Today in Black History, 05/22/2015 | Sun Ra - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

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


  • May 22, 1939 The United States Supreme Court ruled in Lane v. Wilson that the state of Oklahoma’s voter registration laws were unconstitutional. The Supreme Court in Guinn v. United States had ruled in 1915 that voter qualifications such as grandfather clauses were unconstitutional. As a result, the Oklahoma legislature enacted a registration law in 1916 that automatically qualified all persons that had voted in 1914. Those who had been previously excluded from voting, primarily Black people, had twelve days to register or they permanently lost the right to vote. The Supreme Court found this law to be a substitute for the invalidated grandfather clause and also unconstitutional.

  • May 22, 1939 Paul Edward Winfield, television, film and stage actor, was born in Los Angeles, California. Six credits short of a bachelor’s degree, Winfield left the University of California, Los Angeles to appear in the stage productions of “The Dutchman” and “The Toilet”. Winfield appeared in the television series “Julia” from 1968 to 1970. His first major role on film was 1969’s “The Lost Man”. He was nominated for the 1973 Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in “Sounder”. He was nominated for the 1978 Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Special for his portrayal of Martin Luther King, Jr. in the miniseries “King”, and was again nominated for that Emmy for his role in “Roots: The Next Generations” in 1979. Winfield won the 1995 Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series for an appearance in the drama “Picket Fences”. Other films in which he appeared include “Huckleberry Finn” (1974) and “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” (1982). Winfield died March 7, 2004.

  • May 22, 1940 Bernard Shaw, television news anchor, was born in Chicago, Illinois. Shaw served in the United States Marine Corps from 1959 to 1963. After his discharge, he attended the University of Illinois from 1963 to 1968. Shaw began his broadcasting career in 1964 with WNUS in Chicago. He moved to the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company in 1966 and served as White House correspondent from 1968 to 1971. Shaw worked for CBS News from 1971 to 1977 and ABC News from 1977 to 1980. In 1980, he joined CNN where he worked until his retirement in 2001. Shaw won an Emmy Award in 1989 for his coverage of the student revolt in China’s Tiananmen Square. He was also recognized for his reporting on the 1991 Gulf War. While describing the situation in Baghdad, he stated “clearly I’ve never been there, but this feels like we’re in the center of hell”. The University of Illinois established the Bernard Shaw Endowed Scholarship Fund in 1991. Shaw was inducted into the National Association of Black Journalist Hall of Fame in 2014.

  • May 22, 1942 Peter John Gomes, theologian and educator, was born in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Gomes earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Bates College in 1965, his Bachelor of Divinity degree from Harvard Divinity School in 1968, and his Doctor of Divinity degree from New England College in 1974. Gomes was ordained a Baptist minister in 1968. He taught Western Civilization at Tuskegee Institute from 1968 to 1970. Gomes was appointed Pusey Minister in the nondenominational Memorial Church of Harvard University in 1970. He held the chair of Plummer Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard from 1974 to his death February 28, 2011. He also was a visiting professor at Duke University and the University of North Carolina. Gomes was named 1998 Clergy of the Year by Religion and American Life. His publications include “The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart” (2002), “Strength for the Journey: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living” (2004), and “The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What’s So Good About the Good News?” (2007). He also published ten volumes of sermons.

  • May 22, 1948 Claude McKay, writer and poet, died. McKay was born September 15, 1889 in James Hill, Clarendon, Jamaica. He started writing poetry at ten. McKay published his first book of poems, “Songs of Jamaica”, in 1912. McKay emerged as one of the first and most militant voices of the Harlem Renaissance and was regarded as one of the major poets of the movement. A couple of his most famous poems were the militant “If We Must Die” (1919) and his self-portrait “Outcast” (1922). McKay published his most famous novel, “Home to Harlem”, in 1928 and it won the Harmon Gold Award for Literature. The tone for many of his works was race conscious and revolutionary. He was an advocate for full civil liberties and racial solidarity. His works heavily influenced a generation of Black authors, including James Baldwin and Richard Wright. Biographies of McKay include “Claude McKay: Rebel Sojourner in the Harlem Renaissance” (1987) and “Claude McKay: A Black Poet’s Struggle for Identity” (1992).

  • May 22, 1967 James Mercer Langston Hughes, poet, novelist and playwright, died. Hughes was born February 1, 1902 in Joplin, Missouri. He began writing in high school where he wrote for the school newspaper, edited the yearbook, and wrote short stories, poetry, and dramatic plays. Hughes earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Langston University in 1929. Hughes’ signature poem, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”, was first published in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Crisis magazine in 1921. Other poems by Hughes include “Dear Lovely Death” (1931), “Let America Be America Again” (1938), and “Shakespeare in Harlem” (1942). Fiction works by Hughes include “Not Without Laughter” (1930), “Sweet Flypaper of Life” (1953), and “Simple’s Uncle Sam” (1965). Plays include “Mulebone” (1931) with Zora Neale Hurston, “Emperor of Haiti” (1936), and “Black Nativity” (1961). Hughes was awarded the 1960 NAACP Spingarn Medal and was inducted into the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1961. After his death, his ashes were interred beneath a floor medallion in the middle of the foyer leading to the auditorium named for him within the Arthur Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in Harlem, New York. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 2002. The chief sources of biographical information about Hughes are his autobiographical “The Big Sea” (1940) and “I Wonder as I Wander: An Autobiographical Journey” (1956). “Selected Letters of Langston Hughes” was published in 2015. Hughes’ name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

  • May 22, 2007 W. Leonard Evans, Jr., pioneering advertising executive, died. Evans was born in 1914 in Louisville, Kentucky but raised in Chicago, Illinois. He earned his business degree from the University of Illinois. Evans worked as an advertising executive in Chicago before starting his own agency in New York City targeting African Americans. He fought to convince clients that Black consumers were an attractive market and gave a speech to the Audit Bureau of Circulations titled, “Black is a Growth Industry”, in 1968. Evans organized the National Negro Network January 20, 1954, the first radio network devoted to airing programs that reflected Black life and music. The network lasted only a year because of a lack of sponsors and the impact of television. In the 1960s, he began publication of Tuesday Magazine which featured articles about positive contributions by Black people. The magazines were inserted into the Sunday editions of 23 newspapers, including the Chicago Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune. The magazine reached more than four million subscribers. Evans retired in the mid-1970s.

  • May 22, 2012 Wesley Anthony Brown, the first African American graduate of the United States Naval Academy, died. Brown was born April 3, 1927 in Baltimore, Maryland. He was appointed to the academy in 1945 and, despite racial slurs and being shunned, graduated June 3, 1949. After graduating, Brown entered the Civil Engineering Corps, rising to lieutenant commander before retiring in 1969. During those 20 years, he served in the Republic of the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. After retiring, he served as a physical facilities analyst at Howard University. The Wesley Brown Field House on the campus of the U. S. Naval Academy is named in his honor. “Breaking the Color Barrier: The US Naval Academy’s First Black Midshipmen and the Struggle for Racial Equality” (2005) documents Brown’s experience at the academy.

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