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

Today in Black History, 12/18/2015 | Benjamin Oliver Davis, Jr.

December 18, 1912 Benjamin Oliver Davis, Jr., commander of the World War II Tuskegee Airman, was born in Washington, D. C. After attending the University of Chicago, Davis entered the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1932. Despite shunning by his classmates, never having a roommate, and being forced to eat alone, he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1936, the fourth Black graduate from the academy. He was assigned to the first training class at Tuskegee Army Air Field in 1941 and became the first officer to earn his wings there in 1942. During World War II, the airmen commanded by Davis compiled an outstanding record in combat, flying more than 15,000 sorties, shooting down 111 enemy planes, and destroying or damaging 273 planes on the ground. Davis served at the Pentagon and in overseas posts for the next 20 years before retiring from active military service in 1970 as a lieutenant general. Davis published his autobiography, "Benjamin O. Davis, Jr.: American," in 1991 and was advanced to the rank of General, United States Air Force in 1998, with President William J. Clinton pinning on his four-star insignia. Davis died July 4, 2002.

December 18, 1852 George Henry White, the last African American Congressman of the Reconstruction era, was born in Rosindale, North Carolina. White graduated from Howard University in 1877 and studied law privately before he was admitted to the North Carolina bar in 1879. He entered politics in 1880 when he was elected to the North Carolina House of Representatives. He was elected to the North Carolina Senate in 1884 and Solicitor and Prosecuting Attorney in 1886. White was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1896 and re-elected in 1898. White did not run for a third term because of changes in the voting laws and the intimidation of Black voters. In his farewell speech he said, "This is perhaps the Negroes' temporary farewell to the American Congress but let me say, Phoenix-like he will rise up some day and come again." His speech was referenced by President Barack H. Obama in his remarks at the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's Annual Awards Dinner September 26, 2009. White was an officer in the National Afro-American Council, a nationwide civil rights organization created in 1898. He moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1906 where he practiced law, operated a commercial savings bank, and founded the town of Whitesboro, New Jersey as a real estate development. White died December 28, 1918. His biography, "George Henry White: An Even Chance in the Race of Life," was published in 2000.

December 18, 1897 Fletcher Hamilton Henderson, Jr., hall of fame jazz pianist, bandleader, arranger and composer, was born in Cuthbert, Georgia. Henderson earned his bachelor's degree in chemistry and mathematics from Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University) in 1920. He moved to New York City to attend Columbia University for a master's degree in chemistry. However, he found his job prospects in chemistry to be limited due to his race and turned to music for a living. He formed his own band in 1922 and it quickly became known as the best Black band in New York. Henderson recorded extensively in the 1920s and 1930s, including "After the Storm" (1924), "Alabamy Bound" (1925), "Chinatown, My Chinatown" (1930), and "Down South Camp Meetin" (1934). He started arranging around 1931 and his arrangements became influential, particularly those for the Benny Goodman Orchestra. Henderson died December 28, 1952. He was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1973. His biography, "The Uncrowned King of Swing: Fletcher Henderson and Big Band Jazz," was published in 2005.

December 18, 1907 Sherman Leander Maxwell, sportscaster and chronicler of Negro league baseball, was born in Newark, New Jersey. Maxwell began his broadcasting career in 1929 doing a five-minute sports report on a radio station in Newark. It is believed by many historians that he was the first African American sportscaster. Maxwell also hosted a sports show called "Runs, Hits and Errors" and was the public address announcer for the Newark Eagles of the Negro Baseball League. Maxwell continued on radio and announcing games until his retirement in 1967. He also authored a book of interviews, "Thrills and Spills in Sports," in 1940. Maxwell was known as someone who preserved records and scores of Negro league baseball that would have been lost without him. Maxwell died July 16, 2008.

December 18, 1916 William Delouis Watson, the first African American to win the United States decathlon championship, was born in Boley, Oklahoma but raised in Saginaw, Michigan. Watson enrolled at the University of Michigan in 1935 and dominated his events from 1937 to 1939, winning Big Ten championships in the long jump, shot put, and discus all three years. He also set several Michigan and Big Ten Conference records. Watson was so dominate in so many events that he became known as "the University of Michigan's one man track team." Watson was elected captain of the track team in his senior year, the first African American captain of any sports team in U. of M. history. He was the first African American to win the U. S. decathlon championship in 1940 and repeated as champion in 1943. Watson joined the Detroit Police Department in 1941 and served until his retirement in 1966. Watson died March 3, 1973. He was posthumously inducted into the University of Michigan Athletic Hall of Honor in 1982.

