Today in Black History, February 14, 2016 | National Negro Congress - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, February 14, 2016 | National Negro Congress

February 14, 1936 The inaugural meeting of the National Negro Congress was convened at the Eighth Regiment Armory in Chicago, Illinois. The purpose was to build a national constituency to pressure government for labor and civil rights. Over 800 people, representing 500 organizations attended and the event was described as "the most ambitious effort for bringing together members of the Race on any single issue." The NNC disbanded in 1947 because of Cold War suppression.

February 14, 1760 Richard Allen, minister, educator and founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, was born enslaved in Germantown, Pennsylvania. Allen taught himself to read and write and bought his freedom and that of his brother in 1777. He joined the Methodist Society at an early age and was qualified as a preacher in 1784. He began to preach at St. George's United Methodist Church in 1786. He and Absalom Jones led the Black members out of the church due to the church's segregationist policies in 1787 to form the Free African Society, a non-denominational mutual aid society. Allen purchased a lot that year that became the site of Bethel AME Church which was dedicated July 29, 1794. That lot is now the site of Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church and is the oldest parcel of real estate in the United States continuously owned by Black people. Allen founded the independent denomination of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1816, the first fully independent Black denomination in the United States, and was elected its first bishop. Allen operated a station on the Underground Railroad for individuals escaping slavery from 1797 to his death March 26, 1831. He published his autobiography, "The Life Experience and Gospel Labors of the Rt. Rev. Richard Allen: To Which Is Annexed the Rise and Progress of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States," in 1800. "Richard Allen: Apostle of Freedom" was published in 1935. His name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

February 14, 1818 Frederick Douglass, abolitionist, women's suffragist, editor, author and statesman, was born enslaved in Tuckahoe, Maryland. Douglass taught himself to read and write and escaped from slavery in 1838. He delivered his first abolitionist speech at the 1841 Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society's annual convention. He published his autobiography, "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave," in 1845 and within three years it had been reprinted nine times and there were 11,000 copies in circulation. Douglass lectured throughout the United Kingdom to enthusiastic crowds from 1845 to 1847. During that time he became officially free when his freedom was purchased by British supporters. After returning to the United States, he began producing the North Star and other newspapers. Douglass attended the first women's rights convention in 1848 and declared that he could not accept the right to vote himself as a Black man if women could not also claim that right. During the Civil War, Douglass helped the Union Army as a recruiter for the 54th Massachusetts Regiment and after the war served as president of the Freedman's Savings Bank, marshal of the District of Columbia, minister-resident and consul-general to the Republic of Haiti, and charge d'affaires for the Dominican Republic. In 1877, Douglass bought Cedar Hill in Washington, D. C. which was designated the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site February 12, 1988. Douglass died February 20, 1895. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 1965 and numerous streets, schools, and other buildings are named in his honor. The many biographies of Douglass include "Slave and Citizen: The Life of Frederick Douglass" (1980) and "Frederick Douglass, Autobiography" (1994). Douglass' name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

February 14, 1829 Solomon G. Brown, the first African American employee of the Smithsonian Institute, was born in Washington, D. C. Brown was unable to be formally educated because he had to work to support his family. He worked for Samuel F. B. Morse as a teenager and helped to install the first Morse telegraph. Brown joined the Smithsonian in 1852 as a general laborer and became a registrar in charge of materials received by the institution, transportation, and the storage of animal specimens over the next 54 years. Brown was the founder of the Pioneer Sabbath School and served as president of the National Union League in 1866. He also served as a member of the House of Delegates for D. C. from 1871 to 1874. Brown died June 24, 1906. Trees were planted around the National Museum of Natural History in his honor in 2004. The Solomon G. Brown Corps Community Center in D. C. is named in his honor.

