Today in Black History - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 12/19/2015 | William Cooper Nell


December 19, 1864 William Cooper Nell became the first African American to work in the federal civil service when he became a postal clerk in Boston, Massachusetts. Nell was born December 16, 1816 in Boston. He studied law in the early 1830s but was never certified as a lawyer because he would not swear allegiance to the Constitution of the United States which he believed advocated the enslavement of African Americans in the South. Nell was influential in organizing the Freedom Association and the Committee of Vigilance which were all-Black organizations that helped previously enslaved Black people that had fled to the North. Nell worked with Frederick Douglass on the abolitionist publication The North Star from 1848 to 1851 and was instrumental in the 1855 decision to allow African American students in Massachusetts to study alongside their White classmates. Nell was a prolific author and wrote two exhaustive studies of African Americans in war, "Services of Colored Americans in the Wars of 1776 and 1812" (1851) and "Colored Patriots of the American Revolution" (1855). Nell died May 25, 1874. "William Cooper Nell: Abolitionist, Historian and Integrationist; Selected Writings, 1832-1874" was published in 2002.

December 19, 1875 Carter Godwin Woodson, historian, author and journalist, was born in New Canton, Virginia. Woodson mastered the fundamentals of common school subjects through self-instruction by 17 and graduated from high school at 22. He then earned his Bachelor of Literature degree from Berea College in 1903, his Master of Arts degree from the University of Chicago in 1908, and his Ph.D. in history from Harvard University in 1912. He co-founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History and published his first book, "The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861" in 1915. Other books that he authored include "The History of the Negro Church" (1922) and "The Mis-Education of the Negro" (1933). Woodson began publishing "Journal of Negro History," which was renamed "Journal of African American History" in 2002, in 1916 and founded the Associated Publishers, the oldest African American publishing company in the United States, in 1920. Woodson single-handedly pioneered the celebration of Negro History Week, which we now refer to as Black History Month, in 1926 and was awarded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People 1926 Spingarn Medal. Woodson died April 3, 1950. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 1984 and his Washington D.C. home was designated the Carter G. Woodson Home National Historic Site February 27, 2006. Also, many schools around the country are named in his honor. Biographies of Woodson include "Carter G. Woodson: The Father of Black History" (1991) and "Carter G. Woodson: A Life in Black History" (1993). His name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

December 19, 1881 Joseph Nathan "King" Oliver, jazz cornetist, bandleader and composer, was born in Aben, Louisiana but raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. Oliver played cornet in brass and dance bands in New Orleans from 1908 to 1917. He moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1918 and formed King Oliver and his Creole Band. One of the members of his band was Louis Armstrong who wrote in his autobiography "if it had not been for Joe Oliver, jazz would not be what it is today." Oliver led various bands until 1937 when he was forced to quit playing due to medical problems. During that time, he pioneered the use of mutes on his instruments. He also wrote many tunes still played today, including "Sweet Like This," "Canal Street Blues," and "Doctor Jazz." Oliver lost his life savings when his Chicago bank failed during the Great Depression and died destitute April 10, 1938. His recording "Chimes Blues" (1923) was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1996 as a recording of "lasting qualitative or historical significance and "Dippermouth Blues" (1923), which he wrote, was inducted in 2010. Oliver was an inaugural inductee into the Gennett Record Walk of Fame in 2007.

December 19, 1891 Charles Randolph Uncles became the first Black seminarian to be educated and ordained a priest in the United States. The date and place of Uncle's birth is unknown but it is known that he desired to be a priest at an early age. He attended Baltimore Normal School for Teachers and taught in the Baltimore Public School System. He graduated from St. Hyacinthe College in Quebec, Canada with the highest grades in his class. Uncles taught at Epiphany College in Baltimore from 1891 to 1925 and was instrumental in forming the Society of St. Joseph the Sacred Heart in 1893. Uncles died July 21, 1933. The Knights of Peter Claver, Father Charles Council #4 and the Charles R. Uncles Senior Plaza in Baltimore are named in his honor.

