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

Today in Black History, 12/25/2015 | Octavia Victoria Rogers Albert

December 25, 1853 Octavia Victoria Rogers Albert, author, was born enslaved in Oglethorpe, Georgia. Albert was emancipated after the Civil War and attended Atlanta University where she studied to be a teacher. She moved to Louisiana in 1874 and began to conduct interviews with men and women previously enslaved. Albert was a skilled interviewer and writer and was able to convey on paper the powerful recollections of these people. These narratives became the material for "The House of Bondage or Charlotte Brooks and Other Slaves." Albert died around 1890 and the book was published in 1891. Her goal in writing the book was to tell the story of the previously enslaved as well as to "correct and create history."

December 25, 1745 Joseph Bologne the Chevalier de Saint-Georges, musician, swordsman and equestrian, was born in Guadeloupe but raised in France. While still a young man, he acquired reputations as the best swordsman in France, as a violin virtuoso, and as a classical composer. He was appointed maestro of the Concert des Amateurs in 1771 and later director of the Concert de la Loge Olympique, the biggest orchestra of his time.He was eventually selected for appointment as director of the Royal Opera of Louis XVI but was prevented from taking the position because three Parisian divas felt that "it would be injurious to their professional reputations for them to sing on stage under the direction of a mulatto." Saint-Georges also served in the French army and was appointed the first Black colonel and commanded a regiment of a thousand free colored volunteers. Despite his successes, Saint-Georges died destitute June 10, 1799. Biographies of Saint-Georges include "Joseph Boulogne called Chevalier de Saint-Georges" (1996) and "Joseph de Saint-Georges, le Chevalier Noir (The Black Chevalier)" (2006).

December 25, 1760 "An Evening Thought, Salvation, by Christ, with Penitential Cries" by Jupiter Hammon was published. This made Hammon the first African American published writer in America (several years earlier Phyllis Wheatley's poems had been published in England). Hammon was born enslaved October 17, 1711 in Long Island, New York. Unlike most enslaved people, he was allowed to attend school and could read and write. Hammon delivered his "Address to the Negroes of the State of New York" September 24, 1786 in which he stated "If we should ever get to heaven, we shall find nobody to reproach us for being Black, or for being slaves." He also said that Black people should maintain their high moral standards precisely because slaves on earth had already secured their place in heaven. He had published at least three other poems and three sermons by the time he was eighty. Hammon died enslaved around 1806. A full account of Hammon, including a biographical sketch, poems, and critical analysis of his works, can be found in "America's First Negro Poet: The Complete Works of Jupiter Hammon of Long Island" (1983) and "Jupiter Hammon and the Biblical Beginnings of African American Literature" (1993).

December 25, 1807 Charles Bennett Ray, abolitionist, clergyman and journalist, was born in Falmouth, Massachusetts. Ray enrolled as the first Black student at Wesleyan University in 1832 but was not allowed to attend due to protests from White students. He then moved to New York City and became a minister serving two predominantly White churches. Ray became involved in the abolitionist movement about that time and became a prominent promoter of the Underground Railroad. He was also co-founder and director of the New York Vigilance Committee and a member of the American Anti-Slavery Society. Ray became owner of The Colored American, a weekly publication whose mission was "to promote the moral, social and political elevation of the free colored people; and the peaceful emancipation of the slaves," in 1838. Ray died August 15, 1886.

December 25, 1831 The Baptist War began in Jamaica. The war was led by Baptist preacher Samuel Sharpe and was waged largely, though not only, by his enslaved Baptist followers. It started as a peaceful protest demanding more freedom and a working wage. When those demands were not met, it escalated to the largest uprising in the British West Indies, lasting 10 days and involving more than 50,000 enslaved participants. The revolt was ended by British forces with approximately 200 enslaved Africans and 14 White people killed. After the revolt, an additional 300 enslaved Africans were killed through various forms of judicial executions. Although the revolt was unsuccessful, it is widely thought that it increased the pressure for unconditional emancipation in Jamaica which happened in 1838.

