Today in Black History, 05/15/2015 | First African American Greek Lettered Organization - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 05/15/2015 | First African American Greek Lettered Organization

  • May 15, 1868 George Henry Wanton, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Paterson, New Jersey. By June 30, 1898, he was serving as a private in the 10th Calvary Regiment (Buffalo Soldiers) in the Spanish – American War. On that day, American forces aboard the USS Florida near Tayacoba, Cuba dispatched a small landing party to provide reconnaissance on Spanish outposts in the area. The party was discovered and came under heavy fire. Their boats were sunk, leaving them stranded on shore. After four failed attempts, Wanton and three other members of the 10th Calvary successfully found and rescued the surviving members of the landing party. In recognition of his actions, Wanton was awarded the medal, America’s highest military decoration, June 23, 1899. Wanton continued to serve in the military and reached the rank of master sergeant and served in the Quartermaster Corps before retiring. Wanton died November 27, 1940 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
  • May 15, 1889 Harry “The Black Panther” Wills, hall of fame boxer, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. Wills began his professional boxing career in 1911 and fought for over 20 years, often ranked as the number one challenger for the heavyweight boxing title, but was never given the opportunity to fight for the title due to his race. He spent six years trying to land a fight with Jack Dempsey, who was willing to fight him, but the Governor of the State of New York would not allow it fearing that race riots would follow the fight. Wills retired from boxing in 1932 with a record of 65 wins, 8 losses, and 2 draws. After retiring, he ran a successful real estate business until his death December 21, 1958. Wills was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992.
  • May 15, 1890 William McBryar received the Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration, for his actions during the Indian Wars. McBryar was born February 14, 1861 in Elizabethtown, North Carolina. He joined the United States Army as a Buffalo Soldier and by March 7, 1890 was serving as a sergeant in Company K of the 10th Cavalry Regiment. For his actions on that date, he was awarded the medal. His citation reads, “Distinguished himself for coolness, bravery, and marksmanship while his troop was in pursuit of hostile Apache Indians.” He later became a commissioned officer and left the army as a first lieutenant. McBryar died March 8, 1941 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
  • May 15, 1905 Josiah Thomas Walls, the first African American congressman from Florida, died. Walls was born enslaved December 30, 1842 in Winchester, Virginia. During the Civil War, he was forced to join the Confederate Army and was captured by the Union Army in 1862. He then joined the United States Colored Troops in 1863 and rose to the rank of 1st sergeant and artillery instructor. He was discharged in 1865 and had saved enough money by 1868 to buy a 60 acre farm outside of Gainesville, Florida. That same year, he was a representative to the Florida Constitutional Convention and was elected a state assemblyman. He was elected to the United States House of Representatives from Florida in 1871 but was denied his seat. He was elected again in 1873 and served his term. While in office, Walls introduced bills to establish a national education fund and to provide aid to Seminole War veterans. He was re-elected for a third term but again denied his seat. After that, he returned to Florida where he farmed until 1896 when he became farm director for Florida A&M University.  Walls’ biography, “Josiah Walls: Florida’s Black Congressman of Reconstruction,” was published in 1976.
  • May 15, 1910 Milton Murray Holland, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, died. Holland was born enslaved August 1, 1844 in Austin, Texas. Possibly the son of his owner, Holland and his two brothers were freed and sent to school in Ohio in the late 1850s. He joined the 5th United States Colored Troops in 1863 to fight in the Civil War. He was serving as a sergeant major when his unit participated in the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm in Virginia September 29, 1864. His actions during the battle earned him the medal, America’s highest military decoration, which was awarded April 6, 1865. His citation reads, “Took command of Company C, after all the officers had been killed or wounded, and gallantly led it.” Despite his bravery and acting as an officer in combat, Holland never received an officer’s commission. He left the army in 1865 and moved to Washington, D. C. where he established an insurance company and worked for the government. Holland was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
  • May 15, 1933 George Benton, hall of fame boxing trainer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Benton started boxing as a young teenager and turned professional at 16. He became a highly ranked middleweight contender in the early 1960s but his boxing career was ended in 1970 when he was shot. After that, he started training other boxers, including Evander Holyfield, Mike McCallum, Meldrick Taylor, and Pernell Whitaker, among others. Benton received the Futch-Condon Award for Trainer of the Year from the Boxing Writers Association of America in 1989 and 1990. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2001. Benton died September 19, 2011.
