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Today in Black History, 05/23/2015 | Samuel Sharpe

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May 23, 1832 Samuel Sharpe, national hero of Jamaica, was hanged for leading the Christmas Rebellion. Sharpe was born enslaved in 1801 in St. James, Jamaica. Although enslaved, Sharpe was allowed to be educated and became a preacher and leader in the enslaved community. On December 25, 1831, he organized a peaceful strike of several estates in western Jamaica during sugar cane harvest time. As a result of reprisals by the plantation owners, the strikers burned the crops. This caused the peaceful protest to turn into Jamaica’s largest slave rebellion, resulting in the death of hundreds of Black people and 14 White people. The Jamaican military ended the rebellion within two weeks and many of the leaders, including Sharpe were hanged. Just before he was hanged, Sharpe stated “I would rather die among yonder gallows, than live in slavery”. The government of Jamaica proclaimed Sharpe a National Hero in 1975 and Sam Sharpe Teachers’ College was named in his honor. Sam Sharpe Square is located in downtown Montego Bay, Jamaica. Sharpe’s image is also on the Jamaican $50 bill.

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Today in Black History, 05/22/2015 | Sun Ra

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May 22, 1914 Sun Ra, hall of fame jazz pianist, composer, bandleader and poet, was born Herman Poole Blount in Birmingham, Alabama. Sun Ra was a skilled pianist as a child and was writing original music by 12. As a teenager, he would see big band performances and produce full transcriptions of the music from memory. He was performing professionally as a solo pianist or as a member of various jazz and R&B groups by his mid-teens. Sun Ra took over leadership of a group in 1934 and renamed it the Sonny Blount Orchestra. Sun Ra led The Arkestra from the mid-1950s to his death May 30, 1993. He was one of the first jazz leaders to use two basses and electronic instruments. He was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1982 and was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1984. Sun Ra’s poetry and prose is available in “Sun Ra, The Immeasurable Equation”, published in 2005. His biography, “Space is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra”, was published in 1998.

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Today in Black History, 05/16/2015 | John Conyers, Jr., longest serving Congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives

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May 16, 1929 John Conyers, Jr., the longest serving Congressman in the United States House of Representatives, was born in Highland Park, Michigan. Conyers served in the United States Army from 1950 to 1954, serving one year in Korea where he was awarded combat and merit citations. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1957 and his Bachelor of Laws degree in 1958 from Wayne State University. He was first elected to Congress in 1964 and has been reelected 25 times. During his time in Congress, Conyers served as chairman of the House Government Operations Committee from 1989 to 1995 and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee from 2007 to 2011. He was a founding member and is currently the dean of the Congressional Black Caucus and he introduced the first bill in Congress to make Martin Luther King’s birthday a national holiday. Conyers received the 2007 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal.

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Malcolm X Day, African Liberation Weekend & More: The Wright's Weekly Update May 18 - 24

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Today in Black History, 05/15/2015 | First African American Greek Lettered Organization

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May 15, 1904 Sigma Pi Phi, the first African American Greek lettered organization, was founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The organization was founded by four doctors because Black professionals did not have the opportunity to participate in professional and cultural associations organized by White professionals. The organization is known as the Boule which means a council of noblemen. Today, the organization has over 5,000 members in 126 chapters throughout the United States and the West Indies. Notable members have included Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Arthur Ashe, Vernon Jordan, L. Douglas Wilder, and John Lewis.

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Today in Black History, 05/14/2015 | Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights Trail

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 May 14, 1996 The Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights Trail was declared by Congress a United States National Historic Trail because of its national significance in American history. On March 7, 1965, the first Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, Alabama march, led by John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the Reverend Hosea Williams of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, with approximately 600 marchers was attacked by state and local police with billy clubs and tear gas at the Edmund Pettis Bridge. The televised images of the “Bloody Sunday” attack galvanized support for the Civil Rights Movement and approximately 8,000 marchers successfully completed the 54 mile march to Montgomery March 24, protected by 2,000 soldiers of the U. S. Army and 1,900 members of the Alabama National Guard under federal command.

