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Today in Black History, 10/12/2012

• October 12, 1882 John Preston “Pete” Hill, hall of fame Negro League baseball player and manager, was born in Culpeper, Virginia. Hill played in the Negro leagues from 1899 to 1925 and was considered the most important member of three of the most talented teams to ever play. He was also considered “the most consistent hitter of his time,” retiring with a career batting average of .326. From 1919 to 1921, Hill was player/manager of the Detroit Stars. His final position in professional baseball was as field manager for the Baltimore Black Sox. In 1930, Hill moved to Buffalo, New York to work as a railroad porter. He died December 19, 1951 and was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.

• October 12, 1919 Doris “Dorie” Miller, Navy Cross recipient, was born in Waco, Texas. Miller enlisted in the United States Navy in 1939. On December 7, 1941, Miller was serving as a cook on the USS West Virginia in Pearl Harbor when it was attacked by the Japanese. Although he had no anti-aircraft gun training, Miller took control of one and fired until the gun ran out of ammunition. On May 27, 1942, he was awarded the Navy Cross, the first African American to receive the decoration, for his extraordinary courage in battle. The Navy Cross is the highest decoration bestowed by the Department of the Navy. Miller died November 24, 1943 while serving on the USS Liscome Bay which was hit by a Japanese torpedo and sank. On June 30, 1973, the USS Miller was commissioned in his honor. Also, there are many schools, streets and parks named in his honor. His biography, “A Man Named Doris,” was published in 2003.

• October 12, 1925 Charles Edward Gordone, the first African American to receive the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, was born in Cleveland, Ohio, but raised in Elkhart, Indiana. After serving in the United States Air Force, Gordone earned a bachelor’s degree in drama from California State University in 1952. After graduating, he moved to New York City where he won an Obie Award in 1953 for his performance in the all-black production of “Of Mice and Men.” During the 1950s and 1960s, Gordone continued acting, started directing, and co-founded the Committee for the Employment of Negro Performers and the Vantage Theater. From 1961 to 1966, he performed in “The Blacks.” In 1967, Gordone wrote and produced “No Place to be Somebody” for which he received the 1970 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. He was the first African American and the play was the first off-Broadway play to receive the award. Other plays by Gordone include “A Little More Light Around the Place” (1964), “Under the Boardwalk” (1976), “The Last Chord” (1977), and “Anabiosis” (1983). In 1987, Gordone accepted a position as distinguished lecturer at Texas A&M University where he taught English and theater until his death on November 16, 1995. The Texas A&M Creative Writing Program established The Charles Gordone Awards to annually offer cash prizes in poetry and prose to undergraduate and graduate students.

• October 12, 1931 Eugene Ashley, Jr., Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Wilmington, North Carolina, but raised in New York City. Ashley joined the United States Army in 1950 and served in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. On February 7, 1968 while serving as a sergeant first class in Company C of the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces his actions earned him the medal. His citation partially reads, “During the ensuing battle, Sfc. Ashley led a total of 5 vigorous assaults against the enemy, continuously exposing himself to a voluminous hail of enemy grenades, machine gun and automatic weapons fire. Throughout these assaults, he was plagued by numerous booby-trapped satchel charges in all bunkers on his avenue of approach. During his fifth and final assault, he adjusted air strikes nearly on top of his assault element, forcing the enemy to withdraw and resulting in friendly control of the summit of the hill. While exposing himself to intense enemy fire, he was seriously wounded by machine gun fire, but continued his mission without regard for his personal safety. After the fifth assault, he lost consciousness and was carried from the summit by his comrades only to suffer a fatal wound when an enemy artillery round landed in the area.” The medal, America’s highest military decoration, was posthumously presented to Ashley’s family on December 2, 1969. The Eugene Ashley High School in Wilmington is named in his honor.

• October 12, 1932 Richard Claxton “Dick” Gregory, comedian, social activist, and entrepreneur, was born in St. Louis, Missouri. Gregory earned a track scholarship to Southern Illinois University, but left without a degree because he felt that the university “didn’t want me to study, they wanted me to run.” In 1954, he was drafted into the United States Army where he got his start in comedy, winning several army talent shows. Gregory drew on current events, especially racial issues, for much of his material. Around the mid-1960s, Gregory became more involved in the struggle for civil rights, activism against the Vietnam War, economic reform, and anti-drug issues. His 1964 autobiography, “Nigger,” has sold more than 10 million copies. In 1984, he founded Health Enterprises, Inc., a company that distributed weight loss products and in 1985 introduced the Slim-Safe Bahamian Diet, a powdered diet mix. Gregory has published several books, including “No More Lies: The Myth and the Reality of American History” (1997) and “Callus on My Soul: A Memoir” (2003).

• October 12, 1942 Melvin Franklin, original member of the hall of fame group The Temptations, was born David Melvin English in Montgomery, Alabama, but raised in Detroit, Michigan. Franklin took his mother’s maiden name as his stage name and sang with a number of local groups. In 1960, he joined The Elgins and in 1961 they were signed by Motown Records and their name changed to The Temptations. Franklin performed with the group until 1994 and his deep vocals became one of the group’s signature trademarks. Franklin sang lead on a few songs, including “Ol Man River” (1966), “I Truly, Truly Believe” (1968), and “Silent Night” (1970). Franklin was inducted, along with five other members of The Temptations, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989 and died February 23, 1995.

