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Today in Black History, 1/7/2013

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• January 7, 1890 William B. Purvis of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania received patent number 419,065 for the fountain pen. Purvis’ invention made the use of an ink bottle obsolete by storing ink in a reservoir within the pen which was then fed to the tip of the pen. Over his lifetime, Purvis received ten additional patents. He is also believed to have invented, but did not patent, several other devices. Little else is known of Purvis’ life.

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Today in Black History, 1/6/2013

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• January 6, 1882 Thomas Boyne was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration. Boyne was born in 1849 in Prince George’s County, Maryland. In 1879, he was serving as a sergeant in Company C of the 9th Calvary Regiment in New Mexico during the Indian Wars. Boyne was cited for “bravery in action” at the Mimbres Mountains on May 29, 1879 and at the Cuchillo Negro River on September 27, 1879. He was discharged from the army in 1889 because of a disability and admitted to the U.S. Soldiers Home in 1890 where he lived until his death on April 21, 1896.

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Today in Black History, 1/5/2013

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• January 5, 1869 Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones, opera soprano and businesswoman, was born in Portsmouth, Virginia, but raised in Providence, Rhode Island. Jones began her formal study of music at the Providence Academy of Music in 1883 and in the late 1880s studied at the New England Conservatory of Music. She made her New York City debut in 1888 and made successful tours of the Caribbean that year and in 1892. In June, 1892, Jones became the first African American to sing at the Music Hall in New York (now Carnegie Hall). She also performed for Presidents Benjamin Harrison, Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, and Theodore Roosevelt. By 1896, Jones found that access to most American classical concert hall was limited by her race and therefore she formed the Black Patti Troubadours, a variety act made up of singers, jugglers, comedians, and dancers. The revue was successful enough to provide Jones an income in excess of $20,000. Jones retired from performing in 1915 and died June 24, 1933.

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Searching for family history with the Archives of Michigan in person, online

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The Wright presents a special guest post, courtesy of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Showcasing the DNR - You’re invited to share these stories with friends, family and anyone you believe finds value in learning about the DNR’s efforts to better connect people of all ages to Michigan’s great outdoors and cultural heritage.

The Archives of Michigan is home to plentiful prison records – a valuable research tool for genealogists. Shown here are 19th-century prison records from Marquette State Prison.

The Archives of Michigan is home to plentiful prison records – a valuable research tool for genealogists. Shown here are 19th-century prison records from Marquette State Prison.

Genealogy – tracing the roots of a family tree – is personal, creative and rewarding detective work. Turn on the radio or TV, surf the Web or pick up the newspaper – chances are you’ll come across a story about someone who has discovered an unexpected family connection across the generations.

“Popular television shows like ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ – a program that captured the experience of celebrities exploring their family histories – tells me that this kind of research and the stories it unearths have a real hook in popular culture,” said Kris Rzepczynski, senior archivist at the Archives of Michigan.

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Today in Black History, 1/4/2013

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• January 4, 1901 Cyril Lionel Robert James, historian, journalist, and author, was born in Trinidad and Tobago. James graduated from the Queen’s Royal College in Port of Spain and worked as a school teacher. In 1932, he moved to England and began to campaign for the independence of the West Indies, including the publication of his first important work, “The Case for West-Indian Self Government” (1933). He also became a leading champion of Pan-African agitation and the chairman of the International African Friends of Abyssinia, formed in 1935 in response to Italy’s invasion of what is now Ethiopia. In 1936, James published his only novel, “Minty Alley,” the first novel to be published by a black Caribbean author in the United Kingdom. He then published two of his most important works, “World Revolution” (1937) and “The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution” (1938). James lived in the United States from 1938 to 1953 when he was forced to leave under threat of deportation. Ultimately, he returned to England where he lived until his death on May 19, 1989. A public library in London is named in his honor. Biographies of James include “C.L.R. James: The Artist as Revolutionary” (1988) and “Urbane Revolutionary: C.L.R. James and the Struggle for a New Society” (2007).

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Today in Black History, 1/3/2013

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• January 3, 1624 William Tucker, the first recorded African American born in the American colonies, was born in Jamestown, Virginia. Tucker was the child of enslaved Africans and was sold to an English sea captain named William Tucker. Nothing else is known of Tucker’s life.