December 25, 1834 James Sidney Hinton, the first Black member of the Indiana State Legislature, was born in North Carolina. Hinton moved with his parents to Terre Haute, Indiana in 1848 and worked as a barber. He volunteered for the Union Army when the Civil War started, was promoted to second lieutenant, and actively recruited other African Americans. He moved to Indianapolis, Indiana after the war and was elected a delegate to the 1872 Republican National Convention. Hinton was later appointed a trustee of Indiana's Wabash and Erie Canal Fund, the first African American to hold a state office. He was elected to the Indiana House of Representatives in 1880 and served one term. Hinton continued to work as a barber throughout his political career. Hinton died November 6, 1892. A bust of Hinton was unveiled at the Indiana Statehouse January 16, 2014.

December 25, 1846 Moses Aaron Hopkins, clergyman and educator, was born enslaved in Montgomery County, Virginia. Hopkins worked as a cook in Union Army camps during the Civil War. He learned to read at 20, graduated from Lincoln University, and enrolled at Auburn Theological Seminary. Hopkins earned his degree in theology in 1877, the first African American graduate of the seminary, and was ordained by the Presbyterian Church that same year. He eventually settled in Franklinton, North Carolina where he founded Mt. Pleasant Presbyterian Church and Albion Academy. President S. Grover Cleveland appointed Hopkins United States Minister (ambassador) to Liberia in 1885 where he served until his death August 7, 1886. A North Carolina State Historical Marker in Hopkins' honor was unveiled in Franklinton in 1959.

December 25, 1863 Robert Blake was serving on the USS Marblehead during the Civil War when it came under attack by Confederate guns. Although he had no assigned combat role and could have retreated to safety below deck, when an exploding shell knocked him down and killed a powder boy manning one of the guns, Blake took over the powder boy's duties running powder boxes to the gun loaders. For his actions, Blake became the first African American to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, America's highest military decoration, April 16, 1864. Blake was born enslaved in South Santee, South Carolina. His owner's plantation was burned down by the Union Navy in 1862 and he and 400 other enslaved people were taken as contraband. Blake volunteered to serve in the Union Navy. Nothing is known of his life after receiving the medal.

December 25, 1870 Henry McKee Minton, physician and founder of Sigma Pi Phi, was born in Columbia, South Carolina. Minton graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy in 1891, earned his Graduate in Pharmacy degree from Philadelphia College of Pharmacy (now University of the Sciences in Philadelphia) in 1895, and his Doctor of Medicine degree from Jefferson Medical College (now Thomas Jefferson University) in 1906. He opened the first pharmacy operated by an African American in Pennsylvania in 1897. Minton was one of the founders of Mercy Hospital in 1907 and was appointed superintendent of the hospital in 1920. More than 200 Black interns were trained at Mercy during his 24 year tenure. Minton was on the staff of the University of Pennsylvania's Henry Phipps Institute from 1915 until his death December 29, 1946 and was a recognized authority on tuberculosis. Minton founded Sigma Pi Phi (the Boule) in 1904 to "bind men of like qualities, tastes and attainments into close sacred union, that they might know the best of one another."

December 25, 1875 Charles Caldwell was assassinated in Clinton, Mississippi. Caldwell was born enslaved near Clinton and emancipated at the end of the Civil War. He was elected to the Mississippi Constitutional Convention in 1868 and helped draft the state constitution. He was elected a Mississippi State Senator soon after. The Clinton Riot occurred in September, 1875 during a political rally of about 3,000 people. The riot was racially motivated and a backlash to the Reconstruction Movement. Approximately 50 people were killed, mostly African American. Caldwell was lured into a store for a friendly drink Christmas night of that year and shot in the back. His last words were "never say you killed a coward, you killed a gentleman and a brave man."

December 25, 1887 Emmanuel Stance, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, died. Stance was born in 1847 in East Carroll Parish, Louisiana. He worked as a sharecropper prior to joining the United States Army. He enlisted in the army in October, 1866 and within ten months was promoted to sergeant. On May 20, 1870, while serving in Company F of the 9th Cavalry at Fort McKavett, he led a detachment of ten privates to return two White boys who had been kidnapped by Apaches. For his bravery on this mission, Stance was cited for "gallantry on scout after Indians" and received the medal, America's highest military decoration June 28, 1870. Stance remained in the army, reaching the rank of first sergeant, until his death.

