Today in Black History 05/26/2015 | Miles Davis - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History 05/26/2015 | Miles Davis

  • May 26, 1883 Mamie Robinson Smith, vaudeville singer, dancer, pianist and actress, was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. Smith danced in Salem Tutt Whitney’s Smart Set as a teenager and recorded a set of songs in 1920, including “Crazy Blues” and “It’s Right Here For You (If You Don’t Get It, T’ain’t No Fault of Mine)." These were the first recordings of vocal blues by an African American singer and sold over a million copies in one year. “Crazy Blues” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1994 as a recording of “qualitative or historical significance” and selected to be part of the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress in 2005 as a recording of “cultural, historical, or aesthetical importance." Smith continued to record throughout the 1920s and toured the United States and Europe. She appeared in a number of motion pictures, including “Jail House Blues” (1929), “Paradise in Harlem” (1939), and “Murder on Lennox Avenue” (1941). Smith died September 16, 1946.

  • May 26, 1885 Nora Douglas Holt, singer, composer and music critic, was born Lena Douglas in Kansas City, Kansas. Holt earned her Bachelor of Music degree from Western University (historically Black college closed in 1943) in 1917 and her Master of Music degree from Chicago Musical College, the first African American woman to earn a master’s degree in the United States, in 1918. Holt served as music critic for the Chicago Defender newspaper from 1917 to 1921 and co-founded the National Association of Negro Musicians in 1919. She had composed over 200 works of orchestral music and chamber songs by 1926. That same year, she moved to Europe and Asia where she spent the next 12 years singing. Holt took a position as editor and music critic for the Amsterdam News newspaper in 1943 and became the first Black member of the Music Critics Circle in 1945. From 1953 to her retirement in 1964, she hosted a radio concert series called “Nora Holt’s Concert Showcase." Holt died January 25, 1974.

  • May 26, 1899 Aaron Douglas, painter and educator, was born in Topeka, Kansas. Douglas developed an interest in art during his childhood. He earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Nebraska in 1922. He moved to New York City in 1925 and produced illustrations for The Crisis and Opportunity magazines as well as the books of prominent Black writers. Douglas created the “Symbolic Negro History” mural at Fisk University in 1930 and the “Aspects of Negro Life” mural at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in 1934. He moved to Nashville, Tennessee in 1939 and founded the art department at Fisk and taught for 27 years. He earned his Master of Arts degree from Teachers College at Columbia University in 1944. Douglas died February 3, 1979. He has been called “the father of African American art." His works are in the collections of the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Art Institute of Chicago, and Cleveland Museum of Art. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 2013.

  • May 26, 1907 Charles W. Anderson, Jr., the first African American elected to a southern state legislature in the 20th century, was born in Louisville, Kentucky. Anderson earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Wilberforce University in 1927 and his Juris Doctor degree from Howard University in 1931. He was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives in 1935 and served until 1946. During his tenure, he worked to improve African Americans access to education. One of his accomplishments was to provide $7,500 annually to African American college students who were forced to attend college out of state because of Kentucky’s segregated system. He also championed legislation to provide $100 to any Black student who was forced to travel outside of their home county to attend segregated schools. Anderson was appointed Assistant Commonwealth Attorney for Jefferson County in 1946, the highest judicial position held by an African American in the South at the time. He was appointed an alternate delegate to the United Nations by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1959. Anderson also served as president of the Louisville chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Kentucky chapter of the National Bar Association. Anderson died June 19, 1960.

