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Today in Black History, 4/5/2013

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• April 5, 1839 Robert Smalls, businessman and politician, was born enslaved in Beaufort, South Carolina. In 1862, while serving as a helmsman on a Confederate military transport, he and other black crewman took over the ship and handed it over to the Union Navy. This action made Smalls famous in the North and Congress passed a bill rewarding Smalls and his crewman prize money for the captured ship. Following the Civil War, Smalls returned to Beaufort and purchased the estate of his former master. Smalls served as a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives from 1865 to 1870, the South Carolina Senate from 1871 to 1874, and the United States House of Representatives from 1875 to 1879 and 1882 to 1883. Smalls also served as United States Collector of Customs from 1889 to 1911. Smalls died February 23, 1915. The Robert Smalls House in Beaufort was designated a National Historic Landmark May 30, 1973 and Robert Smalls Middle School in Beaufort is named in his honor. In 2004, the United States Army named a Logistics Support Vessel for him, the first army ship named for an African American. Biographies of Small include “From Slavery to Public Service: Robert Smalls, 1839 – 1915” (1971) and “Gullah Statesman: Robert Smalls from Slavery to Congress, 1839 – 1915” (1995). In 2012, an exhibition, “The Life and Times of Congressman Robert Smalls,” was curated by the South Carolina State Museum.

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Today in Black History, 4/4/2013

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• April 4, 1910 Barthelemy Boganda, the first Prime Minister of the Central African Republic, was born. Boganda was adopted and educated by Roman Catholic missionaries. In 1938, he was ordained as the first Roman Catholic priest from his region. In 1946, Boganda was elected to the French National Assembly where he maintained a political platform against racism and the colonial regime. He also founded the Movement for the Social Evolution of Black Africa. On December 1, 1958, Boganda declared the establishment of the Central African Republic and became the first Prime Minister. Boganda died March 29, 1959 in an airplane crash. A little more than a year after his death, the Central African Republic attained formal independence from France. Boganda is considered a hero and the father of his nation. Many places in the CAR are named in his honor and March 29 is Boganda Day, a public holiday.

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Today in Black History, 4/3/2013

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• April 3, 1838 John Willis Menard, the first African American elected to the United States Congress, was born in Kaskaskia, Illinois. During the Civil War, Menard worked in the U.S. Department of Interior and in 1863 was sent to British Honduras to investigate a proposed colony for previously enslaved African Americans. After the war, Menard moved to New Orleans, Louisiana. In 1868, he was elected to Congress to fill an unexpired term, but was denied the seat due to a challenge by the loser. After hearing the arguments of both candidates, the House decided to seat neither man. During the process, Menard became the first African American to address the U.S. House of Representatives. Later, Menard moved to Florida where he served in the Florida House of Representatives and as justice of the peace for Duval County. He also was the editor of the Florida News and the Southern Leader from 1882 to 1888. Menard died October 8, 1893.

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Today in Black History, 4/2/2013

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• April 2, 1911 Charles “Honi” Coles, hall of fame tap dancer and actor, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Coles developed his high-speed rhythm tapping on the streets of his hometown. In 1940, while dancing with the Cab Calloway band, he teamed with Charles “Cholly” Atkins to form Coles & Atkins. Their partnership lasted 19 years. Coles made his Broadway debut in the 1949 production of “Gentleman Prefer Blondes.” He also appeared in “Bubbling Brown Sugar” in 1976. His performance in the 1983 production of “My One and Only” earned him both the Tony and Drama Desk Awards for Best Featured Actor in a Musical. During the 1980s, Coles taught dance and dance history at Yale, Cornell, Duke, and George Washington Universities. In 1991, Coles was awarded the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President George H. W. Bush. Coles died November 12, 1992 and was posthumously inducted into the Tap Dance Hall of Fame in 2003.

