Today in Black History, 1/13/2012

·   January 13, 1869 The Colored National Labor Union was founded to pursue equal representation for African Americans in the workforce. The CNLU was created as a branch of the National Labor Union and was first led by Isaac Myers. In 1872, Frederick Douglas replaced Myers as head of the union. Although the CNLU welcomed all workers no matter their race, gender or occupation, it was not successful because the dominant society and government did not take it seriously.

·   January 13, 1909 Daniel Moses “Danny” Barker, jazz guitarist, singer, songwriter and author, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. Barker began his career as a musician in his youth with a street band called the Boozan Kings. In 1930, he moved to New York City and began playing the guitar. From 1939 to 1946, he recorded with Cab Calloway and during the 1950s worked primarily as a freelance musician. Barker returned to New Orleans in 1965 and worked as an assistant curator for the New Orleans Jazz Museum. In 1972, he founded and led the Fairview Baptist Church Marching Band. This band launched the careers of several professional musicians, including Wynton and Branford Marsalis. Barker co-authored “Bourboun Street Black” in 1973 and published his autobiography, “A Life in Jazz,” in 1986. Barker was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the United States bestows on jazz musicians, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1991. Barker died March 13, 1994 and was posthumously featured in the 2011 documentary “Tradition is a Temple.” A historical marker is located at his place of birth.

·   January 13, 1913 Delta Sigma Theta, the largest African American Greek-lettered sorority in the world, was founded by twenty-two young women on the campus of Howard University. Their motto is “intelligence is the torch of wisdom.” Today, they have a membership of more than 350,000 in 950 alumnae and undergraduate chapters. Notable members include Ruby Dee, Elizabeth Catlett, Natalie Cole, Charlene Hunter-Gault, and Alexis Herman.

·   January 13, 1926 Melba Doretta Liston, jazz trombonist, composer, and arranger, was born in Kansas City, Missouri, but raised in Los Angeles, California. In 1943, she joined the big band led by Gerald Wilson and during the 1940s she played with Dexter Gordon, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, and Billie Holliday. In 1950, she gave up playing and took an administrative job with the Los Angeles Board of Education. In 1956, Liston rejoined Gillespie for a United States State Department sponsored tour. Liston recorded “Melba and Her Bones,” her only recording as leader, in 1958. In 1961, Liston became a freelance arranger, collaborating with Randy Weston, Milt Jackson, Clark Terry, and many other artists. From 1973 to 1979, Liston lived in Jamaica and taught at the Jamaica School of Music. She was forced to give up playing in 1985 after a stroke left her partially paralyzed, but she continued to arrange music. In 1987, Liston was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the United States bestows on a jazz musician, by the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1993, the International Women’s Brass Conference honored her as a brasswoman pioneer. Liston died April 23, 1999.

·   January 13, 1970 Shonda Rhimes, screenwriter, director, and producer, was born in Chicago, Illinois. Rhimes earned a bachelor’s degree from Dartsmouth College in 1991 and her Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Southern California’s School of Cinema-Television. She made her directorial debut with the 1998 short film “Blossoms and Veils” and in 1999 she wrote the script for the HBO movie “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge.” In late 2003, she wrote the pilot for “Grey’s Anatomy” and the series debuted on March 27, 2005. In 2007, the show won the Golden Globe Award for Best TV Drama Series and in September, 2011 entered its eighth season. Rhimes is also the creator and executive producer of “Private Practice” which debuted on September 26, 2007 and is now in its fifth season. In 2007, Rhimes was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 people who help shape the world.

·   January 13, 1977 Myra Adele Logan, the first African American woman elected a fellow of the American College of Surgeons, died. Logan was born in 1908 in Tuskegee, Alabama. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Atlanta University in 1927, as valedictorian of her class, and her Master of Science degree in psychology from Columbia University. After working for a time with the YWCA, Logan won the first Walter Gray Crump $10,000 four year scholarship to New York Medical College. She earned her medical degree in 1933 and interned and served her residency at Harlem Hospital. In 1943, Logan became the first woman to perform open heart surgery, the ninth operation of its kind in the world. In the 1960s, she began to work on breast cancer, developing a slower x-ray process that could detect more accurately differences in the density of tissue and thus help discover tumors much earlier. Early in her career, Logan was a member of the New York Committee on Discrimination, but she resigned in 1944 when the governor ignored the anti-discrimination legislation the committee had proposed. After her retirement in 1970, Logan served on the New York State Workman’s Compensation Board.

