Today in Black History, 4/27/2011

· April 27, 1927 Coretta Scott King, civil rights leader and author, was born in Perry County, Alabama. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Music at Antioch College in 1951. During her time at Antioch, she became active in the Civil Rights Movement, joining the college chapter of the NAACP and the Race Relations and Civil Liberties Committee. After graduation, she won a scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music where she earned a Bachelor of Music degree in 1954. King married Martin Luther King on June 18, 1953 and in their early years she was as well known as a singer as he was a civil rights activist. King played an important role in the Civil Rights Movement, taking an active part in the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955 and working hard to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1954. In her later life, King broadened her focus to include women’s rights, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) rights, and opposition to apartheid, capital punishment, and the war in Iraq. King was the recipient of many honors, including honorary degrees from Princeton University, Duke University, and Bates College. In 1970, the American Library Association began awarding the Coretta Scott King medal to outstanding African American writers and illustrators of children’s literature and in 2007 the Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy was opened in Atlanta, Georgia. King published her autobiography, “My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr.,” in 1969. King died January 30, 2006 and her name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

· April 27, 1938 Robert Lloyd “Bob” Foster, hall of fame boxer, was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Foster joined the United States Air Force right after high school in 1957 and for four years was a member of the air force boxing team as well as a coach. After being honorably discharged, he started his professional boxing career in 1961. In 1968, Foster won the world Light Heavyweight championship, a title he successfully defended 14 times. Foster retired in 1978 with a record of 56 wins, 8 losses, and 1 draw. His only losses were to heavyweights, including Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali. After retiring, Foster became a law enforcement officer in Albuquerque. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.

· April 27, 1945 Frederick August Kittel (Wilson), playwright, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Wilson dropped out of high school in the tenth grade and used the Carnegie Library to educate himself. He made such extensive use of the library that they later awarded him a degree, the only such one they have bestowed. In 1968, he co-founded the Black Horizon Theater and performed his first play, “Recycling.” In 1978, Wilson moved to St. Paul, Minnesota and took a job writing educational scripts for the Science Museum of Minnesota and began writing his “Pittsburgh Cycle,” a series of ten plays with each set in a different decade that sketch the Black experience in the 20th century. The best known of these plays are “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”(1984), “Fences” (1985), which won a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award, “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” (1988), and “The Piano Lesson” (1990), which won a Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award. Wilson died October 2, 2005 and two weeks after his death the Virginia Theater in New York City’s Broadway theater district was renamed the August Wilson Theater, the first Broadway theater to bear the name of an African American. In 2006, the African American Cultural Center of Greater Pittsburgh was renamed the August Wilson Center for African American Culture and in 2007 Wilson’s childhood home was declared a historic landmark by the State of Pennsylvania.

· April 27, 1950 The Group Areas Act (Act No. 41) was created by the apartheid government of South Africa. The act assigned racial groups to different residential and business sections in urban areas of the country. The act led to many non-Whites being forcibly removed for living in the “wrong” area and it caused many to commute long distances from their homes to work. The act was repealed on June 5, 1991.

·  April 27, 1952 George “The Iceman” Gervin, hall of fame basketball player, was born in Detroit, Michigan. Gervin played collegiate basketball for Eastern Michigan University and Long Beach State College. In 1973, he was signed by the Virginia Squires of the American Basketball Association. Over his 14 season professional career in the United States, Gervin was a three-time ABA All-Star and a nine-time NBA All-Star. After leaving the NBA, he played for several years in Europe. Gervin retired in 1990 and in 1996 was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Gervin works with underprivileged children in the San Antonio, Texas community, including the George Gervin Youth Center.

· April 27, 1960 The Republic of Togo gained its independence from France. Togo is in western Africa bordered by Ghana to the west, Benin to the east, Burkina Faso to the north, and the Gulf of Guinea to the south. It has an estimated population of 6.6 million with 65% living in rural villages dedicated to agriculture or pastures. Approximately 29% of the population is Christian, 20% Muslim and 51% have indigenous African beliefs.

· April 27, 1961 The Republic of Sierra Leone gained its independence from the United Kingdom. Sierra Leone is in western Africa bordered by Guinea to the north, Liberia to the southeast, and the Atlantic Ocean to the southwest. It has an estimated population of 6.5 million of which 60% are Muslim, 10% Christian and 30% who have indigenous African beliefs.

