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1777
Blacks are officially allowed to fight in the Revolutionary War to help America secure its independence from England. On this day, General of the Continental Army, George Washington, reversed a policy that had barred Blacks from fighting in the war. Authorities were initially fearful that if Blacks helped American gain its freedom, they would demand an end to slavery. An estimated 5,000 Blacks fought in the Revolutionary War.


1882
On this date, Jane Edna Hunter was born. She was an African-American activist and reformer.

From South Carolina, Hunter’s life was pretty typical for a black woman of her time. Despite sporadic education, she earned a nursing degree from Hampton Institute. She worked as a domestic servant and moved to Cleveland searching for a better future in 1905. With little help for single Black women by 1911, she and a group of other women formed the Working Girls’ Home Association. Two years later the organization, now called the Phyllis Wheatley Association (PWA) had gained financial support from some White sources and the grudging support of Black leaders, who were uncertain about the prospects of an all-Black home.

The PWA had lodging, a cafeteria, recreation, domestic training and more; in 1927 they moved to a larger facility because of an ever-growing residency. Hunter also served as an officer of the National Association of Colored Women heading its big sister department. Conflict with the board of directors caused Hunter to resign from PWA in 1947 though she continued her work for reform in the community. When Jane Edna Hunter died in 1971, her will provided scholarships for Black women to attend college.



1903
Ella Baker was born on this date. She was an African-American social justice activist who was instrumental in the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

From Norfolk, Virginia; the granddaughter of slaves, Ella J. Baker began her career as an activist early. As a student at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, Baker challenged school policies that she found demeaning. After graduating from Shaw as class valedictorian in 1927, she moved to New York City. Baker responded to the suffering she saw in Harlem during the Great Depression by joining a variety of political causes. In 1930, she joined the Young Negroes Cooperative League and was elected to be its first national director a year later.

Baker also became involved with several women’s organizations offering literacy and consumer education to workers while educating herself about radical politics. 1940 marked the beginning of Baker’s affiliation with the NAACP. After working as a field secretary, Baker served as director of branches from 1943 to 1946. She expanded the NAACP throughout the South helping create the grass-roots network that provided a base for the Civil Rights Movement in the following decades. At the same time, Baker fought to make the NAACP itself more democratic by shifting the organization’s emphasis away from legal battles and toward community-based activism.

Although Baker resigned from the NAACP staff in 1946, she stayed as a volunteer and, as the first woman to head the New York branch, led its fight to desegregate New York City public schools. In 1956, Baker moved to Atlanta to organize the newly formed
Martin Luther King Jr.-founded Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and to run the Crusade for Citizenship, a voter registration campaign. Baker stayed at SCLC for two years becoming executive director in the 1960’s during student integration of lunch counters in the southern states, but she never accepted its policy of favoring strong central leadership over local, grass-roots politics. Ella Baker invited sit-in leaders to attend a conference at Shaw University in April 1960. From that conference, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was born the following October.

Baker returned to New York in 1964 and fought for human rights until her death on
December 13, 1983—exactly 83 years from the day she was born. Called an “unsung hero” of the Civil Rights Movement, Baker has inspired a range of political organizations including the Black Panthers, Students for a Democratic Society, and feminist groups.


1913
This date marks the birth of Archie Moore. He was an African-American boxer and world light-heavyweight champion.

Archibald Lee Wright (his birth name) was born in Benoit, Mississippi. Little is known about his youth. As a professional boxer from the 1930s, for many years Moore was avoided by middleweight and light-heavyweight champions who considered him too formidable. He owned the world light-heavyweight belt from December 17, 1952, when he defeated Joey Maxim in 15 rounds in St. Louis, Missouri, until 1962, when he lost recognition as champion for failing to meet Harold Johnson, the leading 175-pound challenger.

In Moore’s attempts to win the heavyweight title, Rocky Marciano knocked him out in 1955 and Floyd Patterson in 1956. From 1936 to 1963 Moore had 229 bouts, winning 194, 141 by knockouts. A colorful and popular champion, he called himself “the Old Mongoose” and encouraged controversy about his age. His had one of the longest professional careers in the history of boxing. In 2002, he was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame. In 2006, he became a California Boxing Hall of Fame Inductee and Ring Magazine named him boxing’s fourth Ring Magazine Best Punchers of all time in 2003.


Moore became a film actor, receiving critical praise for his portrayal of the slave Jim in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1959).

His autobiography, The Archie Moore Story, appeared in 1960. Later in his life he turned to youth work. He died, December 9, 1998 in San Diego, California. He still holds the record for the most career knockouts by any boxer, at 145.



