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Today in Black History, 6/18/2013

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• June 18, 1877 The first settlers arrived in Nicodemus, Kansas, the only remaining western community established by African Americans. The town was named for an individual that came to America on a slave ship and later purchased his freedom. Formerly enslaved people in the South were encouraged to settle in Nicodemus. The town was portrayed as a place for African Americans to establish black self-governance. By 1880, Nicodemus had a population of almost 500, a bank, two hotels, three churches, a newspaper, a drug store, and three general stores. However in 1888, the Union Pacific Railroad bypassed Nicodemus and established an extension six miles away and across the river. Businesses moved to the new extension and Nicodemus began to experience a long gradual decline. The decline was accelerated by the 1929 depression and the severe droughts from 1932 to 1934. By 1935, the town was reduced to a population of 76 people. Today, approximately 20 people live in Nicodemus and the only remaining business is the Nicodemus Historical Society Museum. On November 12, 1996 Nicodemus was designated a National Historical Site. Annually, on the last weekend of July, Emancipation Day is celebrated in Nicodemus.

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Today in Black History, 6/17/2013

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• June 17, 1851 John Brown Russwurm, abolitionist and newspaper editor, died. Russwurm was born enslaved October 1, 1799 in Port Antonio, Jamaica. In 1807, he was sent by his white father to Quebec to attend school and in 1812 moved with his father to Portland, Maine. Russwurm graduated from Hebron Academy in his early twenties and taught at an African American school in Boston, Massachusetts. In September, 1826, Russwurm earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Bowdoin College, the first African American to graduate from Bowdoin. In 1827, Russwurm moved to New York City and along with his co-editor, Samuel Cornish, published the first edition of Freedom’s Journal, an abolitionist newspaper dedicated to opposing slavery, on March 16, 1827. Freedom’s Journal was the first newspaper in the United States to be owned and operated by African Americans. In 1829, Russwurm immigrated to Liberia where he served as the colonial secretary for the American Colonization Society until 1834. He also worked as editor of the Liberia Herald and served as the superintendent of education. In 1836, he became the first black Governor of the Maryland section of Liberia, a post he held until his death. There is a statue of Russwurm at this burial site in Liberia. The Russwurm African American Center on the campus of Bowdoin was dedicated in 1970. Biographies of Russwurm include “John Brown Russwurm” (1970) and “The Struggles of John Brown Russwurm: The Life of a Pan-Africanist Pioneer, 1799-1851” (2010).

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Today in Black History, 6/16/2013

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• June 16, 1792 Francis B. “Frank” Johnson, bugler, bandleader and composer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Not much is known of Johnson’s early life but by 1818 he was a well known musician in Philadelphia. That year, Johnson published “A Collection of New Cotillions,” making him the first published African American composer. He went on to compose more than 300 pieces of music with over 250 of his pieces being published. In 1824, Johnson composed much of the music for the triumphal return to Philadelphia of Revolutionary War hero General Lafayette. In 1837, he led his band to Europe, becoming the first black American musicians to visit Europe, where they performed for Victoria shortly before she became Queen of England. Johnson returned to the United States at the end of 1838 and toured widely through the U.S. and Canada until 1844. White bands often refused to perform in parades when Johnson’s band was performing. Johnson died April 6, 1844 but his band continued to perform until about the time of the Civil War. A Pennsylvania state historical marker in Philadelphia was dedicated to Johnson October 3, 1992.

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Today in Black History, 6/15/2013

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• June 15, 1755 John Marrant, one of the first African American preachers and missionaries, was born 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, Marrant 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 April 15, 1791. He 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, 6/14/2013

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• June 14, 1854 Nat Love, one of the most famous cowboys of the Old West, was born enslaved in Davidson County, Tennessee. Although he had no formal education, Love learned to read and write on his own. After the end of the Civil War, Love and his family were freed and Love headed west. Over the next few years, he worked as a ranch hand for several different ranches. In 1876, he entered a 4th of July competition in Deadwood, South Dakota involving roping, bridling, saddling, and shooting. Love won every competition and was nicknamed Deadwood Dick. Love continued to work as a cowboy until 1889 when he married and took a job as a Pullman porter. He published his autobiography, “Life and Adventures of Nat Love, Better Known in Cattle Country as Deadwood Dick,” in 1907. Love died in 1921.

