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Today in Black History, 10/7/2012

• October 7, 1821 William Still, abolitionist, Underground Railroad conductor, writer and historian, was born in Burlington County, New Jersey. In 1844, Still moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where he began working as a clerk for the Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. When Philadelphia abolitionists organized a committee to aid runaways, Still became its chairman. By the 1850s, Still was a leader in Philadelphia’s African American community. Often called “the father of the Underground Railroad,” Still helped as many as 60 enslaved people a month escape to freedom and in 1872 published “The Underground Railroad Records” which chronicled the stories and methods of 649 people who escaped to freedom. He also helped to establish an orphanage for black youth and the first YMCA for African Americans. Still died July 14, 1902.

• October 7, 1857 Moses Fleetwood Walker, the first African American to play major league baseball, was born in Mount Pleasant, Ohio. Walker played baseball for Oberlin College in 1881 and the University of Michigan in 1882. In 1883, Walker signed with the Toledo Blue Stockings who joined the American Association, a major league, in 1884. Walker made his major league debut on May 1, 1884 and played 42 games before suffering a season ending injury in July. The Toledo team went out of business at the end of the 1884 season and Walker played with several other teams until 1889. In 1891, Walker was attacked by a group of white men in Syracuse, New York resulting in him stabbing one of them to death. He was charged with murder but acquitted. Walker became a supporter of Black Nationalism and believed that racial integration would fail in the United States. In 1908, he published a pamphlet, “Our Home Colony: A Treatise on the Past, Present, and Future of the Negro Race in America, in which he recommended that African Americans immigrate to Africa. Walker died May 11, 1924. His life was the subject of the book “Fleet Walker’s Divided Heart” which was published in 1995.

• October 7, 1888 Sargent Claude Johnson, painter, ceramist and sculptor, was born in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1915, Johnson began studying at the A. W. Best School of Art. From 1919 to 1923, he attended the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute). In 1926, Johnson began showing his work with the Harmon Foundation of New York and won numerous awards resulting in national attention. From 1945 to 1965, Johnson made a number of trips to Southern Mexico and started incorporating the people and culture into his work. Johnson died on October 10, 1967 and in 1998 the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art hosted a traveling retrospective of his work. Johnson’s work is included in the collections of several museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago and the Cleveland Museum of Art.

• October 7, 1891 Archibald John Motley, Jr., painter, ceramist and sculptor, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. Motley studied painting at the School of Art Institute of Chicago and graduated in 1918. His painting “Mending Socks” was voted the most popular work in a 1927 exhibit of works by living American painters. In 1928, Motley was presented the Harmon Foundation Award and became the first African American to have a one man exhibit in New York City. In 1929, he won a Guggenheim Fellowship and studied in France for a year. Motley was highly interested in skin tone and did numerous portraits documenting women of varying African American blood quantities. These portraits celebrate skin tone as something diverse, inclusive, and pluralistic. His night and crowd scenes, heavily influenced by jazz culture, are his most popular as they depict a vivid urban black culture that bore little resemblance to the conventional and marginalizing rustic images of black Southerners so popular at the time. Other works by Motley include “Blues” (1929) and “Playing Poker” (1933). His work is included in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Howard University Art Collection. Motley died January 16, 1981.

• October 7, 1897 Elijah Poole, religious leader, was born in Sandersville, Georgia. By the fourth grade, Poole left school to work in the fields and at 16 left home to work in factories and businesses in the area. In 1923, Poole and his family moved to Hamtramck, Michigan. In 1931, he converted to Islam and changed his name to Muhammad and in 1932 took over leadership of Temple No. 1 in Detroit, Michigan. In 1934, Muhammad was named Minister of Islam. In 1942, he was charged with eight counts of sedition for instructing his followers not to register with Selective Service or serve in the military. Found guilty, he served four years in federal prison. Following his release from prison, the Nation of Islam grew significantly and by the 1970s owned businesses, farmland, schools, and a bank. In 1972, Muhammad stated that the NOI had a net worth of $75 million. Muhammad died February 24, 1975. In the early 1990s, the City of Detroit renamed part of Linwood Avenue “Elijah Muhammad Boulevard.” Several books have been published about Muhammad, including “An Original Man: The Life and Times of Elijah Muhammad” (1998) and “The Messenger: The Rise and Fall of Elijah Muhammad” (2001).

• October 7, 1911 Jonathan David Samuel “Jo” Jones, influential jazz drummer, was born in Chicago, Illinois but raised in Birmingham, Alabama. Jones worked as a drummer and tap dancer at carnival shows until joining Walter Page’s band in the late 1920s. In 1933, he joined Count Basie’s band and played with them until 1948 except for 1944 to 1946 when he was in the military. After leaving Count Basie, Jones led his own group and recorded several albums, including “The Jo Jones Special” (1955), “The Drums” (1973), and “Our Man Papa Jo” (1985). Jones had a major influence on many drummers, including Buddy Rich, Kenny Clarke, Roy Haynes, Max Roach, and Louie Bellson. Jones was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1985 and died September 3, 1985.

