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President's Message, November 2012

Posted by Juanita Moore
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The past two months of September and October, normally our slowest time of the year, have been quite remarkable thanks to the Visions of Our 44th President exhibition, which has attracted attention from near and far.  Fifteen of the participating artists, many of whom traveled from across the country at their own expense, attended an opening reception and artists’ discussion about this fantastic endeavor, which is living up to its billing as, “An exhibition of historic importance.”  We’re proud to host this groundbreaking artistic collaboration through August of 2013.  But please don’t wait to see it - as we expect crowds to swell following the presidential election and into the holiday season.

This month will truly be something special, as we have three new exhibits opening.  Inspiring Minds: African Americans in Science and Technology, our new, permanent and high-tech exhibition exploring the contributions, past and present, of African Americans to the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, opens Saturday, November 10.  The following week sees the openings of A Very PresentForce: Celebrating a Century of the Detroit Branch NAACP on November 14, and Pathways to Freedom in the Americas: Shared Experiences between Michigan and Mexico on November 15.

In combination with Moving to His Own Beat - Fela: The Man, The Movement, The Music, and the Museum’s central experience, And Still We Rise, November offers an unparalleled array of exhibits spanning art, activism, geography, history, music, science and technology.  Now more than ever, there’s something for everyone at The Wright Museum!

The Love of Literacy Lives On
We are pleased to announce a substantial award of support by the Miami-based John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.  Due in part to the success of July’s Jerry Pinkney Celebrity Children’s Book Fair, the Museum has received a $750,000 commitment by the Knight Foundation that will allow us to continue literacy programming on an annual basis.  The award was part of a combined $19.25 million investment in Detroit arts and culture; the other recipient institutions were the Arab American National Museum, Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit School of Arts, Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Michigan Opera Theater, and the Sphinx Organization.  We thank the Knight Foundation for their support, on behalf of our partner institutions, and the thousands of children our literacy programming will reach in the years to come.

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Today in Black History, 11/1/2012

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• November 1, 1848 Caroline Still Wiley Anderson, physician and educator, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1868, Anderson graduated from Oberlin College, where she was the only black woman in her class, and returned to Philadelphia to teach. She later taught music, drawing, and elocution at Howard University. Anderson later decided to become a medical doctor and in 1878 graduated from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, becoming the state’s first black female doctor. In addition to her private practice, Anderson ran the Berean Dispensary and the Berean Cottage which served poor women and children. She also helped found the Berean Manual Training and Industrial School and acted as its assistant principal and taught elocution, physiology, and hygiene. In the early 1900s, Anderson helped to establish Philadelphia’s first black Young Women’s Christian Association. She was also treasurer for the Women’s Medical College Alumnae Association, president of the Berean Women’s Christian Temperance Union, and on the board of the Home for Aged and Infirm Colored People of Philadelphia. Anderson died June 1, 1919.

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Today in Black History, 10/31/2012

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• October 31, 1896 Ethel Waters, hall of fame gospel, blues, and jazz vocalist and actress, was born in Chester, Pennsylvania. Waters began singing professionally in 1913 and for several years toured on the Black vaudeville circuit. In 1921, she became the fifth Black woman to make a record with the recordings “The New York Glide” and “At the New Jump Steady Ball.” In 1933, Waters starred in the all-Black film “Rufus Jones for President.” That same year, she took a role in the Broadway musical revue “As Thousands Cheer” where she was the first Black woman in an otherwise White show. In 1949, Waters was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the film “Pinky” and in 1950 she won the New York Drama Critics Award for her performance in the play “The Member of the Wedding.” Also in 1950, she starred in the television series “Beulah,” but quit after complaining that the scripts portrayal of African Americans was degrading. In 1962, Waters was nominated for the Emmy Award for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for an appearance on the television show “Route 66.” Waters died September 1, 1977 and was posthumously inducted into the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame in 1984. In 1994 the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor. Waters’ recordings “Dinah” (1925), “Am I Blue” (1929), and “Stormy Weather” (1933) were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as “qualitatively or historically significant.” In 2004, “Stormy Weather” was listed on the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important.” Waters authored two autobiographies, “His Eye is on the Sparrow: An Autobiography” (1951) and “To Me, It’s Wonderful” (1972). A biography, “Heat Wave: The Life and Career of Ethel Waters,” was published in 2011.