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Today in Black History, 05/13/2015 | Stevie Wonder

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May 13, 1950 Stevie Wonder, hall of fame singer, songwriter and record producer, was born Stevland Hardaway Judkins and blind in Saginaw, Michigan. Wonder began playing musical instruments at an early age and was signed by Motown Records in 1961 as Little Stevie Wonder. Wonder released his debut record, “I Call It Pretty Music, But the Old People Call It the Blues” in 1961 but his first big hit was the 1963 release of “Fingertips (Pt. 2).” Over his career, Wonder has sold more than 100 million albums, recorded more than 30 top ten hits, and won 26 Grammy Awards, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996. He also won the 1984 Academy Award for Best Original Song for “I Just Called to Say I Love You.” Wonder was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. He received the 1999 Polar Music Prize for “significant achievements in music” and Kennedy Center Honors in 1999. He received the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000. In 2009, Wonder became the second recipient of the Library of Congress’s Gershwin Prize for Popular Song and was named a Messenger of Peace by the United Nations. He was awarded the Commander of the Arts and Letters by the French government in 2010. Wonder is also noted for his work as an activist for political causes, including his successful 1980 campaign to make Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday a national holiday in the United States. Wonder received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Barack H. Obama November 24, 2014. “Signed, Sealed and Delivered: The Soulful Journey of Stevie Wonder” was published in 2010.

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Today in Black History 05/12/2015 | Samuel “Toothpick Sam” Jones

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May 12, 1955 Samuel “Toothpick Sam” Jones became the first African American to pitch a no-hitter in the major leagues. He accomplished this while pitching for the Chicago Cubs against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Jones was born December 14, 1925 in Stewartsville, Ohio. He began his professional baseball career in the Negro leagues in 1947. He began his major league career with the Cleveland Indians in 1951. During his major league career, Jones pitched for a number of different teams and was a two-time National League All-Star, led the National League in strikeouts three times, and was named the 1959 National League Pitcher of the Year by The Sporting News. Jones last year in the major leagues was 1964 and he retired from baseball in 1967 with a major league record of 102 wins and 101 losses. Jones died November 5, 1971.

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Today in Black History, 05/11/2015 | George Edmund Haynes

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May 11, 1880 George Edmund Haynes, sociologist, educator and author, was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas but raised in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Haynes earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Fisk University in 1903 and Master of Arts degree from Yale University in 1904. He began working for the Young Men’s Christian Association in the Colored Men’s Department in 1905. During 1905 and 1906, he visited almost all of the African American colleges in the South to assess Black higher education. He then moved to New York City where he became the first African American to graduate from the New York School of Philanthropy (now Columbia University School of Social Work) in 1910. Haynes became the first African American to earn a Ph. D. in economics from Columbia in 1912. He then became involved with organizations helping to ease the transition of African Americans moving from the South to New York City. Haynes co-founded the National League on Urban Conditions Among Negroes (now National Urban League) in 1910 by merging the Association for the Protection of Colored Women, the Committee for Improving the Industrial Conditions of the Negroes of New York, and the Committee on Urban Conditions Among Negroes. He served as the first executive secretary of the organization from 1910 to 1917. Haynes served as director of Negro economics for the United States Secretary of Labor from 1918 to 1921. In 1921, he became the first executive secretary of the Department of Race Relations for the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America, a position he held until his retirement in 1947. After retiring, Haynes taught one of the first African American history courses at a predominantly White institution at City University of New York. In 1948, he was appointed to the first board of the State University of New York. He published “Trends of the Races” in 1922 and “Africa, the Continent of the Future” in 1950. Haynes died January 8, 1960.

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Today in Black History, 05/10/2015 | Pickney Benton Stewart Pinchback

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May 10, 1837 Pickney Benton Stewart Pinchback, the first African American to become governor of a state in the United States, was born in Macon, Georgia. He made his way to New Orleans, Louisiana in 1862 and raised several companies of the Corps d’Afrique for the Union Army during the Civil War and was one of the few officers of African ancestry. Pinchback resigned his commission because of racial prejudice against Black officers. He was elected to the Louisiana State Senate in 1868 and became the acting Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana in 1871. The incumbent governor was removed from office and Pinchback became governor December 9, 1872 and served until January 13, 1873. During that brief 35 day period, he received vicious hate mail from around the country as well as threats on his life. After his governorship, Pinchback was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives in 1874 and the U. S. Senate in 1876. Pinchback also served on the Louisiana State Board of Education and was instrumental in establishing Southern University and served on their board of trustees. President Chester A. Arthur appointed Pinchback surveyor of customs in New Orleans in 1882. Pinchback later moved to Washington, D. C. where he practiced law until his death December 21, 1921. His biography, “Pickney Benton Stewart Pinchback”, was published in 1973.

