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Today in Black History 12/28/2010

• December 28, 1829 Bill Richmond, hall of fame boxer, died. Richmond was born enslaved on August 5, 1763 in Staten Island, New York. He was taken to England to apprentice as a cabinet maker but took up boxing. Known as “The Black Terror,” he was one of the most accomplished and respected fighters of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Richmond retired from boxing in 1818 at the age of 55 and established a boxing academy. He was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2005.

• December 28, 1865 Edward Lee Baker, Jr., Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Laramie County, Wyoming. On July 1, 1898, while serving as a Sergeant Major in the United States Army at Santiago, Cuba during the Spanish – American War, Baker “left cover and under fire, rescued a wounded comrade from drowning.” In recognition of his actions, he was awarded the Medal of Honor on July 3, 1902. After the war, Baker was promoted to Captain and put in command of the 49th Infantry. Baker retired from the military in 1902 and died August 26, 1913.

• December 28, 1866 Dennis Bell, Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Washington, D. C. On June 30, 1898, Bell was a Private in Troop H of the 10th Cavalry Regiment of the United States Army during the Spanish – American War. On that day, American forces aboard the USS Florida near Tayacoba, Cuba dispatched a small landing party to provide reconnaissance on Spanish outposts in the area. The party was discovered and came under heavy fire, sinking their boats and leaving them stranded on shore. The men aboard the Florida launched four rescue attempts but were forced to retreat under heavy fire each time. The fifth attempt, manned by Bell and three other Privates, found and rescued the surviving members of the landing party. On June 23, 1899, Bell and the other three rescuers were awarded the Medal of Honor for their actions. Bell reached the rank of Corporal before leaving the army and he died September 25, 1953.

• December 28, 1897 Charles V. Richey of Washington, D. C. received patent number 596,427 for new and useful improvements in fire escape brackets.

• December 28, 1903 Earl Kenneth “Fatha” Hines, jazz pianist, was born in Duquesne, Pennsylvania. As a youth, Hines took classical piano lessons and played organ at the local Baptist church and at the age of 17 he left home to take a job playing in a Pittsburgh nightclub. In 1923, he made his first recordings and in 1925 moved to Chicago. In 1927, he began to direct Louis Armstrong’s band and together they recorded what are often regarded as some of the most important jazz records ever made including their 1928 duet “Weatherbird.” In 1928, Hines began leading his own band and for the next eleven years they were “The Band” in The Grand Terrace Café which was controlled by Al Capone. Hines was considered Capone’s “Mr. Piano Man.” Hines led his big band until 1948. In 1960, Hines retired to Oakland, California and opened a tobacco shop. In 1964, Hines was rediscovered and in 1966 won the International Critics Poll for Downbeat Magazine’s Hall of Fame. From then until his death on April 22, 1983 he recorded endlessly. On his tombstone is the inscription “Piano Man.”

• December 28, 1914 Roebuck “Pops” Staples, gospel and R&B musician, was born on a cotton plantation near Winona, Mississippi. Staples dropped out of school after the eighth grade and in 1935, moved to Chicago where he sang with the Trumpet Jubilees. In 1948, he formed the Staple Singers with his children as a gospel group and they started recording in the early 1950s with songs such as “This May Be the Last Time” and “Uncloudy Day.” In the 1960s, they started recording protest, inspirational, and contemporary music and had a number of hits including “Respect Yourself” (1971), “I’ll Take You There” (1972), “If You’re Ready (Come Go With Me)” (1973), and “Let’s Do It Again” (1975). After the group disbanded in the 1980s, Staples began a solo career and in 1995 he won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album for “Father, Father”. In 1999, the Staple Singers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Staples died December 19, 2000.