  • May 15, 1938 Diane Judith Nash, civil and women’s rights leader, was born in Chicago, Illinois. While a student at Fisk University in 1960, Nash became the leader of the Nashville sit-ins which led to the desegregation of lunch counters in the city. Also that year, she helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and led the Freedom Rides from Birmingham, Alabama to Jackson, Mississippi in 1961. Nash worked for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference from 1961 to 1965 and was a major participant in the Birmingham and Selma Voting Rights Movement. President John F. Kennedy appointed her to a national committee that led to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. She received the SCLC Rosa Parks Award, its highest honor, in 1965, the Distinguished American Award from the John F. Kennedy Library and Foundation in 2003, the LBJ Award for Leadership in Civil Rights from the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum in 2004, and the National Freedom Award from the National Civil Rights Museum in 2008.
  • May 15, 1956 Mary Beatrice Kenner, of Washington, D. C. received patent number 2,745,406 for a sanitary belt. Her invention provided a device for supporting catamenial pads or sanitary napkins on the body of the wearer. It was simple in construction, easy to use, adjustable for various size wearers, and inexpensive to manufacture. Kenner later received patent numbers 3,957,071 for a carrier attachment for invalid walkers May 18, 1976, 4,354,643 for a bathroom tissue holder October 19, 1982, and 4,696,068 for a shower wall and bathtub mounted back washer September 29, 1987. Not much is known of Kenner’s life except that she was born May 17, 1912 in Monroe, North Carolina, worked as a florist for 26 years, did not make much money from her inventions, and died January 13, 2006.
  • May 15, 1964 William Edouard Scott, artist, died. Scott was born March 11, 1884 in Indianapolis, Indiana. He lived in Chicago, Illinois from 1904 to 1909 and trained at the School of the Art Institute. Later, he moved to Paris, France where he was able to build a reputation for himself more easily than his race allowed in America. He received a Rosenwald Foundation grant in 1931 which allowed him to travel to Haiti “to paint those who had maintained their African heritage.” Two of his most famous paintings are “Night Turtle Fishing in Haiti” (1931) and “Haitian Market” (1950). Scott portrayed Black people on canvas in positions of prominence doing noble deeds and through his paintings hoped to reverse the stereotypical perceptions of African Americans and eventually foster an understanding among the races. In additions to paintings, Scott did 75 murals, including “Douglass Appealing to President Lincoln” (1943) for the Recorder of Deeds Building in Washington, D. C. His work is in the collections of the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the Wichita Art Museum.
  • May 15, 1969 Emmitt James Smith III, hall of fame football player, was born in Pensacola, Florida. Smith was named the USA Today and Parade Magazine High School Player of the Year in 1986 and after three years playing at the University of Florida Smith owned 58 school football records. Smith was selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the 1990 National Football League Draft. Over his 15 season professional career, he was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection, 1993 NFL Most Valuable Player, and retired in 2004 as the all-time career rushing leader. He earned his bachelor’s degree in public recreation from the University of Florida in 1996. Smith was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010. Smith won the third season of the television show “Dancing with the Stars” in 2006. He serves as a studio analyst for ESPN NFL pregame coverage and is CEO of a commercial real estate development and investment management company. Smith published his autobiography, “Game On: Find Your Purpose – Pursue Your Dreams,” in 2011.
