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Today in Black History, 7/12/2012

• July 12, 1864 George Washington Carver, scientist, botanist, educator, and inventor, was born enslaved in Diamond, Missouri. Carver and his family were freed after slavery was abolished. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1894 and his Master of Science degree in 1896 from Iowa State Agricultural College where he was the first black student and later the first black faculty member. In 1896, he accepted the position to lead the Agricultural Department at Tuskegee University and remained there for 47 years. During that time, Carver devoted himself to the research and promotion of alternative crops to cotton, including peanuts and sweet potatoes. He also created approximately 100 products made from peanuts that were useful for the house. In 1923, Carver received the NAACP Spingarn Medal. Carver died January 5, 1943 and on his grave is written, “He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world.” On July 14, 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the George Washington Carver National Monument near Diamond, Missouri, the first national monument dedicated to an African American and also the first to a non-president. The United States Postal Service issued commemorative postage stamps in honor of Carver in 1948 and 1998. In 1977, Carver was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, in 1990 he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and in 2000 he was a charter inductee in the United States Department of Agriculture Hall of Heroes as the “Father of Chemurgy.” Biographies of Carver include “George Washington Carver: Man’s Slave, God’s Scientist” (1981) and “George Washington Carver: His Life & Faith in His Own Words” (2003). Dozens of schools around the country are named in his honor and his name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

 

• July 12, 1887 The city of Mound Bayou, Mississippi was founded as an independent black community by formerly enslaved people led by Isaiah Montgomery. Montgomery led the town through the 1920s. The population according to the 2000 census is 2,100 and 98.4% African American, one of the largest African American majority populations in the country.

 

• July 12, 1894 Brent Woods received the Congressional Medal of Honor, the United States Military’s highest decoration, for his actions during the Indian Wars. Woods was born enslaved in 1855 in Pulaski County, Kentucky. He was freed at the end of the Civil War and at the age of 18 enlisted in the United States Army. By August 19, 1881, he was serving as a sergeant in Company B of the 9th Cavalry Regiment. On that day, Woods participated in an engagement in New Mexico where, according to his citation, he “saved the lives of his comrades and citizens of the detachment.” Woods retired from the army in 1902 and not much else is known of his life except that he died March 31, 1906. Woods was buried in an unmarked grave, but in 1984 his remains were found and re-buried with full military honors.

 

• July 12, 1912 Laurean Rugambwa, the first native African Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, was born in Bukongo, Tanganyika (now Tanzania). After completing his philosophy and theology studies at Katigondo Seminary in Uganda, he was ordained a priest in 1943. Rugambwa did missionary work in West Africa until 1948 when he went to Rome to study at the Pontifical Urbaniana University where he earned his doctorate in canon law. In 1952, he was ordained a bishop and on March 28, 1960 was elected the first African cardinal in church history. In 1969, Rugambwa was made Archbishop of Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania. He held that position until his retirement in 1992. During that time, he built the first Catholic hospital and founded a female religious order, the Little Sisters of St. Francis of Assisi. Rugambwa died December 8, 1997.

 

• July 12, 1920 Beau Richards, stage, film, and television actress, was born Beulah Richardson in Vicksburg, Mississippi. Richards graduated from Dillard University in 1948 and two years later moved to New York City. Her career started to take off in 1955 with her appearance in the off-Broadway production of “Take a Giant Step.” Broadway productions in which Richards appeared include “The Miracle Worker” (1957) and “A Raisin in the Sun” (1959). In 1965, she was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for her performance in “The Amen Corner.” In 1967, Richards was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” Other notable movie performances include “Hurry Sundown” (1967), “In the Heat of the Night” (1967), and “Beloved” (1998). Richards made numerous television appearances and won the Prime Time Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in 1988 for an appearance in “Frank’s Place” and in 2000 for an appearance in “The Practice.” Richards died September 14, 2000 and in 2003 she was the subject of the documentary “Beau: A Black Woman Speaks.”

