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Information for Our People of Color!!

Celebrating Our Story – More Unsung Heroes

Did you know throughout the years, on November 9th:

Benjamin Banneker was born on this date in 1731, in Ellicott, Maryland.  He was a self-taught African-American Astronomer and Mathematician.  At the age of 22, Banneker created a working wooden clock, after studying a watch of a friend.  It took him two years to finish this clock, which kept accurate time in hours, minutes and seconds until his death.  Banneker became interested in astronomy through a local surveyor, George Ellicott, who loaned him astronomy books, a telescope and drafting instruments.  Without any further guidance or instruction, he taught himself the science of astronomy; he made projections for solar and lunar eclipses; and computed ephemerides (which are tables of locations of celestial bodies) for an almanac.  Benjamin Banneker published his first Almanac in 1792, which predicted weather and seasonal changes, as well as tips on planting crops and medical remedies.  He sent a copy of this Almanac to then, Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, and in a 12-page letter to Thomas Jefferson, he expressed that Blacks in the United States possessed equal intellectual capacity as Whites.  As such, he stated, Blacks should also be afforded the same rights and opportunities as Whites.  This began a long exchange of correspondence between the two men that lasted several years.  Also in 1792, President George Washington decided to move the Nation’s Capital – which at that time was in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to an area on the border of Maryland and Virginia (what we now know to be Washington, D.C.).  Major L’Enfant from France was commissioned to develop the plans for this new city, and at Jefferson’s request, Banneker was included as one of the men to assist him.  Due to various conflicts that arose, L’Enfant abruptly resigned from the project, taking the plans with him back to France.  Banneker reproduced these plans from memory, re-drawing them within two (2) days.  The plans that he drew were the basis for the layout of the streets, buildings and monuments that exist to this day in our nation’s capital – Washington, D.C.  Banneker also continued publishing his Alamacs each year until 1797.  Benjamin Banneker died quietly on October 25, 1806.  It continuously behooves me to know that the groundwork for our Nation’s Capital was performed by this most intelligent African-American man, and when it comes to ‘Our Story,’ he is very seldom, if at all, acknowledged or recognized for his accomplishments, especially to our youth.

Roger Arliner Young was born on this date in 1889, in Clifton Forge, Virginia.  She overcame racial and sexual barriers, and became the First African-American Woman to be awarded a Ph.D. in Zoology, which she received from the University of Pennsylvania in 1940.  Her scientific contributions, resulting, mostly from research she conducted at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, included: improved understanding of the structures that control salt concentration in the paramecium (single-celled organisms of protozoa that feed mostly on bacteria); as well as the effects of radiation on sea urchin eggs.  Additionally, Ms. Young taught at a variety of universities, including: Howard University, North Carolina College for Negroes, and North Carolina State University, as well as colleges in Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.  In the 1950’s her mental health began to deteriorate, and she was hospitalized.  Ms. Roger Arliner Young died on her birthday – November 9th, 1964.

Palmer Hayden was born on this date in 1890, in Wide Water, Virginia.  His birth/legal name was Peyton Cole Hedgerman.  He was a prolific African-American artist and painter, who depicted African-American life, painting in both oils and watercolors.  His work became known during the Harlem Renaissance.  Mr. Hayden took his inspiration for his work from his own environment, as he focused on the African-American experience.  He captured both rural life in the South, as well as urban backgrounds in New York City, specifically Harlem.  Hayden created one of his first famous pieces in 1926, which he called “Fetitche et Fleurs.”  This painting won him the Harmon Foundation’s Gold Award, and allowed him to live and study in France for five (5) years.  When he returned to America, Hayden worked for the U.S. Treasury Department’s Art Project, as well as the Works Progress Administration (WPA).  Palmer Hayden created a painting series on the African-American folk hero – John Henry.  This series consisted of 12 works, and took him 10 years to complete.  Hayden’s works had many exhibitions, including at the New Jersey State Museum, and the Galerie Benheim-Jeune, located in Paris, France.  Palmer Hayden died on February 18, 1973, at the age of 83.

Teddy Rhodes was born on this date in 1913, in Nashville, Tennessee.  He was an African-American Golfer.  Teddy Rhodes began his golfing career at the age of 12 years old, as a caddie in his segregated hometown, and taught himself the game.  He received attention of the golf-crazed Joe Louis in 1946, and became his personal golf instruction in exchange for sponsorship.  Teddy Rhodes was the brightest star of the post-war’s United Golf Association, winning 150 times on the Black-run summer tour, a golfing organization equivalent to that of Baseball’s Negro Leagues.  In 1948, he played in the U.S. Open, shooting 70 in the first round at Riviera before fading in the pack behind winner, Ben Hogan.  Rhodes was a quiet victim of the Professional Golf Associations deceit and fraud in keeping the games’ country clubs Caucasian, until it finally flourished into public pressure involving the courts in 1961.  Teddy Rhodes died on July 4, 1969 in Nashville, Tennessee.  In 1971, Nashville Officials renamed the nine-hole Cumberland Golf Course after him.  In 1993, the city of Nashville christened an 18-hole daily-fee layout in his honor; and in 1998, Teddy Rhodes was inducted into the Tennessee Hall of Fame.

