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Today in Black History, 10/13/2012

• October 13, 1825 John Sweat Rock, teacher, doctor, dentist, lawyer, and abolitionist, was born in Salem, New Jersey. Rock taught school in New Jersey from 1844 to 1848 and while teaching, studied medicine. In 1850, he opened a dental practice and in 1852 graduated from American Medical College. In 1851, he received a silver medal for the creation of an improved variety of artificial teeth. Rock was a passionate abolitionist and civil rights leader and was known as one of the most brilliant speakers in the anti-slavery movement. In 1860, Rock gave up his dental and medical practices and began to study law. He gained admittance to the Massachusetts Bar in 1861 and in 1865 became the first black person admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States. In 1863, Rock helped assemble the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, the first officially recognized African American unit in the Union Army during the Civil War. Rock died December 3, 1866.

• October 13, 1872 Blaise Diagne, the first black African elected to the French National Assembly, was born in Gorée, Senegal. Diagne studied in France before joining the French Customs Service in 1892. During World War I, he was a leading recruiter of black West Africans who fought for the French army. In 1914, Diagne was elected to the French national parliament as Senegal’s representative. In 1920, he was elected Mayor of Dakar, Senegal. He held both positions until his death on May 11, 1934. Avenue Blaise Diagne (a large boulevard) and Lycée Blaise Diagne (a high school) in Dakar and Blaise Diagne Airport in Ndiass are named in his honor.

• October 13, 1875 Adam Paine, a Black Seminole Indian, received the Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration, for his actions during the Indian Wars. Paine was born near Alachua, Florida in 1843. After the Civil War, Paine returned from Mexico and enlisted in the United States Army as a scout in 1873. He joined other Black Seminoles known as the “Seminole Negro Indian Scouts.” On September 26, he was serving as a private at Blanco Canyon in Texas where he participated in the engagement that earned him the medal. His citation reads, “Rendered invaluable service to Col. R.S. Mackenzie, 4th U.S. Cavalry, during this engagement.” Paine served two enlistments before being discharged in 1875. He died in 1877.

• October 13, 1901 Edith Spurlock Sampson, lawyer and judge, was born in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. Sampson earned her bachelor’s degree in social work from the New York School of Social Work, her Bachelor of Laws degree from John Marshall Law School in 1925, and was the first woman to earn a Master of Laws degree from Loyola University Graduate Law School in 1927. In 1947, she was appointed assistant state attorney in Cook County, Illinois. In 1950, President Harry Truman appointed her an alternate United States delegate to the United Nations, making her the first African American to officially represent the United States at the UN, where she served until 1953. In 1961, she became the first black U.S. representative to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In 1962, Sampson was elected associate judge of the Municipal Court of Chicago, becoming the first black woman to be elected a judge in Illinois. In 1966, she became an associate judge for the Circuit Court of Cook County where she served until her retirement in 1978. Sampson received several honorary degrees, including a Doctor of Law degree from John Marshall Law School. Sampson died October 8, 1979 and the Edith Spurlock Sampson Apartments in Chicago are named in her honor.

• October 13, 1902 Arna Wendell Bontemps, poet and noted member of the Harlem Renaissance, was born in Alexandria, Louisiana, but raised in Los Angeles, California. Bontemps earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Pacific Union College in 1923 and moved to New York City to teach. In 1943, after earning his Master of Library Science degree from the University of Chicago, he was appointed librarian at Fisk University. He held that position for 22 years and during that time developed important collections and archives of African American literature and culture. Bontemps authored many children’s books. He is best known for the 1931 novel “God Sends Sunday.” His 1948 work “The Story of the Negro” won the Jane Addams Book Award and was a Newbery Honor Book. Bontemps died June 4, 1973. His biography, “Renaissance Man from Louisiana: A Biography of Arna Wendell Bontemps,” was published in 1992. Arna Wendell Bontemps Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois is named in his honor.

• October 13, 1909 Arthur “Art” Tatum, hall of fame jazz pianist, was born in Toledo, Ohio. As in infant, Tatum suffered from cataracts which left him blind in one eye and with very limited vision in the other. A child prodigy, he learned to play the piano by ear at the age of three. In 1925, he moved to the Columbus School for the Blind where he studied music and learned Braille. Tatum recorded commercially from 1932 until near his death on November 5, 1956 and was widely acknowledged as one of the greatest jazz pianist of all time. His recordings include “Makin’ Whoopee” (1954), “Piano Starts Here” (1987), and “On the Sunny Side” (1997). Tatum was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1964. In 1989, he was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. His biography, “Too Marvelous for Words: The Life and Genius of Art Tatum,” was published in 1994. The Toledo Jazz Society annually presents the Art Tatum Jazz Heritage Festival.

