Today in Black History, February 19, 2016 | William "Smokey" Robinson, Jr., - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, February 19, 2016 | William "Smokey" Robinson, Jr.,

February 19, 1872 Robert Elijah Jones, the first African American general superintendent for the Methodist Episcopal Church, was born in Greensboro, North Carolina. Jones entered the ministry and was licensed to preach at 19. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Bennett College in 1895 and his Bachelor of Divinity degree from Gammon Theological Seminary in 1897. He served as assistant manager of the Southwestern Christian Advocate, an African American newspaper published by the Methodist Church, from 1897 to 1901. Jones was elected editor of the Advocate in 1904, a position he held for the next 16 years. He was elected to the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1908 and was the only African American minister on the Joint Commission on the Unification of the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church South. Jones was elected general superintendent in 1920 and became resident bishop of the New Orleans area responsible for 1,905 churches. Jones founded the Gulfside Assembly, which purchased a large piece of land along the Gulf Coast, in 1923. This was the only location along the Gulf Coast accessible to African Americans for recreational purposes. Jones was president of the Negro Business League in Louisiana, helped found the Dryades Street Young Men Christian Association, and was prominent in the establishment of the Flint-Goodridge Hospital. He was also chairman of the board of Wiley and Sam Houston Colleges and one of the founding trustees of Dillard University. Jones received several honorary doctorate degrees, including Doctor of Law degrees from Howard University in 1911, Morgan College (now Morgan State University) in 1937, and Lincoln University in 1940. He retired from the ministry in 1944. Jones died May 18, 1960.

February 19, 1885 Jonathon Jasper Wright, lawyer and South Carolina Supreme Court judge, died. Wright was born February 11, 1840 in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania. Wright applied for admission to the Bar after studying the law for three years but was refused an examination because of his race. He again applied for admission in 1865, was found qualified, and became the first African American admitted to practice law in Pennsylvania. Wright was appointed the legal advisor for the Freedmen's Bureau in Beaufort, South Carolina in 1866. He was elected to the 1868 Constitutional Convention of South Carolina and helped draft the judiciary section of the state constitution which remains in effect today. Wright was soon after elected state senator and was elected to the South Carolina Supreme Court in 1870. He served the court for seven years before returning to private practice. The Jonathon Jasper Wright Institute for the Study of Southern African American History, Culture and Policy is located at Claflin University and the Jonathon Jasper Wright Award is given annually to an outstanding member of the South Carolina legal community.

February 19, 1890 Benjamin Brown received the Congressional Medal of Honor, America's highest military decoration, for his actions during the Indian Wars. Brown was born in 1859 in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. He was serving as a sergeant in Company C of the 24th Infantry Regiment May 11, 1889 when his unit was involved in an engagement with robbers in Arizona. His actions during the engagement earned him the medal. His citation reads, "Although shot in the abdomen, in a fight between a paymaster's escort and robbers, did not leave the field until again wounded through both arms". Not much else is known of Brown's life except that he died September 5, 1910.

February 19, 1890 Isaiah Mays received the Congressional Medal of Honor, America's highest military decoration, for his actions during an engagement with robbers. Mays was born enslaved February 16, 1858 in Carters Bridge, Virginia. He was serving as a corporal in Company B of the 24th Infantry Regiment by May 11, 1889. His citation reads, "Gallantry in the fight between Paymaster Wham's escort and robbers. Mays walked and crawled 2 miles to a ranch for help." Mays left the army in 1893. He applied for a federal pension in 1922 but was denied. Mays died penniless May 2, 1925 and his grave was marked with only a small stone. In 2001, the marker was replaced with an official United States Department of Veterans Affairs headstone. In March, 2009, his remains were disinterred, cremated, and placed in an urn. On May 29, 2009, the urn was interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

February 19, 1902 John W. Bubbles, hall of fame tap dancer, was born John William Sublett in Louisville, Kentucky but raised in Indianapolis, Indiana. Bubbles formed a partnership with Buck Washington known as Buck and Bubbles while a teenager. Washington played the piano and sang and Bubbles tapped. They were headlining the vaudeville circuit by 1922 and playing the London Palladium, the Cotton Club, the Apollo, and were the first Black performers at Radio City Music Hall. They also appeared in motion pictures, including "Varsity Show" (1937), "Cabin in the Sky" (1943), and "A Song is Born" (1948). Bubbles created the role of Sportin' Life in the opera "Porgy and Bess" in 1935. He toured with the United Service Organization during the Vietnam War. Bubbles died May 18, 1986. He was posthumously inducted into the International Tap Dance Hall of Fame in 2002.

