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Today in Black History, 8/8/2012

• August 8, 1796 The African Society was formed in Boston, Massachusetts with 44 African American members. Their purpose was to provide a form of health insurance and funeral benefits, as well as spiritual brotherhood, to the members. They created a pamphlet titled “Laws of the African Society” that specified requirements for membership, dues and procedures for paying benefits to the families of sick or deceased members. That pamphlet is on display at the Massachusetts Historical Society.

• August 8, 1866 Matthew Alexander Henson, the first person to reach the North Pole, was born in Charles County, Maryland. At the age of 12, Henson went to sea as a cabin boy and sailed around the world over the next several years. In 1887, he met Commander Robert Peary who recruited him as a colleague and they made many expeditions, including their 1909 expedition to the North Pole. Although Peary received many honors, Henson was largely ignored and spent most of the next 30 years working as a clerk in New York City. In 1944, Congress belatedly awarded Henson a duplicate of the Silver medal awarded to Peary. Henson authored “A Negro Explorer at the North Pole” in 1912 about his arctic exploration and an autobiography, “Dark Companion,” in 1947. Henson died March 9, 1955. In 1986, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in honor of Henson and Peary. In 1996, the United States Navy commissioned the USNS Henson in his honor and in 2000 the National Geographic Society posthumously awarded its most prestigious medal, the Hubbard Medal, to Henson. The Matthew Henson Earth Conservation Center in Washington D.C. is named in his honor as well as several schools in the state of Maryland. Henson’s story was told in the 1998 made-for-television movie “Glory & Honor.”

• August 8, 1907 Bennett Lester “Benny” Carter, hall of fame jazz musician, composer, arranger, and bandleader, was born in Harlem, New York. Largely self-taught, by the age of 15 Carter was sitting in with some of New York’s top bands. In 1929, Carter formed his 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 he was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on jazz musicians, by the National Endowment for the Arts. 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 bestows on an individual artist. Carter received honorary doctorate degrees from Princeton, Rutgers, and Harvard Universities, and the New England Conservatory. Carter died July 12, 2003. His biography, “Benny Carter: A Life in Music,” was published in 1982.

• August 8, 1934 Julian Carey Dixon, politician, was born in Washington, D.C. Dixon served in the United States Army from 1957 to 1960 and in 1962 earned his Bachelor of Science degree from California State University. In 1967, he earned his Bachelor of Laws degree from Southwestern University School of Law. Dixon was elected to the California State Assembly in 1972 and served three terms before he was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1978. As a freshman member of the House, Dixon won an assignment to the coveted Appropriations Committee where he remained for the rest of his House career. He also chaired the Rules Committee at the 1984 Democratic National Convention. Dixon died in office on December 8, 2000. The 7th Street/Metro Center transfer station in downtown Los Angeles is named in Dixon’s honor and in 2004 Southwestern University School of Law opened the Julian C. Dixon Courtroom and Advocacy Center.

• August 8, 1940 Johnny Dodds, hall of fame jazz clarinetist, died. Dodds was born April 12, 1892 in Waveland, Mississippi, but raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. He received his first clarinet in his early teens and was largely self-taught. He played with Kid Ory’s band from 1912 to 1919. In 1919, he moved to Chicago, Illinois to join King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, with which he recorded in 1923. He also recorded with Louis Armstrong’s Hot 5 and Hot 7 and Jelly Roll Morton’s Red Hot Peppers. Due to ill health, Dodds did not record for most of the 1930s. His biography, “Johnny Dodds,” was published in 1961 and he was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1987.

• August 8, 1950 Richard Bowie Spikes of Stockton, California received patent number 2,517,936 for a horizontally swinging barber’s chair. His invention provided a seat which was revolvable and allowed the barber to select a convenient position. Little is known of Spikes’ life except that he was born December 4, 1884 and was an incredible inventor. He received five additional patents, including patent number 1,362,197 for a trolley pole arrester on December 14, 1920, patent number 1,441,383 for a brake testing machine on January 9, 1923, patent number 1,889,814 for an improved gear shift on December 6, 1932, patent number 1,936,996 for improvements in transmission and shifting means on November 28, 1933, and patent number 3,015,522 for an automatic safety brake system on January 2, 1962. Spikes died in 1962.

