This Week in Black History | May 8 - 14, 2016 - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

This Week in Black History | May 8 - 14, 2016


May 13, 1914

Detroit's Brown Bomber

Joe Louis, hall of fame boxer known as "the Brown Bomber", was born Joseph Louis Barrow in La Fayette, Alabama but raised in Detroit, Michigan. Louis made his amateur boxing debut in 1932 and at the end of his amateur career in 1934 had a record of 50 wins and 4 losses. Louis turned professional in 1934 and won the Associated Press' 1935 Athlete of the Year Award. He won the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship in 1937 and thousands of African Americans across the country stayed up all night celebrating. Louis held the championship for 140 consecutive months and had 25 successful title defenses, both records for the heavyweight division. His defeat of the German Max Schmeling and his service during World War II made him the first African American to achieve the status of national hero in the United States. He was awarded the Legion of Merit medal in 1945 for "incalculable contribution to the general morale". Louis initially retired from boxing in 1949 but had to return due to financial problems. Louis received about $800,000 of the more than $4.5 million earned during his boxing career and was generous with that. He retired for good in 1951 with a record of 65 wins and 3 losses. Louis died April 12, 1981. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 1982. A monument to Louis was dedicated in Detroit October 16, 1986 and he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. Joe Louis Arena in Detroit is named in his honor. He became the first boxer to be honored with a commemorative postage stamp by the United States Postal Service in 1993 and an 8 foot bronze statue of him was unveiled in La Fayette February 27, 2010. Louis was named the greatest heavyweight of all time by the International Boxing Research Organization. He published his autobiography, "Joe Louis: My Life", in 1978. Other biographies include "Joe Louis, Brown Bomber" (1980) and "Joe Louis: The Great Black Hope" (1998). His name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit.

Photo Source: detroitfoodist.com


May 8, 1888

The Predecessor to the Tricycle

Matthew A. Cherry of Washington, D. C. received patent number 382,351 for new and useful improvements in velocipede. His invention consisted of a metal frame with two or three wheels attached. It was capable of carrying three or more people and was propelled by someone sitting on the seat and moving their feet along the ground in a fast walking or running motion. His invention has evolved into what we now call bicycles and tricycles. Cherry received patent number 531,908 for a streetcar fender January 1, 1895. The fender, which was a piece of metal attached to the front of the streetcar, acted as a shock absorber in the event of an accident. This reduced the potential damage to the streetcar and added safety for the passengers and employees. Nothing else is known of Cherry's life.


May 9, 1897

Harlem Renaissance Author

Rudolph John Chauncey Fisher, physician and author, was born in Washington, D. C. but raised in Providence, Rhode Island. Fisher earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in English and biology in 1919 and his Master of Arts degree in 1920 from Brown University. He won several public speaking contests during his time at Brown, including first place at an intercollegiate contest at Harvard University in 1917. He also was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. Fisher earned his medical degree from Howard University Medical School, with highest honors, in 1924. He moved to New York City in 1925 and established a private medical practice. Fisher published his first short story, "City of Refuge", that same year. He went on to write two acclaimed novels, "The Walls of Jericho" (1928) and "The Conjure-Man Dies" (1932) which was the first published detective novel with a Black detective. He is considered one of the major literary figures of the Harlem Renaissance. Fisher died December 26, 1934. An anthology of his short stories, "City of Refuge: The Collected Stories of Rudolph Fisher", was published in 1991.

Photo Source: Wordpress / tashqueedagg


May 10, 1837

First Black U.S. State Governor

Benton Stewart Pinchback, the first African American to become governor of a state in the United States, was born in Macon, Georgia. He made his way to New Orleans, Louisiana in 1862 and raised several companies of the Corps d'Afrique for the Union Army during the Civil War and was one of the few officers of African ancestry. Pinchback resigned his commission because of racial prejudice against Black officers. He was elected to the Louisiana State Senate in 1868 and became the acting Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana in 1871. The incumbent governor was removed from office and Pinchback became governor December 9, 1872 and served until January 13, 1873. He received vicious hate mail from around the country as well as threats on his life during that 35 day period. Pinchback was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives in 1874 and the U. S. Senate in 1876. Pinchback also served on the Louisiana State Board of Education and was instrumental in establishing Southern University and served on their board of trustees. President Chester A. Arthur appointed Pinchback surveyor of customs in New Orleans in 1882. Pinchback later moved to Washington, D. C. where he practiced law until his death December 21, 1921. His biography, "Pickney Benton Stewart Pinchback", was published in 1973.