February 14, 1861 William McBryar, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Elizabethtown, North Carolina. McBryar joined the United States Army as a Buffalo Soldier and was serving as a sergeant in Company K of the 10th Cavalry Regiment during the Indian Wars by March 7, 1890. He was awarded the medal, America's highest military decoration, for his actions on that date. His citation reads, "Distinguished himself for coolness, bravery, and marksmanship while his troop was in pursuit of hostile Apache Indians." He was awarded the medal May 15, 1890. He later became a commissioned officer and left the army as a first lieutenant. McBryar died March 8, 1941 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

February 14 1867 The Augusta Institute was founded to educate African American men in theology and education. The school received sponsorship from the American Baptist Home Mission Society, an organization that helped establish several historically Black colleges. Dr. John Hope became the first African American president in 1906 and led the institution's growth in enrollment and academic stature. The institution was renamed Morehouse College in honor of Dr. Henry L. Morehouse, corresponding secretary of the American Baptist Home Mission Society, in 1913. The college currently has an enrollment of approximately 3,000 students and is one of only three traditional men's colleges in the country. It is also one of two Black colleges in the country to produce Rhodes Scholars. Alumni of Morehouse include Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Spike Lee, Walter Massey, David Satcher, and Edwin Moses.

February 14, 1874 Charlotta Amanda Spears Bass, newspaper publisher and civil rights activist, was born in Sumter, South Carolina. She moved to Providence, Rhode Island at 20 and began to work for the Providence Watchman newspaper. She moved to Los Angeles, California in 1904 and began to work for the California Eagle newspaper. Bass was put in charge after the death of the Eagle owner and the paper had a circulation of 60,000 and was the largest African American newspaper on the West Coast by 1925. The newspaper served as a source of information and inspiration for the Black community. Bass wrote a weekly column which focused on the unjust social and political conditions of all Los Angeles minority communities and vigorously fought for reform. She retired from the newspaper in 1951. Bass was also the co-president of the Los Angeles chapter of the Universal Negro Improvement Association during the 1920s, formed the Home Protective Association to outlaw housing covenants in all-White neighborhoods, and helped found the Industrial Business Council to fight discrimination in employment practices and encourage Black business development. Bass joined the Progressive Party in the late 1940s and was their nominee for Vice President of the United States in 1952, the first African American woman nominated for that position. She published her autobiography, "Forty Years," in 1960. Bass died April 12, 1969.

February 14, 1894 Mary Cardwell Dawson, musician, teacher and founder of the Negro Opera Company, was born in Meridian, North Carolina but raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Dawson graduated from the New England Conservatory with degrees in piano and voice in 1925 and did additional training at the Chicago Musical College. She opened the Cardwell Dawson School of Music in 1927 and trained hundreds of African Americans to sing operatically over the next 14 years. The Cardwell Dawson Choir was nationally recognized by 1939. Dawson served as president of the National Association of Negro Musicians from 1939 to 1941. She launched the National Negro Opera Company November 12, 1941 and they performed all over the country over the next 21 years. Dawson died March 19, 1962.

February 14, 1912 Oliver Wendell "Ollie" Harrington, cartoonist and political satirist, was born in Valhalla, New York. Harrington started drawing cartoons at a young age and went to work for the Amsterdam News as a cartoonist and political satirist. He created "Dark Laughter" in 1935, a single panel cartoon which appeared in the African American press until 1960. He worked for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in the 1940s and established their public relations department. While there, he published "Terror in Tennessee: The Truth about the Columbia Outrages" (1946) which was an expose of increased lynching violence in the post-World War II South. Harrington left the NAACP in 1947 and returned to cartooning but his work brought him scrutiny from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the House Un-American Activities Committee. As a result, he moved to Paris, France in 1951 and then to East Berlin, Germany where he died November 2, 1995. Harrington published "Why I Left America and Other Essays" in 1993. "Dark Laughter: The Satiric Art of Oliver W. Harrington," a collection of his cartoons, was published in 1993.

February 14, 1922 Oscar Robt. Cassell of New York City received patent number 1,406,344 for a Flying Machine. His invention was intended to provide improvements for dirigible gas filled machines used for passenger service. It was a flying machine that used both buoyant means and planes to sustain the machine in the air and a propeller for water navigation and other safety measures for service in the air and on the water. Nothing else is known of Cassell's life.