December 18, 1917 Raiford Chatman "Ossie" Davis, actor, director, playwright and social activist, was born in Cogdell, Georgia. Davis began his acting career with the Rose McClendon Players in Harlem, New York in 1939 and made his film debut in "No Way Out" in 1950. He appeared in almost 50 movies over the next 55 years, including Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing" (1989), "Jungle Fever" (1991), "Malcolm X" (1992), and "She Hate Me" (2004). His last role was in the Showtime Television drama series "The L Word." He also directed five films, including "Cotton Comes to Harlem" (1970) and "Gordon's War" (1973). He and his wife, Ruby Dee, were deeply involved in the Civil Rights Movement and were instrumental in organizing the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Davis delivered the eulogy at the 1965 funeral of Malcolm X and a tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King at the 1968 memorial in New York City. Davis and Dee were presented the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President William J. Clinton October 5, 1995. They received Kennedy Center Honors in 2004. Davis and Dee published their memoir, "With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together," in 1998. Davis died February 4, 2005. His name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

December 18, 1933 Lonnie Brooks, hall of fame blues singer and guitarist, was born Lee Baker, Jr. in Dubuisson, Louisiana. Brooks moved to Port Arthur, Texas and joined Clifton Chenier's Red Hot Louisiana band. He moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1960 and adopted his stage name. Brooks recorded his debut album, "Broke An' Hungry," in 1969. Subsequent albums include "Bayou Lightning" (1979), "The Crawl" (1984), "Wound Up Tight" (1986), and "Roadhouse Rules" (1996). Brooks has toured throughout the United States and Europe and has appeared on German and British television. He co-authored "Blues for Dummies" in 1998. Brooks was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2010.

December 18, 1942 Carlotta Walls LaNier, the first African American female to graduate from Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, was born in Little Rock. As one of the Little Rock Nine, she helped to desegregate Central High School in 1957. LaNier graduated from Central in 1960. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree from Colorado State College (now the University of Northern Colorado) in 1968. She has worked as a professional real estate broker, including founding her own firm in 1977. LaNier, along with the other members of the Little Rock Nine and Daisy Bates, was awarded the 1958 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal and, again with the other members of the group, received the Congressional Gold Medal from President William J. Clinton in 1999. LaNier was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 2015. She is currently president of the Little Rock Nine Foundation, a scholarship organization dedicated to ensuring equal access to education for African Americans. She published her memoir, "A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School," in 2009.

December 18, 1946 Stephen Bantu Biko, anti-apartheid activist, was born in King William's Town in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. Biko helped found the South African Students' Organization in 1968, which evolved into the Black Consciousness Movement, and was elected its first president. He was banned by the government in 1973 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 June 16, 1976. On August 21, 1977, he was arrested under the Terrorism Act of 1967 and suffered a major head injury while being interrogated by the police. As a result, Biko died September 12, 1977 at the Pretoria prison. Several universities in the United Kingdom and the main student union buildings 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).

December 18, 1992 Clara McBride Hale, humanitarian known as Mother Hale, died. Hale was born April 1, 1905 in New York City. She struggled to support her family after the death of her husband during the Great Depression, using her home as a daycare center. Hale's profession became her life calling over the years. She became a foster parent and became known as a mother to those who did not have one. Hale began to take in children who were born addicted to their mother's drug habits during pregnancy in 1969 and attained her child care license and officially opened Hale House in 1975. Mother Hale helped over 1,000 drug addicted babies, children born with HIV, and children whose parents had died of AIDS. Hale was recognized by President Ronald W. Reagan in his 1985 State of the Union Address. Her biography, "Clara Hale: A Mother to Those Who Needed One," was published in 1993.


The first African American female to graduate from Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock

 Hall of fame jazz pianist, bandleader, arranger and composer

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