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

Today in Black History, 12/22/2015 | Jefferson Franklin Long

December 22, 1870 Jefferson Franklin Long, the first African American from Georgia to be elected to the United States House of Representatives, was seated. Long was born enslaved March 3, 1836 near Knoxville, Georgia and was self-educated. He was freed after the Civil War and was a prominent member of the Republican Party, traveling throughout the South urging formerly enslaved men to register to vote, by 1867. Partially as a result of his efforts, 37 African Americans were elected to the 1867 Georgia Constitutional Convention and 32 to the state legislature. Long advocated for public education, higher wages, and better terms for sharecroppers. He also helped organize the Union Brotherhood Lodge, a Black mutual aid society in Macon, Georgia. Long was elected to fill a vacancy and served in Congress until March 3, 1871. Long became the first African American to speak on the floor of the United States House of Representatives February 1, 1871. He spoke against the Amnesty Bill which exempted former Confederate politicians from swearing allegiance to the Constitution. The bill passed despite his efforts. Long did not seek re-election but did serve as a delegate to the 1880 Republican National Convention. Long resumed business as a merchant tailor in Macon after serving in Congress and died there February 4, 1901.

December 22, 1873 Charles Lenox Remond, orator, abolitionist and military organizer, died. Remond was born February 1, 1810 in Salem, Massachusetts. He began his activism against slavery as an orator while in his twenties. The Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society chose him as one of its agents in 1838 and he went to the 1840 World's Anti-Slavery Convention in London, England. Remond had a reputation as an eloquent lecturer and is reported to have been the first Black public speaker on abolition. Remond recruited Black soldiers in Massachusetts for the Union Army during the Civil War and after the war worked in the Boston Customs House and as a street lamp inspector.

December 22, 1883 Arthur Wergs Mitchell, the first African American elected to the United States Congress as a Democrat, was born near Lafayette, Alabama. Mitchell left home at 14 to attend Tuskegee Institute and briefly attended Columbia University to qualify for the bar. He taught at rural schools in Georgia and Alabama and founded the Armstrong Agricultural School in Alabama where he served as president for ten years. Mitchell was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives in 1934 and served four terms. He introduced bills banning lynching and against discrimination during his tenure. He chose to not seek re-election in 1942. MItchell died May 9, 1968. His biography, "The New Deal's Black Congressman: A Life of Arthur Wergs Mitchell," was published in 1997.

December 22, 1884 Saint Elmo Brady, the first African American to earn a Ph. D. in chemistry in the United States and educator, was born in Louisville, Kentucky. Brady earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Fisk University in 1908 and his Master of Science degree in 1914 and Ph. D. in 1916 from the University of Illinois. He was the first African American admitted to Phi Lambda Upsilon, the chemistry honor society, and one of the first African Americans inducted into Sigma Xi, the science honorary society. Brady taught chemistry at Tuskegee Institute from 1916 to 1920, at Howard University from 1920 to 1927, and at Fisk from 1927 to his retirement in 1952. After retiring, he established the chemistry department and taught at Tougaloo College. Brady died December 25, 1966.

December 22, 1887 John Wesley Cromwell became the first African American lawyer to argue a case before the Interstate Commerce Commission when he served as counsel for the plaintiff in William H. Heard v. Georgia Railroad Company. Cromwell was born enslaved September 5, 1846 in Portsmouth, Virginia. After his father gained the family's freedom, Cromwell graduated from the Institute for Colored Youth (now Cheney University) in 1864. He graduated from Howard University Law School in 1873 and was admitted to the District of Columbia bar the next year. He founded the weekly paper The People's Advocate in 1876. A gifted organizer, Cromwell helped organize the Virginia Educational and Historical Association and the National Colored Press Association. He was a founder of the Bethel Literary and Historical Association and was a founding member of the American Negro Academy, an organization created to stimulate and demonstrate intellectual capabilities among African Americans, in 1897. Cromwell published his most influential work, "The Negro in American History: Men and Women Eminent in the Evolution of the American of African Descent," in 1914 and it influenced Carter G. Woodson to found the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History the following year. He also published "The First Negro Churches in the District of Columbia" in 1917. Cromwell died April 14, 1927.

December 22, 1898 Chancellor James Williams, professor, historian and author, was born in Bennettsville, South Carolina. Williams earned his bachelor's degree in education in 1930 and his Master of Arts degree in history in 1935 from Howard University and his Ph.D. in history and sociology in 1949 from American University. He returned to Howard in 1946 as a professor and remained there until retirement in 1966. Williams began his studies abroad in England in 1953 and did field research in African history in Ghana in 1956. He published "The Destruction of Black Civilization: Great Issues of a Race Between 4500 B.C. and 2000 A.D." in 1971 and it has become a cornerstone of Afrocentrism. The second edition of the book was published in 1987 and the 21st Century Foundation honored him with the first Clarence L.Holte International Biennial Prize. Other books authored by Williams include "And If I Were White" (1946), "Problems in African History" (1964), and "The Second Agreement with Hell" (1979). Williams died December 7, 1992.

