Today in Black History, February 23, 2016 | Louis Stokes - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, February 23, 2016 | Louis Stokes

February 23, 1868 William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, civil rights activist, historian and author, was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. Du Bois earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Fisk University in 1888. He went on to Harvard University where he earned another Bachelor of Arts degree, cum laude, in 1890, his Master of Arts degree in 1891, and his Ph. D. in 1895, the first African American to earn a doctorate at the university. Du Bois authored 22 books, including "The Philadelphia Negro" (1899), "The Souls of Black Folks" (1903), and "Black Folks, Then and Now" (1939), and helped establish four academic journals. Du Bois was the most prominent intellectual leader and political activist on behalf of African Americans in the first half of the 20thcentury. He helped found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909 and served as the editor-in-chief of The Crisis magazine for 25 years. Du Bois was awarded the NAACP 1920 Spingarn Medal. In 1963, Du Bois and his wife became citizens of Ghana where he died April 27, 1963. The Ghanaian government honored him with a state funeral and the W. E. B. Du Bois Memorial Centre which is located in the Cantonments district of Accra. The site of the house where Du Bois grew up in Great Barrington was designated a National Historic Landmark May 11, 1976 and the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 1992. Several structures at universities around the country are named in his honor. The many books about Du Bois include "W. E. B. Du Bois: Negro Leader in a Time of Crisis" (1959) and "W. E. B. Du Bois, American Prophet" (2007). His name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

February 23, 1908 Raymond Brown, hall of fame Negro Baseball League pitcher, was born in Alger, Ohio. Brown attended Wilberforce University but left before graduating to pitch for the Homestead Grays. He continued his studies during the off-season and earned his bachelor's degree in 1935. Brown pitched for the Grays from 1932 to 1945 and compiled a record of 109 wins and 30 losses. He retired as a player in 1948 and served as a baseball manager for a number of years. Brown died February 8, 1965. He was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.

February 23, 1914 James Cameron, civil rights activist and author, was born in La Crosse, Wisconsin but raised in Marion, Indiana. Cameron ran with a gang of other youth that robbed stores and individuals as a teenager. He was with two other young Black men August 7, 1930 who allegedly robbed and killed a White man and raped the White woman who was with him. Cameron and the two men were arrested and charged with murder and rape during an armed robbery attempt. A mob broke into the jail and lynched the other two men. Cameron was spared from lynching but served four years as an accomplice to the crime. He became a civil rights activist after being paroled, including founding and serving as the first president of the Madison County, Indiana chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and serving as the Indiana State Director of Civil Liberties from 1942 to 1950. He founded America's Black Holocaust Museum in 1988 to document the struggles of African Americans from slavery, through lynchings, and civil rights. He published his autobiography, "A Time of Terror: A Survivor's Story," in 1982. Cameron died June 11, 2006.

February 23, 1915 Robert Smalls, businessman and politician, died. Smalls was born enslaved April 5, 1839 in Beaufort, South Carolina. While serving as a helmsman on a Confederate military transport, he and other Black crewmen took over the ship May 13, 1862 and handed it over to the Union Navy. This action made Smalls famous in the North and Congress passed a bill rewarding Smalls and his crewmen prize money for the captured ship. Smalls returned to Beaufort and purchased the estate of his former master. He served as a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives from 1865 to 1870, the South Carolina Senate from 1871 to 1874, and the United States House of Representatives from 1875 to 1879 and 1882 to 1883. Smalls also served as U. S. Collector of Customs from 1889 to 1911. The Robert Smalls House in Beaufort was designated a National Historic Landmark May 30, 1973 and Robert Smalls Middle School in Beaufort is named in his honor. The United States Army commissioned a Logistics Support Vessel in his name September 15, 2007, the first army vessel named for an African American. Biographies of Small include "From Slavery to Public Service: Robert Smalls, 1839 – 1915" (1971) and "Gullah Statesman: Robert Smalls From Slavery to Congress, 1839 – 1915" (1995). An exhibition, "The Life and Times of Congressman Robert Smalls," was curated by the South Carolina State Museum in 2012.

