Today in Black History, 01/05/2016 | Benjamin Ward - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 01/05/2016 | Benjamin Ward

January 5, 1984 Benjamin Ward was sworn in as the first African American New York City Police Commissioner. Ward was born August 10, 1926 in Brooklyn, New York. He was drafted into the United States Army after graduating from high school and served as a military policeman and criminal investigator in Europe for two years. Ward joined the New York City Police Department in 1951. Initially, due to resentment by White officers, he was not assigned a locker at the precinct which forced him to dress at home and ride the subway to work in uniform. He rose through the ranks to lieutenant during his 15 years in uniform. Ward earned his bachelor's degree from Brooklyn College and his law degree from Brooklyn Law School during that time. He was appointed executive director of NYPD's Civilian Complaint Review Board in 1966. After a series of other appointments, he was appointed police commissioner, a position he held until his retirement in 1989. He also served as an adjunct professor of law at Brooklyn Law School and an adjunct professor of corrections at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Ward died June 10, 2002.

January 5, 1869 Matilda Sissieretta Joyner Jones, opera soprano and businesswoman, was born in Portsmouth, Virginia but raised in Providence, Rhode Island. Jones began her formal study of music at the Providence Academy of Music in 1883 and studied at the New England Conservatory of Music in the late 1880s. She made her New York City debut in 1888 and made successful tours of the Caribbean that year and in 1892. Jones became the first African American to sing at the Music Hall in New York City (now Carnegie Hall) June 15, 1892. She also performed for Presidents Benjamin Harrison, S. Grover Cleveland, William McKinley, and Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. Jones found that access to most American classical concert halls was limited by her race and therefore formed the Black Patti Troubadours, a variety act made up of singers, jugglers, comedians, and dancers, in 1896. The revue was successful enough to provide Jones an income in excess of $20,000. She retired from performing in 1915. Jones died June 24, 1933. "Sissieretta Jones: The Greatest Singer of Her Race" was published in 2012.

January 5, 1871 Patrick H. Raymond was appointed chief engineer of the Cambridge, Massachusetts Fire Department, the first African American fire chief in the United States. He tripled the department's annual budget, created two new fire companies, and built two new firehouses over the seven years that he served as fire chief. Raymond was born in 1831 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His family moved to Cambridge around 1847 and he worked as a shoemaker before becoming a journalist at the Boston Herald and the Boston Advertiser. Able to pass for White, Raymond served in the U. S. Navy from 1862 to 1864. He returned to Cambridge after his service and became editor of the Cambridge Press in 1869. While serving as fire chief, he was elected corresponding secretary of the National Association of Fire Engineers. After being replaced as fire chief in 1878, he returned to the Cambridge Press as editor and business agent. Raymond died July 28, 1892.

January 5, 1893 Elizabeth Nevills "Libba" Cotten, blues and folk musician, singer and songwriter, was born in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Cotten began to play her older brother's banjo at seven and had bought her own guitar and taught herself to play by eleven. Cotten began to write her own songs in her early teens. One of which, "Freight Train," became her signature song and was later covered by Peter, Paul, and Mary, Bob Dylan, and Joan Baez, amongst many others. Cotten married at 17, had a daughter, and retired her guitar for more than 40 years. She recorded "Folksongs and Instrumentals with Guitar" in 1958 and toured with many big names in the early 1960s, including John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, and Mississippi John Hurt. She released "Shake Sugaree" in 1967 and won the 1984 Grammy Award for Best Ethnic or Traditional Recording for "Elizabeth Cotten Live." She was declared a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1984. Cotten died June 29, 1987.

January 5, 1900 Edward Park Duplex, the first African American mayor in the western United States, died. Duplex was born May 13, 1831 in New Haven, Connecticut. He moved to Marysville, California in 1854 and became a prominent business and civic leader. He was a representative to the first California Colored Citizens Convention in 1855 and the following year served on the convention's executive committee. Duplex moved to Wheatland, California in 1875 and established a successful hair care business. The Wheatland Board of Trustees elected Duplex Mayor of Wheatland April 11, 1888. The building that housed his business still stands today. The "History of Yuba and Sutter Counties" named Duplex as "a man who helped make Wheatland."

January 5, 1904 William Jacob Knox, Jr., chemist and educator, was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Knox earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in chemistry from Howard University in 1925 and his master's degree in chemical engineering in 1929 and Ph.D. in 1935 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was a professor of chemistry at North Carolina A&T College from 1935 to 1936 and head of the chemistry department at Talladega College from 1936 to 1942. Knox served as a section leader at Columbia University working on the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb from 1942 to 1945. Knox joined the Eastman Kodak Company as a research scientist after World War II ended and was involved in more than 20 patents over the next 25 years. Knox was also involved in many community organizations, including serving as the first president of the Rochester, New York Urban League, president of the Legal Aid Society of Rochester, and a member of the Rochester Council of the New York State Commission Against Discrimination. Knox died July 9, 1995.