February 14, 1926 Monetta J. Sleet, Jr., photographer and the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for journalism, was born in Owensboro, Kentucky. Sleet served in the United States Army from 1944 to 1946. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree, cum laude, from Kentucky State University in 1947 and his Master of Arts degree in journalism from New York University in 1950. Sleet went to work for Ebony Magazine in 1955 and over the next 41 years captured photographs of many significant African American individuals and events, including a young Muhammad Ali, Dizzy Gillespie, Stevie Wonder, Billie Holliday, and a grieving Betty Shabazz at the funeral of Malcolm X. His photograph of Coretta Scott King at the funeral of Martin Luther King, Jr. won the 1969 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography. Sleet died September 30, 1996. His collection "Special Moments in African American History: The Photographs of Monetta Sleet, Jr. 1955 – 1996" was posthumously published in 1999.

February 14, 1937 Samuel Gene "Magic Sam" Maghett, hall of fame blues guitarist, was born in Grenada, Mississippi. Maghett moved to Chicago, Illinois at 19 and began recording for Cobra Records. He gained national attention for his 1963 single recording "Feelin' Good (We're Gonna Boogie)." His albums "West Side Soul" (1967) and "Black Magic" (1968) were inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame as classics of blues recordings in 1984 and 1990, respectively. Maghett died December 1, 1969. He was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1982.

February 14, 1946 Gregory Oliver Hines, hall of fame dancer, choreographer and actor, was born in New York City. Hines started dancing at an early age and together with his brother and father eventually became known as Hines, Hines and Dad. Hines made his Broadway debut with his brother in "The Girl in Pink Tights" in 1954 and earned Tony Award nominations for "Eubie!" (1979), "Comin' Uptown" (1980), and "Sophisticated Ladies" (1981). Hines won the 1992 Tony Award for Best Actor in a Musical for "Jelly's Last Jam." He made his movie debut in "History of the World, Part 1" (1981) and subsequently appeared in "White Nights" (1985), "Tap" (1989), and "Waiting to Exhale" (1995). Hines also received several Emmy Award nominations, the last for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries for "Bojangles" in 2001. Hines died August 9, 2003. He was posthumously inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 2004.

February 14, 1957 Valmore Edwin James, the first African American to play in the National Hockey League, was born in Ocala, Florida. During the early 1970s, James played hockey in the North American Hockey League and the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He was selected by the Detroit Red Wings in the 1977 NHL Draft but never played with the Red Wings. James was signed by the Buffalo Sabres in 1980 and made his NHL debut November 1, 1981. He only played in eleven games in the NHL and retired from hockey in 1988. James' autobiography, "Black Ice: The Val James Story," was published in 2015.

February 14, 1959 Warren "Baby" Dodds, hall of fame Jazz drummer, died. Dodds was born December 24, 1898 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He gained a reputation as a top drummer at an early age, working with Louis Armstrong on Mississippi River steamboat bands. Dodds moved to California in 1921 to work with Joe "King" Oliver and then followed him to Chicago, Illinois. Dodds is regarded as one of the best jazz drummers of the pre-big band era and he revolutionized the drum kit by inventing the floor bass or "kick drum." He was also probably the first jazz drummer to record unaccompanied. Dodds was posthumously inducted into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame in 2007. A biography, "The Baby Dodds Story," was published in 1959.

Mary Cardwell Dawson

Musician, teacher and founder of the Negro Opera Company; born in 1894. 

Richard Allen

Minister, educator and founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church; born enslaved in 1760. 

Monetta J. Sleet, Jr.

Photographer and the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for journalism; born in 1926. 

Today in Black History, February 15, 2016 | USS Ra...

Comments 2

Guest - Leta on Wednesday, 17 February 2016 16:04

Negro Opera Company now has a historical marker on Apple Street

Negro Opera Company now has a historical marker on Apple Street
Guest - Leta on Wednesday, 17 February 2016 16:05

Negro Opera Company now has a historical marker on Apple Street in Pittsburgh PA

Negro Opera Company now has a historical marker on Apple Street in Pittsburgh PA
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