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Today in Black History, 2/9/2013

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• February 9, 1902 Gabriel Leon M’ba, the first Prime Minister and first President of the Gabonese Republic, was born in Libreville, Gabon. After studying at a seminary, M’ba held a number of jobs before becoming a custom agent for the colonial administration. As a result of his political activism in favor of black people, in 1931 M’ba was sentenced to three years in prison and ten years in exile. He returned to Gabon in 1946 and began his political ascent which culminated in his appointment as prime minister. When Gabon gained independence from France August 17, 1960, M’ba became president. He was re-elected in 1967, but died November 27, 1967. The Leon M’ba International Airport in Libreville is named in his honor.

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Today in Black History, 2/8/2013

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• February 8, 1831 Rebecca Davis Lee Crumpler, the first African American woman to become a physician in the United States, was born in Delaware. In 1852, Crumpler moved to Charleston, Massachusetts where she worked as a nurse for eight years. In 1864, she earned a medical degree from the New England Female Medical College, making her the first African American woman in the United States to earn that degree and the only African American to graduate from that college. After the end of the Civil War in 1865, Crumpler moved to Richmond, Virginia where she joined other black physicians caring for formerly enslaved people who otherwise had no access to medical care. Crumpler authored “A Book of Medical Discourses” in 1883. She died March 9, 1895.

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Liberation Film Series Presents “W.E.B. Du Bois: A Biography in Four Voices:” Black History Month installment includes discussion with expert on Du Bois

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The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History’s Liberation Film Series continues with a free screening of “W.E.B. Du Bois: A Biography in Four Voices” Saturday, February 16, 2013 at 2 pm in the museum’s General Motors Theater.  Following the film will be a discussion entitled, “America’s Most Important, Yet Unknown Intellectual-Activist," with Dr. William L. Strickland, Associate Professor, Department of Afro-American Studies, College of Humanities and Fine Arts of the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts - Amherst, and Director of the Du Bois Papers Collection.

Du Bois was the consummate scholar-activist whose path-breaking works remain among the most significant and articulate ever produced on the subject of race.  His contributions and legacy have been so far-reaching, that this, his first film biography, required the collaboration of four prominent African American writers. Wesley Brown, Thulani Davis, Toni Cade Bambara and Amiri Baraka narrate successive periods of Du Bois' life and discuss its impact on their work. “W.E.B. Du Bois: A Biography in Four Voices” was directed by Louis Massiah.

William (Bill) Strickland teaches political science in the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.  Dr. Strickland is also the Director of the Du Bois Papers Collection, located at the University of Massachusetts Library; a founding member of the independent black think tank, the Institute of the Black World, headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia; and Executive Director of the Northern Student Movement.  He was a consultant to both series of the prize-winning documentary on the civil rights movement, "Eyes on the Prize," and the senior consultant on the PBS documentary, "Malcolm X: Make It Plain."  A friend of Malcolm X, Dr. Strickland wrote the companion book of the same name.  Most recently, he was a consultant on "W.E.B. Du Bois: A Biography in Four Voices."  Dr. Strickland’s essay "W.E.B. Du Bois: The Prime Minister of the State We Never Had" was published in the Black Political Science Journal in February 2012.

The National Council of Black Studies (NCBS) recently awarded a $5,000 Community Grant to Michigan State University, an NCBS member, under the direction of Dr. Rita Kiki Edozie, Director of its African and African American Studies Department and Chief Investigator, and Charles Ezra Ferrell, Co-investigator, on behalf of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History to support the Liberation Film Series. Dr. Strickland principally consulted with Mr. Ferrell, Program Director and Founder of the series, during its genesis.

The Liberation Film Series takes place on a monthly basis at The Wright Museum and features culturally important films followed by discussions led by scholar-activists and/or community activist-leaders.  The critical driving force behind the series is the financial and consultative support of the directors and distinguished professors of Black/Africana studies departments at sponsor universities, business leaders and community activists who have assisted Charles Ezra Ferrell, the series’ founder and program director, in its development.  Sponsors and contributors include Eastern Michigan University, The Media Education Foundation (MEF), Michigan State University, University of Detroit - Mercy, University of Massachusetts - Amherst, University of Michigan - Ann Arbor, University of Michigan - Dearborn, Oakland University, Wayne County Community College District, Wayne State University, Good People Popcorn, Dr. Errol Henderson - Penn State University, and other leading scholars and community activists.

The 2012 - 2013 season of the Liberation Film Series runs through June 2013, and is free and open to the public.  For more information, including the complete series schedule and respective speaker profiles, discussion topics, trailers, reading lists, supplemental educational links, and statements of endorsement, please visit www.TheWright.org/liberation, or call (313) 494-5820.

