Tanner, labor leader, was born in Indianapolis, Indianan but raised in Tacoma, Washington. Tanner briefly attended Whitworth College and was the first African American to play collegiate football in the Pacific Northwest. He also played in the local Negro league. In 1918, he joined the Tacoma chapter of the International Brotherhood of Longshoreman and over time rose to become a member of the executive board. Tanner insisted that African American dockworkers be paid the same wages and work under the same conditions as White dockworkers. Tanner died in 1956. The Ernest C. Tanner Labor and Ethnic Studies Center on the campus of the University of Washington is named in his honor.

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Today in Black History, 6/4/2014

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• June 4, 1895 Joseph Lee of Auburndale, Massachusetts received patent number 540,553 for a machine that made bread crumbs. Lee sold the rights for the machine to the Royal Worchester Bread Crumb Company and the machine was soon in major restaurants around the world. Lee had previously received patent number 524,042 for an improved dough-kneading machine for use in hotels August 7, 1894. Lee was born July 19, 1849 in Boston, Massachusetts and began working in a bakery as a boy. He soon began preparing and serving food, eventually opening two successful restaurants. For 17 years beginning in the late 1890s, he owned the Woodland Park Hotel in Newton, Massachusetts. In 1902, Lee opened the Lee Catering Company which served the wealthy population of Boston. At the same time, he also operated the Squantum Inn, a summer resort that specialized in seafood. Lee died in 1905.

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Today in Black History, 6/3/2014

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• June 3, 1871 Miles Vandahurst Lynk, pioneering physician, was born in Brownsville, Tennessee. In 1888, Lynk took a job teaching in Black rural schools to earn money to further his education. In 1891, he earned a medical degree from Meharry Medical College and in 1892 founded The Medical and Surgical Observer, the first national medical journal for Black physicians. The monthly journal was published until 1894, focusing on Black medical issues and offering the latest information available on treatments and professional ethics. Lynk was one of the twelve founders of the National Association of Colored Physicians, Dentists and Pharmacists, predecessor to the National Medical Association, in 1895. In 1900, Lynk founded the University of West Tennessee, a Black university that taught medicine, dentistry, and law that operated until 1924. He received the Distinguished Service Award from the National Medical Association in 1952. Lynk died December 29, 1957. The Tennessee Historical Commission erected a historical marker near his home in Brownsville to commemorate his life.

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Today in Black History, 6/2/2014

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• June 2, 1868 John Hope, educator and political activist, was born in Augusta, Georgia. Hope graduated from Worcester Academy in 1890 and earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Brown University in 1894. In 1898, Hope became professor of classics at Atlanta Baptist College (now Morehouse College) and in 1906 was appointed the institution’s first Black president. Hope also joined W. E. B. Du Bois and William Monroe Trotter as founders of the Niagara Movement. In 1928, Morehouse and Spelman College affiliated with Atlanta University to form the Atlanta University Center and Hope was chosen to be president, a position he held until his death February 20, 1936. Later in 1936, Hope was posthumously awarded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal. Hope was awarded honorary doctorate degrees by several colleges and universities, including Brown University, Bates College, and Howard University. Hope’s biography, “The Story of John Hope,” was published in 1948 and “A Clashing of the Soul: John Hope and the Dilemma of African American Leadership and Black Higher Education in the Early Twentieth Century” was published in 1998.

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Today in Black History, 6/1/2014

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• June 1, 1875 Alexander P. Ashbourne of Oakland, California received patent number 163,962 for a process for refining coconut oil for domestic use. His process allowed the coconut to retain its flavor for years without depreciation. Additionally, Ashbourne received patent number 170,460 for an improved biscuit cutter November 30, 1875, patent number 194,287 for a process for treating coconut August 21, 1877, and patent number 230,518 for a process for preparing coconut July 27, 1880. Not much else is known of Ashbourne’s life except that he was a successful dry goods grocer.

