Today in Black History, 05/06/2015 | Richard Austin - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 05/06/2015 | Richard Austin

  • May 6, 1812 Martin Robinson Delany, abolitionist and the first African American field officer in the United States Army, was born in Charles Town, West Virginia. Because it was illegal to teach Black people to read or write, he and his siblings taught themselves. Delany became more actively involved in political matters in 1835 and attended his first Negro Conference. He began publishing “The Mystery,” a Black controlled newspaper, in 1843 and together with Frederick Douglass and William Lloyd Garrison, began publishing the “North Star” newspaper December 3, 1847. In the 1850s, Delany became convinced that White people would not allow deserving persons of color to become leaders in society and in his book, “The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States, Politically Considered” (1852), argued that Black people had no future in the United States and should leave and found a new nation elsewhere. Delany began recruiting Black men for the Union Army to fight in the Civil War in 1863, raising thousands of enlistees, and was commissioned a major in 1865, the first Black field officer in the U. S. Army. Following the war and the demise of the Reconstruction Period, Delany helped form the Liberia Exodus Joint Stock Steamship Company with the intent to immigrate to Africa. However, he had to withdraw from the project due to family obligations. Delany died January 24, 1885. His biography, “Martin R. Delany: The Beginnings of Black Nationalism,” was published in 1971.
  • May 6, 1903 William Venoid Banks, minister, lawyer and broadcast executive, was born in Geneva, Kentucky. Banks earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Detroit City College (now Wayne State University) in 1929 and his law degree from Detroit College of Law in 1930. He earned his Doctor of Divinity degree from Detroit Baptist College and was ordained a minister in 1949. In 1950, he founded the International Free and Accepted Masons and Eastern Star. With Banks as the supreme director, the group raised money for numerous projects in the African American community, including establishing vocational schools like the Universal Barber College and International School of Cosmetology. Banks and the Masons bought WGPR, an FM radio station, in 1964. They secured a Federal Communications Commission license in 1975 and bought WGPR-TV, the first African Americans to own a television station. Banks died August 24, 1985. At his funeral, Mayor of Detroit Coleman Young spoke of Banks’ lifelong commitment to Detroit, its citizens, and its future. He said, “he did more than talk about this, he acted on it, he invested in it, and he had the kind of faith that kept this city moving.” Less than a decade after Bank’s death, the Masons sold the station for $24 million. His biography, “A Legacy of Dreams: The Life and Contributions of Dr. William Venoid Banks,” was published in 1999.
  • May 6, 1930 Charles Sidney Gilpin, one of the most highly regarded actors of the 1920s, died. Gilpin was born November 20, 1878 in Richmond, Virginia. He first performed on stage as a singer at 12. Gilpin performed with a number of traveling musical troupes beginning in 1905. He appeared in whiteface in “The Octoroon” in 1916 and had a role in “Abraham Lincoln” in 1919. Gilpin made his Broadway debut in 1920 in the lead role of “The Emperor Jones” to great critical acclaim. The Drama League of New York named him one of the ten people in 1920 who had done the most for American theater, the first Black person to be so honored. He was awarded the 1921 Spingarn Medal by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and was honored at the White House by President Warren G. Harding. The Dumas Dramatic Club of Cleveland, Ohio renamed itself the Gilpin Players in his honor in 1922.
  • May 6, 1931 William Howard “Willie” Mays, hall of fame baseball player, was born in Westfield, Alabama. Mays began his professional baseball career in the Negro league in 1947. He was signed by the New York Giants in 1950 and began his major league career in 1951. Mays missed part of the 1952 season and all of the 1953 season due to service in the United States Army. Over his 21 season major league career, Mays was National League Rookie of the Year, a 20-time All Star, 12-time Golden Glove Award winner, and National League Most Valuable Player in 1954 and 1965. He received the 1954 Hickok Belt, given annually to the top professional athlete of the year and won the 1971 Roberto Clemente Award, given to the player that “best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team.” Mays retired after the 1973 season with a lifetime batting average of .302 and 660 career home runs. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979. Since 1986, he has served as special assistant to the president of the San Francisco Giants. He was given the Bobby Bragan Youth Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005 in recognition of his accomplishments on and off the field. Annually May 24 is Willie Mays Day in San Francisco. The Giants’ stadium is located at 24 Willie Mays Plaza and a statue of Mays, dedicated March 31, 2000, sits in front of the main entrance. Mays was awarded the Major League Baseball Beacon of Life Award in 2010. He published his autobiography, “Say Hey: The Autobiography of Willie Mays,” in 1988. A biography, “Willie Mays: The Life, the Legend,” was published in 2010.
