Today in Black History, 05/07/2015 | Lonnie Johnson and The Power Drencher - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 05/07/2015 | Lonnie Johnson and The Power Drencher

  • May 7, 1845 Mary Eliza Mahoney, hall of fame nurse and the first African American registered nurse in the United States, was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Mahoney worked at the New England Hospital for Women and Children for fifteen years before being accepted into its nursing school. She earned her nursing degree August 1, 1879. Mahoney co-founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses in 1908 and served as director of the Howard Orphan Asylum for Black Children from 1911 to 1912. Mahoney was also a strong advocate for women’s equality and women’s suffrage. In 1920, she was one of the first women in Boston, Massachusetts to register to vote. Mahoney died January 4, 1926. She was posthumously inducted into the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame in 1976 and the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993. The Mary Mahoney Award is bestowed biennially by the ANA in recognition of significant contributions in advancing equal opportunity in nursing for minority groups. The Mary Eliza Mahoney Dialysis Center in Boston and the Mary Mahoney Lecture Series at Indiana University are named in her honor.
  • May 7, 1890 George Jordan received the Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration for his actions during the Indian Wars. Jordan was born enslaved in Williamson County, Tennessee in 1847 and was serving as a sergeant in the 9th Cavalry Regiment in New Mexico by 1880. His citation reads, “While commanding a detachment of 25 men at Fort Tularosa, New Mexico, repulsed a force of more than 100 Indians. At Carrizo Canyon, New Mexico, while commanding the right of a detachment of 19 men, on 12 August 1881, he stubbornly held his ground in an extremely exposed position and gallantly forced back a much superior number of the enemy, preventing them from surrounding the command.” Jordan reached the rank of first sergeant before retiring from the army in 1897. Not much is known of Jordan’s life before or after the army except that he died October 24, 1904.
  • May 7, 1911 William Robert Ming, Jr., civil rights attorney and educator, was born in Chicago, Illinois. Ming earned his Ph. D. in 1931 and his Juris Doctor degree in 1933 from the University of Chicago. He was one of the first African American members of a law review and was published in the inaugural issue of the University of Chicago Law Review. Ming served in the United States Army’s Judge Advocates General Corp, rising to the rank of captain. While working for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, he was one of the architects of the legal strategy in Brown v. Board of Education. Ming also played a prominent role in a number of other Supreme Court civil rights cases, including Shelley v. Kraemer (1948), McLaurin v. Oklahoma State Regents (1950), and NAACP v. Alabama (1958). Ming helped defend Martin Luther King, Jr. against perjury charges related to alleged tax evasion in 1960. After King was acquitted, a White Alabama lawyer said “Negro or not, he is a master of the law.” Ming was also a professor at the University of Chicago Law School from 1947 to 1953 where he became the first African American full-time faculty member at a predominantly White law school. Ming died June 30, 1973. The NAACP created the William Robert Ming Advocacy Award in 1974 which is given annually to a lawyer “who exemplifies the spirit of financial and personal sacrifice that Mr. Ming displayed in his legal work for the NAACP.”  
  • May 7, 1918 Alexander Miles, barber and hall of fame inventor, died. Miles was born May 18, 1838 in Ohio. He moved to Waukesha, Wisconsin where he earned a living as a barber. Miles subsequently moved to Winona, Minnesota and Duluth, Minnesota. While in Duluth, he received patent number 371,207 October 11, 1887 for an improved automatic opening and closing elevator door. Prior to his invention, elevator patrons or operators were often required to manually shut the door to cut off access to the elevator shaft. Sometimes people would neglect to close the door and people would fall down the elevator shaft. Miles had moved to Chicago, Illinois by 1900 and started an insurance agency for Black people. He later moved to Seattle, Washington where he was considered “the wealthiest colored man in the Northwest.” Miles was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2007.
  • May 7, 1946 Thelma Jackson Houston, singer, actress and songwriter, was born in Leland, Mississippi. Houston started out performing gospel music in the 1960s. She released her debut album, “Sunshower,” in 1969 and signed with Motown Records in 1971. Houston’s first successful single was “You’ve Been Doing Wrong for So Long” (1974) which earned her a Grammy Award nomination for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. She released her third album, “Any Way You Like It,” in 1976 and it contained “Don’t Leave Me This Way” which won the 1978 Grammy Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. Other albums by Houston include “Ready to Roll” (1978), “Never Gonna Be Another One” (1981), and “A Woman’s Touch” (2007). Houston’s first acting role was in the 1975 made for television movie “Death Scream.” She also guest starred on several television programs, including “Cagney & Lacey” and “Simon & Simon.” Houston has donated her talents and significant financial support to the fight against AIDS.
