Today in Black History 05/31/2015 | Tulsa Race Riots & Black Wall Street - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History 05/31/2015 | Tulsa Race Riots & Black Wall Street

  • May 31, 1834 Anthony Burns was born enslaved in Stafford County, Virginia. Burns escaped slavery to Boston, Massachusetts in 1853. There he worked for a clothing dealer until May 24, 1854 when he was arrested under the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850. On May 26, a crowd of abolitionist stormed the courthouse in an unsuccessful attempt to free Burns. Burns was tried and ordered to be returned to his Virginia owner. On the day of his return, the streets between the courthouse and the harbor were lined with federal troops to hold back the protesters as Burns was escorted to the ship. The Burns case fueled anti-slavery sentiments across the North. The abolitionist community of Boston raised $1,300 to buy Burns’ freedom and he returned to Boston to live. He subsequently received an education at Oberlin College and moved to Upper Canada to accept a call to preach at a Baptist church. Burns died July 17, 1862. “Imperfect Revolution: Anthony Burns and the Landscape of Race in Antebellum America” was published in 2011.

  • May 31, 1883 James Thomas Rapier, lawyer and politician, died. Rapier was born November 13, 1837 in Florence, Alabama. His father sent him to Canada to further his education in 1856. There, he attended Montreal College where he studied law. He also attended the University of Glasgow and after returning to the United States Franklin College where he earned a teaching certificate in 1863. Rapier returned to Alabama in 1866 and was elected a delegate to the 1867 Republican State Constitutional Convention. His political involvement was unacceptable to some White people and the Ku Klux Klan drove him from his home in 1868 and forced him to remain in seclusion for a year. He returned to public life in 1870 and became the first African American to run for statewide office in Alabama, unsuccessfully running for secretary of state. He also became involved in the Black labor movement and was elected vice president of the National Negro Labor Union in 1870. Rapier was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives in 1872 and pushed through a bill to make Montgomery, Alabama a port of delivery which was a significant boost to the city’s economy. He also supported the passage of the 1875 Civil Rights Act. Rapier lost his bid for re-election in 1874 and became a collector for the Internal Revenue Service. By 1879, he had become disenchanted with opportunities for African Americans in the South. He purchased land in Kansas and became a leading advocate for Black emigration to the West. “James T. Rapier and Reconstruction” was published in 1978.