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Today in Black History, 1/2/2013

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• January 2, 1884 Oscar Devereaux Micheaux, author and film director, was born in Metropolis, Illinois. Micheaux formed his own movie company and in 1919 became the first African American to write, direct, and produce a motion picture, “The Homesteader.” Between 1919 and 1948, Micheaux wrote seven novels and wrote, directed, and produced 44 feature films, including “Within Our Gates” (1919), which attacked the racism depicted in “The Birth of a Nation,” and “Body and Soul” (1924) which introduced Paul Robeson. Micheaux died March 25, 1951 and in 1986 the Directors Guild of America posthumously honored him with a Golden Jubilee Special Award. The Oscar Micheaux Award is presented annually by the Producers Guild of America. For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Micheaux has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and in 1994 a documentary film, “Midnight Ramble,” was released about him. In 2010, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor. Micheaux’s biography, “Oscar Micheaux, The Great and Only: The Life of America’s First Black Filmmaker,” was published in 2007 and the Oscar Micheaux Center in Gregory, South Dakota annually presents the Oscar Micheaux Film & Book Festival.

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President's Message, January 2013

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Juanita Moore
Juanita Moore, President & CEO of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African Americ
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Inspiring Minds: it’s not just the name of our newest permanent exhibit.  It’s also an extraordinarily apt description of what the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History does, day in and day out, for people of all ages and backgrounds.  Exploring the African American experience through the arts, humanities, law, literacy, science, and health, The Wright Museum provides an array of aesthetic, interpretive, and intellectual opportunities to inspire visitors for a lifetime.

At our 2012 Annual Meeting held on December 6, we took a look back at the many accomplishments of the past year.  These include:

•    Partnering with over 90 organizations including universities, cultural institutions, and the U.S. Department of Education to present an incredible diversity of programming including close to 200 educational and public events
•    Hosting 12 new exhibitions including Visions of Our 44th President, a groundbreaking collaboration with 44 contemporary artists from across the country that will be the Museum’s first national traveling exhibit
•    The Jerry Pinkney Celebrity Children’s Book Fair, the success of which resulted in the awarding of an endowment by the Knight Foundation to fund this literacy program on an ongoing basis

At 125,000 square feet and with a collection of over 35,000 artifacts, The Wright Museum is the largest museum of African American history in the world.  But our impact goes far beyond our physical footprint.  We provide needed educational opportunities to thousands of children throughout the region, and serve over a half million people per year – locally, nationally, and internationally – through our exhibits, programs, websites, and events such as African World Festival, which celebrated its 30th year in 2012.  For the first time ever, AWF was held on the museum grounds.  

Over the next year, the Inspiring Minds exhibition will show thousands of children that with hard work and the will to succeed, their dreams can be attained.  Perhaps the next big scientific breakthrough in medicine, environmental protection, or consumer technology will find its seed in the galleries of The Wright Museum.

Furthermore, a father may be encouraged by his children to read to them by what they experience in our Children’s Discovery Room.  A graduate student can make a new connection for their thesis in our research library.  And a young couple will start a new life together with vows said under the Ford Freedom Rotunda dome.

These things we do, and will continue to, for children, parents, seniors, performing artists, budding scientists, all people, the rich and the poor – Inspiring Minds, for what comes next, by understanding what came before: fostering context; encouraging contemplation; and enabling creation, understanding, and cooperation.  

As we enter 2013, I want you to think not of what we have done in the past, but what we will do going forward.  How are we helping to foster the rebirth of this great city and region?  And simultaneously, how are we reaching and including those that are barely getting by, who are struggling to survive, so that they may partake in the revitalization all around us?  Detroit cannot be held back, and it can’t leave anyone behind.  It’s obvious that much more needs to be done, and that our reach, the impact of the Museum’s mission of education, must be both deeper and wider.  We need partnerships with the Arab American and Latino communities, with the outer suburbs and inner city organizations, with individuals and entities providing for the educational, health, and spiritual needs of our children and adults.  We’re all moving forward – together – and each and every one of us needs to jump in and play a part.

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Today in Black History, 1/1/2013

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• January 1, 1804 The former colony of Saint Domingue declared its independence and renamed itself Haiti, making it the first independent nation in Latin America and the first post-colonial independent black-led nation in the world. This was the result of a revolution against colonization and slavery that began on August 22, 1791. One of the most successful leaders of the revolution was Toussaint L’Ouverture. The leader at the time of independence was Jean-Jacques Dessalines.

