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Today in Black History, 7/14/2012

• July 14, 1848 Walter “Wiley” Jones, one of the first wealthy African Americans in the South, was born enslaved in Madison County, Georgia, but grew up in Arkansas. When Jones’s owner enlisted in the Confederate Army in 1861, Jones became a camp servant. After the war, he moved to Pine Bluff, Arkansas and worked as a barber and waiter in a hotel. He saved his money and invested in real estate and opened several businesses, including a successful saloon and horse-racing park. In 1886, Jones became one of the first African Americans to receive a franchise to operate a mule-drawn streetcar system, the Wiley Jones Street Car Lines. Although he never ran for office, Jones was one of the most influential political citizens in Arkansas during the 1880s and 1890s. He was a delegate to several national Republican conventions and served as Circuit Clerk of Jefferson County from 1892 to 1894. Jones also supported the Colored Industrial Institute and donated land to the St. James Methodist Church. When Jones died on December 7, 1904, he was the richest black person in the state with an estate valued at $300,000.

• July 14, 1885 Sarah E. Goode became the first African American woman to receive a patent when she was granted patent number 322,177 for her invention of the cabinet bed, what we today refer to as a hide-away bed. When the bed was folded up, it was a fully functional desk with spaces for storage. It allowed people who lived in small spaces to use their space efficiently. Goode was born enslaved around 1850. She gained her freedom after the Civil War and moved to Chicago, Illinois where she opened a furniture store. Little is known of her life after receiving the patent other than she died April 8, 1905.

• July 14, 1891 John Standard of Newark, New Jersey received patent number 455,891 for an improved refrigerator design. Standard’s refrigerator used a manually filled ice chamber for chilling. He had also received patent number 413,689 on October 29, 1889 for an improved oil stove that was used in places where space was limited. His invention provided attachments which enabled the cooking of a variety of foods at one time and could be used for buffet style meals on trains. Not much else is known of Standard’s life.

• July 14, 1902 William Still, abolitionist, Underground Railroad conductor, writer, and historian, died. Still was born October 7, 1821 in Burlington County, New Jersey. In 1844, he 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.

• July 14, 1923 William Samuel “Willie” Steele, hall of fame track and field athlete, was born. Steele competed for San Jose State College and won the NCAA long jump titles in 1947 and 1948. He also won the National AAU Championship in that event in 1946, 1947, and 1948. At the 1948 London Olympic Games, Steele won the Gold medal in the long jump. Not much else is known of Steele’s life except that he died September 19, 1989 and was posthumously inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 2009.

• July 14, 1932 Roosevelt “Rosey” Grier, former professional football player, actor, singer, and ordained minister, was born in Cuthbert, Georgia. After playing college football at Pennsylvania State University, Grier was selected by the New York Giants in the 1955 NFL Draft. Grier was traded to the Los Angeles Rams in 1963 and became a member of their “Fearsome Foursome” defensive line. Over his eleven professional seasons, Grier was a six-time All-Pro. Grier retired in 1967 and worked as a bodyguard for Robert Kennedy during the 1968 presidential campaign. He was guarding Kennedy’s wife when Kennedy was assassinated. Although unable to prevent the killing, Grier grabbed the gun and subdued the shooter. Later that year, Grier recorded a tribute to Kennedy titled “People Make the World.” Grier was one of the first football stars to successfully transition to acting, appearing in a number of films and television shows. He has also authored several books, including “Rosey Grier’s Needlepoint for Men” (1973), “Rosey, an Autobiography: The Gentle Giant” (1986), and “Winning” (1990). In 1983, Grier was ordained a minister and he co-founded American Neighborhood Enterprises, an organization that works to help disadvantaged people buy homes and receive vocational training. Grier serves on the boards of the Milken Family Foundation and the Prostate Cancer Foundation.

• July 14, 1934 Robert Lee Elder, the first African American to play in the Masters Golf Tournament, was born in Dallas, Texas. Elder dropped out of high school and worked as a caddy where he developed his game by watching his clients. In 1959, he was drafted into the United States Army where he served until 1961. After his discharge, he joined the United Golf Association Tour for black players where he won 18 of 22 tournaments. In 1968, Elder gained his Professional Golf Association tour card and in 1974 he won his first PGA tournament. That came at the Monsanto Open in Pensacola, Florida where Elder and other black players had to change their clothes in the parking lot because the club members would not allow non-whites into the clubhouse. The win gained him entry into the 1975 Masters Tournament. Leading up to that tournament, Elder received a substantial amount of hate mail and threats. Despite the threats, on April 10, 1975 Elder became the first black person to play in the tournament. In 1979, Elder became the first African American to qualify to play in the Ryder Cup and in 1984 he joined the Senior PGA Tour. Over his career, Elder has won four PGA tournaments and eight senior tournaments. In 1974, Elder established the Lee Elder Scholarship Fund to offer financial aid to low-income men and women seeking college assistance. He has actively promoted Summer Youth Golf Development programs and raised money for UNCF.

• July 14, 1941 Maulana Karenga, the creator of Kwanza, was born Ronald McKinley Everett in Parsonsburg, Maryland. Karenga earned his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees in political science from the University of California in 1963 and 1964, respectively. He earned his first Ph.D. from United States International University in 1976 and his second Ph.D. from the University of Southern California in 1994. Karenga was active in the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s and in 1966 introduced the Seven Principles of Blackness which are reinforced during the seven days of Kwanzaa. Karenga has authored several books, including “Kwanzaa: A Celebration of Family, Community and Culture” (1998) and “Introduction to Black Studies” (2002). Karenga is currently professor and chair of the Department of Africana Studies at California State College.

• July 14, 1943 The George Washington Carver National Monument was founded near Diamond, Missouri. A unit of the National Park Service, it was the first national monument dedicated to an African American and first to a non-president. The site includes Carver’s boyhood home, the 1881 Historic Moses Carver House, and the Carver Cemetery. It is open to the public year round.

• July 14, 1960 Angelique Kpasseloko Hinto Hounsinou Kandjo Manta Zogbin Kidjo, singer, songwriter, and activist, was born in Cotonou, Benin. At the age of six, Kidjo began performing in her mother’s theater troupe. She recorded her debut album, “Pretty,” in 1988 and the success of the album allowed her to tour all over West Africa. She later relocated to Paris and became one of the most popular live performers in the city. In 1991, Kidjo released “Logozo” which reached number one on the Billboard World Music chart. Other albums by Kidjo include “Oremi” (1998), “Black Ivory Soul” (2002), and “Oyo” (2010), all of which were nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Music Album, and “Djin Djin” (2007) which won the 2008 Grammy Award in that category. Kidjo is involved in numerous areas of activism around the world. She has been a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador since 2002 and in 2010 was appointed a Peace Ambassador by the African Union to support the 2010 Year of Peace and Security program. She is the founder of the Batonga Foundation which provides scholarships and builds schools for girls in Africa. Time Magazine has called her “Africa’s premier diva” and she was the first woman listed on Forbes Magazine’s list of The 40 Most Powerful Celebrities in Africa. Kidjo was awarded an honorary doctorate of music by the Berklee College of Music and in 2011 received the Champion of the Earth Award from the United Nations.

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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.