• August 8, 1959 William Augustus Hinton, bacteriologist, pathologist, and educator, died. Hinton was born December 15, 1883 in Chicago, Illinois. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Harvard University in 1905 and his Doctor of Medicine degree with honors from Harvard Medical School in 1912. Hinton returned to Harvard in 1918 as the first black professor in the history of the university. In 1921, he began teaching bacteriology and immunology which he taught until his retirement in 1950. Hinton became internationally known as an expert in the diagnosis and treatment of syphilis and in 1936 published the first medical textbook by an African American, “Syphilis and Its Treatment.” In recognition of his contributions as a serologist and public health bacteriologist, in 1948 Hinton was elected a life member of the American Social Science Association. The William A. Hinton State Laboratory Institute in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts and the William Augustus Hinton Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois are named in his honor.

• August 8, 1975 Julian Edwin “Cannonball” Adderley, hall of fame jazz alto saxophonist and band leader, died. Adderley was born September 15, 1928 in Tampa, Florida. He and his brother, Nat, played with Ray Charles during the early 1940s. In 1955, Adderley moved to New York City and in 1957 he joined the Miles Davis sextet and played on Davis’ recordings of “Milestones” (1958) and “Kind of Blue” (1959). The Cannonball Adderley Quintet/Sextet, which included his brother Nat, recorded a number of albums, including “Autumn Leaves” (1963), “Money in the Pocket” (1966), “Accent on Africa” (1968), and “Lovers” (1975). In 1967, they won the Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Jazz Performance, Small Group or Soloist With Small Group for their recording “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy! Live at the Club.” Adderley was posthumously inducted into the Downbeat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1975.

• August 8, 1988 Kid Chocolate, hall of fame boxer, died. Kid Chocolate was born Eligio Sardinas Montalvo on January 6, 1910 in Havana, Cuba. He never lost a fight as an amateur and turned professional in 1927. His first twelve fights were in Cuba before he moved to New York City in 1928. In 1931, Montalvo became Cuba’s first world boxing champion when he won the World Jr. Lightweight Boxing Championship. Montalvo retired in 1938 with a record of 136 wins, 10 losses, and 6 draws. After retiring, he returned to Cuba where his accomplishments were not recognized by the government until the late 1970s. Montalvo was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991. That same year, the Kid Chocolate Boxing Hall was opened in Havana.

• August 8, 2005 John Harold Johnson, publisher and businessman, died. Johnson was born January 19, 1918 in Arkansas City, Arkansas. He moved to Chicago, Illinois with his family in 1933. After graduating from high school, Johnson took a job as an office boy at Supreme Life Insurance Company and within two years had moved up to assistant to the president. In 1942, he used a $500 loan, secured by his mother’s furniture, to publish the first edition of Negro Digest which covered African American history, literature, arts, and cultural issues. Within six months, circulation had reached 50,000. In 1945, Johnson launched Ebony magazine which emphasized the achievements of successful African Americans and by 1985 it had a circulation of 2.3 million. In 1950, he launched Tan magazine and in 1951 Jet magazine. In addition, Johnson developed a line of cosmetics, purchased three radio stations, and started a book publishing company and television production company. In 1982, Johnson became the first African American to appear on Forbes magazine’s list of the 400 richest Americans. In 1966, Johnson received the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal. In 1996, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President William Clinton and in 1997 he was inducted into the Junior Achievement National Business Hall of Fame. Johnson was awarded honorary doctorate degrees by several universities, including Harvard University, the University of Southern California, and Wayne State University. In 2010, the Johnson College Prep Charter School was opened in Chicago. Johnson published his autobiography, “Succeeding Against the Odds: The Autobiography of a Great American Businessman,” in 1989. Johnson’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

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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.