Photo Source: Britannica.com



May 11, 1986

The NFL's First Black Head Coach

Frederick Douglass "Fritz" Pollard, hall of fame football coach and the first African American head coach in the National Football League, died. Pollard was born January 27, 1894 in Chicago, Illinois. He played college football at Brown University from 1915 to 1918. Pollard played professional football with the Akron Pros and led them to the NFL championship in 1920. He became co-head coach of the team in 1921. Pollard and the other Black players in the NFL were banned from playing at the end of the 1926 season. He continued to coach all-Black barnstorming teams until 1937. Pollard was also involved in a number of business enterprises, including an investment firm, a newspaper, and a booking agency. Pollard was posthumously inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2005 and the Fritz Pollard Award is annually presented to a college or professional coach chosen by the Black Coaches Association. The Fritz Pollard Alliance is an organization "promoting diversity and equality of job opportunity in the coaching, front office and scouting staffs of National Football League teams". Pollard's biography, "Fritz Pollard: Pioneer in Racial Advancement", was published in 1999.

Photo Source: RealClearSports.com

May 12, 1874

"The Real McCoy" Strikes Again

Elijah J. McCoy of Ypsilanti, Michigan received patent number 150,876 for Improvements in Ironing-Tables. His invention provided additional stability for the ironing board and still allowed it to be folded and stored when not in use. McCoy was a prolific inventor and received 57 patents, mostly related to lubrication. McCoy was born May 2, 1843 in Colchester, Ontario, Canada. His parents had escaped enslavement to Canada. McCoy studied engineering in Edinburgh, Scotland and found work with the Michigan Central Railroad after moving to Ypsilanti, Michigan. He moved to Detroit, Michigan around 1880 and formed the Elijah McCoy Manufacturing Company in 1920. McCoy died October 10, 1929. A Michigan historical marker was placed at the site of his Detroit home in 1975 and Elijah McCoy Drive in Detroit is named in his honor. He was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2001 and the 2006 play "The Real McCoy" chronicled his life and inventions. His biography, also titled "The Real McCoy", was published in 2007. His name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit.

Photo Source: Blogspot.com / Every Day Is Special

May 14, 1970

Relentless American Hero

Charles Calvin Rogers received the Congressional Medal of Honor, America's highest military decoration from President Richard M. Nixon for his actions during the Vietnam War. Rogers was born September 6, 1929 in Claremont, West Virginia. He joined the United States Army and was serving as a lieutenant colonel in command of 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Infantry Division by 1968. His battalion was manning a fire support base near the Cambodian border November 1, 1968 when it came under heavy attack. His actions during the attack earned him the medal. His citation partially reads, "In the early morning hours, the fire support base was subjected to a concentrated bombardment of heavy mortar, rocket and rocket propelled grenade fire. Simultaneously the position was struck by a human wave ground assault, led by sappers who breached the defensive barriers with bangalore torpedoes and penetrated the defensive perimeter. Lt. Col. Rogers with complete disregard for his safety moved through the hail of fragments from bursting enemy rounds to the embattled area. He aggressively rallied the dazed artillery crewmen to man their howitzers and he directed their fire on the assaulting enemy. Although knocked to the ground and wounded by an exploding round, Lt. Col. Rogers sprang to his feet and led a small counterattack force against an enemy element that had penetrated the howitzer positions. Although painfully wounded a second time during the assault, Lt. Col. Rogers pressed the attack killing several of the enemy and driving the remainder from the positions. Refusing medical treatment, Lt. Col. Rogers reestablished and reinforced the defensive positions. As a second human wave attack was launched against another sector of the perimeter, Lt. Col. Rogers directed artillery fire on the assaulting enemy and led a second counterattack against the enemy forces. His valorous example rallied the beleaguered defenders to repulse and defeat the enemy onslaught. Lt. Col. Rogers moved from position to position through the heavy enemy fire, giving encouragement and direction to his men. At dawn the determined enemy launched a third assault against the fire base in an attempt to overrun the position. Lt. Col. Rogers moved to the threatened area and directed lethal fire on the enemy forces. Seeing a howitzer inoperative due to casualties, Lt. Col Rogers joined the surviving members of the crew to return the howitzer to action. While directing the position defense, Lt. Col. Rogers was seriously wounded by fragments from a heavy mortar round which exploded on the parapet of the gun position. Although too severely wounded to physically lead the defenders, Lt. Col. Rogers continued to give encouragement and direction to his men in the defeating and repelling of the enemy attack." Rogers rose to the rank of major general before leaving the army. He later became a Baptist minister serving U. S. troops in Germany where he died September 21, 1990.

Photo Source: badassoftheweek.com

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