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Today in Black History, 10/30/2012

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• October 30, 1895 Ossian Haven Sweet, physician, was born in Orlando, Florida. At the age of six, Sweet witnessed the lynching and burning of a neighbor who had been accused of raping a white girl. That memory would haunt Sweet throughout his life. In 1917, Sweet earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Wilberforce University and from there he went to Howard University where he earned his Doctor of Medicine degree in 1921. Sweet then moved to Detroit, Michigan where he could not find work at a hospital due to his race. He was able to establish an office in “Black Bottom” where overpopulation and an influx of migrants who lacked medical care caused diseases and created threats to life. Recognizing the need for further medical training, in 1923 Sweet moved to Vienna and Paris to study. In Paris, he was able to experience life without prejudice and for the first time was treated as an equal to whites. In 1924, Sweet returned to Detroit and started work at Dunbar Hospital, Detroit’s first black hospital. In 1925, Sweet bought a house in an all-white neighborhood of Detroit. On the second day after the Sweets had moved in, a crowd of whites gathered outside the house and began to throw stones at the house. Several of Sweet’s friends and relatives were in the house and armed. Shots were fired from the house and one white man was killed. All eleven African Americans in the house were arrested. After two trials, Sweet and the others were acquitted of murder charges by an all-white jury. After the acquittal, Sweet’s life went downhill due to the death of his daughter and wife and financial difficulties. On March 20, 1960, Sweet committed suicide. The Ossian H. Sweet House in Detroit was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. “Arc of Justice: A Saga of Race, Civil Rights, and Murder in the Jazz Age” (2004) tells the story of Sweet and his battle for equality. Sweet’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, 10/29/2012

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• October 29, 1866 James Pierson Beckwourth, mountain man, fur trader, and explorer, died. Beckwourth was born enslaved on April 6, 1798 in Frederick County, Virginia. His owner emancipated him in 1824 and Beckwourth joined a fur trapping company on an expedition to explore the Rocky Mountains. In 1826, he was captured by the Crow Indians and for the next 8 or 9 years lived with them, rising in their society from warrior to chief. During the Mexican American War, Beckwourth served as a courier for the United States Army. In 1850, he was credited for discovering what came to be called the Beckwourth Pass, a passage through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In the mid-1850s, Beckwourth began ranching in the Sierra and his ranch, trading post, and hotel were the starting settlement of what became Beckwourth, California. In 1996, in recognition of his contribution to the city’s development, the City of Marysville, California officially renamed the city’s largest park Beckwourth Riverfront Park. Beckwourth published his autobiography, “The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth: Mountaineer, Scout and Pioneer, and Chief of the Crow Nation of Indians,” in 1856.

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Today in Black History, 10/28/2012

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• October 28, 1918 Edward Alexander Bouchet, educator and the first African American to earn a Ph.D. from an American university, died. Bouchet was born September 15, 1852 in New Haven, Connecticut. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Yale College in 1874, becoming the first black to graduate from the school, and based on his academic performance became the first black to be nominated to Phi Beta Kappa, but was not elected until 1884. Bouchet returned to Yale and in 1876 earned his Ph.D. in physics. Unable to find a university teaching position due to racism, he moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where he taught physics and chemistry at the Institute for Colored Youth (now Cheney College) for the next 26 years. Bouchet resigned in 1902 and from 1905 to 1908 was director of academics at St. Paul’s Normal and Industrial School (now St. Paul’s College). From 1908 to 1913, he served as principal and teacher at a high school in Ohio before joining the faculty of Bishop College in 1913. Illness forced him to retire in 1916. The American Physical Society presents the Edward A. Bouchet Award to outstanding physicists for their contributions to physics and in 2005 Yale and Howard universities founded the Edward A. Bouchet Graduate Honor Society.

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Today in Black History, 10/27/2012

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• October 27, 1917 Oliver Reginald Tambo, co-founder of the African National Congress Youth League, was born in Pondoland, South Africa. Tambo won a scholarship to Fort Hare, the only college that Blacks could attend, but was expelled in 1939 for participating in a student strike. He later studied law by correspondence and qualified as an attorney in 1952. In 1943, he along with Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu founded the ANC Youth League with Tambo as national secretary. In 1955, Tambo became secretary general of the ANC and in 1958 became deputy president. In 1959, Tambo was banned by the South African government and the ANC sent him to England, where he lived until 1990, to mobilize opposition to apartheid. He returned to South Africa and was elected national chairperson of the ANC in July, 1991. Tambo died April 24, 1993. In October, 2006, the airport in Johannesburg was renamed Tambo International Airport in his honor.

