Today in Black History, 04/26/2015 Ma Rainey - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 04/26/2015 Ma Rainey

  • April 26, 1886 William Levi Dawson, lawyer and politician, was born in Albany, Georgia. Dawson earned his bachelor’s degree, magna cum laude, from Fisk University in 1909 and moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1912 to study at Northwestern University Law School. During World War I, he served overseas as a first lieutenant from 1917 to 1919. After returning home, he earned his law degree and was admitted to the bar in 1920. Dawson served as an alderman in Chicago from 1933 to 1939 and was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1942 and served there until his death November 9, 1970. During his tenure in Congress, Dawson was a vocal opponent of the poll tax and is credited with defeating the Winstead Amendment which would have allowed members of the United States armed forces to opt out of racially integrated units. Dawson was also the first African American to serve as chair of a regular congressional committee, serving as chair of the Expenditures in the Executive Departments Committee (later renamed Government Operations).His biography, “William L. Dawson and the Limits of Black Electorial Leadership,” was published in 2009.
  • April 26, 1891 Orindatus Simon Bolvar Wall, the first Black man commissioned a captain in the United States Army, died. Wall was born enslaved August 12, 1825 in Richmond County, North Carolina. He was freed in 1837 when his father sent him to the Harveysburg Black School in what is now Ohio. Wall attended Oberlin College before establishing a successful boot and shoemaking business. At the start of the Civil War, he raised recruits for the 104th Colored Infantry Volunteers and was commissioned a captain in the army in March, 1865. Wall moved to Washington, D. C. in 1867 and graduated from the Howard University Law School. He established a law practice and served as a police magistrate and justice of the peace. For many newly freed African Americans in the district, he was the law. Wall was also elected to two terms in the district legislature, representing a majority White district. After his death, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
  • April 26, 1898 James A. Joyce of Cleveland, Ohio received patent number 603,143 for a new coal or oar bucket. His invention was constructed is such a way that by moving certain screws in connection with certain links the bucket would close with a scraping and cutting motion. Not much else is known of Joyce’s life.
  • April 26, 1901 Halle Tanner Dillon Johnson, the first female to officially practice medicine in Alabama, died. Johnson was born October 17, 1864 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania but raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She earned her Doctor of Medicine degree, with honors, from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1891. After passing the ten-day Alabama State Medical Examination, she began working at Tuskegee Institute. During her tenure at Tuskegee, she taught two classes and was responsible for health care of students, faculty, and staff. She also founded the Nurse’s School and Hospital and established the Lafayette Dispensary to provide health care to residents in the area. Johnson left Tuskegee in 1894 and after several moves settled in Nashville, Tennessee in 1900 where she established a new medical practice.
  • April 26, 1915 John Ned “Johnny” Shines, hall of fame blues singer and guitarist, was born in Frayser, Tennessee but raised in Memphis, Tennessee. Shines started playing the guitar in juke joints and on the streets at an early age. From 1935 to 1937, he toured the United States and Canada with Robert Johnson. Shines moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1941 and recorded a number of tracks that were either not released or were commercial failures. Fed up with the music scene, Shines quit the business, sold his equipment, and went to work in construction. He was rediscovered in 1966 and recorded several albums, including “Last Night’s Dream” (1968), “Standing at the Crossroads” (1970), “To Wet to Plow” (1975), and “Back to the Country” (1991) which won a W. C. Handy Award. Shines died April 20, 1992. He was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame that same year.
  • April 26, 1926 Joseph Benjamin “J. B.” Hutto, hall of fame blues guitarist and singer, was born in Blackville, South Carolina but raised in Augusta, Georgia. Hutto moved to Chicago, Illinois in the early 1950s and formed a band called The Hawks. They played in clubs around Chicago and recorded six singles in 1954. Shortly afterwards, Hutto became disenchanted with the music business and did not perform professionally again until 1964. After returning, he recorded several albums, including “Master of Modern Blues” (1966), “Hawk Squat!” (1968), “Sidewinder” (1973), and “Slippin’ & Slidin’” (1983). Hutto died June 12, 1983. He was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1985.
  • April 26, 1943 Benedita Souza da Silva, the first Afro-Brazilian and female Governor of the State of Rio de Janeiro, was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Da Silva grew up in one of the slums of Rio de Janeiro and had a very difficult childhood, including being raped. She established a women’s association at 16 and started working with the community school. Da Silva worked as a teacher and social worker until 1982 when she received her high school diploma and entered politics. That year, she was elected city councilor of Rio de Janeiro. da Silva was elected to the National Congress in 1986 and was elected to the Senate in 1994, the first female senator in Brazil. During her time in national government, da Silva was the force behind the establishment of the National Awareness Day of Black Consciousness. She was elected Vice-Governor of the State of Rio de Janeiro in 1998 and when the governor resigned in 2002, she assumed the governorship. Da Silva left that position in 2003 and was appointed minister of state, a position she held for a year. Today, da Silva is an advocate for women’s rights both in Brazil and around the world. She published her autobiography, “Benedita da Silva: An Afro-Brazilian Woman’s Story of Politics and Love,” in 1997.   
