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Today in Black History, 04/25/2015 | Chuck Cooper

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April 25, 1950 Charles Henry “Chuck” Cooper became the first Black player to be drafted by a National Basketball Association team when he was selected by the Boston Celtics. Cooper was born September 29, 1926 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He served in the United States Navy from 1945 to 1946. Cooper played college basketball at Duquesne University where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1950. Cooper played six seasons in the NBA before retiring from basketball in 1957. He worked in various non-profit programs before being named director of Pittsburgh’s parks and recreation department, the city’s first Black department head. He also earned his master’s degree in social work from the University of Minnesota in 1961. Cooper served as an urban affairs officer at Pittsburgh National Bank from 1971 to his death February 5, 1984.

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Today in Black History, 04/24/2015 | Duke Ellington

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April 24, 1969 Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Richard M. Nixon. Ellington was born April 29, 1899 in Washington, D. C. He began taking piano lessons at 7 and wrote his first composition, “Soda Fountain Rag,” at 14. He and his band began playing at Harlem’s Cotton Club in 1927 and weekly radio broadcasts from the club gave them national exposure. Ellington delivered some of his biggest hits during the 1930s and early 1940s, including “Mood Indigo” (1930), “Sophisticated Lady” (1933), “Caravan” (1937), and “Take the A Train” (1941). In 1943, he began to compose and perform longer form jazz suites with “Black, Brown, and Beige,” which told the story of African Americans and the place of slavery and the church in their history. Other innovative recordings include “Such Sweet Thunder” (1957), “The Far East Suite” (1966), and “The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse” (1971). Ellington also worked on film scores, including “Anatomy of a Murder” (1959) and “Paris Blues” (1961). He earned 13 Grammy Awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1966, and 9 of his recordings were inducted into Grammy Hall of Fame as recordings of “qualitative or historical significance.” Additionally, he was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1956, received the 1959 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal, inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1971, and awarded the Legion of Honor by France in 1973. Ellington died May 24, 1974. He was posthumously inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1978. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 1986, he was awarded a Special Citation by the Pulitzer Prize Board in 1999, and the U. S. Mint issued a special Washington, D. C. quarter in 2009 featuring his image, the first African American to appear alone on a circulating U. S. coin. His autobiography, “Music is My Mistress,” was published in 1976.

 

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Voices of the Civil War Episode 39: "Civil War Ends"

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APRIL 2015: The Voices of the Civil War is a five-year film series dedicated to celebrating and commemorating the Civil War over the course of the sesquicentennial. Each month, new episodes cover pertinent topics that follow the monthly events and issues as they unfolded for African Americans during the Civil War. Within these episodes there are various primary sources – letters and diaries, newspaper reports, and more - to recount various experiences of blacks during this period. We encourage your feedback and commentary through our Voices of the Civil War web blog.

Click here to visit the Voices of the Civil War blog to see previous episodes.

On April 9, 1865 Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, ending the American Civil War. Only three days later, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theatre. While mourning the loss of President Lincoln and the more than half million lives lost in battle, Americans celebrated the end of the war.

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Today in Black History, 04/23/2015 | Ralph Waldo Ellison

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April 23, 1985 Ralph Waldo Ellison was presented the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President Ronald W. Reagan. Ellison was born March 1, 1914 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He entered Tuskegee Institute on a music scholarship in 1933 but after his third year moved to New York City where he met Richard Wright who encouraged him to pursue a career in writing. Ellison had over 20 book reviews, short stories, and articles published in magazines between 1937 and 1944. He published the novel “Invisible Man” in 1952 and it won the 1953 National Book Award. Ellison published “Shadow and Act,” a collection of essays, and began to teach at Rutgers and Yale Universities in 1964. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Lyndon B. Johnson January 20, 1969 and the following year became a permanent member of the faculty at New York University. He was elected to The American Academy of Arts and Letters and Oklahoma City honored him with the Ralph Waldo Ellison Library in 1975. Ellison died April 16, 1994. His manuscripts “Flying Home and Other Stories” (1996) and “Juneteenth” (1999) were published posthumously. “Ralph Ellison: A Biography” was published in 2007. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 2014.

