Today in Black History 04/21/2015 | Milton Lee Olive - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History 04/21/2015 | Milton Lee Olive

  • April 21, 1855 Theophilus Thompson, the first recognized African American chess player, was born enslaved in Frederick, Maryland. Thompson was emancipated after the Civil War and worked as a house servant for the publisher of The Maryland Chess Review. His employer gave him a chessboard and some chess problems to solve in 1872 and Thompson immediately mastered the game. Thompson competed in a tournament in Chicago, Illinois and played correspondence chess. He gained fame for his book of endgame positions “Chess Problems: Either to Play and Mate” (1873). Nothing else is known of Thompson’s life after 1874.
  • April 21, 1896 Thomas Boyne, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, died. Boyne was born in 1849 in Prince George’s County, Maryland. In 1879, he was serving as a sergeant in Company C of the 9th Cavalry Regiment in New Mexico during the Indian Wars. Boyne was cited for “bravery in action” at the Mimbres Mountains May 29, 1879 and at the Cuchillo Negro River September 27, 1879. For his actions, Boyne was awarded the medal, America’s highest military decoration, January 6, 1882. He was discharged from the army because of a disability in 1889 and admitted to the U. S. Soldiers Home in 1890, where he lived until his death.
  • April 21, 1924 Clara Mae Ward, hall of fame gospel singer and arranger, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Ward began singing professionally with her mother and sister as the Ward Trio in 1934. As the group increased in size, Ward became the leader and they became known as the Ward Singers. From the mid-1940s to the late 1950s, the group recorded nearly 90 songs. Their recording of “Surely God is Able” was the first gospel record to sell one million copies. They also performed on a number of television shows, including those of Ed Sullivan, Steve Allen, and Johnny Carson. Ward was forced to retire in the early 1970s. Ward died January 16, 1973. She was posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1977 and the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame in 1984. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor in 1998. “How I Got Over: Clara Ward and the World Famous Ward Singers” was published in 2000.
  • April 21, 1926 George Washington Murray, former Congressman and inventor, died. Murray was born enslaved September 22, 1853 in Sumter County, South Carolina. After being freed, he attended the University of South Carolina for two years and taught school for 15 years. He served as the chairman of the Sumter County Republican Party and was known as the “Republican Black Eagle.” Murray served as inspector of customs at the Port of Charleston from 1890 to 1892. He was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1893 and served until 1897. During his time in Congress, Murray fought for Black rights, spoke in favor of retaining Reconstruction Period laws, and highlighted African American achievements by reading into the congressional record a list of 92 patents granted to African Americans. He was the last Black Republican to serve in Congress from South Carolina until 2010. Murray also received a number of patents, including patent numbers 520,889 for a fertilizer distributer, 520,890 for a planter, and 520,892 for a reaper June 5, 1894. He also received patent numbers 644,032 for a grain drill February 20, 1900 and 887,495 for a portable hoisting device May 12, 1908. Murray moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1905 and sold insurance and real estate. His biography, “A Black Congressman in the Age of Jim Crow: South Carolina’s George Washington Murray,” was published in 2006.
  • April 21, 1930 Dolores Cooper Shockley, the first African American woman to earn a Ph. D. in pharmacology, was born in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Shockley earned her Bachelor of Science degree from Louisiana State University in 1951 and her Master of Science degree in 1953 and Ph. D. in 1955 from Purdue University. She also earned a Fulbright Fellowship to do postdoctoral research at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. After returning to the United States in 1957, Shockley accepted a position as assistant professor of pharmacology at Meharry Medical College. She also served as visiting assistant professor at Einstein College of Medicine from 1959 to 1962. In 1988, she was appointed chair of the Department of Pharmacology at Meharry, the first African American woman to chair a pharmacology department at an accredited medical school in the U. S. Shockley is currently professor emerita at Meharry. The Dolores C. Shockley Lectureship and Mentoring Award was established at the School of Medicine at Vanderbilt University in 2009.
  • April 21, 1932 Locksley Wellington “Slide” Hampton, jazz trombonist, composer and arranger, was born in Jeannette, Pennsylvania but raised in Indianapolis, Indiana. By 12, Hampton was playing in the family jazz band The Duke Hampton Band. He played with Lionel Hampton, Maynard Ferguson, Art Blakey, Thad Jones, and Max Roach during the 1950s, contributing original compositions and arrangements. He formed the Slide Hampton Octet in 1962 and toured the United States and Europe. Hampton lived in Europe from 1968 to 1977. After returning to the U. S., he taught at Harvard University, the University of Massachusetts, DePaul University, and Indiana State University. Hampton won the 1998 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist for Dee Dee Bridgewater’s “Cotton Tail.” He won the 2005 Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album for “The Way: Music of Slide Hampton.” Also in 2005, Hampton was designated a NEA Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz artist. Hampton completed four new compositions entitled “A Tribute to African American Greatness” in 2008. His most recent album as leader, “Spirit of the Horn,” was released in 2003.
