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Today in Black History, 12/5/2014

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• December 5, 1775 A petition signed by fourteen White officers was issued to the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony recognizing the exemplary service of Salem Poor at the Battle of Bunker Hill. The petition stated that he had “behaved like an experienced officer” and that in Poor “centers a brave and gallant soldier.” Not much is known of Poor’s life except that he was born enslaved in Andover, Massachusetts around 1747 and bought his freedom in 1769. In 1775, he enlisted in the Continental Army and fought at Bunker Hill, Monmouth, and Saratoga. He was one of approximately 5,000 African Americans that fought for the patriots in the Revolutionary War. “The Negro in the American Revolution,” published in 1961, is a comprehensive history of the many and important roles played by African Americans during the American Revolution. In 1975, Poor was honored by the United States Postal Service with a commemorative postage stamp in the “Contributors to the Cause” series.

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Today in Black History, 12/4/2014

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• December 4, 1807 Prince Hall, the founder of Black Freemasonry, died. Hall was born September 14, 1735 in Barbados. Not much is known of his youth and how he ended up in Boston, Massachusetts. It is known that he was a property owner and a registered voter and that he worked as an abolitionist and civil rights activist. He fought for laws to protect Black people from kidnapping by slave traders and campaigned for schools for Black children. On March 6, 1775, Hall and 14 other free Black men were initiated into Military Lodge No. 441, a Lodge attached to the British Army. When the British Army left, the Black Masons were granted a dispensation for limited operations as African Lodge No. 1 which then served as mother lodge to new Black lodges in other cities July 3, 1776. In 1791, Black Freemasons formed the African Grand Lodge of North America and unanimously elected Hall Grand Master, a position he held until his death. Hall was buried on Copp’s Hill in Boston and a tribute monument in his honor was unveiled next to his grave marker June 24, 1835. The African Grand Lodge was later renamed the Prince Hall Grand Lodge in his honor. “Prince Hall: Life and Legacy” was published in 1983. Hall’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, 12/3/2014

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• December 3, 1847 Fredrick Douglass published the first edition of the North Star. In the first edition the paper stated, “It has long been our anxious wish to see, in this slave-holding, slave-trading, and Negro-hating land, a printed-press and paper, permanently established, under the complete control and direction of the immediate victims of slavery and oppression.” The North Star’s slogan, “Right is of no sex, Truth is of no color, God is the father of us all, and we are all brethren,” spoke to the scope of their coverage, including emancipation, women’s suffrage, and education. The newspaper was published until June, 1851 when Douglass and Gerrit Smith agreed to merge the North Star with the Liberty Party Paper to form Frederick Douglass’ Paper. That paper was published for another ten years before Douglass was forced to shut it down for financial reasons.

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Today in Black History, 12/2/2014

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• December 2, 1811 Lewis Hayden, abolitionist and businessman, was born enslaved in Lexington, Kentucky. When he was ten, Hayden’s owner traded him for two carriage horses. In the mid-1830s, he married but his wife and son were later sold and he never saw them again. Hayden remarried in 1842 and in 1844 he and his wife escaped slavery via the Underground Railroad to Canada. In 1845, they moved to Detroit, Michigan where Hayden founded a school for Black children and helped organize the Colored Methodist Society (now Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church). Hayden moved to Boston, Massachusetts in 1846 where he owned a clothing store which became the second largest Black owned business in Boston. Hayden also worked as an agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society and was on the executive committee of the Boston Vigilance Committee. He also contributed money to John Brown for his raid on Harpers Ferry. Hayden was also active with the Prince Hall Freemasons and after the Civil War traveled throughout the South establishing and supporting African American masonic lodges. He published several works, including “Caste among Masons” (1866) and “Negro Masonry” (1871). In 1873, he was elected to serve one term in the Massachusetts legislature. Hayden died April 7, 1889.

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Today in Black History, 12/1/2014

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• December 1, 1874 Turner Byrd, Jr. of Williamsville, Michigan received patent number 157,370 for an improvement in railcar couplings. Byrd’s invention provided a means of uncoupling railcars without the necessity of an individual going between the cars. Byrd had previously received patent numbers 123,328 February 6, 1872 for an improved harness rein holder, 124,790 March 19, 1872 for an improved apparatus for detaching horses from carriages, and 126,181 April 30, 1872 for an improved neck-yoke for wagons. Not much else is known of Byrd’s life.

