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Today in Black History, 10/29/2011

·   October 29, 1866 James Pierson Beckwourth, mountain man, fur trader, and explorer, died. Beckwourth was born enslaved on April 6, 1798 in Frederick County, Virginia. His owner emancipated him in 1824 and Beckwourth joined a fur trapping company on an expedition to explore the Rocky Mountains. In 1826, he was captured by the Crow Indians and for the next 8 or 9 years lived with them, rising in their society from warrior to chief. During the Mexican American War, Beckwourth served as a courier for the United States Army. In 1850, he was credited for discovering what came to be called the Beckwourth Pass, a passage through the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In the mid-1850s, Beckwourth began ranching in the Sierra and his ranch, trading post, and hotel were the starting settlement of what became Beckwourth, California. In 1996, in recognition of his contribution to the city’s development, the City of Marysville, California officially renamed the city’s largest park Beckwourth Riverfront Park. Beckwourth published his autobiography, “The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth: Mountaineer, Scout and Pioneer, and Chief of the Crow Nation of Indians,” in 1856.

·   October 29, 1870 Martha Minerva Franklin, founder of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses, was born in New Milford, Connecticut. Franklin graduated from the Women’s Hospital Training School in 1897, the only black graduate in her class, and in the early 1900s moved to New Haven, Connecticut. After two years of investigating the nursing field, she determined that although black nurses could join the American Nurses Association they were restricted from addressing the issues of segregation and discrimination. As a result on August 25, 1908, Franklin hosted a meeting of 52 black nurses that resulted in the founding of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses with Franklin as president. The NACGN grew to an organization of 12,000 members from almost every state in the nation. By 1951, most of the groups aspirations had been met and they merged with the American Nurses Association. Franklin continued with her education and became a registered nurse with the New York public school system. She died on September 26, 1968. In 1976, Franklin was posthumously inducted into the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame as one of the pioneers of the nursing field.

·   October 29, 1889 John Standard of Newark, New Jersey received patent number 413,689 for an improved oil stove that was used in places where space was limited. His invention provided attachments which enabled the cooking of a variety of foods at one time. Standard also received patent number 455,891 on July 14, 1891 for an improved refrigerator design. His refrigerator used a manually filled ice chamber for chilling.

·   October 29, 1938 Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia, was born in Monrovia, Liberia. Sirleaf earned her bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and in 1971 earned her Master of Public Administration degree from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. From 1972 to 1973, she served as assistant minister of finance and from 1979 to 1980 as minister of finance for Liberia. As a result of disagreements with the government in power, Sirleaf spent much of the 1980s and 1990s in exile. In 1996, she returned to Liberia and in 2005 was elected President of Liberia, the first and currently only female head of state in Africa. In 2007, Sirleaf was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States government’s highest civilian award, by President George W. Bush. She has also received honorary Doctor of Law degrees from several universities, including Indiana University and Yale Univesity. Sirleaf was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011. She published her autobiography, “This Child Will Be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa’s First Woman President,” in 2009.

·   October 29, 1945 Beatrice Melba Smith (Melba Moore), R&B singer and actress, was born in New York City. Moore earned a bachelor’s degree in musical education from Montclair State Teacher’s College and taught music for a year in the Newark Public School System. She began her performing career in 1967 in the cast of “Hair.” In 1970, Moore won the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical for her role in “Purlie.” She followed that performance with two successful albums, “I Got Love” (1970) and “Look What You’re Doing to the Man” (1971). Other hits by Moore include “This Is It” (1976), “Love’s Comin’ At Ya” (1982), “Livin’ For Your Love” (1984), and “Falling” (1986). In addition to the Tony Award, Moore has been nominated for four Grammy Awards.

·   October 29, 1969 George Murphy “Pops” Foster, jazz string bassist, died. Foster was born May 19, 1892 in Ascension Parish, Louisiana. By 1907, Foster was playing professionally, working in bands such as King Oliver’s and Kid Ory’s. In 1929, he moved to New York City where he played with various bands, including Louis Armstrong’s. In the late 1940s, Foster began touring more widely and played in many European countries. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he played with Earl Hines’ Small Band. “The Autobiography of Pops Foster” was published in 1971.

·   October 29, 1969 The United States Supreme Court decided in Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education that “The obligation of every school district is to terminate dual school systems at once and to operate now and hereafter only unitary schools.” In 1955’s Brown v. Board of Education II, the Supreme Court had ordered that desegregation occur with “all deliberate speed.” As a result, schools in the South were desegregating slowly, if at all. The Alexander ruling stated that “all deliberate speed” was no longer permissible.

·   October 29, 1973 Vonetta Flowers, the first black person to win a Gold medal at the Winter Olympic Games, was born in Birmingham, Alabama. Flowers went to the University of Alabama at Birmingham on a track and field scholarship and graduated in 1995. She aspired to make the United States Summer Olympic team but after several failed attempts turned to making the Winter Olympic team as a bobsledder. At the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, she won a Gold medal in the two-woman bobsledding event. Flowers also competed in the 2006 Turin Winter Olympics finishing sixth in the event. She retired from competition after the games. Flowers published her autobiography, “Running on Ice: The Overcoming Faith of Vonetta Flowers,” in 2005.

·   October 29, 1994 Pearl Primus, dancer, choreographer, and anthropologist, died. Primus was born November 29, 1919 in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Hunter College in 1940. Early in her career, Primus saw the need to promote African dance as an art form worthy of study and performance. In 1943, she presented her first composition, “African Ceremonial.” She was the first dancer to present the African American experience within the framework of social protest in dances such as “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” (1944), “Strange Fruit” (1945), and “Hard Time Blues” (1945). In 1959, Primus earned her Master of Arts degree in education and in 1978 a Ph. D. in dance education from New York University. In 1979, she created “Michael Row Your Boat Ashore” about the 1963 Birmingham, Alabama church bombing. From 1984 to 1990, Primus served as professor of ethnic studies at the Five Colleges Consortium in Massachusetts and in 1990 she became the first chair of the Five Colleges Dance Consortium. In 1991, President George H. W. Bush presented Primus with the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States.

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Gregory Lucas-Myers is a 2010 University of Michigan - Ann Arbor graduate, possessing a B.A. in English with a focus in creative writing.