Today in Black History, 06/06/2015 | Tommie Smith - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 06/06/2015 | Tommie Smith


  • June 6, 1902 James Melvin Lunceford, bandleader and alto saxophonist, was born in Fulton, Mississippi but raised in Denver, Colorado. Lunceford earned his Bachelor of Music degree from Fisk University in 1926. While teaching high school in Memphis, Tennessee, he formed a student band which eventually became the Jimmy Lunceford Orchestra. The band began an engagement at the Cotton Club in Harlem, New York in 1934 and had achieved a national reputation as one of the top Black swing bands by 1935. The Lunceford Orchestra recorded 22 hits, including the number one “Rhythm Is Our Business” in 1935. It was the first Black band to play New York’s Paramount Theater and tour White colleges. Glen Miller was quoted as saying, “Duke Ellington is great, Count Basie remarkable, but Lunceford tops them all.” The band began to have internal problems in 1942 and suffered a decline in popularity. Lunceford died July 12, 1947. The Jimmy Lunceford Jamboree Festival is held annually in Memphis and a Mississippi Blues Trail marker dedicated to Lunceford was unveiled in 2011.

  • June 6, 1904 Willie Mae Ford Smith, considered the greatest of the “anointed singers,” was born in Rolling Fork, Mississippi but raised in Memphis, Tennessee. She and her sisters formed a gospel quartet called The Ford Sisters in 1922. After her sisters married and quit the group, Smith started a solo career. To supplement her household income, she became one of the first gospel singers to tour regularly. Rarely recorded, her reputation was based on her live performances. Smith was the first to introduce the “song and sermonette,” the act of delivering a lengthy sermon before, during, or after a performance. By the early 1950s, Smith had turned to evangelical work which she continued until her death February 2, 1994. Smith received the National Heritage Fellowship, the nation’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts, from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1988.

  • June 6, 1934 Roy Emile Alfredo Innis, civil rights activist and National Chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality, was born in the U.S. Virgin Islands but raised in New York City. Innis served in the United States Army from 1950 to 1952 and attended the City College of New York from 1952 to 1956. Innis joined the Harlem chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality in 1963 and was elected chairman of the chapter in 1965. He was elected second national vice-chairman of CORE in 1967. Also that year, Innis was made the first executive director of the Harlem Commonwealth Council, an investment corporation established to create financial independence and stability in Harlem. Innis was elected national chairman of CORE in 1968 and continues to hold that position. He also was founder and co-editor of the Manhattan Tribune Newspaper. Since the 1980s, Innis has unsuccessfully run for several political offices.

  • June 6, 1935 Robert Cornelius “Bobby” Mitchell, hall of fame football player, was born in Hot Springs, Arkansas. In high school, Mitchell played football, basketball, ran track, and was good enough at baseball to be offered a professional contract. He played football and ran track for the University of Illinois and set an indoor world record in the 70-yard low hurdles in 1958. Mitchell was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the 1958 National Football League Draft and over his eleven-season professional career was a four-time Pro Bowl selection. He was traded to the Washington Redskins in 1962, the first Black player to play for that team. Mitchell retired in 1968 and at that time his career combined net yards was the second highest in NFL history. After retiring, he worked for the Washington Redskin organization, eventually rising to assistant general manager. Mitchell retired in 2003. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983 and has hosted the Bobby Mitchell Hall of Fame Classic to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society since 1980.

  • June 6, 1936 Levi Stubbs, lead vocalist of the hall of fame group The Four Tops, was born Levi Stubbles in Detroit, Michigan. Stubbs and three friends formed a singing group called The Four Aims in 1954. Two years later, they changed their name to The Four Tops and signed with Motown Records in 1963. By the end of the decade, they had over a dozen hits, including “It’s the Same Old Song” (1965), “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie, Honey Bunch)” (1965), “Reach Out I’ll Be There” (1966), “Standing in the Shadows of Love” (1966), and “Bernadette” (1967). The group has focused on touring and live performances since the late 1980s. Stubbs was diagnosed with cancer in 1995 and later suffered a stroke. He was replaced in the group by Theo Peoples in 2000. Stubbs died October 17, 2008. The Four Tops have sold over 50 million records worldwide and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990. They received the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997 and were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999.

