Today in Black History, 06/04/2015 | Roland Fryer - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 06/04/2015 | Roland Fryer

  • June 4, 1895 Joseph Lee of Auburndale, Massachusetts received patent number 540,553 for a machine that made bread crumbs. Lee sold the rights for the machine to the Royal Worchester Bread Crumb Company and the machine was soon in major restaurants around the world. Lee had previously received patent number 524,042 for an improved dough-kneading machine for use in hotels August 7, 1894. Lee was born July 19, 1849 in Boston, Massachusetts and began working in a bakery as a boy. He soon began preparing and serving food, eventually opening two successful restaurants. Beginning in the late 1890s, he owned the Woodland Park Hotel in Newton, Massachusetts for 17 years. Lee opened the Lee Catering Company in 1902 and it served the wealthy population of Boston. At the same time, he also operated the Squantum Inn, a summer resort that specialized in seafood. Lee died in 1905.
  • June 4, 1907 Jacques Roumain, writer and political activist, was born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.  His grandfather served as President of Haiti from 1912 to 1913. Roumain was educated in Belgium, Switzerland, France, Germany, and Spain. He returned to Haiti at 20 and founded “The Indigenous Review: Arts and Life.” Roumain was active in the struggle against the United States’ occupation of Haiti and founded the Haitian Communist Party in 1934. During that time, he was often arrested and finally was exiled. Roumain died of still unknown causes August 18, 1944. Although not well known in the English-speaking world, Roumain is renowned in Europe, the Caribbean, and Latin America. Two of his most influential books are the novel “Gouverneurs de la Rosee (Masters of the Dew)” (1944) and the poetry collection “Bois D’ebene (Ebony Wood)” (1945). Much of Roumain’s work expresses the frustration and rage of people who have been downtrodden for centuries and his writings continue to influence and shape Haitian culture and the pan-African world of today. Biographies of Roumain include “A Knot in the Thread: The Life and Work of Jacques Roumain” (1980) and “Jacques Roumain” (1981).
  • June 4, 1922 Samuel Lee Gravely, Jr., the first African American to be commissioned an officer in the United States Navy, was born in Richmond, Virginia. Gravely enlisted in the Naval Reserves in 1942 and successfully completed midshipman training December 14, 1944, the first African American commissioned an officer from the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps. His first assignment was to Camp Robert Smalls, a part of the Great Lakes Naval Training Station set aside for training African American enlisted men. Gravely was released from active duty in 1946 and returned to Richmond to earn his Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Virginia Union University in 1948. Gravely was recalled to active duty in 1949 and went on to be the first African American to serve aboard a fighting ship as an officer, the first to command a navy ship, the first fleet commander, and the first to become an admiral. Gravely retired from the navy in 1980 with several decorations, including the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, and Navy Commendation Medal. Gravely died October 22, 2004. The USS Gravely, a U. S. Navy guided missile destroyer, was launched March 30, 2009. The Samuel L. Gravely, Jr. Elementary School in Haymarket, Virginia was posthumously named in his honor.
  • June 4, 1932 Oliver Edward Nelson, jazz musician, arranger and composer, was born in St. Louis, Missouri. Nelson learned to play the piano when he was six and started to play the saxophone at eleven. After military service in the United States Marine Corps, Nelson earned his bachelor’s degree in music composition and theory from Washington University in 1957 and his master’s degree in music from Lincoln University in 1958. He began leading his own groups in 1959 and after recording six albums his big breakthrough came with the 1961 album “The Blues and the Abstract Truth” which included “Stolen Moments” which is now considered a jazz standard. Between 1966 and his death October 28, 1975, Nelson led several all-star bands. He also composed music for television and films and produced and arranged for stars such as Nancy Wilson, James Brown, The Temptations, and Diana Ross.
  • June 4, 1946 The Mississippi Legislature passed legislation to establish Mississippi Vocational College. The legislature anticipated that legal segregation of public education would soon be ended and hoped that by creating a separate institution of higher learning for Black students that it would attract African Americans that might otherwise apply to attend the Whites-only state institutions. They called it vocational to appease those White people who objected to any government supported higher education for Black students. The school opened in 1950 in Leflore County, Mississippi near Itta Bena. The institution was renamed Mississippi Valley State College in 1964 and it became Mississippi Valley State University in 1974. Today, the university has approximately 2,500 students pursuing undergraduate and graduate degrees. Notable alumni include Katie Hall, Deacon Jones, and Jerry Rice.
  • June 4, 1955 Alrutheus Ambush Taylor, historian, died. Taylor was born November 22, 1893 in Washington, D. C. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Michigan in 1916 and taught at Tuskegee Institute until 1922. He moved to the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History as a research associate in 1922 and began researching the role of African Americans in the South during Reconstruction. Out of that research came the trilogy “The Negro in South Carolina During the Reconstruction” (1924), “The Negro in the Reconstruction of Virginia” (1926), and “The Negro in Tennessee, 1865 – 1880” (1941). In 1926, Taylor became professor of history at Fisk University in 1926 and remained there for the rest of his career. He earned his Ph. D. from Harvard University in 1935.
  • June 4, 1967 Clarissa Davis, hall of fame basketball player, was born in San Antonio, Texas. Davis played college basketball at the University of Texas where she was a two-time All-American and National Player of the Year in 1987 and 1989. She led Texas to the 1986 National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I Women’s Basketball Championship. After earning her Bachelor of Arts degree in communications, Davis played professional basketball in Europe and won a Bronze medal as a member of the United States women’s basketball team at the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympic Games. She was selected by the Phoenix Mercury in the 1999 Women’s National Basketball Association Draft but played only one season before retiring. Davis worked for the National Basketball Association San Antonio Spurs from 1999 to 2002 and served as chief operating officer for the WNBA San Antonio Silver Stars from 2002 to 2006. Davis was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. Davis founded the TEAMXPRESS Foundation in 2000 to provide mentoring to girls in San Antonio. 
  • June 4, 1973 Arna Wendell Bontemps, poet and noted member of the Harlem Renaissance, died. Bontemps was born October 13, 1902 in Alexandria, Louisiana but raised in Los Angeles, California. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Pacific Union College in 1923 and moved to New York City to teach. After earning his Master of Library Science degree from the University of Chicago, he was appointed librarian at Fisk University in 1943. He held that position for 22 years and during that time developed important collections and archives of African American literature and culture. Bontemps authored many children’s books. He is best known for the 1931 novel “God Sends Sunday.” His 1948 work “The Story of the Negro” won the Jane Addams Book Award and was a Newbery Honor Book. His biography, “Renaissance Man From Louisiana: A Biography of Arna Wendell Bontemps,” was published in 1992. Arna Wendell Bontemps Elementary School in Chicago, Illinois is named in his honor.
  • June 4, 2009 Robert H. Colescott, artist and educator, died. Colescott was born August 26, 1925 in Oakland, California. He was drafted into the United States Army in 1942 and served in Europe until the end of World War II. Colescott earned his bachelor’s degree in drawing and painting in 1949 and his master’s degree in 1952 from the University of California at Berkley. He taught at Portland State University from 1957 to 1966 and was a visiting professor at the American University of Cairo from 1966 to 1967. Colescott taught at a number of institutions in California from 1970 to 1985 and taught at the University of Arizona from 1985 to 1998. Colescott became the first African American artist to represent the United States in a solo exhibition at the Venice Biennale in 1997.  Colescott is known for powerful works that lampooned racial and sexual stereotypes with rakish imagery and lurid colors. His works are in the collections of a number of major museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Corcoran Gallery, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Baltimore Museum of Art.
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