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Today in Black History, 5/31/2014

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• May 31, 1834 Anthony Burns was born enslaved in Stafford County, Virginia. In 1853, Burns escaped slavery to Boston, Massachusetts. There he worked for a clothing dealer until May 24, 1854 when he was arrested under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. On May 26, a crowd of abolitionist stormed the courthouse in an unsuccessful attempt to free Burns. Burns was tried and ordered to be returned to his Virginia owner. On the day of his return, the streets between the courthouse and the harbor were lined with federal troops to hold back the protesters as Burns was escorted to the ship. The Burns case fueled anti-slavery sentiments across the North. The abolitionist community of Boston raised $1,300 to buy Burns’ freedom and he returned to Boston to live. Burns subsequently received an education at Oberlin College and moved to Upper Canada to accept a call to preach at a Baptist church. He died July 17, 1862. “Imperfect Revolution: Anthony Burns and the Landscape of Race in Antebellum America” was published in 2011.

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Today in Black History, 5/30/2014

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• May 30, 1902 Stepin Fetchit, hall of fame comedian and film actor, was born Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry in Key West, Florida. Stepin Fetchit was his stage name and Perry parlayed his persona as “the laziest man in the world” into a successful film career, appearing in 54 films between 1925 and 1976, and becoming the first Black actor to become a millionaire. His films included “The Mysterious Stranger” (1925), “The Prodigal” (1931), and “Amazing Grace” (1974). In his personal life, Perry was highly literate and had a concurrent career writing for the Chicago Defender. Perry was often criticized by civil rights leaders for his roles but in 1976 the Hollywood Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People awarded him a special NAACP Image Award and in 1978 he was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame. Perry also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Perry died November 19, 1985. Biographies of Perry include “Stepin Fletchit: The Life and Times of Lincoln Perry” (2005) and “Shuffling to gnominy: The Tragedy of Stepin Flechit” (2005).

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Today in Black History, 5/29/2014

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• May 29, 1851 Sojourner Truth delivered her famous “Ain’t I a Woman” speech at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. Her simple short speech was a powerful rebuke of antifeminist arguments of the day. It is still considered a classic expression of women’s rights. Truth was born Isabella Baumfree enslaved in Swartekill, New York November 19, 1797. When she was nine, 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. 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. She 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 in 2009 she became the first Black woman to be honored with a bust in the United States Capitol. A number of books 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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Voices of the Civil War Episode 28 "The Battle of the Wilderness"

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MAY 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.

On May 4th, 1864 Lieutenant General-in-Chief of the Union Army Ulysses S. Grant ordered the Army of the Potomac to cross the Rapidan River and march through an area of dense woodland known as the Wilderness. Grant’s plan was for Union troops to move quickly through the Wilderness in order to slip behind Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia and invade Richmond, Virginia. Grant and Lee’s troops engaged in what would become the Battle of the Wilderness. Although the United States Colored Troops were not fighting on the front lines, their duties to guard Union supplies, rail lines, and beachheads proved to be necessary and perilous. The Battle of the Wilderness ended on May 6, 1864 marking the first of several engagements African American Union soldiers had with Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

Credits

1-6, 8, 13-25 Library of Congress

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

9-12 U.S. National Archives, Military Service Records

26 Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

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Today in Black History, 5/28/2014

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• May 28, 1875 Isaac Payne, John Ward, and Pompey Factor received the Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration, for their actions during the Indian Wars. All three men were Black Seminoles known as Seminole Negro Indian Scouts. Payne served as a trumpeter, Factor was a private, and Ward was a sergeant attached to the 24th Infantry Regiment. On April 25, 1875 they along with one other man “participated in a charge against 25 hostiles while on a scouting patrol” by the Pecos River in Texas. Not much else is known of their lives other than Payne was born in 1854 and died January 14, 1904, Ward was born in 1848 and died May 24, 1911, and Factor was born in 1849 and died March 28, 1928.

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Today in Black History, 5/27/2014

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• May 27, 1861 Victoria Earle Matthews, journalist, social worker and activist, was born Ella Victoria Smith enslaved in Fort Valley, Georgia. She and her family were emancipated after the Civil War and moved to New York City. Matthews had some formal education but was mostly self-taught. Around 1880, she began her journalistic career, writing for three New York newspapers and contributing articles to African American newspapers. In 1893, she published the novel “Aunt Lindy: A Story Founded on Real Life.” During the early 1890s, Matthews became more involved in African American political and social concerns and was a co-founder of the Woman’s Loyal Union, an organization that worked against racial discrimination and supported the anti-lynching campaign. In 1895, she co-founded the National Federation of Afro-American Women and was later instrumental in the merger of that organization and the National Colored Women’s League and the National Association of Colored Women. Matthews served as the first national organizer of the combined organization. In 1897, she founded the White Rose Industrial Home for Working Class Negro Girls, a settlement house for young Black women providing safe housing, education, and life and job skills. Matthews died March 10, 1907.

