Today in Black History, February 22, 2016 | James Reese Europe - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, February 22, 2016 | James Reese Europe

"I have come from France more firmly convinced than ever that Negroes should play Negro music. We have our own racial feelings and if we try to copy Whites we will make bad copies."

James Reese Europe

February 22, 1839 Octavius Valentine Catto, educator and civil rights activist, was born in Charleston, South Carolina but raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Catto graduated from the Institute for Colored Youth (now Cheyney University) in 1858. He did a year of post-graduate work, including private tutoring in Greek and Latin and then returned to ICY to teach English and mathematics. In an 1864 commencement address, Catto spoke on the potential insensitivity of White teachers to the needs and interest of African American students. He stated, "It is at least unjust to allow a blind and ignorant prejudice to so far disregard the choice of parents and the will of the colored tax-payers, as to appoint over colored children white teachers, whose intelligence and success, measured by the fruits of their labors, could neither obtain or secure for them positions which we know would be more congenial to their tastes." He was also elected corresponding secretary of the Pennsylvania Equal Rights League in 1864 and served as vice president of the 1865 State Convention of Colored People. Catto helped raise eleven regiments of United States Colored Troops in the Philadelphia area during the Civil War and was commissioned a major. On Election Day, October 10, 1871, Black voters faced intimidation and violence from White people opposed to their voting and Catto was harassed and shot dead. The man that shot him was not convicted. The Octavius V. Catto Community School in Camden, New Jersey is named in his honor and the Major Octavius V. Catto Medal is awarded by the Philadelphia National Guard.

February 22, 1841 Grafton Tyler Brown, lithographer and painter of the American West, was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Brown moved to San Francisco, California before he was 20 and established his own firm to produce illustrated bank notes, labels, maps, and stock certificates. His production of "The Illustrated History of San Mateo County" (1878) featured 72 views of the county's communities and ranches. Brown traveled the West producing maps and illustrations, including many landscape paintings. He worked as a draftsman for the United States Army Corps of Engineers from 1893 to 1897 and in the civil engineering department of St. Paul, Minnesota from 1898 to 1910. Brown died March 3, 1918. His paintings are in the collections of museums throughout the United States, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Oakland Museum of California.

February 22, 1856 John Edward Bruce, journalist, orator and Pan-African nationalist, was born enslaved in Piscataway, Maryland. He and his mother escaped to Washington, D. C. when he was three and he received his formal education and attended Howard University. Bruce was an assistant at the New York Times at 18. He founded a number of newspapers, including The Argus Weekly in 1879, The Sunday Item in 1880, and The Republican in 1882. At the same time he was starting these papers, Bruce was serving as associate editor and business manager for the Commonwealth newspaper in Baltimore, Maryland and writing columns for other papers. Bruce was also prominent on the lecture circuit, speaking against lynching and the condition of southern Black people. He also advocated for armed self-defense against racist attacks, supporting "organized resistance to organized resistance". He was president of the Afro-American Council in 1898 and the American correspondent for the African Times and Orient Review in London, England in 1910. He co-founded the Negro Society for Historical Research in 1911 and it became the foundation for the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Bruce joined the Universal Negro Improvement Association around 1919 and wrote columns for the organization's Negro World and Daily Negro Times newspapers. Bruce died August 7, 1924. His biography, "John Edward Bruce: Politician, Journalist, and Self-Trained Historian of the African Diaspora", was published in 2004.

February 22, 1875 George De Baptiste, entrepreneur and abolitionist, died. De Baptiste was born around 1815 in Fredericksburg, Virginia but raised in Richmond, Virginia. He was trained as a barber as a young man. De Baptiste moved to Madison, Indiana around 1838 and became a servant to General William Henry Harrison. When Harrison became President of the United States, he appointed De Baptiste steward of the White House. De Baptiste returned to Madison after Harrison's death and opened a barbershop. He moved to Detroit, Michigan in 1846 and bought a barbershop, bakery, and a catering business. He also purchased a steamboat but had to have a White man operate it because it was against the law to license a Black person to operate a steamboat. De Baptiste actively recruited Black men for a colored regiment from Michigan during the Civil War. He was also active on the Underground Railroad, helping hundreds of people escape slavery and a large reward was offered for his arrest in Kentucky. De Baptiste worked to secure equal admission of Black children into the Detroit public schools after the war.

February 22, 1881 James Reese Europe, ragtime and jazz bandleader, arranger and composer, was born in Mobile, Alabama. Europe moved to New York City in 1904 and organized the Clef Club, a society for African Americans in the music industry, in 1910. They made history in 1912 as the first band to play proto-jazz at Carnegie Hall when they played a concert for the benefit of the Colored Music Settlement School. The band played music solely written by Black composers. Europe made a series of recordings in 1913 and 1914 that are some of the best examples of the pre-jazz ragtime style of the 1910s. Europe saw combat as a lieutenant with the Harlem Hellfighters during World War I and went on to direct the regimental band to great acclaim. After returning to the United States in 1919, he stated "I have come from France more firmly convinced than ever that Negroes should play Negro music. We have our own racial feelings and if we try to copy Whites we will make bad copies." Europe was stabbed to death by one of his musicians May 9, 1919. He was the best known African American bandleader in the U. S. and was granted the first ever public funeral for an African American in New York City. His biography, "A Lifetime in Ragtime: A Biography of James Reese Europe", was published in 1995.