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Today in Black History, 6/13/2013

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• June 13, 1828 St. Francis Academy, the oldest continuously operated school for black Catholic children in the United States, opened in Baltimore, Maryland under the name Baltimore School for Colored Girls. The founding mission was to teach children of color to read the bible. In 1870, the school moved to its current location where its main building has served as a convent, an orphanage, a dormitory, and a school for young women. By the turn of the 20th century, the school had been renamed St. Francis Academy. In 2002, the campus was expanded with a facility housing additional classrooms, new computer labs, a health suite, meeting rooms, and a gymnasium. Since its inception, the academy has addressed the societal forces disrupting the potential of children and their families.

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Juneteenth Family Celebration To Take Place at The Wright Museum; Annual Event Commemorates End of Slavery with Festival and Family Activities

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Juneteenth, also known as Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, is the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of slavery’s end in the United States. This year’s commemoration at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History takes place Saturday, June 22 from 11 am until 6 pm on Farnsworth Avenue behind the museum, located at 315 East Warren Avenue in Midtown Detroit’s Cultural Center.

The national observance of African American Emancipation Day began in Galveston, Texas in 1865. Today, Juneteenth symbolizes overcoming seemingly insurmountable obstacles, the pursuit of knowledge and the determination to achieve greatness. It is also a time to celebrate history, assess and improve one’s self, and plan for the future.

Presented by the Friends Committee of The Wright Museum, this year’s event, taking place outside on the museum grounds, features a parade and marching bands, vendors, historical activities including Jumping the Broom and Cakewalk demonstrations, live entertainment, arts and crafts, storytelling, and numerous children’s activities. Jackson Five Star Catering will be selling food onsite, but visitors can also bring their own picnic baskets or refreshments. The Juneteenth Family Celebration is free and open to the public.

For those interested in a warm-up, “Our Wedding Jumping to Juneteenth” takes place at 6 pm on Friday, June 21 at First Congregational Church of Detroit, located at 33 East Forest Avenue in Midtown. This free event will feature a historic African American wedding performance by Detroit Association of Black Storytellers and The Underground Railroad Players.

The Wright Museum will be open from 9 am to 5 pm on June 22 during the Juneteenth Celebration, and exhibits are free with museum admission, which is $8 for adults (ages 13 - 61), $5 for seniors (62 +) and youth ages (3 - 12), and free for museum members and children under 3. A free performance of Complex Movements' Beware of the Dandelions (work-in-progress), a 30-minute multi-media performance and installation about transformation and social justice movements as complex systems, takes place in the museum at 7 pm following the Juneteenth Celebration.

Founded in 1965 and located at 315 East Warren Avenue in Midtown Detroit’s Cultural Center, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History is the world's largest institution dedicated to the African American experience.  For more information, please visit TheWright.org.

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Today in Black History, 6/12/2013

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• June 12, 1868 King Solomon White, hall of fame Negro league baseball player, manager, executive, and author, was born in Bellaire, Ohio. White joined the Pittsburgh Keystones of the National Colored Baseball League in 1887, starting a playing career that lasted until 1912. He made a name for himself in the predominantly-white minor leagues before blacks were excluded from playing. White was instrumental in the 1902 formation of the Philadelphia Giants and the later development and operation of various leagues. In 1907, his book “Sol White’s History of Colored Baseball” was published, the first definitive history of black baseball. White spent most of his remaining years as a journalist for African American newspapers. White died August 26, 1955. He was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.

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Today in Black History, 6/11/2013

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• June 11, 1850 Henry Johnson, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Boydton, Virginia. On October 5, 1879, Johnson was serving as a sergeant in Company D of the 9th Cavalry Regiment at Milk River, Colorado during the Indian Wars when his actions earned him the medal. His citation reads, “Voluntarily left fortified shelter and under heavy fire at close range made the rounds of pits to instruct the guards and fought his way to the creek and back to bring water to the wounded.” In recognition of his heroic actions, Johnson was awarded the medal, America’s highest military decoration, September 22, 1890. Not much else is known of Johnson’s later life except that he died January 31, 1904 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

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Today in Black History, 6/10/2013