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Today in Black History, 2/7/2013

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• February 7, 1887 James Herbert “Eubie” Blake, hall of fame composer, lyricist, and pianist, was born in Baltimore, Maryland. Blake began taking music lessons at the age of 7 and at 15 was playing piano in a bordello. In 1912, he began playing in vaudeville and shortly after World War I joined forces with Noble Sissle as the Dixie Duo. After vaudeville, the pair created “Shuffle Along” which premiered on Broadway May 23, 1921 and became the first hit Broadway musical written by and about African Americans. It also introduced the hit songs “I’m Just Wild About Harry” and “Love Will Find a Way.” By 1975, Blake had been awarded honorary doctorate degrees by a number of institutions, including Rutgers University, University of Maryland, Howard University, and Dartmouth College. The 1978 Broadway musical “Eubie” featured the works of Blake. On October 9, 1981, Blake received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Ronald Reagan and in 1983 he was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame. Blake died February 12, 1983 and in 1995 the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor. Also that year, Blake was posthumously inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame. In 1998, the James Hubert Blake High School opened in Silver Springs, Maryland. In 2006, the album “The Eighty – Six Years of Eubie Blake” (1969) was included by the National Recording Preservation Board in the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry as a recording of “cultural, historical, or aesthetical significance.” The Eubie Blake National Jazz Institute and Cultural Center in Baltimore, Maryland is named in his honor. Blake’s biography, “Eubie Blake,” was published in 1979. “Reminiscing With Sissle and Blake” (2000) recounts the lives and music of Blake and Sissle.

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Today in Black History, 2/6/2013

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• February 6, 1872 Turner Byrd, Jr. of Williamsville, Michigan received patent number 123,328 for an improved harness rein holder. Byrd later received patent number 124,790 on March 19, 1872 for an improved apparatus for detaching horses from carriages, patent number 126,181 on April 30, 1872 for an improved neck-yoke for wagons, and patent number 157,370 on December 1, 1874 for an improvement in railcar couplings. Not much else is known of his life.

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Today in Black History, 2/5/2013

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• February 5, 1858 Henry Beard Delany, the second African American bishop elected in the United States, was born enslaved in Saint Mary’s, Georgia. Delany graduated in theology from Saint Augustine’s School (now College) in 1885. After graduating, he joined the faculty of the school where he taught until 1908. Delany joined Ambrose Episcopal Church and steadily rose in the Episcopal Church hierarchy, becoming a deacon in 1889, a priest in 1892, an archdeacon in 1908, and a bishop in 1918, the first African American bishop elected in North Carolina. He was also active in promoting education among North Carolina’s African American community, helping to organize schools for black people throughout the state. Although not formally trained as an architect, in 1895 Delany designed Saint Augustine’s chapel, the only surviving 19th century building on campus. In 1911, Shaw University awarded Delany an honorary Doctorate of Divinity degree. Delany died April 14, 1928. He was the father of Sadie and Bessie Delany who in 1993 published their joint autobiography “Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years.”

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Today in Black History, 2/4/2013

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• February 4, 1900 John Percial Parker, inventor, Underground Railroad conductor and businessman, died. Parker was born in 1827 in Norfolk, Virginia. At the age of eight, he was sold into slavery. By 1845, he had earned enough money to buy his freedom for $1,800. As a free man, Parker became involved in abolitionist activities and aided in the freeing of over a thousand enslaved people. During the Civil War, Parker served as a recruiter for the Union Army and supplied castings for the war effort. In 1854, Parker established the Ripley Foundry and Machine Company and on September 2, 1884 received patent number 304,552 for the Follower-Screw for Tobacco Presses. On May 19, 1885, he received patent number 318,285 for the Portable Screw Press, popularly known as the Parker Pulverizer. Parker’s foundry employed more than 25 workers and remained in operation until 1918. His home in Ripley, Ohio was designated a National Historic Landmark on February 18, 1997. Parker’s autobiography, “His Promised Land: The Autobiography of John Parker, Former Slave and Conductor on the Underground Railroad,” was published in 1996.

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Today in Black History, 2/3/2013

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• February 3, 1879 Charles W. Follis, the first African American professional football player also known as “The Black Cyclone, was born in Cloverdale, Virginia, but raised in Wooster, Ohio. Follis played baseball and football for Wooster High School and after graduating in 1901 entered Wooster College. In 1904, he signed a contract with the Shelby Blues, making him the first African American contracted to play professional football. Follis’ professional football career was short lived due to a career ending injury suffered on Thanksgiving Day, 1906. He went on to a briefly successful professional baseball career before he died on April 5, 1910. Follis Field, the football field/outdoor track facility at Wooster High School, was dedicated in his honor in 1998.