December 22, 1902 Barney Launcelot Ford, businessman and civic leader, died. Ford was born enslaved January 22, 1822 in Virginia. He escaped via the Underground Railroad in 1840 and went to Chicago, Illinois. While sailing to California in 1848, he landed in Nicaragua where he saw many business opportunities. He opened the United States Hotel and Restaurant in 1851 which was very successful and provided him $5,000 in savings. Ford returned to Denver, Colorado where he eventually owned two hotels, a restaurant, and a barbershop and was worth over $250,000 by the 1870s. Ford gave money, food, and jobs to newly freed African Americans and opened a school for Black children. He and his wife were the first African Americans to be invited to a Colorado Association of Pioneers dinner in 1882. Ford's portrait, in the form of a stained glass window, is in the rotunda of the Colorado State Capitol Building. The Barney Ford House Museum is located in Breckenridge, Colorado and the Barney L. Ford Building is in Denver. A new Denver elementary school was named in his honor in 1973. Biographies of Ford include "Adventures of Barney Ford, a Runaway Slave" (1969) and "Barney Ford: Black Baron" (1973).

December 22, 1905 James Amos Porter, artist and "father of African American art history," was born in Baltimore, Maryland. After earning his Bachelor of Science degree from Howard University in 1927, he accepted a position at the university as instructor of painting and drawing. He received the 1933 Schomburg Portrait Prize from the Harmon Foundation for his painting "Woman Holding a Jug" (1930). He earned his Master of Arts degree in art history from New York University in 1937 and published "Modern Negro Art" in 1943, the first comprehensive study in the United States of African American art. Porter taught at Howard for more than 40 years and was the director of The Art Gallery from 1953 to 1970. He was selected one of the best art teachers in the nation in 1965 and was presented the award by First Lady Lady Bird Johnson. Porter died February 28, 1970. The James A. Porter Colloquium on African American Art is held annually at Howard.

December 22, 1910 Elder Roma Wilson, evangelist, harmonica player and singer, was born in Hickory Flat, Mississippi. Wilson taught himself to play the harmonica at 15 and was ordained a Pentecostal minister at 17. He left Mississippi in 1935 and eventually ended up in Detroit, Michigan where he played and preached on the streets. Wilson was recorded in 1948 and the recordings were sold without his knowledge. These recordings introduced his music to people in the United States and Europe. Wilson moved back to Mississippi in 1976 and only learned of his recordings in the 1980s. After being rediscovered, he recorded his only album, "This Train," in 1995. Wilson was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship, the United States' highest honor in the folk and traditional arts, in 1993. He continues to preach and perform.

December 22, 1921 Pierre Caliste Landry, the first African American to serve as mayor of an American city, died. Landry was born enslaved April 19, 1841 in Ascension Parish, Louisiana. He was sold at public auction to a prominent Louisiana family in 1854 and was educated in their primary and technical schools. Landry was freed after the Civil War and moved with his family to Donaldsonville, Louisiana. There he founded two Black schools, built a prosperous business, and became an influential leader in the Black community. Landry was elected Mayor of Donaldsonville in 1868 and served a one-year term. He was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives in 1872 and to the state senate in 1874 where he served until 1880. He authored the bill to create New Orleans University, the third Black private college in Louisiana. Landry was elected to the highest position in the Methodist Episcopal Church, Presiding Elder of the South New Orleans District, in 1891. Landry later served as principal and dean of several high schools.

December 22, 1924 Arthur Allen Fletcher, the "father of affirmative action," was born in Phoenix, Arizona. Fletcher organized his first civil rights protest in high school when he refused to allow his picture and those of the other African American students to appear at the back of the school yearbook. Fletcher earned his bachelor's degree in political science and sociology from Washburn University after serving in World War II where he was wounded and earned a Purple Heart. He played professional football for a short time and was the first African American to play for the Baltimore Colts. He later earned his law degree and Ph. D. in education. Fletcher supervised the enforcement of equal opportunities for minorities in federally funded contracts in the administrations of Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford. He was also an adviser to President George H. W. Bush. Fletcher became executive director of the United Negro College Fund in 1972 and helped coin the phrase "a mind is a terrible thing to waste." He later led a consultancy that trained companies to comply with governmental equal opportunity regulations. Fletcher died July 12, 2005.

