Today in Black History, February 15, 2016 | USS Ralph Johnson - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, February 15, 2016 | USS Ralph Johnson coming August 2016

Today in Black History, February 15, 2016 | USS Ralph Johnson coming August 2016

February 15, 2012 The United States Navy announced that the USS Ralph Johnson would be built. The ship will be an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer and is scheduled to be delivered August, 2016. The ship is named for Ralph Henry Johnson who was born January 11, 1949 in Charleston, South Carolina. Johnson enlisted in the U. S. Marine Corp in July, 1967. On March 5, 1968, he was serving as a private first class with Company A, First Reconnaissance Battalion, First Marine Division in the Republic of Vietnam. His actions that day earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor, America's highest military decoration. His citation partially reads, "during Operation Rock, Private First Class Johnson was a member of a fifteen-man reconnaissance patrol manning an observation post on Hill 146 overlooking the Quan Duc Valley deep in enemy controlled territory. They were attacked by a platoon-sized hostile force employing automatic weapons, satchel charges and hand grenades. Suddenly a hand grenade landed in the three-man fighting hole occupied by Private First Class Johnson and two fellow Marines. Realizing the inherent danger to his comrades, he shouted a warning and unhesitatingly hurled himself on the explosive device. When the grenade exploded, Private First Class Johnson absorbed the tremendous impact of the blast and was killed instantly. His prompt and heroic act saved the life of one Marine at the cost of his own and undoubtedly prevented the enemy from penetrating the sector of the patrol's perimeter." The medal was posthumously awarded to Johnson's family by President Richard M. Nixon. The Charleston VA Medical Center was renamed the Ralph H. Johnson Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center September 5, 1991.

February 15, 1923 Charles Henry Turner, behavior scientist, zoologist and educator, died. Turner was born February 3, 1867 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1891 and Master of Science degree in 1892 in biology from the University of Cincinnati. He taught at Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University) from 1893 to 1905. Turner earned his Ph. D. in zoology from the University of Chicago in 1907. Despite his advanced degrees, he taught science at a high school in St. Louis, Missouri from 1908 to his retirement in 1922. He also did significant insect research and published more than 70 papers. One of his more important findings was that insects could modify their behavior based on experience. He also discovered that ants find their way back to their nest in a circular pattern. Turner was also a leader in the Civil Rights Movement in St. Louis, arguing that only through education could the behavior of both White and Black racists be changed, Turner Middle School in St. Louis is named in his honor.

February 15, 1946 Bruce Scott Gordon, hall of fame advertising executive and former president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was born in Camden, New Jersey. Gordon earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Gettysburg College in 1968 and his Master of Business Administration degree in management from the MIT Sloan School of Management in 1988. Gordon joined Bell of Pennsylvania as a management trainee after earning his undergraduate degree and rose to head of the Retail Markets Division at Verizon Communications at the time of his retirement in 2003. Black Enterprise magazine named him 1998 Executive of the Year. Gordon was named president of the NAACP in 2005, a position he held until his resignation in 2007. He is currently a diversity consultant and serves on several boards, including CBS Corporation, Northrop Grumman Corporation, The ADT Corporation, and the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. He was inducted into the American Advertising Federation Advertising Hall of Fame in 2007.

February 15, 1946 Cornelius Cooper Johnson, hall of fame track and field athlete, died. Johnson was born August 28, 1913 in Los Angeles, California. He specialized in the high jump and competed at the 1932 Los Angeles Summer Olympic Games as a high school junior, finishing fourth. He attended Compton Junior College and won five outdoor and three indoor United States championships. Johnson won the Gold medal in the high jump at the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympic Games. After retiring from the sport, he worked for several years with the United States Post Office before joining the U. S. Merchant Marines in 1945. Johnson was posthumously inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1994.