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President's Message, April 2013

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Juanita Moore, President & CEO of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African Americ
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The Wright Museum wrapped up an incredibly busy first three months of 2013, celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Black History Month, and Women’s History Month (see our event pictures inside… perhaps you’re in one!). In addition to the plethora of historically important individuals and events included in these months, it’s significant to note the confluence of several major anniversaries and events taking place this very year: the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, the second inauguration of the nation’s first African American president, Barack Obama, and the commemoration of Rosa Parks’ 100th birthday.

We were honored to host an enormously well received reception at the museum on February 4 for the new, commemorative stamp in honor of Rosa Parks’ 100th birthday. And thanks to Elaine Steele, I was able to attend the historical unveiling of the Rosa Parks statue in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol. The unveiling revealed a 9-foot-tall, 2,700-pound bronze statue with a granite base showing Mrs. Parks sitting, her legs crossed, her hands folded, a purse dangling from her fingers, and with a look of quiet determination behind her glasses.

The ceremony fittingly brought together President Obama and both Democratic and Republican congressional leaders to honor the legacy of Mrs. Parks. It was beautiful and moving for all in attendance, but particularly so for the rather large Detroit contingent present. Rosa Parks, after her death in Detroit, was the first woman to lie in state in the Capitol. Now, the mother of the modern civil rights movement becomes the first African-American woman to receive a full-size statue in the Capitol collection.

As we look back on the events of these past three months, it is fitting that we remember Dr. Carter G. Woodson, known as the father of African American History. The lectures, the scholars, the exhibitions, the publications, the performances, the workshops, and the artists all fit in his vision of the importance of telling our story. He said, “If a race has no history, if it has no worthwhile tradition, it becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.” This son of former slaves, who attended Berea College in Kentucky, received a bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1912, Dr. Woodson understood the importance of teaching, learning and sharing history – and that the African American story was a part of a much larger narrative.

So, as Carter G. Woodson and Rosa Parks would have, we invite you to visit us, in-person, and even online on our website and Facebook page, which recently added its 21,000th fan. It’s where visitors enjoy daily Black history facts, photos, and most recently, live video streams of museum events (videos of several recent events can be found in our website’s event archives). As we like to say, history lives year-round at The Wright Museum - come share it with us!

Samuel A. Hodge
Samuel Hodge, the artist and creator of the Stories in Stained Glass series ensconced in the corridor encircling the Ford Freedom Rotunda, died on January 11, and was interned in his adopted home of Spartanburg, South Carolina, on January 19. He was a sociologist, educator, funeral director, and self-trained artist whose great love and appreciation for the museum was well known. His works can be found in many private collections, in Detroit, and around the country. We are saddened by his passing, but also grateful and honored that his works, whose vivid shapes and luminous colors illuminate important facets of the African American experience, live at The Wright Museum. We will miss him.

 

Click here to download our April 2013 Member Newsletter

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Today in Black History, 4/1/2013

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• April 1, 1854 Augustine John Tolton, the first black Roman Catholic priest in the United States, was born enslaved in Ralls County, Missouri. During the Civil War, the Tolton family escaped to Quincy, Illinois. There, Tolton was tutored by several priests. No American seminary would admit a black student. Therefore, he attended the Urban College of the Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide in Rome, Italy. Tolton was ordained to the priesthood in Rome April 24, 1886 and directed to return to the United States to serve the black community. He organized St. Joseph Catholic Church and School in Quincy. After reassignment to Chicago, Illinois, Tolton led the development and administration of the “Negro national parish” of St. Monica’s Catholic Church which he grew to 600 parishioners. This earned him national attention and he was known for his eloquent sermons, beautiful singing voice, and his talent for playing the accordion. Tolton died July 9, 1897. His biography, “From Slave to Priest: A Biography of the Reverend Augustine Tolton (1854-1897),” was published in 1973. The Father Augustine Tolton Regional Catholic High School in Columbia, Missouri is named in his honor. In 2011, the Roman Catholic Church officially began the formal introduction of the cause for sainthood of Tolton.