  • May 15, 1975 The Lemuel Haynes House in South Granville, New York was declared a National Historic Landmark. Haynes lived in the house from 1822 to 1833. It is now privately owned. Haynes was born July 18, 1753 in West Hartford, Connecticut. He was given over to indentured servitude at five months and remained until he was freed at 21. After being freed, Haynes joined the minutemen and served during the Revolutionary War. After the war, he began to write extensively, criticizing the slave trade and slavery as an institution. He wrote “liberty is equally as precious to a Black man, as it is to a White one, and bondage as equally intolerable to the one as it is to the other.” Haynes had become a leading Calvinist minister by the early 1780s and beginning in 1783 ministered to Rutland’s West Parish in Vermont, the first African American to serve as pastor of a White congregation. He served that church for 30 years. Middlebury College granted Haynes an honorary Master of Arts degree in 1804, the first advanced degree bestowed upon an African American. Haynes died September 28, 1833. His biography, “Black Puritan, Black Republican: The Life and Thought of Lemuel Haynes, 1753-1833” was published in 2003.
  • May 15, 1975 The Blanche K. Bruce House in Washington, D. C. was declared a National Historic Landmark. The house was built in 1865 and is approximately 2,200 square feet. Bruce was born enslaved March 1, 1841 in Prince Edward County, Virginia. Because his father was White, he was able to legally free Bruce and arrange for a trade apprenticeship. Bruce moved to Missouri in 1864 and established a school for Black children. During the Reconstruction Period, he became a wealthy landowner in the Mississippi Delta. Over the years, he won elections in Bolivar County, Mississippi to sheriff, tax collector, and supervisor of education. He was elected by the state legislator to the United States Senate in 1874 and served until 1881, the first elected African American to serve a full term. Bruce was appointed by President James A. Garfield to be Register of the Treasury in 1881, the first African American whose signature appeared on United States paper currency. Bruce served on the Board of Trustees of Howard University from 1894 to his death March 17, 1898. The Blanche Kelso Bruce Academy School District in Detroit, Michigan is named in his honor. An account of Bruce’s political life and that of his descendents is given in “The Senator and the Socialite: The True Story of America’s First Black Dynasty” (2006).
  • May 15, 1975 The John Mercer Langston House in Oberlin, Ohio was declared a National Historic Landmark. The house was built in 1855 and acquired by Langston in 1856. He lived there for 12 years. After he left Oberlin, the house changed hands a number of times before it was purchased by Dr. Olivia Cousins in 2002. She is restoring the house to serve as an African American artist-in-residence program. Langston was born December 14, 1829 in Louisa County, Virginia. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1849 and Master of Arts degree in 1852 from Oberlin College. Denied admission to law school because of his race, Langston studied under an established attorney and was admitted to the Ohio Bar in 1854. Together with his brothers, Langston became active in the Abolitionist Movement and became president of the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society in 1858. During the Civil War, he was appointed to recruit African Americans to fight for the Union Army and after the war was appointed inspector general for the Freedmen’s Bureau, a federal organization that assisted formerly enslaved Black people. From 1864 to 1868, Langston served as president of the National Equal Rights League which called for the abolition of slavery, support of racial unity and self-help, and equality before the law. He established and served as dean of Howard University Law School in 1868, the first Black law school in the country. President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Langston a member of the Board of Health of the District of Columbia. President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed him United States Minister to Haiti (Ambassador) in 1877 and he was appointed Charge d’affaires to the Dominican Republic in 1884. Langston was named the first president of Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute (now Virginia State University) in 1885 and became the first Black person elected to the U. S. Congress from Virginia in 1888. Langston published his autobiography, “From Virginia Plantation to the National Capitol: Or the First and Only Negro Representative in Congress From the Old Dominion” in 1894. Langston died November 15, 1897. There are a number of schools named in his honor, including Langston University in Oklahoma. The John Mercer Langston Bar Association in Columbus, Ohio is also named in his honor. His biography, “John Mercer Langston and the Fight for Black Freedom, 1829-65,” was published in 1989.
  • May 15, 1975 The Oscar Stanton De Priest House in Chicago, Illinois was declared a National Historic Landmark. The house is an eight-flat apartment building built in 1920. De Priest lived in the house from 1929 to 1951. It is not currently open to the public. De Priest was born March 9, 1871 in Florence, Alabama but raised in Salina, Kansas. He moved to Chicago in 1889 and became a successful contractor and real estate broker and built a fortune by helping Black families move into formally all-White neighborhoods. He was a member of the Board of Commissioners of Cook County from 1904 to 1908 and served on the Chicago City Council from 1915 to 1917. De Priest was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1928, the first African American elected to Congress in the 20th century. During his three consecutive terms from 1929 to 1935, as the only Black congressman, he introduced several anti-discrimination bills. After being defeated for re-election in 1934, De Priest was again elected to the Chicago City Council in 1943 and served until 1947. De Priest died May 12, 1951. Oscar De Priest Elementary School in Chicago is named in his honor.