·   January 13, 1979 Donny Edward Hathaway, R & B singer, died. Hathaway was born October 1, 1945 in Chicago, Illinois. He began singing in a church choir at the age of three billed as “Donny Pitts, The Nation’s Youngest Gospel Singer.” He also began studying the piano as a child and in 1964 earned a fine arts scholarship to Howard University. Hathaway left Howard in 1967 and began working as a songwriter, session musician, and producer. He recorded his first single in 1969 and released his first album, “Everything is Everything,” in 1970. In 1972, Hathaway recorded an album of duets with former Howard University classmate Roberta Flack which included the track “Where is the Love” which peaked at number five on the Billboard Pop Charts and won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals. Hathaway and Flack were again successful with the 1978 duet “The Closer I Get to You.” Other recordings by Hathaway include “The Ghetto – Pt. 1” (1970), “Giving Up” (1972), and “Someday We’ll All Be Free” (1973). Despite his success, Hathaway was diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia which apparently led to his suicide. In 2008, a collection of poems on Hathaway, “Winners Have Yet to be Announced: A Song for Donny Hathaway,” was published.

·   January 13, 1985 Jerome Heartwell “Brud” Holland, education administrator and diplomat, died. Holland was born January 9, 1916 in Auburn, New York. He graduated from Cornell University, where he was the first African American to play on the football team and an All-American in 1937, 1938, and 1939. Despite his athletic abilities, the National Football League ignored him because of his race. Holland earned his master’s degree in sociology from Cornell in 1941 and his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1950. Holland served as president of Delaware State College from 1953 to 1959 and of Hampton Institute from 1960 to 1970. In 1970, President Richard Nixon appointed him ambassador to Sweden, a position he held for two years. In 1972, Holland became the first African American to sit on the board of the New York Stock Exchange, a position he held until 1980. Holland also served on the boards of several major corporations, including AT&T and General Motors. He served as chairman of the American Red Cross Board of Governors from 1980 to 1985 and its blood laboratory is named in his honor. Holland was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1965 and in 1972 the National Collegiate Athletic Association awarded him the Theodore Roosevelt Award, the highest honor conferred on an individual by that organization. On May 23, 1985, Holland was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States, by President Ronald Reagan.

·   January 13, 1989 Sterling Allen Brown, professor, poet, and literary critic, died. Brown was born May 1, 1901 in Washington D.C. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree, Phi Beta Kappa, from Williams College in 1922 and his Master of Arts degree from Harvard University in 1923. Brown began his teaching career at several universities before moving to Howard University in 1929 where he taught until his retirement in 1969. Brown published his first book of poetry, “Southern Road,” in 1933. Although that work was praised at the time, he was unable to find a publisher for his second volume and did not publish any new poetry until 1975. His poetic work was influenced in content, form, and cadence by African American music and often dealt with race and class in the United States. Brown’s 1937 works “The Negro in American Fiction” and “Negro Poetry and Drama” are considered foundation texts for the study of African American literary history.  In 1984, the District of Columbia named Brown its first poet laureate, a position he held until his death.

·   January 13, 1997 President William Clinton awarded the Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration, to seven African American World War II veterans who had been denied the medal because of systemic racial discrimination in the criteria for awarding medals during World War II. Vernon Joseph Baker was the only one of the veterans living at the time. Baker received the medal for his actions on April 5, 1945 when he participated in an attack on the German stronghold of Castle Aghinolfi. During the assault, he led his heavy weapons platoon through German defenses to within sight of the castle, personally destroying three machine gun nests, two observation posts, two bunkers, and a network of German telephone lines. The other recipients were Staff Sgt. Edward A. Carter, Jr., 1st Lt. John R. Fox, Pfc. Wiley F. James, Jr., 1st Lt. Charles L. Thomas, Pvt. George Watson, and Staff Sgt. Ruben Rivers.

·   January 13, 2002 Charity Edna Adams Early, the first African American officer in the Woman’s Army Air Corps, died. Early was born December 5, 1918 in Kittrell, North Carolina. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics and physics from Wilberforce University in 1938 and enlisted in the WAAC in 1942. She served as the commanding officer and battalion commander of the first battalion of African American women to serve overseas during World War II and rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel. After retiring from the army, Early earned her Master of Arts degree in vocational psychology from Ohio State University in 1946 and taught at Tennessee A&I College and Georgia State College.  Early was inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame in 1979 and the Ohio Veteran’s Hall of Fame in 1993. Early published her autobiography, “One Woman’s Army: A Black Officer Remembers the WAC,” in 1989.

·   January 13, 2010 Theodore DeReese “Teddy” Pendergrass, singer and songwriter, died. Pendergrass was born March 26, 1950 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He began his career as a drummer with The Cadillacs, who soon merged with Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes. With Pendergrass singing lead vocals, the group had such hits as “If You Don’t Know Me By Now” (1972) and “Wake Up Everybody” (1975). In 1977, Pendergrass launched his solo career and released a number of successful albums, including “Teddy Pendergrass” (1977), “Life is a Song Worth Singing” (1978), which included the hit single “Close the Door,” and “It’s Time for Love” (1981). In 1982, Pendergrass was involved in a car accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. After therapy, he returned to the studio and released “Love Language” (1984), “Joy” (1988), and “You and I” (1997). In 1998, Pendergrass published his autobiography, “Truly Blessed” and in 2006 he announced his retirement from the music business.