Harold D. Russell, dubbed “The Divine Mind,” died Monday from complications of pneumonia. He was 86.

Believed to be the first black magician to join the prestigious International Brotherhood of Magicians and the Society of American Magicians, Russell performed for 20 years, entertaining crowds at the “Breakfast with Santa” event at Dillard’s and many nightclubs in the St. Louis area.

In a 2005 interview with the St. Louis Journal, Russell described practicing his early tricks on Bullet, the family dog, saying “If he went to the wrong hand when I tried a disappearing trick, I’d think, ‘Hmm, I did it good because I fooled Bullet.”

A World War II veteran, Russell took up magic while in his 40s and married with five children. He received the Gold Medal Award from the Society of American Magicians in 2005, one of only seven magicians to receive the honor since its inception.

PHOTO: Wiley Price

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Barack Obama returned to the U.S. after a successful 10-day, 9-nation-trip, sitting down with journalists of color at the UNITY conference in Chicago, where he addressed affirmative action and those Muslim rumors.

After receiving an onslaught of criticism from the media for his rock star appeal in Germany, where 200,000 people turned out to hear the presidential hopeful speak, Obama was welcomed by the African-American, Asian, Hispanic and Native American journalists with a standing ovation–despite a warning to “maintain professional decorum” so as not to seem biased and “un-journalistic”. In all fairness, John Kerry also received a standing ovation at the 2004 UNITY conference.

Asked by Miami Herald columnist Leonard Pitts Jr. whether he’s “gone too far” in his denial of rumors that he is a Muslim, Obama said, “This is a classic example of a no-win situation, right? I try to correct something that is false and then people say, ‘Well, why are you correcting this thing…I just don’t like the idea of somebody falsely identifying my religion. I suspect that you wouldn’t appreciate that either.”

When questioned about his stance on affirmative action, the Democratic nominess said, “I am a strong supporter of affirmative action when properly structured so there is not a quota…I’ve also said that affirmative action is not going to be the long-term solution to the problems of race in America, because, frankly, if you’ve got 50 percent of African-American or Latino kids dropping out of high school, it doesn’t really matter what you do in terms of affirmative action. Those kids aren’t going to college.”

Obama concluded his UNITY visit with…you guessed it, a standing ovation, while McCain declined an invitation to the conference due to schedule conflicts.

PHOTO: AP

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