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Today in Black History, 4/15/2013

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• April 15, 1791 John Marrant, one of the first African American preachers and missionaries, died. Marrant was born June 15, 1755 in New York City, but raised in Charleston, South Carolina. During the Revolutionary War, the British forced him into the navy where he served for seven years. In 1782, he began training as a Methodist minister and was ordained in 1785. That year, he was sent to Nova Scotia to minister to several thousand African Americans who had fled north during the Revolutionary War. In 1788, Marrant became the chaplain of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge Free and Accepted Masons in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1790, Marrant traveled to London, England where he died. Marrant published his memoir, “A Narrative of the Lord’s Wonderful Dealings with John Marrant, A Black,” in 1785. His memoir was so popular that it was reprinted more than 17 times. A sermon he delivered in 1789 and his journal from 1785 to 1790 were also published.

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Today in Black History, 4/14/2013

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• April 14, 1816 The Bussa Rebellion, the first of three large-scale rebellions in the British West Indies that shook public faith in slavery, started in Barbados. The rebellion was led by an enslaved man named Bussa who had been born free in Africa, but was captured by African slave merchants and brought to Barbados. Bussa commanded approximately 400 freedom fighters and was killed in battle. In 1985, the Bussa Emancipation Statue was unveiled in Barbados and in 1999 Bussa was named the first national hero of Barbados.

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Today in Black History, 4/13/2013

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• April 13, 1873 The Colfax Massacre occurred in Colfax, Louisiana when whites, armed with rifles and a small cannon, overpowered black freedmen and state militia trying to control the parish courthouse after a contested election for governor. A military report to Congress in 1875 identified 81 black men by name who had been killed and estimated that 15 to 20 bodies were thrown in the Red River and another 18 secretly buried. An attempt to prosecute a few of the perpetrators led to the 1876 Supreme Court decision in United States v. Cruikshank, that the protections of the Fourteenth Amendment did not apply to the actions of individuals, but only to actions of the state. More information about the massacre can be found in “The Colfax Massacre: The Untold Story of Black Power, White Terror, & The Death of Reconstruction” (2007) and “The Day Freedom Died: The Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of Reconstruction” (2008).

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Today in Black History, 4/12/2013

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• April 12, 1825 Richard Harvey Cain, minister, abolitionist, and congressman, was born in Greenbrier County, Virginia. Cain attended Wilberforce University and a divinity school in Missouri. He joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1848 and in 1865 moved to South Carolina as superintendent of AME missions. In 1872, Cain was elected to the United States House of Representatives from South Carolina. He did not seek re-election in 1874 but was elected a second time in 1876 and served one term. In 1880, Cain was ordained an AME bishop serving the diocese of Louisiana and Texas and during that time he helped found Paul Quinn College, serving as president until 1884. Cain died January 18, 1897.

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Today in Black History, 4/11/2013

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• April 11, 1881 Spelman College, the oldest historically black college for females, was founded as the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary by two teachers from Massachusetts with 11 students and $100. In 1883, the school relocated to a nine acre site and in 1884 John D. Rockefeller provided funding to retire the debt on the property. The name of the school was changed to Spelman Seminary in honor of Rockefeller’s wife. In 1888, Sophia B. Packard was appointed the first of Spelman’s nine presidents. In 1924, the school became Spelman College, in 1929 it became part of the Atlanta University Center, and in 1932 it was accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Today, the campus consists of 26 buildings on 39 acres with 2400 students and 175 faculty members. Notable alumnae include Pearl Cleage, Marian Wright Edelman, Bernice Johnson Regon, and Alice Walker.

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Today in Black History, 4/10/2013

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• April 10, 1926 Johnnie Tillmon Blackston, welfare reformer, was born in Scott, Arkansas. The daughter of sharecroppers, Blackston never finished high school. When things went bad in Arkansas, she left her first husband and moved to Los Angeles, California with her six children. There she worked in a laundry and received Aid to Families with Children. During that time, welfare inspectors routinely invaded the privacy of recipients, checking on their possessions and ensuring that they were not living with men. In 1963, Blackston organized a meeting of other welfare recipients to protest these invasions. Out of that meeting came a statewide organization, Aid to Needy Children Mothers Anonymous. That organization inspired the creation of the National Welfare Rights Organization with Blackston as executive director. The NWRO successfully campaigned for reforms that removed many of the system’s paternalistic trappings. After the NWRO closed in 1974, Blackston worked as a legislative aide and served on state and local committees concerned with welfare until her death on November 22, 1995.

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Today in Black History, 4/9/2013

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• April 9, 1866 The Civil Rights Act of 1866 was passed by the United States Congress. The act provided that “All persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, penalties, taxes, licenses, and exactions of every kind and to no other.” The problem with the act was that it contained no remedies for violations and because those being discriminated against had limited access to legal help, it essentially left victims without any recourse.

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Today in Black History, 4/8/2013

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• April 8, 1872 Ruth Ada Gaines-Shelton, playwright, was born in Glasgow, Missouri. Shelton-Gaines graduated from Wilberforce University in 1895 and taught school until 1898. After marrying, Gaines wrote many plays, but her only known published work is “The Church Fight” which was published in the Crisis Magazine in May, 1926. This play is significant because it documents the creative activities of black women within their own communities during a time when most other avenues of opportunity were closed. “The Church Fight” continues to be performed today. Not much else is known of Gaines-Shelton’s life, including the date of her death.

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Today in Black History, 4/7/2013

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• April 7, 1803 Francois-Dominique Toussaint L’Ouverture, Haitian patriot and revolutionary leader, died. Toussaint was born enslaved May 20, 1743 in Saint-Domingue, Hispaniola (now Haiti). At an early age, Toussaint’s master recognized his superior intelligence and taught him French, gave him duties which allowed him to educate himself, and freed him at age 33. Beginning in 1791, Toussaint led enslaved black people in a long struggle for independence from French colonizers. By 1796, Toussaint was the dominant figure in Haiti and tried to rebuild the collapsed economy and reestablish commercial contacts with the United States and Britain. However, in 1802 he was kidnapped by the French and died in a French prison. Toussaint figures importantly in the early 19th century writings of several authors as a symbol and exemplar of resistance to slavery and as an example of the potential of the black race. He also inspired a number of 20th century works, including Leslie Pinckey Hill’s “Toussaint L’Ouverture: A Dramatic History” (1928) and Aime Cesaire’s “Toussaint Louverture” (1960). Toussaint’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, 4/6/2013

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• April 6, 1712 The New York City Slave Revolt started when 23 enslaved Africans killed nine whites and injured six. As a result, 70 black people were arrested and jailed, 27 were put on trial and 21 were convicted and executed. Also laws governing the lives of black people in New York were made more restrictive. Africans were not permitted to gather in groups of more than three, crimes such as property damage, rape, and conspiracy were made punishable by death, and free black people were not allowed to own land.

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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

Posted by Juanita Moore
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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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