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Today in Black History, 04/22/2015 | Henry Thomas Sampson, Jr.

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April 22, 1934, inventor, film historian and writer Henry Thomas Sampson, Jr. was born in Jackson, Mississippi. Sampson earned his Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering from Purdue University in 1956 and his Master of Science degree in engineering from the University of California in 1961. He earned his Master of Science degree in 1965 and Ph. D. in 1967 in nuclear engineering from the University of Illinois, the first African American to earn a doctorate in nuclear engineering in the United States. Sampson received patent number 3,591,860 July 6, 1971 for his invention of the gamma-electric cell for nuclear reactor use. His invention produces stable high-voltage output and current to detect radiation in the ground. Sampson is also a writer and film historian. He has written “Blacks in Black and White: A Source Book on Black Films” (1977) and “The Ghost Walks: A Chronological History of Blacks in Show Business, 1865-1910” (1988). Sampson is on the board of Los Angeles Southwest College Foundation and is a technical consultant to the Historical Black Colleges and Universities Program. The Henry Thomas Sampson Library in Jackson is named in his honor.

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Today in Black History 04/21/2015 | Milton Lee Olive

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April 21, 1966 President Lyndon B. Johnson presented the Congressional Medal of Honor to the father of Milton Lee Olive, III who was killed in action during the Vietnam War. Olive was born November 7, 1946 in Chicago, Illinois. He enlisted in the United States Army at 17 and was serving as a private first class by 1965. On October 22, 1965, his actions earned him the medal, America’s highest military decoration. His citation partially reads, “Pfc. Olive was a member of the 3rd Platoon of Company B, as it moved through the jungle to find Viet Cong operating in the area. Although the platoon was subjected to a heavy volume of enemy gunfire and pinned down temporarily, it retaliated by assaulting the Viet Cong positions, causing the enemy to flee. As the platoon pursued the insurgents, Pfc. Olive and four other soldiers were moving through the jungle together when a grenade was thrown into their midst. Pfc. Olive saw the grenade, and then saved the lives of his fellow soldiers at the sacrifice of his own by grabbing the grenade in his hand and falling on it to absorb the blast with his body. Through his bravery, unhesitating actions, and complete disregard for his safety, he prevented additional loss of life or injury to the members of his platoon.” The City of Chicago recognized him by naming Olive Park on Lake Michigan in his honor in 1979. The Milton L. Olive Middle School in Long Island, New York is also named in his honor. 

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Today in Black History, 04/20/2015 | George Faison

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April 20, 1975 George Faison became the first African American to win the Tony Award for Best Choreographer for choreographing the 1974 production of “The Wiz.” Faison was born December 21, 1945 in Washington, D. C. He entered Howard University in 1964 to study dentistry but dropped out in 1966 to pursue a career in dance. He moved to New York City and joined the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1967 and remained there until 1969. He formed his own group, The George Faison Universal Dance Experience, in 1971. He served as dancer and choreographer, creating original works such as “Suite Otis” (1971) set to the music of Otis Redding. He also created pieces with a historical or political bent such as “Poppy” (1971) which dealt with the problem of drug addiction. Faison made his choreographic debut on Broadway with “Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope” in 1972. He has choreographed more than 30 other plays and musicals, including “Via Galactica” (1973), “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue” (1976), “Porgy and Bess” (1983), which earned his a Tony Award nomination for Best Choreographer, and “Sing, Mahalia, Sing” (1985). He was nominated for the Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Choreography for his work on the HBO production “The Josephine Baker Story” (1991). Faison co-founded the Faison Firehouse Theater in 1997 and serves as artistic director. 

