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Today in Black History, 4/3/2012

• April 3, 1838 John Willis Menard, the first African American elected to the United States Congress, was born in Kaskaskia, Illinois. During the Civil War, Menard worked in the U.S. Department of Interior and in 1863 was sent to British Honduras to investigate a proposed colony for previously enslaved African Americans. After the war, Menard moved to New Orleans, Louisiana. In 1868, he was elected to Congress to fill an unexpired term, but was denied the seat due to a challenge by the loser. After hearing the arguments of both candidates, the House decided to seat neither man. During the process, Menard became the first African American to address the U.S. House of Representatives. Later, Menard moved to Florida where he served in the Florida House of Representatives and as justice of the peace for Duval County. He also was the editor of the Florida News and the Southern Leader from 1882 to 1888. Menard died October 8, 1893.

 

• April 3, 1872 Elizabeth Evelyn Wright, founder of what is now Voorhees College, was born in Talbotton, Georgia. Wright graduated from Tuskegee Institute and in 1897 moved to Denmark, South Carolina. With a donation from Ralph Voorhees, in 1902 Voorhees Industrial School opened for students at the elementary and high school levels with Wright as principal. For years this was the only high school for blacks in the area. Wright died December 14, 1906 and was buried on the Voorhees campus. She is honored with a feast day on the liturgical calendar of the Episcopal Church on February 28. Her biography, “Elizabeth Evelyn Wright: 1872 – 1906 Founder of Voorhees College,” was published in 1983.

 

• April 3, 1883 Humphrey H. Reynolds of Minneapolis, Minnesota received patent number 275,271 for his new and useful improvements in window ventilators for railway cars. His invention provided a simple and inexpensive device to be placed under the sash of a window for the purpose of thoroughly ventilating the car without causing a draft and without allowing in cinders, gnats and other insects. Reynolds was a Pullman porter and his invention was adopted by the Pullman Company, but he received no payment. Reynolds quit his job and successfully sued the company for $10,000. Nothing else is known of Reynolds’ life.

 

• April 3, 1888 Albert B. Blackburn of Springfield, Ohio received patent number 380,420 for new and useful improvements in spring seats for chairs, sofas, stools and analogous articles of furniture. Nothing else is known of Blackburn’s life.

 

• April 3, 1924 Richard Mayhew, painter and educator, was born in Amityville, New York. Many artists from New York City spent summers in Amityville and Mayhew became interested in painting at a young age. By 1945, he moved to New York City and worked as a medical illustrator. Mayhew studied painting at the Brooklyn Museum of Art and later earned his degree in art history from Columbia University. He held his first solo exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum in 1955. In 1958, Mayhew was awarded a John Hay Whitney Fellowship which he used to study painting in Italy. He returned to the United States in 1962 and in 1963 was one of the founding members of the Spiral Group. Beginning in 1963, Mayhew taught at several institutions until his retirement in 1991 as professor emeritus at Pennsylvania State University. Mayhew is an acclaimed painter of expressionistic landscapes and his works are in the collections of several museums, including the Whitney Museum, the National Museum of Art, and Minnesota Museum of Art.

 

• April 3, 1927 Wesley Anthony Brown, the first African American graduate of the United States Naval Academy, was born in Baltimore, Maryland. Brown was appointed to the academy in 1945 and graduated June 3, 1949. After graduating, Brown entered the Civil Engineering Corps, rising to lieutenant commander before retiring in 1969. During those 20 years, he served in the Republic of the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. After retiring, he served as a physical facilities analyst at Howard University. The Wesley Brown Field House on the campus of the U.S. Naval Academy is named in his honor. “Breaking the Color Barrier: The US Naval Academy’s First Black Midshipmen and the Struggle for Racial Equality” documents Brown’s experiences at the academy.