  • April 21, 1940 James Carroll Napier, businessman and community activist, died. Napier was born enslaved June 9, 1845 in Nashville, Tennessee. He and his family were freed when he was three years old. Napier earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Oberlin College in 1868 and his Bachelor of Laws degree from Howard University in 1872. In 1870, he became the first Black non-janitorial employee at the United States Treasury Department. Napier served on the Nashville City Council from 1878 to 1889 and authored legislation allowing the hiring of Black school teachers, police officers, and firefighters. He also became the first African American to preside over the council. Napier and other Black members of the Nashville business community founded the Nashville One-Cent Savings Bank (now Citizens Savings Bank & Trust Company) November 5, 1903, the nation’s first bank owned and operated by African Americans. He also was instrumental in the establishment of Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State Normal School for Negroes (now Tennessee State University) which opened its doors June 19, 1912. Napier was appointed register of the Treasury Department in 1911. He resigned that position in 1913 to protest President Woodrow Wilson’s decision to allow continued segregation in federal office buildings. Napier also served as a trustee at Fisk University and Howard University. The Napier-Looby Bar Association in Nashville is named in his honor.
  • April 21, 1971 Francois Duvalier, former President of the Republic of Haiti, died in office. Duvalier was born April 14, 1907 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. He earned a degree in medicine from the University of Haiti in 1934 and spent a year at the University of Michigan studying public health. In 1943, he became active in a program to control the spread of contagious tropical diseases in Haiti and his patients began to affectionately call him “Papa Doc.” Duvalier was appointed director general of the National Public Health Service in 1946 and became minister of health and labor in 1949. After a coup d’etat in 1950, Duvalier was forced into exile until 1956 when he returned to Haiti and was elected president in 1957. Biographies of Duvalier include “Duvalier: Caribbean Cyclone” (1967) and “Papa Doc” (1969).
  • April 21, 1978 Thomas Wyatt Turner, biologist, educator and civil rights activist, died. Turner was born March 16, 1877 in Hughsville, Maryland. He attended local Episcopal schools because Catholic schools refused to admit him because of his race. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1901 and Master of Arts degree in 1905 from Howard University. He taught at the Baltimore High School for Negroes from 1902 to 1910 and was professor of botany at Howard from 1914 to 1924. He earned his Ph. D. in botany from Cornell University in 1921, the first African American to earn a doctorate from Cornell. Turner was a professor in the botany department at Hampton Institute from 1924 to his retirement in 1945. Throughout his career, the United States government consulted Turner about agricultural problems. He was a founding member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1910 and was active in the Black voter registration movement throughout the 1920s. He founded the Federated Colored Catholics in 1925 to fight racism and segregation in the Catholic Church and promote racial harmony. Turner also wrote for numerous educational, scientific, and religious periodicals. The Secretariat of Washington, D. C.’s Black Catholics established the annual Thomas Wyatt Turner Award, its highest award, in 1976 and Hampton University named its science building Turner Hall in 1977.
  • April 21, 2003 Robert Blackburn, artist, printmaker and educator, died. Blackburn was born December 19, 1920 in Summit, New Jersey. As a teenager, he was mentored by several Harlem Renaissance artists, including Charles “Spanky” Alston and Augusta Savage. Blackburn studied lithography, etching, woodblock, and silk-screening at the Works Progress Administration Harlem Community Art Center. He established the Printmaking Workshop in 1948 and it became influential in the international printmaking community, producing such works as “Impressions Our World” (1974), a portfolio of prints by African American artists. Blackburn taught at Cooper Union, Pratt Institute, Columbia University, and Rutgers University. His work is included in the collections of the Library of Congress, the Brooklyn Museum, the Baltimore Museum of Art, and the Tel Aviv Museum. He received the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Award in 1992 and the Lifetime Achievement Awards from the College Art Association and The National Fine Print Association in 2000.
  • April 21, 2003 Nina Simone, singer, songwriter and civil rights activist, died. Simone was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon February 21, 1933 in Tryon, North Carolina. She began playing the piano at three and made her debut as a classical pianist at 12. She released her debut album, “Little Girl Blue,” in 1958 and over her career recorded more than 40 albums with songs that included “My Baby Just Cares For Me” (1958), “Mississippi Goddam” (1964), “Four Women” (1966), and “To Be Young Gifted and Black” (1970). Simone recorded her last album, “A Single Woman,” in 1993. Simone performed and spoke at many civil rights events, including the Selma to Montgomery March, and her songs often contained civil rights messages. Her regal bearing and commanding stage presence earned her the title “High Priestess of Soul.” Simone left the United States in 1970 for Barbados and Europe before settling in France where she died. Her autobiography, “I Put a Spell On You,” was published in 1992.
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