Today in Black History, 05/01/2015 | The Memphis Riots of 1866 - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 05/01/2015 | The Memphis Riots of 1866

  • May 1, 1884 Moses Fleetwood Walker became the first African American to play major league baseball when he debuted with the Toledo Blue Stockings. Walker signed to play with the Blue Stockings in 1883 and they joined the American Association, a major league, in 1884. Walker played 42 games before suffering a season ending injury in July. The Toledo team went out of business at the end of the 1884 season and Walker played with several other teams until 1889. Walker was born October 7, 1857 in Mount Pleasant, Ohio. After retiring from baseball, he was attacked by a group of White men in Syracuse, New York in 1891, resulting in him stabbing one of them to death. He was charged with murder but acquitted. Walker became a supporter of Black nationalism and believed that racial integration would fail in the United States. He published a pamphlet, “Our Home Colony: A Treatise on the Past, Present, and Future of the Negro Race in America,” in 1908 and recommended that African Americans immigrate to Africa. Walker died May 11, 1924. His life was the subject of the book “Fleet Walker’s Divided Heart” which was published in 1995.
  • May 1, 1901 Sterling Allen Brown, professor, poet and literary critic, was born in Washington, D. C. Brown earned his Bachelor of Arts degree, Phi Beta Kappa, from Williams College in 1922 and his Master of Arts degree from Harvard University in 1923. He began his teaching career at several universities before moving to Howard University in 1929 where he taught until his retirement in 1969. Brown published his first book of poetry, “Southern Road,” in 1933. Although that work was praised at the time, he was unable to find a publisher for his second volume and did not publish any new poetry until 1975. His poetic work was influenced in content, form, and cadence by African American music and often dealt with race and class in the United States. Brown’s 1937 works “The Negro in American Fiction” and “Negro Poetry and Drama” are considered foundation texts for the study of African American literary history. The District of Columbia named him its first poet laureate in 1984, a position he held until his death January 13, 1989.
  • May 1, 1907 Oliver White Hill, Sr., civil rights attorney, was born in Richmond, Virginia. Hill earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Howard University in 1931 and his Juris Doctor degree from Howard’s School of Law in 1933. He won his first civil rights case in 1940 in Alston v. School Board of Norfolk, Virginia which gained pay equity for Black teachers. Hill joined the United States Army in 1943 and served in Europe until the end of World War II. In 1949, he became the first African American to serve on the Richmond City Council since the late 19th century. Hill led the case of Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County in 1951 which became one of the five cases decided under Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.Hill retired in 1998. He earned many awards during his life, including the 1959 Lawyer of the Year from the National Bar Association, the American Bar Association Justice Thurgood Marshall Award in 1993, and the 2005 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President William J. Clinton August 11, 1999. The Oliver White Hill Foundation was formed in 2000 to function as an educational and policy center for the promotion and study of human rights. Hill died August 5, 2007. The Oliver Hill Courts building in Richmond is named in his honor and the Oliver W. Hill Building in Virginia’s Capitol Square is the first state owned building named for an African American. Hill’s autobiography, “The Big Bang: Brown v. Board of Education, The Autobiography of Oliver W. Hill, Sr.,” was published in 2000.
  • May 1, 1914 John Henry Lewis, hall of fame boxer, was born in Los Angeles, California but raised in Phoenix, Arizona where his father owned a boxing gym. Lewis began his professional career at 14. He won the World Light Heavyweight Boxing Championship in 1935, the first African American to hold that title. Lewis held the title until an eye problem forced him to retire in 1939 with a record of 103 wins, 8 losses, and 6 draws. Lewis died April 18, 1974. He was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1994.
  • May 1, 1915 Archibald Franklin “Archie” Williams, hall of fame track and field athlete, was born in Oakland, California. Williams attended the University of California, Berkley where he won the 1936 National Collegiate Athletic Association Championship in the 400 meter race and set a world record. That same year, he won the Gold medal in the 400 meter race at the Berlin Summer Olympic Games. After returning home, he was asked “how did those dirty Nazis treat you?” Williams replied “I didn’t see any dirty Nazis, just a lot of nice German people. And I didn’t have to ride in the back of the bus over there.” The next year, a serious leg injury ended his track career. After earning his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1939, Williams was a member of the first Civilian Pilot Training class where he earned his private pilot’s license and instructor rating. He enlisted in the United States Air Force in 1942 and served as a weather officer until his retirement as a lieutenant colonel in 1964. For the next 21 years, he taught high school mathematics and computers. He was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1992. Williams died June 24, 1993.