December 19, 1918 Henry Roeland "Professor Longhair" Byrd, hall of fame blues pianist and singer, was born in Bogalusa, Louisiana but raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. Byrd learned to play the piano as a child. He started his professional music career in 1948 after a stint in the United States military during World War II. He recorded his only national commercial hit, "Bald Head," under the name Roy Byrd and His Blues Jumpers in 1950. Although locally popular, Byrd was never commercially successful. He abandoned the music business to work odd jobs for a living in 1964. He began a comeback in 1971 and recorded several albums, including "Rock 'N' Roll Gumbo" (1974), "Live on the Queen Mary" (1978), and "Crawfish Fiesta" (1980). Byrd died January 30, 1980. He was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1981 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. An album of his early recordings, "House Party New Orleans Style," won the 1987 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album. A documentary, "Professor Longhair: Making a Gumbo," was produced in 2015.

December 19, 1920 Robert Blackburn, artist, printmaker and educator, was born in Summit, New Jersey. Blackburn was mentored by several Harlem Renaissance artists as a teenager, including Charles "Spanky" Alston and Augusta Savage. He studied lithography, etching, woodblock, and silk-screening at the Workers Progress Administration Harlem Community Art Center. He established the Printmaking Workshop in 1948 and it became influential in the international printmaking community, producing such works as "Impressions Our World" (1974), a portfolio of prints by African American artists. Blackburn taught at Cooper Union, Pratt Institute, Columbia University, and Rutgers University. His work is included in the collections of the Library of Congress, the Brooklyn Museum, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the Tel Aviv Museum. He received the John D. and Catherine T. McArthur Foundation "Genius" Award in 1992 and the Lifetime Achievement Awards from the College Art Association and the National Fine Print Association in 2000. Blackburn died April 21, 2003.

December 19, 1929 Blind Lemon Jefferson, hall of fame blues guitarist and singer, died. Jefferson was born Lemon Henry Jefferson September 24, 1893 near Coutchman, Texas. He was born blind. He started playing the guitar in his early teens and became a street musician. He was traveling around Texas and playing with other blues musicians, including Leadbelly and T-Bone Walker, by 1915. Jefferson was taken to Chicago, Illinois in 1926 to record his music. Between 1926 and 1929, he recorded several hits, including "Got the Blues," "Long Lonesome Blues," and "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean." After his death, Jefferson was buried in an unmarked grave. A Texas Historical Marker was placed at the gravesite in 1967 and the name of the cemetery was changed to Blind Lemon Memorial Cemetery in 2007. Jefferson is often referred to as Father of Texas Blues. He was an inaugural inductee into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980. His recording "Matchbox Blues" (1927) was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999 as a recording of "lasting qualitative or historical significance" and listed by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the 500 songs that shaped rock and roll. "Blind Lemon Jefferson: His Life, His Death, and His Legacy" was published in 2002.

December 19, 1933 Cicely Tyson, stage, film and television actress, was born in Harlem, New York. Tyson was discovered by a photographer for Ebony magazine and became a popular fashion model. Her first film role was in "Carib Gold" (1957) and other films include "A Man Called Adam" (1966), "The Comedians" (1967), "Diary of a Mad Black Woman" (2005), "The Help" (2011), and "Alex Cross" (2012). Tyson appeared in the original cast of "The Blacks," the longest running Off-Broadway non-musical of the decade, in 1961. She was nominated for the 1972 Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in "Sounder" and won the 1974 Emmy Awards for Best Lead Actress in a Drama and Actress of the Year – Special for "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman." Other television appearances include "Roots" (1977), "King" (1978), "The Marva Collins Story" (1981), and "The Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All" (1994), for which she won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie. The Cicely Tyson School of Performing and Fine Arts in East Orange, New Jersey is named in her honor and she plays an active role in supporting the school. Tyson received an honorary doctorate degree from Morehouse College in 2009 and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People 2010 Spingarn Medal. Tyson won the 2013 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Play for her performance in "A Trip to Bountiful" and was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie for the television movie of the same title. She received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Columbia University in 2014. She is currently on Broadway in "The Gin Game."

