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Today in Black History, 9/22/2012

• September 22, 1853 George Washington Murray, former Congressman and inventor, was born enslaved in Sumter County, South Carolina. After being freed, Murray attended the University of South Carolina for two years and taught school for 15 years. He served as chairman of the Sumter County Republican Party and was known as the “Republican Black Eagle.” From 1890 to 1892, Murray served as inspector of customs at the Port of Charleston. In 1893, he was elected to the United States House of Representatives where he served from 1893 to 1895 and 1896 to 1897. During his time in Congress, Murray fought for black rights, speaking in favor of retaining Reconstruction Period laws, and highlighted African American achievement by reading into the congressional record a list of 92 patents granted to African Americans. Murray was the last black Republican to serve in Congress from South Carolina until 2010. Murray also received a number of patents, including on June 5, 1894 patent number 520,889 for a fertilizer distributer, patent number 520,890 for a planter, and patent number 520,892 for a reaper. He also received patent number 644,032 for a grain drill on February 20, 1900 and patent number 887,495 for a portable hoisting device on May 12, 1908. In 1905, he moved to Chicago, Illinois where he sold life insurance and real estate until his death on April 21, 1926. His biography, “A Black Congressman in the Age of Jim Crow: South Carolina’s George Washington Murray,” was published in 2006.

• September 22, 1890 Henry Johnson was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration. On October 5, 1879, he was serving as a sergeant in Company D of the 9th Cavalry Regiment at Milk River, Colorado during the Indian Wars and his actions earned him the medal. His citation reads,” Voluntarily left fortified shelter and under heavy fire at close range made the rounds of pits to instruct the guards, and fought his way to the creek and back to bring water to the wounded.” Not much else is known of Johnson’s life other then he was born June 11, 1850 in Boydton, Virginia, died January 31, 1904, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

• September 22, 1891 Alma Woodsey Thomas, painter and art educator, was born in Columbus, Georgia. Thomas earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Howard University in 1924, becoming the first graduate of the program. In 1934, she became the first African American woman to earn her Master of Fine Arts degree from Columbia University. She was also the first African American woman to have a solo exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art. After 35 years of teaching in the Washington, D.C. Public School System, Thomas retired in 1960 but continued to offer her weekly art classes to children from Washington’s poorest neighborhoods. Thomas died February 24, 1978. The Columbus Museum and the Smithsonian American Art Museum hold important collections of Thomas’ paintings and papers. “A Life in Art: Alma Thomas 1891 – 1978” was published in 1981 and “Alma W. Thomas: A Retrospective of the Paintings” was published in 1998.

• September 22, 1891 Jan Earnst Metzeliger of Lynn, Massachusetts posthumously received patent number 459,899 for improvements in the lasting machine for shoes. Metzeliger was born September 15, 1852 in Paramaribo, Dutch Guyana (now Suriname). After working as a sailor, he settled in the United States at the age of 19. By 1877, he had moved to Lynn, Massachusetts and was working for a cobbler. After five years of work, he received patent number 274,207 on March 20, 1883 for his automatic method for lasting shoes. His machine could produce shoes ten times faster than working by hand and resulted in a more than 50% reduction in the costs of shoes. Matzeliger never saw the profits of his inventions due to his death on August 24, 1889. He also posthumously received patent number 415,726 on November 26, 1889 for a mechanism for distributing tacks and nails, patent number 421,954 on February 25, 1890 for a nailing machine, and patent number 423,937 on March 25, 1890 for a tack separating and distributing mechanism. In 1991, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in recognition of his accomplishments and in 2006 he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

• September 22, 1941 Jeremiah Alvesta Wright, Jr., former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ and author, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1961, Wright left college to join the United States Marine Corps. After two years of service, he joined the U.S. Navy where he was trained as a cardiopulmonary technician. In that capacity, he was part of the medical team that cared for President Lyndon B. Johnson after his 1966 surgery. Wright earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1968 and his Master of Arts degree in English in 1969 from Howard University. He also earned his Master of Arts degree in black sacred music from the University of Chicago Divinity School in 1975 and his Doctor of Ministry degree from the United Theological Seminary in 1990. In 1972, Wright became pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ which at the time had 250 members. When he retired in 2008, it was the largest church, with 8,500 members, in the mostly white United Church of Christ denomination. Wright has been a professor at a number of educational institutions, including Chicago Theological Seminary and Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary. He has served on the boards of numerous religious and civic organizations, including Virginia Union University and City Colleges of Chicago. He has received seven honorary doctorate degrees and was named one of Ebony Magazine’s top 15 preachers. Wright has written or co-written a number of books, including “Good News! Sermons of Hope for Today’s Families” (1995), “What Can Happen When We Pray: A Daily Devotional” (2002), and “Tempted to Leave the Cross: Renewing the Call to Discipleship” (2007).