 

• April 3, 1928 Earl Francis “Big Cat” Lloyd, the first African American to play in a National Basketball Association game, was born in Alexandria, Virginia. Lloyd played collegiate basketball at West Virginia State College where he was a two-time All-American and earned his Bachelor of Science degree in physical education in 1950. He was selected by the Washington Capitols in the 1950 NBA Draft. On October 31, 1950, Lloyd played against the Rochester Royals, making him the first African American to play in a NBA game. Lloyd played professionally for nine seasons, retiring in 1960. From 1972 to 1973, he coached the Detroit Pistons and then served as a scout for five seasons with the team. In 2003, Lloyd was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor and the basketball court at T. C. Williams High School in his hometown is named in his honor. His autobiography, “Moonfixer: The Basketball Journey of Earl Lloyd,” was published in 2009.

 

• April 3, 1934 James Thomas “Jim” Parker, hall of fame football player, was born in Macon, Georgia. Parker played collegiate football at Ohio State University where he was named an All-American in 1955 and 1956 and won the 1956 Outland Trophy as the best college football interior lineman. Parker was selected by the Baltimore Colts in the 1957 NFL Draft and over his eleven-season professional career was a ten-time All-Pro selection. He retired in 1967 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1973 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1974. Parker died July 18, 2005 and many consider him to be the greatest lineman to ever play professional football.

 

• April 3, 1944 The Supreme Court of the United States in Smith v. Allwright overturned the Democratic Party’s use of all-white primaries in Texas and other states where the party used the rule. Lonnie E. Smith, a black voter in Texas, sued for the right to vote in a primary election being conducted by the Democratic Party. Texas claimed that the Democratic Party was a private organization that could set its own rules of membership. Because the Democratic Party controlled politics in the South, Smith argued that the law essentially disenfranchised him by denying him the ability to vote in what was the only meaningful election in his jurisdiction. Thurgood Marshall, representing the NAACP, argued the case for Smith.

 

• April 3, 1950 Carter Goodwin Woodson, historian, author, and journalist, died. Woodson was born December 19, 1875 in New Canton, Virginia. Through self-instruction, he mastered the fundamentals of common school subjects by the age of 17. He then earned his Bachelor of Literature degree from Berea College in 1903, his Master of Arts degree from the University of Chicago in 1908, and his Ph. D. in history from Harvard University in 1912. In 1915, he co-founded the Association for the study of Negro Life and History and published his first book, “The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861.” Other books that he authored include “The History of the Negro Church” (1922) and “The Mis-Education of the Negro” (1933). In 1916, Woodson began publication of “Journal of Negro History,” which was renamed “Journal of African American History” in 2002, and in 1920 founded the Associated Publishers, the oldest African American publishing company in the United States. Woodson noted that African American contributions to history “were overlooked, ignored, and even suppressed by writers of history textbooks and teachers who use them.” In 1926, Woodson single-handedly pioneered the celebration of Negro History Week which we now refer to as Black History Month. That same year, he was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal. Woodson’s Washington, D.C. home has been designated the Carter G. Woodson Home National Historic Site. Also, many schools around the country are named in his honor. His biographies, “Carter G. Woodson: The Father of Black History” and “Carter G. Woodson: A Life in Black History,” were published in 1991 and 1993, respectively. Woodson’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

 

• April 3, 1961 Edward Regan Murphy, comedian, singer, actor, and film director, was born in Brooklyn, New York. By the age of 15, Murphy was writing and performing his own comedy routines. He first earned national attention as a regular on the television show “Saturday Night Live” from 1980 to 1984. Murphy made his movie debut in 1982 in “48 Hours.” Other successful films followed, including “Trading Places” (1983) and “Beverly Hills Cop” (1984). Also during the mid-1980s, Murphy had a couple of hit recordings, “Party All the Time” (1985) and “Put Your Mouth on Me” (1989). In 2006, Murphy starred in the movie version of “Dreamgirls” for which he won the Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild Award, and Broadcast Film Critics Association Award. He was also nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Murphy has also provided voice acting in the four “Shrek” animated movies, winning the Kids Choice Award for Favorite Voice from an Animated Movie in 2007 and 2010.

 

• April 3, 1968 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech in support of the striking sanitation workers at Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee, the day before he was assassinated.