• December 28, 1918 George Henry White, considered the last African American Congressman of the Reconstruction Era, died. White was born December 18, 1852 in Rosindale, North Carolina. After graduating from Howard University in 1877, he studied law privately and was admitted to the North Carolina bar in 1879. He entered politics in 1880 when he was elected to the North Carolina House of Representatives. In 1884, he was elected to the North Carolina Senate and in 1886 he was elected Solicitor and Prosecuting Attorney. In 1896, he was elected to the United States Congress and re-elected in 1898. As a result of changes in the voting laws and the intimidation of blacks for voting, White did not run for a third term. In his farewell speech he said “this is perhaps the Negroes’ temporary farewell to the American Congress but let me say, Phoenix-like he will rise up some day and come again.” His speech was referenced by President Barrack Obama in his remarks to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s Annual Awards Dinner on September 26, 2009. White was an officer in the National Afro-American Council, a nationwide civil rights organization created in 1898. In 1906, White moved to Philadelphia where he practiced law, operated a commercial savings bank and founded the town of Whitesboro, New Jersey as a real estate development.

• December 28, 1932 Grace Nichols (Nichelle Nichols), actress, dancer and singer, was born in Robbins, Illinois. Nichols danced in Chicago with “College Inn” revue around 1947 and toured the United States, Canada and Europe as a singer with the Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton bands in 1950 and 1951. In 1966, Nichols was cast as the communications officer Lieutenant Uhura aboard the USS Enterprise in the television series “Star Trek,” a role she played until the series was canceled in 1969. She has also co-starred in six “Star Trek” motion pictures, the last being “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” (1991). Former NASA astronaut Mae Jemison has cited Nichol’s role as her inspiration for wanting to become an astronaut. After the cancellation of the television series “Star Trek,” Nichols volunteered for a special project to recruit minority and female personnel for NASA. Those recruited under this program include Dr. Sally Ride, Colonel Guion Bluford, Dr. Judith Resnick, and Dr. Ronald McNair. Nichols continues to act, appearing most recently in the film “Tru Loved” (2008). She has also released two albums, “Down to Earth” (1967) and “Out of This World” (1991). Nichols published her autobiography, “Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories,” in 1994.

• December 28, 1942 Elsie Bernice Washington, “the mother of the African American romance novel,” was born in New York City. Washington earned a bachelor’s degree in English from City College of New York. After college, she worked as a writer and editor for several publications, including The New York Post, Essence Magazine, Life Magazine, and Newsweek Magazine. In 1980, Washington published her only novel, “Entwined Destinies,” which is considered the first romance novel written by an African American author featuring African American characters. Washington also wrote two non-fiction works, “Sickle Cell Anemia” (1974) and “Uncivil War: The Struggle Between Black Men and Women” (1996).

• December 28, 1952 Fletcher Hamilton Henderson, Jr., pianist, bandleader, arranger and composer, died. Henderson was born December 18, 1897 in Cuthbert, Georgia. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Clark College in 1920. After graduating, he moved to New York City to attend Columbia University for a master’s degree in chemistry. However, he found his job prospects in chemistry to be limited due to his race and turned to music for a living. In 1922, he formed his own band which quickly became known as the best Black band in New York. Henderson recorded extensively in the 1920s and 1930s, including “After the Storm” (1924), “Alabamy Bound” (1925), “Chinatown, My Chinatown” (1930), and “Down South Camp Meetin” (1934). Henderson started arranging around 1931 and his arrangements became influential, particularly those for the Benny Goodman Orchestra. Henderson’s biography, “The Uncrowned King of Swing: Fletcher Henderson and Big Band Jazz,” was published in 2005.

• December 28, 1954 Denzel Hayes Washington, Jr., actor, director, and film producer, was born in Mount Vernon, New York. Washington earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Drama and Journalism from Fordham University in 1977 and made his professional acting debut in the television movie “Wilma” (1977). His big break came when he starred from 1982 to 1988 in the television drama “St. Elsewhere.” In 1987, Washington starred in “Cry Freedom” which resulted in an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. In 1989, he won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his role in “Glory.” In 2001, Washington won an Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in “Training Day.” Washington’s five Oscar nominations are the most by an actor of African descent. Other significant movies that Washington has starred in include “Malcolm X” (1992), “Philadelphia” (1993), “The Hurricane” (1999), “Inside Man” (2006), “Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three” (2009), and “Unstoppable” (2010).
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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.