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Today in Black History, 9/17/2012

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• September 17, 1858 Dred Scott, an enslaved black man that unsuccessfully sued for his freedom, died. Scott was born enslaved in Southampton County, Virginia in the 1790s. In 1847, Scott sued for his freedom in a Missouri state court on the basis that he and his wife had been taken by their owner to states and territories where slavery was illegal. Scott lost that case, but pursued the issue to the United States Supreme Court in the Dred Scott v. Sandford case of 1857. The Supreme Court ruled against him finding that he, nor any person of African ancestry, could claim citizenship in the United States and therefore could not bring suit in federal court. In effect, the Court ruled that enslaved people were property and not citizens and therefore had no claim to freedom. Ironically, Scott was granted his freedom by his owner less than three months after the Supreme Court decision. “Dred and Harriett Scott: A Family’s Struggle for Freedom” was published in 2004.

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Today in Black History, 9/16/2012

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• September 16, 1839 James Daniel Gardner, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Gloucester, Virginia. He worked as an oysterman before enlisting in the Union Army in 1863. On September 29, 1864, Gardner was serving as a private in Company I of the 36th Regiment United States Colored Troops when his actions at the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm earned him the medal, America’s highest military decoration. Gardner’s regiment was among a division of black troops assigned to attack the Confederate defenses. The attack was met with intense fire and over fifty percent of the black troops were killed, captured, or wounded. Gardner advanced ahead of his unit into the Confederate fortifications, “shot a rebel officer who was on the parapet rallying his men, and then ran him through with his bayonet.” The day after the battle, Gardner was promoted to sergeant and on April 6, 1865 was issued the medal. Gardner died September 29, 1905 and in 2006 a memorial commemorating him was unveiled in his hometown.

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Today in Black History, 9/15/2012

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• September 15, 1830 The first National Negro Convention began in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Forty African Americans from nine states attended the meeting to consider if blacks should be encouraged to emigrate to Canada. From the meeting emerged a new organization, The American Society of Free People of Colour for Improving Their Condition in the United States; for Purchasing Lands; and for the Establishment of a Settlement in the Province of Canada. Bishop Richard Allen was named president.

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Today in Black History, 9/14/2012

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• September 14, 1735 Prince Hall, the founder of “Black Freemasonry,” was born in Barbados. Not much is known of his youth and how he ended up in Boston, Massachusetts. It is known that he was a property owner and a registered voter and that he worked as an abolitionist and civil rights activist. He fought for laws to protect blacks from kidnapping by slave traders and campaigned for schools for black children. On March 6, 1775, Hall and fourteen other free black men were initiated into Military Lodge No. 441, a lodge attached to the British Army. When the British Army left, on July 3, 1776 the Black Masons were granted a dispensation for limited operations as African Lodge No. 1 which then served as the mother lodge to new black lodges in other cities. In 1791, Black Freemasons formed the African Grand Lodge of North America and unanimously elected Hall Grand Master, a position that he held until his death on December 4, 1807. The African Grand Lodge was later renamed Prince Hall Grand Lodge in his honor. Hall’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, 9/13/2012

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• September 13, 1881 Lewis H. Latimer of New York City shared patent number 247,097 for improvements in incandescent electrical lamps. The improvements related to the method of mounting the carbons and connecting them with wires. This resulted in better electrical contact between the carbons and the wires which reduced the cost of the lamps. Latimer was born September 4, 1848 in Chelsea, Massachusetts. He joined the United States Navy at the age of 15 and after receiving an honorable discharge joined a patent law firm as a draftsman at the age of 17. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell employed Latimer to draft the drawings required to receive a patent for Bell’s telephone. Although Thomas Edison is credited with the invention of the light bulb, Latimer made significant contributions to its further development. On January 17, 1882, he received patent number 252,386 for the Process of Manufacturing Carbons, an improved method for the production of carbon filaments for light bulbs. In total, Latimer received seven patents before his death on December 11, 1928. He was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006 and Lewis H. Latimer School in Brooklyn, New York is named in his honor. His biography, “Lewis Latimer: Bright Ideas,” was published in 1997. Latimer’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, 9/12/2012

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• September 12, 1840 Mary Jane Patterson, the first black woman to graduate from an established college with a four year degree, was born enslaved in Raleigh, North Carolina. Patterson’s family gained their freedom in 1852 and moved to Oberlin, Ohio in 1856. Patterson enrolled in Oberlin College in 1857 and earned her Bachelor of Arts degree with highest honors in 1861. After graduation, Patterson taught at various schools, including the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia and the Preparatory High School for Colored Youth (later named Dunbar High School) in Washington, D.C. Patterson served as the latter school’s first black principal from 1871 to 1872. She was reappointed to the position from 1873 to 1884. During her administration, the school grew from less than 50 students to 172 students. Patterson continued to teach at the school until her death on September 24, 1894.