  • May 15, 1975 The Mary Church Terrell House in Washington, D. C. was declared a National Historic Landmark. The house was built around 1894 and is a wood frame structure with brick front exterior walls. It is currently being restored. Terrell was born September 23, 1863 in Memphis, Tennessee. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1884 and her Master of Arts degree in 1888 from Oberlin College, one of the first African American women to earn a college degree. She also served as editor of the Oberlin Review. After college, Terrell taught at a Black secondary school and at Wilberforce College (now University). She was appointed to the District of Columbia Board of Education in 1895 and served until 1906, the first Black woman to serve in that capacity in the United States. She was elected the first president of the newly formed National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs in 1896 and was invited to speak at the 1904 International Congress of Women in Berlin, Germany, the only Black woman at the conference. Terrell and Ida B. Wells-Barnett were the only Black women invited to attend the organizational meeting of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909. Terrell was one of the organizers of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority in 1913 and 26 years later wrote its creed, setting up a code of conduct for Negro women. Her autobiography, “A Colored Woman in a White World,” was published in 1940. Terrell died July 24, 1954. She was among 12 pioneers of civil rights commemorated by the United States Postal Service with a series of postage stamps in 2009. Terrell’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.  
  • May 15, 1975 The Maggie Lena Walker House in Richmond, Virginia was declared a National Historic Landmark. The house was built in 1863 and Walker lived there from 1904 to 1934. The house now serves as a museum and is open for tours by the public. Walker was born July 15, 1864 in Richmond. She attended the Colored Normal School to be trained as a teacher and received her diploma, with honors, in 1883. After graduation, she taught for three years. Walker was elected Right Worthy Grand Secretary-Treasurer of the Independent Order of St. Luke, a Black social and civic organization, in 1899. She founded the order newspaper, St. Luke Herald, in 1902 and opened the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank with her as president November 2, 1903. The bank had loaned money to purchase 600 homes by 1920. The bank merged with two other Black owned banks in Richmond in 1930 to become the Consolidated Bank and Trust Company with Walker as chairman of the board. The bank operates today as the oldest continuously operated minority-owned bank in the country. As a result of her business acumen, the order became financially successful and had 100,000 members, 1500 local chapters, and assets of almost $400,000 by 1924. Walker served as the leader of the Independent Order of St. Luke and chairman of the bank until her death December 15, 1934. She was the founder and lifelong head of the Colored Women’s Council of Richmond which raised money for local projects and maintained a community house. She was the co-founder and vice president of the Richmond branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and served on the national board for ten years. She also served as a trustee of Hartshorn College and Virginia Union University. The Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School for Government and International Studies in Richmond is named in her honor. Walker was posthumously inducted into the Junior Achievement U. S. Business Hall of Fame in 2001. “Maggie L. Walker and the I. O. of St. Luke: The Woman and Her Work” was published in 1927.
  • May 15, 1982 Veronica Campbell-Brown, track and field athlete, was born in Trelawny, Jamaica. Campbell-Brown came to the United States to pursue higher education at the University of Arkansas where she earned her Bachelor of Science degree in 2006. Competing for Jamaica at the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympic Games, Campbell-Brown won a Silver medal as a member of the 4 by 100 meter relay team. At the 2004 Athens Summer Olympic Games, she won a Bronze medal in the 100 meter race, a Gold medal in the 200 meter race, and a Gold medal as a member of the 4 by 100 meter relay team. At the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games, she became the second woman in history to win consecutive Gold medals in the 200 meter race. Campbell-Brown was appointed a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador in 2009, a position that she uses to promote gender equity in sports. At the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games, Campbell-Brown won a Silver medal as a member of the 4 by 100 meter relay team and the Bronze medal in the 100 meter race. She published “A Better You: Inspirations for Life’s Journey” in 2008. Campbell-Brown continues to compete.
