Today in Black History, March 1, 2016 | Harry Belafonte - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, March 1, 2016 | Harry Belafonte

March 1, 1841 Blanche Kelso Bruce, the first elected African American United States Senator to serve a full term, was born enslaved in Prince Edward County, Virginia. Because his father was White, he was able to legally free Bruce and arrange for a trade apprenticeship. Bruce moved to Missouri in 1864 and established a school for Black children. He became a wealthy landowner in the Mississippi Delta during the Reconstruction Period and won elections in Bolivar County, Mississippi to sheriff, tax collector, and supervisor of education. He was elected by the state legislature to the U. S. Senate in 1874 and served until 1881. Bruce was appointed by President James A. Garfield to be Register of the Treasury in 1881, the first African American whose signature appeared on United States paper currency. Bruce served on the Board of Trustees of Howard University from 1894 to his death March 17, 1898. The Blanche K. Bruce House in Washington, D. C. was declared a National Historic Landmark May 15, 1975 and the Blanche Kelso Bruce Academy School District in Detroit, Michigan is named in his honor. An account of Bruce's political life and that of his descendents is given in "The Senator and the Socialite: The True Story of America's First Black Dynasty" (2006).

March 1, 1843 Robert A. Pinn, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Stark County, Ohio. Pinn joined the Union Army during the Civil War and by September 29, 1864 was serving as a first sergeant in Company I of the 5th U. S. Colored Infantry Regiment. On that day, his unit participated in the Battle of Chaffin's Farm in Virginia and it was for his actions during the battle that he was awarded the medal, America's highest military decoration, April 6, 1865. His citation reads, "Took command of his company after all the officers had been killed or wounded and gallantly led it in battle." Pinn graduated from Oberlin College after the war and became a high school teacher and principal. He also read for the law and was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1879, the first Black lawyer in Massillon County. Pinn died January 5, 1911. The Ohio National Guard named its new armory in his honor in 1973, the first armory to be named after a Black soldier in Ohio, and the shooting facility at the University of Akron was renamed the Robert A. Pinn Shooting Range in 1998. A historical marker honoring Pinn was unveiled in 2003 by the Ohio Historical Society in Massillon, Ohio.

March 1, 1875 The Civil Rights Act of 1875 was signed into law by President Ulysses S. Grant. The act guaranteed that everyone, regardless of race, color or previous condition of servitude, was entitled to the same treatment in public accommodations. The law was rarely enforced and the United States Supreme Court ruled the act unconstitutional in 1883. Many of the provisions of the act were included in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

March 1, 1892 Anna M. Mangin of Woodside, New York received patent number 470,005 for inventing improvements in the pastry fork. Her invention provided an implement for working together butter or lard and flour without the operator having to touch these items with their hands. The fork could also be used to beat eggs, mash potatoes, and prepare salad dressing. Little else is known of Mangin's life.

March 1, 1911 Walter Davis, hall of fame blues pianist and singer, was born in Grenada, Mississippi. Davis ran away from home at 13 and ended up in St. Louis, Missouri. He recorded his first single, "M&O Blues," in 1930. In 1931, he released "Sunnyland Blues" in 1931 and it was a nationwide hit. Davis recorded prolifically, recording around 150 singles between 1930 and 1952, including "Ashes In My Whiskey," "Blue Blues," "Why Should I Be Worried?," and "Come Back Baby." He suffered a stroke in 1952 and quit performing and became a preacher. Davis died October 22, 1963. He was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2005.

March 1, 1914 Ralph Waldo Ellison, novelist, literary critic and scholar, was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Ellison entered Tuskegee Institute on a music scholarship in 1933 but after his third year moved to New York City where he met Richard Wright who encouraged him to pursue a career in writing. Ellison had over 20 book reviews, short stories, and articles published in magazines between 1937 and 1944. He published the novel "Invisible Man" in 1952 and it won the 1953 National Book Award. Ellison published "Shadow and Act," a collection of essays, and began to teach at Rutgers and Yale Universities in 1964. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, from President Lyndon B. Johnson January 20, 1969 and the following year became a permanent member of the faculty at New York University. He was elected to The American Academy of Arts and Letters and Oklahoma City honored him with the Ralph Waldo Ellison Library in 1975. He was presented the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President Ronald W. Reagan April 23, 1985. Ellison died April 16, 1994. His manuscripts "Flying Home and Other Stories" (1996) and "Juneteenth" (1999) were published posthumously. "Ralph Ellison: A Biography" was published in 2007. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 2014.