  • June 6, 1939 Marian Wright Edelman, children’s rights activist, founder and president of the Children’s Defense Fund and author, was born in Bennettsville, South Carolina. Edelman earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Spelman College in 1960 and earned her law degree from Yale University Law School in 1963. She was the first African American woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar when she began practicing law for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. There, she worked on racial justice issues connected with the Civil Rights Movement. She moved to Washington, D.C. in 1968 to help organize Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s Campaign. Edelman founded the Children’s Defense Fund in 1973 as a voice for poor, minority, and disabled children. The organization has served as an advocacy and research center for children’s issues. Edelman has received numerous honors and awards, including the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Grant in 1985, Albert Schweitzer Prize for Humanitarianism in 1988, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President William J. Clinton August 9, 2000. San Francisco State University inaugurated the Marian Wright Edelman Institute for the Study of Children, Youth and Families in 1997 and a library was named in her honor in Bennettsville in 2010. Edelman has authored a number of books, including “Families in Peril: An Agenda for Social Change” (1987), “The Measure of Our Success: A Letter to My Children and Yours” (1992), “Lanterns: A Memoir of Mentors” (2000), and “The Sea is So Wide and My Boat is So Small: Charting a Course for the Next Generation” (2008).
  • June 6, 1971 Flournoy Earkin Miller, composer, singer and actor, died. Miller was born April 14, 1887 in Nashville, Tennessee. He appeared in vaudeville with Aubrey Lyles as Miler and Lyles from 1906 to 1929. They appeared in “Charlot’s Revue” in England in 1915. Miller and Lyles wrote the book for “Shuffle Along,” a Broadway musical with music by Eubie Blake and lyrics by Noble Sissle. They also appeared in the Broadway production of “Runnin’ Wild” in 1923. After their breakup, Miller also appeared on Broadway in “Lew Leslie’s Revue” (1930) and “Harlem on the Prairie” (1937). Miller was posthumously nominated for the 1979 Tony Award for Best Score for his contribution to the Broadway musical “Eubie.”

  • June 6, 1977 Joseph Lawson Howze became the first Black bishop to head a diocese in the United States in the 20th century. Howze was born August 30, 1923 in Daphne, Alabama. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Alabama State University in 1948 and taught science in the Mobile, Alabama Public School System. He earned his Doctor of Divinity degree from Christ the King Seminary at St. Bonaventure University in 1959 and was ordained for the Diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina. Howze was appointed auxiliary bishop of Natchez-Jackson, Mississippi in 1972 and was consecrated to the episcopate in 1973. When the Diocese of Biloxi, Mississippi was created, Howze was appointed its bishop. Howze retired in 2001.

  • June 6, 2004 Phylicia Rashad became the first African American to win the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play for her role in the revival of “A Raisin in the Sun.” She was nominated for the same award in 2005 for her performance in “Gem of the Ocean.” Rashad was born Phylicia Ayers-Allen June 19, 1948 in Houston, Texas. She earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, magna cum laude, from Howard University in 1970. She initially gained recognition on the stage with a string of Broadway credits, including “The Wiz” from 1975 to 1979. She appeared on the television soap opera “One Life to Live” from 1981 to 1983. Rashad is best known for her role on the television situation comedy “The Cosby Show” from 1984 to 1992. She received two Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for that role. She also appeared in the follow-up comedy, “Cosby,” from 1996 to 2000. Rashad appeared in the television adaptation of “A Raisin in the Sun” in 2008 and received an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie. She starred in the films “For Colored Girls” (2010) and “Good Deeds” (2012). Rashad has received honorary doctorate degrees from Brown University and Spelman College. She was named the first Denzel Washington Chair Professor in Theater at Fordham University in 2011.

  • June 6, 2005 Maurice Farnandis Rabb, Jr., ophthalmologist who did pioneering work in cornea and retinal vascular diseases, died. Rabb was born August 7, 1932 in Shelbyville, Kentucky. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Louisville in 1954 and his Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Louisville School of Medicine in 1958. Rabb studied ophthalmology at New York University and became the first African American resident of the University of Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary. From 1971 to 2005, Rabb served as chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at Mercy Hospital. He was the medical director of the Illinois Eye Bank and Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois from 1972 to 1987, the first African American to be a medical director of an eye bank in the United States. Rabb founded the Comprehensive Sickle Cell Center in 1972. There, he led research that helped prevent retinal detachment and blindness in sickle cell patients. Annually, the National Medical Association awards the Rabb Venable Ophthalmology Award for Outstanding Research to students and residents for the best research presentations.
  • June 6, 2006 William Everett “Billy” Preston, rhythm and blues singer and musician, died. Preston was born September 2, 1946 in Houston, Texas. He began playing the piano at three and was performing in the bands of gospel greats Mahalia Jackson, James Cleveland, and Andrae Crouch by ten. He appeared in the film “St. Louis Blues” at 12. During the 1960s, he performed with Little Richard and Ray Charles. Preston released his debut solo album, “The Most Exciting Organ Ever,” in 1965 and released “Outa-Space” in 1972 and it sold more than one million copies and won the Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. Other hits from Preston include “Will It Go Round in Circles” (1972), “Space Race” (1973), “Nothing From Nothing” (1974), and “With You I’m Born Again” (1980). Preston also played keyboards for the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and was often referred to as “the Fifth Beatle.”
  • June 6, 2009 Alysa Stanton became the first African American female rabbi. Stanton was born August 2, 1963 in Cleveland, Ohio but raised in Denver, Colorado. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1987 and her master’s degree in education in 1992 from Colorado State University. Stanton converted to Judaism in 1987. After earning her degree, she worked as a psychotherapist counseling abused and neglected children. Stanton earned her master’s degree in Hebrew letters from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 2009 and was ordained a rabbi. That same year, she became the leader of a synagogue in Greenville, North Carolina, a position she held until 2011.
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