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Today in Black History, 9/11/2012

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• September 11, 1854 Christopher J. Perry, Sr., founder of the Philadelphia Tribune, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, but raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At the age of 13, Perry began writing articles for the local newspapers. In 1881, he began writing for the Northern Daily and eventually became editor of the colored section of The Sunday Mercury. On November 22, 1884, Perry founded the Philadelphia Tribune which quickly became one of the leading African American newspapers in the country. Perry died in 1921, but the Tribune continues to be published and is the oldest continuously published African American newspaper in the nation.

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Today in Black History, 9/10/2012

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• September 10, 1847 John Roy Lynch, the first African American Speaker of the House in Mississippi, was born enslaved in Concordia Parish, Louisiana. Lynch and his family were freed in 1863 after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. After the Civil War, Lynch learned the photography trade and managed a successful business. He educated himself by reading books and newspapers and eavesdropping on classes at a white school. From 1869 to 1873, he served in the Mississippi House of Representatives, serving the last term as Speaker of the House. In 1873, he was elected to the United States House of Representatives where he served until 1877. He was re-elected in 1880 and served from April, 1882 to March, 1883. During his time in Congress, Lynch worked to support the Civil Rights Act of 1875 to ban discrimination in public accommodations. During the Spanish – American War of 1898, Lynch was appointed treasury auditor and paymaster. In 1901, he joined the Regular Army and served until his retirement in 1911. After leaving the army, he moved to Chicago, Illinois where he practiced law until his death on November 2, 1939. He was buried with military honors in Arlington National Cemetery. In 1913, Lynch authored “The Facts of Reconstruction” which argued that blacks had made substantial contributions to the country during the Reconstruction Period. Lynch’s biography, “Reminiscences of an Active Life: The Autobiography of John Roy Lynch,” was published in 1970.

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Today in Black History, 9/9/2012

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• September 9, 1739 The Stono Rebellion, the largest slave uprising in the British mainland colonies, began. The rebellion started with about 20 enslaved Africans at the Stono River in the colony of South Carolina. As the group marched south, they were joined by nearly 60 additional enslaved Africans. The Africans killed about 25 whites before encountering a South Carolina militia. In that battle, 20 whites and 44 Africans were killed and the rebellion was ended. In response to the rebellion, the South Carolina legislature passed the Negro Act of 1740 restricting slave assembly, education and movement. It also enacted a 10 year moratorium against importing African slaves and established penalties against slaveholders’ harsh treatment of slaves. The site where the rebellion began was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1974. “Cry Liberty,” an interpretation of the events of the rebellion, was published in 2010.

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Today in Black History, 9/8/2012

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• September 8, 1882 Sarah Mapps Douglass, abolitionist, teacher, and lecturer, died. Douglass was born September 9, 1806 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her family was prosperous and among several free black families who formed the core of Philadelphia’s abolitionist movement. Douglass was educated at home by private tutors. Around 1827, Douglass established a school for black children. In 1837, she served on the ten member committee for the Antislavery Convention of American Women. This was the first national convention of antislavery women to integrate black and white members. Douglass also served as librarian, corresponding secretary, and on the board of directors of the Philadelphia Female Antislavery Society. In 1853, she took over the girl’s preparatory department at the Philadelphia Institute for Colored Youth, offering courses in literature, science, and anatomy. She served at the institute until 1877. During this time, she also acquired basic medical training at the Female Medical Collage of Pennsylvania and at Pennsylvania Medical University. After the Civil War, Douglass became a leader in the Pennsylvania branch of the American Freedman’s Aid Commission which worked to provide services to the formerly enslaved in the south.

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Today in Black History, 9/7/2012

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• September 7, 1854 Free Frank McWorter, the first African American to incorporate a municipality in the United States, died. McWorter was born enslaved on August 11, 1777 in South Carolina. In 1795, his owner moved to Kentucky and took him along to build and manage his holdings and to lease him out to work for others. McWorter used his earnings to create a successful saltpeter production operation. By 1817, he had earned enough to buy the freedom of his wife and two years later his own freedom. In 1830, McWorter and his family moved to Pike County, Illinois and in 1836 he founded the town of New Philadelphia, Illinois. By the time of his death, McWorter had bought the freedom of 16 members of his family. McWorter’s gravesite is listed on the National Registry of Historical Places and a portion of I-72 in Pike County is designated the Frank McWorter Memorial Highway. The New Philadelphia town site was listed on the National Registry of Historical Places in 2005 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 2009. McWorter’s biography, “Free Frank: A Black Pioneer on the Antebellum Frontier,” was published in 1983.