February 15, 1952 Louis Bennett Butler, Jr., the first African American to serve on the Wisconsin Supreme Court, was born in Chicago, Illinois. Butler earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Lawrence University in 1973 and his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Wisconsin Law School in 1977. He served as a state public defender from 1979 to 1992 when he was appointed to the Milwaukee Municipal Court. Butler served in that capacity until 2002 when he was elected to the Milwaukee County Circuit Court. Butler was appointed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 2004 but was defeated for election in 2008. He is currently a partner in a private law firm and a member of the faculty of the national Judicial College.

February 15, 1952 Bill T. Jones, hall of fame dancer, choreographer and artistic director, was born in Bunnell, Florida. Jones performed and choreographed worldwide before forming the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company in 1982. In addition to creating more than 100 works for his own company, Jones has choreographed for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Boston Ballet, Lyon Opera Ballet, and Berlin Opera Ballet. He also directed "Dream on Monkey Mountain" in 1994 and co-directed "Perfect Courage" in 1990. Jones received a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Award in 1994 and won the 2007 Tony Award for Best Choreography for "Spring Awakening." He is the co-creator, director, and choreographer for the musical "Fela!" which opened on Broadway in 2009 and won the Tony Award for Best Choreography. Jones was awarded the 2003 Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize which is given to "a man or woman who has made an outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind's enjoyment and understanding of life" and was inducted into the National Museum of Dance's Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame in 2007. He received Kennedy Center Honors in 2010 and received the 2011 YoungArts Arison Award which is given annually to an individual who has had a significant influence on the development of young American artists. Jones was presented the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor the nation bestows on an individual artist, by President Barack H. Obama July 28, 2014. He published his autobiography, "Last Night on Earth," in 1995.

February 15, 1960 Darrell Ray Green, hall of fame football player, was born in Houston, Texas. Green played college football at Texas A&I University where he was a first team All-American and earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1983. He was selected in the 1983 National Football League draft by the Washington Redskins and was a four-time All-Pro selection and two-time Super Bowl champion over his 20 season professional career. He won the 1996 Walter Payton Man of the Year Award for his volunteer and charity work and the 1997 Bart Starr Award for outstanding character and leadership on the field and in the community. Green founded the Darrell Green Youth Life Foundation, a faith-based organization with the mission to "meet the needs of children, their families and the communities in which they live," in 1988. Green retired in 2002, was selected to serve as chairman of President George W. Bush's Council on Service and Civic Participation in 2003, and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008. A section of State Route 28 in Loudoun County, Virginia is named Darrell Green Boulevard. Green currently serves as special assistant for student-athlete development and public relations at the University of Mary Washington.

February 15, 1964 Leland Devon Melvin, engineer and NASA astronaut, was born in Lynchburg, Virginia. Melvin attended the University of Richmond on a football scholarship and earned his Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry in 1985. He earned his Master of Science degree in materials science engineering from the University of Virginia in 1991. Melvin was selected by the Detroit Lions in the 1986 National Football League draft but a couple of injuries ended his professional football career. He began working for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in 1989 and was selected as an astronaut in 1998. Melvin flew two missions on the Space Shuttle Atlantis as a mission specialist, on STS-122 from February 7 to 20, 2008 and on STS-129 from November 16 to 27, 2009 for a total of 23 days, 13 hours, and 28 minutes in space. Melvin was named NASA associate administrator for education in 2010, a position he held until retirement in 2014. He is currently president of Spaceship Earth Grants.

February 15, 1965 Nat King Cole, hall of fame jazz pianist and singer, died. Cole was born Nathaniel Adam Coles March 17, 1919 in Montgomery, Alabama. He began performing with the King Cole Trio in the 1930s and they signed with Capitol Records in 1943. Revenue from Cole's recordings accounted for much of Capitol's success and the headquarters that they built in 1956 is often referred to as "the house that Nat built." Cole's first vocal hit was his 1943 recording of "Straighten Up and Fly Right" which sold over 500,000 copies. This was followed by such hits as "The Christmas Song" (1946), "Nature Boy" (1948), "Mona Lisa" (1950), "Unforgettable" (1951), and "Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer" (1963). "The Nat King Cole Show" debuted November 5, 1956, the first television show hosted by an African American. The show only lasted a year because of the lack of a national sponsor. Advertisers were fearful that White southern audiences would boycott their products. As a result, Cole stated "Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark." Cole also appeared in a number of films, including "The Blue Gardenia" (1953), "St. Louis Blues" (1958), and "Cat Ballou" (1965). Cole's last album, "L-O-V-E," was released just prior to his death. Cole was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990, inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1997, and inducted into the Great American Songbook Hall of Fame in 2014. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 1994. Four of his recordings have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as recordings of "lasting qualitative or historical significance," "The Christmas Song" in 1974, "Mona Lisa" in 1992, "Nature Boy" in 1999, and "Unforgettable" in 2000. His biography, "Unforgettable: The Life and Mystique of Nat King Cole," was published in 1991.

