Today in Black History 05/27/2015 | First African American Navy Cross - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History 05/27/2015 | First African American Navy Cross


  • May 27, 1861 Victoria Earle Matthews, journalist, social worker and activist, was born Ella Victoria Smith enslaved in Fort Valley, Georgia. She and her family were emancipated after the Civil War and moved to New York City. Matthews had some formal education but was mostly self-taught. Around 1880, she began her journalistic career, writing for three New York newspapers and contributing articles to African American newspapers. She published the novel “Aunt Lindy: A Story Founded on Real Life” in 1893.  During the early 1890s, Matthews became more involved in African American political and social concerns and was a co-founder of the Woman’s Loyal Union, an organization that worked against racial discrimination and supported the anti-lynching campaign. She co-founded the National Federation of Afro-American Women in 1895 and was later instrumental in the merger of that organization and the National Colored Women’s League and the National Association of Colored Women. Matthews served as the first national organizer of the combined organization. She founded the White Rose Industrial Home for Working Class Negro Girls, a settlement house for young Black women providing safe housing, education, and life and job skills, in 1897. Matthews died March 10, 1907.

  • May 27, 1898 David Nelson Crosthwait, Jr., mechanical and electrical engineer and hall of fame inventor, was born in Nashville, Tennessee but raised in Kansas City, Missouri. Crosthwait earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1913 and Master of Engineering degree in 1920 from Purdue University. After graduating, he joined the C. A. Dunham Company where he conducted research in the fields of heat transfer and steam transport. As a result of his work, Crosthwait held 39 United States patents and 80 international patents. He designed the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems for the Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall. After retiring in 1971, Crosthwait taught a course on steam heating theory and control systems at Purdue. He became the first African American to be made a fellow of the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers in 1971 and received an honorary doctorate degree from Purdue in 1975. Crosthwait died February 25, 1976. He was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.

  • May 27, 1931 Tommy Brown, hall of fame blues singer and comedian, was born in Atlanta, Georgia. Brown began performing as a dancer when he was in the first grade. He formed a band in the 1940s and played the drums. He joined the Griffin Brothers Orchestra in 1951 and was the featured singer on the R&B Top 10 hit “Tra-La-La” and the number one R&B hit “Weepin’ and Cryin’." Brown began performing as a comedian in the 1960s and recorded the live albums “I Ain’t Lyin’” in 1967 and “I Ain’t Lyin’ Vol. 2” in 1968. He quit performing and returned to Atlanta in 1977 to run his family business. Brown made a comeback in 2001 and began recording and performing around the world at blues festivals. He continues to perform today. Brown was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2015.

  • May 27, 1935 Ramsey Emmanuel Lewis, Jr., jazz composer, pianist and radio personality, was born in Chicago, Illinois. Lewis began taking piano lessons at four and joined his first jazz band at 15.  He released his first album, “Ramsey Lewis and The Gentlemen of Swing," in 1956 and after releasing such hits as “The In Crowd” (1965), which won the Grammy Award for Best Small Group Jazz Recording, “Hang on Sloopy” (1966), and “Wade in the Water” (1966), was recognized as one of the most successful jazz pianist. Lewis has recorded over 80 albums, received five gold records, and won two additional Grammy Awards. His most recent album was “A Simple Discovery” (2013). He hosted a weekly syndicated radio program, “Legends of Jazz," from 1990 to 2009 and hosted a television series of the same name in 2006. The Ramsey Lewis Foundation was established in 2005 to help connect at-risk children to the world of music. Lewis was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor that the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2007 and received an honorary doctorate degree from Loyola University Chicago in 2008. Lewis serves on the board of the Merit School of Music, a Chicago inner-city music program, and the Chicago High School for the Arts.

  • May 27, 1936 Louis Cameron Gossett, Jr., stage, film and television actor, was born in Brooklyn, New York. Gossett earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from New York University in 1959. He made his Broadway debut in “Take a Giant Step” in 1953 and his film debut in “A Raisin in the Sun” in 1961. Other Broadway credits include “Golden Boy” (1964) and “Chicago” (2002). Gossett won the 1977 Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor for a Single Appearance in a Drama or Comedy Series for his performance in the television mini-series “Roots." He was also nominated for the 1983 Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie for his title role in “Sadat." He won the 1982 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in “An Officer and a Gentleman," the first African American male to win an Oscar in a supporting role and the second Black male to win for acting. Other film roles include “Iron Eagle” (1986), “Legend of the Mummy” (1997), “Why Did I Get Married Too?” (2010), “The Grace Card” (2011), and “A Fighting Man” (2014). Gossett is an alumnus of the Boys and Girls Clubs of America and continues to work with the organization.