 

• July 12, 1932 Otis Crandall Davis, hall of fame track and field athlete, was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Davis did not start running track until he was 26 years old at the University of Oregon. He was the national outdoor 400 meter champion in 1960 and 1961. At the 1960 Rome Olympic Games, Davis won the Gold medal in the 400 meter race, setting a world record and becoming the first man to run the race in under 45 seconds. He also won a Gold medal as part of the 4 by 400 meter relay team. That same year, Davis earned his Bachelor of Science degree in health and physical education. After retiring from track, he served for many years as a teacher, coach and counselor. In 1999, Davis co-founded the Tri-States Olympic Alumni Association and currently serves as president. In 2004, Davis was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame.

 

• July 12, 1936 Rose Virginia Scott McClendon, a leading Broadway actress of the 1920s, died. McClendon was born August 27, 1884 in Greenville, South Carolina. She started acting in church plays as a child, but did not become a professional actress until she won a scholarship to the American Academy of Dramatic Art when she was in her thirties. McClendon made her stage debut in the 1919 play “Justice.” She was one of the few black actresses who worked consistently during the 1920s and was considered “the Negro first lady of the dramatic stage,” appearing in productions such as “Deep River” (1926), “Porgy” (1928), and “Mulatto” (1936). In 1935, McClendon co-founded the Negro People’s Theatre in Harlem and after her death the Rose McClendon Players was established in her honor.

 

• July 12, 1937 William Henry “Bill” Cosby, comedian, actor, producer, author, and activist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Cosby dropped out of high school and served in the United States Navy from 1956 to 1960. In 1962, he began his career as a stand-up comedian. In 1964, he released “Bill Cosby Is a Funny Fellow…..Right,” the first of a series of comedy albums. In 1965, Cosby was cast to star in the television series “I Spy,” becoming the first African American co-star in a dramatic television series. That show ran for three seasons and Cosby won three consecutive Emmy Awards for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. Cosby also created and hosted “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” which ran from 1972 to 1984. In 1984, he produced and starred in “The Cosby Show” which became the highest ranking television situation comedy of all time and aired for eight seasons. He also produced the spin-off series, “A Different World.” Cosby earned his Master of Arts degree and his Doctor of Education degree from the University of Massachusetts in 1972 and 1976, respectively. In addition to the Emmys for “I Spy,” Cosby won the 1969 Emmy Award for Outstanding Variety or Musical Program for “The Bill Cosby Special.” He has also won seven Grammy Awards for Best Comedy Performance and two Grammys for Best Recording for Children. Cosby has authored a number of books. In 1985, Cosby was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal. He received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1998 and in 1999 was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame. In 2002, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President George W. Bush. In 2009, he was presented the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor. Cosby has received honorary degrees from more than a dozen colleges and universities.

 

• July 12, 1947 James Melvin Lunceford, bandleader and alto saxophonist, died. Lunceford was born June 6, 1902 in Fulton, Mississippi, but raised in Denver, Colorado. He earned his Bachelor of Music degree from Fisk University in 1926. While teaching high school in Memphis, Tennessee, he formed a student band which eventually became the Jimmy Lunceford Orchestra. In 1934, the band began an engagement at the Cotton Club in Harlem, New York and by 1935 they had achieved a national reputation as one of the top black swing bands. The Lunceford Orchestra recorded 22 hits, including the number one “Rhythm is Our Business” in 1935. It was the first black band to play New York’s Paramount Theater and tour white colleges. Glen Miller was quoted as saying, “Duke Ellington is great, Count Basie remarkable, but Lunceford tops them all.” By 1942, the band began to have internal problems and suffered a decline in popularity. The Jimmy Lunceford Jamboree Festival is held annually in Memphis and in 2011 a Mississippi Blues Trail marker dedicated to Lunceford was unveiled.