February 15, 1968 Marion "Little Walter" Jacobs, hall of fame blues harmonica player, died. Jacobs was born May 1, 1930 in Marksville, Louisiana. He moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1945 and played in Muddy Walters' band from 1948 to 1952. His harmonica is featured on most of Walters' classic recordings from the 1950s. Jacobs recorded his first hit, "Juke," in 1952 and it spent eight weeks at number one on the Billboard R&B charts and is still the only harmonica instrumental to top the charts. That recording was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1986. It was listed by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll in 1995 and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as a recording of "lasting qualitative or historical significance" in 2008. Jacobs had 14 top ten hits between 1952 and 1958, including "Sad Hours" (1952), "My Babe" (1955), which was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2008, and "Key to the Highway" (1958). He was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008, the only artist ever inducted specifically for his work as a harmonica player. His biography, "Blues With A Feeling: The Little Walter Story," was published in 2002.

February 15, 1980 Charles Leroy Thomas, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, died. Thomas was born April 17, 1920 in Alabama but raised in Detroit, Michigan. He was drafted into the United States Army in 1942. On December 14, 1944, Thomas led a task force in the capture of Climbach, France and his actions earned him the medal, America's highest military decoration. Thomas' citation partially reads, "While riding in the lead vehicle of a task force organized to storm and capture …………… Lt. Thomas' armored scout car was subjected to intense enemy artillery, self-propelled gun, and small arms fire. Although wounded by the initial burst of hostile fire, Lt. Thomas signaled the remainder of the column to halt and, despite the severity of his wounds, assisted the crew of the wrecked car in dismounting. Upon leaving the scant protection which the vehicle afforded, Lt. Thomas was again subjected to a hail of enemy fire which inflicted multiple gunshot wounds in his chest, legs, and left arm. Despite the intense pain caused by these wounds, Lt. Thomas ordered and directed the dispersion and emplacement of two antitank guns which in a few moments were promptly and effectively returning the enemy fire. Realizing that he could no longer remain in command of the platoon, he signaled to the platoon commander to join him……….. Only after he was certain that his junior officer was in full control of the situation did he permit himself to be evacuated." Thomas was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, America's second highest military decoration. He remained in the army after the war and retired as a major. A study commissioned by the U. S. Army in 1993 described systematic racial discrimination in the criteria for awarding medals during World War II. No Congressional Medal of Honor had been awarded to Black soldiers who served in the war. After a review of files, the study recommended that seven Black Distinguished Service Cross recipients have their awards upgraded to the Congressional Medal of Honor. Thomas was posthumously awarded the medal by President William J. Clinton January 13, 1997.

February 15, 1985 Carol Brice, contralto and one of the first African American classical singers to record extensively, died. Brice was born April 16, 1918 in Sedalia, North Carolina. She earned her Bachelor of Music degree from Talladega College in 1939 and studied at the Julliard School of Music from 1939 to 1943. She gained public attention when she sang in the 1939 production of "The Hot Mikado" at the New York World's Fair. Brice became the first African American to win the Walter Naumburg Award in 1943 and made her recital debut at Town Hall the following year. Brice made a number of appearances on Broadway, including the 1959 production of "Saratoga," the 1960 revival of "Finian's Rainbow," the 1971 production of "The Grass Harp," and the 1976 revival of "Porgy & Bess." Brice and her husband founded the Cimarron Circuit Opera Company in Norman, Oklahoma in 1975.