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Today in Black History, 5/26/2014

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• May 26, 1883 Mamie Robinson Smith, vaudeville singer, dancer, pianist and actress, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. As a teenager, Smith danced in Salem Tutt Whitney’s Smart Set and in 1920 recorded a set of songs, including “Crazy Blues” and “It’s Right Here For You (If You Don’t Get It, T’ain’t No Fault of Mine).” These were the first recordings of vocal blues by an African American singer and sold over a million copies in one year. “Crazy Blues” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1994 as a recording of “qualitative or historical significance” and selected to be part of the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress in 2005 as a recording of “cultural, historical, or aesthetical importance.” Smith continued to record throughout the 1920s and toured the United States and Europe. She appeared in a number of motion pictures, including “Jail House Blues” (1929), “Paradise in Harlem” (1939), and “Murder on Lennox Avenue” (1941). Smith died September 16, 1946.

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Today in Black History, 5/25/2014

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• May 25, 1849 Thomas “Blind Tom” Wiggins, autistic savant and piano music prodigy, was born enslaved and blind in Harris County, Georgia. By four, Wiggins had acquired piano skills based solely on hearing and at five composed his first tune, “The Rain Storm.” At eight, Wiggins was licensed to a traveling show and marketed as a “Barnum style freak.” In 1860, Wiggins performed at the White House for President James Buchanan and in 1866 was taken on a European concert tour. It was said that his memory was prodigious and he never forgot anything, he was often called “a human parrot.” During the latter part of the 19th century, he was one of the most well known American pianists. Despite his fame, Wiggins was exploited, deceived, and robbed of the money he earned by his White guardians. Wiggins died June 14, 1908. His biography, “The Ballad of Blind Tom, Slave Pianist” was published in 2009.

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Today in Black History, 5/24/2014

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• May 24, 1911 John Ward, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, died. Ward was born in 1847 in Arkansas. He was a Black Seminole and served as a sergeant in the 24th United States Army Infantry during the Indian Wars. On April 25, 1875, he and three other men “participated in a charge against 25 hostiles while on a scouting patrol” by the Pecos River in Texas. Not much else is known of Ward’s life.

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Today in Black History, 5/23/2014

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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 hundreds of Black and 14 White deaths. 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.” In 1975, the government of Jamaica proclaimed Sharpe a National Hero and Sam Sharpe Teachers’ College was founded. 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, 5/22/2014

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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 by 12 was writing original music. As a teenager, he would see big band performances and produce full transcriptions of the music from memory. By his mid-teens, he was performing professionally as a solo pianist or as a member of various jazz and R&B groups. In 1934, Sun Ra took over leadership of a group and renamed it the Sonny Blount Orchestra. From the mid-1950s to his death May 30, 1993, Sun Ra led The Arkestra. He was one of the first jazz leaders to use two basses and electronic instruments. In 1982, he was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts and in 1984 he was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame. 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, 5/21/2014

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• May 21, 1847 Isaiah Thornton Montgomery, founder of Mound Bayou, Mississippi, was born enslaved on Davis Island, near Vicksburg, Mississippi. Montgomery was taught to read and write by his parents and briefly educated in the plantation school. After being freed by the Thirteenth Amendment, he and his father took control of the plantation they were formally enslaved on and became the third largest cotton producers in Mississippi. Their cotton won the top awards at the 1870 St. Louis, Missouri Fair, the 1873 exposition in Cincinnati, Ohio, and 1878 exposition in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At their peak, they controlled 5,500 acres and had 1,000 field hands. However, successive bad crops, low prices, flooding, and debt plagued their operation and in 1881 ownership of the land was returned to the previous owner. Montgomery then pursued his dream of an all-Black colony of autonomous landowners by founding Mound Bayou in 1887. The town grew to 800 inhabitants on 30,000 acres with lighted streets, little crime, a bank, churches, schools, and more than 40 retail establishments. Montgomery served as the town’s mayor and was elected a delegate to the Mississippi Constitutional Convention in 1890. Montgomery died March 5, 1924.

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