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Today in Black History, 11/20/2012

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• November 20, 1695 Zumbi, also known as Zumbi dos Palmares, leader of the Quilombo dos Palmares in Brazil was captured and beheaded by the Portuguese. Zumbi was born free in Palmares in 1655, but was captured by the Portuguese when he was six years old. Despite efforts to pacify him, Zumbi escaped when he was 15 and returned to his birthplace. He became known for his physical prowess and cunning in battle and was a respected military strategist by the time he was in his early twenties. In 1678, Zumbi became the leader of Palmares and for the next seventeen years led the fight for the independence of Palmares, a self-sustaining republic of Maroons who had escaped from the Portuguese settlements in Brazil. Today, Zambi is honored as a hero, freedom fighter, and symbol of freedom in Brazil and a bust of Zumbi sits in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, with a plaque that reads “Zumbi dos Palmares, the leader of all races.” Also November 20 is celebrated as a day of black consciousness in Brazil. Zambi dos Palmares International Airport in Macelo, Brazil is named in his honor.

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Today in Black History, 11/19/2012

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• November 19, 1797 Sojourner Truth, hall of fame abolitionist and women’s rights activist, was born Isabella Baumfree enslaved in Swartekill, New York. When Truth was nine years old, she was sold with a flock of sheep for $100. In 1826, Truth escaped to freedom and in 1843 changed her name and began traveling and preaching about abolition. Her memoir, “The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave,” was published in 1850. In 1851, Truth attended the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention and delivered her famous speech “Ain’t I a Woman.” During the Civil War, Truth helped recruit black soldiers for the Union Army and later met with Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant. Truth died November 26, 1883. Truth was posthumously inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1981, in 1986 the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor, and in 2009 she became the first black woman to be honored with a bust in the United States Capitol. A number of biographies have been published on Truth, including “Sojourner Truth: Slave, Prophet, Legend” (1993) and “Glorying in Tribulation: The Lifework of Sojourner Truth” (1994). Truth’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

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Today in Black History, 11/18/2012

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• November 18, 1900 Howard Thurman, author, theologian, educator, and civil rights leader, was born in Daytona Beach, Florida. Thurman earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Morehouse College in 1923 and his Bachelor of Divinity degree from Colgate Rochester Theological Seminary in 1926. In 1929, he earned his Ph.D. from Haverford College. Thurman was selected as dean of Rankin Chapel at Howard University in 1932 and served until 1944 when he left to help establish the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, the first racially integrated, intercultural church in the United States. In 1953, he became the first black dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University where he served until 1965. A prolific author, Thurman wrote 20 books, including “Jesus and the Disinherited” (1949) which greatly influenced Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1953, Life Magazine rated Thurman among the 12 most important religious leaders in the United States and Ebony Magazine called him one of the 50 most important figures in African American history. Thurman died April 10, 1981 and that same year “With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman” was published.

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Today in Black History, 11/17/2012

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• November 17, 1834 Nancy Green, storyteller, cook and one of the first African Americans hired to promote a corporate trademark, was born enslaved in Montgomery County, Kentucky. In 1890, Green was hired by the R.T. Davis Milling Company to represent Aunt Jemima for a ready-mixed, self-rising flour. In 1893, Green was introduced as Aunt Jemima at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois where it was her job to operate a pancake cooking display. Her personality and cooking ability made the display so successful that the company received over 50,000 orders and she received a medal and certificate from the Expo officials. After the Expo, Green was given a lifetime contract to adopt the Aunt Jemima moniker and promote the pancake mix. She traveled on promotional tours all over the country and gained the financial freedom to become an activist and engage in antipoverty programs. Green died September 23, 1923. In 1998, “Slave in a Box: The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima” was published.