March 1, 1922 Silas Herbert Hunt, the first African American student admitted for graduate or professional studies at an all-White southern university, was born in Ashdown, Arkansas. Hunt entered the Arkansas Agricultural, Mechanical, and Normal School (now University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff) in 1941 but his studies were interrupted when he was drafted into the United States Army. He served as a construction engineer in Europe before being wounded at the Battle of the Bulge. Hunt returned to AAM&N after being discharged and earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in English in 1947. Hunt was admitted to the University of Arkansas School of Law February 2, 1948 but had to attend segregated classes in the basement of the school. Illness cut short Hunt's studies and he died April 22, 1949. The University of Arkansas awards the Silas Hunt Distinguished Scholar Award to deserving Black students and the University of Arkansas School of Law awarded him a posthumous degree in 2008. A sculpture honoring Hunt was unveiled on campus August 29, 2012.

March 1, 1927 Harold George "Harry" Belafonte, Jr., musician, actor and social activist, was born in New York City. Belafonte served in the United States Navy during World War II and after his discharge began his music career singing in clubs to pay for acting classes. He recorded his first single, "Matilda," in 1953 but his breakthrough recording was the album "Calypso" (1956) which was number 1 on Billboard's Top 100 Albums for 31 weeks and on the charts for 99 weeks. One of the songs on that album is his famous "Banana Boat Song." "Banana Boat Song" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2009 and "Calypso" was inducted in 2015 as recordings of "lasting qualitative or historical significance." His album "Belafonte at Carnegie Hall" was inducted in 1999. Belafonte won the Grammy Award for Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording for "Swing Dat Hammer" (1960) and the Grammy Award for Best Folk Recording for "An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba" (1965), a collaboration with Mariam Makeba that dealt with the political plight of Black South Africans under apartheid. Belafonte has starred in several films, including "Carmen Jones" (1954), "Island in the Sun" (1957), "Uptown Saturday Night" (1974), "White Man's Burden" (1995), and "Kansas City" (1996), for which he won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor. Belafonte won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for his role in the 1953 Broadway revue "John Murray Anderson's Almanac" and the Emmy Award for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series, the first Black man to win an Emmy, for his 1959 television special "Tonight with Belafonte." Belafonte was an early supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, financially supporting Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s family and raising thousands of dollars to bail out imprisoned protesters. He bankrolled the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee during Freedom Summer in 1964 and was one of the organizers of "We Are the World" to raise funds for Africa in 1985. Belafonte received Kennedy Center Honors in 1989, the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, presented by President William J. Clinton October 13, 1994, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000, and the Bishop John T. Walker Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award from Africare in 2002. Belafonte was the recipient of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People 2013 Spingarn Medal and received the 2014 Jean Horsholt Humanitarian Award. He also received an honorary doctorate degree from Berklee College of Music in 2014. "Belafonte: An Unauthorized Biography" was published in 1960 and Belafonte published his autobiography, "My Song," in 2011. "Becoming Belafonte: Black Artist, Public Radical" was published in 2014.

March 1, 1946 Elvin Lamont Bethea, hall of fame football player, was born in Trenton, New Jersey. Bethea played college football at North Carolina A&T State University and earned his bachelor's degree in physical education in 1968. He was selected by the Houston Oilers in the 1968 American Football League Draft. Bethea was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection over his 16 season professional career. He retired in 1983 with 105 quarterback sacks and the Oilers retired his jersey number 65 that same year. He subsequently worked for Anheuser-Busch until retiring in 2005. Bethea was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2003 and published his autobiography, "Smash Mouth: My Football Journey from Trenton to Canton" in 2005.

March 1, 1978 Liya Kebede, model, clothing designer, maternal health advocate and actress, was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Kebede was discovered in France while attending school. She moved to New York City in 1999 and made her modeling debut. She appeared on the cover of Paris Vogue in 2002 and the entire issue was dedicated to her. Kebede was named the face of Estee Lauder in 2003, the first Black person to represent the company. She has appeared in advertisements for many companies, including Victoria's Secret, Tommy Hilfiger, Revlon, and Louis Vuitton. Forbes magazine has named her one of the 15 highest paid models. Kebede was appointed World Health Organization Ambassador for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health in 2005. She also founded the Liya Kebede Foundation to reduce maternal, newborn and child mortality around the world. She is also part of the Champions for an HIV Free Generation, an organization of African leaders. Kebede has appeared in several films, including "Lord of War" (2005), "Desert Flower" (2009), and "Samba" (2014). Time magazine named her one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2010 and she was named one of Glamour magazine's Women of the Year for her philanthropic work in 2013.

