Today in Black History 05/30/2015 | Gale Sayers - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History 05/30/2015 | Gale Sayers

  • May 30, 1902 Stepin Fetchit, hall of fame comedian and film actor, was born Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry in Key West, Florida. Stepin Fetchit was his stage name and Perry parlayed his persona as “the laziest man in the world” into a successful film career, appearing in 54 films between 1925 and 1976, and becoming the first Black actor to become a millionaire. His films included “The Mysterious Stranger” (1925), “The Prodigal” (1931), and “Amazing Grace” (1974). In his personal life, Perry was highly literate and had a concurrent career writing for the Chicago Defender. Perry was often criticized by civil rights leaders for his roles but the Hollywood Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People awarded him a special NAACP Image Award in 1976 and he was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1978. Perry also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Perry died November 19, 1985. Biographies of Perry include “Stepin Fletchit: The Life and Times of Lincoln Perry” (2005) and “Shuffling to Ignominy: The Tragedy of Stepin Flechit” (2005).
  • May 30, 1910 Ralph Harold Metcalfe, hall of fame track and field athlete and politician, was born in Atlanta, Georgia. Metcalfe ran track for Marquette University and became the first man to win the National Collegiate Athletic Association 200 meter track title three consecutive times. He won the Silver medal in the 100 meter race and the Bronze medal in the 200 meter race at the 1932 Los Angeles Summer Olympic Games and the Gold medal in the 4 by 100 meter relay and the Silver medal in the 100 meter race at the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympic Games. Metcalfe earned his Bachelor of Philosophy degree from Marquette in 1936 and his Master of Arts degree in physical education from the University of California in 1939. After graduating, he joined the United States Army and served from 1943 to 1946. Metcalfe was elected to the United States House of Representatives from Illinois in 1971 and served until his death October 10, 1978. While in Congress, he was a co-founder of the Congressional Black Caucus. Metcalfe was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1975.

  • May 30, 1943 James Earl Chaney, civil rights activist, was born in Meridian, Mississippi. Chaney attended a segregated high school and was suspended for wearing a NAACP patch in support of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. After graduating from high school, he joined the Negro plasterer’s union as an apprentice. In 1962, Chaney participated in Freedom Rides from Tennessee to Greenville, Mississippi and from Greenville to Meridian. He joined the Congress of Racial Equality in 1963 and began to organize voter education classes and serve as a guide for out of town CORE workers. Chaney, along with Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, was arrested June 21, 1964 while investigating the burning of a local church. They were released that evening but were stopped by two carloads of Ku Klux Klan members and killed. Their bodies were buried and not discovered for 44 days. The organizer of the attack was not convicted until 2005 and is serving a 60 year sentence. The James Earl Chaney Foundation was established in 1998 to advance and promote achievements in the area of human and civil rights and voter registration. Chaney was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Barack H. Obama November 24, 2014.

  • May 30, 1965 Roslyn McCallister Brock, chairperson of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, was born in Fort Pierce, Florida. Brock earned her bachelor’s degree, magna cum laude, from Virginia Union University in 1987. She then went on to earn her master’s degree in healthcare administration from George Washington University in 1989, her Master of Business Administration degree from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University in 1999, and her Master of Divinity degree from the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University in 2009. Brock joined the NAACP in 1984 and initiated health symposiums at the annual NAACP national conventions in 1991. She also served as vice-chairperson of the NAACP Health Committee. She was elected vice chairperson of the NAACP national board in 2001 and was elected chairperson in 2010, the youngest person to serve in that position. Brock also worked for ten years in healthcare management at the W. C. Kellogg Foundation and has served as an executive for Bon Secours Health System since 2001.

  • May 30, 1965 Vivian Juanita Malone became the first African American to graduate from the University of Alabama. Malone was born July 15, 1942 in Mobile, Alabama. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Alabama A&M but the school lost its accreditation. To get an accredited degree, she applied to the University of Alabama and was admitted as a junior. When she and James Hood attempted to enroll June 11, 1963, Alabama Governor George Wallace blocked the door to Foster Auditorium. President John F. Kennedy called on the Alabama National Guard to forcibly allow the students to enter the building. Despite harassment, Malone earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in business management. She then joined the Civil Rights Division of the United States Department of Justice and retired as director of Civil Rights and Urban Affairs and director of Environmental Justice for the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1996. Malone was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree by the University of Alabama in 2000. Malone died October 13, 2005.
  • May 30, 1973 The Robert Smalls House in Beaufort, South Carolina was designated a National Historic Landmark. The house was built in 1843 and owned by Smalls’ master. Smalls purchased the house in 1863. He and his descendents occupied the property for the next 90 years. The house is now privately owned. Robert Smalls was born enslaved April 5, 1839 in Beaufort. On May 13, 1862, while serving as a helmsman on a Confederate military transport, he and other Black crewmen took over the ship and handed it over to the Union Navy. This action made Smalls famous in the North and Congress passed a bill rewarding Smalls and his crewmen prize money for the captured ship. Smalls returned to Beaufort and purchased the house. Smalls served as a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives from 1865 to 1870, the South Carolina Senate from 1871 to 1874, and the United States House of Representatives from 1875 to 1879 and 1882 to 1883. He also served as U. S. Collector of Customs from 1889 to 1911. Smalls died February 23, 1915. Robert Smalls Middle School in Beaufort is named in his honor. The U. S. Army commissioned a Logistics Support Vessel in his name September 15, 2007, the first army ship named for an African American. Biographies of Small include “From Slavery to Public Service: Robert Smalls 1839 – 1915” (1971) and “Gullah Statesman: Robert Smalls From Slavery to Congress, 1839 – 1915” (1995). An exhibition, “The Life and Times of Congressman Robert Smalls”, was curated by the South Carolina State Museum in 2012.

