Today in Black History, 05/16/2015 | John Conyers, Jr., longest serving Congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 05/16/2015 | John Conyers, Jr., longest serving Congressman in the U.S. House of Representatives


  • May 16, 1840 James Milton Turner, politician and Consul to Liberia, was born enslaved in St. Louis, Missouri. Turner and his parents were freed when he was young but he still had limited educational opportunities because Missouri laws restricted Black people from learning to read. Despite the legal obstacles, Turner learned to read and briefly attended Oberlin College. After the Civil War, he became a prominent politician known for his speaking ability. He worked for the Missouri Department of Education, establishing over 30 new schools in the state for African Americans, and providing support for Lincoln Institute (now University). President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Turner United States Minister to Liberia in 1871, the first African American to hold that position. After returning from Liberia in 1878, Turner organized the Colored Emigration Aid Association to provide assistance to Black people migrating from the South. Turner died November 1, 1915. His biography, “James Milton Turner and the Promise of America: The Public Life of a Post-Civil War Leader”, was published in 1991.

  • May 16, 1855 Richard Robert Wright, Sr., educator, military officer and banker, was born enslaved near Dalton, Georgia but raised in Cuthbert, Georgia. After emancipation, Wright graduated from Atlanta University as valedictorian of the first graduating class in 1876. He served as the first president of the Georgia State Industrial College for Colored Youth (now Savannah State University) from 1891 to 1921. During his tenure, enrollment increased from 8 students to more than 400. Wright was viewed as one of the leading figures in Black higher education. During the Spanish-American War, Wright took a leave of absence from the college and was commissioned as a major in the United States Army. President William McKinley appointed him paymaster of the U. S. Volunteers in 1896, the first African American to serve as an army paymaster. Wright was a founding member of the American Negro Academy December 18, 1896, the leading organization of African American intellectuals until its demise in 1928. Wright moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1921 and founded Citizens and Southern Bank and Trust Company, the only African American owned bank in the North and the first African American Trust Company. He also co-founded the Negro Bankers Association, the first African American banking association. Wright also initiated the movement to establish February 1 as National Freedom Day to memorialize the signing of the 13th amendment to the U. S. Constitution by President Abraham Lincoln on February 1, 1865. National Freedom Day was signed into law by President Harry S. Truman June 30, 1948, almost a year after Wright’s death July 2, 1947.

  • May 16, 1887 Laura Wheeler Waring, educator and painter, was born in Hartford, Connecticut. Waring graduated from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts in 1914 and was awarded a scholarship to study in Paris, France. She focused her artistic endeavors on portraiture. Upon returning from her studies in Paris in 1928, she founded and taught in the art and music departments at the State Normal School at Cheyney (now Cheyney University) until her death February 3, 1948. While teaching, Waring was also painting. The Harmon Foundation commissioned her to paint the series “Portraits of Outstanding American Citizens of Negro Origin” in 1943.  A year after her death, the Howard University Gallery of Art held an exhibition of her work. Waring’s work is included in the collections of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian American Art Museum, and Howard University.

  • May 16, 1929 Betty Carter, hall of fame jazz singer, was born Lillie Mae Jones in Flint, Michigan but raised in Detroit, Michigan. Carter studied piano at the Detroit Conservatory and was singing with Charlie Parker by 16. She released her first solo album, “Out There With Betty Carter”, in 1958 and recorded a series of duets with Ray Charles in 1961, including the R&B chart topping “Baby It’s Cold Outside”. Carter released the double album “The Audience with Betty Carter” in 1980 and was the subject of a documentary film,“But Then, She’s Betty Carter”. She won the 1988 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Female for the album “Look What I Got” and was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the United States bestows upon a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1992. Carter was awarded the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President William J. Clinton September 29, 1997. Carter died September 26, 1998. She was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1999. “Open the Door: The Life and Music of Betty Carter” was published in 2003.

  • May 16, 1959 Thelma Johnson Streat, artist, dancer and educator, died. Streat was born August 29, 1911 in Yakima, Washington. She started painting at nine and first gained national recognition at 17 when her painting “A Priest” won honorable mention at the Harmon Foundation exhibit in 1929. She became the first African American woman to have a painting exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 1942 and her most famous painting “Rabbit Man” (1941) is part of their permanent collection. Streat also painted a series of portraits of famous people of African ancestry, including Marian Anderson, Paul Roberson, and Harriett Tubman. In addition to the Museum of Modern Art, Streat’s paintings have been part of exhibits at many other museums, including the San Francisco Museum of Art, the City of Paris Gallery, and the Art Institute of Chicago. Streat also traveled to Haiti, Mexico, and Canada to study the traditional dance and culture of indigenous people. She performed a dance recital at Buckingham Palace for the King and Queen of England in 1950. Streat led the Children’s Education Project to introduce American youth to the contributions of African Americans through a series of murals.

  • May 16, 1966 Thurman Lee Thomas, hall of fame football player, was born in Houston, Texas. Thomas played college football at Oklahoma State University and was a first team All-American in 1985 and 1987. He was selected by the Buffalo Bills in the 1988 National Football League Draft and over his 12 season professional career was a five-time Pro Bowl selection, 1991 NFL Most Valuable Player, and 1992 NFL Offensive Player of the Year. He is also the only player in NFL history to lead the league in total yards from scrimmage for four consecutive seasons. Thomas was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008. Thomas is president and CEO of Thurman Thomas Sports Training.