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Today in Black History, 11/16/2012

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• November 16, 1873 William Christopher “W.C.” Handy, hall of fame blues composer and musician, was born in Florence, Alabama. In 1892, Handy received a teaching degree from Huntsville Teachers Agricultural and Mechanical College. At age 23, he became band master of Mahara’s Colored Minstrels and over the next three years toured throughout the United States and Cuba. From 1900 to 1902, he taught music at Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical College for Negroes (now Alabama A&M University). In 1903, he returned to leading bands and touring with the Knights of Pythias which he led for the next six years. The 1912 publication of his “Memphis Blues” sheet music was credited as the inspiration for the foxtrot dance step and many consider it the first blues song. By 1917, Handy had also published “Beale Street Blues” and “St Louis Blues.” Bessie Smith’s recording of “St Louis Blues” with Louis Armstrong is considered one of the finest recordings of the 1920s. In 1926, Handy authored “Blues: An Anthology – Complete Words and Music of 53 Great Songs” which was the first work to record, analyze, and describe the blues as an integral part of the history of the United States. He wrote four other books, including his autobiography “Father of the Blues: An Autobiography.” Handy died March 28, 1958. That same year, a movie about his life titled “St Louis Blues” was released. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 1969, he was posthumously inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1983, and awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993. Streets in New York, Tennessee, and Alabama are named in his honor and the W.C. Handy Music Festival is held annually in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

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Inspiring Minds: African Americans in Science and Technology - New, permanent exhibition explores African American contributions to the STEM fields

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The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History has unveiled its newest permanent exhibit, Inspiring Minds: African Americans in Science and Technology.  Highlighting trailblazers, contemporaries, and careers in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, it is the Museum’s largest long-term installation since the opening of its core exhibit, And Still We Rise, in 2005.

African Americans have contributed to the scientific output of the United States since the 17th century, and this history is brought to life through interactive computer kiosks, a touch screen video wall, and hands-on activities and play areas.  Four disciplines of scientific advancement are explored: Physical Sciences, Earth Sciences, Life Sciences, and Technology & Engineering.  Within these, Inspiring Minds introduces individuals from across the spectrum of fields, levels of renown, and from times past and present, with particular focuses on African American women in science, black aviators, black inventors, medical ethics, and key historical figures such as George Washington Carver. 

“Inspiring Minds fulfills the wishes of the Museum’s founder, Dr. Charles H. Wright, himself a man of science,” says Robert L. Smith, the Museum’s vice president of Education and Exhibitions.  “Dr. Wright wanted children to know the contributions of African American scientists and inventors.  He believed this knowledge would inspire them to see greater possibilities for themselves.  Inspiring Minds promises to have a direct and meaningful impact on children who visit, increasing their appreciation and learning of the STEM fields and the individuals of color behind great inventions and discoveries.”

The mission of this multi-year project is to inspire young people to pursue careers in the STEM fields using the personal stories of historical and contemporary scientists and inventors who have made important contributions to the world.  Designed for K – 8th grade students as well as the general public, Inspiring Minds details the achievements of over 500 African American scientists and technologists.  The exhibit teaches general scientific concepts based on the Michigan Education Standards, and will feature educational programs including daily tours, workshops with contemporary scientists, and a national robotics competition.

The Wright Museum, located at 315 East Warren Avenue in Midtown Detroit’s Cultural Center, is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9 am until 5 pm, and on Sundays from 1 until 5 pm.  Inspiring Minds is free with museum admission, which is $8 for adults (ages 13-61), and $5 for seniors (62+) and youth (3-12).  Admission is free for Museum members and children under 3.  Significant funding for Inspiring Minds: African Americans in Science and Technology was provided by The Renaissance (MI) Chapter of The Links, Incorporated

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Today in Black History, 11/15/2012

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• November 15, 1825 Sarah Jane Woodson Early, educator, activist, and the first African American female college instructor, was born in Chillicothe, Ohio. Early graduated from Oberlin College in 1856 making her one of the first African American female college graduates. She was hired by Wilberforce University in 1858 to teach English and Latin and to serve as lady principal and matron. In 1868, Early began teaching at a school for black girls in North Carolina. Early taught school for nearly four decades, believing that education was critical for the advancement of her race. She also served as principal of large schools in four cities. In 1888, she was elected national superintendent of the Colored Division of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and during her tenure gave more than one hundred speeches to groups in a five state region. At the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago, Illinois, she was named “Representative Woman of the Year.” Early published “The Life and Labors of Rev. J.W. Early, One of the Pioneers of African Methodism in the West and South,” a biography of her husband, in 1894. Early died in August, 1907.