• October 7, 1931 Desmond Mpilo Tutu, South African cleric, activist and author, was born in Klerksdorp, Transvaal, South Africa. Although Tutu wanted to become a physician, his family could not afford the training and therefore he studied education and began to teach in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1953. In 1960, Tutu was ordained an Anglican priest and in 1962 traveled to London to study at King’s College where he received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in theology in 1965 and 1966, respectively. He returned to South Africa and in 1967 became chaplain at the University of Fort Hare and from 1970 to 1972 lectured at the National University of Lesotho. In 1972, Tutu returned to the United Kingdom to serve as vice director of the Theological Education Fund of the World Council of Churches. In 1975, he again returned to South Africa as Anglican dean of St. Mary’s Cathedral, the first black person to hold that position. Tutu’s opposition to apartheid was vigorous and unequivocal and he was outspoken at home and abroad. In 1986, he became the first black person to lead the Anglican Church in South Africa when he became Archbishop of Cape Town and from 1987 to 1997 served as president of the All Africa Conference of Churches. After the fall of apartheid, Tutu headed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Since his retirement, Tutu has worked as a global activist on issues pertaining to democracy, freedom, and human rights. In 1984, Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for “his role as a unifying leader figure in the campaign to resolve the problem of apartheid in South Africa.” He has also received numerous doctorates and fellowships at distinguished universities around the world. In 2009, Tutu was awarded the United States Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Barack Obama. Tutu is the author of several collections of sermons and other writings, including “Crying in the Wilderness” (1982), “The Rainbow People of God: The Making of a Peaceful Revolution” (1994), and “No Future Without Forgiveness” (1999). The Desmond Tutu Peace Center is committed to creating a society that nurtures tolerance and understanding amongst all people.

• October 7, 1934 Amiri Baraka, author of poetry, plays, music criticism, essays and novels, was born Everett LeRoi Jones in Newark, New Jersey. Jones studied philosophy and religious studies in college but did not obtain a degree. In 1954, he joined the United States Air Force, reaching the rank of sergeant before he was accused of being a communist and dishonorably discharged. In 1963, Jones published “Blues People: Negro Music in White America” which is considered one of the most influential volumes of jazz criticism and in 1964 his play “Dutchman” premiered and went on to win the off-Broadway Theater Award for Best American Play. In 1967, Jones adopted the name Imamu Amear Baraka which he later changed to Amiri Baraka. In 1979, Baraka became a lecturer at the State University of New York and in 1984 a full professor at Rutgers University. Other works by Baraka include “The System of Dante’s Hell” (1965), “The Motion of History and Other Plays” (1978), and “Tales of the Out & the Gone” (2006). He published his autobiography, “The Autobiography of LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka,” in 1984. In 1989, he won an American Book Award and a Langston Hughes Award for his works. In 1999, he was named Poet Laureate of New Jersey. Baraka has received honors from a number of foundations, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rockefeller Foundation Award for Drama, induction into the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Before Columbus Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award.

• October 7, 1988 William Boone “Billy” Daniels, vocalist and Broadway actor, died. Daniels was born September 12, 1915 in Jacksonville, Florida. He was a nightclub entertainer and was the biggest cabaret draw in New York City during the 1950s. He was also popular in Europe and in 1952 headlined at The London Palladium and broke the house attendance record. His version of “That Old Black Magic” recorded in 1950 is reported to have sold more than 12 million copies. In 1952, he starred in the 15 minute “The Billy Daniels Show” on ABC-TV, one of the first television programs to star a black performer. In 1958, Daniels was the first entertainer to sign a long term contract to appear in Las Vegas when he signed for three years at the Stardust. He also performed on Broadway, most notably in 1964 with more than 700 performances of “Golden Boy.” He also performed in “Hello Dolly” in 1975 and “Bubbling Brown Sugar” in 1978. Daniels has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

• October 7, 1992 Ed Blackwell, hall of fame jazz drummer, died. Blackwell was born October 10, 1929 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He began his career in the 1950s and first came to national attention as the drummer with Ornette Coleman’s quartet around 1960. Blackwell was one of the great innovators of the free jazz movement of the 1960s, fusing New Orleans and African rhythms with bebop. In the 1970s and 1980s, he toured and recorded extensively in the quartet Old and New Dreams. Blackwell rarely performed as band leader but in the early 1990s, he formed the Ed Blackwell Project which recorded “What It Be Like?” and “What It Is!” In the late 1970s, Blackwell was appointed artist-in residence at Wesleyan University, a position he held until his death. He was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1993.

• October 7, 1993 Toni Morrison became the first African American to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Her citation partially read, “who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, give life to an essential aspect of American reality.” Morrison was born Chloe Ardelia Wofford on February 18, 1931 in Lorain, Ohio. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Cornell University in 1955. In 1966, she became an editor at Random House where she played an important role in bringing African American literature into the mainstream. Morrison’s first novel was “The Bluest Eyes” (1970) which was followed by “Sula” (1973), and “Song of Solomon” (1977), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award. In 1987, her novel “Beloved” was published and it won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the American Book Award and in 2006 The New York Times Book Review named it the best American novel published in the previous 25 years. In 1998, the book was adapted into a film of the same name. Other novels by Morrison include “Jazz” (1992), “Love” (2003), and “A Mercy” (2008). In 1996, the National Endowment for the Humanities selected Morrison for the Jefferson Lecture, the United States government’s highest honor for achievement in the humanities. Also in 1996, she received the National Book Foundation’s Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters for “enriching our literary heritage over a life of service, or corpus of work.” In 2000, she was presented the National Humanities Medal by President George W. Bush for work that has “deepened the nations’ understanding of the humanities, broadened our citizens’ engagement with the humanities, or helped preserve and expand Americans’ access to important resources in the humanities.” From 1989 to her retirement in 2006, Morrison held the Robert F. Goheen Chair in the Humanities at Princeton University. In 2008, Morrison won the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for Children for “Who’s Got Game? The Ant or the Grasshopper? The Lion or the Mouse? Poppy or the Snake?” In 2009, she was presented the Norman Mailer Prize for Lifetime Achievement and in 2011 received honorary Doctor of Letters degrees from Rutgers University and the University of Geneva. In 2012, Morrison was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Barack Obama.

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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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