  • May 16, 1966 Janet Damita Jo Jackson, recording artist and actress, was born in Gary, Indiana. Jackson began performing with her family at seven and started her career as an actress at ten on the television series “The Jacksons”. She also appeared on other television shows, including “Good Times” and “Fame”. Jackson released her debut album, “Janet Jackson”, in 1982 and has followed that with a series of hit albums, including “Control” (1986), “Rhythm Nation 1814 (1989), “The Velvet Rope” (1997), “All for You” (2001), and “Discipline” (2008). Jackson has sold over 100 million records worldwide and been nominated for 25 Grammy Awards and won 6, including the 1993 Grammy Award for Best R&B Song for “That’s the Way Love Goes”. She is the only artist in history to receive Grammy nominations in five different genres (pop, rock, dance, hip-hop, and R&B). Jackson appeared in her first starring film role in “Poetic Justice” in 1993. She has also appeared in “Nutty Professor II: The Klumps” (2000), “Why Did I Get Married?” (2007), “Why Did I Get Married Too?” (2010), and “For Colored Girls” (2010). Jackson co-authored the self-help book “True You: A Journey to Finding and Loving Yourself” in 2011.

  • May 16, 1979 Asa Phillip Randolph, civil rights leader and founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, died. Randolph was born April 15, 1889 in Crescent City, Florida. He moved to New York City in 1911 to become an actor but gave up on that ambition when he failed to win his parents approval. In 1917, he founded and co-edited The Messenger, a monthly magazine that campaigned against lynching and opposed United States participation in World War I. Randolph organized the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1925 and after years of struggle, signed a contract with the Pullman Company in 1937 which earned $2 million in pay increases for employees, a shorter work week, and overtime pay. Randolph and others proposed a march on Washington, D. C. in the early 1940s to protest racial discrimination in war industries and segregation in the armed forces. The march was cancelled when President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued the Fair Employment Act. Randolph was co-founder of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights in 1950 and it has become the premier civil rights coalition. Randolph was also significantly involved in the organization of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Randolph was awarded the 1942 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal and President Lyndon B. Johnson presented him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nations’ highest civilian honor, September 14, 1964. There are a number of schools named in his honor, including the A. Philip Randolph Career and Technical Center in Detroit, Michigan. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 1989 and his efforts were chronicled in the 2002 television movie “10,000 Black Men Named George”. Biographies of Randolph include “A. Phillip Randolph: A Biographical Portrait” (1973) and “A. Phillip Randolph: Pioneer of the Civil Rights Movement” (1990).

  • May 16, 1990 Sammy Davis, Jr., singer, dancer, film and stage actor, died. Davis was born December 8, 1925 in New York City. He began performing almost as soon as he could walk as part of the vaudeville Mastin Troupe. After serving in the United States Army from 1943 to 1945, Davis recorded his first album, “Starring Sammy Davis, Jr.” in 1955. He appeared in the Broadway musicals “Mr. Wonderful” in 1957 and “Porgy and Bess” in 1959. By the 1960s, he was recognized as an entertainment superstar. He appeared in the films “A Man Called Adam” in 1966 and “Sweet Charity” in 1969. His recording of “The Candy Man” in 1972 was a number one hit. Davis was awarded the 1968 Spingarn Medal by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and received Kennedy Center Honors in 1987. He won the 1990 Emmy Award for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Special for “Sammy Davis, Jr.’s 60th Anniversary Celebration”. Davis was posthumously awarded a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001 and was inducted into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame in 2008. His 1962 recording “What Kind of Fool Am I?” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2002 as a recording of “qualitative or historical significance”. Davis published three autobiographies, “Yes, I Can” (1965), “Why Me?” (1980), and “Sammy” (2000). Also, several biographies have been written about him, including “In Black and White: The Life of Sammy Davis, Jr.” (2003), “Sammy Davis, Jr.: Me and My Shadow” (2003), and “Deconstructing Sammy” (2008). Davis’ name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

  • May 16, 2008 Jimmy Slyde, hall of fame tap dancer, died. Slyde was born James Titus Godbolt October 2, 1927 in Atlanta, Georgia but raised in Boston, Massachusetts. He began taking tap lessons at the New England Conservatory of Music at 12. Slyde toured the United States with big bands, including Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Louis Armstrong, during the late 1940s and 1950s. When interest in tap diminished in the U. S. in the 1960s, he moved to Paris, France and danced in Europe for six years. Slyde returned to the U. S. and appeared in the films “The Cotton Club” (1984), “Round Midnight” (1986), and “Tap” (1989). He also appeared in the 1989 Broadway musical “Black and Blue”. Slyde received the National Heritage Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1999, an honorary Doctor of Performing Arts in American Dance degree from Oklahoma City University in 2002, a Guggenheim Fellowship for Choreography in 2003, and was inducted into the International Tap Dance Hall of Fame in 2008.

  • May 16, 2010 Henry “Hank” Jones, hall of fame jazz pianist, bandleader and composer, died. Jones was born July 31, 1918 in Vicksburg, Mississippi but raised in Pontiac, Michigan. He studied piano at an early age and was performing in Michigan and Ohio by 13. He moved to New York City in 1944 and was accompanist for Ella Fitzgerald from 1948 to 1953. Jones was staff pianist for CBS studio from 1959 to 1975 and backed guests like Frank Sinatra on the “Ed Sullivan Show”. Jones recorded prolifically as an unaccompanied soloist, in duos with other pianist, and with various small ensembles. His recordings include “Bop Redux” (1977), “I Remember You” (1977), “Steal Away” (1995), and “Round Midnight” (2006). He was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1989, received the Jazz Living Legend Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers in 2003, and was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 2009. Jones was presented the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President George W. Bush November 17, 2008. He was nominated for five Grammy Awards and received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009.

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Today in Black History, 05/22/2015 | Sun Ra
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