Today in Black History, February 20, 2016 | Frederick Douglass - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, February 20, 2016 | Frederick Douglass

February 20, 1895 February 20, 1895 Frederick Douglass, abolitionist, women's suffragist, editor, author and statesman, died. Douglass was born enslaved February 14, 1818 in Tuckahoe, Maryland and named Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey. He taught himself to read and write and escaped from slavery in 1838. Douglass 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. He 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. 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 20, 1900 John F. Pickering of Gonaives, Haiti received patent number 643,975 for an Air Ship. His invention allowed a gas powered or balloon propelled ship to be controlled horizontally or at any desired angle by the operator. Nothing else is known of Pickering's life.

February 20, 1900 George Washington Murray of Sumter County, South Carolina received patent number 644,032 for a grain drill. His invention allowed seeds to be dropped in small furrows at predetermined distances regulated by the operator of the drill. Murray had previously received patent numbers 520,889 for a fertilizer distributor, 520,890 for a planter, and 520,892 for a reaper June 5, 1894. He later received patent number 887,495 for a portable hoisting device May 12, 1908. Murray was born enslaved September 22, 1853 in Sumter County. He attended the University of South Carolina for two years after being freed by the Emancipation Proclamation and taught school for 15 years. He served as chairman of the Sumter County Republican Party and was known as the "Republican Black Eagle". Murray served as inspector of customs at the Port of Charleston from 1890 to 1892. He was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1893 and served until 1897. During his time in Congress, Murray fought for African American rights, spoke in favor of retaining Reconstruction Period laws, and highlighted African American achievement by reading into the congressional record a list of 92 patents granted to African Americans. He was the last Black Republican to serve in Congress from South Carolina until 2010. Murray moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1905 and sold life insurance and real estate until his death April 21, 1926. His biography, "A Black Congressman in the Age of Jim Crow: South Carolina's George Washington Murray", was published in 2006.

February 20, 1913 Thomas Kilgore, one of the few men to lead two major national Baptist organizations, was born in Woodruff, South Carolina. Kilgore earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Morehouse College in 1935 and his Bachelor of Divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary in 1957. He began his fight for equality in the 1940s, registering voters and organizing tobacco workers in North and South Carolina. He moved to New York City in 1947 and as pastor of Friendship Baptist Church raised bail money for civil rights workers jailed in the South. He also served as founding president of the Heart of Harlem Neighborhood Church Association which was organized in 1957 to fight segregation in New York City. Kilgore was also an organizer of the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom in 1957 and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. He moved to Los Angeles, California in 1963 and became pastor of Second Baptist Church, the oldest Black Baptist church in the city. He was elected the first Black president of the American Baptist Churches USA in 1969 and served as president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention from 1976 to 1978. Kilgore served as an advisor to three presidents of the University of Southern California and his papers are archived at the institution. Kilgore died February 4, 1998. The Morehouse College Campus Center is named in his honor.

February 20, 1927 Sidney Poitier, actor, director, author and diplomat, was born in Miami, Florida. Poitier moved to New York City at 17 and joined the American Negro Theater. He made his film debut in "No Way Out" (1950) but his breakout role was in "Blackboard Jungle" (1955). Poitier acted in the first production of "A Raisin in the Sun" on Broadway in 1959 and starred in the film version in 1961. He became the first Black man to win the Academy Award for Best Actor April 13, 1964 for his role in "Lilies of the Field". Other films in which he has appeared include "The Defiant Ones" (1958), "A Patch of Blue" (1965), "In the Heat of the Night" (1967), and "The Jackal" (1997). Poitier has also directed a number of films, including "Buck and the Preacher" (1972), "Stir Crazy" (1980), and "Ghost Dad" (1990). He has also written three autobiographies, "This Life" (1980), "The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography" (2000), and "Life Beyond Measure – Letters to my Great-Granddaughter" (2008). Poitier was appointed ambassador of the Bahamas to Japan in 1997 and served on the board of The Walt Disney Company from 1998 to 2003. He received Kennedy Center Honors in 1995, an honorary award from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences "in recognition of his remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human being" in 2002, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor, by President Barack Obama August 12, 2009, and the 2016 BAFTA Fellowship, the highest honor bestowed by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts "in recognition of outstanding achievement in the art forms of the moving image". The documentary "Sidney Poitier: an Outsider in Hollywood" was released in 2008. Poitier published a novel, "Montaro Caine", in 2013.

February 20, 1936 John Hope, educator and political activist, died. Hope was born June 2, 1868 in Augusta, Georgia. He graduated from Worcester Academy in 1890 and earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Brown University in 1894. Hope became professor of classics at Atlanta Baptist College (now Morehouse College) in 1898 and was appointed the institution's first Black president in 1906. He also joined W. E. B. Du Bois and William Monroe Trotter as founders of the Niagara Movement. Morehouse and Spelman College affiliated with Atlanta University to form the Atlanta University Center in 1928 and Hope was chosen president, a position he held until his death. Hope was posthumously awarded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People 1936 Spingarn Medal. He was awarded honorary doctorate degrees by several colleges and universities, including Brown University, Bates College, and Howard University. Hope's biography, "The Story of John Hope", was published in 1948 and "A Clashing of the Soul: John Hope and the Dilemma of African American Leadership and Black Higher Education in the Early Twentieth Century" was published in 1998.

