Today in Black History, 02/03/2016 | Charles Henry Turner - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 02/03/2016 | Charles Henry Turner

• February 3, 1867 Charles Henry Turner, behavior scientist, zoologist and educator, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. Turner earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1891 and Master of Science degree in 1892 in biology from the University of Cincinnati. He taught at Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University) from 1893 to 1905. Turner earned his Ph. D. in zoology from the University of Chicago in 1907. Despite his advanced degrees, he taught science at a high school in St. Louis, Missouri from 1908 to his retirement in 1922. He also did significant insect research and published more than 70 papers. One of his more important findings was that insects could modify their behavior based on experience. He also discovered that ants find their way back to their nest in a circular pattern. Turner was also a leader in the Civil Rights Movement in St. Louis, arguing that only through education could the behavior of both White and Black racists be changed. Turner died February 15, 1923. Turner Middle School in St. Louis is named in his honor.

• February 3, 1879 Charles W. Follis, the first African American professional football player known as "The Black Cyclone, was born in Cloverdale, Virginia but raised in Wooster, Ohio. Follis played baseball and football for Wooster High School and after graduating in 1901 entered Wooster College. He signed a contract with the Shelby Blues in 1904, the first African American contracted to play professional football. Follis' professional football career was short lived due to a career ending injury suffered on Thanksgiving Day, 1906. He went on to a briefly successful professional baseball career before dying April 5, 1910. Follis Field, the football field/outdoor track facility at Wooster High School, was dedicated in his honor in 1998.

• February 3, 1882 Elizabeth Clarisse Lange (aka Mother Mary), founder of the Oblate Sisters of Providence the first United States based religious order of women of color, died. Lange was born around 1784 in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti). She and her parents fled to Cuba during the revolution in their native land. About 1813, Lange immigrated to Baltimore, Maryland where a significant number of French-speaking Catholic refugees were settling. Lange was well educated and possessed monies left to her by her father. For ten years, she used her own money and home to offer free education to children of color. On July 2, 1829, Lange and three other women founded the Oblate Sisters of Providence with Lange as the first superior. She served as superior general from 1829 to 1832 and 1835 to 1841. Mother Mary gave of herself and her material possessions until her death. In 1991, the Catholic Church began an investigation into her life and charity which could lead to canonization as a saint. Mother Mary Lange Catholic School in Baltimore is named in her honor.

• February 3, 1900 Mabel Mercer, cabaret singer, was born in Staffordshire, England. At 14, Mercer began touring Britain and Europe with her aunt in vaudeville and music hall engagements. By the 1930s, she had become the toast of Paris, France. When World War II began, she moved to the United States and began her recording career in 1942 with an album of selections from "Porgy and Bess." 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. On February 23, 1983, she was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor, by President Ronald W. Reagan. 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 3, 1910 Robert Earl Jones, stage and film actor and father of James Earl Jones, was born in Senatobia, Mississippi. Jones was a sharecropper and boxer prior to moving to New York City to pursue a career in acting. Jones made his film debut in the 1939 film "Lying Lips" and appeared in more than 20 other films, including "One Potato, Two Potato" (1964), "The Sting" (1973), and "Witness" (1985). On stage, Jones appeared in "The Hasty Heart" (1945), "Infidel Caesar" (1962), "The Gospel at Colonus" (1988), and the 1991 production of "Mule Bone." Jones was honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Black Theater Festival. Jones died September 7, 2006.

• February 3, 1919 Eugene Edward "Snooky" Young, jazz trumpeter, was born in Dayton, Ohio. Young started playing the trumpet at five. He made a name for himself as the lead trumpeter of the Jimmy Lunceford band from 1939 to 1942. Young played with Count Basie three different times for a total of eight years. Young joined the Doc Severinsen "Tonight Show" band on NBC television in 1967 and remained with them until 1992. Young only recorded three albums as bandleader, "Boys from Dayton" (1971), "Snooky and Marshall's Album" (1978), and "Horn of Plenty" (1979). Young was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor that the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment of the Arts in 2009. Young died May 11, 2011.

• February 3, 1935 John "Johnny Guitar" Watson, Jr., hall of fame blues and R&B musician, singer and songwriter, was born in Houston, Texas. At 15, Watson moved with his mother to Los Angeles, California where he won several local talent shows as a singer and pianist. By 1954, he was playing the guitar and recorded the revolutionary "Space Guitar." He scored his first chart hit in 1955 with "Those Lonely Lonely Nights." Watson toured and recorded with many blues and R&B stars of the era, including Little Richard and Johnny Otis. When the popularity of the blues declined in the 1960s, he transformed himself into an urban soul singer and recorded the albums "Ain't That a Bitch" (1976) and "A Real Mother For Ya" (1977). Other albums by Watson include "Gangster of Love" (1958), "Love Jones" (1980), and "Bow Wow" (1994) which earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album. Watson died May 17, 1996. He posthumously received the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Award in 1996 and was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2008.

