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Today in Black History, 9/12/2012

• September 12, 1840 Mary Jane Patterson, the first black woman to graduate from an established college with a four year degree, was born enslaved in Raleigh, North Carolina. Patterson’s family gained their freedom in 1852 and moved to Oberlin, Ohio in 1856. Patterson enrolled in Oberlin College in 1857 and earned her Bachelor of Arts degree with highest honors in 1861. After graduation, Patterson taught at various schools, including the Institute for Colored Youth in Philadelphia and the Preparatory High School for Colored Youth (later named Dunbar High School) in Washington, D.C. Patterson served as the latter school’s first black principal from 1871 to 1872. She was reappointed to the position from 1873 to 1884. During her administration, the school grew from less than 50 students to 172 students. Patterson continued to teach at the school until her death on September 24, 1894.

• September 12, 1840 Frazier Augustus Boutelle, soldier and conservationist, was born in Troy, New York. Boutelle’s military career began in 1861 when he enlisted in Company A of the 5th New York Cavalry. He served in the United States Army for 57 years, fighting in the Civil War, Indian Wars, and serving as a recruiter during World War I. In 1889, Boutelle was appointed acting superintendent of Yellowstone National Park which the army managed. During his short time in this role, he gained recognition in conservation circles for his advocacy of protection for wildlife, landscape, and natural features. Boutelle died February 12, 1924 and the collected papers and photographs of Boutelle are at the University of Oregon Libraries’ Special Collections & University Archives.

• September 12, 1913 James Cleveland “Jesse” Owens, hall of fame track and field athlete, was born in Oakville, Alabama, but raised in Cleveland, Ohio. Owens first came to national attention while in high school when he equaled the world record of 9.4 seconds in the 100 yard dash and long jumped 24 feet 9 ½ inches at the 1933 National High School Championships. Owens attended Ohio State University where he won a record eight individual NCAA championships. Despite that success, he had to live off campus and was never offered a scholarship for his efforts. At the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games, Owens won Gold medals in the 100 and 200 meter races, the 4 by 100 meter relay race, and the long jump. While in Germany, Owens was allowed to travel with and stay in the same hotels as whites, a right that was denied him in the United States. After a New York City ticker-tape parade in his honor, Owens had to ride the freight elevator to attend his own reception at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. After the Olympic Games, there were no lucrative financial offers and Owens eventually filed for bankruptcy. In the late 1960s, he began working as a U.S. goodwill ambassador, speaking about the importance of religion, hard work, and loyalty. In 1970, Owens was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Ronald W. Reagan. In 1974, he was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame. Owens died March 31, 1980 and in 1981 USA Track & Field created the Jesse Owens Award which is annually given to the country’s top track and field athlete. In 1990, the Congressional Gold Medal was presented to his widow by President George H. W. Bush. The United States Postal Service issued commemorative postage stamps in his honor in 1990 and 1998. In 2001, Ohio State University dedicated the Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium and there is a statue of Owens in Cleveland, Ohio. Owens published his autobiography, “Blackthink: My Life as a Black Man and White Man,” in 1970. Owens’ name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

• September 12, 1915 William Boone “Billy” Daniels, vocalist and Broadway actor, was born in Jacksonville, Florida. Daniels was a nightclub entertainer and was the biggest cabaret draw in New York City during the 1950s. He was also popular in Europe and in 1952 headlined at the London Palladium and broke the house attendance record. His version of “That Old Black Magic” recorded in 1950 is reported to have sold more than 12 million copies. In 1952, he starred in the 15 minute “The Billy Daniels Show” on ABC-TV, one of the first television programs to star a black performer. In 1958, Daniels was the first entertainer to sign a long term contract to appear in Las Vegas when he signed for three years at the Stardust. He also performed on Broadway, most notably in 1964 with more than 700 performances of “Golden Boy.” He also performed in “Hello Dolly” in 1975 and “Bubbling Brown Sugar” in 1978. Daniels died October 7, 1988 and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

• September 12, 1935 Richard Hunt, sculptor, was born in Chicago, Illinois. From an early age, Hunt was interested in the arts and showed enthusiasm and talent in painting and sculpture. He was the youngest artist to exhibit at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, a major international exhibition of modern art. Hunt has completed more public sculptures than any other artist in the country. His signature pieces include “Jacob’s Ladder” at the Carter G. Woodson Library in Chicago and “Flintlock Fantasy” in Detroit. He was appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson as one of the first artists to serve on the governing board of the National Endowment for the Arts. Hunt is the recipient of numerous honorary degrees and awards, including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Sculpture Center received in 2009.

• September 12, 1944 Barry White, hall of fame singer, songwriter, and record producer, was born Barrence Eugene Carter in Galveston, Texas. White began his musical career in the early 1960s singing in groups before going out on his own in the mid-1960s. He got his big break producing a female group he had discovered called Love Unlimited. Their 1971 release “Girl’s Point of View” sold more than 1 million copies. White’s debut album, “I’ve Got So Much to Give,” was released in 1973 and included the single “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby” which rose to number one on the R&B charts. Other hits followed, including “Never, Never Gonna Give You Up” (1974), “You’re The First, the Last, My Everything” (1975), “It’s Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next to Me” (1977), and “Your Sweetness is My Weakness” (1978). Although White’s success on the charts slowed during the 1980s and early 1990s, he maintained a loyal following. White returned to the charts with the release of “The Icon is Love” (1994) and “Staying Power” (1999) which won Grammy Awards for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance and Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance. Over his career, White won five Grammy Awards and sold more than 100 million records. White died July 4, 2003 and in 2004 he was posthumously inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame.