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Today in Black History, 11/30/2014

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• November 30, 1875 Alexander P. Ashbourne of Oakland, California received patent number 170,460 for an improved biscuit-cutter. Prior to his invention, cooks would roll and shape their biscuits by hand. His invention consisted of a board to roll the biscuit dough out which was hinged to a metal plate with various biscuit cutter shapes mounted to it. The plate was brought down on the dough creating many biscuit shapes at once. The cutters were spring-loaded, allowing the biscuit shapes to be easily released. Additionally, Ashbourne received patent number 163,962 for a process for refining coconut oil June 1, 1875, patent number 194,287 for a process for treating coconut August 21, 1877, and patent number 230,518 for a process for preparing coconut July 27, 1880. Not much else is known of Ashbourne’s life except that he was a successful dry goods grocer.

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Today in Black History, 11/29/2014

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• November 29, 1887 Granville T. Woods of Cincinnati, Ohio was granted patent number 373,915 for the synchronous multiplex railway telegraph. His invention allowed communication between train stations from moving trains. Woods was born April 23, 1856 in Columbus, Ohio and dedicated his life to developing a variety of improvements related to the railroad industry and controlling the flow of electricity. In 1884, he and his brother formed the Woods Railway Telegraph Company to manufacture and sell telephone and telegraph equipment. In addition to the synchronous multiplex railway telegraph, Woods received approximately 60 other patents and was known to many people of his time as the “Black Thomas Edison.” Despite this, Woods died virtually penniless January 30, 1910. The Granville T. Woods Math and Science Community Academy in Chicago, Illinois is named in his honor. Woods was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006. “Grandville T. Woods: African American Communications and Transportation Pioneer” was published in 2013.

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Today in Black History, 11/28/2014

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• November 28, 1868 William Henry Lewis, college hall of fame football player and coach, lawyer and politician, was born in Berkley, Virginia but raised in Portsmouth, Virginia. Lewis played football at Amherst College, and is thought to have been the first African American college football player, where he was the team captain in 1891 and graduated in 1892 as the class orator. He then attended Harvard Law School where he also played football and was named All-American in 1892 and 1893, the first African American All-American. Lewis earned his Bachelor of Laws degree in 1895 and then coached the Harvard football team from 1895 to 1906, compiling a record of 114 wins, 15 losses, and 5 ties. In 1896, he published one of the first books on football titled “A Primer of College Football.” He was elected to the Cambridge, Massachusetts City Council where he served from 1899 to 1902 and was appointed to the Massachusetts legislature for one year in 1903. In 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Lewis an Assistant United States Attorney, the first African American to hold that position, and in 1910 President William H. Taft appointed him U. S. Assistant Attorney General which was reported as “the highest office in an executive branch of the government ever held by a member of that race.” In 1911, Lewis became the first African American admitted to the American Bar Association. Lewis was outspoken on issues of race and discrimination, calling for “an army of Negro lawyers of strong hearts, cool heads, and sane judgment, to help the large number of Negroes who are exploited, swindled and misused.” He was one of the signatories to a call for a National Conference on Lynching in 1919. Lewis died January 1, 1949. He was posthumously inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2009. A Virginia Historical Marker commemorating his life is located in Norfolk, Virginia.

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Today in Black History, 11/27/2014

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• November 27, 1891 John Denny was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration, for his actions during the Indian Wars. Denny was born around 1846 in Big Flats, New York. He joined the United States Army and served as a sergeant in Company C of the 9th Cavalry Regiment (Buffalo Soldiers). On September 18, 1879 at Las Animas Canyon, New Mexico his unit was involved in battle when Denny’s actions earned him the medal. His citation reads, “removed a wounded comrade, under a heavy fire, to a place of safety.” Not much else is know of Denny’s life except that he died November 26, 1901.

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Voices of the Civil War Episode 34: "Lincoln's Re-election"

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NOVEMBER 2014: 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.

By the fall of 1864, with the war in its fourth year, President Abraham Lincoln faced many challenges on his road to reelection. Americans certainly recognized that the 1864 election would determine the entire direction of the war: if Lincoln won, the war would be fought until the South had surrendered unconditionally; however, if George B. McClellan proved victorious, there would almost surely be a reconciliation between the North and the South. Many African Americans, and especially black men serving in the USCT regiments, actively supported Lincoln’s bid for reelection. Black soldiers, few of whom had the right to vote, inundated black newspapers with letters urging family and friends to support Lincoln’s campaign and to vote, if they could, in the November election. On Tuesday, November 8, 1864, Americans participated in an election that truly changed the course of American history.