December 19, 1951 John Preston "Pete" Hill, hall of fame Negro league baseball player and manager, died. Hill was born October 12, 1882 in Culpeper, Virginia. He played in the Negro leagues from 1899 to 1925 and was considered the most important member of three of the most talented teams to ever play. He was also considered the most consistent hitter of his time, retiring with a career batting average of .326. Hill was player/manager for the Detroit Stars from 1919 to 1921. His final position in professional baseball was as field manager for the Baltimore Black Sox. Hill moved to Buffalo, New York in 1930 to work as a railroad porter. He was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.

December 19, 1961 Reginald Howard White, hall of fame football player, was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee. White played for the University of Tennessee from 1980 to 1983 and was an All-American in 1983. After earning his Bachelor of Arts degree in human services, he signed with the Memphis Showboats of the United States Football League and after that league folded in 1985 signed with the Philadelphia Eagles of the National Football League. White was a 12-time All-Pro selection and the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 1987 and 1998 over the next 15 seasons. White was known as "the Minister of Defense" because of his strong Christian beliefs and his play on the field. After retiring from football, he served as an associate minister at a church in Knoxville, Tennessee. White died December 26, 2004. During the 2005 football season the University of Tennessee, Philadelphia Eagles, and Green Bay Packers all retired White's uniform number. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2002 and posthumously inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006. Reggie White Boulevard in Chattanooga and Reggie White Way in Green Bay, Wisconsin are named in his honor.

December 19, 1964 Randall McDaniel, hall of fame football player, was born in Phoenix, Arizona. McDaniel was a four-year starter for Arizona State University and was an All-American in 1986 and 1987. After graduating from college, he was selected by the Minnesota Vikings in the 1988 National Football League Draft and over his 14 season professional career was a 12-time Pro Bowl selection. McDaniel was named the 1996 NFL True Value Man of the Year for his charity work. McDaniel was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009. Today, he is a paraprofessional at the Westonka School District in Mound, Minnesota. The Randall McDaniel Sports Complex in Avondale, Arizona was named in his honor in 2010.

December 19, 1967 Charles Austin, hall of fame track and field athlete, was born in Van Vleck, Texas. Austin earned his bachelor's degree in business administration from Southwest Texas University (now Texas State University) in 1991. He won the National Collegiate Athletic Association Outdoor Championship in the high jump in 1990. Austin participated in the 1992 Barcelona, 1996 Atlanta, and 2000 Sydney Summer Olympic Games, winning the Gold medal and setting an Olympic record which still stands at the 1996 games. He also holds the American record for the high jump. Austin was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 2012. He currently owns a sports performance and personal training company. Austin published "Head Games: Life's Greatest Challenge" in 2007.

December 19, 1968 President Lyndon B. Johnson presented the Congressional Medal of Honor, America's highest military decoration, to the family of Matthew Leonard for his actions during the Vietnam War. Leonard was born November 26, 1929 in Eutaw, Alabama. He served in the United States Army during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. On February 28, 1967, Leonard was serving as a platoon sergeant with Company B, 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division near Suoi Da, South Vietnam when his platoon came under attack. His citation partially reads, "Although the platoon leader and several other key leaders were among the first wounded, P/Sgt. Leonard quickly rallied his men to throw back the initial enemy assaults. During the short pause that followed, he organized a defensive perimeter, redistributed ammunition, and inspired his comrades through his forceful leadership and words of encouragement. Noticing a wounded companion outside of the perimeter, he dragged the man to safety but was struck by a sniper's bullet which shattered his left hand. Refusing medical attention and continuously exposing himself to the increasing fire as the enemy again assaulted the perimeter, P/Sgt. Leonard moved from position to position to direct the fire of his men against the well camouflaged foe. Under the cover of the main attack, the enemy moved a machine gun into a location where it could sweep the entire perimeter………………..P/Sgt. Leonard rose to his feet, charged the enemy gun, and destroyed the hostile crew despite being hit several times by enemy fire. He moved to a tree, propped himself against it, and continued to engage the enemy until he succumbed to his wounds. His fighting spirit, heroic leadership, and valiant acts inspired the remaining members of his platoon to hold back the enemy until assistance arrived."