Dorothy Dandridge was born on this date in 1922, in Cleveland, Ohio.  She was an outstanding African-American Actress, Singer, Dancer and Entertainer.  Dorothy Dandridge experienced horrific racism as it related to the entertainment industry, as African-Americans were not given the same opportunities as their white counterparts during this period.  The treatment of Black Entertainers was full of unfairness, ridicule, and constant degradation.  However, for awhile Dandridge prevailed, and changed the way African-American females were portrayed in film and on the stage.  As a singer, she performed in such venues as The Cotton Club and the Apollo Theater, both located in New York City.  Dandridge was the First African-American to be nominated for an Academy A ward for Best Actress and a BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Leading Role, for her outstanding performance in, “Carmen Jones,” in 1954.  In 1959, she was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy, again for her outstanding performance in “Porgy and Bess.”  Some of her other film credits included: “Teacher’s Beau” (1935); “A Day at the Races” (1937); “Four Shall Die” (1940); “The Harlem Globetrotters” (1951); “Island in the Sun” (1957); “Tamango” (1958); and “The Murder Men” (1961).  Dorothy Dandridge has been recognized on the ‘Hollywood Walk of Fame.’  Due to lack of continued work, due to continued excessive racism in the industry, Dandridge, unfortunately became extremely depressed, which resulted in alcoholism.  In lieu of such, her doctor prescribed antidepressants.  On September 8, 1965, Dorothy Dandridge was found dead in her apartment (in Glendale, California), by her manager Earl Mills, due to an overdose of anti-depressants.

Alice Coachman was born on this date in 1923, in Albany Georgia.  She is the First African-American woman to win an Olympic Gold Medal.  Barred from public sports facilities because of her race, Coachman used whatever materials she could find to practice jumping.  In a society that discouraged women from being involved in sports, Coachman struggled  to develop as a profound athlete.  Despite her parents’ reservations, she was encouraged by her 5th grade teacher and her aunt – Carry Spry.  When she enrolled in Madison High School, she immediately joined the track team.  Although it was an  ‘All Boys’ track team, the coach, Harry Lash, recognized and nurtured her talent.  She immediately attracted the attention of the Tuskegee Institute, where she enrolled in their high school program in 1939.  She competed in and won her first Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) championship in the high jump.  On this same day, she broke the AAU high school and college women’s high jump records while barefoot, resulting in her winning the AAU outdoor high jump championships for the next nine years.  Coachman excelled in sprints and basketball, competing at Tuskegee Institute from 1940 to 1946.  In the 1948 Olympics, in London, Eng land, she leaped 5 foot 6 1/8 inches on her first try in the high jump, making her t he first African-American Woman to win a Gold Medal in that year’s games.  Altogether, she won 25 AAU indoor and outdoor titles before she retired in 1948; at which time she taught Physical Education.  Alice Coachman is now retired, and lives with her husband in Alabama.

Bob Gibson was born on this date in 1935, in Omaha, Nebraska.  He is an African-American Baseball Player (now retired).  Despite several illnesses as a child, Bob Gibson was active in sports, specifically baseball and basketball.  Gibson won a basketball scholarship to Creighton University.  In 1957, Gibson received a $4,000.00 bonus to play with the St. Louis Cardinals, which he delayed for little over a year, while playing basketball with the Harlem Globetrotterrs, where he earned the nickname ‘Bullet’ Bob Gibson.  He started playing with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1959, and had the first of nine 20–strikeout seasons in 1962.  His nickname in baseball became ‘Hoot.’  Over 17 seasons with the Cardinals, Gibson won 20 games and established himself as the definition of intimidation, competitiveness and dignity.  He was named the National League Cy Young Award Winner and the Most Valuable Player (MVP) in Baseball.  He also was named the World Series MVP in 1964 and 1967.  Known by many people as the best pitcher in the Cardinals history, Gibson dominated with his fastball, sharp slider, and a slow, looping curve ball.  Since his retirement, ‘Hoot’ Bob Gibson now resides in Bellevue, Nebraska.

On this date, we continue to celebrate a mass of our Unsung Heroes.  And – Remember – Black History is Every Day!  Please spread the word to our Youth!!!

Until the next time – Stay Blessed!!

Natalie R. Fitten

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