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Today in Black History, 11/26/2014

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• November 26, 1878 Marshall Walter “Major” Taylor, hall of fame bicyclist, was born in rural Indiana. At thirteen, Taylor was hired to perform cycling stunts outside a bicycle shop while wearing a soldier’s uniform, hence the nickname” Major.” Taylor was banned from bicycle racing in Indiana because of his race and therefore moved to the East Coast. In 1896, he entered his first professional race in Madison Square Garden and won. Over his career, he raced in the United States, Australia, and Europe, including winning the world one mile track cycling championship in 1899 and becoming known as “The Black Cyclone.” Although he was celebrated in Europe, Taylor’s career was held back in the United States and he retired in 1910, saying he was tired of the racism. Although he was reported to earn between $25,000 and $30,000 a week while racing, Taylor died a pauper June 21, 1932. Taylor was posthumously inducted into the United States Bicycling Hall of Fame in 1989. A statue to memorialize Taylor was unveiled May 21, 2008 in Worcester, Massachusetts and Indianapolis, Indiana named the city’s bicycle track the Major Taylor Velodrome in 1982, the first building in Indianapolis built with public funds to be named after a Black person. Nike markets a sports shoe called the Major Taylor. Taylor published his autobiography, “Autobiography: The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World,” in 1929. Other biographies of Taylor include “Major Taylor: The Extraordinary Career of a Champion Bicycle Racer” (1988) and the television miniseries “Tracks of Glory: The Major Taylor Story” (1992).

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Today in Black History, 11/25/2014

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• November 25, 1868 John Van Surly DeGrasse, the first Black doctor admitted to a United States medical society, died. DeGrasse was born in June, 1825 in New York City. He received his medical degree, with honors, from Bowdoin College Medical School in 1849, the second African American to receive a medical degree in the U. S. After graduating, DeGrasse went to Paris, France and studied with one of the most noted surgeons of the time. He became fluent in French and German and returned to the U. S. in 1851. He established his medical practice in Boston, Massachusetts in 1854 and was admitted to the state medical society August 24, 1854. DeGrasse was an active abolitionist and helped organize vigilante groups to counter slave hunters in Boston. In 1863, he joined the Union Army and was commissioned an assistant surgeon with the 35th U. S. Colored Infantry. After the Civil War, DeGrasse returned to his practice in Boston where he died.

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Today in Black History, 11/24/2014

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• November 24, 1868 Scott Joplin, hall of fame composer and pianist, was born near Texarkana, Texas. At eleven, Joplin was taught music theory, keyboard technique, and an appreciation of folk and opera music. As an adult, he also studied at George R. Smith College, a historically Black college in Missouri. He achieved fame for his unique ragtime compositions and was known as the “King of Ragtime.” Over his career, Joplin wrote 44 ragtime pieces, a ragtime ballet, and two operas. One of his first pieces, “Maple Leaf Rag,” became ragtime’s first and most influential hit and sold over one million copies of sheet music. Joplin died April 1, 1917 but his music returned to popularity with the 1970 release of “Scott Joplin Piano Rags,” which sold over a million albums, and the 1973 movie “The Sting” which featured several of his compositions and won the Academy Award for Best Music. Joplin was posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970 and was recognized with a Pulitzer Prize for his contribution to American music in 1976. In 1983, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor. Several books have been published about Joplin, including “King of Ragtime: Scott Joplin and His Era” (1996) and “Dancing to a Black Man’s Tune: A Life of Scott Joplin” (2004). The biographical film, “Scott Joplin,” was released in 1977.

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Today in Black History, 11/23/2014

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• November 23, 1860 Edward Austin Johnson, educator, lawyer, politician and author, was born enslaved in Raleigh, North Carolina. Johnson was emancipated at the end of the Civil War and earned his bachelor’s degree from Atlanta University in 1883. After graduating, he served as a principal first in the Atlanta school system and then in the Raleigh school system. In 1891, he earned his Bachelor of Laws degree from Shaw University and joined their faculty, rising to dean of the law department by 1907. Johnson served as an elected alderman in Raleigh from 1897 to 1899 and was appointed clerk of the federal district attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina. He was also a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1892, 1896, and 1900. In 1900, he was one of the founders of the National Negro Business League. In 1907, Johnson moved to Harlem, New York and in 1917 became the first African American elected to the New York state legislature where he served one term. Johnson authored several books, including “A School History of the Negro Race in America from 1619 to 1890” (1890) and “History of the Negro Soldier in the Spanish American War and Other Items of Interest” (1899). Johnson died July 25, 1944. A North Carolina Historical Marker honoring Johnson was unveiled in Raleigh in 1982.

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Today in Black History, 11/22/2014

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• November 22, 1871 Oscar James Dunn, the first elected Black lieutenant governor of a U. S. state, died. Dunn was born around 1826 in New Orleans, Louisiana. During the 1850s he became a member of the Prince Hall Masons, eventually serving as Grand Master of one of the lodges. This provided him a power base that would be the foundation of his political career. Dunn was also a businessman, running an employment agency that assisted in finding jobs for freedmen and serving as secretary of the advisory committee of the Freedmen’s Savings & Trust Company. In 1866, he organized the People’s Bakery. Dunn actively promoted and supported the Universal Suffrage Movement, advocated land ownership for all Black people, free public education for all Black children, and equal protection under the law. In 1868, Dunn was elected Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana, a position he held until his death. During his time in office, he was president pro tempore of the State Senate and president of the Metropolitan Police, with both positions commanding million dollar budgets. Dunn also served on the board of trustees and examining committee of Straight University (now Dillard University). Dunn’s funeral is reported to have been one of the largest ever in New Orleans with 50,000 people lining the streets for his funeral procession and newspapers across the nation reporting the event.