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Today in Black History, 10/26/2012

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• October 26, 1899 William Julius “Judy” Johnson, hall of fame Negro League baseball player, was born in Snow Hill, Maryland. Johnson began his baseball career in 1918 and reached the highest level of the Negro leagues in 1921. In 1930, Johnson was a player-coach for the Homestead Grays and in that capacity discovered fellow hall of famer Josh Gibson. From 1935 until his retirement as a player in 1938, Johnson was the captain of the Pittsburgh Crawfords, one of the greatest Negro league teams of all time. Johnson was also an accomplished talent scout, responsible for signing Bill Bruton and Dick Allen who later starred in the major leagues. He retired in 1973 and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1975. Johnson died June 15, 1989.

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Today in Black History, 10/25/2012

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• October 25, 1893 Joseph Charles Price, founder and first president of Livingston College, died. Price was born February 10, 1854 in Elizabeth City, North Carolina. He graduated as class valedictorian from Lincoln University in 1879 and was appointed to the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s delegation to the World Ecumenical Conference in London, England. In London, Price amazed audiences with his powerful speaking and was called “The World’s Orator” by the British press. Over the next year, Price raised $10,000 and returned to North Carolina in 1882 to open Livingston College. Price served as president of the college until his death. In 1890, he was elected president of the National Protective Association and that same year was voted one of the “Ten Greatest Negroes Who Ever Lived.” His biography, “Joseph Charles Price, Educator and Race Leader,” was published in 1943. In 1967, a North Carolina Highway Historical Marker was dedicated in his honor in Elizabeth City.

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Today in Black History, 10/24/2012

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• October 24, 1896 Marjorie Stewart Joyner, inventor of the permanent wave machine, was born in Monterey, Virginia. In 1916, Joyner became the first African American to graduate from the A.B. Molar Beauty School in Chicago. After graduating, she went to work for Madam C.J. Walker, overseeing 200 of her beauty schools as the national advisor. On November 27, 1928, she received patent number 1,693,515 for her invention of the permanent wave machine which could be used to curl or straighten hair by wrapping rods above the person’s head and then cooking them to set the hair. This method allowed hair styles to last several days. Because she was working for Walker, her invention was credited to Madam Walker’s company and she received almost no money for it. In 1945, Joyner co-founded the United Beauty School Owners and Teachers Association and in 1973, at the age of 77, she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in psychology from Bethune-Cookman College. Joyner died December 7, 1994.

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Today in Black History, 10/23/2012

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• October 23, 1810 William Alexander Leidesdorff, one of the earliest black settlers in California and often called the first black millionaire, was born in St. Croix, Virgin Islands. Leidesdorff left St. Croix when he was 15 for schooling in Denmark and after that went to New Orleans, Louisiana where he worked as a ship captain from 1834 to 1840. In 1841, he moved to California where he launched the first steamboat to operate on San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento River. He also built the first hotel and the first shipping warehouse. In 1844, Leidesdorff became a naturalized Mexican citizen and received a land grant of 35,521 acres. He went on to establish extensive commercial relations throughout Hawaii, Alaska, and Mexican California. When the United States took over California, Leidesdorff was one of three members on the first San Francisco school board and was later elected city treasurer. He also donated the land for the first public school. In 1845, President James Polk hired him as the United States Vice Consul to Mexico. When Leidesdorff died on May 18, 1848, he was one of the wealthiest men in California and on the day of his burial, flags were flown at half-mast, business was suspended, and the schools were closed. When his estate was auctioned in 1856, it was valued at more than $1,445,000. Leidesdorff streets in San Francisco and Folsom, California are named in his honor. His biography, “William Alexander Leidesdorff: First Black Millionaire, American Consul and California Pioneer,” was published in 2005.