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• June 10, 1799. Joseph Bologne the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, musician, swordsman and equestrian, died. Saint-Georges was born December 25, 1745 in Guadeloupe, but raised in France. While still a young man, he acquired reputations as the best swordsman in France, as a violin virtuoso, and as a classical composer. In 1771, he was appointed maestro of the Concert des Amateurs and later director of the Concert de la Loge Olympique, the biggest orchestra of his time. He was eventually selected for appointment as director of the Royal Opera of Louis XVI, but was prevented from taking the position because three Parisian divas felt that “it would be injurious to their professional reputations for them to sing on stage under the direction of a mulatto.” Saint-Georges also served in the French army and was appointed the first black colonel, commanding a regiment of a thousand free colored volunteers. Despite his successes, Saint-Georges died destitute. Biographies of Saint-Georges include“Joseph Boulogne called Chevalier de Saint-Georges” (1996) and “Joseph de Saint-Georges, le Chevalier Noir (The Black Chevalier)” (2006).

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Today in Black History, 6/9/2013

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• June 9, 1845 James Carroll Napier, businessman and community activist, was born enslaved in Nashville, Tennessee. He and his family were freed when he was three years old. Napier earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Oberlin College in 1868 and his Bachelor of Laws degree from Howard University in 1872. In 1870, he became the first black non-janitorial employee at the United States Treasury Department. From 1878 to 1889, Napier served on the Nashville City Council where he authored legislation allowing the hiring of black teachers, police officers, and firefighters. He also became the first African American to preside over the council. On November 5, 1903, Napier and other black members of the Nashville business community founded the Nashville One-Cent Savings Bank (now Citizens Saving Bank & Trust Company), the nation’s first bank owned and operated by African Americans. He also was instrumental in the establishment of Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State Normal School for Negroes (now Tennessee State University) which opened its doors June 19, 1912. In 1911, Napier was appointed register of the Treasury Department. He resigned that position in 1913 to protest President Woodrow Wilson’s decision to allow continued segregation in federal office buildings. Napier also served as a trustee at Fisk University and Howard University. Napier died April 21, 1940.

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Today in Black History, 6/8/2013

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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, 6/7/2013

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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. 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. In 1995, she was presented the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President William Clinton. Brooks was awarded more than 75 honorary 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, 6/6/2013

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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, 6/5/2013

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• June 5, 1893 Mary Ann Camberton Shadd, educator and publisher, died. Shadd was born October 9, 1823 in Wilmington, Delaware. In 1840, she moved to West Chester, Pennsylvania and established a school for black children. When the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850 threatened to return free northern black people to bondage, Shadd moved to Windsor, Ontario where she founded a racially integrated school. In 1853, Shadd founded The Provincial Freeman newspaper which promoted temperance, moral reform, civil rights, and black self-help. Published until 1859, it was one of the longest published black newspapers before the Civil War. In 1861, Shadd published “Voice from Harper’s Ferry,” a tribute to John Brown’s unsuccessful raid. That same year, she returned to the United States and during the Civil War served as a recruiting officer to enlist black volunteers for the Union Army. After the war, she moved to Washington, D.C. where she taught school and attended Howard University Law School. In 1883 she graduated, becoming the second black woman to earn a law degree in the United States. On December 8, 1976, Shadd’s former residence in Washington, D.C. was designated a National Historic Landmark. Her biographies include “Shadd: The Life and Times of Mary Shadd Cary” (1977) and “Mary Ann Shadd Cary: The Black Press and Protest in the Nineteenth Century” (1998).

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Today in Black History, 6/4/2013

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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, 6/3/2013

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• June 3, 1871 Miles Vandahurst Lynk, pioneering physician, was born in Brownsville, Tennessee. In 1888, at the age of 17, 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. In 1895, Lynk was one of the twelve founders of the National Association of Colored Physicians, Dentists and Pharmacists, predecessor to the National Medical Association. In 1900, Lynk founded the University of West Tennessee, a black university that taught medicine, dentistry, and law that operated until 1924. In 1952, Lynk received the Distinguished Service Award from the National Medical Association. 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, 6/2/2013

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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 NAACP Spingarn Medal. Hope was awarded honorary 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, 6/1/2013

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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, 5/31/2013

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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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