February 23, 1925 Louis Stokes, the first African American to represent Ohio in the United States Congress, was born in Cleveland, Ohio. Stokes served in the United States Army from 1943 to 1946, earned his bachelor's degree from Case Western Reserve University in 1948, and his Juris Doctor degree from Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in 1953. He was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives in 1968 and served until 1998. He chaired several important committees during his time in Congress, including the House Select Committee on Assassinations, the Ethics Committee, and the House Intelligence Committee. His work in the area of health led to his appointment to the Pepper Commission on Comprehensive Health Care. After leaving Congress, he was a partner in a global law firm until his retirement in 2012. Stokes died August 18, 2015. Many buildings around the country are named in his honor, including Howard University's library, the Cleveland Public Library's main building extension, and the Louis Stokes Cleveland Department of Veteran Affairs Medical Center. The Louis Stokes Museum opened in Cleveland in 2007 and the Louis Stokes Leadership Symposium on Social Issues and the Community is sponsored at Case Western.

February 23, 1929 Elston Gene Howard, former Negro and major league baseball player, was born in St. Louis, Missouri. Howard began playing professional baseball in 1948 with the Negro league Kansas City Monarchs. He was signed by the New York Yankees in 1950 and became the first African American to play for the Yankees in 1955. Over his 14 season major league career, Howard was a nine-time All-Star, two-time Gold Glove winner, and the American League Most Valuable Player in 1963. After his retirement in 1968, he served as a coach for the Yankees from 1969 to 1979 and an administrative assistant from 1980 to his death December 14, 1980. The Yankees retired Howard's uniform number 32 and dedicated a plaque in his honor in 1984. His biography, "Elston and Me: The Story of the First Black Yankee," was published in 2001.

February 23, 1933 Lee Quincy Calhoun, hall of fame track and field athlete, was born in Laurel, Mississippi. Calhoun attended North Carolina Central University where he won the National Collegiate Athletic Association 120 yard hurdles championship in 1956 and 1957. He also won five National Amateur Athletic Championships. He earned his bachelor's degree from NCCU in 1957. Calhoun won the Gold medal in the 110 meter hurdles at the 1956 Melbourne Summer Olympic Games and the 1960 Rome Summer Olympic Games, the first athlete to win the 110 meter hurdles at two different Olympics. Calhoun became a college track coach after retiring from competition. He coached at Grambling State University from 1967 to 1976, Yale University from 1976 to 1980, and Western Illinois University from 1980 to his death June 22, 1989. He also served as an assistant coach at the 1976 Montreal Summer Olympic Games. Calhoun was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1974 and posthumously into the United States Olympic Hall of Fame in 1991. North Carolina Central annually hosts the Lee Calhoun High School Track and Field Invitational.

February 23, 1937 Claude Brown, writer and social commentator, was born in New York City. Brown became involved in truancy, stealing, alcohol consumption, and gang wars at a young age. After turning his life around, he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in government and business from Howard University in 1965. His autobiography, "Manchild in the Promise Land," was published that same year. Brown was hailed as a powerful chronicler of the brutal reality of African American urban life in northern cities. He published a second book, "Children of Ham," in 1976 which explored the lives of several Black teenagers from Harlem who escape the clutches of heroin. Brown spent most of his professional life as a lecturer on issues such as at-risk adolescents and criminal justice and rehabilitation. Brown died February 2, 2002.

