This WEEK in Black History | April 10 - 16, 2016 - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

This WEEK in Black History | April 10 - 16, 2016


April 10, 1975

Robert Lee Elder became the first African American to play in the Masters Golf Tournament. Elder was born July 14, 1934 in Dallas, Texas. He dropped out of high school and worked as a caddy where he developed his game by watching his clients. He was drafted into the United States Army in 1959 and served until 1961. After his discharge, he joined the United Golf Association Tour for Black golfers where he won 18 of 22 tournaments. Elder gained his Professional Golf Association tour card in 1968 and won his first PGA tournament in 1974. That came at the Monsanto Open in Pensacola, Florida where Elder and other Black players had to change their clothes in the parking lot because the club members would not allow non-White people into the clubhouse. The win gained him entry into the 1975 Masters Tournament. Elder received a substantial amount of hate mail and threats leading up to the tournament. Elder became the first African American to qualify to play in the Ryder Cup in 1979 and joined the Senior PGA Tour in 1984. Elder has won four PGA tournaments and eight senior tournaments. He established the Lee Elder Scholarship Fund in 1974 to offer financial aid to low-income men and women seeking college assistance. He has actively promoted summer youth golf development programs and raised​.

April 11, 1881

Spelman College, the oldest historically Black college for females, was founded as the Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary by two teachers from Massachusetts with 11 students and $100. The school relocated to a nine acre site in 1883 and John D. Rockefeller provided funding to retire the debt on the property in 1884. The name of the school was changed to Spelman Seminary in honor of Rockefeller's wife. Sophia B. Packard was appointed the first president in 1888. The school became Spelman College in 1924, it became part of the Atlanta University Center in 1929, and it was accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools in 1932. The campus consists of 26 buildings on 39 acres with 2,200 students and 180 faculty members today. Notable alumnae include Pearl Cleage, Marian Wright Edelman, Bernice Johnson Regon, and Alice Walker.

Photo Source:.stateuniversity.com

April 12, 1968


A Michigan Historical Marker commemorating the First Michigan Colored Infantry was installed in Detroit, Michigan. The First Michigan Colored Infantry was formed February 17, 1863. It was organized on a farm with 845 Black men from Detroit, southern Michigan, and Ontario, Canada. Many of the volunteers had escaped slavery via the Underground Railroad and others were fighting to free family members still enslaved. The unit was re-designated the 102nd Regiment United States Colored Troops May 23, 1864. The 102nd fought throughout South Carolina, eastern Georgia, and Florida during the Civil War. They served occupation duty after the war until they were disbanded October 17, 1865.

Photo Source: detroithistorical.org

April 13, 1964

Sidney Poitier became the first Black man to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in the movie "Lilies of the Field". Poitier was born February 20, 1927 in Miami, Florida. He moved to New York City at 17 and joined the American Negro Theater. He made his film debut in "No Way Out" (1950) but his breakout role was in "Blackboard Jungle" (1955). Poitier acted in the first production of "A Raisin in the Sun" on Broadway in 1959 and starred in the film version in 1961. Other films in which he has appeared include "The Defiant Ones" (1958), "A Patch of Blue" (1965), "In the Heat of the Night" (1967), and "The Jackal" (1997). He has also directed a number of films, including "Buck and the Preacher" (1972), "Stir Crazy" (1980), and "Ghost Dad" (1990). He has also written three autobiographies, "This Life" (1980), "The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography" (2000), and "Life Beyond Measure – Letters to My Great-Granddaughter" (2008). Poitier was appointed ambassador of the Bahamas to Japan in 1997. He received an honorary award from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences "in recognition of his remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human being" in 2002. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor, by President Barack H. Obama August 12, 2009 and the 2016 BAFTA Fellowship, the highest honor bestowed by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts "in recognition of outstanding achievement in the art forms of the moving image". The documentary "Sidney Poitier: an Outsider in Hollywood" was released in 2008. Poitier published a novel, "Montaro Caine", in 2013.

Photo Source: blogs.indiewire.com

April 14, 1943


Joseph Charles Jenkins became the first officially recognized African American commissioned officer in the United States Coast Guard. Jenkins was born in 1914 in Detroit, Michigan. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering from the University of Michigan and his Master of Business Administration degree from Wayne State University. Jenkins helped organize what would become the 1279th Combat Engineer Battalion of the Michigan National Guard in the late 1930s. He enlisted in the coast guard in 1942 as a boatswain's mate first class and was quickly promoted to chief. After completing officer training, Jenkins was commissioned as an ensign on this date. Jenkins completed active duty with the coast guard in 1945 and returned to the Michigan National Guard in the African American Engineering Unit where he rose to the rank of captain. He resigned from the guard in 1947 and went to work for the Michigan State Highway Department where he was the assistant director of the Metropolitan Detroit area when he died July 28, 1959.

Photo Source: coastguard.dodlive.mil

April 15, 1894

Bessie Smith, hall of fame blues singer, was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Smith was hired as a dancer with the Moses Stokes troupe, which included Ma Rainey, in 1912. She had starred with Sidney Bechet in "How Come?," a musical that made its way to Broadway, and had become the biggest headliner and highest paid entertainer on the Black Theater Owners Association circuit by the early 1920s. Smith was signed by Columbia Records as part of their "race records" series in 1923 and she scored a hit with her first recording, "Downhearted Blues," which sold 780,000 records in the first six months after release. The recording was included by the National Recording Preservation Board in the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry as "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" in 2002. It is also listed by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as a recording of "lasting qualitative or historical significance" in 2006. Smith made 160 recordings for Columbia. She made her last recordings in 1933 and they included "Take Me For A Buggy Ride" and "Gimme a Pigfoot," both of which remain among her most popular recordings. Her single "Empty Bed Blues" (1928) was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1983. Smith died September 26, 1937. She was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1967 and the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980. She was posthumously honored with a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor in 1994. Her life is the subject of the play "The Devil's Music: The Life and Blues of Bessie Smith." Her biography, "Bessie", was published in 1972 and a television movie of the same title covering her life from 1913 to 1927 was released in 2015.

Photo Source: www.thinglink.com

April 16, 1928


Richard "Dick Night Train" Lane, hall of fame football player, was born in Austin, Texas. Lane made his professional football debut with the Los Angeles Rams of the National Football League as a defensive back in 1952. He set the NFL single season record for interceptions with 14 in 12 games in his rookie season, a record that stands to this day even though the season has been expanded to 16 games. Lane played with the Detroit Lions from 1960 to 1965 and was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection during his 14 season NFL career. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1974 and was ranked 19th on Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Football Players in 1999. Lane died January 29, 2002. He published his autobiography, "Night Train Lane: The Life of NFL Hall of Famer Richard "Night Train" Lane," in 2001.
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