 

• July 12, 1949 Frederick McKinley Jones received three patents (numbers 2,475,841 – 2,475,843) for a practical refrigeration system for trucks and railroad cars. Jones’ air coolers for trains, ships, and aircraft made it possible to ship perishable food long distances during any time of the year. Jones was born May 17, 1893 in Cincinnati, Ohio and orphaned at the age of nine. After service in the United States Army during World War I, he taught himself electronics and built a transmitter for a new radio station. He also invented a device to combine sound with motion pictures. During his lifetime, Jones was awarded 61 patents. Forty were for refrigeration equipment and the others were for portable X-ray machines, sound equipment, and gasoline engines. In 1944, he became the first African American to be elected into the American Society of Refrigeration Engineers. Jones died February 21, 1961 and in 1991 was posthumously awarded the National Medal of Technology by President George H.W. Bush, the first African American to receive the award.

 

• July 12, 1975 The Democratic Republic of Sao Tome and Principe gained independence from Portugal. This African nation consists of two islands, Sao Tome and Principe, approximately 150 miles off the northwestern coast of Gabon. In total, the islands are 372 square miles with a population of approximately 163,000, the second smallest African country by population. The official language is Portuguese and almost all of the people practice Christianity.

 

• July 12, 1979 Minnie Julia Riperton, singer and songwriter, died. Riperton was born November 8, 1947 in Chicago, Illinois. As a teenager, Riperton received operatic training and was urged to study the classics. However, she became interested in rhythm and blues. Riperton’s first solo album, “Come to My Garden,” was released in 1970 and although commercially unsuccessful, is now considered a masterpiece by music critics. In 1974, the album “Perfect Angel” was released and included the single “Lovin’ You,” which went to the top of the charts in the United States and number two in the United Kingdom. In 1976, Riperton was diagnosed with breast cancer and in 1977 became a spokesperson for the American Cancer Society. She was presented with the Society’s Courage Award by President Jimmy Carter in 1978. In April, 1979, her final album, “Minnie,” was released which included the single “Memory Lane” which many consider her greatest work.

 

• July 12, 2003 Bennett Lester “Benny” Carter, jazz musician, composer, arranger, and bandleader, died. Carter was born August 8, 1907 in New York City. Largely self-taught, by the age of 15 Carter was sitting in with some of New York’s top bands. In 1929, Carter formed this first big band and from 1931 to 1932 led the Detroit-based McKinney’s Cotton Pickers. During the 1930s, Carter was also noted for his arrangements, including “Keep a Song in Your Soul” (1930), “Lonesome Nights” (1933), and “Symphony in Riffs” (1933). Carter moved to Europe in 1935 and became staff arranger for the British Broadcasting Corporation dance orchestra. Carter returned to the United States in 1938 and beginning with “Stormy Weather” in 1943 began to arrange for feature films. Carter was one of the first African Americans to compose music for films. In 1963, he won the Grammy Award for Best Background Arrangement for “Busted” by Ray Charles. In 1977, Carter was inducted into the Downbeat Jazz Hall of Fame and in 1986 the National Endowment for the Arts honored him with the NEA Jazz Masters Award, the highest honor the nation bestows on jazz musicians. In 1987, he was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and in 1994 won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Solo for “Prelude to a Kiss.” In 2000, President William Clinton presented Carter with the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor the nation gives to artists. Carter received honorary doctorates from Princeton, Rutgers, and Harvard Universities, and the New England Conservatory. Carter’s biography, “Benny Carter: A Life in Music,” was published in 1982.

 

• July 12, 2005 Arthur Allen Fletcher, the “father of affirmative action,” died. Fletcher was born December 22, 1924 in Phoenix, Arizona. Fletcher organized his first civil rights protest in high school when he refused to allow his picture and those of the other African American students to appear at the back of the school yearbook. After serving in World War II where he was wounded and earned a Purple Heart, Fletcher earned his bachelor’s degree in political science and sociology from Washburn University. For a short time, he played professional football and was the first African American to play for the Baltimore Colts. He later earned his law degree and Ph.D. in education. Fletcher supervised the enforcement of equal opportunities for minorities in federally funded contracts in the administrations of President’s Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. He was also an advisor to President George H.W. Bush. In 1972, Fletcher became executive director of the United Negro College Fund and helped coin the phrase “a mind is a terrible thing to waste.” He later led a consultancy that trained companies to comply with governmental equal opportunity regulations.

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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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