February 23, 1942 Haki R. Madhubuti, author, poet and educator, was born Donald Luther Lee in Little Rock, Arkansas. Madhubuti served in the United States Army from 1960 to 1963. He earned his Associate degree in arts from Chicago City College in 1966 and his Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Iowa in 1984. He has published more than 20 books, including "Black Men: Obsolete, Single, Dangerous?: The African American Family in Transition" (1990), "Claiming Earth: Race, Rage, Rape, Redemption" (1994), "HeartLove: Wedding and Love Poems" (1998), and "Liberation Narratives: New and Collected Poems 1966 – 2009" (2009). Madhubuti has also co-edited two volumes of literary works, "The Sprit" (1998) and "Describe the Moment" (2000). He is the publisher and chairman of Third World Press which he founded in 1967, co-founder of the institute of Positive Education/New Concept Development Center in 1969, and co-founder of the Betty Shabazz International Charter School in Chicago, Illinois in 1998. Madhubuti served as the Distinguished Professor of the Gwendolyn Brooks Center for Black Literature and Creative Writing and director of the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing program at Chicago State University. He published the autobiographical novel "Yellow Black: The First Twenty-One Years of a Poet's Life" in 2005. Madhubuti co-edited "Any Means Necessary: Malcolm X Real, Not Reinvented" in 2012.

February 23, 1953 Big Maceo Merriweather, hall of fame blues pianist and singer, died. Merriweather was born Major Merriweather March 31, 1905 in Atlanta, Georgia. He was a self-taught pianist. Merriweather moved to Detroit, Michigan in the 1930s and Chicago, Illinois in 1941. He recorded his debut single, "Worried Life Blues" that same year. That was followed by a number of piano blues recordings, including "Chicago Breakdown," "Texas Stomp," and "Detroit Jump." His piano style had an impact on practically every post World War II blues pianist. Merriweather was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2002 and "Worried Life Blues" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2006 as a recording of "lasting qualitative or historical significance."

February 23, 1955 Rodney Earl Slater, former United States Secretary of Transportation, was born in Marianna, Arkansas. Slater earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Eastern Michigan University in 1977 and his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Arkansas School of Law in 1980. He served as an assistant attorney general in Arkansas from 1980 to 1983, assistant to the governor from 1983 to 1987, and member of the Arkansas State Highway Commission from 1987 to 1993. Slater was appointed Director of the Federal Highway Administration in 1983, the first African American to hold that position. He became the second African American appointed U. S. Secretary of Transportation in 1997. Slater held that position until 2001. He is currently a partner in a private law firm, heading the transportation practice. He also serves on the board of Verizon Communications.

February 23, 1965 John Kitzmiller, war veteran and actor, died. Kitzmiller was born December 4, 1913 in Battle Creek, Michigan. He served in the United States Army and participated in the liberation of Italy. For his efforts, he was awarded the Victory Medal. Kitzmiller fell in love with Italy and its people and made the country his home for the rest of his life. He began acting in the late 1940s and appeared in more than 50 European films. Kitzmiller was the first Black actor to win a best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival in 1957 for his role in the Yugoslavian film "Valley of Peace." He also appeared in the 1962 James Bond film "Dr. No."

February 23, 1969 Oscar Palmer Austin, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was killed in action. Austin was born January 15, 1949 in Nacogdoches, Texas and joined the United States Marine Corps in April, 1968. He was promoted to private first class in October, 1968 and deployed to the Republic of Vietnam where he served as ammunitions man with Company E, 2ndBattalion 7thMarines, 1stMarine Division during the Vietnam War. On this date, Austin's actions earned him the medal, America's highest military decoration. His citation partially reads, "Private First Class Austin's observation post was subjected to a fierce ground attack by a large North Vietnamese Army force supported by a heavy volume of hand grenades, satchel charges and small arms fire. Observing that one of his wounded companions had fallen unconscious in a position dangerously exposed to the hostile fire, Private First Class Austin unhesitatingly left the relative security of his fighting hole and, with complete disregard for his own safety, raced across the fire-swept terrain to assist the Marine to a covered location. As he neared the casualty, he observed an enemy grenade land nearby and, reacting instantly, leaped between the injured Marine and the lethal object, absorbing the effect of its detonation. As he ignored his painful injuries and turned to examine the man, he saw a North Vietnamese Army soldier aiming a weapon at his unconscious companion. With full knowledge of the probable consequences and thinking only to protect the Marine, Private First Class Austin resolutely threw himself between the casualty and the hostile soldier and, in so doing, was mortally wounded." The medal was posthumously presented to Austin's family by Vice President Spiro T. Agnew April 20, 1970. The destroyer USS Oscar Austin was commissioned August 19, 2000 and the Austin Hall Enlisted Club at Quantico Marine Corp Base is named in his honor.