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Today in Black History, 12/31/2012

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• December 31, 1864 Joachim Pease received the Congressional Medal of Honor, the United States military’s highest decoration, for his conduct during the Civil War battle between the USS Kearsarge and the Confederate CSS Alabama. His citation reads, “Served as seaman on board the USS Kearsarge when she destroyed the Alabama off Cherbourg, France, 19 June 1864. Acting as loader on the No. 2 gun during this bitter engagement, Pease exhibited marked coolness and good conduct and was highly recommended by the divisional officer for gallantry under fire.” Other than the fact that he was born in 1842, not much else is known of Pease’s life before or after the war.

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Today in Black History, 12/30/2012

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• December 30, 1842 Josiah Thomas Walls, the first African American congressman from Florida, was born enslaved in Winchester, Virginia. During the Civil War, Walls was forced to join the Confederate Army and was captured by the Union Army in 1862. He then joined the United States Colored Troops in 1863 and rose to the rank of 1st sergeant and artillery instructor. Walls was discharged in 1865 and by 1868 had saved enough money to buy a 60 acre farm outside of Gainesville, Florida. That same year, he was a representative to the Florida Constitutional Convention and was elected a state assemblyman. He was elected to the United States House of Representatives from Florida in 1871, but was denied his seat. In 1873, he was elected again and served his term. While in office, Walls introduced bills to establish a national education fund and to provide aid to Seminole War veterans. He was then elected for a third term, but again denied his seat. After that, he returned to Florida where he farmed until 1896 when he became farm director for Florida A&M University. Walls died May 15, 1905. His biography, “Josiah Walls: Florida’s Black Congressman of Reconstruction,” was published in 1976.

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Today in Black History, 12/29/2012

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• December 29, 1907 Robert Clifton Weaver, the first African American to hold a cabinet level position in a United States President’s administration, was born in Washington, D.C. Weaver attended Harvard University where he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree cum laude in economics in 1929, his Master of Arts degree in 1931, and his Ph.D. in 1934. Weaver was an expert on urban housing and wrote several books on the subject, including “The Negro Ghetto” (1948) and “The Urban Complex: Human Values in Urban Life” (1964). In 1966, Weaver was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson the first Secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), a position he held until 1968. After leaving his cabinet post, Weaver became president of Baruch College in 1969 and in 1970 became a professor of urban affairs at Hunter College, from which he retired in 1978. In 1962, Weaver was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal. Weaver died July 17, 1997 and in 2000 the HUD headquarters building was renamed the Robert C. Weaver Federal Building. Robert Clifton Weaver Way in northeast Washington, D.C. is also named in his honor.

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Today in Black History, 12/28/2012

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• December 28, 1829 Bill Richmond, hall of fame boxer, died. Richmond was born enslaved on August 5, 1763 in Staten Island, New York. He was taken to England to apprentice as a cabinet maker, but took up boxing. Known as “The Black Terror,” he was one of the most accomplished and respected fighters of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Richmond retired from boxing in 1818 at the age of 55 and established a boxing academy. He was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2005.

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Today in Black History, 12/27/2012

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• December 27, 1939 John Amos, Jr., television, film, and stage actor, was born in Newark, New Jersey. Amos attended Colorado State University and Long Beach City College and briefly played professional football. He is best known for his television roles on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” from 1970 to 1973 and “Good Times” from 1974 to 1976. Unhappy with the scripts, Amos quit “Good Times” after the third season. Amos appeared in the 1977 Emmy Award winning television miniseries “Roots,” for which he was nominated for the Emmy Award for Best Actor, and has guest starred on a number of other television programs, including “The Cosby Show,” “The West Wing” and “Men in Trees”. He has won more TV Land Awards than any other actor or actress. Amos has had roles in several films, including “Coming to America” (1988), “Die Hard 2” (1990), and “Dr. Dolittle” (2006). Amos is the writer and producer of “Halley’s Comet,” a critically acclaimed one-man play that he performs around the world. In 2009, he was the recipient of the New Jersey Education Association Award for Excellence.

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Today in Black History, 12/26/2012

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• December 26, 1884 Felix Adolphe Eboue, French colonial administrator, was born in Cayenne, Guyana. Eboue was a brilliant scholar and won a scholarship to study in Bordeaux, France. After graduating in law from the Ecole Colonial in Paris, from 1909 to 1931 he served in Oubangui-Chari (now the Central African Republic). In 1932, he was appointed secretary general of Martinique where he served until 1934 when he was transferred to the same position in French Sudan. In 1938, Eboue was transferred to Chad where he served until 1940 when he was appointed General Governor of all of French Equatorial Africa, a position he held until his death on March 17, 1944. During his tenure as general governor, Eboue worked to improve the status of Africans. He placed some Gabonese civil servants into positions of authority and advocated the preservation of traditional African institutions. After his death, the French colonies in Africa brought out a joint stamp issue in his memory. Eboue’s ashes are in The Pantheon of Paris, the first back man to be so honored. Eboue’s biography, “Eboue,” was published in 1972.