March 1, 1980 Emmett Littleton Ashford, the first African American umpire in Major League Baseball, died. Ashford was born November 23, 1914 in Los Angeles, California. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Chapman College in 1941 and served in the United States Navy from 1943 to 1946. Ashford became the first Black professional umpire in 1951 when he started in the Southwestern International League. He went on to umpire in the Pacific Coast League before being hired by the American League in 1961. Ashford became the first African American to umpire a major league baseball game April 11, 1966. He umpired in the major leagues until mandatory retirement in 1970. His biography, "Strrr-ike!!: Emmett Ashford, Major League Umpire," was published in 2004.

March 1, 1983 Lupita Amondi Nyong'o, the first African to win an Academy Award, was born in Mexico City, Mexico but raised in Nairobi, Kenya. Nyong'o earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in film and theater studies from Hampshire College in 2008. She worked as a production assistant on several Hollywood films and made her acting debut in the short film "East River" in 2008. She moved back to Kenya that same year and starred in the television series "Shuga." She wrote, directed, and produced the documentary "In My Genes" in 2009. Nyong'o earned her Master of Fine Arts degree from the Yale School of Drama in 2012. She appeared in "12 Years a Slave" in 2013 and won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Nyong'o appeared in the film "Non-Stop" in 2014 and "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" in 2015. She was also named The Most Beautiful Woman by People magazine and Woman of the Year by Glamour magazine that year. She is fluent in Luo, English, Swahili, and Spanish.

March 1, 1984 The Malcolm X House Site in North Omaha, Nebraska was listed on the National Register of Historic Places "because of the importance of Malcolm X to American history and national culture." Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska but grew up in Lansing, Michigan. He was sentenced to prison in 1946 and while in prison became a member of the Nation of Islam. He became one of the Nation's leaders and chief spokesman after his parole in 1952. He was named assistant minister of Temple Number One in Detroit, Michigan in 1953 and had established Boston, Massachusetts' Temple Number Eleven and expanded Philadelphia, Pennsylvania's Temple Number Twelve by 1954. Malcolm X was the public face of the Nation of Islam until his departure from the organization in 1964. He became a Sunni Muslim, changed his name to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, made a pilgrimage to Mecca, and founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity. El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz was assassinated February 21, 1965. Ossie Davis delivered the eulogy at his funeral and described him as "our shining Black prince." His autobiography, "The Autobiography of Malcolm X," was published shortly after his death and the film "Malcolm X" was released in 1992. Many streets and schools around the country are named in his honor, including the El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz Academy in Lansing. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 1999 and in 2005 Columbia University opened the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center in 2005. A biography, "Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention," was published in 2011. His name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

March 1, 2012 Melvin Randolph "Randy" Primas, Jr., the first African American Mayor of Camden, New Jersey, died. Primas was born August 31, 1949 in Camden. He earned his bachelor's degree from Howard University in 1971. Primas was elected to the Camden City Council at 23 and quickly rose to become council president. He was elected mayor in 1981 and re-elected to two additional terms, serving until 1990. He left office when he was appointed a commissioner on the Department of Community Affairs. He served as a trustee for Rowan University from 1993 to 1999. When New Jersey took control of Camden in 2002, Primas was appointed the city's chief operating officer. He retired from that post in 2006. The Camden City Hall/County Courthouse was named in his honor in 2012.February 21, 1968 Clifford Chester Sims, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was killed in action. Sims was born June 18, 1942 in Port St. Joe, Florida. By this date, he was serving in the United States Army as a staff sergeant in Company D, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division during the Vietnam War. His actions on this date near Hue in the Republic of Vietnam earned him the medal, America's highest military decoration. His citation partially reads, "While continuing through the dense woods amidst heavy enemy fire, S/Sgt. Sims and his squad were approaching a bunker when they heard the unmistakable noise of a concealed booby trap being triggered immediately to their front. S/Sgt. Sims warned his comrades of the danger and unhesitatingly hurled himself upon the device as it exploded, taking the full impact of the blast. In so protecting his fellow soldiers, he willingly sacrificed his life." Sims' family accepted the medal from Vice President Spiro T. Agnew December 2, 1969. The Clifford Chester Sims State Veterans Nursing Home in Panama City, Florida is named in his honor.


Lupita Amondi Nyong'o

The first African to win an Academy Award.

The Civil Rights Act of 1875

The act guaranteed that everyone, regardless of race, color or previous condition of servitude, was entitled to the same treatment in public accommodations. The law was rarely enforced and the United States Supreme Court ruled the act unconstitutional in 1883.

Ralph Waldo Ellison

Novelist, literary critic and scholar.

Today in Black History, February 29, 2016 | Hattie...
This WEEK in Black History | March 20 - 26, 2016

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