Today in Black History 06/09/2015 | Jackie Wilson - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History 06/09/2015 | Jackie Wilson


  • June 9, 1845 James Carroll Napier, businessman and community activist, was born enslaved in Nashville, Tennessee. He and his family were freed when he was three years old. Napier earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Oberlin College in 1868 and his Bachelor of Laws degree from Howard University in 1872. He became the first Black non-janitorial employee at the United States Treasury Department in 1870. Napier served on the Nashville City Council from 1878 to 1889 and authored legislation allowing the hiring of Black teachers, police officers, and firefighters. He also became the first African American to preside over the council. Napier and other Black members of the Nashville business community founded the Nashville One-Cent Savings Bank (now Citizens Saving Bank & Trust Company) November 5, 1903, the nation’s first bank owned and operated by African Americans. He also was instrumental in the establishment of Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State Normal School for Negroes (now Tennessee State University) which opened its doors June 19, 1912. Napier was appointed register of the Treasury Department in 1911. He resigned that position in 1913 to protest President T. Woodrow Wilson’s decision to allow continued segregation in federal office buildings. Napier also served as a trustee at Fisk University and Howard University. Napier died April 21, 1940. The Napier-Looby Bar Association in Nashville is named in his honor.
  • June 9, 1902 Nehemiah Curtis “Skip” James, hall of fame blues singer, guitarist and songwriter, was born in Bentonia, Mississippi. James began playing music in his teens and wrote his first song, “Illinois Blues,” in the early 1920s. In the early 1930s, James wrote and recorded a number of singles, including “I’m So Glad,” “Devil Got My Woman,” and “22-20 Blues,” which were critically acclaimed but did not sell well due to the Great Depression. As a result, he did not record anything for the next 30 years. He was rediscovered in the early 1960s and recorded several albums, including “Today!” (1966) and “Devil Got My Woman” (1968). James died October 3, 1969. Since his death, several albums of his music have been released, including “Heroes of the Blues: The Very Best of Skip James” (2003). James’ music has influenced a number of musicians, including Eric Clapton and Gregg Allman. He was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1992 and his biography, “I’d Rather Be the Devil: Skip James and the Blues,” was published in 1994.
  • June 9, 1929 Johnny Ace, rhythm & blues singer, was born John Marshall Alexander, Jr. in Memphis, Tennessee. After serving in the navy during the Korean War, Ace played piano in several bands, including the B. B. King band. When King left the band, Ace took over vocal duties and renamed the band The Beale Streeters. He released his debut recording, “My Song,” in 1952 and it topped the R&B charts for nine weeks. In the next two years, he had eight hits in a row, including “Cross My Heart” (1953), “Please Forgive Me” (1954), “Yes Baby” (1954), and “Never Let Me Go” (1954). Ace was named the Most Programmed Artist Of 1954 by trade weekly Cash Box. Three of his 1954 recordings sold more than 1,750,000 records. Ace accidently killed himself while playing with a loaded gun December 25, 1954. His funeral was attended by an estimated 5,000 people. HIs last recording, “Pledging My Love,” was posthumously released in 1955 and topped the R&B chart for ten weeks. Ace’s biography, “The Late, Great Johnny Ace and the Transition from R&B to Rock and Roll,” was published in 1999.
  • June 9, 1943 Kenny Barron, jazz pianist, composer and educator, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Barron started playing professionally as a teenager and moved to New York City at 19. He played with Dizzy Gillespie from 1962 to 1967. After Gillespie, Barron played with many other jazz greats, including Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Turrentine, and Yusef Lateef. He recorded his first album as leader, “Sunset to Dawn,” in 1974. This was followed by more than 40 recordings, including “Sambao” (1993), “Wanton Spirit” (1994), “Freefall” (2001), “Minor Blues” (2009), and “The Art of Conversation” (2014). Barron has been nominated for nine Grammy Awards. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in music from Empire State College in 1978 and taught piano and keyboard harmony at Rutgers University from 1973 to 2000. Barron was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2009 and designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor in jazz, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2010. He received an honorary Doctor of Music degree from Empire State in 2013.