1913
Africa’s last great emperor dies. King Menelik II ruled over the East African Empire of Ethiopia. During his reign, the empire included not only present day Ethiopia but parts of Kenya, Somalia and the Sudan. European colonialism would reduce the size of the empire. Menelik ruled from 1889 to 1913. He was able to trace his ancestry to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba in the Christian Bible.


1923
Lawrence “Larry” Eugene Doby was born on this date. He was an African-American baseball player.

Born in Camden, South Carolina, Doby grew up in New Jersey. He attended Long Island University and played in the Negro National League. In August 1947, four months after Jackie Robinson had broken the National League’s color line, Doby was signed by the Cleveland Indians and became the first black ballplayer in the American League. “You didn’t hear much about what I was going through because the media didn’t want to repeat the same story.” On the field, Doby noted, “I couldn’t react to (prejudicial) situations from a physical standpoint. My reaction was to hit the ball as far as I could.”

In 1948, his first full season, Doby hit 16 HR and contributed a .301 batting average to Cleveland’s successful World Championship drive. He hit a team-leading .318 in the 1948 World Series, winning the fourth game with a 400-foot home run off the Braves. Although he led league outfielders with 14 errors in 1948, he became a good enough fielder to be named as the top center fielder in the majors in 1950, ahead of Joe DiMaggio and Duke Snider. He hit at least 20 homers in each season from 1949-56, leading the league in 1952 (32) and 1954 (32), and appearing between the top ten leaders in seven seasons (1949, 1951-56). In 1952 when the left-handed hitter hit 32 HR, he also had 104 runs and a .541 slugging percentage. Doby topped AL batters in strikeouts two years running (111 in 1952 and 121 in ‘53). He also played in every All-Star Game from 1949 through 1954, hitting a key homer as a pinch-hitter in his last All-Star at-bat. In the Indians’ 1954 record-setting 111-win season, his 32 HR, and 126 RBI paced the entire league. His career statistics include a .283 career average with 253 home runs and 970 RBI in 1533 games. He hit for the cycle (1952), and also lead the league in RBIs in 1954 (126), on base percentage in 1950 (.442), and OPS in 1950 (.986).


After his retirement, he played in Japan and coached for the Expos, Indians, and White Sox. He managed the White Sox for most of 1978. Larry Doby’s uniform number 14 was retired by the Indians on July 5, 1994; 47 years to the day he broke the American League’s color barrier.

The Veterans’ Committee elected him to the Hall of Fame in 1998. Larry Doby died on June 18, 2003 in Montclair, New Jersey.



1923
Wiley Austin Branton was born on this date. He was an African-American attorney and civil rights activist.

Born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, Branton was educated from elementary, junior high, and high school in Pine Bluff schools. An Army veteran of World War II, Branton spent time teaching Blacks how to mark an election ballot after the war. His efforts resulted in his being convicted of a misdemeanor for “teaching the mechanics of voting.” In 1950, he received a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from Arkansas A. M. & N. College (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff).

Two years later he received a Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, where he was the fourth Black student to enroll at the institution and the third Black student to graduate. Branton also served as the chief counsel for the Black plaintiffs in the 1957 Little Rock Desegregation Case. During his long distinguished legal career, he made significant contributions in the voting rights arena as both a public officer and private citizen. In 1962, he was unanimously selected as the first Executive Director of the Southern Regional Council’s Voter Education Project, based in Atlanta, Georgia.

The Project was a cooperative effort that successfully registered over 600,000 Black voters in eleven states and helped create the momentum for the 1965 Voting Rights Act. During the early sixties, he represented “freedom riders” in Mississippi and Blacks engaged in voter registration drives throughout the South. In 1965, Branton moved to Washington, appointed as the Executive Secretary to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Council on Equal Opportunity (1965-1967). Here Branton traveled throughout the South encouraging Blacks to register under the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

During the period, he also served as Special Assistant Attorneys-General, for Nicholas Katzenbach and Ramsey Clark. From 1972-1974, he was the head of the Voter Registration Fund (VRF), a “non-partisan organization created to provide funding to tax exempt organizations in support of voter registration activities.” In 1978, he became Dean of the Howard University School of Law, a post he held until September 2, 1983. Wiley Austin Branton died December 15, 1988.



1926
Carl Erskine is born. He will become a baseball player for the Brooklyn Dodgers.


1944
The first African American women complete officer training for the WAVES (Women’s Auxiliary Volunteers for Emergency Service). They had been admitted to the corps two months earlier.


1950
David Russell was born on this date. He is an African-American Visual Storyboard Artist, educator, and painter.

From Los Angeles, California his father, James Russell, was a pilot with the Tuskegee Airmen. His grandfather, Lindsay Russell, was an LA police officer, and his uncle, Clayton Russell, was a prominent activist LA minister. His maternal grandfather, Michael Taylor, was part-Seminole, and a member of the only Native American nation that was never defeated by the US military. Russell refers to these family influences as having filled him with courage, determination and an unwillingness to accept a pre-determined role in life.