January 5, 1911 Kappa Alpha Psi was founded at Indiana University Bloomington with the motto "achievement in every field of human endeavor." The fraternity has over 150,000 members with 700 undergraduate and alumni chapters around the world. They sponsor programs providing community service, social welfare, and academic scholarship. Notable members of the fraternity include Dr. Calvin O. Butts, John Singleton, Tavis Smiley, John Conyers, and Lerone Bennett, Sr.

January 5, 1911 Robert A. Pinn, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, died. Pinn was born March 1, 1843 in Stark County, Ohio. He 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. 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.

January 5, 1926 Hosea Lorenzo Williams, civil rights activist, politician and minister, was born in Attapulgus, Georgia. After serving in an all-Black unit of the United States Army during World War II, where he earned a Purple Heart, Williams earned a high school diploma at 23. He then earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Morris Brown College and his Master of Science degree from Atlanta University in chemistry. Williams worked for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference from 1963 to 1971 and was arrested 125 times for leading civil and voting rights protests. He was also severely beaten and hospitalized for using a "Whites only" drinking fountain and suffered a fractured skull and concussion during the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery. Williams was the founding president of Hosea Feed the Hungry, which today annually serves 50,000 families and individuals in Georgia, in 1971. Williams served in the Georgia General Assembly from 1974 to 1985 and on the Atlanta City Council from 1985 to 1990. Williams died November 16, 2000. Boulevard Drive in Atlanta was renamed Hosea L. Williams Drive in his honor.

January 5, 1926 Claude Henry "Buddy" Young, the first African American executive hired by the National Football League, was born in Chicago, Illinois. Young attended the University of Illinois where in addition to excelling at football, he won the National Collegiate Athletic Association Championships in the 100 and 220-yard dash. He was also the Amateur Athletic Union champion in the 100-meter race. Young served in the United States Navy from 1945 to 1946. He was selected by the New York Yankees of the All-America Football Conference in 1947. Over his nine-season professional career, Young was a five-time All-Pro. Young retired from football after the 1955 season. His uniform number 22 was the first number retired by the Baltimore Colts. He was hired by the NFL as an administrative assistant to the commissioner in 1964. Young had risen to director of player relations when he died September 4, 1983.

January 5, 1931 Alvin Ailey, Jr., hall of fame choreographer and activist, was born in Rogers, Texas. Ailey did not become serious about dance until he was 18. He joined the Lester Horton Dance Company in 1953 and when Horton died later that year, Ailey assumed the role of artistic director. He formed the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1958 and over the years created 79 works for his dancers, including "Blues Suite" (1958), "Revelations" (1960), "The River" (1970), and "Cry" (1971). Ailey was awarded the 1976 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal and received Kennedy Center Honors in 1988. Ailey died December 1, 1989. He was posthumously inducted into the National Museum of Dance's Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame in 1992 and the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 2004. His biography, "Alvin Ailey: A Life in Dance," was published in 1998. Ailey was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, by President Barack H. Obama November 24, 2014.

January 5, 1932 Laten John Adams, gospel, blues and jazz singer, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. Adams left school at 15 and began singing professionally with several gospel groups. He crossed over to secular music in 1959 with the single "I Won't Cry." Other singles that charted on the Billboard R&B charts include "A Losing Battle" (1962), "Release Me" (1968), and "Reconsider Me" (1969). Adams recorded unsuccessfully for several labels during the 1970s before releasing a series of critically acclaimed albums in the 1980s and 1990s, including "From the Heart" (1984), "Room With A View of the Blues" (1988), "Good Morning Heartache" (1993), and "Man of My Word" (1998). He received the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Award in 1999 and was nominated for the W. C. Handy Award for Blues Entertainer of the Year. His critical reputation and standing amongst other musicians always exceeded his commercial success. Adams died September 14, 1998.

January 5, 1943 George Washington Carver, hall of fame scientist, educator and inventor, died. Carver was born enslaved July 12, 1864 in Diamond, Missouri. He and his family were freed after slavery was abolished. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1894 and his Master of Science degree in 1896 from Iowa State Agricultural College (now Iowa State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences) where he was the first Black student and later the first Black faculty member. He accepted the position to lead the Agriculture Department at Tuskegee Institute (now University) in 1896 and remained there for 47 years. Carver devoted himself to the research and promotion of alternative crops to cotton, including peanuts and sweet potatoes. He also created approximately 100 products made from peanuts that were useful for the house. Carver received the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People 1923 Spingarn Medal. On his grave is written, "He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world." President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the George Washington Carver National Monument near Diamond, Missouri July 14, 1943, the first national monument dedicated to an African American and also the first to a non-president. The United States Postal Service issued commemorative postage stamps in honor of Carver in 1948 and 1998. Carver was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame for Great Americans in 1977, the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1990, and was a charter inductee in the United States Department of Agriculture Hall of Heroes as the "Father of Chemurgy" in 2000. Biographies of Carver include "George Washington Carver: Man's Slave, God's Scientist" (1981) and "George Washington Carver: His Life & Faith in His Own Words" (2003). Dozens of schools around the country are named in his honor and his name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