February 15, 2011 William Felton "Bill" Russell was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, by President Barrack H. Obama. Russell was born February 12, 1934 in West Monroe, Louisiana but raised in Oakland, California. He led the University of San Francisco to National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball championships in 1955 and 1956 and also earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1956. He also won a Gold medal at the 1956 Melbourne Summer Olympic Games as captain of the United States men's basketball team. Russell was selected by the St. Louis Hawks in the 1956 National Basketball Association Draft but traded to the Boston Celtics in what was later called "one of the most important trades in the history of North American sports." Russell was a 12-time All-Star and 5-time NBA Most Valuable Player over his 14 season professional career. His teams won 11 NBA championships, the most by any athlete in a North American sports league. Russell was the first African American player to achieve superstar status in the NBA. He also served as player/coach of the Celtics from 1966 to 1969, the first African American NBA coach. He was named Sports Illustrated magazine 1968 Sportsperson of the Year. Russell was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in 1974, was an inaugural inductee into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006, and was inducted into the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) Hall of Fame in 2007. The NBA established the Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award in 2009. A statue of Russell was unveiled at City Hall Plaza in Boston November 1, 2013. Russell has authored four books, "Go Up for Glory" (1966), "Second Wind" (1979), "Russell Rules" (2001), and "Red and Me: My Coach, My Lifelong Friend" (2009).

February 15, 2011 Maya Angelou was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, by President Barack H. Obama. Angelou was born Marguerite Ann Johnson April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri. She earned a scholarship to train in African dance in 1952 and toured Europe with a production of the opera "Porgy and Bess" from 1954 to 1955. She recorded her first album, "Miss Calypso," and was featured in the movie "Calypso Heat Wave" in 1957. She became active in the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1950s, serving as the northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Angelou's first and best known book, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" (1969), was nominated for a National Book Award and her 1971 volume of poetry, "Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'Fore I Diiie," was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. She recited her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" at the 1993 inauguration of President William J. Clinton. Her recording of the poem won the 1994 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word or Non-Traditional Album. She also won the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for "Phenomenal Woman" in 1995 and "A Song Flung Up to Heaven" in 2002. Angelou received the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People 1994 Spingarn Medal. Angelou was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1998, was awarded the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor the nation bestows on an individual artist, by President William J. Clinton December 20, 2000, and was awarded the Lincoln Medal in 2008. She received the Norman Mailer Prize for Lifetime Achievement in 2013. Angelou was awarded over 30 honorary doctorate degrees and published seven autobiographies, the last one, "Mom & Me & Mom," in 2013. Angelou died May 28, 2014. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor in 2015.

February 15, 2011 John Robert Lewis was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, by President Barack H. Obama. Lewis was born February 21, 1940 in Troy, Alabama. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in theology from the American Baptist Theological Seminary in 1961 and another Bachelor of Arts degree in religion and philosophy from Fisk University in 1963. He was a co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1960 and served as the organization's chairman from 1963 to 1966. He participated in the Freedom Rides to desegregate the South and was beaten bloody by a White mob in Montgomery, Alabama in the spring of 1961. Lewis was the youngest speaker at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He was elected to the Atlanta, Georgia City Council in 1981 and was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1986 where he serves today. Lewis received the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation Profile in Courage Award "for his extraordinary courage, leadership and commitment to civil rights" in 2001 and received the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People 2002 Spingarn Medal. Lewis has received more than 50 honorary doctorate degrees, including honorary Doctor of Laws degrees from Brown University, Harvard University, and the University of Connecticut School of Law, Cleveland State University, Emory University, and a Doctor of Fine Arts from the School of Visual Arts. Lewis published his autobiography, "Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement," in 1999. He published "Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change" in 2012.

Louis Bennett Butler, Jr. 

First African American to serve on the Wisconsin Supreme Court,

Carol Brice

Contralto and one of the first African American classical singers to record extensively

​John C. Lewis

Presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack H. Obama in 2011.

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