Today in Black History, 05/23/2015 | Samuel Sharpe - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 05/23/2015 | Samuel Sharpe

  • May 23, 1871 Landrow Bell of Washington, D. C. received patent number 115,153 for the invention of new and useful improvements in smokestacks or chimneys for locomotives or other engines. The objective of his invention was to reduce the sparks and cinders which passed out of the smokestack and caused a danger to combustible property contiguous to the line of steam travel. Bell also received patent number 133,823 December 10, 1872 for an improved dough kneader. His machine kneaded dough more quickly and more uniformly. Other than the patents, not much else is known of Bell’s life.

  • May 23, 1900 William Harvey Carney received the Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration, nearly 40 years after the actions that earned him the medal. Carney was born enslaved February 29, 1840 in Norfolk, Virginia. He escaped to Massachusetts and later bought the rest of his family out of enslavement. He joined the Union Army and served in Company C of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry as a sergeant. On July 18, 1863, he participated in the assault on Fort Wagner in Charleston, South Carolina. His citation reads, “When the color sergeant was shot down, this soldier grasped the flag, led the way to the parapet, and planted the colors thereon. When the troops fell back he brought off the flag, under a fierce fire in which he was twice severely wounded.” In later life, Carney was a postal employee and popular speaker at patriotic events. Carney died December 8, 1908. The attack on Fort Wagner is depicted in the 1989 film “Glory”. Sgt. Wm. H. Carney Memorial Academy in New Bedford, Massachusetts is named in his honor.

  • May 23, 1910 Benjamin Sherman “Scatman” Crothers, actor, singer and musician, was born in Terre Haute, Indiana. Crothers started his career as a drummer in a speakeasy band at 15 and had started his own band by the 1930s. He moved to California in 1948 and made his film debut in the 1953 movie “Meet Me At The Fair”. Other films that Crothers appeared in include “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975), “Silver Streak” (1976), and “The Shining” (1980). He also made guest appearances on many television shows, including “Dragnet” (1967), “Ironside” (1973), “Sanford and Son” (1974), and “Magnum P. I.” (1980). Crothers died November 22, 1986.

  • May 23, 1921 The musical “Shuffle Along” premiered on Broadway. It was written by Flournoy Miller and Aubrey Lyles, with music and lyrics by Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake, all African Americans. The musical closed July 15, 1922 after 484 performances and was the first major successful African American musical. According to many historians, this revue legitimized the African American musical and proved to producers and managers that audiences would pay to see African American talent on Broadway. It also laid the foundation for public acceptance of African American performers in other than burlesque or minstrel roles.

  • May 23, 1941 Martin Puryear, sculptor, was born in Washington, D. C. Puryear earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from The Catholic University of America in 1963 and was a Peace Corps volunteer in Sierra Leone from 1964 to 1966. He earned his Master of Fine Arts degree from Yale University in 1971. Puryear primarily works in wood, stone, tar, and wire. He has created public art projects for such venues as Chevy Chase Garden Plaza in Maryland and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle, Washington. His work is widely collected in the United States and internationally. Puryear received a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Award in 1989, was named to the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters in 1992, and recieved an honorary doctorate degree from Yale in 1994. The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art presented a 30 year survey of his work in 2008. Puryear received the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, from President Barack H. Obama February 13, 2012.

  • May 23, 1952 Wendell Oliver Scott broke the color barrier in Southern stock car racing when he drove a car in a race at the Danville, Virginia Fairgrounds Speedway. Scott was born August 29, 1921 in Danville. He learned auto mechanics from his father and later earned his reputation for speed driving as a taxi cab driver and bootlegger. Scott served in the United States Army in Europe from 1943 to 1945. He earned his racing license from the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing in 1953, the first African American to obtain a NASCAR racing license, and won his only race December 1, 1963 at Speedway Park in Jacksonville, Florida. Scott consistently finished in the top ten in the drivers’ point standings from 1965 to 1969. He was forced to retire in 1973 due to injuries with one win and 147 top ten finishes in 495 career races. After retiring, he ran Scott’s Garage until his death December 23, 1990. The 1977 movie “Greased Lightning” is loosely based on his story and his biography, “Hard Driving: The American Odyssey of NASCAR’s First Black Driver”, was published in 2008.

  • May 23, 1954 Marvin Nathaniel Hagler, hall of fame boxer, was born in Newark, New Jersey. Hagler began boxing in 1969 and became the National Amateur Athletic Union 165 pound champion in 1973. That same year, he turned professional and won the World Middleweight Boxing Championship in 1980. Hagler successfully defended the title 12 times, and was named Ring Magazine Fighter of the Year in 1983 and 1985, before losing the title in 1987. Hagler retired from boxing that year with a record of 62 wins, 3 losses, and 2 draws. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1993. He currently resides in Italy where he is a well-known star of action movies and does boxing commentary for British television. The Marvelous Marvin Hagler Scholarship Fund provides assistance to students attending Massasoit Community College in Brockton, Massachusetts.

  • May 23, 1973 Gerald Maxwell Rivera, R&B vocalist, was born in Brooklyn, New York. Maxwell released his debut album, “Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite”, in 1996 and it sold over 2 million copies and was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best R&B Album. That was followed by “Embrya” (1998) and “Now” (2001). After taking several years off, Maxwell released “BLACKsummers’night” in 2009 and it received six Grammy nominations and won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Album. The single, “Pretty Wings”, on that album won the Grammy Award for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance.