December 25, 1903 George W. Lee, minister, entrepreneur and civil rights activist, was born in Edwards, Mississippi. Lee accepted a call to preach in Belzoni, Mississippi in the early 1930s. Over time, he led four churches, opened a grocery store, and set up a printing business. He co-founded the Belzoni branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1953. Lee was also the vice president of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership, an organization that promoted self-help, business, and voting rights. Less than a month after delivering a speech at the organization's annual meeting, Lee was shot and killed by an unidentified assailant May 7, 1955. No charges were ever brought against anyone for the murder.

December 25, 1907 Cabell "Cab" Calloway III, hall of fame jazz singer and bandleader, was born in Rochester, New York. After graduating from high school, Calloway joined his sister in a touring production of the Black musical revue "Plantation Days." He assumed leadership of his orchestra in 1930 and they became the co-host band at the Cotton Club in New York City and began touring nationally. He recorded his most famous song, "Minnie the Moocher," in 1931 and as a result of the chorus became known as "The Hi De Ho Man." He appeared in the 1933 film "International House" and performed his classic song "Reefer Man," a tune about a man who favors marijuana cigarettes. Other film appearances include "Stormy Weather" (1943), "Porgy and Bess" (1952), and "The Cincinnati Kid" (1965). His autobiography, "Of Minnie The Moocher And Me," was published in 1976. The Cab Calloway Museum at Copin State College was established in the 1980s and the Cab Calloway School of the Arts in Wilmington, Delaware was dedicated in 1994. Calloway was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1987 and was presented the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President William J. Clinton October 7, 1993. Calloway died November 18, 1994. His recording of "Minnie the Moocher" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999 as a recording of "lasting qualitative or historical significance" and he was posthumously honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008. His biography, "Hi-De-Ho: The Life of Cab Calloway," was published in 2010.

December 25, 1907 Rufus Paul Turner, engineer, educator and author, was born in Houston, Texas. Turner began working with crystal diodes at 15 and published his first article on radio electronics at 17. He built what was then the world's smallest radio in 1925 and was awarded a commercial radio operator's license, the first licensed to a Black broadcaster in the United States. Turner held a number of engineering positions over the years and taught electronics at a vocational school and the University of Rhode Island. He published 40 books, including "Radio Test Instruments" (1945) and "Illustrated Dictionary of Electronics" (1980), and 3,000 articles over his career. Turner became interested in literature in the 1950s and earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from California State College in 1958 and his Master of Arts degree in English in 1960 and Ph. D. in 1966 from the University of Southern California. He served as an English professor at California State from 1960 to 1973. Turner died March 25, 1982.

December 25, 1949 Joe Louis Walker, hall of fame blues guitarist, singer and composer, was born in San Francisco, California. Walker began playing the guitar at eight and was well-known within the Bay Area music scene by 16. In his early years, he played with many blues legends, including John Lee Hooker, Otis Rush, and Muddy Waters. Walker left the blues scene in 1975 and for the next 10 years performed with The Spiritual Corinthians Gospel Quartet. During this time, he earned his bachelor's degree in music and English from San Francisco State University. Walker returned to the blues with his debut album, "Cold Is The Night," in 1986. He has recorded more than 20 albums, including "Blues Survivor" (1993), "Ridin' High" (2003), "Hellfire" (2012), and "Everybody Wants A Piece" (2015). He also played on James Cotton's "Deep in the Blues" which won the 1996 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album. Walker was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2013.

December 25, 1951 Harry Tyson Moore, teacher and civil rights pioneer, and his wife were killed on their 25th wedding anniversary by a bomb that went off beneath their home in Mims, Florida. Moore was born November 18, 1905 in Houston, Florida and graduated from Florida Memorial College (now University) with a Normal degree in 1925. He worked as a teacher and principal at several schools from 1925 to 1946. The Moores founded the Brevard County chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1934 and he filed the first lawsuit in the deep South to equalize salaries of Black teachers with White teachers in public schools in 1937. Moore also led the Progressive Voters League from 1944 to 1950 and during that time registered more than 100,000 Black people to vote. The public school system fired the Moores in 1946 and blacklisted them because of his political activism. Moore was posthumously awarded the Spingarn Medal by the NAACP in 1952. Florida designated the home site of the Moores a Florida Historical Heritage Landmark in 1999 and Brevard County created the Harry T. and Harriette Moore Memorial Park and Interpretive Center at the home site in 2004. The state of Florida concluded in 2006 that the Moores were victims of a conspiracy by members of a Central Florida Klaven of the Ku Klux Klan and four individuals, all deceased, were named. "Before His Time: The Untold Story of Harry T. Moore, America's First Civil Rights Martyr," was published in 1999.

