Today in Black History 05/24/2015 | Coleman Alexander Young - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History 05/24/2015 | Coleman Alexander Young


  • May 24, 1911 John Ward, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, died. Ward was born in 1847 in Arkansas. He was a Black Seminole and served as a sergeant in the 24th United States Army Infantry during the Indian Wars. On April 25, 1875, he and three other men “participated in a charge against 25 hostiles while on a scouting patrol” by the Pecos River in Texas. Not much else is known of Ward’s life.

  • May 24, 1914 Donald Gaines Murray, the first African American admitted to the University of Maryland School of Law since 1890, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania but raised in Baltimore, Maryland. Murray earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Amherst College in 1934 and applied for admission to the University of Maryland School of Law. His application was rejected because of his race. His rejection letter read “The University of Maryland does not admit Negro students and your application is accordingly rejected." With the assistance of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Murray went to court and the Maryland Court of Appeals ordered in Murray v. Pearson that he be admitted January 15, 1936. Murray earned his Bachelor of Laws degree in 1938. After graduation, Murray went into private practice and was involved in a number of cases which led to the removal of the color barrier from the University of Maryland graduate schools. Murray died April 7, 1986.

  • May 24, 1944 Patti LaBelle, singer, songwriter, author and actress, was born Patricia Louise Holte in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. LaBelle began singing in church at a young age and formed a four-member group called the Ordettes in 1959. The group’s name was changed to The Bluebelles in 1961 and to Patti LaBelle and The Bluebelles in 1965. Their first single was “I Sold My Heart to the Junkman” (1962) and their 1963 release, “Down The Aisle (The Wedding Song)," was a top 40 hit. The group changed their name to Labelle in 1971 and released the album “Nightbirds” in 1974 which included the single “Lady Marmalade” which was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as a recording of “qualitative or historical significance” in 2003. The group received the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Award in 1999. The group agreed to split up to pursue solo careers in 1977 and LaBelle released her debut album, “Patti LaBelle." Other albums by LaBelle include “I’m In Love Again” (1983), “Winner in You” (1986), “Burnin’” (1991), which won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Female Vocal Performance, “Live! One Night Only” (1998), which won the Grammy Award for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance, “When a Woman Loves” (2000) and “The Gospel According to Patti LaBelle” (2006). LaBelle has sold more than 50 million records worldwide. As an author LaBelle has written four best-sellers, “Don’t Block the Blessings: Revelations of a Lifetime” (1996), “LaBelle Cuisine: Recipes to Sing About” (1999), “Patti’s Pearls: Lessons in Living Genuinely, Joyfully, Generously” (2002), and “Patti LaBelle’s Lite Cuisine” (2004). As an actress she has appeared in numerous television shows, including starring in her own situation comedy, “Out All Night” which aired from September, 1992 to July, 1993. LaBelle appeared in the musical “Fela” from September, 2010 through the end of its Broadway run in January, 2011.

  • May 24, 1963 Joe Dumars III, hall of fame basketball player and basketball executive, was born in Shreveport, Louisiana. Dumars played college basketball at McNeese State University and was selected by the Detroit Pistons in the 1985 National Basketball Association Draft. He played his entire 14 season professional career with the Pistons and was a six-time All-Star and two-time NBA champion. Dumars received the 1994 J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award given annually to the player, coach, or trainer who shows “outstanding service and dedication to the community” and he was the first recipient of the NBA Sportsmanship Award in 1996, given annually to the player who most “exemplifies the ideals of sportsmanship on the court – ethical behavior, fair play and integrity."  The award has since been renamed the Joe Dumars Trophy. Dumars retired as a player in 1999 and became the Piston’s president of basketball operations in 2000, a position he held until 2014. He was voted the league’s 2003 Executive of the Year. Dumars was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in business management from McNeese State in 2008.

  • May 24, 1963 Elmore James, hall of fame blues guitarist, singer and songwriter, died. James was born Elmore Brooks January 27, 1918 in Holmes County, Mississippi. He started making music at 12 and began playing at local dances as a teenager. During World War II, he joined the United States Navy and took part in the invasion of Guam against the Japanese. James had his first hit, “Dust My Broom," in 1951. This was followed by such hits as “I Believe” (1952) and “The Sky is Crying” (1960). James was known as “The King of the Slide Guitar” and he influenced many current guitarists such as Brian Jones and Jeremy Spencer. He was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. His biography, “The Amazing Secret History of Elmore James," was published in 2003.

  • May 24, 1974 Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington, hall of fame pianist, composer and big band leader, died. Ellington was born April 29, 1899 in Washington, D. C. He began taking piano lessons at 7 and wrote his first composition, “Soda Fountain Rag," at 14. He formed his first group, The Duke’s Serenaders, at 18 and they played throughout the Washington area. Ellington made eight recordings in 1924, composing three, including “Choo Choo," and he contributed four songs to the African American revue “Chocolate Kiddies” in 1925. Ellington delivered some of his biggest hits during the 1930s and early 1940s, including “Mood Indigo” (1930), “Sophisticated Lady” (1933), “Caravan” (1937), and “Take the A Train” (1941). In 1943, he began to compose and perform longer form jazz suites with “Black, Brown and Beige” which told the story of African Americans and the place of slavery and the church in their history. Other innovative recordings include “Such Sweet Thunder” (1957), “The Far East Suite” (1966), and “The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse” (1971). Ellington also worked on film scores, including “Anatomy of a Murder” (1959) and “Paris Blues” (1961). He earned 13 Grammy Awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1966, and 9 of his recordings were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as recordings of “qualitative or historical significance." Additionally, he was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1956, received the 1959 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal, was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Richard M. Nixon April 24, 1969, was awarded the Legion of Honor by France in 1973, and was posthumously inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1978. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 1986, he was awarded a Special Citation by the Pulitzer Prize Board in 1999, and the U.S. Mint issued a special Washington D.C. quarter in 2009 featuring his image, the first African American to appear by himself on a circulating U.S. coin. Ellington’s autobiography, “Music is my Mistress," was published in 1976.

  • May 24, 1993 The State of Eritrea gained its independence from Ethiopia. Eritrea is located in the Horn of Africa and is bordered by Sudan to the west, Ethiopia to the south, Djibouti to the southeast, and the Red Sea to the northeast and east. It is approximately 45,405 square miles in size and the capital and largest city is Asmara. Eritrea has a population of approximately 6,086,500 people with 62% Christian and 36% Muslim. The official languages are Tigrinya, Arabic, and English.

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