• October 12, 1961 Eugene Jacques Bullard, the only black pilot in World War I, died. Bullard was born October 9, 1894 in Columbus, Georgia. While on a trip to Paris in 1914, World War I started and Bullard decided to join the French Foreign Legion. In 1916, he was wounded and awarded the Croix de Guerre. In 1917, he joined the French Air Force and flew twenty missions and is thought to have shot down two enemy aircraft. When the United States entered the war, Bullard attempted to join the U.S. Army Air Service. Although he passed the medical examination, he was not accepted because blacks were barred from flying. After the war, Bullard remained in Paris and established a successful nightclub. At the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Bullard, who spoke German, agreed to spy on German agents frequenting his club. After the German invasion of France, Bullard fled Paris and in 1940 returned to the U.S. When seeking work in the U.S., he found that the fame he enjoyed in France had not followed him home. He worked in a variety of jobs, including salesman and security guard. In 1949, after attending a concert by Paul Robeson to benefit the Civil Rights Congress, Bullard was beaten by an angry mob which included members of the state and local law enforcement (Peekskill Riots). The beating was captured on film and can be seen in the 1970s documentary “The Tallest Tree in Our Forest.” Also, photos of the beating were published in “The Whole World in His Hands: a Pictorial Biography of Paul Robeson.” Despite recorded evidence of the beating, no one was ever prosecuted. In 1954, the French government invited Bullard to Paris to rekindle the everlasting flame of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and in 1959 he was made a knight of the Legion d’honneur. Despite this recognition, Bullard died in New York City in relative poverty. He was buried with military honors in the French War Veterans’ section of Flushing Cemetery in Queens, New York. Bullard’s story was told in the books “The Black Swallow of Death” (1972) and “Eugene Bullard: Black Expatriate in Jazz Age Paris” (2000). In 1994, he was posthumously commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force.

• October 12, 1970 Charlie Ward, hall of fame football player, was born in Thomasville, Georgia. Ward played college football and basketball for four years at Florida State University. As a basketball player, he still holds the FSU record for career steals. As a football player, he won the Heisman Trophy, Maxwell Award, and Davey O’Brien Award in 1993. Also that year, Ward won the James E. Sullivan Award as the most outstanding amateur athlete in the United States. During his senior year, he also served as student government vice president. Ward’s number 17 jersey was retired by FSU in 1994. After graduating, Ward was selected by the New York Knicks in the 1994 NBA Draft, making him the only Heisman Trophy winner to play in the NBA. Although he did not play baseball in college, Ward was drafted in the 1993 free agent draft by the Milwaukee Brewers and by the New York Yankees in the 1994 draft. Ward played in the NBA for eleven seasons before retiring in 2005 due to injuries. In 2001, he established the aWard Foundation to enhance the lives of young people through sports based mentoring and educational programs. Ward was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006 and in 2011 received the John Wooden Keys to Life Award for continued excellence and integrity on and off the court. Ward is currently head football coach at a high school in Houston, Texas.

• October 12, 1999 Wilton Norman “Wilt” Chamberlain, hall of fame basketball player, died. Chamberlain was born August 21, 1936 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was 6 feet 11 inches when he entered high school and used that advantage as a prolific scorer throughout his high school and college career. After his junior year of college, Chamberlain played for one year with the Harlem Globetrotters before entering the National Basketball Association in 1959 with the Philadelphia Warriors. Over his 14 season NBA career, Chamberlain was the 1960 Rookie of the Year, four-time Most Valuable Player, two-time league champion, seven-time scoring leader, 11-time rebounding leader, and 13-time All-Star. He is the only player in NBA history to average more than 50 points a game over a season or score 100 points in a single game. Chamberlain was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1978 and in 1996 was chosen as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History. He was posthumously inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. Chamberlain published two autobiographies, “Wilt: Just like Any Other 7-Foot Black Millionaire Who Lives Next Door” (1973) and “A View From Above” (1991).

• October 12, 2005 Cynthia DeLores Nottage Tucker died. Tucker was born October 4, 1927 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She attended Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School. Tucker had a long history in the Civil Rights Movement, including participating in the 1965 Selma to Montgomery, Alabama march. She was a convening founder of the National Congress of Black Women and served as national chair in 1992. She also led the effort to make Pennsylvania one of the first states to pass the Equal Rights Amendment. In January, 1971, Tucker became the Secretary of State of Pennsylvania, making her the first African American female to serve in that capacity in the United States. She served in that position until 1977. For much of the last years of her life, Tucker was dedicated to removing sexually explicit lyrics from rap and hip-hop records, concerned that the lyrics were misogynistic and threatened the moral foundation of the African American community. One of the buildings next to the Pennsylvania State Capitol Building was renamed the Secretary C. Delores Tucker Building and a state historical marker honoring Tucker is installed outside the entrance.

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Founded in 1965 and located in the heart of Midtown Detroit’s Cultural Center, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History is the world's largest institution dedicated to the African American experience. The Museum provides learning opportunities, exhibitions, programs and events based on collections and research that explore the diverse history and culture of African Americans and their African origins.

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