February 23, 1972 The Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park in Tulare County, California was added to the National Register of Historic Places. The park preserves the town of Allensworth, the only California town founded, financed, and governed by African Americans. The park is approximately 3,700 acres and features nine restored buildings, including a schoolhouse, hotel, general store, and several homes. The founder of the town, Allen Allensworth, was born enslaved April 7, 1842 in Louisville, Kentucky. Allensworth escaped slavery by joining the Union Army during the Civil War. He was ordained a Baptist minister in 1871 and led several churches in Kentucky. He was the only Black delegate from Kentucky to the Republican National Convention in 1880 and 1884. Allensworth was appointed military chaplain to a unit of Buffalo Soldiers in 1886 and had reached the rank of lieutenant colonel by the time that he retired in 1906, the first African American to reach that rank. Allensworth moved to Los Angeles, California after leaving military service. He founded the town of Allensworth in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley as an all-Black community June 30, 1908. The town was reported to be 900 acres of deeded land worth more than $112,500 by 1914. Allensworth died September 14, 1914. The town became a ghost town over the next couple of decades. Biographies of Allensworth include "Battles and Victories of Allen Allensworth" (1914) and "Out of Darkness: The Story of Allen Allensworth" (1998).

February 23, 1983 Mabel Mercer was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor, by President Ronald W. Reagan. Mercer was born February 3, 1900 in Staffordshire, England. She began touring Britain and Europe with her aunt in vaudeville and music hall engagements at 14. She had become the toast of Paris, France by the 1930s. She moved to the United States when World War II began and started her recording career with an album of selections from "Porgy and Bess" in 1942. Other albums by Mercer include "Songs by Mabel Mercer, Vol. 1, 2, and 3" (1953), "Once in a Blue Moon" (1958), and "Merely Marvelous" (1960). Mercer influenced many artists, including Frank Sinatra, Lena Horne, and Nat King Cole. She received the first Award for Merit from Stereo Review Magazine for lifetime achievement and for "outstanding contributions to the quality of American musical life." The award was renamed the Mabel Mercer Award in 1984. She also received honorary Doctor of Music degrees from Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music. Mercer died April 20, 1984. The Mabel Mercer Foundation was established in 1985 "to perpetuate the memory and spirit of its legendary namesake and to stimulate and promote public interest in the fragile and endangered world of cabaret."

February 23, 1983 James Edward Cheek was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor, by President Ronald W. Reagan. Cheek was born December 4, 1932 in Roanoke Rapids, North Carolina. He served in the United States Air Force and was honorably discharged in 1951. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology and history from Shaw University in 1955, his Master of Divinity degree from Colgate Rochester University in 1958, and his Ph. D. from Drew University in 1962. Cheek was appointed president of Shaw University in 1963 and was appointed president of Howard University in 1968. During his tenure at Howard, the student population increased by 3,500 as well as the number of schools, research programs, full-time faculty, and Ph. D. programs. Howard's budget increased from $43 million to $417 million. Cheek was named Washingtonian of the Year in 1980. He retired as president of Howard in 1989. Cheek died January 8, 2010. The James E. Cheek Learning Resource Center at Shaw is named in his honor.

February 23, 1995 Melvin Franklin, original member of the hall of fame group The Temptations, died. Franklin was born David Melvin English October 12, 1942 in Montgomery, Alabama but raised in Detroit, Michigan. He took his mother's maiden name as his stage name and sang with a number of local groups. He joined The Elgins in 1960 and they were signed by Motown Records and their name changed to The Temptations in 1961. Franklin performed with the group until 1994 and his deep vocals became one of the group's signature trademarks. Franklin sang lead on a few songs, including "Ol Man River" (1966), "I Truly, Truly Believe" (1968), and "Silent Night" (1970). Franklin was inducted, along with five other members of The Temptations, into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989.