·  April 27, 1963 William Edward Bughardt Du Bois, civil rights activist, historian, and author, died. Du Bois was born February 23, 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. In 1888, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Fisk University. He went on to Harvard University where he earned another Bachelor of Arts degree, cum laude, in 1890, a Master of Arts degree in 1891, and a Ph. D. in 1895, the first African American to earn a doctorate from the university. Du Bois authored 22 books, including “The Philadelphia Negro” (1899), “Souls of Black Folks” (1903), and “Black Folks, Then and Now” (1939) and helped establish four academic journals. Du Bois was the most prominent intellectual leader and political activist on behalf of African Americans in the first half of the 20th century. In 1909, he helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and for 25 years served as the Editor-in-Chief of the Crisis Magazine. In 1963, Du Bois and his wife became citizens of Ghana, where he died. After his death, the Ghanaian government honored him with a state funeral and the W. E. B. Du Bois Memorial Centre is located in Accra. The site of the house where Du Bois grew up in Great Barrington was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976 and in 1992 the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor. Several structures at universities around the country are named in his honor. The many books about Du Bois include “W. E. B. Du Bois: Negro Leader in a Time of Crisis” (1959) and “W. E. B. Du Bois, American Prophet” (2007). Du Bois’ name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum in Detroit, Michigan.

· April 27, 1972 Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of Ghana, died. Nkrumah was born September 21, 1909 in Nkroful, Gold Coast (Ghana). In 1935, he came to the United States to further his education, earning a Bachelor of Arts in 1939 and a Bachelor of Sacred Theology in 1942 from Lincoln University and a Master of Science in 1942 and a Master of Art in Philosophy in 1943 from the University of Pennsylvania. In 1947, Nkrumah returned to the Gold Coast and became the leader of the United Gold Coast Convention which was working on independence from the British. In 1950, the colonial administration arrested and sentenced Nkrumah to three years in jail for his political activities. As the result of international protests and internal resistance, Nkrumah was released from jail in 1951 and elected Prime Minister of the Gold Coast in 1952. In March, 1957, Nkrumah declared Ghana independent and in 1960 he was elected president. In February, 1966, Nkrumah’s government was overthrown in a military coup which was backed by the United States government and he went into exile in Guinea. Nkrumah is best remembered for his strong commitment to and promotion of Pan-Africanism and his significant influence in the founding of the Organization of African Unity. In 2000, he was voted Africa’s Man of the Millennium by listeners of BBC World Service. Nkrumah was a prolific author and published his autobiography, “Ghana: The Autobiography of Kwame Nkrumah” in 1957. Other works by Nkrumah include “Africa Must Unite” (1963), “Dark Days in Ghana” (1968), and “Revolutionary Path,” published posthumously in 1973.

· April 27, 1977 Charles Henry Alston, artist and teacher, died. Alston was born November 28, 1907 in Charlotte, North Carolina. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1929 and his Master of Fine Arts degree in 1931 from Columbia University. Alston began his art career illustrating album covers for Duke Ellington and book covers for Langston Hughes. During the Great Depression, he co-directed the Harlem Art Workshop where he was a mentor to Jacob Lawrence, among others. Alston was the first African American instructor at the Art Students League of New York, where he worked from 1950 to 1971. He became a full professor at the City University of New York in 1973. His works are in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

· April 27, 1994 The first South African general election after the end of apartheid was held to elect the National Assembly. This was the first election in South Africa with universal adult suffrage. The African National Congress won 62.65% of the 19.7 million votes cast. This date is celebrated annually in South Africa as Freedom Day.

·  April 27, 2009 Frankie Manning, dancer, instructor, and choreographer, died. Manning was born May 26, 1914 in Jacksonville, Florida but raised in Harlem, New York. Manning joined Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers in 1935 and created the troupe’s first ensemble routines. In 1947, he created a small performance group called the Congaroos which performed until 1955. At the age of 75, Manning co-choreographed the Broadway musical “Black and Blue,” for which he received a 1989 Tony Award, and in 2000 he was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship. Manning is considered one of the founding fathers of the Lindy Hop and his autobiography, “Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop,” was published in 2007.

·  April 27, 2009 Ernest Eugene Barnes, Jr., former professional football player and artist, died. Barnes was born July 15, 1938 in Durham, North Carolina. He played college football and majored in art at North Carolina Central University. He played offensive guard in the American Football League from 1960 to 1964. His most famous painting, “The Sugar Shack” (1971), was featured on the cover of Marvin Gaye’s album “I Want You” and in the closing credits of the television situation comedy “Good Times.” He was named Official Artist of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and received the 1984 and 2004 Sports Artist of the Year Award from the American Sport Art Museum and Archives.