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February 18, 2000

Ryan Hosts African-American History Month Celebration

CHICAGO -- Governor George H. Ryan today hosted a program celebrating African-American History Month at the James R. Thompson Center.

In conjunction with this year's theme "A Salute to Illinois African-American History Makers", Ryan selected five people to receive awards recognizing their contributions to history. The awardees were:

Gwendolyn Brooks, who was named Illinois Poet Laureate in 1968-a title she still holds. In 1950, Brooks became the first African-American to win a Pulitzer Prize for poetry for her books of poetry entitled Annie Allen;

Helen Graine Faulk, who at the age of 90 is the oldest active licensed cosmetology teacher in Illinois. Faulk opened her own beauty salon in 1933 and was also owner of a beauty school, which thrived for 50 years. She currently is teaching part-time at a beauty school in Indiana;

Silas Purnell, who has served as Director of the Educational Services Division of Ada S. McKinley Community Services, Inc. for over 33 years. Purnell is credited with helping more than 40,000 African-American men and women enroll in more than 200 colleges and universities throughout the country;

Edward "Eddie" Robinson, a gifted pianist who has performed for more than 50 years. Robinson was honored in 1997 as one of Chicago's Pioneers of Gospel Music.

Robinson provided musical accompaniment for the late gospel legend Mahalia Jackson for 17 years. He also has accompanied Aretha Franklin, Albertina Walker, Sam Cooke, Gladys Knight, the late Robert Anderson and Gladys Knight.

William Clark accepted a posthumous honor on behalf of his late uncle, Dr. Daniel Hale Williams. In 1891, Dr. Williams founded Chicago's Provident Hospital -which is the oldest free-standing African-American owned hospital in the country. Dr. Hale is credited with performing the first open-heart surgery in 1893 when he removed a knife from the heart of a stabbing victim. In 1970, the United States Congress issued a commemorative stamp in Dr. Hale's honor.

Students from the Arts of Living High School and Lakeview Alternative High School gave speeches detailing the accomplishments of the award recipients. Reverend Walter Turner of the Baptist Ministers Conference of Chicago and Dr. Mildred C. Harris of the God First Ministries also assisted in the celebration. Deloris Mebain, president at Mebain Media and former director of community relations at NBC 5 Chicago, served as emcee for the program. An ensemble from the African Dance and Music Institute presented an African Dance. The Whitney Young High School Concert Choir performed musical selections.


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