  • April 26, 1958 Giancarlo Giuseppe Alessandro Esposito, stage, film and television actor and director, was born in Copenhagen, Denmark but raised in New York City. Esposito made his Broadway debut at eight in “Maggie Flynn.” He appeared in small film roles until 1988 when he landed his breakout role in “School Daze.” Over the next four years, he also appeared in “Do the Right Thing”(1989), “Mo’ Better Blues” (1990), and “Malcolm X” (1992). Esposito won Off-Broadway Theater (OBIE) Awards for “Zooman and the Sign” in 1981 and for “Distant Fires” in 1993. He appeared on Broadway in the 2008 African American production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” Also that year, he made his directorial debut with the film “Gospel Hill.” Esposito appeared in the AMC series “Breaking Bad” and was nominated for the 2012 Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series. His most recent roles have been in the television series “Revolution,” which ran from 2012 to 2014, and the 2014 movie “Poker Night.”
  • April 26, 1966 Natasha Trethewey, former United States Poet Laureate, was born in Gulfport, Mississippi. Trethewey earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Georgia in 1989, her Master of Arts degree in English and creative writing from Hollins University in 1991, and her Master of Fine Arts degree in poetry from the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1995. Her collections of poetry include “Domestic Work” (2000), “Native Guard” (2006), which won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, and “Thrall” (2012). Trethewey served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 2012 to 2014. She is also Poet Laureate of Mississippi. Trethewey is currently the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of English and Creative Writing at Emory University. She has received honorary doctorate degrees from Delta State University and Hollins University.
  • April 26, 1984 William “Count” Basie, hall of fame jazz pianist, bandleader and composer, died. Basie was born August 21, 1904 in Red Bank, New Jersey. Basie was playing piano with pick-up groups for dances and amateur shows at 15. He led his first band in the mid-1930s and continued to lead bands into the 1980s, widely regarded as one of the most important jazz bandleaders of his time. Many notable musicians came to prominence under his direction, including Lester Young and Buck Clayton and singers Jimmy Rushing and Joe Williams. Basie made more than 20 recordings with his big band and his recordings of “One O’Clock Jump” (1937), “Lester Leaps In” (1939), “Everyday (I Have the Blues)” (1955), and “April in Paris” (1955) are in the Grammy Hall of Fame as recordings of “lasting qualitative or historical significance.” He was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1958, received Kennedy Center Honors in 1981, and was named a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor that the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1983. Basie won nine Grammy Awards and was posthumously honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Ronald W. Reagan May 23, 1985 and that same year his autobiography, “Good Morning Blues: The Autobiography of Count Basie,” was published. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 2002 and his recording “One O’Clock Jump” was included by the National Recording Preservation Board in the Library of Congress National Recording Registry in 2005 as “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant.” The Count Basie Theater in Red Bank is named in his honor.
  • April 26, 1988 Frederick Douglass Patterson, founder of the United Negro College Fund, died. Patterson was born October 10, 1901 in Washington, D. C. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Prairie View State College in 1919, his Ph. D. in veterinary medicine from Iowa State University in 1923, his Master of Science degree from Iowa State in 1927, and his Ph. D. in bacteriology from Cornell University in 1932. Patterson was appointed president of Tuskegee Institute in 1935 and stabilized their finances within a few years of his appointment. Another of his accomplishments was the formation of the Black Army Air Corps which led to the Tuskegee Airmen. In 1943, Patterson proposed the creation of a consortium of Black colleges that would raise money for their mutual benefit. The next year, 27 schools came together to form the United Negro College Fund. Patterson retired from Tuskegee in 1953 to become president of the Phelps Stoke Fund which provided financial support for the education of Africans, African Americans, and Native Americans. He served in that capacity until 1970. Patterson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Ronald W. Reagan June 23, 1987 and he was awarded the 1988 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal. Patterson’s biography, “Chronicles of Faith: The Autobiography of Frederick D. Patterson,” was published in 1991. The UNCF established the Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute in 1996.
  • April 26, 2003 Rosemary Brown, the first Black woman in Canada to be elected to public office, died. Brown was born May 17, 1930 in Kingston, Jamaica. She moved to Canada to attend McGill University. After graduating, she worked in social work for various organizations in Canada. She was elected to the Legislative Assembly in British Columbia in 1972, the first Black woman to be elected to a Canadian provincial legislature, and served until 1986. Brown became the first Black woman to run for leadership of a Canadian federal party in 1975, finishing a strong second in the election. She was the Ruth Wynn Woodford Professor of the Endowed Chair in Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 1987. She became chief executive officer of MATCH International, an organization that promoted the political, economic, and social advancement of women in developing countries, in 1988. She was appointed chief commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission in 1993, serving until 1996. Brown’s autobiography, “Being Brown: A Very Public Life,” was published in 1989. Brown received 15 honorary doctorate degrees from universities across Canada as well as the Order of Canada, the second highest honor for merit in Canada. The British Columbia Human Rights Coalition annually presents the Rosemary Brown Award for Women.
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