From an early age Russell’s imagination was stimulated by reading stories of adventure, fantasy, science fiction, and mythology. He read Dumas’ The Three Musketeers and many other classics and in the early 60s, discovered the imaginative work of comic book artist Jack Kirby. As a teenager, Russell decided to become a comic book artist, and began providing superhero illustrations to the escalating comic fanzine market.

Russell attended Pasadena City College for two years, majoring in art. In 1972 he met Jack Kirby, whose became his life-long close friend and mentor. In that same year he won a full scholarship to the prestigious Art Center College of Design. He finished at Art Center in 1974, moved to Seattle, and worked as a book illustrator, muralist and creative director on numerous theme events. While in there, he met Yugoslavian-born sculptor Masha Marjanovich, and began a life-long partnership.

In 1981, Russell returned to Los Angeles to work as a storyboard artist on children’s animation shows. In this profession, he creates a somewhat comic book version of the film on paper, allowing the director to plan their shots, modify them and improve the power of the script. This experience opened his eyes to larger possibilities, and within a year he was seeking work in the saturated and competitive live-action film industry. In late 1982 Russell’s friend and mentor, science fiction writer Jack Vance arranged an interview for Russell at Industrial Light and Magic. The result was being hired as a Visual Effects storyboard artist on Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi.

Upon completion of his Lucasfilm assignment, Russell returned to Los Angeles and was still shut out from working in Hollywood. Russell also learned that the Union itself had never had a Black American member, though not, he notes ironically, for a lack of qualified Black artists applying. In 1985, at the recommendation of Union illustrator Ed Verraux, Russell interviewed for a storyboard artist position on the film The Color Purple and was hired. It was here that he broke into the Union, making history as its first African-American member.

From that point, Russell’s progress in the industry was swift; he established a reputation as one of the most versatile and imaginative illustrators and storyboard artists in the field. His strong storytelling sense, dynamic compositions and familiarity with the language of film made him the illustrator of choice for many of the best directors in the business. His projects included Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, Batman, A League of Their Own, Terminator II, and Harlem Nights, The Santa Claus (e), Higher Learning, Tombstone, and many others.

Russell learned early in his career to pick his projects carefully. He routinely avoids scripts which he feels are morally, politically or racially offensive. In 1993 Russell traveled to Australia and was fascinated by the country and its Aboriginal culture. By 1996 Russell, a student of history realized that the US was moving towards what he felt was a fascist state. He and his wife decided to relocate to Australia. There he has continued his career, working on such diverse films as The Thin Red Line, Vertical Limit, Moulin Rouge, The Quiet American, The Man Who Sued God, Master and Commander, and The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

In 2001, Russell began holding seminars on the art of storyboarding and production illustration. He has presented his classes in Australia, Switzerland, Norway and Holland. He has also shifted in a new direction as a fantasy writer, and his first novel, Hidden Magic, will be released in 2005. Russell has never left the community, working in Seattle with disadvantaged children under the Artists-in-the-Schools program, and in LA on a number of mural projects with the SPARC organization. Deeply involved in Aboriginal affairs in his adopted country, Russell acted as Creative Director of the 2000 Sydney Olympics Aboriginal Arts and Culture Pavilion, which drew the highest attendance of any non-athletic event.

In his free time, Russell is an impressionist painter and portrait artist. His Jedi storyboards form part of the Smithsonian’s collection of original Star Wars film art, which was donated by George Lucas. In 2003, the Australian government awarded David Russell permanent residency under the exclusive category of International Distinguished Talent. Russell, who has now contributed to over 70 productions, continues to work on challenging films with his unique storytelling style.



1957
Daniel A. Chapman becomes Ghana’s 1st ambassador to the US.


1958
Tim Moore, an actor best known for his portrayal of Kingfish on the Amos ‘n’ Andy television show, joins the ancestors at the age of 70.


1981
Popular African American comedian Dewey “Pigmeat” Markham joins the ancestors after a stroke at the age of 75. He became famous in mainstream America, late in his life for his “here comes de judge” routine popularized in television’s “Laugh-In.”


1989
President De Klerk of South Africa meets with imprisoned Nelson Mandela, at de Klerk’s office in Cape Town, to talk about the end of apartheid.


1997
Charles Woodson, of the University of Michigan, is awarded the Heisman Trophy. He is the first defensive player ever to win the coveted prize.


1998
A. Leon Higgenbotham, jurist, scholar, teacher, and humanitarian, died on this date. Higgenbotham is well remembered for his legal scholarship reflected in over 650 published opinions, articles, and books on racial law in Colonial America.


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