 

• April 3, 1990 Sarah Lois Vaughan, jazz singer known as “The Divine One,” died. Vaughan was born March 27, 1924 in Newark, New Jersey. By her mid-teens, she was singing in local nightclubs. In 1942, Vaughan sang “Body and Soul” at the Apollo Amateur Night contest and won. She was noticed by Earl Hines and spent 1943 and 1944 touring the country with his big band. Vaughan began her solo career in 1945 and recorded a number of hit jazz singles, including “If You Could See Me Now” (1946), which was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1998 as a recording of “qualitative or historical significance,” “Black Coffee” (1949), “Make Yourself Comfortable” (1954), and “Broken Hearted Melody” (1959). In 1947, she won Esquire Magazine’s New Star Award. Her 1977 album “I Love Brazil” garnered a Grammy nomination. In 1980, Vaughan performed a symphonic Gershwin program with the New Jersey symphony which was broadcast by PBS and won the 1981 Emmy Award for Individual Achievement – Special Class. A slightly modified version was recorded, “Gershwin Live!,” and it won the 1983 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Performance – Female. Vaughan was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame 1985 and the American Jazz Hall of Fame in 1988. In 1989, the National Endowment for the Arts designated her as a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor in jazz, and she received a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement. The documentary “Sarah Vaughan: The Divine One” was released in 1991 and her biography, “The Life of Sarah Vaughan,” was published in 1993.

 

• April 3, 1996 Ronald Harmon Brown, the first and only African American to serve as United States Secretary of Commerce, died along with 34 others in a plane crash in Croatia. Brown was born August 1, 1941 in Washington, D.C. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Middlebury College in 1962. He served in the United States Army from 1963 to 1967, rising to the rank of captain. In 1970, he earned his Juris Doctorate degree from St. John’s University School of Law. From 1967 to 1979, Brown worked for the National Urban League, rising to the position of deputy executive director for programs and governmental affairs. Brown was elected chairman of the Democratic National Convention in 1989 and played an integral role in the election of President William Clinton. President Clinton appointed Brown Secretary of Commerce in 1993, a position he held until his death. In honor of Brown, President Clinton established the Ron Brown Award for corporate leadership and responsibility. The U.S. Department of Commerce annually gives out the Ronald H. Brown Innovator Award and there is the Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development at St. John’s University School of Law. In 2001, Brown was posthumously presented the Presidential Citizens Medal. In 2011, the new U.S. Mission to the United Nations building in New York City was named in Brown’s honor. His biography, “Ron Brown: An Uncommon Life,” was published in 2000.

 

• April 3, 1996 Carl Burton Stokes, the first African American Mayor of Cleveland, Ohio, died. Stokes was born June 21, 1927 in Cleveland. He dropped out of high school and joined the United States Army at the age of 18. After his honorable discharge in 1946, he earned his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Minnesota in 1954 and his Juris Doctorate degree from Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in 1956. In 1962, Stokes was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives where he served three terms. In 1967, he became the first African American mayor of one of the ten biggest cities in the United States, an office he held until 1971. In 1970, the National League of Cities voted Stokes its first black president-elect. After his mayoral tenure, in 1972 Stokes became the first black television anchor in New York City. From 1983 to 1994, he served as a municipal judge in Cleveland. Several streets and buildings in Cleveland are named in his honor, including the Carl B. Stokes Federal Court House Building. Stokes published his autobiography, “Promises of Power: A Political Autobiography,” in 1973.

 

• April 3, 2007 Edward Gay Robinson, hall of fame college football coach, died. Robinson was born February 13, 1919 in Jackson, Louisiana. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree at Leland College in 1941 and in 1954 earned his Master of Arts degree from the University of Iowa. Robinson began coaching at the historically Black Grambling State University in 1941 and over the next 56 years compiled a record of 408 wins, 165 losses, and 15 ties. More than 200 of his players went on to play professional football, including hall of famers Buck Buchanan, Willie Brown, Charlie Joiner, and Willie Davis. Robinson retired in 1997 and was inducted into the National Collegiate Football Hall of Fame that same year. In 1999, he published his autobiography, “Never Before Never Again: The Autobiography of Eddie Robinson.” The Football Writers Association of America’s Eddie Robinson Award is given annually to college football’s top head coach in Division I-AA and the Grambling football facility is named Eddie Robinson Stadium. The Eddie G. Robinson Museum opened in 2010 on the campus of Grambling.

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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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