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Today in Black History 04/19/2015 | Free Frank McWorter

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April 19, 1988 Free Frank McWorter’s gravesite near Barry, Illinois was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. McWorter was born enslaved August 11, 1777 in South Carolina. His owner moved to Kentucky in 1795 and took McWorter along to build and manage his holdings and to lease him out to work for others. McWorter used his earnings to create a successful saltpeter production operation. By 1817, he had earned enough to buy the freedom of his wife and two years later his own. McWorter and his family moved to Pike County, Illinois in 1830 and he founded the town of New Philadelphia, Illinois in 1836, the first African American to incorporate a municipality in the United States. By the time of his death September 7, 1854, McWorter had bought the freedom of 16 members of his family. A portion of I-72 in Pike County is designated the Frank McWorter Memorial Highway. The New Philadelphia town site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005 and designated a National Historic Landmark January 16, 2009. McWorter’s biography, “Free Frank: A Black Pioneer on the Antebellum Frontier,” was published in 1983.

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Today in Black History, 04/18/2015

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  • April 18, 1983 Alice Malsenior Walker became the first Black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her novel “The Color Purple.’ Walker was born February 9, 1944 in Eatonton, Georgia. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Sarah Lawrence College in 1965 and returned to the South where she became involved with voter registration drives, campaigns for welfare rights, and children’s programs in Mississippi. Walker’s first book of poetry was published while she was a senior in college. Her first two novels were “The Third Life of Grange Copeland” (1970) and “Meridian” (1976). “The Color Purple” was published in 1982. Other novels by Walker include “The Temple of My Familiar” (1989) and “Possessing the Secret of Joy” (1992). Non-fiction works by Walker include “In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens: Womanist Prose” (1983), “Overcoming Speechlessness” (2010), “Chicken Chronicles: A Memoir” (2011), and “The Cushion in the Road Meditation and Wandering as the Whole World Awakens to Being in Harm’s Way” (2013). She also published a book of poems, “The World Will Follow Joy Turning Madness into Flowers,” in 2013. Walker was inducted into the California Hall of Fame in 2006 and a documentary film about her life, “Beauty in Truth,” was released in 2013. 
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An American Success Story: The Wright's Weekly Update April 20 - 26

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Today in Black History 04/17/2015

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April 17, 1987 Willi Donnell Smith, one of the most successful young fashion designers in fashion history, died. Smith was born February 29, 1948 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He attended Philadelphia College of Art for fashion illustration and then moved to New York City to attend Parsons School of Design. He quit Parsons in 1967 to pursue a design career on his own. Smith founded a company called Williwear in 1976. He won the American Fashion Critic’s Award for women’s fashion in 1983 and won a Cutty Sark Award for men’s fashion in 1985. At the time of his death, his company was selling $25 million worth of clothing a year.

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Today in Black History, 04/16/2015

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April 16, 1864 Robert Blake became the first African American to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration. On December 25, 1863, Blake was serving on the USS Marblehead during the Civil War when it came under attack by Confederate guns. Although he had no assigned combat role and could have retreated to safety below deck, when an exploding shell knocked him down and killed a powder boy manning one of the guns, Blake took over the powder boy’s duties running powder boxes to the gun loaders. For his actions, Blake was awarded the medal. His citation partially reads, “Serving the rifle gun, Blake, an escaped slave, carried out his duties bravely throughout the engagement which resulted in the enemy’s abandonment of positions, leaving a caisson and one gun behind.” Little is known of Blake’s life other than he was born enslaved in South Santee, South Carolina. In 1862, his owner’s plantation was burned down by the Union Navy and he and 400 other enslaved people were taken as contraband and Blake volunteered to serve in the Union Navy. 

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Today in Black History, 04/15/2015

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April 15, 1947 Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson became the first African American major league baseball player in the modern era when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson was born January 31, 1919 in Cairo, Georgia. After graduating from Pasadena Junior College in 1939, he transferred to the University of California at Los Angeles where he became the school’s first athlete win varsity letters in four sports, baseball, basketball, football, and track. He served as a first lieutenant in the United States Army from 1942 to 1945. Over his ten season major league career, he won the Rookie of the Year Award, the 1949 National League Most Valuable Player Award, and was selected to six consecutive All-Star teams. Robinson retired in 1956 and that same year was awarded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame July 23, 1962, the first African American to be inducted. Robinson died October 24, 1972. Major League Baseball renamed the Rookie of the Year Award the Jackie Robinson Award in 1987 and permanently retired his uniform number 42 in 1997. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 1982. Robinson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Ronald W. Reagan March 26, 1984. He was posthumously inducted into the National College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008. Major League Baseball has recognized April 15 as Jackie Robinson Day at all of their ballparks since 2004. Robinson published his autobiography, “I Never Had It Made,” in 1972. There are numerous other books about Robinson, including “Baseball’s Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy” (1983) and “Promises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed America” (2004). The Jackie Robinson Foundation was founded in 1973 and has provided college scholarships worth more than $22 million to more than 1,400 students. Robinson’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan. 