  • May 1, 1924 Evelyn Boyd Granville, one of the first two African American women to earn a Ph. D. in mathematics in the United States, was born in Washington, D. C. Granville earned her Bachelor of Arts degree, summa cum laude, from Smith College in 1945 and her Master of Arts degree in mathematics and theoretical physics in 1946 and Ph. D. in mathematics in 1949 from Yale University. Granville applied for teaching positions in New York City but was rejected because of her gender and/or race. Therefore, she accepted an associate professor position at Fisk University where she taught for two years. She worked as an applied mathematician for the Diamond Ordinance Fuze Laboratories from 1951 to 1955 and for IBM on the Project Vanguard and Project Mercury space programs from 1956 to 1960. Granville moved to California State University in 1967 as a full professor of mathematics and retired in 1984. Granville has been awarded honorary doctorate degrees by Smith College and Lincoln University.
  • May 1, 1930 Marion “Little Walter” Jacobs, hall of fame blues harmonica player, was born in Marksville, Louisiana. Jacobs moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1945 and played in Muddy Walters’ band from 1948 to 1952. His harmonica is featured on most of Waters’ classic recordings from the 1950s. Jacobs recorded his first hit, “Juke,” in 1952 and it spent eight weeks at number one on the Billboard R&B charts and is still the only harmonica instrumental to top the charts. That recording was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1986. It was listed by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll in 1995 and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2008 as a recording of “lasting qualitative or historical significance.” Jacobs had 14 top ten hits between 1952 and 1958, including “Sad Hours” (1952), “My Babe” (1955), which was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2008, and “Key to the Highway” (1958). Jacobs died February 15, 1968. He was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2008, the only artist ever inducted specifically for his work as a harmonica player. His biography, “Blues With A Feeling: The Little Walter Story,” was published in 2002.
  • May 1, 1930 Ollie Genoa Matson II, hall of fame football player, was born in Trinity, Texas. Matson played college football at the University of San Francisco and led the nation in rushing yardage and touchdowns and was named an All-American in 1951. He was selected by the Chicago Cardinals in the 1952 National Football League Draft and that year was co-Rookie of the Year. Also that year, he won the Bronze medal in the 400 meter race and the Silver medal in the 4 x 400 meter relay at the Helsinki Summer Olympic Games. Over his 14 season professional career, Matson was a seven-time All-Pro. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1976. Matson died February 19, 2011.
  • May 1, 1934 Shirley Horn, jazz singer and pianist, was born in Washington, D. C. Horn began playing piano at an early age and had thoughts of becoming a classical artist. She first achieved fame in 1960 and over her career was nominated for nine Grammy Awards, winning the 1999 Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album for “I Remember Miles.” Horn was recognized by the United States Congress for “her many achievements and contributions to the world of jazz and American culture” and performed at the White House for several U. S. presidents. She was awarded an honorary Doctor of Music degree by Berklee College of Music in 2002. Horn was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2005. Horn died October 20, 2005.
  • May 1, 1939 Max Robinson, broadcast journalist, was born in Richmond, Virginia. Robinson attended several colleges and briefly served in the United States Air Force before he was medically discharged. He began his television career in 1959 in Portsmouth, Virginia where he had to read the news while hidden behind a slide of the station logo to conceal his race. One night, Robinson had the slide removed and he was fired the next day. He joined the “Eyewitness News” team in Washington, D. C. in 1969, the first Black television anchor in D. C. He was the Chicago, Illinois based co-anchor of ‘ABC World News” from 1978 to 1983. He was a founder of the National Association of Black Journalist in 1975. Robinson died December 20, 1988.
  • May 1, 1971 Theodore Kenneth Lawless, internationally known dermatologist, died. Lawless was born December 6, 1892 in Thibodeaux, Louisiana. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Talladega College in 1914, his medical degree in 1919 and Master of Arts degree in 1920 from Northwestern University, and completed graduate work in dermatology at Columbia University in 1920. Lawless served on the faculty of Northwestern University from 1924 to 1921 and gained wide recognition for his research in the treatment and cure of syphilis and a host of other skin diseases. Despite his international reputation, his tenure at Northwestern was marked by racism and he left after failing to receive a promotion that he felt he deserved. Lawless also had a private practice that drew patients of all ethnic, racial, and economic backgrounds in search of cures and treatments for rare skin disorders. During the 1940s and 1950s, he served as president of the Service Federal Savings and Loan Association, a bank that helped finance Black businesses, and a real estate enterprise that worked to promote low cost housing. He was listed on Ebony magazine’s list of 35 Negro millionaires by the 1960s. Over his lifetime, Lawless donated considerable sums to Black educational institutions, including Dillard University where a chapel was established in his name. He also provided scholarship money for Black students and sponsored African medical students at United States medical schools. Among the many honors and awards he received were the 1929 Harmon Award in Medicine and the 1954 Spingarn Medal from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
  • May 1, 1976 Theodore Roosevelt Mason Howard, surgeon, entrepreneur and civil rights leader, died. Howard was born March 4, 1908 in Murray, Kentucky. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Union College in 1931 and his Doctor of Medicine degree from the College of Medical Evangelists in 1936. During his years in medical school, Howard took part in civil rights and political causes, including writing a regular column for the Black newspaper in Los Angeles, California. He was also president of the California Economic, Commercial and Political League which championed Black business ownership and the study of Black history. Howard became the first chief surgeon at the hospital of the International Order of Twelve Knights and Daughters of Tabor in Mound Bayou, Mississippi in 1942. While there, he founded an insurance company, restaurant, hospital, home construction firm, and a large farm. He also built a zoo, a park, and the first swimming pool for Black people in Mississippi. Howard founded the Regional Council of Negro Leadership in 1951 and they mounted a successful boycott of service stations that denied restrooms to Black people. Howard moved into the national spotlight after the murder of Emmitt Till when he became heavily involved in the search for evidence and made his home the command center for witnesses and journalist. Howard was forced to move to Chicago, Illinois in 1955 due to death threats and economic pressure. There, he founded the Howard Medical Center and served for one year as president of the National Medical Association. Operation Push was founded in Howard’s home in 1971 and he chaired the organization’s finance committee. Howard founded Friendship Medical Center in 1972, the largest privately owned Black clinic in Chicago. His biography, “Black Maverick: T. R. M. Howard’s Fight for Civil Rights and Economic Power,” was published in 2009.