February 22, 1888 Horace Pippin, self-taught painter, was born in West Chester, Pennsylvania. Pippin served in the 369th Infantry Harlem Hellfighters during World War I and lost the use of his right arm. He started painting in 1930 and his work includes portraits, landscapes, and religious subjects. His painting "John Brown Going to his Hanging" (1942) is in the collection of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and "Domino Players" (1943) is in the Phillips Collection. Other well known works include "Self Portrait" (1941) and several versions of "Cabin in the Cotton". Pippin died July 6, 1946. His biography, "I Tell My Heart: The Art of Horace Pippin", was published in 1993.

February 22, 1899 Albert C. Richardson of South Frankfort, Michigan received patent number 620,362 for an insect destroyer. His invention provided a simple, inexpensive, and efficient device to destroy insects on plants and trees without injuring the shoots or foliage. Richardson created several other devices that were completely unrelated to each other. He received patent numbers 255,022 March 14, 1882 for a hame fastner, 446,470 February 17, 1891 for a butter churn, 529,311 November 13, 1894 for a casket lowering device, and 638,811 December 12, 1899 for an improvement in the design of the bottle. Not much else is known of Richardson's life.

February 22, 1911 Francis Ellen Watkins Harper, poet and abolitionist, died. Harper was born September 24, 1825 in Baltimore, Maryland. She had her first volume of poems, "Forest Leaves", published in 1845 and her second book, "Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects", published in 1854. Other works by Harper include "Poems" (1857), "The Martyr of Alabama and Other Poems" (1892), and "Atlanta Offering" (1895). Harper joined the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1853 and became a traveling lecturer for the group. She was also a strong supporter of prohibition and women's suffrage. Harper published "Iola Leroy, or Shadows Uplifted", one of the first novels by an African American woman, in 1892. She was elected vice president of the National Association of Colored Women in 1897. Studies of Harper include Melba Joyce Boyd's "Discarded Legacy: Politics and Poetics in the Life of Francis E. W. Harper" (1994).

February 22, 1922 Joe Wilder, jazz trumpeter, composer and bandleader, was born in Colwyn, Pennsylvania. Wilder studied at the Mastbaum School of Music but turned to jazz when he felt there was little opportunity for an African American classical musician. He joined his first touring band at 19. Wilder served in the United States Marine Corps during World War II, eventually becoming assistant bandmaster of the headquarters' band. He played in several orchestras after the war, including those of Jimmie Lunceford, Noble Sissle, Dizzy Gillespie, and Count Basie. Wilder earned his Bachelor of Music degree from the Manhattan School of Music in 1953. He did studio work for ABC television and performed in the pit orchestras for Broadway musicals from 1957 to1974. Wilder recorded seven albums as leader, including "Wilder N' Wilder" (1956), "Jazz from Peter Gunn" (1959), and "Among Friends" (2003). He was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2008. Wilder died May 9, 2014.

February 22, 1928 Lawrence Joel, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Joel joined the United States Army in 1946 and served in the Korean and Vietnam Wars. On November 8, 1965, while serving as a medic with the rank of specialist five assigned to the 1st Battalion of the 503rd Infantry Regiment of the 173rd Airborne Brigade, Joel's actions earned him the medal, America's highest military decoration. On that date, Joel and his battalion found themselves in a Viet Cong ambush, outnumber six to one. Under heavy gunfire, Joel did his duty as a medic, administering first aid to wounded soldiers. Joel defied orders to stay to the ground and risked his life to help the many wounded soldiers. Nearly every soldier in the lead squad was either wounded or killed. Even after being shot twice, Joel continued to do his job. He bandaged his wounds and continued to help the wounded in not only his unit, but in the nearby company as well. When his medical supplies were depleted, he hobbled around the battlefield for more, using a makeshift crutch. Joel attended to 13 troops and save the life of one soldier who suffered from a severe chest wound by improvising and placing a plastic bag over the soldier's chest in order to seal the wound until supplies were refreshed. President Lyndon B. Johnson presented Joel with the medal March 9, 1967. Joel was the first living African American to receive the medal since the Spanish–American War. He retired from the military in 1973. Joel died February 4, 1984. The Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Winston-Salem, the Joel Auditorium at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and the U. S. Army clinics at Fort McPherson and Fort Bragg are all named in his honor.

February 22, 1932 Gilbert Edward Noble, television reporter and show host, was born in Harlem, New York. Noble attended City College of New York and served in the United States Army during the Korean War. He was hired as a radio announcer in 1962. He was hired at WABC-TV in 1967 and became an anchor of their weekend newscasts. Noble became host of "Like It Is", a program focused on issues concerning African Americans and people of the African diaspora, in 1968. He hosted the show until medical problems caused him to quit in 2011. Noble also produced documentaries on many African American notables, including the first documentary on Paul Roberson titled "The Tallest Tree in Our Forest". He published his autobiography, "Black is the Color of My TV Tube", in 1981. Noble died April 5, 2012.