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Today in Black History, 11/14/2012

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• November 14, 1856 John Edward Bush, co-founder of the Mosaic Templars of America (MTA), was born enslaved in Moscow, Tennessee. Bush and his family were freed after the Civil War and moved to Little Rock, Arkansas. Bush graduated with honors from Capitol Hill City School in 1876 and served as its principal for two years immediately following graduation. In 1883, he co-founded MTA, an African American fraternal organization which by 1930 had grown to international scope, spanning 26 states and 6 foreign countries. It was one of the largest and most successful black-owned business enterprises in the world and Bush was acknowledged as one of the wealthiest black men in Arkansas. In 1898, President William McKinley appointed Bush the receiver of the United States Land Office in Little Rock and he was subsequently reappointed four additional terms by Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. Bush died December 11, 1916.

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Today in Black History, 11/13/2012

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• November 13, 1894 Albert C. Richardson of South Frankfort, Michigan received patent number 529,311 for the casket lowering device. Prior to his invention, caskets were simply buried in shallow graves or lowered with ropes into deeper graves. This required several people to work in unison to ensure that the casket was lowered evenly. Failure to do so would cause the casket to slip out the ropes and be damaged from hitting the ground. Richardson’s invention consisted of a series of pulleys and ropes which ensured uniformity in the lowering process. The same concept is used today. Richardson created several other devices. He received patent number 255,022 on March 14, 1882 for a hame fastner, patent number 446,470 on February 17, 1891 for a butter churn, patent number 620,362 on February 28, 1899 for an insect destroyer, and patent number 638,811 on December 12, 1899 for an improvement in the design of the bottle. Not much else is known of Richardson’s life.

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Today in Black History, 11/12/2012

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• November12, 1875 Egbert Austin “Bert” Williams, hall of fame comedian and the pre-eminent black entertainer of his era, was born in Nassau, Bahamas. Williams moved to San Francisco, California to study civil engineering, but instead joined a minstrel show. In 1893, he formed the team of Williams and Walker with his partner George Walker and they performed song and dance numbers, comic dialogues, and skits. In 1896, they headlined the Koster and Bial’s vaudeville house for 36 weeks and popularized the cakewalk dance. Williams and Walker appeared in a succession of hit shows, including “Sons of Ham” (1900), “In Dahomey” (1902), which on February 18, 1903 became the first black musical to open on Broadway, and “Abyssinia” (1906). Williams composed and recorded many songs, including “Nobody” which sold between 100,000 and 150,000 copies, a phenomenal total for the era. In 1909, Walker was forced to leave their partnership due to ill health and in 1910 Williams joined the Ziegfeld Follies as the featured performer amid an otherwise all-white show. By 1920, when 10,000 sales was considered a successful release, Williams had four songs that shipped between 180,000 and 250,000 copies and was one of the three most highly paid recording artists in the world. Williams died March 4, 1922. On November 18, 1944, the U.S. Liberty ship SS Bert Williams was launched in his honor and in 1996 he was posthumously inducted into the International Clown Hall of Fame. The many books about Williams include “Nobody: The Story of Bert Williams” (1970), “The Last Darky: Bert Williams, Black- on-Black Minstrelsy, and the African Diaspora” (2005), and “Introducing Bert Williams: Burnt Cork, Broadway, and the Story of America’s First Black Star” (2008). Williams’ 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, 11/11/2012

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• November 11, 1831 Nathaniel “Nat” Turner, rebellion leader, was executed by hanging in Jerusalem, Virginia after initiating a rebellion of enslaved and free black people. Turner was born enslaved October 2, 1800 in Southampton County, Virginia. He learned to read and write at a young age and was deeply religious. By early 1828, he was convinced that he “was ordained for some great purpose in the hands of the Almighty” and that God had given him the task of “slaying my enemies with their own weapons.” On August 13, 1831, there was a solar eclipse and Turner took that as his signal. On August 21, he began the rebellion with a few trusted enslaved blacks that grew into more than 50 enslaved and free blacks. The rebels traveled from house to house, freeing slaves and killing their white owners. The rebellion was suppressed within 48 hours with approximately 55 white men, women, and children killed. Turner was captured on October 30 and on November 5, he was convicted and sentenced to death. The state executed 56 other blacks suspected of being involved in the uprising and another 200 blacks, most of whom had nothing to do with the uprising, were beaten, tortured, and murdered by angry white mobs. Also, the Virginia General Assembly passed new laws making it unlawful to teach enslaved or free blacks and mulattoes to read or write and restricting blacks from holding religious meetings without the presence of a licensed white minister. Turner’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, 11/10/2012