December 19, 1872 Warren Carlos Sapp, hall of fame football player, was born in Orlando, Florida but raised in Plymouth, Florida. Sapp played college football at the University of Miami where he won the 1994 Lombardi Award as the best college lineman or linebacker and the Bronko Nagurski Trophy as the best college defensive player. He was selected by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 1995 National Football League Draft and over his 13 season professional career was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection and 1999 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Sapp retired from football in 2008. He was selected for the NFL All-Decade Team for the 1990s and the 2000s. Sapp was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013 and the Buccaneers retired his number 99 jersey that same year. He is currently an analyst with NFL Network. He also is involved in raising global awareness of the importance of being tested and treated for snoring and obstructive sleep apnea.

December 19, 1980 Charles "Tarzan" Cooper, hall of fame basketball player, died. Cooper was born August 30, 1907 in Newark, Delaware but raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He started playing basketball professionally in 1925 with the Philadelphia Panthers and Philadelphia Giants and joined the New York Rens in 1929. He led them on an 88 game winning streak in 1933 and the World Professional Championship in 1939. Cooper joined the Washington Bears in 1941 and led them to the 1943 World Professional Championship. He was considered the greatest center of his time. Cooper retired in 1944 and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1977, the first African American inducted as an individual.

December 19, 1997 Jimmy Rogers, hall of fame blues singer, guitarist and harmonica player, died. Rogers was born James A. Lane June 3, 1924 in Ruleville, Mississippi. He learned to play the harmonica as a child. He was playing the guitar professionally in East St. Louis, Illinois by the time he was a teenager. Rogers played with Muddy Waters' band from 1947 to 1954 and they shaped the sound of the Chicago Blues style. Rogers had several successful solo record releases in the mid-1950s, including "Walking By Myself" (1956) and he continued touring and recording until his death. Rogers was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1995.

December 19, 2000 Milton John Hinton, hall of fame jazz bass player, died. Hinton was born June 23, 1910 in Vicksburg, Mississippi. He learned to play the bass horn, tuba, cello, and the double bass while in high school. He worked as a freelance musician in Chicago, Illinois in the late 1920s and early 1930s, playing with famous jazz musicians such as Jabbo Smith and Art Tatum. He joined the Cab Calloway band in 1936 and played with them until 1951. Hinton later became a television staff musician, working regularly on shows with Jackie Gleason and Dick Cavett. Hinton's biography, "Bass Line," was published in 1988 and he was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the United States bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1993. Hinton is recognized as the most recorded jazz musician of all time, having appeared on 1,174 recordings. He was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 2001. National Public Radio produced a documentary, "Milt Hinton: The Ultimate Timekeeper," on his life and music in 2008.

December 19, 2000 Roebuck "Pops" Staples, hall of fame gospel and R&B musician, died. Staples was born December 28, 1914 on a cotton plantation near Winona, Mississippi. He dropped out of school after the eighth grade. He moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1935 and sang with the Trumpet Jubilees. He formed The Staple Singers with his children as a gospel group in 1948 and they started recording in the early 1950s with songs such as "This May Be the Last Time" and "Uncloudy Day." They started recording protest, inspirational, and contemporary music in the 1960s and had a number of hits, including "Respect Yourself" (1971), "I'll Take You There" (1972), "If You're Ready (Come Go With Me)" (1973), and "Let's Do it Again" (1975). Three of their singles have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as recordings of "lasting qualitative or historical significance," "I'll Take You There" and "Uncloudy Day" (1956) in 1999 and "Respect Yourself" in 2002. Staples began a solo career after the group disbanded in the 1980s and won the 1995 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album for "Father, Father." The Staple Singers were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.


 Stage, film and television actress

Hall of fame football player

The first Black seminarian to be educated and ordained a priest in the United States

Today in Black History, 12/18/2015 | Benjamin Oliv...
Today in Black History, 12/20/2015 | Ernest James ...

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