Today in Black History, 05/14/2015 | Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights Trail - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 05/14/2015 | Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights Trail

  • May 14, 1861 Alfred Oscar Coffin, the first African American to earn a Ph. D. in the biological sciences, was born in Pontotoc, Mississippi. Coffin earned his bachelor’s degree from Fisk University in 1885 and his Ph. D. in biology from Illinois Wesleyan University in 1889. He taught at Alcorn A&M College and Wiley University from 1887 to 1898 and was a public school principal in Texas and Missouri from 1898 to 1909. He ended his teaching career as a romance language professor at Langston University. Coffin published two books, “Origin of the Mound Builders” in 1889 and “Land Without Chimneys, Or The Byways of Mexico” in 1896, the first significant book on Latin America published by an African American. Coffin died in 1933.
  • May 14, 1888 Archie Alphonse Alexander, mathematician and engineer, was born in Ottumwa, Iowa but raised outside of Des Moines, Iowa. Alexander attended the State University of Iowa (now University of Iowa) where his prowess on the football field earned him the nickname “Alexander the Great.” He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1912, the first African American to earn an engineering degree from the school. Alexander formed his own company in 1917 and over the years was responsible for the construction of many roads and bridges around the country. Alexander received an honorary Doctor of Engineering degree from Howard University in 1946. He was appointed Governor of the Virgin Islands by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1954. Alexander died January 4, 1958.
  • May 14, 1890 Rosa Jinsey Young, “the mother of Black Lutheranism in Alabama,” was born in Rosebud, Alabama. Young earned her bachelor’s degree from Payne University, and was the valedictorian of her class, in 1909. After receiving her teaching certificate, she taught at various schools for African Americans across Alabama. Young established the Rosebud Literary and Industrial School in 1912. However, the school was on the brink of closure due to financial problems by 1915. The Lutheran Church provided financial support to keep the school open and added Lutheran based instruction to the school’s curriculum. Young went on to help found five other Lutheran based schools across Alabama, including Alabama Lutheran Academy and College (now Concordia College) in 1922 and where she served on the faculty from 1946 to 1961. Young published her autobiography, “Light in the Dark Belt,” in 1930 and received an honorary doctorate degree from Concordia Theological Seminary in 1961 for her dedicated service. Young died June 30, 1971.
  • May 14, 1897 Sidney Bechet, hall of fame jazz saxophonist, clarinetist and composer, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. Bechet taught himself to play the clarinet at an early age and was soon playing in many New Orleans ensembles. He played with King Oliver in the Olympia Band at 16. He toured the United States from 1914 to 1917 and traveled to Europe in 1919. Bechet returned to the U. S. in 1922 and recorded the “Wild Cat Blues” and “Kansas City Man Blues” in 1923. Bechet successfully composed in jazz, pop, and extended concert forms and co-led a group that recorded several early versions of what was later called “Latin Jazz” in 1939. Bechet relocated to France in 1950 and died there May 14, 1959. Shortly before his death, he dictated his autobiography, “Treat It Gentle,” which was published in 1960. Bechet was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1968. A biography, “Sidney Bechet: The Wizard of Jazz,” was published in 1987.
  • May 14, 1913 Clara Stanton Jones, the first African American director of a major city public library, was born in St. Louis, Missouri. Jones earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Spelman College in 1934 and her Bachelor of Arts degree in library science from the University of Michigan in 1938. Between 1938 and 1944, Jones worked in the libraries at Dillard University and Southern University. She took a position at the Detroit Public Library in 1944 and was appointed director in 1970, a position she held until her retirement in 1978. She was elected the first Black president of the American Library Association in 1976 and was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to the National Commission on Libraries and Information Science in 1978 and served until 1982. The Black Caucus of the American Library Association presented Jones with the Trailblazer Award in 1990. Jones died September 30, 2012.
  • May 14, 1970 Charles Calvin Rogers received the Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration from President Richard M. Nixon for his actions during the Vietnam War. Rogers was born September 6, 1929 in Claremont, West Virginia. He joined the United States Army and by 1968 was serving as a lieutenant colonel in command of 1st Battalion, 5th Field Artillery Regiment, 1st Infantry Division. On November 1, 1968, his battalion was manning a fire support base near the Cambodian border when it came under heavy attack. Rogers’ actions during the attack earned him the medal. His citation partially reads, “In the early morning hours, the fire support base was subjected to a concentrated bombardment of heavy mortar, rocket and rocket propelled grenade fire. Simultaneously the position was struck by a human wave ground assault, led by sappers who breached the defensive barriers with bangalore torpedoes and penetrated the defensive perimeter. Lt. Col. Rogers with complete disregard for his safety moved through the hail of fragments from bursting enemy rounds to the embattled area. He aggressively rallied the dazed artillery crewmen to man their howitzers and he directed their fire on the assaulting enemy. Although knocked to the ground and wounded by an exploding round, Lt. Col. Rogers sprang to his feet and led a small counterattack force against an enemy element that had penetrated the howitzer positions. Although painfully wounded a second time during the assault, Lt. Col. Rogers pressed the attack killing several of the enemy and driving the remainder from the positions. Refusing medical treatment, Lt. Col. Rogers reestablished and reinforced the defensive positions. As a second human wave attack was launched against another sector of the perimeter, Lt. Col. Rogers directed artillery fire on the assaulting enemy and led a second counterattack against the enemy forces. His valorous example rallied the beleaguered defenders to repulse and defeat the enemy onslaught. Lt. Col. Rogers moved from position to position through the heavy enemy fire, giving encouragement and direction to his men. At dawn the determined enemy launched a third assault against the fire base in an attempt to overrun the position. Lt. Col. Rogers moved to the threatened area and directed lethal fire on the enemy forces. Seeing a howitzer inoperative due to casualties, Lt. Col Rogers joined the surviving members of the crew to return the howitzer to action. While directing the position defense, Lt. Col. Rogers was seriously wounded by fragments from a heavy mortar round which exploded on the parapet of the gun position. Although too severely wounded to physically lead the defenders, Lt. Col. Rogers continued to give encouragement and direction to his men in the defeating and repelling of the enemy attack.” Rogers rose to the rank of major general before leaving the army. He later became a Baptist minister serving U. S. troops in Germany where he died September 21, 1990.
  • May 14, 2000 Cecil Eric Lincoln, educator, writer, sociologist and minister, died. Lincoln was born June 23, 1924 in Athens, Alabama. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from LeMoyne College in 1947, his Master of Arts degree from Fisk University in 1954, his Bachelor of Divinity degree from the University of Chicago Divinity School in 1956, and his Master of Education degree and Ph. D. in sociology and social ethics from Boston University in 1960. Lincoln worked as an administrator and taught at a number of different colleges, including Fisk University, Clark College, Boston University, and Duke University. He was also a prolific writer, perhaps best known for his 1961 book, “The Black Muslims in America.” He also wrote “My Face is Black” (1964), “The Avenue: Clayton City” (1988), his only novel, “The Road Since Freedom: Collected Poems” (1990), and “Coming Through the Fire: Surviving Race and Place in America” (1996). 
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