  • May 27, 1937 Ulysses Franklin Grant, hall of fame Negro Baseball League player, died. Grant was born August 1, 1865 in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He played in the integrated professional International League prior to 1887, when Black men were banned from professional baseball. After that, he had a successful 15 year career in the Negro leagues where he was one of the leading hitters and best fielders. Grant retired in 1903 and was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006, the earliest Negro league player to receive that honor.

  • May 27, 1954 Jackie Ray Slater, hall of fame football player, was born in Jackson, Mississippi. Slater played college football at Jackson State University. He was selected by the Los Angeles Rams in the 1976 National Football League Draft and played his entire 20 season professional career with them, the first player to play 20 seasons for one team. Slater was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection and was selected for the 1996 Bart Starr Award which is awarded annually to the NFL player who best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field and in the community. Slater retired in 1995 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001. He is currently an offensive line coach at Azusa Pacific University.

  • May 27, 1958 Ernest Gideon Green became the first African American to graduate from Little Rock Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. Green was born September 22, 1941 in Little Rock. As one of the Little Rock Nine, he helped to desegregate Central High School in 1957. Green was the only senior in the group and despite the daily harassment and intermittent violence, graduated. He went on to earn his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1962 and Master of Arts degree in 1964 from Michigan State University. Green served as director of the A. Philip Randolph Education Fund from 1968 to 1976 and Assistant Secretary of Labor for the United States government from 1977 to 1981. He has been a managing director with Lehman Brothers focusing on public finance since 1985. Green, along with the other members of the Little Rock Nine and Daisy Bates, was awarded the 1958 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal and with the other members of the group, received the Congressional Gold Medal in 1999. Green was depicted in the 1981 CBS television movie “Crisis at Central High” and the Disney Channel television movie “The Ernest Green Story."

  • May 27, 1968 Frank Edward Thomas, Jr., hall of fame baseball player, was born in Columbus, Georgia. Thomas played baseball at Auburn University and was selected by the Chicago White Sox in the 1989 Major League Baseball Draft. He made his major league debut in 1990 and over his 19 season professional career was a five-time All-Star, four-time Silver Slugger Award winner, and American League Most Valuable Player in 1993 and 1994. He won the American League batting title in 1997 and was named American League Comeback Player of the Year in 2000. Thomas is also the only major league player in history to have seven consecutive seasons with a .300 batting average and at least 100 walks, 100 runs, 100 runs batted in, and 20 home runs. Thomas retired from baseball in 2010 and the White Sox retired his uniform number 35 that year. They unveiled a life size bronze statue of him on the outfield concourse of U. S. Cellular Field July 31, 2011. Thomas was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014. He currently serves as founder and chief executive officer of W2W Records and Big Hurt Beer.

  • May 27, 1970 Mara Brock Akil, television writer and producer, was born in Los Angeles, California but raised in Kansas City, Missouri. Akil earned her Bachelor of Science degree in journalism from Northwestern University. She moved back to Los Angeles in 1994 and began writing for the television drama “South Central." Akil wrote for the comedy “Moesha” for four seasons prior to serving as supervising producer and writer on “The Jamie Foxx Show” in 1999. Akil created and executive produced the series “Girlfriends” in 2000 and created and executive produced “The Game” in 2006. She is also a consulting producer and writer for the situation comedy “Cougar Town." Akil became producer and writer for “Being Mary Jane” on Black Entertainment Television in 2012.

  • May 27, 1996 A monument to Henry Lincoln Johnson was dedicated. The monument is located in the southeast corner of Washington Park in Albany, New York. Johnson was born in 1897 in Alexandria, Virginia and moved to Albany in his early teens. He enlisted in the United States Army in 1917, joining the all-Black New York National Guard unit which later became the 369th infantry Harlem Hellfighters. They were sent to France during World War I and put under the command of the French army. While on guard duty in the Argonne Forest May 14, 1918, Johnson and fellow African American Needham Roberts were attacked by about 20 German soldiers. Despite sustaining 21 separate wounds, Johnson used his rifle and knife to repel the Germans, thereby rescuing a comrade from capture and saving the lives of his fellow soldiers. For their actions, Johnson and Roberts were the first American soldiers in World War I to receive the Croix de Guerre with Star and Gold Palm from the French government. Johnson died penniless and without official recognition from the U. S. government July 1, 1929. He was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart in 1996 and the Distinguished Service Cross, the army’s second highest award, in 2003. There is a campaign to have that award upgraded to the Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military decoration. The Henry Johnson Charter School was dedicated in Albany in 2007.

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