· June 7, 1943 Yolande Cornelia “Nikki” Giovanni, poet, author, and activist, was born in Knoxville, Tennessee. Giovanni earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in history with honors from Fisk University in 1967. Her early poetry, such as “Black Feeling, Black Talk” (1967), “Black Judgement” (1968) and “Re: Creation” (1970), was inspired by the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements. Other works include “Those Who Ride the Night Winds” (1983), “Love Poems” (1997), “Acolytes” (2007), and “Bicycles: Love Poems” (2009). Giovanni has written more than 25 books, including volumes of poetry, illustrated children’s books, and collections of essays. In 2004, she was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for her album “The Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collection.” She has received 19 honorary doctorates from colleges and universities around the country. Giovanni is currently a distinguished professor of English at Virginia Tech.
· June 7, 1958 Prince Rogers Nelson (Prince), singer, songwriter, and musician, was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Prince’s first album, “For You,” was released in 1978. He composed, produced, arranged, and played all 27 instruments on the recording. In 1979, he had his first major hit album, “Prince,” which contained the single “I Wanna Be Your Lover,” which sold over a million copies. In 1984, he released “Purple Rain” which sold more than 13 million copies in the United States and spent 24 consecutive weeks at number one on the Billboard 200 chart. The film of the same name won an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score. At one point in 1984, Prince had the number one album, single, and film in the U.S., the first time a singer had achieved that feat. Prince has produced 10 platinum albums, including “1999” (1982), “Sign o’ the Times” (1987), “Batman” (1989), and “Emancipation” (1996). He has been nominated for 33 Grammy Awards and won seven. His albums “1999” and “Purple Rain” have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as recordings of “qualitative or historical significance.” It is reported that Prince has written more than one thousand songs. Prince was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. Several books have been published about Prince, including “Purple Reign: The Artist Formerly Known as Prince” (1998) and “Prince: Life & Times” (2008).
· June 7, 1962 Janice Lawrence Braxton, hall of fame basketball player, was born. Braxton played college basketball at Louisiana Tech University where she was a two-time All-American, led the team to the national championship in 1981 and 1982, and was the National Player of the Year in 1984. Braxton won a Gold medal as a member of the United States women’s basketball team at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games. She played professionally in Italy for 15 seasons, earning All-Europe honors seven times. She also played for the Cleveland Rockers in the Women’s National Basketball Association from 1997 to 1999. Braxton was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.
· June 7, 1995 Herman Russell Branson, physicist and president of two colleges, died. Branson was born August 14, 1914 in Pocahontas, Virginia. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree Summa Cum Laude from Virginia State College in 1936 and his Ph. D. in physics from the University of Cincinnati in 1939. Branson joined Howard University in 1941 and remained there for 27 years, eventually becoming the head of the Physics Department, director of a program in experimental science and mathematics, and working on the Office of Naval Research and Atomic Energy Commission Projects in Physics. Branson served as president of Central State University from 1968 to 1970 and president of Lincoln University until his retirement in 1985. He was active in increasing federal funding for higher education and helped found the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education in 1969.
· June 7, 1998 James Byrd, Jr. was murdered in Jasper, Texas when three men hooked him to a pickup truck and dragged him about three miles along the pavement. While being dragged, his arm and head were cut off. The murderers unchained his torso and left it on the road in front of the town’s black cemetery. The three murderers were convicted with two of them receiving the death penalty and the other sentenced to life in prison. Byrd’s “lynching by dragging” resulted in the passage of a Texas hate crimes law and the federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2009. In 2003, a movie about the crime, “Jasper, Texas,” was aired on Showtime.