December 22, 1934 Wallace Henry Thurman, author, died. Thurman was born August 16, 1902 in Salt Lake City, Utah. He wrote his first novel at ten. He attended the University of Utah and the University of Southern California but did not earn a degree. Thurman moved to Harlem, New York in 1925 and became editor of The Messenger the following year, a position he held for a year.Later, he became a reader for Macauley's Publishing Company, the first African American in such a position. Thurman wrote a play, "Harlem," which debuted on Broadway in 1929. His novel "The Blacker the Berry: A Novel of Negro Life" was published the same year. He published "Infants of the Spring" and co-authored "The Interne" in 1932. "The Collected Writings of Wallace Thurman: A Harlem Renaissance Reader," which includes all of his essays, many letters, and three previously unpublished works, was published in 2003.

December 22, 1939 Jerry Pickney, hall of fame illustrator of children's books, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Pickney began drawing at four and earned a scholarship to the Philadelphia Museum College of Art (now the University of the Arts). After graduating, he held a number of positions in the field of design and illustration. Eventually, he opened the Jerry Pickney Studio and began illustrating children's books in 1964. He most often works on books that celebrate multiculturalism and African American heritage. Books he has illustrated include "The Tales of Uncle Remus" (1987), "Black Cowboy, Wild Horses" (1998), "The Old African" (2005), "Puss in Boots" (2012), and "The Tortoise and The Hare" (2013). Pickney is a five-time winner of the Coretta Scott King Award and four-time winner of the New York Times Best Illustrated Award. He won the Caldecott Medal in 2009 from the Association for Library Services to Children for "The Lion & the Mouse" which was deemed "the most distinguished American picture book for children published that year." Pickney has also designed twelve postage stamps for the United States Postal Service's Black Heritage series. Pickney has received honorary doctorate degrees from the Art Institute of Boston at Lesley University in 2003, the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design in 2010, and the Bank Street Graduate School of Education in 2012. He was inducted into the Society of Illustrators Hall of Fame in 2011 and the American Academy of Arts and Science in 2012.

December 22, 1939 Ma Rainey, hall of fame vocalist and the "Mother of the Blues," died. Rainey was born Gertrude Malissa Nix Pridgett April 26, 1886 in Columbus, Georgia. She first appeared on stage at 14 and began performing with her husband as Rainey & Rainey, Assassinators of the Blues in 1904. She made her first recording in 1923 and recorded 100 songs between that year and 1928, including "Bo-Weevil Blues" (1923), "Moonshine Blues" (1923), "Black Bottom" (1927), and "Soon This Morning" (1927). She earned enough money that she was able to retire from performing in 1933 and run two theaters that she owned until her death. Rainey was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor in 1994. Her recording of "C. C. Rider" (1925) was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as a recording of "lasting qualitative or historical significance" and included by the National Recording Preservation Board in the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant" in 2004. Rainey's biography, "Mother of the Blues: A Study of Ma Rainey," was published in 1981. Her name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

December 22, 1960 Jean-Michael Basquiat, the first painter of African descent to become an international art star, was born in Brooklyn, New York. Basquiat was fluent in French and Spanish at eleven. He dropped out of high school and started as a graffiti artist. He had become part of the neo-expressionist movement by 1982 and was showing his work regularly. He appeared on the cover of The New York Times magazine in 1985 in a feature entitled "New Art, New Money: The Marketing of an American Artist." Examples of Basquiat's representation of his heritage in his works include "Irony of Negro Policeman" (1981) and "Untitled (History of the Black People)" (1983). Basquiat died August 12, 1988. Several major museum retrospective exhibitions of his work have been held since his death, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Brooklyn Museum. His works sell for millions of dollars. His painting "Dustheads" sold for $48.8 million in 2013. A film biography titled "Basquiat" was released in 1996 and a documentary film, "Jean-Michael Basquiat: The Radiant Child," was released in 2009.

December 22, 1964 Angela James, hall of fame hockey player and the first superstar of modern women's hockey, was born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. James attended Seneca College where she won numerous titles in ice hockey and earned her degree in recreation facilities management. She played in the Central Ontario Women's Hockey League from the late 1970s through the 1980s and dominated her opponents. She was selected to Canada's team in 1990 for the inaugural women's world championships and led her team to the Gold medal. She played in three additional world championships, earning eight Most Valuable Player Awards. Seneca retired her jersey number 8 in 2001. Hockey Canada honored James with the Female Breakthrough Award in 2005 for making significant contributions to the promotion and/or development of female hockey in Canada. The Angela James Bowl was created in 2008 to be awarded to the Canadian Hockey League's top scorer. She was one of the first three women to be inducted into the International Ice Hockey Federation Hockey Hall of Fame in 2008 and one of the first two inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2010. The Angela James Arena in North York, Ontario is named in her honor. James' biography, "Angela James: The First Superstar of Women's Hockey," was published in 2012. She is currently responsible for the administration and coordination of sports and recreational leagues at Seneca.



​ Hall of fame hockey player and the first superstar of modern women's hockey

Hall of fame illustrator of children's books

The first African American elected to the United States Congress as a Democrat

Today in Black History, 12/21/2015 | Inman Edward ...
Today in Black History, 12/23/2015 | Henry Highlan...

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