  • May 31, 1918 Lloyd Albert Quarterman, chemist and nuclear scientist, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Quarterman earned his Bachelor of Science degree from St. Augustine’s College in 1943. He was immediately hired by the War Department as a junior chemist to work on the Manhattan Project to develop the atomic bomb. During this time, he worked closely with Enrico Fermi and Albert Einstein. Quarterman was part of the team that isolated the isotope of uranium. At the completion of the project, he was recognized for “work essential to the production of the atomic bomb, thereby contributing to the successful conclusion of World War II”. After the war, Quarterman earned his Master of Science degree from Northwestern University in 1952. He returned to the Argonne National Laboratory and worked there until his death July 1, 1982. Quarterman received an honorary Doctor of Science in Chemistry degree from St. Augustine in 1971.
  • May 31, 1921 Reece “Goose” Tatum, hall of fame basketball player, was born in El Dorado, Arkansas. In high school, Tatum played baseball, football, and basketball. He played Negro league baseball from 1937 to 1949 and was a co-owner of the Detroit Clowns baseball team in the late 1950s. Tatum played basketball for the Harlem Globetrotters in 1941 and 1942 before being drafted into the United States Army Air Corps during World War II. After the war, he returned to play with the Globetrotters until 1954. During that time, Tatum is credited with inventing many basketball moves, including the hook shot. After leaving the Globetrotters, he created his own touring basketball teams. Tatum died January 18, 1967. He was posthumously inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011.
  • May 31, 1922 Frederick Clinton Branch, the first African American officer in the United States Marine Corps, was born in Hamlet, North Carolina. Branch was attending Temple University when he was drafted into the army in 1943. He was chosen to become a marine and trained at Montford Point, North Carolina along with other African American marines (now known as the Montford Point Marines). Branch applied for officer candidate school but was initially denied. His subsequent performance earned him a recommendation and he was accepted into the school and was commissioned a second lieutenant November 10, 1945. Following World War II, Branch left active duty for the reserves. He was reactivated during the Korean War before leaving the marines in 1955 as a captain. Branch earned his bachelor’s degree in physics from Temple in 1947 and after leaving the service established a science department at a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania high school where he taught until his retirement in 1988. Branch received an honorary doctorate degree from Johnson C. Smith University in 1995 and a training building at the Marine Officer Candidate School in Quantico, Virginia was named in his honor in 1997. Branch died April 10, 2005. In 2006, the marines established the Frederick C. Branch Leadership Scholarship which is a Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps scholarship for students attending one of 17 historically Black colleges and universities that have NROTC programs on campus.
  • May 31, 1924 Patricia Roberts Harris, hall of fame lawyer and the first African American woman to serve as a United States Ambassador, was born in Mattoon, Illinois. Harris earned her Bachelor of Arts degree, summa cum laude, from Howard University in 1945 and graduated at the top of her class from the George Washington University National Law Center in 1960. On May 19, 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed her Ambassador to Luxembourg where she served until 1967. Harris was named dean of Howard University’s School of Law in 1969, a position she held until 1972. President Jimmy Carter appointed Harris Secretary of Housing and Urban Development in 1977 and she became Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare July 19, 1979, the first African American woman to hold a presidential cabinet post, where she served until 1981. She was appointed a professor at the George Washington University National Law Center in 1982, a position she held until her death March 23, 1985. Harris also served on the boards of several corporations, including Chase Manhattan Bank, Scott Paper Company, and IBM. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor in 2000 and she was posthumously inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2003. The Patricia R. Harris Education Center in Washington, D. C. is named in her honor.
  • May 31, 1931 Shirley Verrett, operatic mezzo-soprano and soprano, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana but raised in Los Angeles, California. Verrett made her operatic debut in “The Rape of Lucretia” in 1957. She made her New York City debut in “Lost in the Story” in 1958 and debuted in Europe in “Rasputins Tod” in 1959. Verrett enjoyed great fame from the late 1960s through the 1990s. She made her Broadway debut in “Carousel” in 1994. Verrett joined the faculty of the University of Michigan School of Music, Theater & Dance as a professor of voice in 1996 and published her memoir, “I Never Walked Alone” in 2003. Verrett died November 5, 2010.
  • May 31, 1940 Robert Russa Moton, educator and author, died. Moton was born August 26, 1867 in Amelia County, Virginia. He graduated from the Hampton Institute in 1890. Moton served as an administrator at Hampton from 1891 to 1915. After the death of Booker T. Washington, Moton was named principal of Tuskegee Institute in 1915, a position he held until his retirement in 1935. Moton was awarded the 1932 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal. Moton published two books, “Finding a Way Out” in 1920 and “What the Negro Thinks” in 1929. Moton Field, the initial training base for the Tuskegee Airmen, was named in his honor. The former R. R. Moton High School in Farmville, Virginia was designated a National Historic Site August 5, 1998 and now houses the Robert Russa Moton Museum. The Robert Russa Moton Charter School in New Orleans, Louisiana is also named in his honor.
  • May 31, 1967 William Thomas “Billy” Strayhorn, hall of fame composer, pianist and arranger, died. Strayhorn was born November 29, 1915 in Dayton, Ohio but raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He began his musical career studying classical music at the Pittsburgh Music Institute and while still in his teens composed the song “Life Is Lonely” which was later renamed “Lush Life”. Strayhorn met Duke Ellington in 1938 and over the next 25 years they worked together on a number of classic pieces, including “Take the A Train” (1939), “Day Dream” (1946), and “Satin Doll” (1953). Ellington recorded a memorial album, “And His Mother Called Him Bill”, in 1969 consisting entirely of Strayhorn compositions. Strayhorn was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1967. The Billy Strayhorn Historical Marker, located at Westinghouse High School in Pittsburgh, was dedicated in 1995. His biography, “Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn”, was published in 1996.
  • May 31, 1997 Jewel Stradford Lafontant-Mankarious, the first female Deputy Solicitor General of the United States, died. Lafontant-Mankarious was born April 28, 1922 in Chicago, Illinois. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Oberlin College in 1943 and became the first African American woman to earn her Juris Doctor degree from the University of Chicago Law School in 1946. President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed her Assistant United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois in 1955. In 1960, she gave the seconding speech for Richard M. Nixon’s nomination to be the Republican party candidate for president. Lafontant-Mankarious became the first Black woman to argue a case before the U. S. Supreme Court in 1963. President Nixon appointed her vice chairperson of the U. S. Advisory Commission on International, Educational and Cultural Affairs in 1969, representative to the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1972, and the first female deputy solicitor general in 1973. Lafontant-Mankarious left the Nixon administration in 1975 and practiced law until 1989. She served as ambassador-at-large and U. S. Coordinator for Refugee Affairs in the administration of President George H. W. Bush from 1989 to 1993. Lafontant-Mankarious was a founding member of the Congress of Racial Equality, an officer in the Chicago chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and a board member of the American Civil Liberties Union.
  • May 31, 2000 Johnnie Harrison Taylor, gospel, blues and soul singer, died. Taylor was born May 5, 1937 in Crawfordsville, Arkansas. He was hired to replace Sam Cooke in the gospel group the Soul Stirrers in 1957 and he recorded his first solo, “Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day”, in 1962. Taylor moved to Stax Records in 1966 and recorded several hits, including “Who’s Making Love” (1968), “Jody’s Got Your Girl and Gone” (1971), and “I Believe in You (You Believe in Me)” (1973). After Stax folded, Taylor recorded his biggest hit, “Disco Lady” (1976), which sold more than two million copies. His 1996 album “Good Love” was number one on Billboard’s Blues Chart. Taylor received a Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 1999. He was known as “the philosopher of soul”.
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