Today in Black History 06/07/2015 | First African American Emmy Award-winner - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History 06/07/2015 | First African American Emmy Award-winner


  • June 7, 1917 Gwendolyn Elizabeth Brooks, hall of fame poet and novelist, was born in Topeka, Kansas but raised in Chicago, Illinois. Brooks published her first poem in a children’s magazine at 13 and by the time she was 16 had a portfolio of 75 published poems. Her first book of poetry, “A Street in Bronzeville,” was published in 1945 and it received instant critical acclaim. She was selected one of Mademoiselle magazine’s Ten Young Women of the Year. She also won her first Guggenheim Fellowship and became a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Her second book of poetry, “Annie Allen,” was published in 1949 and won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry May 5, 1950, the first won by an African American. Brooks began teaching creative writing at several institutions, including Northeastern Illinois University and Columbia University, in 1962. Her book length poem, “In the Mecca” (1968), was nominated for the National Book Award for Poetry. Brooks was appointed Poet Laureate of Illinois in 1968 and was selected the Library of Congress’s Consultant in Poetry (now titled Poet Laureate) in 1985. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1988 and was chosen as the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Jefferson Lecturer, the highest honor in the humanities given by the federal government, in 1994. She was presented the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President William J. Clinton October 5, 1995. Brooks was awarded more than 75 honorary doctorate degrees from colleges and universities worldwide and there are a number of schools in Illinois named in her honor. Brooks died December 3, 2000. Her biography, “A Life of Gwendolyn Brooks,” was published in 1990. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor in 2012.
  • June 7, 1931 David C. Driskell, artist, educator and scholar in the field of African American art, was born in Eatonton, Georgia. Driskell earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in art from Howard University in 1955 and his Master of Fine Arts degree from Catholic University in 1962. He served as visiting professor at the Institute of African Studies of the University of Ife in Nigeria from 1969 to 1970. Driskell joined the faculty of the University of Maryland in 1977 and served as the chair of the Department of Art from 1978 to 1983. Since 1977, he has served as cultural advisor and curator of the Camille and William Cosby Collection of Fine Art. Driskell has written more than 40 catalogues for exhibitions he has created. He was presented the National Humanities Medal for work that has “deepened the nation’s understanding of the humanities, broadened our citizen’s engagement with the humanities, or helped preserve and expand American’s access to important resources in the humanities” by President William J. Clinton December 20, 2000. The David C. Driskell Center for the Study of the Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora was founded at the University of Maryland, College Park in 2001. Driskell’s work is in the collections of many major museums, including the National Gallery of Art, the High Museum of Art, and Yale University Art Gallery. His life and work is detailed in “David C. Driskell: Artist and Scholar” published in 2006.
  • June 7, 1931 Okot p’Bitek, internationally recognized Ugandan poet, was born in Gulu, Uganda. Okot was educated at King’s College, Budo and later studied education at the University of Bristol and then law at the University of Wales. He earned his Bachelor of Letters degree in social anthropology at the University of Oxford in 1963. In 1953, he wrote the novel “Lak Tar Miyo Kinyero Wi Lobo” which was later translated into English as “White Teeth.” He achieved wide international recognition with the publication of his long poem “Song of Lawino: A Lament” in 1966. The poem has been described as one of the most important works of African literature. Other works by Okot include “Song of Ocol” (1970), “Horn of My Love” (1974), and “Acholi Proverbs” (1985). Okot died July 20, 1982. The East African Song School or Okot School poetry is an academic identification of dramatic verse monologue rooted in traditional song and phraseology. A number of books have been published about Okot and his poetry, including “The Poetry of Okot p’Bitek” (1976) and “Tradition As Philosophy: Okot p’Bitek’s Legacy for African Philosophy” (2002).
  • June 7, 1943 Yolande Cornelia “Nikki” Giovanni, poet, author and activist, was born in Knoxville, Tennessee but grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio.
    zGiovanni earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in history, with honors, from Fisk University in 1967. Her early poetry, such as “Black Feeling, Black Talk” (1967), “Black Judgement” (1968) and “Re: Creation” (1970), was inspired by the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements. Other works include “Those Who Ride The Night Winds” (1983), “Love Poems” (1997), “Acolytes” (2007), and “Bicycles: Love Poems” (2009). Giovanni has written more than 25 books, including volumes of poetry, illustrated children’s books, and collections of essays. Her children’s book “Rosa” (2005) was named a Caldecott Honors Book. Her latest book, “Chasing Utopia: A Hybrid,” was published in 2013. She was nominated for the 2004 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for her album “The Nikki Giovanni Poetry Collection.” Giovanni was named Woman of the Year by Ebony magazine in 1970, Mademoiselle Magazine in 1971, and Ladies Home Journal in 1972. She was inducted into the Ohio Women’s Hall of Fame and named an Outstanding Woman of Tennessee in 1985. She has received 25 honorary doctorate degrees from colleges and universities around the country. Giovanni has served as distinguished professor of English at Virginia Tech University since 1987.