  • May 7, 1946 Olayinka Herbert Samuel Heelas Badmus Macaulay, civil engineer and Nigerian political leader, died. Macaulay was born November 14, 1864 in Lagos, Nigeria. He was awarded a government scholarship to study civil engineering in Plymouth, England in 1890. When he returned to Nigeria in 1894, he worked as a land inspector. He resigned the position in 1898 because of racial discrimination practiced by Europeans in the civil service. Macaulay established himself as a private surveyor and over the years emerged as a spokesman for opposition to British rule. He opposed every attempt by the British to expand their administration, agitated against payment of water rates in 1915, and led the opposition against British plans to reform land tenure arrangements. Macaulay founded the Nigerian National Democratic Party in 1923, the first Nigerian political party. He co-founded the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons with him as president in 1944. Macaulay is considered the founder of Nigerian nationalism and his face is emblazoned on the Nigerian one naira coin. There is also a life-sized statue of him in Lagos. The Hubert Macaulay Leadership Institute is named in his honor and there is an annual Hubert Macaulay Memorial Lecture and Merit Award.
  • May 7, 1947 Dwight Hal Johnson, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Detroit, Michigan. Johnson was drafted into the United States Army in 1967 and by January 15, 1968 was serving in Company B, 1st Battalion, 69th Armor, 4th Infantry Division in the Republic of Vietnam. His actions on that day earned him the medal. His citation partially reads, “Specialist Johnson’s tank, upon reaching the point of contact, threw a track and became immobilized. Realizing that he could do no more as a driver, he climbed out of the vehicle, armed only with a .45 caliber pistol. Despite intense hostile fire, Specialist Johnson killed several enemy soldiers before he had expended his ammunition. Returning to his tank through a heavy volume of antitank rocket, small arms and automatic weapons fire, he obtained a sub-machine gun with which to continue his fight against the advancing enemy. Armed with this weapon, Specialist Johnson again braved deadly enemy fire to return to the center of the ambush site where he courageously eliminated more of the determined foe. Engaged in extremely close combat when the last of his ammunition was expended, he killed an enemy soldier with the stock end of his sub-machine gun………….. In a magnificent display of courage, Specialist Johnson exited the tank and again armed only with a .45 caliber pistol, he engaged several North Vietnamese troops in close proximity to the vehicle. Fighting his way through devastating fire and remounting his own immobilized tank, he remained fully exposed to the enemy as he bravely and skillfully engaged them with the tank’s externally mounted .50 caliber machine gun: where he remained until the situation was brought under control.” Johnson was presented the medal, America’s highest military decoration, by President Lyndon B. Johnson November 19, 1968. After his discharge from the army in 1971, Johnson had difficulty adjusting to his post-war role and was diagnosed with depression caused by post-Vietnam adjustment problems. On the night of April 29, 1971, he was shot while committing armed robbery and died the next day.
  • May 7, 1955 George W. Lee, minister, entrepreneur and civil rights activist, was assassinated. Lee was born December 25, 1903 in Edwards, Mississippi. In the early 1930s, he accepted a call to preach in Belzoni, Mississippi. Over time, Lee led four churches, opened a grocery store, and set up a printing business. He co-founded the Belzoni branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1953. Lee was also vice president of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership, an organization that promoted self-help, business, and voting rights. Less than a month after delivering a speech at the organization’s annual meeting, Lee was killed by an unidentified assailant. No charges were ever brought against anyone for the murder.
  • May 7, 1989 William McKinley “Willie” Covan, tap-dancer, choreographer and dance coach, died. Covan was born March 4, 1897 in Savannah, Georgia but raised in Chicago, Illinois. He began dancing in vaudeville at 9 and won a Chicago dance contest that attracted entrants from throughout the Midwest at 16. In his day, Covan was as well-known as Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and was marketed as “poetry in motion.” Covan quit performing and moved to Hollywood, California. There, he opened a dance studio and became MGM Studio’s resident choreographer and dance coach for stars that included Ann Miller, Judy Garland, and Mickey Rooney.
  • May 7, 2002 Buster Brown, hall of fame tap dancer, died. Brown was born James Richard Brown May 17, 1913 in Baltimore, Maryland. He began his career in the late 1920s performing with two high school friends as The Three Aces. They toured the United States in the 1930s. As a soloist, Brown performed with the orchestras of Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, and Jimmy Lunceford. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, he toured Europe and Africa and gave a command performance for Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie. For that, he was awarded the Medal of Honor, the Lion of Judea Coin. Brown starred in the original Broadway productions of “Bubbling Brown Sugar” (1976) and “Black and Blue” (1989). He received an honorary Doctor of Performing Arts in American Dance degree from Oklahoma City University in 2002 and was posthumously inducted into the International Tap Dance Hall of Fame in 2013.
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