  • May 23, 1975 Jackie “Moms” Mabley, stand-up comedienne, died. Mabley was born Loretta Mary Aiken March 19, 1894 in Brevard, North Carolina. She ran away to Cleveland, Ohio with a travelling minstrel show at 15 and began singing and entertaining. By the 1950s, she was one of the top women doing stand-up comedy and earning $10,000 per week at the Apollo Theater. Mabley was billed as “The Funniest Woman in the World” and recorded more than 20 albums of comedy routines, including “Moms Mabley at the UN” (1961) and “Moms Mabley Breaks It Up” (1962). She recorded a satirical song, “Abraham, Martin and John”, in 1969 and it hit number 35 on the Billboard charts, the oldest person ever to have a Top 40 hit. She left an estate of more than $500,000. “The Humor of Jackie “Moms” Mabley: An African American Comedy Tradition” was published in 1995.

  • May 23, 1981 William Sherman Savage, historian, educator and author, died. Savage was born March 7, 1890 in Wattsville, Virginia. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Howard University in 1917, his Master of Arts degree from the University of Oregon in 1925, and his Ph. D. in history from Ohio State University in 1934. He was the first African American to earn a doctorate in history from the university. Savage taught at Lincoln University in Missouri from 1921 to his retirement in 1960. After retiring from Lincoln, he taught at Jarvis Christian College for an additional six years. Savage published “The Controversy over the Distribution of Abolition Literature, 1830-1860” in 1938 and “Blacks in the West” in 1976. He also wrote a number of articles about the lives and activities of African Americans in the western United States.

  • May 23, 1985 Jerome Heartwell “Brud” Holland posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Ronald W. Reagan. Holland was born January 9, 1916 in Auburn, New York. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Cornell University, where he was the first African American to play on the football team and an All-American in 1937 and 1938. Despite his athletic abilities, the National Football League ignored him because of his race. Holland earned his Master of Arts degree in sociology from Cornell in 1941 and his Ph. D. from the University of Pennsylvania in 1950. Holland served as president of Delaware State College from 1953 to 1959 and Hampton Institute from 1960 to 1970. President Richard M. Nixon appointed him Ambassador to Sweden February 16, 1970, a position he held for two years. Holland became the first African American to sit on the board of the New York Stock Exchange in 1972, a position he held until 1980. He served as chairman of the American Red Cross Board of Governors from 1980 to 1985 and its blood laboratory is named in his honor. Holland was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1965 and the National Collegiate Athletic Association awarded him the Theodore Roosevelt Award, the highest honor conferred on an individual by that organization, in 1972. Holland died January 13, 1985. The Jerome Holland scholarship program was established at the University of Virginia in 1987. A high school football field in Auburn and a dormitory at Cornell are named in his honor.  

  • May 23, 1985 William “Count” Basie posthumously received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Ronald W. Reagan. Basie was born August 21, 1904 in Red Bank, New Jersey. He played piano with pick-up groups for dances and amateur shows at 15. He led his first band in the mid-1930s and continued to lead bands into the 1980s, widely regarded as one of the most important jazz bandleaders of his time. Basie made more than 20 recordings with his big band and his recordings of “One O’Clock Jump” (1937), “Lester Leaps In” (1939), “Everyday (I Have the Blues)” (1955), and “April in Paris” (1955) are in the Grammy Hall of Fame as recordings of “lasting qualitative or historical significance”. Basie was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1958, received Kennedy Center Honors in 1981, and was named a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1983. Basie died April 26, 1984. He won nine Grammy Awards during his career and was posthumously honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002. Also that year, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor and his recording “One O’Clock Jump” was included by the National Recording Preservation Board in the Library of Congress National Recording Registry in 2005 as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. The Count Basie Theater in Red Bank is named in his honor.

  • May 23, 2004 Vernon D. Jarrett, newspaper, television and radio journalist, died. Jarrett was born June 19, 1921 in Paris, Tennessee. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Knoxville College in 1941. He moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1946 and began his career at the Chicago Defender. For three years beginning in 1948, he co-produced “Negro Newsfront”, the first daily radio news broadcast in the United States created by African Americans. Jarrett became the first African American syndicated columnist for the Chicago Tribune in 1970. Also during that time, he was a host on the Chicago ABC-TV affiliate where he produced nearly 2,000 television broadcasts. Jarrett was one of the co-founders of the National Association of Black Journalist in 1975 and he founded ACT-SO, the Afro-American Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics in 1977. Jarrett retired in 1995 and over his career was nominated for seven Pulitzer Prizes for editorial writing. The Vernon Jarrett Medal for Journalistic Excellence is awarded annually by the Institute for Advanced Journalism Studies at North Carolina A&T University to honor “outstanding coverage of people of African descent and the issues that impact their lives”.

  • May 23, 2012 Harold Baron Jackson, hall of fame radio personality and disc jockey, died. Jackson was born November 3, 1915 in Charleston, South Carolina but raised in Washington, D. C. He began his broadcasting career as the first African American radio sports announcer, broadcasting Howard University and local Negro league baseball games. In 1939, he became the first African American host at WINX/Washington with “The Bronze Review”, a nightly interview program. Jackson moved to New York City in 1954 and became the first radio personality to broadcast three daily shows on three different stations. He was one of the founders of the Inner City Broadcasting Corporation in 1971 and it acquired WLIB, the first African American owned and operated radio station in New York City. Jackson was inducted into the National Association of Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame in 1990, the first minority inducted, and the National Radio Hall of Fame in 1995, the first African American inducted. He was presented a Pioneer Award by the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 2003 and was named a “Giant in Broadcasting” by the Library of American Broadcasting in 2010.


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