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Today in Black History, 2/2/2013

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• February 2, 1827 John P. Parker, abolitionist and businessman, was born enslaved in Norfolk, Virginia. Parker was purchased by a physician who taught him to read and write and in 1845 was able to purchase his freedom for $1,800. Soon after, he began his career as a conductor on the Underground Railroad. It is estimated that he assisted in removing 1,000 enslaved people from bondage. In 1854, Parker built a foundry in Ripley, Ohio which at its peak employed 25 people. Parker died January 30, 1900. The John P. Parker Historical Society in Ripley and the John P. Parker School in Cincinnati, Ohio are named in his honor. His autobiography, “His Promised Land: The Autobiography of John P. Parker, Former Slave and Conductor on the Underground Railroad,” was published in 1996.

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Today in Black History, 2/1/2013

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• February 1, 1810 Charles Lenox Redmond, orator, abolitionist, and military organizer, was born in Salem, Massachusetts. Redmond began his activism against slavery as an orator while in his twenties. In 1838, the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society chose him as one of its agents and in 1840 he went to the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in London, England. Redmond had a reputation as an eloquent lecturer and is report to have been the first black public speaker on abolition. During the Civil War, Redmond recruited black soldiers in Massachusetts for the Union Army. After the war, he worked in the Boston Customs House and as a street lamp inspector. Redmond died December 22, 1873.

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Today in Black History, 1/31/2013

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• January 31, 1904 Henry Johnson, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, died. Johnson was born June 11, 1850 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, on September 22, 1890 Johnson was awarded the medal, America’s highest military decoration. Not much else is known of Johnson’s later life except that he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

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Today in Black History, 1/30/2013

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• January 30, 1844 Richard Theodore Greener, the first African American to graduate from Harvard College, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After three years at Oberlin College, Greener transferred to Harvard and earned his Bachelor of Arts degree with honors in 1870. After teaching for two years at the Institute for Colored Youth and serving as principal of the Preparatory School for Colored Children, he accepted a professorship at the University of South Carolina. From 1878 to 1880, Greener served as dean of the Howard University School of Law. From 1885 to 1892, he served as secretary of the Grant Monument Association and from 1885 to 1890 as a civil service examiner in New York City. In 1898, Greener was appointed the United States Commercial Agent in Russia, a position he held until 1905. He received honorary Doctorate of Laws degrees from Monrovia College in Liberia in 1882 and Howard University in 1907. Greener died May 2, 1922 and Phillips Academy annually awards the Robert T. Greener 1865 Endowed Scholarship.

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Today in Black History, 1/29/2013

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• January 29, 1900 William Craft, daring escapee from enslavement, died. Craft was born enslaved September 25, 1824 in Macon, Georgia. Craft’s wife Ellen was at least three-quarters European by ancestry and very fair. In December, 1848, they escaped enslavement by traveling openly by train and steamboat. She posed as a white male planter and he as her personal servant. Their escape was widely publicized and over the next two years, they made numerous public appearances to recount their escape. As a result, they were among the most famous of fugitives from slavery. In 1850, the United States Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act which made it a federal crime to aid an escaped slave and required law enforcement even in free states to aid efforts to recapture fugitives. Threatened by this act, the Crafts moved to England where they lived for the next 19 years. In 1860, they published their story in “Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom: Or, The Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery.” The Crafts returned to the U.S. in 1868 and in 1870 bought 1800 acres of land near Savannah, Georgia where in 1873 they founded the Woodville Co-operative Farm School for the education and employment of freedmen. Ellen Craft died in 1897.

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Today in Black History, 1/28/2013

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• January 28, 1896 Malvin Gray Johnson, painter, was born in Greensboro, North Carolina. Johnson started painting as a child and won top awards in local fairs and exhibitions as a teenager. He moved to New York City where he studied at the National Academy of Design. Johnson was one of the most versatile artists of his time and one of the first African American artists to paint in the cubist style. In 1928, he won first prize at a Harmon Foundation exhibition and in 1929 won the Otto H. Kahn prize for painting. Johnson died October 4, 1934. In 2002, the North Carolina Central University Art Museum hosted the first retrospective exhibition devoted to his work. In 2010, Swann Galleries auctioned his work “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” (1928) for $228,000. His works “The Brothers” (1934) and “Self-Portrait” (1934) are in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

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Today in Black History, 1/27/2013

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• January 27, 1869 Will Marion Cook, violinist and composer, was born in Washington, D.C. Cook’s musical talents were apparent at an early age and at 15 he was sent to the Oberlin Conservatory to study violin. From 1887 to 1889, Cook studied at the Berlin Hochschule fur Musik and in 1889 made his professional debut. In 1890, he became director of a chamber orchestra and composed “Scenes from the Opera of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” In 1898, he composed “Clorindy: or, The Origin of the Cakewalk,” the first all-black show to play in a prestigious Broadway house. Cook produced many successful musicals, including “Uncle Eph’s Christmas” (1901), “The Southerners” (1904), and “Swing Along” (1929). Cook died July 19, 1944. The Will Marion Cook House in New York City was declared a National Historic Landmark May 11, 1976. Cook’s biography, “Swing Along: The Musical Life of Will Marion Cook,” was published in 2008.

