Today in Black History, 1/11/2013 - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 1/11/2013

• January 11, 1949 Ralph Henry Johnson, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Charleston, South Carolina. Johnson enlisted in the United States Marine Corp in July, 1967. On March 5, 1968, he was serving as a private first class with Company A, First Reconnaissance Battalion, First Marine Division in the Republic of Vietnam. His actions on that day earned him the medal. His citation partially reads, “…during Operation Rock, First Class Johnson was a member of a fifteen-man reconnaissance patrol manning an observation post on Hill 146 overlooking the Quan Duc Valley deep in enemy controlled territory. They were attacked by a platoon-sized hostile force employing automatic weapons, satchel charges and hand grenades. Suddenly a hand grenade landed in the three-man fighting hole occupied by Private First Class Johnson and two fellow Marines. Realizing the inherent danger to his comrades, he shouted a warning and unhesitatingly hurled himself upon the explosive device. When the grenade exploded, Private First Class Johnson absorbed the tremendous impact of the blast and was killed instantly. His prompt and heroic act saved the life of one Marine at the cost of his own and undoubtedly prevented the enemy from penetrating the sector of the patrol’s perimeter.” For his heroic actions, he was posthumously awarded the medal, America’s highest military decoration. On September 5, 1991, the Charleston VA Medical Center was renamed the Ralph H. Johnson Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center. In 2012, the U.S. Navy named a new guided missile destroyer the USS Ralph Johnson in his honor.

• January 11, 1966 Vernon Ferdinand Dahmer, Sr., civil rights leader, died from injuries received the prior day when his home was firebombed. Dahmer was born March 10, 1908 in Forrest County, Mississippi. A successful businessman, Dahmer owned a store, sawmill, and a 200 acre farm. He served several terms as president of the Forrest County Chapter of the NAACP and led voter registration drives during the 1960s. He also helped other African Americans pay their poll tax for the right to vote. On the night of January 10, his home was firebombed. His wife and children escaped, but he was mortally burned. Authorities indicted 14 men, most with Ku Klux Klan connections, for the attack on Dahmer’s home. Four were convicted and one entered a guilty plea. In 1998, Ku Klux Klan Imperial Wizard Sam Bowers was convicted for his involvement in the crime and sentenced to life in prison. He died in prison in 2006. Vernon Dahmer Park in Hattiesburg, Mississippi is named in his honor.

• January 11, 1971 Mary Jane Blige, singer, record producer, and “queen of hip hop soul,” was born in The Bronx, New York. Blige spent her early years in Savannah, Georgia where she sang in a church choir. In 1989, she was signed by Uptown Records, becoming the label’s youngest and first female artist. In 1991, the album “What’s the 411?” was released including several singles that topped the R&B singles chart. The album sold more than three million copies. Subsequent albums include “My Life” (1994), “Mary” (1999), “No More Drama” (2001), “Stronger with Each Tear” (2009), and “My Life II…The Journey Continues (Act 1)” (2011). Blige has won nine Grammy Awards, including the 2007 Grammy for Best R&B Album for “The Breakthrough” and the 2009 Grammy for Best Contemporary R&B Album for “Growing Pains.” She has sold more than 50 million albums worldwide. She also has endorsement contracts with a number of major corporations including Reebok, Coca-Cola, American Express and Chevrolet. In 2008, she founded the Foundation for the Advancement of Women Now to inspire women from all walks of life to reach their individual potential and opened the Mary J. Blige Center for Women in Yonkers, New York.

Today in Black History, 1/10/2013
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