February 19, 1909 Clarence Leroy Holte, assembler of what is believed to be the largest private collection of books on Black history and culture, was born in Norfolk, Virginia. Holte studied at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. He worked as a teller in Harlem, New York during the 1930s before joining the Works Progress Administration. Holte worked at a major advertising firm as an ethnic marketing specialist from 1952 to his retirement in 1972. He made numerous trips to Africa in this capacity to promote construction projects on the continent. Holte assembled a collection of approximately 8,000 books about Africa and the African diaspora over six decades of collecting. He also founded The Basic Afro-American Reprint Library with the goal of educating primarily Black people about Black history. He funded the Clarence L. Holte Literary Prize which was awarded biennially in recognition of a significant contribution by a living writer to the cultural heritage of Africa and the African diaspora from 1977 to 1988. Holte died January 29, 2003.

February 19, 1940 William "Smokey" Robinson, Jr., hall of fame singer, songwriter and record producer, was born in Detroit, Michigan. Robinson co-founded a vocal group called The Five Chimes in 1955 which was later renamed The Miracles. They were one of the first groups to sign with the newly formed Motown Records in 1959. Robinson was appointed vice-president of the company in 1961, a title that he held until Motown was sold in 1988. The Miracles' "Shop Around" (1960) was Motown's first number one hit on the R&B charts and their first million selling single. Other hits by the group include "Baby, Baby Don't Cry" (1969) and "Tears of a Clown" (1970). The group received the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Award in 1997. Robinson started a successful solo career in 1972 with hits that include "Quiet Storm" (1976), "Cruisin'" (1979), "Being With You" (1981), and "Tell Me Tomorrow" (1982). He won the 1987 Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for "Just to See Her".He also published his autobiography, "Smokey", and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that year. Robinson also wrote and produced for other artists, including "My Guy" for Mary Wells, "Since I Lost My Baby" for The Temptations, "Don't Mess With Bill" for The Marvelettes, and "First I Look at the Purse" for The Contours. Robinson has more than 4,000 songs to his credit. He received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999, Kennedy Center Honors in 2006, and was presented the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President George W. Bush March 6, 2002. Robinson received an honorary doctorate degree from Berklee College of Music in 2009. His most recent album, "Smokey & Friends", was released in 2014.

February 19, 1972 Edward Lee Morgan, hall of fame jazz trumpeter, died. Morgan was born July 10, 1938 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He received his first trumpet at 13 and joined Dizzy Gillespie's big band at 18 and was a member for 18 months. He joined Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers in 1958 and was featured on a number of their albums. Morgan recorded 30 albums as a leader, including "The Sidewinder" (1963), his most commercially successful album, "Cornbread" (1965), and "The Last Session" (1971). He became one of the leaders of the Jazz and People's Movement in the last two years of his life and protested the lack of jazz artists as guest performers and members of the bands of television shows. Morgan was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1991 and "The Sidewinder" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2000 as a recording of "lasting qualitative or historical significance". His biographies include "Lee Morgan: His Life, Music and Culture" (2006) and "Delightful Lee: The Life and Music of Lee Morgan" (2008).

February 19, 1983 Hubert Fauntleroy Julian, aviator known as "The Black Eagle, died. Julian was born September 21, 1897 in Port of Spain, Trinidad. He moved to Montreal, Canada in 1914 where he learned to fly and moved to Harlem, New York in 1921. He flew an airplane over Harlem during the 1922 United Negro Improvement Association convention and was put in charge of the UNIA Aeronautical Department. Julian flew to Ethiopia in 1930 where his flying ability so impressed Emperor Halie Selassie that he was awarded citizenship and made a colonel in the Ethiopian Air Force. Julian became the first person of African descent to fly coast to coast in the United States in 1931. After the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, he flew to Ethiopia and was put in command of their air force. Julian also toured with an all-Black flying circus called The Five Blackbirds. During World War II, he voluntarily joined the Tuskegee Airman but was discharged before graduating. His biography, "Black Eagle" was published in 1971.

February 19, 1996 Dorothy Maynor, concert soprano and founder of the Harlem School of Arts, died. Maynor was born September 3, 1910 in Norfolk, Virginia. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Hampton Institute (now University) in 1933 and another Bachelor of Arts degree from the Westminster Choir College in 1935. Maynor made her debut at Town Hall in New York City in December, 1939 and as a result of that performance received the Town Hall Endowment Series Award for 1940. Despite the racism that precluded her from performing at many opera houses, Maynor toured extensively throughout the United States, Europe, and Latin America. She founded the Harlem School of Arts in 1964 to provide music education to the children of Harlem. Under her leadership, the school grew from 20 students to 1,000 at the time of her retirement in 1979. Maynor became the first African American to serve on the board of the Metropolitan Opera in 1979. Her biography, "Dorothy Maynor and the Harlem School of the Arts: The Diva and the Dream", was published in 1993.