  • May 1, 1981 Clarence Albert Bacote, historian, scholar and political activist, died. Bacote was born February 24, 1906 in Kansas City, Missouri. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in history from the University of Kansas in 1926 and his Master of Arts degree in 1929 and Ph. D. in history in 1955 from the University of Chicago. Bacote joined the history faculty at Atlanta University in 1930 and taught there until his retirement in 1977. Bacote was a specialist in Reconstruction Period history and published numerous scholarly articles. He became the first director of the citizenship schools established by the Atlanta branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to educate Black people on the operation of their government in 1933. He helped establish, and served as chair of, the Atlanta All-Citizens Registration Committee to register Black people to vote in 1946. Within five months, Black registered voters increased from 6,976 to 21,244. As chair of the organization until 1953, Bacote is credited with registering thousands of African American voters and organizing them into a political force in Atlanta. After retiring from Atlanta University, Bacote taught history at Morehouse College until his death.
  • May 1, 1983 Earlene Brown, hall of fame track and field athlete, died. Brown was born June 11, 1935 in Laredo, Texas. She began her athletic career in 1956 and that same year won the Amateur Athletic Union shot put championship. Brown was an eight-time nation champion in the shot put and three-time national champion in the discus throw. At the 1960 Rome Summer Olympic Games, she won the Bronze medal in the shot put, the only American woman to ever win an Olympic medal in that event. Brown retired from track and field in 1964 and took up the sport of roller games. In that sport, she was known as “747” because of her size and weight. Despite that, she displayed amazing quickness and agility. Brown retired from the roller games in 1974. She was posthumously inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 2005.
  • May 1, 1998 Leroy Eldridge Cleaver, political activist and author, died. Clever was born August 31, 1935 in Wabbaseka, Arkansas. He was convicted of assault with intent to murder in 1957 and imprisoned until 1966. While in prison, he wrote a number of philosophical and political essays that became the basis for his book “Soul on Ice” which was published in 1968 and was influential in the Black Power Movement. After being released from prison, Clever joined the Black Panther Party and became the minister of information. Clever was involved in a shoot-out with police in 1968 and charged with attempted murder. He fled the country to Cuba, then Algeria, and finally France before returning to the United States in 1975. After returning to the U. S., Clever renounced the Black Panther Party and became a “born again” Christian. His second book, “Soul on Fire,” was published in 1978.
  • May 1, 2005 Kenneth Bancroft Clark, social psychologist, died. Clark was born July 24, 1914 in the Panama Canal Zone but raised in Harlem, New York. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1935 and Master of Science degree in 1936 from Howard University. He became the first African American to earn a Ph. D. in psychology from Columbia University in 1940. He joined the faculty of City College of New York in 1942 and was made a full professor in 1960, the first Black academic to be so honored in the history of the college. With his wife, Mamie Phipps Clark, he conducted research among children on the effects of segregated education. They are best known for their 1940s experiments using dolls to study children’s attitudes about race. Their work contributed to the 1954 United States Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education ruling which determined that de jure segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. Clark went on to become the most influential Black social scientist of his generation. He received more than a dozen honorary doctorate degrees from some of the nation’s finest colleges and universities, including Columbia University, Princeton University, and John Hopkins University. He received the 1961 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal. He was appointed to the New York State Board of Regents, the first Black person to serve on that state’s highest education decision making body, in 1966. After retiring from City College in 1975, Clark formed a successful consulting firm to help large corporations design and implement minority hiring programs. Clark’s writings include “Prejudice and Your Child” (1955), “Dark Ghetto: Dilemmas of Social Power” (1965), and “Pathos of Power” (1974).
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