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Today in Black History, 3/31/2013

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• March 31, 1797 Olaudah Equiano, seaman, merchant, explorer, and abolitionist, died. Equiano was born around 1745 in present day Nigeria and at the age of 10 was kidnapped by kinsmen and sold into slavery in the English colony of Virginia. Having a naval captain as a slaver allowed Equiano to receive training in seamanship and travel extensively. Later, Equiano was purchased by a Quaker merchant who taught him to read and write and allowed him to trade for his own benefit. These profits allowed Equiano to earn his freedom by his early twenties and return to Britain where he believed he was free of the risk of future enslavement. In 1789, Equiano’s autobiography, “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African,” was published and it rapidly went through several editions. It was the first influential slave autobiography and fueled a growing anti-slavery movement in Great Britain. The book vividly demonstrated the humanity of Africans as well as the inhumanity of the institution of slavery.

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Today in Black History, 3/30/2013

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• March 30, 1886 Robert F. Flemmings, Jr. of Melrose, Massachusetts received patent number 338,727 for improvements in the guitar. His instrument maintained all of the good qualities of the guitar of the times, but had superior volume and tone and was more sensitive to the touch. Nothing else is known of Flemmings’ life.

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Today in Black History, 3/29/2013

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• March 29, 1849 Andrew Jackson Beard, hall of fame inventor, was born enslaved in Woodland, Alabama. Beard was freed after the Civil War and 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 in 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. On November 23, 1897, he received patent number 594,059 for an 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 invention for $50,000. 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, 3/28/2013

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• March 28, 1923 Thaddeus Joseph “Thad” Jones, hall of fame jazz trumpeter, composer, and bandleader, was born in Pontiac, Michigan. Jones was a self taught musician and began playing professionally at the age of 16. He served in the United States Army band from 1943 to 1946. In 1954, Jones joined the Count Basie Orchestra where he contributed more than 20 arrangements and compositions. In 1956, he won the Down Beat New Star Award. Jones left the Basie Orchestra in 1963 to become a freelance arranger and studio musician. In 1965, he co-founded the Thad Jones/ Mel Lewis Orchestra. They played together for twelve years, winning the 1978 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance – Big Band for their album “Live in Munich.” In 1978, Jones moved to Copenhagen, Denmark where he composed for the Danish Radio Big Band and taught jazz at the Royal Danish Conservatory. He returned to the United States in 1985 to lead the Basie Orchestra after Basie’s death. Jones died August 21, 1986 and was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1987.

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Today in Black History, 3/27/2013

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• March 27, 1905 Leroy Carr, blues singer, pianist, and songwriter, was born in Nashville, Tennessee, but raised in Indianapolis, Indiana. Carr served in the United States Army in the early 1920s. Carr was one of the first Northern bluesmen and in 1928 recorded his first release, “How Long, How Long Blues,” which was an immediate success. Throughout the early 1930s, Carr was one of the most popular bluesmen and although his career was short, he left behind a large body of work, including “Blues Before Sunrise” (1934) and “When the Sun Goes Down” (1935). Carr died April 29, 1935. HIs vocal style influenced Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, and Jimmy Witherspoon, among others.

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Voices of the Civil War Episode 14 "Detroit Draft Riot"

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MARCH 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.

Episode 14 highlights a major riot within Detroit, Michigan, as one of many riots across the country in response to the Enrollment Act of Conscription. Similar to the riot in New York, the Detroit riot was in response to race and class tension surrounding the issues of slavery, draft exemption, and employment. On March 6, 1863 white Detroiters used the trial of William Faulkner as a catalyst to destroy property within black neighborhoods.