December 25, 1954 Johnny Ace, rhythm and blues singer, accidentally killed himself while playing with a loaded gun. Ace was born John Marshall Alexander, Jr. June 9, 1929 in Memphis, Tennessee. After serving in the navy during the Korean War, Ace played piano in several bands, including the B. B. King band. Ace took over vocal duties when King left the band and renamed the band The Beale Streeters. He released his debut recording, "My Song," in 1952 and it topped the R&B charts for nine weeks. He had eight hits in a row in the next two years, including "Cross My Heart" (1953), "Please Forgive Me" (1954), "Yes Baby" (1954), and "Never Let Me Go" (1954). Ace was named the Most Programmed Artist of 1954 by trade weekly Cash Box. Three of his 1954 recordings sold more than 1,750,000 records. Ace's funeral was attended by an estimated 5,000 people. His last recording, "Pledging My Love," was posthumously released in 1955 and topped the R&B charts for ten weeks. Ace's biography, "The Late, Great Johnny Ace and the Transition from R&B to Rock and Roll," was published in 1999.

December 25, 1958 Richard Nelson Henley Henderson, hall of fame baseball player, was born in Chicago, Illinois but grew up in Oakland, California. Henderson graduated from Oakland Technical High School, where he played baseball, basketball, and was an All-American football running back, in 1976. He was drafted by the Oakland Athletics that same year and made his major league debut with the team in 1979. Henderson was a 10-time All-Star, 1981 Gold Glove Award winner, and 1990 American League Most Valuable Player over his 25 season professional career. He holds the major league records for career stolen bases, single season stolen bases, runs scored, unintentional walks, and leadoff home runs. He is widely regarded as baseball's greatest leadoff hitter. Henderson retired in 2003 and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2009. He published his autobiography, "Off Base: Confessions of a Thief," in 1993.

December 25, 1959 Michael Phillip Anderson, NASA astronaut, was born in Plattsburgh, New York. Anderson earned his Bachelor of Science degree in physics and astronomy from the University of Washington in 1981 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force. After graduating from Undergraduate Pilot Training, he was assigned to the 2nd Airborne Command and Control Squadron as an EC 135 pilot. He logged over 3,000 hours in various models of aircraft. Anderson earned his Master of Science degree in physics in 1990 from Creighton University and was selected for training by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in 1994. After completing training, he was qualified for flight crew assignment as a mission specialist. Anderson was a member of the crew for STS-89 Endeavour in 1998 which logged 211 hours in space. Anderson was killed, along with the rest of the crew of STS-107 Columbia, February 1, 2003 when the craft disintegrated after reentry into the earth's atmosphere. He logged a total of 593 hours in space. Anderson Elementary School on Fairchild Air Force Base outside of Spokane, Washington and Michael Anderson Elementary School in Avondale, Arizona are named in his honor.

December 25, 1966 Saint Elmo Brady, the first African American to earn a Ph. D. in chemistry in the United States and educator, died. Brady was born December 22, 1884 in Louisville, Kentucky. He 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.

December 25, 1985 Edward Taylor, hall of fame blues guitarist and singer, died. Taylor was born January 29, 1923 in Benoit, Mississippi. He got his first guitar at 13 and taught himself to play. Taylor moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1949 and over the years performed and recorded with Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, Elmore James, and many other Chicago blues performers. Albums by Taylor as leader include "I Feel So Bad – The Blues of Eddie Taylor" (1972), "Ready for Eddie" (1975), and "Big Town Playboy" (1981). Taylor was one of the most influential guitarist on the Chicago blues scene although he never achieved the stardom of some of his peers. He was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1987.