February 22, 1938 Ishmael Scott Reed, poet, essayist and novelist, was born in Chattanooga, Tennessee but raised in Buffalo, New York. Reed attended the University of Buffalo before moving to New York City in 1962 and co-founding the "East Village Other", a well know underground publication. Reed's works include ten novels, including "The Free Lance Pallbearers" (1967), six collections of poetry, eight collections of essays, including "Mixing It Up: Taking on the Media and Other Reflections" (2008), and six plays. Reed also has edited 13 anthologies, most recently "POW WOW, Charting the Fault Lines in the American Experience-Short Fiction from Then to Now" (2009). Two of his books have been nominated for the National Book Awards and a book of poetry, "Conjure" (1972), was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Reed co-founded the Before Columbus Foundation in 1976 as an "organization dedicated to the promotion and dissemination of contemporary American multicultural literature.Reed received the Langston Hughes Medal in 1995, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Award in 1998, and the Phillis Wheatley Award in 2004. He retired in 2005 from the University of California where he taught for 35 years. His most recent works are the novel "Juice" (2011) and "The Complete Muhammad Ali" (2015).

February 22, 1940 Chester "Chet" Walker, hall of fame basketball player, was born in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Walker played college basketball at Bradley University and when he earned his bachelor's degree in 1962 was the school's all-time leading scorer. He was selected by the Syracuse Nationals, who became the Philadelphia 76ers, in the 1962 National Basketball Association Draft. Walker was a seven-time All-Star over his 13 season NBA career. Walker retired in 1975 and became a movie producer. His projects include "A Mother's Courage: The Mary Thomas Story", a made for television movie about the mother of Isiah Thomas that aired in 1989. Walker is also the author of a memoir titled "Long Time Coming: A Black Athlete's Coming-Of-Age in America, published in 1995. Walker was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012.

February 22, 1950 Julius Winfield "Dr. J" Erving, Jr., hall of fame basketball player, was born in Roosevelt, New York. Erving played college basketball at the University of Massachusetts and is one of only six players to average more than 20 points and 20 rebounds in National Collegiate Athletic Association men's basketball. He began his professional career in 1971 with the Virginia Squires of the American Basketball Association which he helped to legitimize. Erving joined the Philadelphia 76ers when the ABA merged with the National Basketball Association in1976. Erving was an 11-time All-Star and 1981 NBA Most Valuable Player over his 12 season NBA career. He won the 1983 J. Walter Kennedy Award for "outstanding service and dedication to the community". Erving was also one of the first basketball players to endorse many products and to have a shoe marketed under his name. Erving retired in 1987 and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993. He was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. Erving earned his bachelor's degree from the University of Massachusetts after his basketball career and became a businessman and television basketball analyst. Erving co-founded the first ever National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing racing team completely owned by minorities in the late 1990s. He also has served on the board of several corporations. "Doctor J: A Biography of Julius Erving" was published in 1975. Erving published his autobiography, "Dr. J: The Autobiography", in 2013.

February 22, 2007 Dennis Wayne Johnson, hall of fame basketball player, died. Johnson was born September 18, 1954 in Los Angeles, California. He played college basketball at Los Angeles Harbor College and Pepperdine University. He was selected by the Seattle Supersonics in the 1976 National Basketball Association Draft and was a five-time All-Star and nine-time All-Defensive Team member over his 15 season professional career. Johnson won NBA championships with the Supersonics in 1979 and the Boston Celtics in 1984 and 1986. He retired in 1990 and the Celtics retired his jersey number 3 in 1991. Johnson served as an assistant coach with various teams after retiring. He was posthumously inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2010.

February 22, 2008 Johnnie Rebecca Daniels Carr, civil rights activist, died. Carr was born January 26, 1911 in Montgomery, Alabama. She became politically active in the 1930s, raising money for the defense of the Scottsboro Boys, nine African American men falsely accused of raping two White women. She also joined the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People and served as secretary and youth director. Carr was actively involved in the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott and she and her husband filed a lawsuit to desegregate the public school system of Montgomery in 1964. A federal judge in Carr v. Montgomery County Board of Education ruled June 2, 1969 that the board had illegally operated a duel school system based on race and their son became one of the first 13 students to integrate the school system. Carr succeeded Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. as president of the Montgomery Improvement Association in 1967 and held that position until her death. Johnnie R. Carr Middle School in Montgomery is named in her honor and her name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.


Johnnie Rebecca Daniels Carr

Civil rights activist. Raised for the defense of the Scottsboro Boys, nine African American men falsely accused of raping two White women.

Francis Ellen Watkins Harper

​Poet and abolitionist.

John Edward Bruce

Journalist, orator and Pan-African nationalist.

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