• September 22, 1941 Ernest Gideon Green, the first African American to graduate from Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, was born in Little Rock. In 1957, as one of the Little Rock Nine, he helped to desegregate Central High School. Green was the only senior in the group and despite the daily harassment and intermittent violence, graduated on May 27, 1958. He went on to earn his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1962 and Master of Arts degree in 1964 from Michigan State University. From 1968 to 1976, Green served as the director of the A. Phillip Randolph Education Fund and from 1977 to 1981 Assistant Secretary of Labor for the United States government. Since 1985, he has been a managing director with Lehman Brothers focusing on public finance. In 1958, Green, along with the other members of the Little Rock Nine and Daisy Bates, was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal and in 1999, again with the other members of the group, received the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation’s highest civilian medal, from President William Clinton. Green was depicted in the 1981 CBS Television movie “Crisis at Central High” and the Disney Channel television movie “The Ernest Green Story.” In 2011, Green received an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Arkansas.

• September 22, 1960 The Republic of Mali declared independence from France. Mali is the seventh largest country in Africa at 479,000 square miles. It borders Algeria on the north, Niger on the east, Burkina Faso and Cote d’Ivoire on the south, Guinea on the southwest, and Senegal and Mauritania on the west. Mali’s population is approximately 13 million with 90% of them Sunni Muslims.

• September 22, 1961 The Interstate Commerce Commission issued regulations to enforce the prohibition of segregation on interstate buses and in terminal facilities. Impelled by the protest of civil rights leaders and international outrage over the violence perpetrated on the Freedom Riders, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy petitioned the ICC to issue regulations banning Jim Crow in interstate travel and to take immediate steps to enforce those regulations. Prior to the regulations, the ICC had prohibited segregation but failed to enforce the prohibition.

• September 22, 1965 James Raleigh “Biz” Mackey, Negro League baseball player and manager, died. Mackey was born July 27, 1897 in Eagle Pass, Texas. He began playing professional baseball in 1918 and played until 1947. He was regarded as the premier catcher in the Negro league in the late 1920s and early 1930s. By 1937, Mackey was managing the Baltimore Elite Giants where he mentored a teenaged Roy Campanella. Later he would work with young players such as Monte Irvin, Larry Doby, and Don Newcombe. Mackey retired from baseball in the 1950s and in a 1952 Pittsburgh Courier poll was voted the Negro leagues’ greatest catcher. He was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.

• September 22, 1965 Robert Lee Satcher, Jr., chemical engineer, physician, and NASA astronaut, was born in Hampton, Virginia. Satcher earned his Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering in 1986 and his Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering in 1993 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He went on to earn his Doctor of Medicine degree from Harvard Medical School, Health Sciences and Technology Division in 1994. From 1994 to 2000, he did his internship, residency, and postdoctoral research fellowship at the University of California and an orthopedic oncology fellowship at the University of Florida from 2000 to 2001. In 2004, Satcher was selected for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration program and he completed his training in 2006. In November, 2009, Satcher became the first orthopedic surgeon in space, logging over 259 hours in space. Satcher currently practices orthopedic surgery in Houston, Texas.

• September 22, 2011 Aristides Maria Pereira, the first President of Cape Verde, died. Pereira was born November 17, 1923 on the island of Boa Vista. From the late 1940s until Cape Verde’s independence on July 5, 1975, he was heavily involved in the anti-colonial movement, organizing strikes and rising through the ranks of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde. Pereira served as president from 1975 until he was defeated in the presidential election of 1991. The Aristides Pereira International Airport on the Cape Verdean island of Boa Vista is named in his honor.

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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.