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My Sister's Keeper: The Wright's Weekly Update May 11 - 17

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Today In Black History, 05/09/2015

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May 9, 1948 Calvin Murphy, hall of fame basketball player, was born in Norwalk, Connecticut. Before basketball, Murphy was a world class baton twirler. He won a national championship in baton twirling in 1963 and won the 1977 Texas State Men’s Twirling Championship. As a basketball player in high school, Murphy was a two-time All-American and at Niagara University he was a three-time All-American. Murphy was selected by the San Diego Rockets in the 1970 National Basketball Association Draft and over his 13 season professional career was one of the best free throw shooters ever, setting NBA records for the most consecutive free throws made and for the highest free throw percentage in a season. Murphy retired after the 1983 season. After retiring, he continued to work for the Rockets organization in numerous roles and hosted “The Calvin Murphy Show” on ESPN radio from 2007 to 2010. Murphy was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993, the shortest player ever inducted, and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. The address of his alma mater, Norwalk High School is 23 Calvin Murphy Road. 

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Today in Black History, 05/08/2015 | Phillis Wheatley

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May 8, 1753 Phillis Wheatley, the first African American woman to have her work published, was born in Senegal, West Africa. Wheatley was enslaved at seven. She was tutored by her owners and learned to read and write. Her book “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral” was published in London, England in 1773 and immediately brought her fame. As a result of her fame, she was emancipated by her owners and went on to publish other poems. Wheatley died December 5, 1784. Today, there is a building named in her honor at the University of Massachusetts and a statue of her is one of three included in the Boston Women’s Memorial unveiled October 25, 2003. Her biography, “Memoir and Poems of Phillis Wheatley, a Native African and Slave,” was published in 1834. Robert Morris University named their School of Communications and Information Systems building in her honor in 2012. Wheatley’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, 05/07/2015 | Lonnie Johnson and The Power Drencher

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May 7, 1986 Lonnie George Johnson received patent number 4,591,071 for the Power Drencher, high powered water gun. Johnson was born October 6, 1949 in Mobile, Alabama. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering and Master of Science degree in nuclear engineering from Tuskegee University in 1976. After graduating, he worked for the United States Air Force and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in various capacities from 1978 to 1987. After receiving his patent, it was 1989 before Johnson could find a company to manufacture and distribute his invention. By 1992, the Super Soaker was the number one selling toy in America and over the years has generated close to $1 billion in sales. Johnson formed his own company, Johnson Research and Development, in 1991. He continues to create gadgets ranging from a new type of rechargeable battery to an advanced dart gun. Johnson has close to 100 patents in his name. His Therm-Electrochemical Converter System was named one of the Top 10 World-Changing Innovations of the Year by Popular Mechanics magazine in 2008.

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Today in Black History, 05/06/2015 | Richard Austin

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May 6, 1931 Richard Henry Austin, the first African American to be elected to a state-wide position in Michigan, was born in Stouts Mountain, Alabama. Austin graduated from the Detroit Institute of Technology in 1937. He became the first Black Certified Public Accountant in Michigan in 1941 and co-founded the accounting firm Austin, Washington and Davenport in 1959. He served as Wayne County Auditor from 1967 to 1970. Austin was elected Michigan Secretary of State in 1970 and served until 1995, the longest serving secretary of state in Michigan history. During his tenure, he supported the enactment of laws mandating the use of seatbelts and child safety seats. He was also often referred to as “the father of the motor voter law” which combined the driver and voter registration processes. Austin died April 20, 2001. The Richard H. Austin State Office Building was dedicated in his honor in Lansing, Michigan May 11, 2006. Wayne State University also established the Richard H. Austin Fund for Accounting Excellence which annually provides scholarships to students who demonstrate the ability to excel in the accounting profession. Richard Austin was honored by The Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History on May 5, 2015 and inducted into the museum’s Ring of Genealogy as a part of the 17th Annual Ford Freedom Award.

