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on Friday, 28 January 2011
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Today in Black History, 1/28/2011

·  January 28, 1898 James H. Harris, Medal of Honor recipient, died. Harris was born in 1828 in Saint Mary’s County, Maryland. He worked as a farmer before enlisting in the Union Army on February 14, 1864 as a private in Company B of the 38th Regiment U. S. Colored Troops. He was promoted to corporal five months later and to sergeant two months after that. At the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm, on September 29, 1864, Harris’ regiment was among a division of black troops assigned to attack the center of the Confederate defenses at New Market Heights. The attack was met with intense Confederate fire, killing, capturing or wounding over 50 percent of the black troops, and stalling the effort. When a renew effort began, Harris and two other men ran at the head of the assault and were the first to breach the Confederate defenses and engage them in hand to hand combat. That attack was successful and the Confederate forces were routed. Nine years later, on February 18, 1874, Harris was awarded the Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery

·  January 28, 1901 James Richmond Barthe, sculptor, was born in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Barthe showed great promise as an artist at a young age but due to his race he was barred from enrolling in any of the art schools in the South. In 1924, he was admitted to the Art Institute of Chicago and during his four years of study he was recognized as a flattering portrait painter. During his senior year, he was introduced to sculpture and he exhibited two busts in the 1927 Negro in Art Week Exhibition and in the 1928 exhibition of the Chicago Art League. In 1934, he was awarded his first solo show in New York City. In 1946, Barthe became a member of the National Sculpture Society and in 1950 he was the recipient of the Audubon Artists Gold Medal. Barthe died March 5, 1989 and his works are in the collections of many museums, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Pennsylvania Museum of Art. His biography, “Barthe: A Life in Sculpture,” was published in 2008.

·  January 28, 1934 William De Kova White, retired professional baseball player, sportscaster, and executive, was born in Lakewood, Florida. White made his major league debut in 1956 and during his 13-season career was a five-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove Award winner. After retiring as a player in 1969, White had an 18 year career as a sportscaster. From 1989 to 1994, he served as president of the National League, the first African American to hold such a high position in professional sports. Since retiring, White has continued to serve on several committees for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

·  January 28, 1960 Zora Neale Hurston, author and playwright, died. Hurston was born January 7, 1891 in Notasulga, Alabama. When she was three, her family moved to Eatonville, Florida, the first all-Black town to be incorporated in the United States. Hurston describes the experience of growing up in Eatonville in her 1928 essay “How It Feels to Be Colored Me.” Hurston earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in anthropology from Barnard College in 1928 and spent two years as a graduate student at Columbia University. Hurston’s best known work is the 1937 novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God” but she also published short stories, essays and plays, including “Color Struck” (1925), a play first published in the Urban League’s Opportunity Magazine, and “Mule Bone” (1930), a play co-written with Langston Hughes. Hurston’s house in Fort Pierce, Florida is a National Historic Landmark and the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities is celebrated annually in Eatonville. Biographies of Hurston include “Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography” (1977), “Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston” (2003), and “Speak, So You Can Speak Again” (2004). Hurston’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

·  January 28, 1985 “We Are the World” was recorded by USA for Africa. The idea for the creation of a song to benefit African famine relief came from Harry Belafonte and the song was co-written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie. The song was co-produced by Quincy Jones and released on March 7, 1985. The song topped music charts around the world and became the fastest selling American pop single in history. It earned three Grammy Awards and as of 2009 had sold more than 20 million units and raised over $63 million for humanitarian aid for Africa.

·  January 28, 1986 Ronald Ervin McNair, physicist and NASA astronault, died along with six other crew members during the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger. McNair was born October 21, 1950 in Lake City, South Carolina. He earned his bachelor’s degree in physics, magna cum laude, from North Carolina A&T State University in 1971. In 1976, he earned his Ph.D. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. McNair was chosen for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration program in 1978 and flew aboard the Challenger in February, 1984 as a mission specialist. A number of public places have been renamed in honor of McNair, including schools throughout the country. The United States Department of Education offers the Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program for low income, first generation, and/or under represented students.

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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.

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