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Today in Black History, 06/13/2015 | Thurgood Marshall

June 13, 1967 Thurgood Marshall became the first African American appointed to the United States Supreme Court. He was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Marshall was born July 2, 1908 in Baltimore, Maryland. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Lincoln University in 1930 and his Bachelor of Laws degree from Howard University School of Law in 1933. He began working for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1934. He won his first major civil rights case, Murray v. Pearson, in 1936 and his first case before the Supreme Court, Chambers v. Florida, in 1940. In total, Marshall won 29 of 32 cases he argued before the Supreme Court. His most famous case was the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, in which the court ruled that separate but equal public education could not be truly equal. Marshall was the 1946 recipient of the NAACP Spingarn Medal. President John F. Kennedy appointed Marshall to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1963. After being appointed to the Supreme Court, Marshall served for 24 years, retiring in 1991. Marshall died January 24, 1993. There are numerous memorials to him around the country, including the main office building of the federal court system which is named in his honor and has a statue of him in the atrium. Texas Southern University named their law school after him in 1976 and the University of Maryland opened the Thurgood Marshall Law Library in 1980. Marshall received the Liberty Medal in 1992 in recognition of his long history of protecting individual rights under the Constitution and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President William J. Clinton November 30, 1993. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 2003. Biographies of Marshall include “Thurgood Marshall: American Revolutionary” (1998) and “Thurgood Marshall” (2002). Marshall’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, 06/12/2015 | Straight University

June 12, 1869 Straight University was founded by the American Missionary Association of the Congregational Church to educate newly freed African Americans in New Orleans, Louisiana and the surrounding region. In addition to secondary and collegiate level instruction, Straight also offered professional training, including a law department from 1874 to 1886. Law school graduates included Louis Andre Martinet, who played a significant role in the Plessy v. Ferguson Supreme Court case, P. B. S. Pinchback, the first African American governor of a U.S. state, and Dr. James W. Ames, founder of Dunbar Hospital in Detroit, Michigan. Straight was merged with New Orleans University in 1930 and Dillard University was formed. The new university was created to “offer a traditional liberal arts curriculum, rather than nonprofessional vocational training” and emphasized a close engagement with the Black community through “various education extension programs, societies, and clubs.” Today, Dillard has approximately 1200 students, 125 faculty members and an endowment of $42 million. Notable alumni include Ellis Marsalis, Jr., Garrett Morris, Dr. Joyce M. Roche, and Dr. Ruth J. Simmons.

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Today in Black History, 06/11/15 | Remembering Ruby Dee

June 11, 2014 Ruby Dee, actress, playwright, poet and activist, died. Dee was born Ruby Ann Wallace October 27, 1924 in Cleveland, Ohio but grew up in Harlem, New York. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Hunter College in 1945. She made several appearances on Broadway before gaining national recognition for her role in the 1950 film “The Jackie Robinson Story”. Dee was nominated for eight Emmy Awards, winning for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Special for her role in the 1990 television film “Decoration Day”. She was nominated for the 2007 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in “American Gangster”. She and her husband, Ossie Davis, won the 2007 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for “With Ossie and Ruby”. Other films in which she appeared include “A Raisin in the Sun” (1961), “Do The Right Thing” (1989), “Jungle Fever” (1991), and “A Thousand Words” (2012). Dee was a long time civil rights activist, belonging to the Congress of Racial Equality, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She was personal friends with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. She and Davis received the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, from President William J. Clinton October 5, 1995. They received Kennedy Center Honors in 2004 and the Lifetime Achievement Freedom Award from the National Civil Rights Museum in 2005. Dee received the 2008 Spingarn Medal from the NAACP and an honorary doctorate degree from Princeton University in 2009. She and Davis published their autobiography, “With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together”, in 1998.

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Today in Black History, 06/10/15 | Marcus Garvey

June 10, 1940 Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr., publisher, entrepreneur, orator and Black Nationalist, died. Garvey was born August 17, 1887 in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica. He founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association August 1, 1914, “to unite all people of African ancestry of the world to one great body to establish a country and absolute government of their own.” Garvey moved to New York City in 1916 and founded the Negro World newspaper. Garvey was unjustly convicted of mail fraud and sentenced to five years in prison in 1923. That sentence was commuted by President J. Calvin Coolidge and Garvey was released in 1927 and deported to Jamaica where he is interred at a shrine in National Heroes Park. There are memorials to Garvey around the world, including statues and streets and schools named after him in Jamaica, Trinidad, the United States, Canada, Kenya, Nigeria, and the United Kingdom. A number of books have been published about Garvey and his movement, including “Black Power and the Garvey Movement” (1971), “Marcus Garvey: Anti-Colonial Champion” (1988), and “Negro With a Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey and his Dream of Mother Africa” (2008). Garvey’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 06/09/2015 | Jackie Wilson