• February 3, 1936 George Washington Henderson, the first Black person inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, died. Henderson was born enslaved November 11, 1850 in Clark County, Vermont. He was freed after the Civil War and learned to read and write. He graduated from the University of Vermont, first in his class, in 1877 and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa. He was actually the second Black person to be nominated for the society but the first to be inducted. Henderson went on to earn his Master of Arts degree from the University of Vermont in 1880 and his Bachelor of Divinity degree from Yale University in 1883. He moved to New Orleans, Louisiana in 1888 and was ordained a Congregational minister. He served as chair of the theology department at Straight University (now Dillard University) from 1890 to 1904, as dean of theology at Fisk University from 1904 to 1909, and as professor of Latin, Greek, and ancient literature at Wilberforce University from 1909 to his retirement in 1932. The George Washington Henderson Fellowship at the University of Vermont sponsors pre and post-doctorate scholars.

• February 3, 1938 Emile Alphonse Griffith, hall of fame boxer, was born in Saint Thomas, U. S. Virgin Islands. Griffith began boxing professionally in 1958 and won the World Welterweight Boxing Championship in 1961, the first world champion from the Virgin Islands. He lost the title later that year but regained it in 1962 in a fight which resulted in the death of his opponent, Benny Paret. That fight and the subsequent publicity and criticism became the basis for the 2005 documentary, "Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story." In April, 1966, Griffith won the World Middleweight Boxing Championship which he held until April, 1967. Ring magazine named Griffith Fighter of the Year in 1964. After 18 years boxing, Griffith retired with a record of 85 wins, 24 losses, and 2 draws. After retiring, Griffith trained a number of other boxers, including Wilfredo Benitez and Juan Laporte who won world championships. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. Griffith died July 23, 2013. A park in the Virgin Islands is named in his honor.

• February 3, 1939 John William "Johnny" Bristol, musician, songwriter and record producer, was born in Morganton, North Carolina. After serving in the United States Air Force, Bristol recorded several singles before his label was absorbed by Motown Records in the mid-1960s. At Motown, he teamed with Harvey Fuqua to write and produce some of their biggest hits, including Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell's "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" (1967), Edwin Starr's "Twenty-Five Miles" (1969), Jr. Walker & the All Stars' "What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)" (1969), and Gladys Knight & the Pips' "I Don't Want To Do Wrong" (1971). Bristol left Motown in 1973 and resumed his recording career, scoring hits with "Hang On In There Baby" (1974) and "Do It To My Mind" (1976). He was nominated for the 1975 Grammy Award for Best New Artist. Bristol continued to record until his death March 21, 2004.

• February 3, 1947 Percival Prattis became the first African American news correspondent admitted to the press galleries of the United States Senate and House of Representatives. Prattis was born April 27, 1895 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He attended Hampton Institute (now University) from 1912 to 1915 and graduated in 1916 from Ferris Institute (now Ferris State University). A veteran of World War I, Prattis joined the Pittsburgh Courier in 1935, became editor in 1956, and retired in 1962. During his time at the Courier, he highlighted the struggles of African Americans for fair employment opportunities. He was a civil rights leader noted for his ability to unify Black newspeople in the fight against discrimination of African Americans in the press. After retirement, he continued to be actively involved in the Pittsburgh community, including becoming the first African American officer on the Community Chest of Allegheny County Council. Prattis died February 29, 1980.

• February 3, 1948 Laura Wheeler Waring, educator and painter, died. Waring was born May 16, 1887 in Hartford, Connecticut. She graduated from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1914 and was awarded a scholarship to study in Paris, France. Waring focused her artistic endeavors on portraiture. Upon returning from her studies in Paris in 1928, she founded and taught in the art and music departments at the State Normal School at Cheyney (now Cheyney University) until her death. While teaching, Waring was also painting. The Harmon Foundation commissioned her to paint the series "Portraits of Outstanding American Citizens of Negro Origin" in 1943. A year after her death, the Howard University Gallery of Art held an exhibition of her work. Her work is included in the collections of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian American Art Museum, and Howard University.

• February 3, 1969 Eduardo Chivambo Mondlane, former President of the Mozambican Liberation Front (FRELIMO), was assassinated. Mondlane was born June 20, 1920 in Portuguese East Africa (now The Republic of Mozambique). Mondlane earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in anthropology and sociology from Oberlin College in 1953 and later his Master of Arts and Ph. D. degrees in sociology from Northwestern University. After graduating, he became a United Nations official and later joined the Mozambican pro-independence movement. Mondlane was elected president of FRELIMO in 1962 and the organization began a guerilla war in 1964 to obtain Mozambique's independence from Portugal. Mondlane was killed by a bomb planted in a book that was sent to him. On June 25, 1975, Portugal handed over power to FRELIMO and Mozambique became an independent nation. That same year, the university in the capital of Maputo was renamed Eduardo Mondlane University. Mondlane completed "The Struggle for Mozambique," which described the colonial system in Mozambique and the struggle for independence, just before his death.