February 23, 1997 Anthony Tillmon "Tony" Williams, hall of fame jazz drummer, died. Williams was born December 12, 1945 in Chicago, Illinois but raised in Boston, Massachusetts. He began playing professionally at 13 and joined Miles Davis' "Second Great Quintet" at 17. Davis called Williams "the center that the group's sound revolved around." Williams recorded his first album as a leader, "Life Time," in 1964. Other albums he recorded as leader include "Emergency" (1969), "The Joy of Flying" (1979), and "Young at Heart" (1996). Williams was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1997. Many consider Williams the most technically gifted drummer in jazz history.

February 23, 1998 Augusta Braxton Baker, librarian, storyteller and author, died. Baker was born April 1, 1911 in Baltimore, Maryland. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in education in 1933 and her Bachelor of Science degree in library science in 1934 from Albany Teacher's College (now the State University of New York at Albany). She was the first African American to earn a degree in library science at the college. Baker taught for a few years before being hired as the children's librarian at the New York Public Library branch in Harlem in 1937. She began to collect children's literature that positively portrayed Black people. That collection became known as the James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection of Children's Books. Baker was appointed coordinator of children's services in 1961, the first African American librarian in an administrative position within the New York Public Library System. She also served as president of the Children's Services Division of the American Library Association. Baker retired from the New York Public Library in 1974 and served as Storyteller-in-Residence at the University of South Carolina from 1980 to 1994, the first position of this type at any American university. Baker also authored and edited a number of bibliographies of books for and about Black children. She received honorary doctorate degrees from St. John's University and the University of South Carolina.

February 23, 1998 Lionel J. Wilson, the first African American Mayor of Oakland, California, died. Wilson was born March 14, 1915 in New Orleans, Louisiana but raised in Oakland. He earned his bachelor's degree in economics from the University of California in 1939 and played semi-professional baseball until 1943 when he enlisted in the United States Army and served in a combat unit in Europe. Wilson earned his law degree from the University of California's Hasting College of Law in 1949. He began practicing law in 1950 and served as president of the Berkley chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Wilson was appointed to the Oakland Municipal Court in 1960 and became vice-chairman of the Oakland Public Advisory Committee on Education. He was appointed to the Alameda County Superior Court in 1964, the first Black judge in the county. Wilson was elected chairman of the Oakland Economic Development Council in 1965. He was elected mayor in 1977. He was re-elected twice before losing in 1990. The Lionel Wilson Building and the Lionel Wilson College Preparatory Academy in Oakland are named in his honor.

February 23, 1999 Hughie Lee-Smith, artist and educator, died. Lee-Smith was born September 20, 1915 in Eustis, Florida but raised in Atlanta, Georgia and Cleveland, Ohio. He attended classes at the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Cleveland Institute of Art. Lee-Smith won a National Scholastic Art Competition Scholarship in 1934 for one year of study at the Detroit Society of Arts & Crafts (now Center for Creative Studies, College of Art & Design). He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Wayne State University in 1953 and began to teach art. Lee-Smith moved to New York City in 1958 and taught at the Art Students League from 1958 to 1973. He was elected an associate member of the National Academy of Design in 1963, the second African American to be elected to the Academy, and was made a full member in 1967. Lee-Smith was commissioned to paint the official portrait of Mayor David Dinkins for the New York City Hall in 1994. Most of his works are surreal in mood, often featuring distant figures seen under vast skies in desolate urban settings. His works are in the collections of a number of major museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Museum of American Art, and the Detroit Institute of Art.

James Edward Cheek

Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient.

Oscar Palmer Austin

Congressional Medal of Honor recipient.

Anthony Tillmon "Tony" Williams

Hall of fame jazz drummer.

Today in Black History, February 22, 2016 | James ...


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