June 9, 1934 Jack Leroy “Jackie” Wilson, hall of fame singer and performer known as “Mr. Excitement,” was born in Detroit, Michigan. Wilson gained early fame as a member of The Dominoes. He began his solo career in 1957 with the release of “Reet Petite” and over the next 15 years recorded more than 50 hit singles, including “To Be Loved” (1957), “You Better Know It” (1959), “A Woman, A Lover, A Friend” (1960), “Stop Dogging Around” (1960), “Baby Workout” (1963), and “Higher and Higher” (1969). Wilson suffered a massive heart attack in 1975 that left him in a vegetative state until his death January 21, 1984. Wilson was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 and received the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Legacy Tribute Award in 2003. Rolling Stone magazine named him one of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time in 2004.

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There's No Place Like Home: The Wright's Weekly Update June 8 - 14

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Today in Black History, 06/08/2015 | Arturo Alfonso Schomburg

June 8, 1938 Arturo Alfonso Schomburg, historian, writer and activist, died. Schomburg was born January 24, 1874 in Santurce, Puerto Rico. While in grade school, one of his teachers claimed that Black people 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 began teaching Spanish in 1896. Schomburg co-founded the Negro Society for Historical Research in 1911 and later became president of the American Negro Academy. He published his widely read and influential essay “The Negro Digs Up His Past” in 1925. The New York Public Library System purchased his collection of literature, art, and other materials in 1928 and appointed him curator of the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature and Art (later renamed the Arthur Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture). His biography, “Arthur Alfonso Schomburg: Black Bibliophile & Collector,” was published in 1989. Schomburg’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 06/07/2015 | First African American Emmy Award-winner

June 7, 1970 Gail Fisher became the first African American to win an Emmy Award. Fisher won the award for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in Drama for her performance in the detective series “Mannix.” Fisher was born August 18, 1935 in Orange, New Jersey. As a teenager, she entered several beauty contests and won a two year scholarship to study acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City. She made her first television appearance in 1960 in “Play of the Week.” She also appeared in a television commercial for All Laundry detergent in the early 1960s, the first Black female to appear in a national television commercial with lines. Fisher appeared in “Mannix” from 1968 to 1975. For that role, she was nominated for the Emmy Award for Outstanding Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in Drama three additional times. She also won two Golden Globe Awards, the first Black actress to win the award. After “Mannix” was cancelled, she rarely appeared on television. Fisher died December 2, 2000.

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Today in Black History, 06/06/2015 | Tommie Smith

June 6, 1944 Tommie Smith, hall of fame track and field athlete, was born in Clarksville, Texas. Smith won a track scholarship to San Jose State University where he set the world record in the 200-meter race in 1966. Also at San Jose State, Smith was a co-founder of the Olympic Project for Human Rights, an organization formed to boycott the 1968 Mexico City Summer Olympic Games to highlight human rights violations by the United States. The boycott did not occur and Smith went on to win the Gold medal in the 200-meter race. At the medal ceremony, he and John Carlos raised their black-gloved fist in a black power salute. They also wore black socks and no shoes to represent African American poverty in the U.S. For these actions they were suspended from the U.S. team, banned from the Olympic Village, and they and their families were subject to death threats. Smith earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in social science from San Jose State and his master’s degree in sociology from Goddard College. He later became a track coach at Oberlin College where he also taught sociology. Smith was inducted into the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame in 1978 and his autobiography, “Silent Gesture: The Autobiography of Tommie Smith,” was published in 2007. He and Carlos received the 2008 Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the ESPY Awards. Smith was inducted into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame in 2014.

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Today in Black History, 06/05/2015 | The American Negro Theater

June 5, 1940 The American Negro Theater was formed in Harlem, New York by Abram Hill and Frederick O’Neal. The theater produced 19 plays which were performed in the Schomburg Library. Their most successful production was “Anna Lucasta” which was performed on Broadway in 1944. The theater started the Studio Theatre training program for beginning actors in 1942. Graduates of that program include Sidney Poitier and Harry Belafonte. The theater closed in 1949.

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Today in Black History, 06/04/2015 | Roland Fryer

June 4, 1977 Roland Gerhard Fryer, Jr., economist and the youngest African American ever granted tenure at Harvard University, was born in Daytona Beach, Florida but raised in Lewisville, Texas. Fryer earned his Bachelor of Arts degree, magna cum laude, from the University of Texas at Arlington in 1998 after two and a half years while working a full-time job. He earned his Ph. D. in economics from Pennsylvania State University in 2002. He then completed a three year fellowship with the Harvard Society of Fellows. He joined Harvard’s economics department in 2006 and was granted tenure at 30. He is currently the Henry Lee Professor of Economics and founder and faculty director of the Education Innovation Laboratory. Fryer has published numerous economics related papers in prominent academic journals. He was listed as one of Time Magazine’s 2009 100 Most Influential People in the World and in 2011 was awarded a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur “Genius” Grant in 2011. 

