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Today in Black History, 9/8/2012

• September 8, 1882 Sarah Mapps Douglass, abolitionist, teacher, and lecturer, died. Douglass was born September 9, 1806 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her family was prosperous and among several free black families who formed the core of Philadelphia’s abolitionist movement. Douglass was educated at home by private tutors. Around 1827, Douglass established a school for black children. In 1837, she served on the ten member committee for the Antislavery Convention of American Women. This was the first national convention of antislavery women to integrate black and white members. Douglass also served as librarian, corresponding secretary, and on the board of directors of the Philadelphia Female Antislavery Society. In 1853, she took over the girl’s preparatory department at the Philadelphia Institute for Colored Youth, offering courses in literature, science, and anatomy. She served at the institute until 1877. During this time, she also acquired basic medical training at the Female Medical Collage of Pennsylvania and at Pennsylvania Medical University. After the Civil War, Douglass became a leader in the Pennsylvania branch of the American Freedman’s Aid Commission which worked to provide services to the formerly enslaved in the south.

• September 8, 1907 Walter Fenner “Buck” Leonard, hall of fame Negro league baseball player, was born in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. Leonard left school at the age of 14 because no high school education was available to black children in his hometown. He began his Negro league career in 1933 and from 1934 until his retirement in 1950 played for the Homestead Grays. Leonard had a career batting average of .320 and usually led the league or was second in home runs. In 1948, he led the league with a .395 batting average. Leonard was selected to the Negro leagues’ East – West All-Star game a record eleven times. In 1952, Leonard was offered a major league contract but he turned it down because he thought he was too old and might embarrass himself and hurt the cause of integration. Leonard was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972 and died November 27, 1997. In 1999, The Sporting News ranked him number 47 on its list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players of All-Time. Leonard’s biography, “Buck Leonard: The Black Lou Gehrig,” was published in 1995.

• September 8, 1945 Lemuel Joseph “Lem” Barney, hall of fame football player, was born in Gulfport, Mississippi. Barney played college football at Jackson State University where he earned his bachelor’s degree in health and science in 1967. He was selected by the Detroit Lions in the 1967 NFL Draft and that year was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Over his eleven season professional career, Barney was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection. Barney retired in 1977 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1992. From 1979 to 1993, he served as manager of civic affairs at Michigan Consolidated Gas Company. He is currently an associate minister and mentors inner-city youth.

• September 8, 1946 L.C. Henderson Greenwood, former football defensive end, was born in Canton, Mississippi. Greenwood played college football at Arkansas AM&N where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1968. He was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1969 NFL Draft. Greenwood was one of the four members of the Steelers’ “Steel Curtain” defensive line. Over his 13 season professional career, Greenwood was a six-time Pro Bowl selection. He was a finalist in the voting for the 2005 and 2006 Pro Football Hall of Fame. Greenwood is now the president and owner of several companies.

• September 8, 1954 Ruby Nell Bridges Hall, the first African American child to attend an all-white elementary school in the South, was born in Tylertown, Mississippi but raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. Bridges Hall’s parents volunteered her to participate in the integration of the New Orleans School system and on November 14, 1960, at the age of six, she entered William Frantz Elementary School. This was commemorated in the Norman Rockwell painting “The Problem We All Live With.” After Bridges Hall started school, white parents took their children out of the school and white teachers refused to teach Bridges Hall. Therefore, for the first year Bridges Hall and a single teacher worked alone in a classroom by themselves. Also, Bridges Hall’s father lost his job and her grandparents who were sharecroppers, were kicked off their land. After the first year, thing returned to relative normalcy and Bridges Hall went on to graduate from high school. She then studied travel and tourism and worked as a travel agent for 15 years. In 1999, she formed the Ruby Bridges Foundation to “promote the values of tolerance, respect and appreciation of all differences.” The 1998 made for TV movie “Ruby Bridges” told of her struggles during her first year of school. In 2001, Bridges Hall was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal, which is given to a person “who has performed exemplary deeds or services for his or her country or fellow citizens,” by President William Clinton. In 2006, the Ruby Bridges Elementary School opened in Alameda, California. Bridges Hall continues to serve as an inspirational speaker against racism.

• September 8, 1965 Dorothy Jean Dandridge, singer and actress, died. Dandridge was born November 9, 1922 in Cleveland, Ohio. As a young child, she and he sister toured the South with an act called The Wonder Children. Dandridge initially gained fame because of her singing ability and as a solo performer in nightclubs around the country. She first appeared on screen in 1935 and in 1937 appeared in the Marx Brothers feature “A Day at the Races.” In 1954, Dandridge was cast as the lead in “Carmen Jones” which was a commercial success and resulted in her being nominated for the 1955 Academy Award for Best Actress. She was the third African American to be nominated for an Academy Award and the first in the Best Actress category. She also appeared in “Island in the Sun” (1957) and “Porgy and Bess” (1959). In the early 1960s, Dandridge suffered significant financial difficulties and alone and without any singing or acting engagements, suffered a nervous breakdown. In 1999, HBO presented the movie “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge.” Dandridge has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contribution to the motion picture industry. Biographies of Dandridge include “Dorothy Dandridge: A Portrait in Black” (1970) and “Dorothy Dandridge: A Biography” (1997).

• September 8, 1981 Roy Wilkins, civil rights leader, died. Wilkins was born August 30, 1901 in St. Louis, Missouri. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Minnesota in 1923. In 1931, he became assistant secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. From 1934 to 1949, he served as the editor of the Crisis magazine, the official organ of the organization. In 1955, Wilkins was named executive secretary (renamed director in 1964) of the NAACP. In 1950, he co-founded the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. Wilkins participated in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, the Selma to Montgomery march in 1965, and the March Against Fear in 1966. In 1964, Wilkins was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal. In 1969, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Richard Nixon. Wilkins retired from the NAACP in 1977. His autobiography, “Standing Fast: The Autobiography of Roy Wilkins,” was published in 1982. The Roy Wilkins Centre for Human Relations and Human Justice was established at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute for Public Affairs in 1992.

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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.