  • May 6, 1937 Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, professional boxer and advocate for the wrongly convicted, was born in Paterson, New Jersey. Carter was in and out of juvenile reformatories during his youth and was sentenced to four years in prison for assault in 1957. Upon release from prison in 1961, he began his professional boxing career. Carter was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison in 1966. However, a federal judge ruled in 1985 that Carter had not received a fair trial, saying that the prosecution had been “based on racism rather than reason” and “concealment rather than disclosure” and New Jersey prosecutors filed a motion to dismiss the original indictment against Carter in 1988. His biography, “The Sixteenth Round: From Number 1 Contender To #45472,” was published in 1991 and the feature film “The Hurricane” was released in 1999. Carter was executive director of the Association in Defense of the Wrongly Convicted from 1993 to 2005. He received honorary Doctor of Laws degrees from York University and Griffith University in 2005. Carter died April 20, 2014.
  • May 6, 1960 The Civil Rights Act of 1960 was signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The law established federal inspection of local voter registration polls and introduced penalties for anyone who obstructed someone’s attempt to register to vote or actually vote.
  • May 6, 1962 Martin de Porres was canonized and declared a saint. de Porres was born December 9, 1579 in Lima, Peru. He was admitted to the Dominican Convent of the Rosary as a servant boy at 15. His piety and miraculous cures led his superiors to drop the racial limits on admission to the Order and he was made a full Dominican brother. de Porres was given the habit of a coadjutor brother at 24 and assigned to the infirmary where many miracles were attributed to him. Although he never left Lima, many people around the world attributed their salvation to seeing him. By the time of his death November 3, 1639, de Porres was known as a saint throughout the region. de Porres was beautified in 1837. Many buildings around the world are named after him, including Saint Martin de Porres High School in Detroit, Michigan. His biography, “St. Martin de Porres: Apostle of Charity,” was published in 1963.
  • May 6, 1969 Howard Nathaniel Lee became the first African American to serve as mayor of a predominantly White city when he was elected Mayor of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Lee was born July 28, 1934 in Georgia. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Fort Valley State College in 1959 and was drafted into the United States Army that same year where he served until 1961. He earned his master’s degree in social work from the University of North Carolina in 1964 and joined the faculties of Duke University and North Carolina Central University in 1965. Lee was re-elected mayor in 1971 and 1973. From 1977 to 1981, he served as secretary of the North Carolina Department of Natural Resources and Community Development. Lee was elected to the North Carolina Senate in 1990 and served from 1990 to 1994 and 1996 to 2002. He was elected chairman of the North Carolina State Board of Education in 2003, a position he held until 2009. After retiring, Lee founded the Howard N. Lee Institute to “focus on erasing the achievement gap and improving academic performance for minority males.”
  • May 6, 2000 Marlon Shane St. Julien became the first African American to ride in the Kentucky Derby since 1921, finishing seventh. St. Julien was born February 13, 1972 in Lafayette, Louisiana. He began racing horses in high school and turned professional in 1989. He was the leading jockey at Delta Downs in 1993 and 1994, at Lone Star Park in 1998, and at Kentucky Downs in 1999. He won his first $100,000 stakes race in 1998 and that same year won his 1,000th race. St. Julien continues to race and over his career has started more than 22,000 races, won more than 2,300, and won more than $44 million.
  • May 6, 2002 Otis Blackwell, hall of fame songwriter, pianist and singer, died. Blackwell was born February 16, 1932 in Brooklyn, New York. He learned to play the piano as a child. Blackwell won a talent contest at the Apollo Theater in 1952 but his real love was songwriting. He had his first success in 1956, composing “Fever” which was recorded by Little Willie John. Blackwell went on to become one of the leading African American figures of early rock and roll, writing million-selling songs for Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Dee Clark, and others. Over his career, Blackwell composed more than a thousand songs, garnering worldwide sales of close to 200 million records. Two of his songs, “Don’t Be Cruel” by Elvis Presley and “Great Balls of Fire” by Jerry Lee Lewis, have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as recordings of “qualitative or historical significance.” Blackwell was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1986 and received the Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 1994. Blackwell was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.
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