February 19, 2001 Guy William Rodgers, hall of fame basketball player, died. Rodger was born September 1, 1935 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He played college basketball at Temple University where he was first-team All-American in 1958 and the all-time leading scorer when he left the school. He was selected by the Philadelphia Warriors in the 1958 National Basketball Association Draft and was a four-time All-Star and two-time NBA assists leader over his 12 season professional career. Rodgers was considered one of the NBA's best playmakers and tied the record for most assists in a single game in 1963. He set the then record for most assists in a season during the 1966/1967 season. Rodgers was posthumously inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2014.

February 19, 2002 Virginia Hamilton, children's book author, died. Hamilton was born March 12, 1936 in Yellow Springs, Ohio. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Ohio State University in 1958 and published her first book, "Zeely", in 1967. She wrote 35 books over her career, including "M. C. Higgins, the Great" which won the 1974 National Book Award and the 1975 Newberry Medal, a first by an African American author. Her 1983 book "Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush" was awarded a Boston Globe – Horn Book Award. Hamilton also received the Edgar Allen Poe Award, the Coretta Scott King Award, and was the first American to receive the Hans Christian Anderson Award. The Virginia Hamilton Conference on Multicultural Literature for Youth has been held annually at Kent State University since 1984. "Virginia Hamilton: Speeches, Essays, and Conversations" was published in 2010.

February 19, 2011 Ollie Genoa Matson II, hall of fame football player, died. Matson was born May 1, 1930 in Trinity, Texas. He played college football at the University of San Francisco and led the nation in rushing yardage and touchdowns and was named an All-American in 1951. He was selected by the Chicago Cardinals in the 1952 National Football League Draft and was the co-Rookie of the Year. Matson also won the Bronze medal in the 400-meter race and the Silver medal in the 4x400-meter relay at the 1952 Helsinki Summer Olympic Games. Matson was a seven-time All-Pro over his 14 season professional career. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1976.

February 19, 2013 Jane Cooke Wright, pioneering cancer researcher and surgeon, died. Wright was born November 30, 1919 in Manhattan, New York. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in art from Smith College in 1942 and her Medical Degree, with honors, from New York Medical College in 1945. She joined the Harlem Hospital Cancer Research Center in 1949 and became director in 1952. Wright joined the New York University Bellevue Medical Center in 1955 as an associate professor of surgical research and director of cancer research. Her research involved the effects of various drugs on tumors. Wright is credited with developing the technique of using human tissue culture rather than laboratory mice to test the effects of potential drugs on cancer cells. She also pioneered the use of the drug methotrexate to treat breast and skin cancers. During her career, Wright published more than 75 papers on cancer chemotherapeutics. She was one of the founders of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in 1964 and was the first woman elected president of the New York Cancer Society in 1971. Wright was appointed associate dean and head of the cancer chemotherapy department at New York Medical College in 1967. She also served on the President's Commission on Heart Disease, Cancer and Stroke from 1964 to 1965 and the National Cancer Advisory Board from 1966 to 1970. Wright worked in Ghana in 1957 and Kenya in 1961 and served as vice president of the African Research and Medical Foundation from 1973 to 1984. She retired in 1985. The American Association of Cancer Research awards the Minorities in Research Jane Cooke Wright Lectureship "to an outstanding scientist who has made meritorious contributions to the field of cancer research and who has, through leadership or by example, furthered the advancement of minority investigators in cancer research".

February 19, 2015. Harold Johnson, hall of fame boxer, died. Johnson was born August 9, 1928 in Manayunk, Pennsylvania. He started boxing at eight and turned professional in 1946. He won his first 24 professional fights and won the World Light Heavyweight Boxing Championship in 1961. He held the title until 1963 and retired from boxing in 1971 with a record of 76 wins and 10 losses. Johnson was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1993. Ring magazine ranked him number 80 on its list of the 80 Best Fighters of the Last 80 Years in 2002.


Guy William Rodgers

Hall of fame basketball player.

Isaiah Mays 

Received the Congressional Medal of Honor, America's highest military decoration, in 1890 for his actions during an engagement with robbers.

Jane Cooke Wright


Pioneering cancer researcher and surgeon.

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