Today in Black History 05/03/2015 | "Grandmother of the Civil Rights Movement" - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History 05/03/2015 | "Grandmother of the Civil Rights Movement"


  • May 3, 1901 Estelle Massey Osborne, hall of fame nurse and the first African American to earn a master’s degree in nursing education, was born in Palestine, Texas. Osborn graduated in education from Prairie View State College but after two years of teaching desired a change. She graduated in the St. Louis, Missouri City Hospital No. 2’s first nursing class in 1923 and was immediately hired as a head nurse at the hospital, the first African American head nurse. Osborne earned her Bachelor of Science degree in 1929 and her Master of Science degree in 1931 from Teacher’s College, Columbia University. She served as president of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses from 1934 to 1939. Osborne was hired as a consultant to the National Nursing Council for War Services in 1943 to work with politicians and professional organizations to change discriminatory policies in White nurse training schools. After two years, the number of integrated nursing schools had increased from 18 to 38, the Cadet Nurse Corps had enlisted 2,000 Black students, and the United States Army and Navy had lifted their ban on accepting Black nurses. Osborne became the first African American to serve on the nursing faculty of New York University in 1945. She served on the board of the American Nurses Association from 1948 to 1952 and worked with the National League for Nursing from 1954 to her retirement in 1966. Osborne died December 12, 1981. She was posthumously inducted into the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame in 1984. The Estelle Massey Osborne Scholarship is awarded by the Nurses Educational Fund to Black registered nurses enrolled in or applying to a full-time master’s degree program in nursing.
  • May 3, 1902 Jimmy Winkfield won the Kentucky Derby for the second year in a row, the last African American to ride a winner in the derby. Winkfield was born April 12, 1882 in Chilesburg, Kentucky. He began his career as a jockey in 1898 and rode in the Kentucky Derby for the first time in 1900, finishing third. He rode in the derby the next three years, winning in 1901 and 1902 and finishing second in 1903. Later that year, Winkfield immigrated to Russia where he was greeted as a celebrity and in the name of Czar Nicholas II competed at race tracks all over Europe. The Russian Revolution caused him to move to France in 1917 where he resumed racing, winning numerous prestigious races. Winkfield retired from racing at 50, having won more than 2,500 races, and began a successful career as a horse trainer. Winkfield died March 23, 1974. He was posthumously inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 2004. The Jimmy Winkfield Stakes at Aqueduct Racetrack is run in his honor. Several biographies have been written about Winkfield, including “Wink: The Incredible Life and Epic Journey of Jimmy Winkfield” (2004) and “Black Maestro: The Epic Life of an American Legend” (2006).
  • May 3, 1919 John Lawson, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, died. Lawson was born June 16, 1837 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. On August 5, 1864, while serving as a member of the USS Hartford’s berth deck ammunition party during the Battle of Mobile Bay, Alabama during the Civil War, Lawson’s actions earned him the medal, America’s highest military honor. His citation partially reads, “Wounded in the leg and thrown violently against the side of the ship when an enemy shell killed or wounded the 6-man crew as the shell whipped on the berth deck, Lawson, upon regaining his composure, promptly returned to his station and, although urged to go below for treatment, steadfastly continued his duties throughout the remainder of the action.” Lawson was awarded the medal December 31, 1864. Not much else is known of Lawson’s life.
  • May 3, 1919 The National Association of Negro Musicians was founded in Chicago, Illinois with a mission to conserve concert music traditions with the African American community. Among the founders were Nora Douglas Holt, Clarence Cameron White, and Georgia Fraser Goins. The organization sponsored a scholarship contest for performers and administered the Wannamaker Prize for composition from 1927 to 1932. Among those receiving support from the association early in their careers were Marian Anderson, Billy Strayhorn, and Leontyne Price. The organization continues to operate today.
  • May 3, 1920 John Aaron Lewis, hall of fame jazz pianist, composer and the musical director of the Modern Jazz Quartet, was born in LaGrange, Illinois but raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Lewis began to learn the piano and classical music at seven. He earned his bachelor’s degree in music and anthropology from the University of New Mexico in 1942. After leaving the army, he moved to New York City where he worked with Charlie Parker, Illinois Jacquet, Lester Young, and others. In 1950, he joined the Milt Jackson Quartet which later became the Modern Jazz Quartet. Lewis wrote and performed for the quartet and served as musical director from 1954 to 1974. He also served as music director for the annual Monterey Jazz Festival from 1958 to 1982. Lewis earned his master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music in 1953 and taught at the City College of New York and Harvard University. He was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor that the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2001. Lewis died March 29, 2001. He was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 2002.