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Today in Black History, 04/14/2015

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April 14, 1927 John Wesley Cromwell, historian, educator and lawyer, died. Cromwell was born enslaved September 5, 1846 in Portsmouth, Virginia. After his father gained the family’s freedom, Cromwell graduated from the Institute for Colored Youth (now Cheney University) in 1864. He graduated from Howard University Law School in 1873 and was admitted to the District of Columbia bar the next year. In 1876, he founded the weekly paper The People’s Advocate. Cromwell became the first African American lawyer to argue a case before the Interstate Commerce Commission when he served as counsel for the plaintiff in William H. Heard v. Georgia Railroad Company December 22, 1887. A gifted organizer, Cromwell helped organize the Virginia Educational and Historical Association and the National Colored Press Association. He was a founder of the Bethel Literary and Historical Association in 1897 and was a founding member of the American Negro Academy, an organization created to stimulate and demonstrate intellectual capabilities among African Americans. Cromwell published his most influential work, “The Negro in American History: Men and Women Eminent in the Evolution of the American of African Descent,” in 1914 and it influenced Carter G. Woodson to found the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History the following year. Cromwell also published “The First Negro Churches in The District of Columbia” in 1917. “Unveiled Voices, Unvarnished Memories: The Cromwell Family in Slavery and Segregation, 1692 – 1972” was published in 2006.

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Why the Arts Matter: The Wright's Weekly Update April 13 - 19

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Today in Black History, 04/13/2015

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April 13, 1964 Sidney Poitier became the first Black man to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in the movie “Lilies of the Field.” Poitier was born February 20, 1927 in Miami, Florida. He moved to New York City at 17 and joined the American Negro Theater. He made his film debut in “No Way Out” (1950) but his breakout role was in “Blackboard Jungle” (1955). Poitier acted in the first production of “A Raisin in the Sun” on Broadway in 1959 and starred in the film version in 1961. Other films in which he has appeared include “The Defiant Ones” (1958), “A Patch of Blue” (1965), “In the Heat of the Night” (1967), and “The Jackal” (1997). He has also directed a number of films, including “Buck and the Preacher” (1972), “Stir Crazy” (1980), and “Ghost Dad” (1990). He has also written three autobiographies, “This Life” (1980), “The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography” (2000), and “Life Beyond Measure – Letters to My Great-Granddaughter” (2008). Poitier was appointed ambassador of the Bahamas to Japan in 1997. He received an honorary award from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in 2002 “in recognition of his remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human being.” He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor, by President Barack H. Obama August 12, 2009. The documentary “Sidney Poitier: an Outsider in Hollywood” was released in 2008. Poitier published a novel, “Montaro Caine,” in 2013.

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Today in Black History, 04/12/2015

