March 20, 1948 James Baskett became the first male performer of African descent to receive an Oscar when he received an honorary Academy Award for his performance as Uncle Remus in "Song of the South". Instead of being nominated for Best Actor or Best Supporting Actor, he was recognized for his "able and heartwarming characterization of Uncle Remus, friend and storyteller to the children of the world". Although Baskett had a lead role in the film, he was unable to attend the premier in Atlanta, Georgia because of the city's racial segregation laws. Baskett was born February 16, 1904 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
He appeared on Broadway in the all-Black musical revue "Hot Chocolate" in 1929. He also appeared in a number of all-Black films, including "Harlem is Heaven" (1932) and "Straight to Heaven" (1939). Baskett was part of the cast of the "Amos 'n' Andy" radio show from 1944 to his death July 9, 1948.
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March 21, 1960 The Sharpville Massacre occurred when South African police opened fire on 5,000 to 7,000 Black protesters, killing 69 and injuring more than 180. The Black South Africans were organized by the Pan Africanist Congress to protest the pass laws which restricted the movement of Black people. When they converged on a local police station, the police opened fire killing and wounding most of the people in the back. Sharpeville marked a turning point, South Africa was increasingly isolated in the international community and the massacre was one of the catalysts for a shift from passive resistance to armed resistance by the PAC and the African National Congress. March 21 is annually commemorated as Human Rights Day in South Africa and the United Nations' Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization recognizes the date as the annual International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
March 22, 1957 Stephanie Dorthea Mills, singer and Broadway star, was born in Brooklyn, New York. Mills appeared in her first play at nine and won Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater a record six times two years later. She made her Broadway debut in the 1968 musical "Maggie Flynn" and recorded her first single, "I Knew It Was Love", in 1973. Mills career took off in 1974 when she portrayed Dorothy in "The Wiz", for which she was nominated for the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Actress – Musical. Mills also released her debut album, "Movin' In the Right Direction" in 1974. Mills had her first gold album with "What Cha Gonna Do With My Lovin" in 1979 and that was followed by "Sweet Sensation" (1980). That album featured "Never Knew Love Like This Before" which earned Mills the Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance – Female. These albums were followed by "Stephanie" (1981) and "Merciless" (1983), both of which were nominated for Grammy Awards for Best R&B Vocal Performance – Female. Other albums include "If I Were Your Woman" (1987) and "Home" (1989), both of which reached platinum status. Mills took a break from recording to care for her son in 1992. She returned in 2000 and released "Born For This" in 2004 and "Breathless" in 2010. Mills most recently appeared in the 2015 live television production of "The Wiz".
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March 23, 2006 The Utah Jazz of the National Basketball Association unveiled a bronze statue of Karl Anthony Malone in front of their stadium and retired his jersey number 32. Malone was born July 24, 1963 in Summerfield, Louisiana. He played college basketball at Louisiana Tech University where he earned the nickname "The Mailman" because he always delivered. Malone was selected by the Jazz in the 1985 NBA Draft. Over his 19 season professional career, Malone was a 13-time All-Star and the NBA Most Valuable Player in 1997 and 1999. He was a member of the Gold medal winning men's basketball team at the 1992 Barcelona and 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympic Games. Malone retired from basketball in 2004. He was voted one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players in 1996 and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010. Malone is director of basketball promotions at Louisiana Tech. The Karl Malone Power Forward of the Year Award, annually presented to the most talented college power forward, was inaugurated in 2015.
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March 24, 1912 Dorothy Irene Height, hall of fame educator and social activist, was born in Richmond, Virginia. Height was awarded a scholarship to Barnard College but when she enrolled she was denied admittance because at that time Barnard only admitted two African Americans per academic year and they had already admitted two. Height then pursued studies at New York University where she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1932 and Master of Arts degree in psychology in 1933. She started working as a case worker with the New York City Welfare Department and joined the national staff of the Young Women's Christian Association in 1944. She also served as the national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority from 1946 to 1957. Height was named president of the National Council of Negro Women in 1957, a position she held until 1997. Height served on numerous presidential committees, including the President's Committee on the Employment of the Handicapped and the President's Committee on the Status of Women. Height was named to the National Council for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research in 1974, established in response to the "Tuskegee Syphillis Study". Height also served as chair of the executive committee of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. She received many awards and honors, including the Presidential Citizens Medal in 1989, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People 1993 Spingarn Medal, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, from President William J. Clinton August 8, 1994. Height was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1993 and received the Congressional Gold Medal from President George W. Bush in 2004. Height died April 20, 2010. She published her autobiography, "Open Wide the Freedom Gates: A Memoir", in 2005.
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March 25, 2009 John Hope Franklin, historian and author, died. Franklin was born January 2, 1915 in Rentiesville, Oklahoma. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Fisk University in 1935 and his Master of Arts degree in 1936 and Ph. D. in history in 1941 from Harvard University. He served on the NAACP Legal Defense Fund team that developed the sociological case for Brown v. Board of Education. Franklin's teaching career began at Fisk. He taught at Howard University from 1947 to 1956 and served as chair of the history department at Brooklyn College from 1956 to 1964, the first person of color to head a major history department. Franklin was a professor of history at the University of Chicago from 1964 to 1968 and chair of the department from 1967 to 1970. He was appointed the James B. Duke Professor of History at Duke University in 1983. Franklin published his autobiography, "Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin", in 2005. In it he said "my challenge was to weave into the fabric of American history enough of the presence of Blacks so that the story of the United States could be told adequately and fairly". Franklin authored numerous other books, including "The Free Negro of North Carolina, 1790 – 1860" (1943) and "Racial Equality in America" (1976). The National Endowment for the Humanities selected Franklin for the 1976 Jefferson Lecture, the federal government's highest honor for achievement in the humanities. Franklin was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, by President William J. Clinton September 29, 1995. Other honors and awards include the 1993 Charles Frankel Prize, the 1995 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal, and the 2006 John W. Kluge Prize for lifetime achievement in the study of humanity.
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March 26, 1984 Jack Roosevelt "Jackie" Robinson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, from President Ronald W. Reagan. Robinson was born January 31, 1919 in Cairo, Georgia. He attended the University of California at Los Angeles, where he was a star athlete, from 1939 to 1941 and served in the United States Army as a first lieutenant from 1942 to 1945. He broke the major league baseball color barrier when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers April 15, 1947. Over his ten season professional career, he won the Rookie of the Year Award, the 1949 National League Most Valuable Player Award, and was selected to six consecutive All-Star teams. Robinson retired in 1956 and was awarded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal that same year. He helped to establish Freedom National Bank an African American owned and operated financial institution in New York City, in the 1960s. Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame July 23, 1962, the first African American to be inducted, and the Hall of Fame of Great Americans in 1970. Robinson died October 24, 1972. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 1982. Major League Baseball renamed the Rookie of the Year Award the Jackie Robinson Award in 1987 and permanently retired his uniform number 42 in 1997. Robinson was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President George W. Bush in 2005. He was posthumously inducted into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008. Major League Baseball has recognized April 15 as Jackie Robinson Day at all of their ballparks since 2004. Robinson published his autobiography, "I Never Had It Made", in 1972. There are numerous other books about Robinson, including "Baseball's Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy" (1983) and "Promises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed America" (2004). The Jackie Robinson Foundation was founded in 1973 and has provided college scholarships worth more than $22 million to more than 1,400 students. Robinson'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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