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• November 10, 1828 Lott Cary, the first American Baptist missionary to Africa, died. Cary was born enslaved in 1780 in Charles City County, Virginia. As a young man, he learned to read from the bible and later attended a school for enslaved youth. Because of his education, diligence, and valuable work, Cary was rewarded by his master with small tips from the money he earned. In 1813, Cary was able to purchase his freedom and that of his two children for $850. That same year, he became an official Baptist minister. In 1821, Cary led a missionary team to Liberia where they engaged in evangelism, education, and health care. He also established the first Baptist church in Liberia, the Providence Baptist Church in Monrovia which celebrated its 175th anniversary in 2001, and several schools. In August, 1828, Cary became acting governor of Liberia. Cary street and the Carytown shopping district in Richmond, Virginia are named in his honor and the Lott Cary House is designated a state historical landmark. The Lott Cary Foreign Mission Convention helps churches extend their Christian witness to the end of the earth.

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Today in Black History, 11/9/2012

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• November 9, 1731 Benjamin Banneker, astronomer, surveyor, and almanac author, was born in Ellicott’s Mills, Maryland. When he was old enough to help on his parent’s farm, his formal education ended. In 1753, he carved a wooden clock that struck hourly, using a pocket watch as a model, and continued to work until his death. He began to study astronomy using borrowed books and equipment in 1788. In 1791, Banneker was hired to assist in the survey of what is now the District of Columbia, however due to illness he only worked on the project for three months. Banneker made astronomical calculations that predicted solar and lunar eclipses that he included in a six year series of almanacs from 1792 to 1797. The almanacs included the times for the rising and setting of the sun and moon and were commercially successful. Banneker expressed his views on slavery and racial equality, including a plea for justice for African Americans, in a 1791 letter to United States Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. Banneker died October 9, 1806. His biography, “The Life of Benjamin Banneker: The First African-American Man of Science,” was published in 1972. In 1977, a commemorative obelisk was erected near his grave site by the Maryland Bicentennial Commission and the State Commission on Afro-American History and Culture. In 1980, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor and in 1998 the Benjamin Banneker Historical Park located on the site of his former farm was dedicated. Banneker’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, 11/8/2012

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• November 8, 1865 Decatur Dorsey received the Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration. Dorsey was born enslaved in 1836 in Howard County, Maryland. During the Civil War, he joined Company B of the 39th United States Colored Infantry Regiment in 1864 and was promoted to corporal less than two months after joining. On July 30, 1864, he took part in the Battle of the Crater in Petersburg, Virginia. During the battle, white Union soldiers were trapped in a crater by Confederate forces. Dorsey’s division was ordered in to reinforce the attack and rescue the trapped soldiers. His citation reads, “Planted the colors on the Confederate works in advance of his regiment, and when the regiment was driven back to the Union works he carried the colors there and bravely rallied the men.” During a second assault, the men of the 39th breached the Confederate works and engaged in hand to hand combat, capturing two hundred prisoners before withdrawing. Dorsey was subsequently promoted to first sergeant. After the war, Dorsey married and lived in Hoboken, New Jersey where he died July 10, 1891. A Decatur Dorsey Maryland Civil War Marker is located in Ellicott City, Maryland.

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Today in Black History, 11/7/2012

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• November 7, 1775 Lord Dunmore, the Royal Governor of Virginia, issued a proclamation promising freedom to all enslaved blacks who deserted and fought for the British. Thousands of blacks escaped to the British, serving as orderlies, laborers, scouts and guides. Despite Dunmore’s promise, the majority were not given their freedom. In January, 1776, George Washington lifted the ban on blacks enlisting in the Continental Army and at least 5,000 black soldiers fought for the country in the American War of Independence.