• February 3, 1977 Edwin Bancroft Henderson, the "grandfather of Black basketball," died. Henderson was born November 28, 1884 in Washington, D. C. He became the first African American certified to teach physical education in 1904 and was director of physical education in Washington's segregated schools from 1920 to 1954. Henderson first learned basketball in 1904 at Harvard University while attending a summer physical training class for gym teachers. He returned to D. C. and introduced the game to Black students. From then until the 1950s, Henderson played and coached basketball and taught the game to thousands of Washington area schoolchildren. Henderson was also a civil rights activist, serving as president of the Virginia Council of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from 1955 to 1958 and advocating for interracial athletic competition. He also was a prolific writer of letters to the editor, writing more than 3,000 letters concerning race relations. According to the Washington Post, no one wrote more letters to the editor than Henderson. Today, the Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation and the Post co-sponsor a "Dear Editor" contest in his honor. A Virginia historical marker designates his home in Falls Church, Virginia. Henderson was posthumously inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013.

• February 3, 1979 Aaron Douglas, painter and educator, died. Douglas was born May 26, 1899 in Topeka, Kansas. He developed an interest in art during his childhood. Douglas earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Nebraska in 1922. He moved to New York City in 1925 and produced illustrations for The Crisis and Opportunity magazines as well as the books of prominent Black writers. Douglas created the "Symbolic Negro History" mural at Fisk University in 1930 and the "Aspects of Negro Life" mural at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in 1934. He moved to Nashville, Tennessee in 1939 and founded the art department at Fisk and taught for 27 years. He earned his Master of Arts degree from Teachers College at Columbia University in 1944. Douglas has been called "the father of African American art." His works are in the collections of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Art Institute of Chicago, and the Cleveland Museum of Art. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 2013.

• February 3, 1989 William DeKova White was elected president of Major League Baseball's National League, the first African American to hold such a position in professional sports. White was born January 28, 1934 in Lakewood, Florida. He made his debut as a professional baseball player in 1956 and during his 13 season career was a five-time All-Star and seven-time Gold Glove Award winner. After retiring as a player in 1969, White had an 18 year career as a sportscaster. White served as president of the National League until his retirement in 1994. Since retiring, White has continued to serve on several committees for the Baseball Hall of Fame. He published his autobiography, "Uppity: My Untold Story About the Games People Play," in 2011.

• February 3, 2008 Michael Carey became the first African American to referee a Super Bowl game. Carey played collegiate football for Santa Clara University but an injury ended his playing career. He earned his bachelor's degree in biology from the university in 1971. Carey began his football officiating career in 1972 working Pop Warner football games. He progressed to the college level in 1985 and was hired by the National Football League as a side judge in 1990. Carey was promoted to referee in 1995, the second African American referee in NFL history. He retired in 2014 and joined CBS Sports as an analyst. In 1979, Carey and his wife founded Seirus Innovation, a manufacturer of ski and snowboarding accessories. He is also an inventor who owns or shares eight ski apparel patents.

• February 3, 2009 Eric Himpton Holder, Jr. became the first African American to assume the position of United States Attorney General. Holder was born January 21, 1951 in The Bronx, New York. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in American history from Columbia College in 1973 and his Juris Doctor degree from Columbia Law School in 1976. After graduating from law school, he joined the U. S. Justice Department's Public Integrity Section and worked there until 1988. That year, President Ronald W. Reagan appointed Holder a Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. Holder stepped down from the bench in 1993 to accept an appointment as U. S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, the first Black U. S. attorney in that office. He was promoted to deputy attorney general in 1997 and served until 2001. From 2001 to 2007, Holder worked in private practice, representing clients such as Merck and the National Football League. During his tenure as attorney general, he has been a staunch defender of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the president's legal right to prosecute the War on Terror. He announced his plans to step down from the position in 2014. Holder received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Boston University in 2010. He was included on Time magazine's 2014 list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World.

• February 3, 2013 Cardiss H. Collins, the first African American woman to represent the Midwest in Congress, died. Collins was born September 24, 1931 in St. Louis, Missouri but raised in Detroit, Michigan. She attended Northwestern University and worked for the Illinois Department of Revenue. Collins was elected to the United States House of Representatives in a 1973 special election to replace her husband who had died in an airline accident. For nearly a decade, she was the only Black woman serving in Congress. During her time in Congress, Collins was focused on establishing universal health insurance, providing for gender equality in college sports, and reforming federal child care facilities. She was elected president of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1979. Collins retired from Congress in 1997. She was selected by Nielsen Media Research in 2004 to head a task force examining the representation of African Americans in television rating samples. The United States Postal Service's Cardiss Collins Processing and Distribution Center in Chicago, Illinois is named in her honor.

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