Credits

1. Library of Congress
2. Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History
3 - 6. Library of Congress
7. New York Public Library
8. Bentley Historical Library
9 - 10. Detroit Public Library
11. Detroit Historical Society
12. Philadelphia Print Shop
13 - 14. Library of Congress
15. Detroit Public Library
16. Library of Congress
17. Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History
18 - 20, 22 - 23. Detroit Public Library

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Today in Black History, 3/26/2013

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• March 26, 1831 Richard Allen, minister, educator, and the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, died. Allen was born enslaved February 14, 1760 in Germantown, Pennsylvania. He taught himself to read and write and in 1777 bought his freedom and that of his brother. Allen joined the Methodist Society at an early age and was qualified as a preacher in 1784. In 1786, he began to preach at St. George’s United Methodist Church. However due to the church’s segregationist policies, in 1787 he and Absalom Jones led the black members out of the church to form the Free African Society, a non-denominational mutual aid society. Also in 1787, Allen purchased a lot that became the site of Bethel AME Church which was dedicated July 29, 1794. That lot is now the site of Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church and is the oldest parcel of real estate in the United States continuously owned by black people. In 1816, Allen founded the independent denomination of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the first fully independent denomination in the United States, and was elected its first bishop. From 1797 to his death, Allen operated a station on the Underground Railroad for people escaping slavery. Allen published his autobiography, “The Life Experience and Gospel Labors of the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen: To Which Is Annexed the Rise and Progress of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States,” in 1800. “Richard Allen: Apostle of Freedom” was published in 1935. Allen’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, 3/25/2013

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• March 25, 1890 Jan Earnst Matzeliger of Lynn, Massachusetts posthumously received patent number 423,937 for a tack separating and distributing mechanism. His invention improved the mechanism whereby tacks are received in bulk and separated and distributed one at a time at intervals. Matzeliger was born September 15, 1852 in Paramaribo, Dutch Guyana (now Suriname). After working as a sailor, he settled in the United States at the age of 19. By 1877, he had moved to Lynn, Massachusetts and was working for a cobbler. After five years of work, he received patent number 274,207 March 20, 1883 for his automatic method for lasting shoes. His machine could produce shoes ten times faster than working by hand and resulted in more than a 50% reduction in the cost of shoes. Matzeliger never saw the profits of his inventions due to his death August 24, 1889. He also posthumously received patent numbers 415,726 November 26, 1889 for a mechanism for distributing tacks and nails, 421,954 February 25, 1890 for a nailing machine, and 459,899 September 22, 1891 for a lasting machine. In 1991, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor and in 2006 he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

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Today in Black History, 3/24/2013

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• March 24, 1896 Lewis H. Latimer of New York City received patent number 557,076 for a Locking Rack for hats, coats, umbrellas, and other articles. His invention securely held these items and only allowed the person to whom they belonged to remove them. Latimer was born September 4, 1848 in Chelsea, Massachusetts. He joined the United States Navy at the age of 15 and after receiving an honorable discharge joined a patent law firm as a draftsman at the age of 17. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell employed Latimer to draft the drawings required to receive a patent for Bell’s telephone. Although Thomas Edison is credited with the invention of the light bulb, Latimer made significant contributions to its further development. On January 17, 1882, he received patent number 252,386 for the Process of Manufacturing Carbons, an improved method for the production of carbon filaments for light bulbs. In total, Latimer received seven patents before his death December 11, 1928. He was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006 and Lewis H. Latimer School in Brooklyn, New York is named in his honor. His biography, “Lewis Latimer: Bright Ideas,” was published in 1997. Latimer’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, 3/23/2013

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• March 23, 1928 Channing E. Phillips, minister, social activist, and the first African American placed in nomination for President of the United States by a major party, was born in Brooklyn, New York. Phillips was a founding member of the Coalition of Conscience, a conglomeration of local organizations working to alleviate social problems in Washington, D.C. He led the D.C. delegation to the 1968 Democratic National Convention and after the death of Robert Kennedy, on August 28, 1968 Phillips was nominated as a favorite son candidate and received 68 votes. Phillip said that his candidacy was meant to show that “the Negro vote must not be taken for granted.” Phillips was also the president of the Housing Development Corporation, a government backed housing venture in the capital. Phillips died November 11, 1987.