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Today in Black History, 11/6/2012

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• November 6, 1746 Absalom Jones, abolitionist and clergyman, was born enslaved in Milford, Delaware. By 1785, Jones had bought his and his family’s freedom. Together with Richard Allen, Jones was one of the first African Americans licensed to preach by the Methodist Church. In 1787, they founded the Free African Society, conceived as a non-denominational mutual aid society to help newly freed enslaved people in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1792, Jones founded the African Church of Philadelphia which opened its doors on July 17, 1794 as the African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, the first black church in Philadelphia. Jones was ordained as the first African American priest in the Episcopal Church in 1804. Jones died February 13, 1818 and is listed on the Episcopal calendar of saints and blessed under the date of his decease.

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Today in Black History, 11/5/2012

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• November 5, 1889 Willis Richardson, playwright, was born in Wilmington, North Carolina, but raised in Washington, D.C. In 1921, Richardson staged his first play, “The Deacon’s Awakening.” In 1923, he became the first African American playwright to have a non-musical production on Broadway with “The Chip Woman’s Fortune.” This was followed by “Mortgaged” (1923), “The Broken Banjo” (1925), and “Bootblack Lover” (1926). The last two plays were awarded the Amy Spingarn Prize for Art and Literature. Richardson died November 7, 1977 and was posthumously awarded the Audience Development Committee (AUDELCO) prize for his contribution to American theater.

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Today in Black History, 11/4/2012

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• November 4, 1865 Wendell Phillips Dabney, newspaper editor and author, was born in Richmond, Virginia. In his senior year of high school, Dabney led a protest of the separation of Blacks and Whites for graduation. The successful protest resulted in the first integrated graduation at the school. Dabney spent 1883 at Oberlin College where he was first violinist at the Oberlin Opera House and a member of the Cademian Literary Club. From 1884 to 1890, Dabney taught at a Virginia elementary school. In 1894, he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio and in 1895 became Cincinnati’s first African American license clerk. From 1898 to 1923, he served as assistant, and then head paymaster in the Cincinnati Department of Treasury. In 1907, Dabney founded The Union newspaper whose motto was “For no people can become great without being united, for in union there is strength.” Dabney edited the paper from its founding until his death on June 5, 1952 and the paper was influential in shaping the political and social opinions of Cincinnati’s African American citizens. Dabney also served as the first president of the Cincinnati NAACP chapter when it was established in 1915. He compiled and published “Cincinnati’s Colored Citizens” in 1926 and wrote “Maggie L. Walker: The Woman and Her Work” in 1927. In 1950, the National Convention of Negro Publishers honored Dabney as a pioneer and leader in African American journalism.

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Today in Black History, 11/3/2012

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• November 3, 1639 Saint Martin de Porres, Dominican lay brother, died. De Porres was born December 9, 1579 in Lima, Peru. At the age of 15, he was admitted into the Dominican Convent of the Rosary as a servant boy. His piety and miraculous cures led his superiors to drop the racial limits on admission to the Order and he was made a full Dominican brother. At the age of 24, de Porres was given the habit of a coadjutor brother and was assigned to the infirmary where many miracles were attributed to him. Although he never left Lima, many people around the world attributed their salvation to him. By the time of his death, he was known as a saint throughout the region. Martin de Porres was beatified in 1837 and canonized on May 6, 1962. Many buildings around the world are named in his honor, including Saint Martin de Porres High School in Detroit, Michigan. His biography, “St. Martin de Porres: Apostle of Charity,” was published in 1963.

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Today in Black History, 11/2/2012

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• November 2, 1787 The African Free School was founded by the New York Manumission Society to provide education to free and enslaved black children. Members of the society were all white, male, wealthy, influential, and advocates for the full abolition of slavery. The school started as a one room school house with about 40 students and by 1835, when it was integrated into the public school system, had grown to seven schools and had educated thousands of black children. Notable alumni of the school include Dr. James McCune Smith, Ira Aldridge, Henry Highland Garnet, and Alexander Crummell.

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