• September 12, 1947 Clarence Eugene Sasser, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Chenango, Texas. Sasser was drafted into the United States Army in 1967 and by January 10, 1968 was serving as a private first class combat medic in Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 60th Infantry, 9th Infantry Division during the Vietnam War. His actions on that date earned him the medal, America’s highest military decoration. His citation partially reads, “His company was making an air assault when suddenly it was taken under heavy small arms, recoilless rifle, machine gun and rocket fire from well fortified enemy positions on three sides of the landing zone. During the first few minutes, over 30 casualties were sustained. Without hesitation, Sp5c. Sasser ran across an open rice paddy through a hail of fire to assist the wounded. After helping one man to safety, was painfully wounded in the left shoulder by fragments of an exploding rocket. Refusing medical attention, he ran through a barrage of rocket and automatic weapons fire to aid casualties of the initial attack and, after giving them urgently needed treatment, continued to search for other wounded. Despite two additional wounds immobilizing his legs, he dragged himself through the mud toward another soldier 100 meters away. Although in agonizing pain and faint from loss of blood, Sp5c. Sasser reached the man, treated him, and proceeded on to encourage another group of soldiers to crawl 200 meters to relative safety. There he attended their wounds for five hours until they were evacuated.” The Medal of Honor was presented to Sasser by President Richard M. Nixon on March 7, 1969. After leaving the army, Sasser returned to college as a chemistry student. He then worked for an oil refinery for more than five years before being employed by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. A statue depicting Sasser in Vietnam was unveiled in 2010 in front of the Brazoria County, Texas courthouse.

• September 12, 1958 Wilfred Benitez, hall of fame boxer, was born in New York City. Benitez started boxing professionally at the age of 14. In 1976, at the age of 17, he won the WBA Light Welterweight Boxing Championship, making him the youngest world champion in boxing history. Benitez successfully defended the title three times before moving up in weight and in 1979 winning the WBC Welterweight Boxing Championship. After losing that title, Benitez won the WBC Super Welterweight Boxing Championship in 1981, making him the youngest three-time world champion in boxing history. Benitez retired from boxing in 1990 with a record of 53 wins, 8 losses, and 1 draw. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1996. Benitez now suffers from an incurable degenerative brain condition caused by the blows he took in the ring. In 2012, a statue of Benitez was unveiled in Puerto Rico.

• September 12, 1977 Stephen Bantu Biko, anti-apartheid activist, died at the Pretoria prison after being arrested under the Terrorism Act of 1967 and suffering a major head injury while being interrogated by the police. Biko was born December 18, 1946 in King William’s Town in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. In 1968, Biko helped found the South African Student’s Organization which evolved into the Black Consciousness Movement and was elected its first president. In March, 1973, he was banned by the government which meant that he could not give speeches in public and was restricted to certain areas of the country. Despite these restrictions, he and the BCM played a significant role in organizing the protests which culminated in the Soweto Uprising in June, 1976. Several universities in the United Kingdom and the main student union building at the University of Cape Town are named in his honor and each year a commemorative Steve Biko lecture is delivered on the anniversary of his death. Also, the Durbin University of Technology has named its largest campus after him and a bronze bust of him sits in Freedom Square on the campus. The 1987 film “Cry Freedom” was a biographical drama based on the life of Biko. A number of books have been published about Biko, including “Steve Biko: Black Consciousness in South Africa” (1978) and “Biko” (1978).

• September 12, 1981 Jennifer Kate Hudson, recording artist and actress, was born in Chicago, Illinois. Hudson got her start performing at the age of seven singing in the church choir. She came to prominence in 2004 as one of the finalist on the television show “American Idol.” In 2006, she made her film debut in “Dreamgirls.” Her performance in the movie won her the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, making her one of the very few performers to win an Academy Award for a debut screen performance. Other films in which Hudson has appeared include “Sex and the City” (2008), “The Secret Life of Bees” (2008), “Fragments” (2009), and “Winnie” (2011). Hudson released her debut album, “Jennifer Hudson,” in 2008 and it won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Album. In 2011, she released “I Remember Me.”

• September 12, 1995 Malvin Russell Goode, hall of fame journalist and the first African American television news correspondent, died. Goode was born February 13, 1908 in White Plains, Virginia. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 1931 and later worked as a boys work director at the YMCA. There he spearheaded the fight against discrimination in the Pittsburgh branches of the YMCA. In 1948, Goode joined the Pittsburgh Courier where he worked for 14 years. In 1952, he was named station news director for radio station WHOD. In 1962, Goode became the first black news correspondent for ABC television covering the United Nations. Goode’s first assignment was covering the Cuban Missile Crisis and he distinguished himself with incisive reports during the long hours of debate. In 1971, Goode became the first African American member of the Radio and Television News Directors Association. In 1990, he was inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame.

• September 12, 2010 Varnette Patricia Honeywood, painter, writer, and businesswoman, died. Honeywood was born December 27, 1950 in Los Angeles, California. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in art from Spelman College in 1972 and her Master of Science degree in education from the University of Southern California in 1974. As part of a community outreach program at USC, she taught multicultural arts and crafts programs to minority children in the public schools. Honeywood and her sister founded the Black Lifestyles Greeting Card Company with cards showing Honeywood’s brightly colored portraits depicting the daily life of African Americans, the first such company specializing in black themes. Camille Cosby discovered Honeywood’s work on the greeting cards and she and her husband Bill began to collect Honeywood’s art. After that, her work appeared on the interior settings for “The Bill Cosby Show,” “A Different World,” “Amen,” and “227.” These paintings included “Birthday” (1974), “Club Alabam: Down at the Dunbar” (1981), and “The Groundbreaking” (1991). A recurring theme in her work is the vibrancy of black culture despite barriers of racial oppression.

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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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