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Today in Black History 05/05/2015 | "First Black Newspapaer"

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  • May 5, 1905 The Chicago Defender was founded by Robert Sengstacke Abbott with a press run of 300 copies. The Defenders editorial position was considered militant, attacking racial inequities directly. Sensational headlines and graphic pictures depicted the horrors of lynchings, rapes, assaults, and other atrocities inflicted on the Black community. By 1919, more than two-thirds of the Defender’s readership was outside Chicago and it was the first Black newspaper with a circulation over 100,000. The paper became the Chicago Daily Defender in 1956, the nation’s second Black daily newspaper. Ownership of the paper was transferred to Real Times, Inc. in 2003 and it was converted back to a weekly. 
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Ford Freedom Award to Ford Free Sunday: The Wright's Weekly Update May 4 - 10

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Today in Black History 05/04/2015 | First Black owned and operated hospital in the United States

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May 4, 1891 Provident Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, the first Black owned and operated hospital in the United States, was established by Dr. Daniel Hale Williams. At that time, Black physicians had limited, or no, hospital privileges and nursing schools in Chicago did not admit Black students. The original building housed 12 beds. By 1897, the hospital had moved to a larger building, had 189 patients, and an outpatient clinic that treated 6,000 patients. In the early 1930s, Provident purchased a seven-story building, built a four-story outpatient clinic, and purchased two apartment buildings to house student nurses. Provident was forced to close in 1987 due to financial difficulties but reopened in 1997 as part of Cook County’s Bureau of Health Services.

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Today in Black History 05/03/2015 | "Grandmother of the Civil Rights Movement"

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May 3, 1898 Septima Poinsette Clark, “grandmother of the Civil Rights Movement,” was born in Charleston, South Carolina. As an African American, Clark was barred from teaching in the Charleston public schools therefore she began teaching on John’s Island. She returned to Charleston to teach at Avery Normal Institute, a private academy for Black children, in 1919 and became active with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Clark taught in the Columbia, South Carolina public schools from 1929 to 1947. During that time, she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Benedict College in 1942 and her Master of Arts degree from Hampton Institute in 1946. From 1947 to 1956, she taught in the Charleston public schools. Clark became vice president of the Charleston branch of the NAACP in 1956. That same year, the South Carolina legislature passed a law banning city or state employees from being involved with civil rights organizations. Clark refused to leave the NAACP and was fired from her teaching position. Beginning in 1954, she was active with the Highlander Folk School where she ran an adult literacy program. One of the participants in her workshops was Rosa Parks. In response to Southern states which required literacy and knowledge of the United States constitution in order to register to vote, Clark established “Citizenship Schools” throughout the Deep South. The program became so large that it was transferred to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and Clark became SCLC’s director of education and training. Clark retired from the SCLC in 1970 and served on the Charleston County School Board, the first Black female member, from 1974 to 1982. President Jimmy Carter presented Clark a Living Legend Award in 1979. Her autobiography, “Ready From Within: Septima Clark and the Civil Rights Movement,” was published in 1986. Clark died December 15, 1987.

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Today in Black History 05/02/2015 | Elijah J. McCoy

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May 2, 1843 Elijah J. McCoy, hall of fame engineer and inventor, was born in Colchester, Ontario, Canada. His parents had escaped enslavement to Canada. McCoy studied engineering in Edinburgh, Scotland and after returning to Canada found work with the Michigan Central Railroad. He received patent number 129,843 July 12, 1872 for Improvements in Lubricators for Steam-Engines. This was a boon for railroads because it allowed trains to run faster and more profitably with less need to stop for lubrication and maintenance. McCoy continued to invent until late in his life, receiving 57 patents mostly related to lubrication but also including a folding ironing board and a lawn sprinkler. He formed the Elijah McCoy Manufacturing Company in 1920. McCoy died October 10, 1929. A Michigan historical marker was placed at the site of his Detroit, Michigan home in 1975 and Elijah McCoy Drive in Detroit was named in his honor. He was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2001 and the 2006 play “The Real McCoy” chronicled his life and inventions. His biography, also titled “The Real McCoy,” was published in 2007. McCoy’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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