  • May 15, 1983 James Van Der Zee, Harlem Renaissance photographer, died. Van Der Zee was born June 29, 1886 in Lenox, Massachusetts. He received his first camera at 14 from a magazine promotion. After moving to New York City, Van Der Zee worked as a darkroom technician at a department store. He opened his own studio in 1917 and was immediately successful. He outgrew his first studio and opened the larger GGG Studio in 1932. During the Great Depression, when demand for professional photographs was reduced, Van Der Zee supported himself by shooting passport photographs and other photographic jobs. Van Der Zee photographed many famous individuals, including Marcus Garvey, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, and Countee Cullen. His work was featured in the 1969 “Harlem on my Mind” exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. His complete collection totaled 75,000 photographs. Van Der Zee received the Living Legacy Award from President Jimmy Carter in 1978 and an honorary doctorate degree from Howard University in 1983. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 2002. Biographies of Van Der Zee include “The World of James VanDerZee” (1969). His name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.
  • May 15, 1998 Earl Manigault, street basketball player known as “The Goat,” died. Manigault was born September 7, 1944 in Charleston, South Carolina but raised in Harlem, New York. He grew up playing basketball and set the New York City junior high school record by scoring 57 points in a game in the late 1950s. Manigault was famous on the streets of New York for his signature move the double dunk. He would dunk the ball, catch it with his left hand, switch it to his right hand, and jam it through again, all done while still in the air on a single jump and without hanging on the rim. Unfortunately, personal problems plagued Manigault and he never played on the college or professional level. He did play on the streets with some of the best players of his time, including Earl Monroe, Connie Hawkins, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. In fact, when Abdul-Jabbar was asked who was the greatest player he had played with or against, he answered, “that would have to be The Goat.” Much of Manigault’s later years were spent working with kids on the court, including his “Walk Away From Drugs” tournament to prevent them from making the same mistakes he had made. HBO aired a made for television movie about Manigault’s life entitled “Rebound: The Legend of Earl “The Goat” Manigault in 1996.
  • May 15, 2000 Robert Johnson Omohundro, nuclear physicist, died. Omohundro was born in 1921 in Norfolk, Virginia. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics and Master of Science degree in physics from Howard University. During World War II, Omohundro helped in the development of the atomic bomb by designing devices to detect and measure radiation emissions from atomic warheads. These devices were later used by the International Atomic Energy Agency in airports to detect clandestine transfers of fissionable material and portable neutron detectors. Omohundro worked for the Naval Research Laboratory from 1948 to 1984 where he earned patents in the field of nuclear physics in 1963 and 1971. He also authored and/or co-authored 40 scientific papers.
  • May 15, 2009 Wayman Lawrence Tisdale, college hall of fame basketball player and jazz bass guitarist, died. Tisdale was born June 9, 1964 in Fort Worth, Texas. As a college basketball player at the University of Oklahoma, Tisdale was the first player in history to be named a first-team All American in his freshman, sophomore, and junior seasons. He won a Gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympic Games as a member of the United States men’s basketball team. Tisdale was selected by the Indiana Pacers in the 1985 National Basketball Association Draft and played for 12 seasons before retiring in 1997 to focus on his music career. Tisdale released his debut album, “Power Forward,” in 1995. That was followed by seven other albums, including “Face to Face” (2001), “Hang Time” (2004), and “Rebound” (2008). After having one of his legs amputated due to bone cancer, Tisdale started the Wayman Tisdale Foundation to raise funds to help amputees with the prosthetic process. Tisdale was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009. The Wayman Tisdale Award is given annually by the United States Basketball Writers Association to the College Basketball Freshman of the Year and the Wayman Tisdale Humanitarian Award honors an individual that used his or her high profile position in college basketball to make a difference off the court. The Oklahoma University Wayman Tisdale Specialty Health Center in Tulsa opened in 2014.
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