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Today in Black History, 2/4/2012

• February 4, 1901 Jefferson Franklin Long, the first African American from Georgia elected to the United States House of Representatives, died. Long was born enslaved on March 3, 1836 near Knoxville, Georgia. By 1867, he was a prominent member of the Republican Party, traveling throughout the South urging formerly enslaved people to register to vote. Partially as a result of his efforts, 37 African Americans were elected to the Georgia constitutional convention of 1867 and 32 were elected to the state legislature. Long advocated for public education, higher wages, and better terms for sharecroppers. He also helped organize the Union Brotherhood Lodge, a Black mutual aid society, in Macon, Georgia. Long was elected to fill a vacancy and was seated in December, 1870. He served in Congress until March, 1871. On February 1, 1871, he became the first African American to speak on the floor of the United States House of Representatives when he spoke against the Amnesty Bill which exempted former Confederate politicians from swearing allegiance to the Constitution. Despite his efforts, the bill passed. Long did not seek re-election, but did serve as a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1880. After serving in Congress, Long resumed business as a merchant tailor in Macon, Georgia where he died.

 

• February 4, 1904 Thomas Mundy Peterson, the first African American to cast a vote after the passage of the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution, died. Peterson was born October 6, 1824 in Metuchen, New Jersey. By March 31, 1870, he was serving as a school custodian and general handyman in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. On that date, Peterson cast his vote in a local election to revise the town’s charter. After that was approved, he was appointed to the committee to revise the charter. Peterson later became the town’s first African American to hold elected office and also the first to serve on a jury. Decades after his death, the school where Peterson worked was renamed in his honor. In New Jersey, March 31 is annually celebrated as Thomas Mundy Peterson Day in recognition of his historic vote.

 

• February 4, 1913 Rosa Louise McCauley Parks, the “mother of the modern Civil Rights Movement,” was born in Tuskegee, Alabama. On December 1, 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, she refused to obey a bus driver’s order to give up her seat to a White passenger and was arrested. Her arrest sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott and made her an international icon of resistance to racial segregation. Eventually, she moved to Detroit, Michigan and from 1965 to 1988 worked for United States Representative John Conyers. Parks received many honors, including the 1979 Spingarn Medal from the NAACP, 1983 induction into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, presented by President William Clinton in 1996, and the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999. In 1976, the City of Detroit renamed 12th Street Rosa Parks Boulevard. Parks died on October 24, 2005 and was honored as the first woman and the second African American to lay in state at the Capitol Rotunda in Washington, D.C. She also laid in state in the Rotunda of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan for 48 hours. Her name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the museum. Her biography, “Rosa Parks: A Biography,” was published in 2011.

 

• February 4, 1943 Purvis Young, artist, was born in Miami, Florida. Young was a self-taught artist who communicated a social message with his work, depicting poverty, crime, and other social issues of the Overton section of Miami. He painted on discarded objects as his canvas, including doors, cardboard, and pieces of wood. Young died April 20, 2010 and his works are in the collections of many museums, including the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Bass Museum of Art, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Art.

 

• February 4, 1959 Lawrence Julius Taylor, hall of fame football player, was born in Williamsburg, Virginia. From 1978 to 1981, Taylor attended the University of North Carolina where he was an All-American and 1980 Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year. Taylor was selected by the New York Giants in the 1981 NFL Draft and over his 13 season professional career was the 1981 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, the 1986 Most Valuable Player, three-time Defensive Player of the Year, and ten-time Pro Bowl selection. Taylor retired after the 1993 season and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1999. Taylor published two autobiographies, “LT: Living on the Edge” (1987) and “LT: Over the Edge Tackling Quarterbacks, Drugs, and a World Beyond Football” (2003).

 

• February 4, 1975 Louis Thomas Jordan, musician, songwriter and bandleader, died. Jordan was born July 8, 1908 in Brinkley, Arkansas. He studied music under his father, including playing in his father’s band. From 1936 to 1938, Jordan played in the influential Savoy Ballroom orchestra. Jordan formed his first band in 1938 and for the next 20 years fronted his own band. The prime of Jordan’s recording career was 1942 to 1950 during which he placed more than a dozen songs on the national charts and dominated the R&B charts with 18 number one singles and 54 top ten singles, including “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby” (1944), “Caldonia” (1945), and “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” (1946). To this day, Jordan ranks as the top Black recording artist of all time in terms of the total number of weeks at number one on the R&B charts with a total of 113 weeks. Jordan wrote or co-wrote many of the songs he performed. He was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1975. In 2008, the United States House of Representatives passed a resolution honoring Jordan on the centenary of his birth. Jordan’s biography, “Let the Good Times Roll: The Story of Louis Jordan,” was published in 1994.