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  • April 12, 1981 Joe Louis, hall of fame boxer known as the Brown Bomber, died. Louis was born Joseph Louis Barrow May 13, 1914 in La Fayette, Alabama but raised in Detroit, Michigan. He made his amateur boxing debut in 1932 and at the end of his amateur career in 1934 had a record of 50 wins and 4 losses. Louis turned professional in 1934 and won the Associated Press’ 1935 Athlete of the Year Award. He won the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship in 1937 and thousands of African Americans across the country stayed up all night celebrating. Louis held the championship for 140 consecutive months and had 25 successful title defenses, still records for the heavyweight division. His defeat of the German Max Schmeling and his service during World War II made him the first African American to achieve the status of national hero in the United States. He was awarded the Legion of Merit medal in 1945 for “incalculable contribution to the general morale.” Louis initially retired from boxing in 1949 but had to return due to financial problems. Of the more than $4.5 million earned during his boxing career, Louis received about $800,000 and was very generous with that. He retired for good in 1951 with a record of 65 wins and 3 losses. Louis was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1982. A monument to Louis was dedicated in Detroit October 16, 1986 and he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. Joe Louis Arena in Detroit is named in his honor. He became the first boxer to be honored with a commemorative postage stamp by the United States Postal Service in 1993 and an 8 foot bronze statue of him was unveiled in La Fayette February 27, 2010. Louis was named the greatest heavyweight of all time by the International Boxing Research Organization. He published his autobiography, “Joe Louis: My Life,” in 1978. Other biographies include “Joe Louis, the Brown Bomber” (1980) and “Joe Louis: The Great Black Hope” (1998). Louis’ name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit.
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Today in Black History, 04/11/2015

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  • April 11, 1881 Spelman College, the oldest historically Black college for females, was founded as the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary by two teachers from Massachusetts with 11 students and $100. The school relocated to a nine acre site in 1883 and John D. Rockefeller provided funding to retire the debt on the property in 1884. The name of the school was changed to Spelman Seminary in honor of Rockefeller’s wife. Sophia B. Packard was appointed the first of Spelman’s nine presidents in 1888. The school became Spelman College in 1924, it became part of the Atlanta University Center in 1929, and it was accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 1932. Today, the campus consists of 26 buildings on 39 acres with 2,400 students and 175 faculty members. Notable alumnae include Pearl Cleage, Marian Wright Edelman, Bernice Johnson Regon, and Alice Walker.
     
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Today in Black History, 04/10/2015

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  • April 10, 1975 Robert Lee Elder became the first African American to play in the Masters Golf Tournament. Elder was born July 14, 1934 in Dallas, Texas. He dropped out of high school and worked as a caddy where he developed his game by watching his clients. He was drafted into the United States Army in 1959 and served until 1961. After his discharge, he joined the United Golf Association Tour for Black golfers where he won 18 of 22 tournaments. Elder gained his Professional Golf Association tour card in 1968 and won his first PGA tournament in 1974. That came at the Monsanto Open in Pensacola, Florida where Elder and other Black players had to change their clothes in the parking lot because the club members would not allow non-White people into the clubhouse. The win gained him entry into the 1975 Masters Tournament. Leading up to the tournament, Elder received a substantial amount of hate mail and threats. Elder became the first African American to qualify to play in the Ryder Cup in 1979 and he joined the Senior PGA Tour in 1984. Over his career, Elder has won four PGA tournaments and eight senior tournaments. He established the Lee Elder Scholarship Fund in 1974 to offer financial aid to low-income men and women seeking college assistance. He has actively promoted summer youth golf development programs and raised money for the United Negro College Fund.
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Today in Black History, 04/09/2015

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  • April 9, 1939 Marian Anderson performed her critically acclaimed concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to a crowd of more than 75,000 people and a radio audience of millions. She performed there, with the aid of President and Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, because the Daughters of the American Revolution refused permission for her to sing to an integrated audience in Constitution Hall. Anderson was born February 27, 1897 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She began singing at local functions for small change at six and got her first break in 1925 when she won a singing contest sponsored by the New York Philharmonic. Anderson became the first Black person to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in 1955 and sang at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. She also sang for President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s inauguration in 1957 and President John F. Kennedy’s in 1961. She published her autobiography, “My Lord, What a Morning,” in 1956. Anderson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Lyndon B. Johnson December 6, 1963. The recipient of numerous other awards and honors, she received the 1939 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal, the Congressional Gold Medal in 1977, Kennedy Center Honors in 1978, the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, from President Ronald W. Reagan July 14, 1986, and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991. Anderson died April 8, 1993. Later that year, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor. The 1939 documentary film “Marian Anderson: The Lincoln Memorial Concert” was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2001 as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.” A number of biographies about Anderson have been published, including “Marian Anderson: A Singer’s Journey” (2002) and “The Voice that Challenged a Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights” (2004). Anderson’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.
     
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