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Today in Black History, 9/6/2012

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• September 6, 1877 Charles Joseph “Buddy” Bolden, cornetist and a key figure in the development of ragtime music, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. Not much is known about Bolden’s early life but by the mid-1890s he had formed a series of bands and created a looser, more improvised version of ragtime and added blues to it. Between 1900 and 1906, Bolden’s band was the hottest group in New Orleans. In 1906, Bolden began to show signs of mental instability and in 1907 he was confined to the State Insane Asylum where he died November 4, 1931. There are no known surviving recordings of his performances but he is associated with several songs, including “Careless Love,” “My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It,” and “Funky Butt.” Many other New Orleans jazz musicians, including Joe “King” Oliver, were inspired by Bolden’s playing. Jelly Roll Morton described Bolden as “the blowingest man since Gabriel” and several jazz historians have referred to him as “the father of jazz.” Several books have been written about Bolden, including “The Loudest Trumpet: Buddy Bolden and the Early History of Jazz” (2000) and “In Search of Buddy Bolden: First Man of Jazz” (2005).

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Today in Black History, 9/5/2012

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• September 5, 1846 John Wesley Cromwell, historian, educator, and lawyer, was born enslaved in Portsmouth, Virginia. After his father gained the family’s freedom, Cromwell graduated from the Institute for Colored Youth in 1864. In 1873, he graduated from Howard University Law School and the next year was admitted to the District of Columbia bar. In 1876, Cromwell founded the weekly paper The People’s Advocate. In 1887, Cromwell became the first African American lawyer to argue a case before the Interstate Commerce Commission when he served as counsel for the plaintiff in William H. Heard v. Georgia Railroad Company. A gifted organizer, Cromwell helped organize the Virginia Educational and Historical Association and the National Colored Press Association. He was a founder of the Bethel Literary and Historical Association and in 1897 was a founding member of the American Negro Academy, an organization created to stimulate and demonstrate intellectual capabilities among African Americans. In 1914, Cromwell published his most influential work, “The Negro in American History: Men and Women Eminent in the Evolution of the American of African Descent” which influenced Carter G. Woodson to found the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History the following year. Cromwell also published “The First Negro Churches in The District of Columbus” in 1917. Cromwell died on April 14, 1927.

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Today in Black History, 9/4/2012

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• September 4, 1848 Lewis Howard Latimer, draftsman, and hall of fame inventor, was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts. Latimer joined the United States Navy at the age of 15 and after receiving an honorable discharge joined a patent law firm as a draftsman at the age of 17. On February 10, 1874, Latimer shared patent number 147,363 for an improved toilet system for railroad cars called the Water Closet for Railroad Cars. This was the first of the seven patents that he received over his career. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell employed Latimer to draft the drawings required to receive a patent for Bell’s telephone. Although Thomas Edison is credited with the invention of the light bulb, Latimer made significant contributions to its further development. On January 17, 1882, he received patent number 252,386 for the Process of Manufacturing Carbons, an improved method for the production of carbon filaments for light bulbs. Latimer died December 11, 1928. He was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006 for his work on electric filament manufacturing techniques and Lewis H. Latimer School in Brooklyn, New York is named in his honor. Latimer’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan. His biography, “Lewis Latimer: Bright Ideas,” was published in 1997.

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President's Message, September 2012

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As another summer draws to a close and our children return to school, it's important for us to reflect on the educational impact the Museum is having in this community.  One area in which the Museum can play a galvanizing role is in literacy – and that work has begun, with programs encouraging a lifelong love of reading for our younger visitors and their families.

Our Camp Africa program, reconfigured as a pilot program with the Detroit Public Schools, served over 3,800 children this summer.  July's Jerry Pinkney Celebrity Children's Book Fair included over 2,000 book giveaways, thanks to First Book.  Our weekly Super Summer Storytime enjoyed its second year and provided an enriching experience for families and daycare groups.  Further, vocabulary and literacy will be an ongoing focus for programs, tours and workshops involving our Children's Discovery Room. 

We will continue these efforts, which have been made possible by the fundraising efforts of the dedicated women of the Literacy Gala Host Committee, and our corporate partners.  Their efforts will be celebrated at The Wright Gala 2012: La Bibliothèque, on Saturday, September 8, which promises to be an event not to be missed.

We don't see this as a departure from our core mission of education.  Given the incredible challenge of illiteracy – and the crucial role literacy plays in awareness, self-esteem, and opportunity – meaningful change is going to take the participation and resources of the entire community, including The Wright Museum.