January 5, 1953 Dwight Muhammad Qawi, hall of fame boxer, was born Dwight Braxton in Baltimore, Maryland but grew up in Camden, New Jersey. Qawi was convicted of armed robbery and sentenced to prison as a young man. He began boxing while in prison and when he was released in 1978 began his professional boxing career. Qawi won the World Boxing Council Light Heavyweight Boxing Championship in 1981. He successfully defended the title three times before losing it in 1983. He moved up in weight and won the World Boxing Association Cruiserweight Boxing Championship in 1985. He lost that title in 1986 but continued boxing until retiring in 1999 with a record of 41 wins, 11 losses, and 1 draw. Qawi was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2004. He has worked as a counselor at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center since retiring from boxing.

January 5, 1954 Alexander English, hall of fame basketball player, was born in Columbia, South Carolina. English played college basketball at the University of South Carolina where he was a two-time All-American and earned his bachelor's degree in 1976. He was selected by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1976 National Basketball Association Draft. English spent the majority of his 16 season professional career with the Denver Nuggets and was an eight-time All-Star and led the league in scoring in 1983. He was selected for the 1988 J. Walter Kennedy Award which is given annually to a NBA player, coach, or trainer who shows "outstanding service and dedication to the community." English retired in 1991 and his jersey number 2 was retired by the Nuggets in 1993. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1997 and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. English served as the director of player development and an assistant coach for the Toronto Raptors from 2004 to 2011 and was on the coaching staff of the Sacramento Kings from 2012 to 2013. He is currently an analyst on SEC Network.

January 5, 1971 Charles L. "Sonny" Liston, hall of fame boxer, died. Liston was born May 8, 1932 in Johnson Township, Arkansas. He was sentenced to prison in 1950 for taking part in a robbery and while in prison learned to box. Liston was paroled in 1952 and made his professional boxing debut in 1953. He won the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship in 1962. Liston lost the title in 1964 but continued to box until 1970. He retired with a career record of 50 wins and 4 losses. Liston was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991. Biographies of Liston include "The Devil and Sonny Liston" (2000) and "Sonny Liston: His Life, Strife and the Phantom Punch" (2008). A feature film about his life, "Phantom Punch," was produced in 2008.

January 5, 1979 Charles Mingus, Jr., hall of fame jazz bassist, composer and bandleader, died. Mingus was born April 22, 1922 in Nogales, Arizona. He began writing advanced jazz pieces as a teenager. Mingus toured with Louis Armstrong in 1943 and began recording in 1945. He co-founded Debut Records in 1952 to conduct his recording career as he saw fit. Mingus recorded more than 60 albums as a bandleader during his career, including "Pithecanthropuus Erectus" (1956), "Mingus Ah Um" (1959), "The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady" (1963), and "Three or Four Shades of Blues" (1977). Mingus was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1971 and is considered one of the most important composers and performers of jazz. The Library of Congress acquired Mingus' papers in 1993 in what they described as "the most important acquisition of a manuscript collection relating to jazz in the library's history." The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp in his honor in 1995 and he was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997. His album "Mingus Dynasty" (1959) was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999 and "Mingus Ah Um" was inducted in 2013 as recordings of "lasting qualitative or historical significance." Mingus published his autobiography, "Beneath the Underdog: His World as composed by Mingus," in 1971. Other biographies of Mingus include "Mingus: A Critical Biography" (1984) and "Myself When I am Real: The Life and Music of Charlie Mingus" (1994).

January 5, 2004 Charles Everett Dumas, hall of fame track and field athlete and the first person to high jump seven feet, died. Dumas was born February 12, 1937 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He made the historic jump at the United States Olympic Trials June 29, 1956. Dumas won the Gold medal in the high jump at the 1956 Melbourne Summer Olympic Games. He also won consecutive national high jump titles between 1955 and 1959. Dumas earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in school management from the University of California, Los Angeles and spent 40 years as a teacher, administrator, and coach at Los Angeles high schools. He was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1990.

January 5, 2007 Asha-Rose Mtengeti Migiro became the first African woman to serve as the Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations. Migiro was born July 9, 1956 in Songea, Tanzania. She earned her Master of Laws degree in 1984 from the University of Dars es Salaam and her Ph.D. in law from the University of Konstanz in Germany. She headed the Department of Constitution and Administrative Law from 1992 to 1994 and the Department of Criminal Law from 1994 to 1997. She served as Minister of Community Development, Gender and Children's Affairs from 2000 to 2006. Migiro was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs in 2006, the first woman to hold that position since Tanzania's independence. She completed her assignment as Deputy Secretary-General in 2012 and is currently Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa of the United Nations Secretary-General.

President's Message, January 2016
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