  • May 26, 1907 Elizabeth Keckley, personal dressmaker and confidante of Mary Todd Lincoln, died. Keckley was born enslaved in February, 1818 in Dinwiddie, Virginia. She endured a number of severe beatings and sexual abuse as a teenager. In 1847, the family she served moved to St. Louis, Missouri where Keckley used her dressmaking skills to establish connections with the town’s White upper-class women. With the help of her patrons, by 1855 she was able to buy her and her son’s freedom for $1,200. Keckley moved to Washington, D.C. in 1860 and Mary Todd Lincoln, United States First Lady, chose her as her personal dressmaker in 1861. For the next six years, Keckley was the sole designer and creator of Mrs. Lincoln’s event wardrobe. This also allowed her an intimate view of the First Family. After the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, she provided solace, comfort, and reliability to Mrs. Lincoln. Keckley was a celebrity in the D. C. Black community and used her connections to found the Contraband Relief Association in 1862. The CRA provided food, shelter, clothing, and emotional support to recently freed people and sick and wounded soldiers. She published her autobiography, “Behind the Scenes Or, Thirty Years a Slave and Four Years in the White House," in 1868. After her relationship with Mrs. Lincoln ended, Keckley moved to a number of locations before accepting a position at Wilberforce University as head of the Department of Sewing and Domestic Science Arts in 1892. Keckley returned to D. C. in the late 1890s and died at the National Home for Destitute Colored Women and Children. The dress that Keckley made for Mrs. Lincoln for the president’s inaugural is in the collection of the Smithsonian American History Museum. Also, a quilt that she made is in the collection of the Kent State University Museum. “Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckley: The Remarkable Story of the Friendship between a First Lady and a Former Slave” was published in 2004.

  • May 26, 1914 Frankie Manning, hall of fame dancer, instructor and choreographer, was born in Jacksonville, Florida but raised in Harlem, New York. Manning joined Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers in 1935 and created the troupe’s first ensemble routines. He created a small performance group called the Congaroos  in 1947 and they performed until 1955. Manning co-choreographed the Broadway musical “Black and Blue” at 75 and received the 1989 Tony Award for Best Choreography. He was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts National Heritage Fellowship in 2000. Manning is considered one of the founding fathers of the Lindy Hop and his autobiography, “Frankie Manning: Ambassador of Lindy Hop," was published in 2007. Manning died April 27, 2009. He was posthumously inducted into the National Museum of Dance’s Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame that year.

  • May 26, 1916 Edward Allen Carter, Jr., Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Los Angeles, California but because his parents were missionaries, grew up in India and Shanghai, China. Carter joined the Chinese National Army fighting against the Japanese in his mid-teens. He eventually made his way to Europe and joined the Abraham Lincoln Brigade which was an American volunteer unit during the Spanish Civil War. Carter enlisted in the United States Army in 1941 and because of his previous combat experience, in less than a year was promoted to staff sergeant. On March 23, 1945 near Speyer, Germany during World War II, Carter performed the actions for which he was awarded the medal, America’s highest military decoration. His citation partially reads, “When the tank he was riding received heavy bazooka and small arms fire, Sgt. Carter voluntarily attempted to lead a three man group across an open field. Two of his men were killed and the third seriously wounded. Continuing on alone, he was wounded five times and finally was forced to take cover. As eight enemy rifleman attempted to capture him, Sgt. Carter killed six of them and captured the remaining two. He then crossed the field, using as a shield his two prisoners from whom he obtained valuable information concerning the disposition of enemy troops.” For his actions, Carter was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, America’s second highest military decoration.  He was refused re-enlistment in the army in 1949 because of unfounded allegations that he had communist contacts and allegiances. After leaving the army, Carter worked in the vehicle tire business until his death January 30, 1963. In 1993, a study commissioned by the U. S. Army described systematic racial discrimination in the criteria for awarding medals during World War II. No Congressional Medal of Honor had been awarded to Black soldiers who served in the war. After a review of files, the study recommended that seven Black Distinguished Service Cross recipients have their awards upgraded to the Congressional Medal of Honor. The medal was awarded to Carter’s son by President William J. Clinton January 13, 1997.

