Today in Black History, February 17, 2016 | Isaiah Edward Robinson, Jr. - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, February 17, 2016 | Isaiah Edward Robinson, Jr.

February 17, 1924 Isaiah Edward Robinson, Jr., the first African American president of the New York City Board of Education, was born in Birmingham, Alabama. Robinson graduated from the Tuskegee Institute Flight School in 1944 and was commissioned a pilot in the United States Army Air Force. He resigned from military service in 1946. Robinson graduated from the Art Center School in 1949 and worked as the art director for a printing company from 1958 to 1969. He was an active participant in the efforts to integrate New York City schools in the early 1960s. Robinson was appointed to the New York City Board of Education in 1969 and chaired the Decentralization Committee from 1969 to 1970. He served as president of the board from 1971 to 1972 and 1975 to 1976. After leaving the board in 1978, he served as chairman of the New York City Commission on Human Rights from 1978 to 1984. Robinson worked for the Community Trust's Office of University and Corporate Affairs from 1984 to 1986. He became chairman of Freedom National Bank in 1988 but could not prevent the failure of the bank in 1990. Robinson died April 14, 2011.

February 17, 1863 The First Michigan Colored Infantry was formed. The regiment 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. A Michigan Historical Marker commemorating the regiment was installed April 12, 1968 in Detroit, Michigan.

February 17, 1891 Albert C. Richardson of South Frankfort, Michigan was awarded patent number 446,470 for inventing a new and improved churn. His invention provided a simple and inexpensive churn capable of readily converting the lacteal fluid into butter and delivering the same upon a suitable plate for convenient removal. Richardson created several other devices that were completely unrelated to each other. He received patent numbers 255,022 for a hame fastner March 14, 1882, 529,311 for a casket lowering device November 13, 1894, 620,362 for an insect destroyer February 28, 1899, and 638,811 for an improvement in the design of the bottle December 12, 1899. Not much else is known of Richardson's life.

February 17, 1922 Tommy Edwards, singer, songwriter and the first African American individual performer to top the Billboard Hot 100, was born in Richmond, Virginia. Edwards began his professional musical career in 1931 and wrote "That Chick's Too Young to Fry" in 1946 which was a hit for Louis Jordan. He began recording in 1949. He re-recorded "It's All in the Game", which he had originally recorded in 1951, in 1958 with a different arrangement and it became number one on Billboard, R&B, and the United Kingdom singles charts. It sold more than 3.5 million copies worldwide. Edwards followed that with other successful singles, including "Love Is All We Need", "Please Mr. Sun", and The Morning Side of the Mountain". Edwards died October 22, 1969. He received a State of Virginia highway marker in 2008.

February 17, 1936 James Nathaniel "Jim" Brown, hall of fame football player and actor, was born in St. Simons Island, Georgia. Brown earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Syracuse University in 1957 and also excelled in basketball, track, lacrosse, and football. He was first-team All-American in both football and lacrosse in his senior year. Brown was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the 1957 National Football League draft and was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection and three-time NFL Most Valuable Player over his nine-season professional career. He received the 1964 Hickok Belt, given annually to the top professional athlete of the year. He held many professional football records when he retired in 1965, including most career rushing yards and most career rushing touchdowns. Brown was inducted into the Professional Football Hall of Fame in 1971, the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame in 1983, and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1995. The Sporting News named Brown "the greatest football player ever" in 2002. Brown began his acting career prior to retiring from football, appearing in "Rio Conchos" in 1964. Other films in which he appeared include "The Dirty Dozen" (1967), "100 Rifles" (1969), "Three the Hard Way" (1974), and "On the Edge" (2002). Brown has published two autobiographies "Off My Chest" (1964) and "Out of Bounds" (1989). The documentary film "Jim Brown: All-American" was released in 2002. He received the 2012 Doak Walker Legends Award which "recognizes a running back whose extraordinary football career has been bolstered by an exemplary record of leadership in the community". He was chosen the second greatest player in NFL history by NFL Network in 2010. Brown currently serves as executive advisor to the Cleveland Browns. He is also active in forming groups to assist Black owned businesses and the rehabilitation of gang members.

February 17, 1938 Mary Frances Berry, the first Black woman to head a major research university, was born in Nashville, Tennessee. Berry earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1961 and Master of Arts degree in 1962 from Howard University and her Ph.D. in 1966 and Juris Doctor degree in 1970 from the University of Michigan. She accepted the position of acting director of the Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Maryland in 1970 and served as provost in the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences from 1974 to 1976. She became the chancellor at the University of Colorado in 1976, a major research university. President Jimmy Carter appointed Berry Assistant Secretary for Education in 1977, the first African American woman to serve as the chief educational officer in the United States. President Carter appointed her to the U. S. Commission on Civil Rights in 1980 and she served until 2004. She increased her involvement in social activism throughout the 1980s and co-founded the Free South Africa Movement in 1984. She also has published several books, including "Long Memory: The Black Experience in America" (1982), "Why ERA Failed: Politics, Women's Rights, and the Amending Process of the Constitution" (1986), "And Justice For All: The United States Commission On Civil Rights And the Struggle For Freedom in America" (2009), and "We Are Who We Say We Are: A Black Family's Search for Home Across the Atlantic World" (2014). Berry has received 33 honorary doctorate degrees, including an honorary Doctor of Law degree from Bates College in 2001. She was named a Distinguished Fellow of the American Society for Legal History, the highest honor the society can award, in 2014. She currently serves as the Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought and History at the University of Pennsylvania.