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Today in Black History, 1/26/2013

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• January 26, 1892 Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman, hall of fame civil aviator, was born in Atlanta, Texas. In her early 20’s, Coleman became interested in flying, but could not gain admittance to American flight schools because she was black and a woman. Therefore, she traveled to Paris, France where she learned to fly and on June 15, 1921 became the first African American woman to earn an international aviation license. After completing an advanced training course, Coleman became a barnstorming stunt flier known as Queen Bess. On April 30, 1926, while flying to an air show, her plane crashed and she died instantly. In 1990, a road at O’Hara Airport was renamed Bessie Coleman Drive. In 1995, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor and she was posthumously inducted into the Women in Aviation Hall of Fame. Biographies of Coleman include “Bessie Coleman: The Brownskin Lady Bird” (1994) and “She Dared to Fly: Bessie Coleman” (1997). Coleman’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, 1/25/2013

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• January 25, 1890 The National Afro-American League was formed by Timothy Thomas Fortune. The organization was dedicated to racial solidarity and self-help. It became defunct in 1893 due to lack of support and funding. In 1898, it was reformed as the National Afro-American Council and existed until 1908. Many of the supporters of the league and council later became supporters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

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Today in Black History, 1/24/2013

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• January 24, 1874 Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, historian, writer, and activist, was born in Santurce, Puerto Rico. While in grade school, one of his teachers claimed that blacks had no history, heroes, or accomplishments. This inspired Schomburg to prove the teacher wrong. Schomburg was educated at St. Thomas College in the Virgin Islands where he studied Negro literature. He immigrated to New York City in 1891 and in 1896 began teaching Spanish. In 1911, Schomburg co-founded the Negro Society for Historical Research and later became president of the American Negro Academy. In 1925, Schomburg published his widely read and influential essay “The Negro Digs Up His Past.” In 1928, the New York Public Library system purchased his collection of literature, art, and other materials and appointed him curator of the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature and Art (later renamed the Arthur Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture). Schomburg died June 8, 1938 and his name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan. Schomburg’s biography, “Arthur Alfonse Schomburg: Black Bibliophile & Collector,” was published in 1989.

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Today in Black History, 1/23/2013

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• January 23, 1837 Amanda Berry Smith, evangelist, was born enslaved in Long Green, Maryland. As a child, Smith’s father worked for years to save enough money to buy his family’s freedom and when she was 13 she moved to Pennsylvania to work. Smith became well known for her beautiful voice and evangelized throughout the South and West. In 1876, she was invited to speak and sing in England and ended up staying for a year and a half conducting religious services. After her return to the United States, she founded the Amanda Smith Orphans’ Home for African American children in a suburb of Chicago, Illinois. She continued to evangelize and became known as “God’s image carved in ebony.” In 1893, her autobiography, “The Story of the Lord’s Dealings with Mrs. Amanda Smith, the Colored Evangelist,” was published. Smith retired to Florida in 1912 where she lived until her death February 24, 1915.

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Today in Black History, 1/22/2013

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• January 22, 1822 Barney Launcelot Ford, businessman and civic leader, was born enslaved in Virginia. In 1840, Ford escaped slavery and went to Chicago, Illinois. In 1848, while sailing to California, he landed in Nicaragua where he saw many business opportunities. In 1851, he opened the United States Hotel and Restaurant which became very successful and provided him $5,000 in savings. Ford returned to Denver, Colorado where he eventually owned two hotels, a restaurant, and a barbershop and by the 1870s was worth over $250,000. With his wealth, Ford gave money, food, and jobs to newly freed African Americans and opened a school for black children. In 1882, he and his wife were the first African Americans to be invited to a Colorado Association of Pioneers dinner. Ford died December 22, 1902 and his portrait, in the form of a stained glass window, is in the rotunda of the Colorado State Capitol Building. The Barney Ford House Museum is located in Breckenridge, Colorado and the Barney L. Ford Building is in Denver. In 1973, a new Denver elementary school was named in his honor. Biographies of Ford include “Adventures of Barney Ford, a Runaway Slave” (1969) and “Barney Ford: Black Baron” (1973).

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