December 25, 2006 James Joseph Brown, Jr., hall of fame singer, songwriter and "The Godfather of Soul," died. Brown was born May 3, 1933 in Branwell, South Carolina. He dropped out of school in the seventh grade and earned money shining shoes and other odd jobs. He joined The Flames in 1955 and their first recording, "Please, Please, Please" (1956), sold more than a million copies. Brown returned to the charts in 1958 with "Try Me" which was the best-selling R&B single of the year and the first of 17 number one R&B singles by Brown over the next two decades. While successful in the R&B world, Brown was not known nationally until the release of his self-financed 1963 album "Live at the Apollo." Because his record company refused to promote his records beyond the "Black" market, Brown co-founded his own production company to promote his records to White audiences. As a result, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" (1965), which won the Grammy Award for Best Rhythm and Blues Recording, and "I Got You (I Feel Good)" (1965) were his first top 10 pop hits. Other hits by Brown include "Cold Sweat" (1967), "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A Sex Machine)" (1970), "Get Up Offa That Thing" (1976), and "Living in America" (1985) which won the Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. Brown was known for his social activism during the late 1960s and early 1970s, recording songs such as "Don't Be a Drop-Out" (1966) and "Say It Loud – I'm Black and I'm Proud" (1968) and performing benefit concerts for various civil rights organizations. His 1968 performance in front of a televised audience in Boston, Massachusetts the day after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. is documented in the PBS film "The Night James Brown Saved Boston." Brown received a number of awards and honors, including being one of the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992, the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993, Kennedy Center Honors in 2003, and induction into the United Kingdom Music Hall of Fame in 2006. The city of Augusta, Georgia unveiled a life-sized bronze statue of Brown May 3, 2005. Brown is recognized as one of the most influential figures in 20th century popular music. Six of his recordings have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as recordings of "lasting qualitative or historical significance," the album "Live at the Apollo" in 1998, "Papa's Got A Brand New Bag" in 1999, "Please, Please, Please" in 2001, "It's A Man's Man's World" (1966) in 2010, "I Got You (I Feel Good)" in 2013, and "Get Up (I Feel Like Being A Sex Machine)" in 2014. "Cold Sweat" will be inducted in 2016. He published his autobiography, "The Godfather of Soul," in 1990.

December 25, 2008 Eartha Mae Kitt, singer, actress and cabaret star, died. Kitt was born January 17, 1927 in North, South Carolina. She began her career as a member of the Katherine Dunham Dance Company and made her film debut in "Casbah" in 1948. A talented singer, Kitt's hits include "Let's Do It" (1953), "C'est si bon" (1953), and her most recognized song "Santa Baby" (1953). Kitt had her first starring role on Broadway in 1950 as Helen of Troy in "Dr. Faustus. She also appeared in "St. Louis Blues" (1958) and "Anna Lucasta" (1959). She appeared as Catwoman in the television series "Batman" in the 1960s. She was invited to the White House in 1968 and after being asked by First Lady Lady Bird Johnson about the Vietnam War, she replied "you send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed, no wonder the kids rebel and take pot." The response led to a derailment of Kitt's career and caused her to primarily perform in Europe and Asia. She made a triumphant return in the 1978 Broadway musical "Timbuktu" and was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. Kitt wrote three autobiographies, "Thursday Child" (1956), "Alone With Me" (1976), and "I'm Still Here: Confessions of a Sex Kitten" (1989).

December 25, 2008 Frank "Tick" Coleman, educator and community volunteer, died. Coleman was born February 29, 1911 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He attended Central High School where he was the first African American to quarterback their football team and led them to the public school championships in 1929 and 1930. He was also the first African American member of the All-Scholastic High School Football Team in 1928. His football helmet and shoes are in the collection of the African American Museum of Philadelphia. Coleman attended Lincoln University where he was varsity football quarterback, class president for three years, and earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1935. Coleman worked as a youth counselor for the School District of Philadelphia from 1949 to his retirement in 1981. He earned his Master of Arts degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1959. Coleman mentored hundreds of young people in the Black community as a guidance counselor and through Lincoln University and helped finance their education through scholarships that he funded. He also dedicated many years to bringing scouting to underprivileged youth. The Boy Scouts of America created the Dr. Frank "Tick" Coleman National Service Award to honor his years of service.

 Singer, actress and cabaret star

 The first African American to earn a Ph. D. in chemistry in the United States

Today in Black History, 12/24/2015 | Levi Jenkins ...
Today in Black History, 12/26/2015 | Jackie Ormes


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