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Today in Black History, 11/21/2014

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• November 21, 1865 Shaw University was founded in Raleigh, North Carolina by the American Baptist Home Mission Society as the first college for African Americans in the South. The university was named for Elijah Shaw, benefactor of Shaw Hall, the first building constructed for the college. The Leonard Medical School was established in 1881 as the first four year medical school in the South to train Black doctors and pharmacists and operated until 1918. Today, the college has a faculty of 207 with 2,700 undergraduate and 100 postgraduate students. Notable alumni include Ella Baker, James E. Cheek, Willie E. Gary, and Shirley Caesar. “Shaw’s Universe: A Monument to Educational Innovation” was published in 1973.

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Today in Black History, 11/20/2014

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• November 20, 1695 Zumbi, also known as Zumbi dos Palmares, leader of the Quilombo dos Palmares in Brazil was captured and beheaded by the Portuguese. Zumbi was born free in Palmares in 1655 but was captured by the Portuguese when he was six years old. Despite efforts to pacify him, Zumbi escaped when he was 15 and returned to his birthplace. He became known for his physical prowess and cunning in battle and was a respected military strategist by the time he was in his early twenties. In 1678, Zumbi became the leader of Palmares and for the next seventeen years led the fight for the independence of Palmares, a self-sustaining republic of Maroons who had escaped from the Portuguese settlements in Brazil. Today, Zambi is honored as a hero, freedom fighter, and symbol of freedom in Brazil. A bust of Zumbi sits in Brasilia, the capital of Brazil, with a plaque that reads “Zumbi dos Palmares, the leader of all races.” Also, November 20 is celebrated as a day of Black consciousness in Brazil. Zambi dos Palmares International Airport in Macelo, Brazil is named in his honor.

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Today in Black History, 11/19/2014

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• November 19, 1797 Sojourner Truth, hall of fame abolitionist and women’s rights activist, was born Isabella Baumfree enslaved in Swartekill, New York. When Truth was nine, she was sold with a flock of sheep for $100. In 1826, Truth escaped to freedom and in 1843 changed her name and began traveling and preaching about abolition. Her memoir, “The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave,” was published in 1850. Truth attended the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention and delivered her famous speech “Ain’t I a Woman” May 29, 1851. During the Civil War, Truth helped recruit Black soldiers for the Union Army and later met with Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant. Truth died November 26, 1883. She was posthumously inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1981, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor in 1986, and she became the first Black woman to be honored with a bust in the United States Capitol April 28, 2009. A number of biographies have been published about Truth, including “Sojourner Truth: Slave, Prophet, Legend” (1993) and “Glorying in Tribulation: The Lifework of Sojourner Truth” (1994). Truth’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, 11/18/2014

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• November 18, 1900 Howard Thurman, author, theologian, educator and civil rights leader, was born in Daytona Beach, Florida. Thurman earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Morehouse College in 1923 and his Bachelor of Divinity degree from Colgate Rochester Theological Seminary in 1926. In 1929, he earned his Ph.D. from Haverford College. Thurman was selected as dean of Rankin Chapel at Howard University in 1932 and served until 1944 when he left to help establish the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, the first racially integrated, intercultural church in the United States. In 1953, he became the first Black dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University where he served until 1965. A prolific author, Thurman wrote 20 books, including “Jesus and the Disinherited” (1949) which greatly influenced Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1953, Life Magazine rated Thurman among the 12 most important religious leaders in the United States and Ebony Magazine called him one of the 50 most important figures in African American history. Thurman died April 10, 1981. That same year, “With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman” was published.

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Today in Black History, 11/17/2014

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• November 17, 1834 Nancy Green, storyteller, cook and one of the first African Americans hired to promote a corporate trademark, was born enslaved in Montgomery County, Kentucky. In 1890, Green was hired to represent Aunt Jemima for a ready-mixed, self-rising flour. Green was introduced as Aunt Jemima in 1893 at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois where she operated a pancake cooking display. Her personality and cooking ability made the display so successful that the company received over 50,000 orders and she received a medal and certificate from the Expo officials. After the Expo, Green was given a lifetime contract to adopt the Aunt Jemima moniker and promote the pancake mix. She traveled on promotional tours all over the country and gained the financial freedom to become an activist and engage in antipoverty programs. Green died September 23, 1923. In 1998, “Slave in a Box: The Strange Career of Aunt Jemima” was published.

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