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Today in Black History, 06/03/2015 | Jospehine Baker

June 3, 1906 Josephine Baker, entertainer and actress, was born Freda Josephine McDonald in St. Louis, Missouri. Baker moved to New York City at 15 and appeared in the chorus of “Shuffle Along” (1921). By the time she appeared in “The Chocolate Dandies” (1924), she was the highest paid chorus girl in vaudeville. She debuted in Paris, France in 1925 and after a while was the most successful American entertainer working in France. Despite her popularity in France, Baker never achieved the same level of success in the United States. She returned to Paris in 1937 and became a French citizen. During World War II, Baker volunteered to spy for France and provided significant assistance to the French Resistance. In recognition of her efforts, she was the first American born woman to receive the French military honor, the Croix de Guerre. Although based in France, Baker was supportive of the Civil Rights Movement. When in the U.S., she refused to perform for segregated audiences and spoke at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Baker died April 12, 1975. Biographies of Baker include “Jazz Cleopatra: Josephine Baker in Her Time” (1989) and “Josephine: The Hungry Heart” (2001). HBO broadcasted her life story in the 1991 film “The Josephine Baker Story.” The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor in 2008. 

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Today in Black History 06/02/2015 | First African American Bishop

June 2, 1875 James Augustine Healy was officially ordained as Bishop of Portland, Maine, the first African American bishop in the United States. Healy was born enslaved April 6, 1830 near Macon, Georgia. Although he was three-quarters or more of European ancestry, he was considered Black. Because Georgia prohibited the education of slaves, Healy’s Irish-American father arranged for his children to move north where they could obtain an education and have better opportunities. Healy earned his Bachelor of Arts degree, and was valedictorian of his class, from the College of Holy Cross in 1849. Following graduation, he wanted to enter the priesthood but could not study at the Jesuit novitiate in Maryland as it was a slave state. Therefore, he entered Sulpician Seminary in Montreal, Canada where he earned his Master of Arts degree in 1851. He was ordained a priest June 10, 1854 at the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. Healy became pastor of St. James Church, the largest Catholic congregation in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1866. After being ordained a bishop, he governed his diocese for the next 25 years, overseeing the establishment of 60 new churches, 68 missions, 18 convents, and 18 schools. Healy died August 5, 1900. Today, the Archdiocese of Boston Office for Black Catholics awards the Bishop James Augustine Healy Award to dedicated Black parishioners. Healy’s biography, “Bishop Healy: Beloved Outcast,” was published in 1954. “Passing for White: Race, Religion, and the Healy Family, 1820-1920” was published in 2003.

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Cinetopia, Juneteenth & Summer! The Wright's June 2015 eZine

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Today in Black History 06/01/2015 | Morgan Freeman

June 1, 1937 Morgan Porterfield Freeman, Jr., actor and film director, was born in Memphis, Tennessee. After serving in the United States Air Force from 1955 to 1959, Freeman made his Off-Broadway debut in “The Nigger Lover” in 1967 and his Broadway debut in “Hello, Dolly!” in 1968. Freeman’s first credited film role was in “Who Says I Can’t Ride a Rainbow” in 1971. Freeman has received Academy Award nominations for his roles in “Street Smart” (1987), “Driving Miss Daisy” (1989), “The Shawshank Redemption” (1994), and “Invictus” (2009). He won the 2004 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in “Million Dollar Baby.” Other films in which he has appeared, include “Glory” (1988), “Unforgiven” (1992), “Se7en” (1995), “Deep Impact” (1998), “The Bucket List” (2007), and “Dolphin Tale 2” (2014). He directed “Bopha!,” a feature film set in South Africa, in 1993. He received Kennedy Center Honors in 2008. Freeman received an honorary Doctor of Arts and Letters degree from Delta State University in 2006 and an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Boston University in 2013. Freeman replaced Walter Cronkite as the voiceover introduction to the “CBS Evening News” in 2010.

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Today in Black History 05/31/2015 | Tulsa Race Riots & Black Wall Street

May 31, 1921 The Tulsa Race War in the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma occurred, resulting in 35 city blocks of residences being destroyed and 10,000 predominantly Black people left homeless. Officially 39 people were reported killed but unofficial counts range up to 300. The Greenwood section of Tulsa was predominantly Black and had a commercial district that was so prosperous that it was often referred to as “the Negro Wall Street”. On Monday, May 30, a teenage Black man was accused and jailed for assaulting a young White woman. By the next day, thousands of armed White men had gathered to seek revenge and a smaller group of armed Black men gathered to provide protection. A confrontation occurred, resulting in large-scale civil disorder. The Oklahoma state legislature passed the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Reconciliation Act in 2001 which provided for more than 300 college scholarships for descendants of Greenwood residents, mandated the creation of a memorial to those who died in the riot, and called for efforts to promote economic development in Greenwood. The memorial was dedicated October 27, 2010. Books about the riot include “Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921” (1982) and “Reconstructing the Dreamland: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 – Race, Reparations, Reconciliation” (2002).