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Today in Black History, 10/22/2012

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• October 22, 1870 James W.C. Pennington, abolitionist, educator, historian, and minister, died. Pennington was born enslaved on Maryland’s eastern shore and named James Pembroke in January, 1807. He escaped from slavery in 1827 and changed his name to Pennington. Illiterate when he escaped, Pennington taught himself to read and write and by the early 1830s was proficient in Greek and Latin. In 1831, he was elected a delegate to the first annual Free Colored Convention. In the mid-1830s, he moved to New Haven, Connecticut to pursue theological studies. Because he was black, Yale’s School of Divinity refused to enroll him as a regular student. They did allow him to attend lectures, but he could not participate in classes or borrow books from the library. Pennington successfully completed his training and in 1838 received his ordination. In 1841, he published “A Text Book of the Origin and History of the Colored People” in which he argued against European claims to superiority and established the African origins of western European civilization. He also advocated African American emigration to Jamaica. In 1843, Pennington was a delegate to the World Peace Society in London, England where he called for a boycott of all enslaver produced American goods. In 1849, the University of Heidelberg in Germany awarded him an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree, the first African American to be awarded an honorary degree by a European university, and the next year he published his autobiography, “The Fugitive Blacksmith; or Events in the History of James W.C. Pennington, Pastor of a Presbyterian Church in New York, Formerly a Slave in the State of Maryland, United States.” By 1853, Pennington had become a leading figure in the United States and that year was elected president of the National Free Colored People’s Convention. During the Civil War, Pennington advocated for black support and enlistment in the Union Army. After the Civil War, Pennington broke from the Presbyterians because of their reluctance to get involved with uplift efforts for the freed blacks. A biography, “American to the Backbone: The Life of James W.C. Pennington, the Fugitive Slave Who Became One of the First Black Abolitionists,” was published in 2011.

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Today in Black History, 10/21/2012

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• October 21, 1864 Alfred B. Hilton, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, died of wounds received at the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm during the Civil War. Hilton was born in Harford County, Maryland in 1842. On September 29, 1864, Hilton was serving as a sergeant in the 4th Regiment Colored Infantry when his unit participated in the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm on the outskirts of Richmond, Virginia. During the battle, Hilton carried the American flag as part of the unit’s color guard. As he charged the enemy fortifications, he grabbed the regimental colors from a wounded comrade. When he was seriously wounded, he called out “Boys, save the colors.” Two of his fellow soldiers grabbed the flags before they could touch the ground. On April 6, 1865, Hilton was posthumously awarded the medal, America’s highest military decoration, for his actions during the battle. Sergeant Major Christian Fleetwood and Private Charles Veale, both African Americans, also received the Congressional Medal of Honor for their actions during the battle.

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Today in Black History, 10/20/2012

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• October 20, 1849 William Washington Browne, educator, minister, and businessman, was born enslaved in Habersham County, Georgia. At 15, Browne ran away and joined the Union Army during the Civil War. After the war, he attended school in Wisconsin and then returned to the South in 1869 to teach in Georgia and Alabama. After becoming a Methodist minister in 1876, he urged the formation of groups to pool money and buy land. In 1889, he organized the True Reformers Savings Bank in Richmond, Virginia, the first black bank in the United States to receive a charter. At its peak in 1907, it took in more than $1 million in deposits. Browne was one of only eight men, including Booker T. Washington, selected to represent African Americans at the Cotton States and International Exposition in 1895. Browne died December 21, 1897 and his funeral was one of the largest ever seen in Richmond’s black community.

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Today in Black History, 10/19/2012

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• October 19, 1859 Byrd Prillerman, co-founder of West Virginia State College, was born enslaved in Shady Grove, Virginia. After being freed, Prillerman began school at the age of 12 and earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1889 from Knoxville College. He also earned his Master of Arts degree at Westminster in 1894 and a Doctor of Letters degree from Selma University in 1919. In 1891, along with Rev. C.H. Payne, Prillerman secured legislative action to create the West Virginia Colored Institute which opened its doors the following year with Prillerman as the head of the Department of English. He taught in that capacity until 1909 when he was elected president of the institution, a position he held until his retirement in 1919. Prillerman was also one of the organizers, and for many years president, of the West Virginia Teachers’ Association. One of his favorite sayings was “a well painted two-story house owned by a Negro is sharper than a two-edged sword.” Prillerman died April 25, 1929. Byrd Prillerman High School in Amigo, West Virginia is named in his honor.

