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Black Facts for April 23rd

1941 - Herenton, Willie W. (1941- )

Dr. Willie W. Herenton was born on April 23, 1941 in Memphis, Tennessee and is currently the mayor of that city. Dr. Herenton is a graduate of LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis and the University of Memphis.

At a young age, Herenton demonstrated athletic prowess. When he was 11 years old, Herenton entered a boxing program at the local YMCA. During his first year, he made it to the semifinals and in 1953, he captured the flyweight title. By the time he graduated from high school in 1958, Herenton had won a number of southern AAU championships. He also won the Kentucky Golden Gloves competition and had been Tri-State Boxing Champion several times.

Because of his boxing prowess, Herenton was offered a full athletic scholarship to the University of Wisconsin at Madison. He refused the scholarship and instead moved to Chicago with the hopes of becoming a professional boxer. Realizing the limitations of a high school education, Herenton soon regretted his decision. He returned to Memphis and enrolled at LeMoyne College, a small black liberal arts school in the city. He met fellow student, Ida, and they were soon married.

Herenton graduated from LeMoyne College at the age of 21 and became a fifth-grade public school teacher in Memphis. The following year he earned a master’s degree at Memphis State University (now the University of Memphis). In 1969 Herenton was appointed principal of the school he attended as a child. At 28, he was the youngest principal ever hired in Memphis. Three years later, he completed a Ph.D. degree at Southern Illinois University. In 1979, Herenton was named superintendent of the Memphis Public Schools, the fifteenth largest school system in the United States, and one of the poorest.

In the late 1980s Herenton became interested in politics, and in 1991 he was elected the first African American mayor of Memphis. Herenton’s nearly two decade tenure as mayor has not been without controversy. His later terms have been marked by allegations of mismanagement, corruption and sexual

1856 - Granville T Woods - African American Inventor

Born in Columbus, Ohio on April 23, 1856, Granville T. Woods dedicated his life to developing a variety of inventions relating to the railroad industry.

To some, he was known as the Black Edison, both great inventors of their time. Woods invented more than a dozen devices to improve electric railway cars and much more for controlling the flow of electricity. His most noted invention was a system for letting the engineer of a train know how close his train was to others.

This device helped cut down accidents and collisions between trains.

Woods literally learned his skills on the job. Attending school in Columbus until age 10, he served an apprenticeship in a machine shop and learned the trades of machinist and blacksmith. During his youth, he also went to night school and took private lessons. Although he had to leave formal school at age ten, Woods realized that learning and education were essential to developing critical skills that would allow him to express his creativity with machinery.

In 1872, Woods obtained a job as a fireman on the Danville and Southern railroad in Missouri, eventually becoming an engineer. He invested his spare time in studying electronics. In 1874, he moved to Springfield, Illinois, and worked in a rolling mill. In 1878, he took a job aboard the Ironsides, a British steamer, and, within two years, became Chief Engineer of the steamer.

Finally, his travels and experiences led him to settle in Cincinnati, Ohio where he became a person dedicated to modernizing the railroad.

In 1888, Woods developed a system for overhead electric conducting lines for railroads, which aided in the development of the overhead railroad system found in cities such as Chicago, St.

Louis, and New York City. In his early thirties, he became interested in thermal power and steam-driven engines. In 1889, he filed his first patent for an improved steam boiler furnace. In 1892, a complete Electric Railway System was operated at Coney Island, NY. In 1887, he patented the Synchronous Multiplex Railway Telegraph,

1871 - Whitfield, James Monroe (1822-1871)

James Monroe Whitfield, a black abolitionist and colonizationist, was born on April 10, 1822 in New Hampshire. Little is known about his early life except that he was a descendant of Ann Paul, the sister of prominent black clergyman Thomas Paul.  Whitfield had little formal education. Nonetheless by the age of 16, he was publishing papers for Negro rights conventions.

Although his main occupation was as a barber, Whitfield eventually became well known as a poet whose work was published in North Star as well as Frederick Douglass’ Paper and The Liberator during the period he lived in Buffalo, New York.  While living in Buffalo between 1839 and 1859, Whitfield worked with other abolitionists and emigrationists such as James T. Holly and Martin Delany. Whitfield promoted the National Emigration Convention in 1854 and 1856 and the African-American Repository one of the earliest black-oriented national publications.

Frederick Douglass initially recognized Whitfield’s leadership and activism and gave the young poet national exposure in his publications.  Eventually Whitfield would disagree with Douglass whom he saw as too accommodating to the mostly white abolitionist movement.  The men also disagreed on the wisdom of large scale emigration of African Americans from the United States.  Despite their differences, Douglass allowed Whitfield to publish his views in a series of letters to Douglass’s newspaper the North Star in 1853.

In 1858 Whitfield publicly supported the proposal by Missouri Congressman Frank P. Blair to acquire land in Central America, to be used for black colonization.  The following year, Whitfield was given the position of fact-finding commissioner by the proponents of this scheme and was sent to Central America where he lived for two years.

Upon his return to the United States in 1860, he found the nation on the verge of civil war.  Like Martin R. Delany and other emigrationists, Whitfield now turned his efforts toward supporting the war effort which he believed would emancipate the slaves and