  • June 7, 1944 Cazzie Lee Russell, college hall of fame basketball player, was born in Chicago, Illinois. Russell played college basketball at the University of Michigan and led them to three consecutive Big Ten Conference Championships. He was a three-time All-American and was named 1966 College Basketball Player of the Year. Michigan’s Crisler Arena, which opened in 1967, was called “The House That Cazzie Built.” Russell was selected by the New York Knicks in the 1966 National Basketball Association Draft and over 12 seasons, he was selected for the All-Rookie Team in 1967 and an All-Star in 1972. After retiring as a player, Russell turned to coaching. He coached the Lancaster Lightning in the Continental Basketball Association, a high school team in the early 1990s, and Savannah College of Art and Design from 1996 to 2009 when the school eliminated the sport. He is currently an associate pastor in Savannah. Russell was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2011.
  • June 7, 1958 Prince, hall of fame singer, songwriter and musician, was born Prince Rogers Nelson in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Prince’s first album, “For You,” was released in 1978. He composed, produced, arranged, and played all 27 instruments on the recording. He had his first major hit album, “Prince,” in 1979 and it contained the single “I Wanna Be Your Lover” which sold over a million copies. He released “Purple Rain” in 1984 and it sold more than 13 million copies in the United States and spent 24 consecutive weeks at number one on the Billboard 200 chart and won the Grammy Awards for Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal and Best Score Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media. The film of the same name won the Academy Award for Best Original Song Score. At one point in 1984, Prince had the number one album, number one single, and number one film in the U.S., the first time a singer had achieved that feat. Prince has produced 10 albums that sold over a million copies, including “1999” (1982), “Sign o’ the Times” (1987), “Batman” (1989), and “Emancipation” (1996). He has been nominated for 33 Grammy Awards and won seven. His albums “1999” and “Purple Rain” have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as recordings of “qualitative or historical significance.” It is reported that Prince has written more than one thousand songs. Prince was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. His most recent album, “Plectrumelectrum,” was released in 2014. Prince was included on Time magazine’s 2010 list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. Several books have been published about Prince, including “Purple Reign: The Artist Formerly Known as Prince” (1998) and “Prince: Life & Times” (2008). “Purple Rain” was added to the National Recording Registry as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important” in 2012.
  • June 7, 1962 Janice Faye Lawrence Braxton, hall of fame basketball player, was born in Lucedale, Mississippi. Braxton played college basketball at Louisiana Tech University where she was a two-time All-American, led the team to the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I Women’s Basketball Championship in 1981 and 1982, and was awarded the Wade Trophy as the best women’s player in college basketball in 1984. Braxton won a Gold medal as a member of the United States women’s basketball team at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympic Games. She played professionally in Italy for 15 seasons, earning All-Europe honors seven times. She also played for the Cleveland Rockers in the Women’s National Basketball Association from 1997 to 1999. Braxton was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006.
  • June 7, 1995 Herman Russell Branson, physicist and president of two colleges, died. Branson was born August 14, 1914 in Pocahontas, Virginia. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree, summa cum laude, from Virginia State College in 1936 and his Ph. D. in physics from the University of Cincinnati in 1939. Branson joined Howard University in 1941 and remained there for 27 years, eventually becoming the head of the Physics Department, director of a program in experimental science and mathematics, and working on the Office of Naval Research and Atomic Energy Commission Projects in Physics. Branson served as president of Central State University from 1968 to 1970 and Lincoln University from 1970 until his retirement in 1985. He was active in increasing federal funding for higher education and helped found the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education in 1969.
  • June 7, 1998 James Byrd, Jr., an African American, was murdered in Jasper, Texas when three White men hooked him to a pickup truck and dragged him about three miles along the pavement. While being dragged, his arm and head were severed from his body. The murderers unchained his torso and left it on the road in front of the town’s Black cemetery. An autopsy suggested that Byrd had been alive during much of the dragging. The three murderers were convicted with two of them receiving the death penalty and the other sentenced to life in prison. One of the murderers was executed in 2011. Byrd’s “lynching by dragging” resulted in the passage of a Texas hate crimes law and the federal Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act signed into law by President Barack H. Obama in 2009. After his death, Byrd’s family created the James Byrd Foundation for Racial Healing. A movie about the crime, “Jasper, Texas,” was aired on Showtime in 2003. 
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