February 17, 1941 Wellington E. Webb, the first African American Mayor of Denver, Colorado, was born in Chicago, Illinois but raised in Denver. Webb earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology from Colorado State College in 1964 and his Master of Arts degree in sociology from the University of Northern Colorado in 1971. He was elected to the Colorado House of Representatives in 1972. Webb was appointed regional director of the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare in 1977 and was appointed executive director of the Colorado Department of Regulatory Agencies in 1981. He was elected Denver city auditor in 1987 and served until 1991 when he was elected mayor. Accomplishments during his 12 year tenure included a 40% decrease in crime, the new Denver International Airport, and expansion of the Denver Art Museum. He founded Webb Group International in 2003, a consulting firm focused on economic development projects and public relations. Webb published his autobiography, "The Man, the Mayor and the Making of Modern Denver", in 2007. The Wellington E. Webb Municipal Office Building in Denver is named in his honor.

February 17, 1942 Huey Percy Newton, co-founder and leader of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, was born in Monroe, Louisiana but raised in Oakland, California. While at Oakland City College, he and Bobby Seale organized the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense October 15, 1966 with Seale as chairman and Newton as minister of defense. Newton was convicted of voluntary manslaughter for the death of a policeman and sentenced to 2 to 15 years in prison in 1968. The California Appellate Court reversed the conviction and ordered a new trial in 1970 and after two subsequent mistrials the State of California dropped the case. Newton was acquitted of the murder of a prostitute after two trials ended in deadlock in 1977. Newton was fatally shot August 22, 1989. A one man play, "A Huey P. Newton Story", was performed on stage in 1996 and then turned into an award winning 2001 documentary film. Several biographies have been published about Newton, including "Seize the Time: The Story of the Black Panther Party and Huey P. Newton" (1970) and "Huey: Spirit of the Panther" (2006).

February 17, 1963 Michael Jeffrey "Air" Jordan, hall of fame basketball player, was born in Brooklyn, New York. Jordan earned a basketball scholarship to the University of North Carolina in 1981 and led them to a National Collegiate Athletic Association Championship in 1982. He won the Naismith and Wooden College Player of the Year Awards in 1984. He returned to UNC to earn his Bachelor of Arts degree in geography in 1986. Jordan was selected by the Chicago Bulls in the 1984 National Basketball Association draft and was the 1985 NBA Rookie of the Year. Jordan was 5-time NBA Most Valuable Player, 14-time All-Star, won 10 scoring titles, 3 steals titles, and the 1988 Defensive Player of the Year over his 16 season professional career. He was also a member of the Gold medal winning men's basketball teams at the 1984 Los Angeles and 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympic Games. He was named Sports Illustrated magazine 1991 Sportsperson of the Year, greatest North American athlete of the 20th century by ESPN in 1999, and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009. His autobiography, "For the Love of the Game", was published in 1998. Jordon has owned Michael Jordan Motorsports since 2004 and he became majority owner of the Charlotte Bobcats (now Hornets) professional basketball team in 2010. Jordan is one of the most marketed sports figures in history with an estimated net worth of $1.1 billion in 2015, the first billionaire NBA player in history.

February 17, 1982 Thelonious Sphere Monk, Jr., hall of fame jazz pianist and composer, died. Monk was born October 10, 1917 in Rocky Mountain, North Carolina. He began playing the piano at six. He served as the house pianist at Minton's Playhouse in Harlem, New York in the early to mid-1940s and they featured most of the leading jazz soloist of the day. Monk made his first studio recording in 1944 and his first recording as leader of a group in 1947. Although he was highly regarded by his peers and jazz critics, his records did not sell well because his music was considered too difficult for the mass market. His first commercially successful album was "Brilliant Corners" (1956) and his most commercially successful album was "Monk's Dream" (1963). Monk was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1963. Monk became one of only five jazz musicians to appear on the cover of Time Magazine February 28, 1964. The Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz was founded in 1986 to nurture and acknowledge musical greatness and the documentary "Thelonious Monk: Straight No Chaser" was released in 1988. Monk was posthumously awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993 and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation in 2006 "for a body of distinguished and innovative musical composition that has had a significant and enduring impact on the evolution of jazz". The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 1995. Several of Monk's recordings have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as recordings of "lasting qualitative or historical significance", including the single "Round About Midnight" (1948) in 1993 and the albums "Brilliant Corners" (1956) in 1999, "Monk's Music" (1957) in 2001 and "The Genius of Modern Music Vols. 1 & 2" (1949) in 2003. His biography, "Thelonious Monk", was published in 2009.


​The First Michigan Colored Infantry

Formed in 1863. 

Huey Percy Newton

Co-founder and leader of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense; born in 1942.

Michael Jordan

Hall of fame basketball player born in 1963. 

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