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Today in Black History, 9/3/2012

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• September 3, 1843 Andrew Jackson Smith, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was born enslaved in Kentucky. With the outbreak of the Civil War, Smith’s owner joined the Confederate military with the intention of taking Smith with him. When Smith learned of his intentions, he escaped and joined the Union Army. By November 30, 1864, Smith was serving as a corporal in the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry. On that day, he participated in the Battle of Honey Hill in South Carolina and his actions during the battle earned him the medal, America’s highest military decoration. His citation partially reads, “Forced into a narrow gorge crossing a swamp in the face of the enemy position, the 55th’s Color-Sergeant was killed by an exploding shell, and Corporal Smith took the Regimental Colors from his hands and carried them through heavy grape and canister fire. Although half of the officers and a third of the enlisted men engaged in the fight were killed or wounded, Corporal Smith continued to expose himself to enemy fire by carrying the colors throughout the battle. Through his actions, the Regimental Colors of the 55th Infantry Regiment were not lost to the enemy.” Smith was promoted to color sergeant before leaving the army. He was initially nominated for the medal in 1916, but was denied and he died March 4, 1932. It was not until January 16, 2001 that President William Clinton presented the medal to Smith’s descendants at a White House ceremony.

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Today in Black History, 9/2/2012

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• September 2, 1766 James Forten, abolitionist and businessman, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At the age of 15, Forten served on a ship during the Revolutionary War and invented a device to handle ship sails. In 1786, he started a very successful sailmaking company and became one of the wealthiest blacks in post-colonial America. Forten, with the help of Rev. Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, enlisted 2,500 African Americans to defend Philadelphia during the War of 1812. They also worked together to establish the Convention of Color in 1817. By the 1830s, Forten was one of the most powerful voices for people of color throughout the North. In 1833, he helped William Lloyd Garrison and Robert Purvis form the American Anti-Slavery Society and provided generous financial support to the organization over the years. When Forten died on March 4, 1842, he left behind an exemplary family, a sizable fortune, and a legacy of philanthropy and activism that inspired generations of black Philadelphians. In 1990, a historical marker was dedicated in his honor in Philadelphia and his biography, “A Gentleman of Color: The Life of James Forten,” was published in 2002.

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Today in Black History, 9/1/2012

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• September 1, 1869 Robert Tanner Freeman became the first African American to receive a dental degree when he graduated from Harvard University Dental School. Freeman was born in 1846 in Washington, D.C. and was encouraged to pursue a career in dentistry as a way to help alleviate the suffering of other African Americans. Freeman applied to, and was rejected by, two colleges before he was accepted in the inaugural class at Harvard. Upon graduation, he returned to Washington, D.C. to set up a private practice. Unfortunately Freeman died four years later. The Washington, D.C. chapter of the National Dental Association in named The Robert T. Freeman Dental Society.

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Today in Black History, 8/31/2012

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• August 31, 1842 Josephine St. Pierre Ruffin, civil and women’s rights leader and publisher, was born in Boston, Massachusetts. After marrying in 1858, Ruffin and her husband became active in the fight against slavery. During the Civil War, they helped recruit black soldiers for the Union Army. Ruffin also supported women’s suffrage and in 1869 co-founded the American Woman Suffrage Association. In 1884, she founded Women’s Era, the country’s first newspaper published by and for African American women. Ruffin served as editor and publisher from 1890 to 1897. The paper called on black women to demand increased rights for their race. In 1895, she organized the National Federation of Afro-American Women which the next year merged with the Colored Women’s League to form the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs. Ruffin served as vice president of the merged organization. In 1910, Ruffin helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and in 1918 co-founded the League of Women for Community Service. Ruffin died March 13, 1924.

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Today in Black History, 8/30/2012

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• August 30, 1901 Roy Wilkins, civil rights leader, was born in St. Louis, Missouri. Wilkins earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Minnesota in 1923. In 1931, he became assistant executive secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. From 1934 to 1949, he served as the editor of the Crisis magazine, the official organ of the organization. In 1955, Wilkins was named executive secretary (renamed director in 1964) of the NAACP. In 1950, he co-founded the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. Wilkins participated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, the Selma to Montgomery march in 1965, and the March Against Fear in 1966. In 1964, Wilkins was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal. In 1969, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Richard M. Nixon. Wilkins retired from the NAACP in 1977 and died on September 8, 1981. His autobiography, “Standing Fast: The Autobiography of Roy Wilkins,” was published in 1982. The Roy Wilkins Centre for Human Relations and Human Justice was established at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs in 1992.

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