• October 13, 1914 Garrett Augustus Morgan received patent number 1,113,675 for the safety hood and smoke protector. His invention provided a portable attachment which enabled a fireman to enter a building filled with suffocating gasses and smoke to breathe freely for some time without suffocating. Morgan was born March 4, 1877 in Paris, Kentucky. In 1895, he moved to Cleveland, Ohio where he worked repairing sewing machines for a clothing manufacturer. In 1907, he opened his own sewing machine and shoe repair shop and in 1908 helped to found the Cleveland Association of Colored Men. In 1916, Morgan became nationally known when he used his invention to save several men in a tunnel explosion under Lake Erie. He was awarded a Medal of Bravery by the citizens of Cleveland, but was denied the Carnegie Medal, which is awarded to civilians who risk their lives to an extraordinary degree saving or attempting to save the lives of others, due to his race. On November 20, 1923, Morgan received patent number 1,475,024 for his version of the traffic signal. Morgan died August 27, 1963 and the Garrett Morgan Treatment Plant and the Garrett A. Morgan Cleveland School of Science are named in his honor. “Garrett A. Morgan: American Negro Inventor” was published in 1969. Morgan’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michgian.

• October 13, 1926 Jesse LeRoy Brown, the first African American naval aviator in the United States Navy, was born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Brown enlisted in the Naval Reserve in 1946. After attending Navy pre-flight school and flight training, he was designated a naval aviator in October, 1948. He received his commission as ensign in April, 1949. During the Korean War, on December 4, 1950 Brown’s plane was hit by enemy fire and crashed and Brown died in the aircraft. Brown was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his Korean War combat service and on March 18, 1972 the USS Jesse L. Brown was named in his honor. Also, the County Tax Services Building in Hattiesburg is named in his honor. Brown’s biography, “The Flight of Jesse LeRoy Brown,” was published in 1998.

• October 13, 1926 Raymond Mathew Brown, hall of fame jazz double bassist, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At the age of eight, Brown started piano lessons, but switched to the bass in high school. After graduating from high school, he moved to New York City and in 1946 joined Dizzy Gillespie’s band. He played with Gillespie until 1951 when he joined the Oscar Peterson Trio with which he played until 1966. In 1966, Brown moved to Los Angeles, Califronia where he worked for various television show orchestras and accompanied some of the leading artists of the day, including Frank Sinatra, Billy Eckstine, Sarah Vaughan, and Nancy Wilson. It was during this time that he won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Composition for his composition “Gravy Waltz” which later became the theme music for “The Steve Allen Show.” During the 1980s and 1990s, Brown led his own trio and he continued to play until his death on July 2, 2002. In 1995, Brown was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts and in 2003 he was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame.

• October 13, 1958 Shirley Ann Caesar, hall of fame gospel singer and songwriter known as “First Lady of Gospel,” was born in Durham, North Carolina. Caesar started performing at the age of 13 and from 1958 to 1966 performed with The Caravans. Since beginning her solo recording career in 1966, she has released more than 40 albums and sold more than 2.2 million since 1991. Caesar has won eight Grammy Awards, including the award for Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album in 1994 for “Stand Still,” in 1996 for “Shirley Caesar Live….He Will Come,” in 2000 for “Christmas With Shirley Caesar,” and in 2001 for “You Can Make It.” Caesar earned her Bachelor of Science degree in business administration from Shaw University in 1984. She has also studied at the Divinity School of Duke University and received honorary doctorate degrees from Shaw University and Southeastern University. Caesar was inducted into the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame in 2000.

• October 13, 1962 Jerry Lee Rice, hall of fame football player, was born in Starkville, Mississippi. Rice played football for Mississippi Valley State University and in 1984 was named to every All-American team. He was selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the 1985 NFL Draft and in his first year was named Offensive Rookie of the Year. Over his 20-season professional career, Rice was a three-time Super Bowl champion, 13-time Pro Bowl selection, and two-time Offensive Player of the Year. Rice retired prior to the start of the 2005 season as the all-time leader in every major statistical category for wide receivers. He is widely regarded as the greatest wide receiver ever. Rice was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010. He has co-authored two books about his life, “Rice” (1996) and “Go Long: My Journey Beyond the Game and the Fans” (2007). In 2011, The Sports Network awarded the inaugural Jerry Rice Award to be given annually to the most outstanding freshman Football Championship Subdivision player.

• October 13, 2005 Vivian Juanita Malone, one of the first two African Americans to enroll at the University of Alabama, died. Malone was born July 15, 1942 in Mobile, Alabama. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Alabama A&M, but the college lost its accreditation. To get an accredited degree, Malone applied to the University of Alabama and was admitted as a junior. When she and James Hood attempted to enroll on June 11, 1963, Alabama Governor George Wallace blocked the door to Foster Auditorium. Despite harassment, on May 30, 1965 Malone became the first black graduate of the university, earning her Bachelor of Arts degree in business management. She then joined the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice and in 1996 retired as director of Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and director of Environmental Justice for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In 2000, Malone was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by the University of Alabama.

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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.