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Today in Black History, 12/25/2012

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• December 25, 1745 Joseph Bologne the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, musician, swordsman, and equestrian, was born 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 and commanded a regiment of a thousand free colored volunteers. Despite his successes, Saint-Georges died destitute June 10, 1799. 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, 12/24/2012

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• December 24, 1853 Octavia Victoria Rogers Albert was born enslaved in Oglethorpe, Georgia. Albert was emancipated after the Civil War and attended Atlanta University where she studied to be a teacher. In 1874, she moved to Louisiana where she began to conduct interviews with men and women previously enslaved. These narratives became the material for “The House of Bondage, or, Charlotte Brooks and Other Slaves.” The book was published in 1891 shortly after Albert’s death in 1890. Her goal in writing the book was to tell the story of the ex-enslaved as well as to “correct and create history.”

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Today in Black History, 12/23/2012

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• December 23, 1815 Henry Highland Garnet, orator and abolitionist, was born enslaved near New Market, Maryland. In 1824, Garnet’s family escaped to freedom in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They subsequently moved to New York City where from 1826 to 1833 Garnet attended the African Free School and the Phoenix High School for Colored Youth. Garnet went on to graduate with honors in 1839 from the Oneida Theological Institute of Whitesboro. He later joined the American Anti-Slavery Society and frequently spoke at abolitionist conferences. He delivered one of his most famous speeches, “Call to Rebellion,” in August, 1843 to the National Negro Convention. In that speech, he called for the enslaved to act for themselves to achieve total emancipation. By 1849, Garnet began to support emigration of blacks to Mexico, Liberia, or the West Indies and he founded the African Civilization Society. On February 12, 1865, he became the first black minister to preach to the United States House of Representatives when he spoke about the end of slavery. After the Civil War, Garnet was appointed president of Avery College in 1868 and in 1881 was appointed U.S. Minister to Liberia. Garnet died February 13, 1882. The Henry Highland Garnet School for Success in Harlem, New York and the HHG Elementary School in Chestertown, Maryland are named in his honor. His biographies include “Henry Highland Garnet: A Voice of Black Radicalism in the Nineteenth Century” (1977) and “Rise Now and Fly to Arms: The Life of Henry Highland Garnet” (1995).

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Today in Black History, 12/22/2012

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• December 22, 1870 Jefferson Franklin Long, the first African American from Georgia to be elected to the United States House of Representatives, was seated. Long was born enslaved March 3, 1836 near Knoxville, Georgia and was self-educated. By 1867, he was a prominent member of the Republican Party, traveling throughout the South urging formerly enslaved people to register to vote. Partially as a result of his efforts, 37 African Americans were elected to the Georgia constitutional convention of 1867 and 32 to the state legislature. Long advocated for public education, higher wages, and better terms for sharecroppers. He also helped organize the Union Brotherhood Lodge, a black mutual aid society in Macon, Georgia. Long was elected to fill a vacancy and served in Congress until March 3, 1871. On February 1, 1871, Long became the first African American to speak on the floor of the United States House of Representatives. Long did not seek re-election, but did serve as a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1880. After serving in Congress, Long resumed business as a merchant tailor in Macon and died there February 4, 1901.

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Today in Black History, 12/21/2012

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• December 21, 1872 Robert Scott Duncanson, landscape painter, died. Duncanson was born in 1821 in Seneca County, New York and went to live with his father in Canada as a young boy. He returned to the United States in 1841 with a desire to be an artist and taught himself by painting portraits and copying prints. Duncanson traveled the world in pursuit of his art and in 1845 moved to Detroit, Michigan. In 1846, the Detroit Daily Advertiser praised Duncanson for his skill and color usage, adding “Mr. Duncanson deserves, and we trust will receive the patronage of all lovers of the fine arts.” With the onset of the Civil War, Duncanson exiled himself to Canada and the United Kingdom where his work was well received and the London Art Journal declared him a master of landscape painting. His paintings “Drunkard’s Plight” (1845), “At the Foot of the Cross” (1846), and “Uncle Tom and Little Eva” (1853) are in the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts.

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