 

• February 4, 1984 Lawrence Joel, Medal of Honor recipient, died. Joel was born February 22, 1928 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. He joined the United States Army in 1946 and served in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. On November 8, 1965, while serving as a medic with the rank of specialist five assigned to the 1st Battalion of the 503rd Infantry Regiment of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, Joel’s actions earned him the medal. On that date, Joel and his battalion found themselves in a Viet Cong ambush. Under heavy gunfire, Joel administered first aid to wounded soldiers. He defied orders to stay to the ground and risked his life to help the many wounded soldiers. Even after being shot twice, Joel continued to do his job. He bandaged his wounds and continued to help the wounded in not only his unit, but in the nearby company as well. When his medical supplies were depleted, he hobbled around the battlefield for more, using a makeshift crutch. Joel attended to 13 troops and saved the life of one soldier who suffered from a severe chest wound by improvising and placing a plastic bag over the soldier’s chest in order to seal the wound until supplies were refreshed. On March 9, 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson presented Joel with the Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration. Joel was the first living African American to receive the medal since the Spanish-American War. He retired from military service in 1973. The Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem, the Joel Auditorium at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and the U.S. Army clinics at Fort McPherson and Fort Bragg are all named in his honor.

 

• February 4, 1998 Thomas Kilgore, one of the few men to lead two major national Baptist organizations, died. Kilgore was born February 20, 1913 in Woodruff, South Carolina. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Morehouse College in 1935 and earned his Bachelor of Divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary in 1957. Kilgore began his fight for equality in the 1940s, registering voters and organizing tobacco workers in North and South Carolina. He moved to New York City in 1947 and as pastor of Friendship Baptist Church raised bail money for civil rights workers jailed in the South. He also served as founding president of the Heart of Harlem Neighborhood Church Association which was organized in 1957 to fight segregation in New York City. Kilgore was also an organizer of the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom in 1957 and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. In 1963, he moved to Los Angeles and became pastor of Second Baptist Church, the oldest Black Baptist church in the city. In 1969, he was elected president of the American Baptist Churches USA, the organizations first Black president, and from 1976 to 1978, Kilgore served as president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention. The Morehouse College Campus Center is named in his honor.

 

• February 4, 2001 James Louis “J.J.” Johnson, jazz trombonist, composer and arranger, died. Johnson was born January 22, 1924 in Indianapolis, Indiana. At the age of nine, he started studying the piano, but decided to play the trombone at the age of 14. In 1941, Johnson started his professional career. He played in Benny Carter’s orchestra from 1942 to 1945, recording his first solo in 1943. In 1945, he joined the Count Basie Band, touring and recording with him until 1946. In 1947, Johnson began recording as the leader of small groups and in 1954 he joined with Kai Winding to set up the Jay and Kai Quintet which was musically and commercially successful. Starting in the early 1960s, Johnson dedicated more time to composing, writing a number of large scale works which incorporated elements of both classical and jazz music. In 1970 he began to compose for film and television, scoring movies such as “Across 110th Street” (1972), Cleopatra Jones” (1973), and “Willie Dynamite” (1974), as well as television series such as “Starsky & Hutch” and “The Six Million Dollar Man.” Johnson was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1995 and designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the United States bestows upon a jazz musician, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1996. His autobiography, “The Musical World of J.J. Johnson,” was published in 2000.

 

• February 4, 2005 Raiford Chatman “Ossie” Davis, actor, director, playwright, and social activist, died. Davis was born December 18, 1917 in Cogdell, Georgia. He began his acting career in 1939 with the Rose McClendon Players in Harlem, New York. Davis made his film debut in “No Way Out” (1950) and over the next 55 years appeared in almost 50 movies, including Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” (1989), “Jungle Fever” (1991), “Malcolm X” (1992), and “She Hate Me” (2004). His last role was in the Showtime television drama series “The L Word.” Davis also directed five films, including “Cotton Comes to Harlem” (1970) and “Gordon’s War” (1973). Davis and his wife, Ruby Dee, were deeply involved in the Civil Rights Movement and were instrumental in organizing the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Davis delivered the eulogy at the 1965 funeral of Malcolm X and a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King at the 1968 memorial for him in New York City. Davis and Dee were inducted into the NAACP Image Awards Hall of Fame in 1989 and in 2004 they were the recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors. In 1995, Davis and Dee were presented the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President William Clinton. Davis and Dee published their memoir, “With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together,” in 1998. Davis’ name is enshrined in the Ring of Geology at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

 

• February 4, 2007 Two African American professional football head coaches, Tony Dungy and Lovie Smith, met in the Super Bowl. This was the first time that any African American head coach had led his team to the Super Bowl. The Indianapolis Colts defeated the Chicago Bears 29 to 17, making Dungy the first African American head coach to win a Super Bowl.

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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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