  • May 3, 1920 Daniel Robert Bankhead, the first Black pitcher in Major League Baseball, was born in Empire, Alabama. After a strong career in the Negro league, Bankhead was signed to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers at 24. He made his debut August 26, 1947. An excellent hitter, Bankhead hit a home run in his first major league at bat against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Unfortunately, his pitching career was not as successful with a career record of nine wins, six losses, and a 6.52 earned run average. Bankhead died May 2, 1976.
  • May 3, 1921 Sugar Ray Robinson, hall of fame boxer, was born Walker Smith, Jr. in Detroit, Michigan but raised in New York City. Robinson began boxing at 14 and finished his amateur career with a record of 85 wins and no losses. He made his professional debut in 1940 but his career was interrupted for 15 months by a stint in the United States Army. After being honorably discharged from the army in 1944, Robinson won the World Welterweight Boxing Championship in 1946. Over his career, Robinson won the World Middleweight Boxing Championship five times and retired in 1965 with a record of 175 wins, 19 losses, and 6 draws. He was named Fighter of the Year in 1942 and 1951. Robinson died April 12, 1989. Ring Magazine named him Fighter of the Decade for the 1950s in 1997. Robinson was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 2006. Robinson published his autobiography, “Sugar Ray,” in 1970 and “Pound for Pound: A Biography of Sugar Ray Robinson” was published in 2005.
  • May 3, 1923 Clara Shepard Luper, schoolteacher and civil rights leader, was born in Okfuskee County, Oklahoma but raised in Hoffman, Oklahoma. Luper earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in mathematics and history from Langston University in 1944 and her Master of Arts degree in history education from the University of Oklahoma in 1951. She became the advisor for the Oklahoma City National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Youth Council in 1957 and led them in a successful sit-in at Katz drugstore in 1958. As a result, Katz corporate management desegregated its lunch counters in three states. From 1958 to 1964, Luper led campaigns to gain equal banking rights, employment opportunities, open housing, and voting rights. In 1968, she was one of a few African American teachers hired to teach at a previously segregated Oklahoma City high school as part of a court ordered school desegregation plan. Luper authored “Behold the Walls,” an account of the campaign for civil rights in Oklahoma City, in 1979. The Clara Luper Corridor, a two mile streetscape connecting the Oklahoma State Capitol complex with the historically African American area of Northeast Oklahoma City, is named in her honor. Oklahoma City University annually awards the Clara Luper Scholarship to minority students from underserved high schools or households with lower income. Luper died June 8, 2011.
  • May 3, 1933 James Joseph Brown, Jr., hall of fame singer, songwriter and “The Godfather of Soul,” was born in Branwell, South Carolina. Brown dropped out of school in the seventh grade and earned money shining shoes and other odd jobs. He joined The Flames in 1955 and their first recording, “Please, Please, Please” (1956), sold more than a million copies. Brown returned to the charts in 1958 with “Try Me” which was the best-selling R&B single of the year and the first of 17 number one R&B singles by Brown over the next two decades. While successful in the R&B world, Brown was not known nationally until the release of his self-financed 1963 album “Live at the Apollo.” Because his record company refused to promote his records beyond the “Black” market, Brown co-founded his own production company to promote his records to White audiences. As a result, “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag,” which won the Grammy Award for Best Rhythm and Blues Recording, and “I Got You (I Feel Good)” were his first Top 10 pop hits. Other hits by Brown include “Cold Sweat” (1967), “Get Up (I Feel Like Being A Sex Machine)” (1970), “Get Up Offa That Thing” (1976), and “Living in America” (1985), which won the Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, he was known for his social activism, recording songs such as “Don’t Be a Drop-Out” (1966) and “Say It Loud – I’m Black and I’m Proud” (1968) and performing benefit concerts for various civil rights organizations. His 1968 performance in front of a televised audience in Boston, Massachusetts the day after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. is documented in the PBS film “The Night James Brown Saved Boston.” Brown received a number of awards and honors, including being one of the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992, the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in 1993, Kennedy Center Honors in 2003, and induction into the United Kingdom Music Hall of Fame in 2006. The city of Augusta, Georgia unveiled a life-sized bronze statue of Brown May 3, 2005. Brown died December 25, 2006. He is recognized as one of the most influential figures in 20th century popular music. Brown published his autobiography, “The Godfather of Soul,” in 1990.