  • May 30, 1974 The Colonel Charles Young House in Wilberforce, Ohio was designated a National Historic Landmark. Young lived in the house while teaching at Wilberforce University. Young was born March 12, 1864 in Mayslick, Kentucky. After graduating from high school at 16, he taught at a Black high school in Ripley, Ohio. He entered the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1884 and graduated in 1889, the third African American to graduate from the institution. In 1903, he was appointed superintendent of Sequoia and General Grant national parks, the first Black superintendent of a national park. During the 1916 Punitive Expedition into Mexico, Young commanded a squadron of the 10th Calvary (Buffalo Soldiers) and due to his exceptional leadership was promoted to lieutenant colonel. Young was awarded the 1916 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal. He was medically retired from the military in 1917 and spent most of that year and 1918 as a professor at Wilberforce University. In late 1918, he was reinstated into the army, promoted to colonel, and assigned as a military attaché to Liberia where he died January 8, 1922. His funeral was one of only a few in history to be held at the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery.  The Charles E. Young Elementary School in Washington, D. C. is named in his honor. Several biographies of Young have been published, including “Colonel Charles Young: Soldier and Diplomat” (1985), “For Race and Country: The Life and Career of Charles Young” (2003), and “Black Officer in a Buffalo Soldier Regiment: The Military Career of Charles Young” (2010).
  • May 30, 1974 The Stono River Slave Rebellion Site was designated a National Historic Landmark. The site is the location of the largest slave uprising in the British mainland colonies. It is located approximately 12 miles west of Charleston, South Carolina. The rebellion started September 9, 1739 with about 20 enslaved Africans at the Stono River in the colony of South Carolina. As the group marched south, they were joined by nearly 60 additional enslaved Africans. The Africans killed about 25 White people before encountering a South Carolina militia. In that battle, 20 White people and 44 Africans were killed and the rebellion was ended. In response to the rebellion, the South Carolina legislature passed the Negro Act of 1740 restricting slave assembly, education, and movement. It also enacted a 10 year moratorium against importing enslaved Africans and established penalties against slaveholders’ harsh treatment of enslaved Africans. “Cry Liberty”, an interpretation of the events of the rebellion, was published in 2010.

  • May 30, 1974 A 15-acre portion of the campus of Hampton University was designated a National Historic Landmark. The university was founded April 1, 1868 as Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Hampton, Virginia with former Union Brigadier General Samuel C. Armstrong as its first principal. A Hampton style education became known as an education that combined cultural uplift with moral and manual training. The school became Hampton Institute in 1930 and Hampton University in 1984. Today, the university has approximately 3,500 undergraduate students and approximately 900 postgraduate students. The university offers bachelor’s degrees in 48 programs, master’s degrees in 23, and doctorate degrees in 8. Notable alumni include Booker T. Washington, Charles Phillips, John Biggers, and Wanda Sykes.

  • May 30, 1993 Sun Ra, hall of fame jazz pianist, composer, bandleader and poet, died. Sun Ra was born Herman Poole Blount May 22, 1914 in Birmingham, Alabama. He was a skilled pianist as a child and was writing original music by 12. As a teenager, he would see big band performances and produce full transcriptions of the music from memory. He was performing professionally as a solo pianist or as a member of various jazz and R&B groups by his mid-teens. Sun Ra took over leadership of a group in 1934 and renamed it the Sonny Blount Orchestra. Sun Ra led The Arkestra from the mid-1950s to his death. He was one of the first jazz leaders to use two basses and electronic instruments. He was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1982 and was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1984. Sun Ra’s poetry and prose is available in “Sun Ra, The Immeasurable Equation”, published in 2005. His biography, “Space is the Place: The Lives and Times of Sun Ra”, was published in 1998.
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