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Today in Black History 05/30/2015 | Gale Sayers

May 30, 1943 Gale Eugene Sayers, hall of fame football player and entrepreneur, was born in Wichita, Kansas. Sayers was a two-time All-American at the University of Kansas where he also earned his Bachelor of Arts degree. He was selected by the Chicago Bears in the 1965 National Football League draft and over his brief seven season professional career was a five-time All-Pro selection. Sayers was forced to retire from football in 1971 due to multiple knee injuries. He published his autobiography, “I Am Third”, in 1971. In 1977, Sayers was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the youngest inductee in the hall’s history, and the Chicago Bears retired his uniform number 40 in 1994. After retiring, Sayers returned to the University of Kansas and earned his Master of Arts degree in educational administration. He is chairman of Sayers 40, Inc. Sayers was named the 1980 Walter Camp Man of the Year which annually recognizes an individual who has been closely associated with football as a player or coach. The individual must have attained a measure of success and been a leader in their chosen profession. He was named the Ernest & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in 1999. Sayers served as director of fundraising for special projects at the University of Kansas from 2009 to 2012. The Gale Sayers Foundation supports K-12 schools, administrators, and teachers who are challenging the status quo by implementing successful technology based learning models.   

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Today in Black History, 05/29/2015 | "Ain't I a Woman"

May 29, 1851 Sojourner Truth delivered her famous “Ain’t I a Woman” speech at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. Her simple short speech was a powerful rebuke of antifeminist arguments of the day. It is still considered a classic expression of women’s rights. Truth was born Isabella Baumfree enslaved in Swartekill, New York November 19, 1797. She was sold with a flock of sheep for $100 at nine. Truth escaped to freedom in 1826 and changed her name in 1843 and began traveling and preaching about abolition. Her memoir, “The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave”, was published in 1850. 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. She was posthumously inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1981, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor in 1986, and she was the first Black woman to be honored with a bust in the United States Capitol April 28, 2009. A number of books have been published about 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 05/28/2015 | Remembering Maya Angelou

 On May 28, 2014 Maya Angelou, hall of fame author and poet, died. Angelou was born Marguerite Ann Johnson April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri. She earned a scholarship to train in African dance in 1952 and toured Europe with a production of the opera “Porgy and Bess” from 1954 to 1955. She recorded her first album, “Miss Calypso," and was featured in the movie “Calypso Heat Wave” in 1957. In the late 1950s, she was active in the Civil Rights Movement, serving as the northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Angelou’s first and best known book, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” (1969), was nominated for a National Book Award and her 1971 volume of poetry, “Just Give Me a Cool Drink ‘Fore I Diiie," was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. She recited her poem “On the Pulse of Morning” at the 1993 inauguration of President William J. Clinton. Her recording of the poem won the 1994 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word or Non-Traditional Album. She also won the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for “Phenomenal Woman” in 1995 and “A Song Flung Up to Heaven” in 2002. Angelou was the 1994 recipient of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal. Angelou was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1998, was awarded the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor the nation bestows on an individual artist, by President William J. Clinton December 20, 2000, and was awarded the Lincoln Medal in 2008. Angelou was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Barack H. Obama February 15, 2011. She received the Norman Mailer Prize for Lifetime Achievement in 2013 and was awarded over 30 honorary doctorate degrees. She published seven autobiographies, the last one, “Mom & Me & Mom," in 2013. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor in 2015.

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Today in Black History 05/27/2015 | First African American Navy Cross


May 27, 1942 Doris “Dorie” Miller was awarded the Navy Cross, the first African American to receive the decoration, for his extraordinary courage in battle. Miller was born October 12, 1919 in Waco, Texas and enlisted in the United States Navy in 1939. On December 7, 1941, he was serving as a cook on the USS West Virginia in Pearl Harbor when it was attacked by the Japanese. Although he had no anti-aircraft gun training, Miller took control of one and fired until the gun ran out of ammunition. In recognition of his actions, he was awarded the Navy Cross, the highest decoration bestowed by the Department of the Navy. Miller died November 24, 1943 while serving on the USS Liscome Bay which was hit by a Japanese torpedo and sank. The USS Miller was commissioned in his honor June 30, 1973. Also, a number of schools, streets, and parks are named in his honor. Miller’s biography, “A Man Named Doris," was published in 2003. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 2010.

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