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Today in Black History, 3/22/2013

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• March 22, 1892 Dox Thrash, painter and printmaker, was born in Griffen, Georgia. In 1911, Thrash moved to Chicago, Illinois to study at the Art Institute of Chicago. In 1917, he joined the United States Army and 14 months later was gassed and wounded while serving in France. After being discharged, he returned to the Art Institute where he studied until 1923. In 1926, Thrash moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where he worked for the Fine Print Workshop division of the Federal Arts Project. While there, he developed the carborundum printmaking process, the use of carborundum to etch copper plates instead of other etching techniques. After this, Thrash expanded his imagery to reflect the social evolution of African Americans during the first half of the 20th century. Although he was a well known artist by the 1940s, when he applied for a job at the Philadelphia Navy Yard as an insignia painter, he was turned down because “the job was not available for a member of my race.” Thrash remained a prominent artist in Philadelphia until his death April 19, 1965. In 2002, the Philadelphia Museum of Art presented a major retrospective of his work, featuring over 100 drawings, watercolors, and prints.

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Today in Black History, 3/21/2013

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• March 21, 1856 Henry Ossian Flipper, the first African American cadet to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point, was born enslaved in Thomasville, Georgia. After the Civil War, Flipper enrolled at Atlanta University and as a freshman was appointed to West Point where there were already four black cadets. Despite the difficulties caused by his white classmates, Flipper persevered and graduated June 14, 1877. As a second lieutenant, Flipper was the first non-white officer to command the Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry. In 1878, Flipper described his experience at West Point in the book “The Colored Cadet at West Point.” In 1881, Flipper was found guilty “of conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman” and dismissed from the service based on a relationship and correspondence with a white woman. Flipper contested the charges and fought to regain his commission until his death May 3, 1940. In 1976, the Department of the Army issued Flipper a posthumous Certificate of Honorable Discharge and in 1990 President William Clinton issued a pardon. After his discharge was changed, a bust of Flipper was unveiled at West Point and annually the Henry O. Flipper Award is given to graduating cadets who exhibit “leadership, self-discipline and perseverance in the face of unusual difficulties.” “Negro Frontiersman: The Western Memoirs of Henry O. Flipper” was published in 1963.

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Today in Black History, 3/20/2013

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• March 20, 1883 Jan Earnst Matzeliger of Lynn, Massachusetts received patent number 274,207 for his Automatic Method for Lasting Shoes. His machine could produce shoes ten times faster than working by hand and resulted in a more than 50% reduction in the cost of shoes. Matzeliger was born September 15, 1852 in Paramaribo, Dutch Guyana (now Suriname). After working as a sailor, he settled in the United States at the age of 19. By 1877, he had moved to Massachusetts and was working for a cobbler. After five years of work, he patented his invention. Matzeliger never saw the profits of his invention due to his death August 24, 1889. He also posthumously received patent numbers 415,726 November 26, 1889 for a mechanism for distributing tacks and nails, 421,954 February 25, 1890 for a nailing machine, 423,937 March 25, 1890 for a tack separating and distributing mechanism, and 459,899 September 22, 1891 for a lasting machine. In 1991, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor and in 2006 he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

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Today in Black History, 3/19/2013

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• March 19, 1872 Turner Byrd, Jr. of Williamsville, Michigan received patent number 124,790 for an improved apparatus for detaching horses from carriages. Byrd’s invention allowed the occupant of a carriage, when a horse became unmanageable, to simply pull a string to separate the horse from the carriage. Byrd also received patent numbers 123,328 February 6, 1872 for an improved harness rein holder, 126,181 April 30, 1872 for an improved neck-yoke for wagons, and 157,370 December 1, 1874 for an improvement in railcar couplings. Not much else is known of Byrd’s life.

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