  • May 26, 1968 Little Willie John, hall of fame R&B singer, died. John was born William Edward John November 15, 1937 in Cullendale, Arkansas but raised in Detroit, Michigan. He initially sang in his family’s gospel quintet, The United Four. He also sang with Count Basie and Duke Ellington as a teenager. John had a hit with his debut recording “All Around the World” in 1955. This was followed by a string of hits, including “Fever” (1956), “Talk to Me” (1958), and “Sleep” (1960). Over his career, John made the Billboard Top 100 14 times. John was convicted of manslaughter in 1966 and confined to Washington State Prison where he died. He inspired a generation of musicians and formed the basis for soul music. He was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. His biography, “Fever: Little Willie John; Fast Life, Mysterious Death and the Birth of Soul," was published in 2011.

  • May 26, 1975 Lauryn Noel Hill, recording artist, musician, producer and actress, was born in South Orange, New Jersey. Hill began her acting career at a young age, appearing in the television soap opera “As The World Turns." She co-starred in “Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit” in 1993 and other films in which she has appeared include “King of the Hill” (1993), “Hav Plenty” (1998), and “Restaurant” (1998). Hill joined the group Fugees in 1994 and they released their debut album, “Blunted on Reality," which sold over 2 million copies. Their only other album, “The Score” (1996), won the Grammy Award for Best Rap Album and contained the single “Killing Me Softly” which won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group. The Fugees disbanded in 1997 and Hill released “The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill” in 1998 which was nominated for ten Grammy Awards and won five, including Album of the Year and Best R&B Album, the first woman to win five Grammys in one night. Since then Hill has been largely out of the public eye except for the 2002 release of “MTV Unplugged No. 2.0."

  • May 26, 1981 Anthony Lee Ervin, Gold medal winning Olympic swimmer, was born in Valencia, California. As an undergraduate, Ervin swam for the University of California where he won multiple individual and relay events at the National Collegiate Athletic Association championships. He became the first African American to make the United States Olympic swimming team in 2000 and at the Sydney Summer Olympic Games won the Gold medal in the men’s 50 meter freestyle and the Silver medal in the men’s 4 X 100 meter freestyle relay. Ervin retired from competitive swimming in 2003 but returned in 2011. He qualified for the U. S. swimming team that competed at the 2012 London Summer Olympic Games where he finished fifth in the 50-meter freestyle event. Ervin continues to compete.

  • May 26, 2002 Degaga “Mamo” Wolde, long distance track and road runner, died. Wolde was born June 12, 1932 in Diri Jille, Ethiopia. He joined the Imperial Bodyguard in 1951 and later served as a peacekeeper in Korea from 1953 to 1955. Wolde competed at four Olympic Games, winning the Gold medal in the marathon and the Silver medal in the 10,000 meter race at the 1968 Mexico City Summer Olympic Games and the Bronze medal in the marathon at the 1972 Munich Summer Olympic Games. He was arrested in Ethiopia in 1993 and spent nine years in detention waiting for his trial. He was released in 2002 but died shortly after.

  • May 26, 2012 The Bass Reeves Legacy Monument in Fort Smith, Arkansas was dedicated. The monument is a bronze likeness of Reeves holding a rifle and sitting on a horse. He is accompanied by a bronze likeness of a dog. The monument stands 25 feet tall and sits on a base of cobblestone. Bass Reeves was born enslaved in July, 1838 in Crawford County, Arkansas. During the Civil War, he escaped into Indian Territory and lived with the Seminole and Creek Indians. Later, he moved back to Arkansas and farmed until 1875. At that time, he was recruited as one of the first African Americans to receive a commission as a deputy United States marshal because he was an expert with rifle and pistol, knew the Indian Territory, and spoke several Indian languages. Reeves worked 32 years as a federal peace officer and arrested over 3,000 felons before retiring in 1907. Reeves died January 12, 1910. Many scholars consider Reeves to be one of the most outstanding frontier heroes in U. S. history. His biography, “Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves," was published in 2006. The U. S. Route 62 Bridge crossing the Arkansas River was named the Bass Reeves Memorial Bridge in his honor in 2007.

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