February 20, 1937 Nancy Wilson, hall of fame song stylist, was born in Chillicothe, Ohio. Wilson won a talent contest sponsored by a local television station at 15. The prize was an appearance on a show which she ended up hosting. She joined the Carolyn Club Big Band in 1956 and toured with them until 1958. She released her debut single "Guess Who I Saw Today" in 1960. Wilson had four albums in the Top 10 of Billboard's Top LP's list between March, 1964 and June, 1965. She won the 1964 Grammy Award for Best R&B Female Vocal Performance for the album "How Glad I Am". She later won Grammy Awards for Best Jazz Vocal Album in 2005 for "R.S.V.P. (Rare Songs, Very Personal)" and in 2007 for "Turned to Blue". Wilson was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1999 and was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows upon a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2004. Wilson was inducted into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame in 2005.

February 20, 1963 Charles Wade Barkley, hall of fame basketball player, was born in Leeds, Alabama. Barkley played college basketball at Auburn University where he was a three-time All-Southeastern Conference selection and Conference Player of the Year in 1984. Barkley was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1984 National Basketball Association Draft and was an 11-time NBA All-Star and the 1993 NBA Most Valuable Player over his 16 season professional career. He also won Gold medals as a member of the United States men's basketball team at the 1992 Barcelona and 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympic Games. Barkley retired in April, 2000 and published a memoir, "I May Be Wrong but I Doubt It", in 2002. Barkley's jersey number was retired by Auburn University and the Philadelphia 76ers in 2001 and it was retired by the Phoenix Suns in 2004. Barkley was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. Barkley has had a successful career as an Emmy Award winning commentator on basketball since retiring as a player.

February 20, 2000 Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman , religious leader, died. Agyeman was born Albert Cleage June 13, 1911 in Indianapolis, Indiana but raised in Detroit, Michigan. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Wayne State University in 1942 and his Bachelor of Divinity degree from Oberlin Graduate School of Theology in 1943. He was ordained in the Congregational Church that same year. After clashing with White Presbyterian leaders over racial issues, Agyeman formed the Central Congregational Church in 1953 with a commitment to minister to the downtrodden and offer programs for the poor. He launched the Black Christian National Movement, which called for Black churches to reinterpret Jesus' teachings to suit the social, economic, and political needs of Black people, in 1967. He renamed Central Congregational the Shrine of the Black Madonna at the same time. He published "The Black Messiah" which detailed his vision of Jesus as a Black revolutionary leader in 1968. He published "Black Christian Nationalism" in 1972 and inaugurated the Black Christian Nationalist Movement as a separate denomination. The name of the denomination was later changed to the Pan African Orthodox Christian Church which continues the mission to uplift and liberate the Pan African world community through the teachings of Jesus, the Black Messiah.

February 20, 2002 Willie Lawrence Thrower, the first African American to play quarterback in the National Football League, died. Thrower was born March 22, 1930 in New Kensington, Pennsylvania. Thrower was an outstanding dual-threat quarterback in high school and was named captain for an All-American scholastic team. Despite this, many colleges did not offer him a scholarship because of his race. Thrower played college football at Michigan State University and became the first Black quarterback to play in the Big Ten Conference in 1950. Thrower was not selected in the National Football League Draft but was signed by the Chicago Bears. He came into a game against the San Francisco 49ers October 18, 1953, the first Black quarterback in the NFL. Thrower only played one more game with the Bears and was released at the end of the season. He played for a couple of Canadian semi-pro teams before an injury forced him to retire at 27. He then became a social worker in New York City. A Pennsylvania State Marker was dedicated in his honor in 2003 and a statue of him was unveiled in New Kensington September 28, 2006.

February 20, 2012 Katie Beatrice Hall, the first African American woman elected to the United States Congress from Indiana, died. Hall was born April 3, 1938 in Mound Bayou, Mississippi. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Mississippi Valley State University in 1960 and her Master of Science degree from Indiana University in 1968. Hall taught social studies in Gary, Indiana before entering politics. She was elected to the Indiana House of Representatives in 1974 where she served one term before being elected to the Indiana Senate in 1976. She served in that body until 1982 when she was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives. Although she only served one term, Hall played a key role in the passage of the bill to make Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday a national holiday. Hall was defeated for re-election in 1984. She subsequently served as vice chair of the Gary Housing Board of Commissioners and city clerk of Gary.


Sidney Poitier

Actor, director, author and diplomat.

Nancy Wilson

​Hall of fame song stylist.

Willie Lawrence Thrower

The first African American to play quarterback in the National Football League.

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