  • May 3, 1940 Henry Ossian Flipper, the first African American cadet to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point, died. Flipper was born enslaved March 21, 1856 in Thomasville, Georgia. After the Civil War, Flipper enrolled at Atlanta University and as a freshman was appointed to West Point where there were already four Black cadets. Despite the difficulties caused by his White classmates, Flipper persevered and graduated June 14, 1877. He described his experience at West Point in the 1878 book “The Colored Cadet at West Point.” As a second lieutenant, Flipper was the first non-White officer to command the Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry. Flipper was found guilty of “conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman” in 1881 and dismissed from the service based on a relationship and correspondence with a White woman. Flipper contested the charges and fought to regain his commission until his death. The Department of the Army issued Flipper a posthumous Certificate of Honorable Discharge in 1976 and President William J. Clinton issued a pardon in 1990. After his discharge was changed, a bust of Flipper was unveiled at West Point and annually the Henry O. Flipper Award is given to graduating cadets who exhibit “leadership, self-discipline and perseverance in the face of unusual difficulties.” “Negro Frontiersman: The Western Memoirs of Henry O. Flipper” was published in 1963.
  • May 3, 1941 Richard David Robinson, hall of fame football player, was born in Mount Holly Township, New Jersey. Robinson played college football at Pennsylvania State University where he was a 1962 All-American and earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. He was selected by the Green Bay Packers in the 1963 National Football League Draft and over his twelve-season professional career was a three-time All-Pro and played on three NFL championship teams. He was also named to the NFL All-Decade team for the 1960s. Robinson retired from football in 1975 and owned a beer distributorship from 1984 until retiring in 2001. He has also served on the board of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Robinson co-authored “The Lombardi Legacy: Thirty People Who Were Touched By Greatness” in 2009. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1997 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013.
  • May 3, 1948 The Supreme Court of the United States decided in the case of Shelley v. Kraemer that courts could not enforce racial covenants on real estate. A Black family named Shelley bought a house in St. Louis, Missouri in 1945 unaware that a restrictive covenant had been on the property since 1911 barring “people of the Negro or Mongolian Race” from owning the property. Louise Kraemer sued to restrain the Shelley’s from taking possession of the property that they had purchased. The Supreme Court ruled that the enforcement of a racially based restrictive covenant in a state court would violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
  • May 3, 1967 Nina Mae McKinney, film and stage actress, died. McKinney was born June 12, 1912 in Lancaster, South Carolina but raised in New York City. She made her Broadway debut dancing in a chorus line in the musical “Blackbirds of 1928.” McKinney starred in the 1929 all-Black musical “Hallelujah.” On the strength of that performance, she was signed to a five year contract by MGM Studio. Unfortunately, McKinney was a leading lady in an industry that had no leading roles for Black women. As a result, she only appeared in two films, “Safe in Hell” (1931) and “Reckless” (1935), for the studio.  After her contract expired, she did appear in a number of all-Black films, including “Sanders of the River” (1935), “Dark Waters” (1944), and “Pinky” (1949). During the 1950s to mid-1960s, McKinney toured Europe where she was well received and known as “The Black Garbo” and “Queen of Night Life.” McKinney spent her final years in relative obscurity in New York City.
  • May 3, 1999 Ed Davis, hall of fame auto dealer and the first African American to win a franchise to sell new cars, died. Davis was born February 27, 1911 in Shreveport, Louisiana. As a teenager, he moved to Detroit, Michigan to attend integrated public schools. Davis’ first job was at a car repair garage where the owner instructed him to look busy doing janitorial work when White customers were in the garage and not appear to be working on any cars. In 1936, he began selling cars for a Chrysler-Plymouth dealership that was interested in attracting African American customers. Davis opened Davis Motor Sales, a used car dealership, in 1939. He was so successful that he was offered a Studebaker new car dealership in 1940 and operated it until 1956 when Studebaker went out of business. Davis opened Davis Chrysler-Plymouth in 1963, the first African American to be awarded a new car franchise from one of the “Big Three” automakers. He operated the dealership until 1971 and was named Michigan’s Small Businessman of the Year in 1966. After closing the dealership, Davis spent the next 20 years as a consultant to minority auto dealers and other African American business owners. Davis published his autobiography, “One Man’s Way,” in 1979 and became the first African American inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1999.
  • May 3, 2001 Billy Higgins, jazz drummer, died. Higgins was born October 11, 1936 in Los Angeles, California. He began playing drums at five. Higgins was one of the co-founders of the free jazz movement and beginning in 1958 played on Ornette Coleman’s first recordings. He was one of the house drummers for Blue Note Records during the 1960s and played on dozens of their albums. In total, Higgins played on more than 700 recordings, including those of Donald Byrd, Dexter Gordon, Milt Jackson, Sonny Rollins, and many others. Higgins co-founded The World Stage in 1989 to encourage and promote young jazz musicians. He also taught in the jazz studies program at the University of California. Higgins was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1997.
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