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Today in Black History, 10/18/2012

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• October 18, 1887 Granville T. Woods of Cincinnati, Ohio received patent number 371,655 for the Electro-Magnetic Brake Apparatus. His invention provided an economical and efficient system for the operation and control of railway brakes by electro motive force. Woods was born April 23, 1856 in Columbus, Ohio. In 1884, he and his brother formed the Woods Railway Telegraph Company to manufacture and sell telephone and telegraph equipment. Woods was often called the “Black Edison” and over his lifetime was granted approximately 60 patents. Despite these achievements, he died virtually penniless on January 30, 1910. The Granville T. Woods Math and Science Community Academy in Chicago, Illinois is named in his honor.

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Voices of the Civil War Episode 9 "Port Royal Experiment"

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OCTOBER 2012: 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.

In Episode 9, we explore the bounds of citizenship for the newly released slaves on the Sea Islands of South Carolina during the Port Royal Experiment.  If slaves were treated like freedmen, were they not citizens?  And if the privileges of citizenship were extended to refugee slaves, was the Civil War indeed a conflict about slavery?

Credits

1 - 23 Library of Congress
24 North Carolina Collections, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Library
25 New York Public Library
27 Library of Congress
28 Oxford University Press
29 Public Domain
30 – 31 Library of Congress

 

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Today in Black History, 10/17/2012

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• October 17, 1711 Jupiter Hammon, the first African American published writer in America (several years earlier Phyllis Wheatley’s poems had been published in England), was born enslaved in Long Island, New York. Unlike most enslaved people, Hammon was allowed to attend school and could read and write. His first published poem, “An Evening Thought. Salvation by Christ with Penitential Cries,” was published on Christmas Day, 1760. On September 24, 1786, he delivered his “Address to the Negroes of the State of New York” in which he stated “If we should ever get to Heaven, we shall find nobody to reproach us for being Black, or for being slaves.” He also said that black people should maintain their high moral standards precisely because slaves on earth had already secured their place in heaven. Hammon remained enslaved his whole life and the date of his death is unknown, but it occurred before 1806. Hammon’s story is told in “America’s First Negro Poet: The Complete Works of Jupiter Hammon of Long Island” (1970) and “Jupiter Hammon and the Biblical Beginnings of African American Literature” (1993).

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Today in Black History, 10/16/2012

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• October 16, 1831 Lucy Ann Stanton, the first African American woman to complete a four-year collegiate course of study, was born in Cleveland, Ohio. Stanton entered Oberlin Collegiate Institute (now Oberlin College) in 1846 and in 1849 was elected president of the school’s Ladies Literary Society. Stanton graduated in 1850 with a literary degree. At her graduation, Stanton delivered an address entitled “A Plea for the Oppressed,” an anti-slavery speech which was published in the Oberlin Evangelist. After graduating, she moved to Columbus, Ohio to become principal of a school, but two years later returned to Cleveland to marry. In 1854, Stanton wrote a short story for her husband’s newspaper, making her the first black woman to publish a fictional story. Stanton and her husband moved to Buxton, Canada in 1856 to teach previously enslaved blacks. After divorcing her husband in 1859, Stanton returned to Cleveland. In 1866, she was sponsored by the Cleveland Freedman’s Association to teach in Georgia and later Mississippi. Stanton moved to Tennessee in the 1880s where she was an officer in the Women’s Relief Corps, a grand matron of the Order of Eastern Star, and president of the local chapter of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Stanton died February 18, 1910.

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Today in Black History, 10/15/2012

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• October 15, 1837 Fannie Jackson Coppin, educator and journalist, was born enslaved in Washington, D.C. Coppin’s aunt worked for $6 per month and saved $125 to purchase her freedom when she was 12 years old. In 1860, Coppin enrolled at Oberlin College and was the first African American student to be appointed in the college’s preparatory department. While attending Oberlin, she established an evening school for previously enslaved blacks. After earning her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1865, she began to teach at the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1869, Coppin became principle of the institute, making her the first African American woman to receive that title. She served in that position until 1906. In addition to teaching, Coppin founded homes for working and poor women and wrote an influential column in the local newspaper that defended the rights of women and blacks. In 1902, Coppin and her husband went to South Africa and founded the Bethel Institute, a missionary school that emphasized self-help programs. Coppin died January 21, 1913 and her book “Reminiscences of School Life, and Hints on Teaching” was published later that year. In 1926, a teacher training school was named the Fannie Jackson Coppin Normal School in her honor. That school is now Coppin State University. Coppin’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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