  • June 9, 1948 Hector Hyppolite, Vodou priest and Haitian painter, died. Hyppolite was born September 15, 1894 in Saint-Marc, Haiti. Prior to becoming an artist, He made shoes and painted houses. Hyppolite moved to Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 1945 and began to seriously paint. He exhibited at a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization exhibition in Paris, France in 1947 and was received enthusiastically. His work was realistic and religious and typically depicted Vodou scenes. Hyppolite was a prolific painter and created more than 250 paintings in the last three years of his life. In 2008, the Haitian government declared June, 2008 through June, 2009 as the year of Hector Hyppolite as a testimony to the impact he had on the art world. A major exhibition of his work was presented at the Art Museum of the Americas in 2009.
  • June 9, 1954 Alain LeRoy Locke, writer, philosopher, educator and patron of the arts, died. Locke was born September 13, 1885 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He earned his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees from Harvard University in English and philosophy in 1907 and became the first African American Rhodes Scholar. Locke was denied admission to several Oxford colleges because of his skin color before being admitted to Hartford College where he studied literature, philosophy, Greek, and Latin and earned his Bachelor of Letters degree in 1910. Locke earned his Ph. D. in philosophy from Harvard University in 1918 and joined Howard University as the chair of the Department of Philosophy, a position he held until his retirement in 1953. Locke was often called “the Father of the Harlem Renaissance” because he promoted African American artists, writers, and musicians and encouraged them to look to Africa as an inspiration for their work. He also encouraged them to depict African and African American subjects and to draw on their history for subject material. Locke was a prolific writer and his major works include “Race Contacts and Interracial Relations: Lectures on the Theory and Practice of Race” (1916), “The New Negro” (1925), and “Four Negro Poets” (1927). There are a number of schools around the country named in his honor, including the Alain Locke Charter School in Chicago, Illinois. Biographies of Locke include “Alain Locke: Reflections on a Modern Renaissance Man” (1982) and “The Philosophy of Alain Locke: Harlem Renaissance and Beyond” (1989). Locke’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.
  • June 9, 1957 Thomas Dexter “T. D.” Jakes, minister, author and movie producer, was born in South Charleston, West Virginia. Jakes founded Greater Emmanuel Temple of Faith in 1979 as a storefront church with ten members in Montgomery, West Virginia. During the first ten years, the church grew to 1,000 members. After several geographic moves, he founded The Potter’s House in Dallas, Texas in 1996. Potter’s House has grown to more than 30,000 members with 50 outreach ministries. Jakes’ sermons are broadcast nationally and internationally. His annual MegaFest revival draws more than 100,000. Time magazine named him America’s Best Preacher in 2001. Jakes has written over 30 books, including “Woman, Thou Art Loosed: Healing the Wounds of the Past” (1994), “Intimacy With God: The Spiritual Worship of the Believer” (2000), “TD Jakes Speaks To Men” (2007), “Before You Do: Making Great Decisions That You Won’t Regret” (2008), and “Instinct: The Power to Unleash Your Inborn Drive” (2014). He has produced several movies, including “Woman Thou Art Loosed” (2004), “Not Easily Broken” (2009), “Jumping the Broom” (2011), and “Winnie Mandela” (2014). Jakes is also a songwriter, playwright, and performer.  He has received 13 honorary doctorate degrees.
  • June 9, 1964 Wayman Lawrence Tisdale, college hall of fame basketball player and jazz bass guitarist, was born in Fort Worth, Texas. As a college basketball player at the University of Oklahoma, Tisdale was the first player in college basketball history to be named a first-team All-American in his freshman, sophomore, and junior seasons. He won a Gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympic Games as a member of the United States men’s basketball team. Tisdale was selected by the Indiana Pacers in the 1985 National Basketball Association Draft and played for 12 seasons before retiring in 1997 to focus on his music career. Tisdale released his debut album, “Power Forward,” in 1995. That was followed by seven other albums, including “Face to Face” (2001), “Hang Time” (2004), and “Rebound” (2008). After having one of his legs amputated due to bone cancer, Tisdale started the Wayman Tisdale Foundation to raise funds to help amputees with the prosthetic process. He was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2009. Tisdale died May 15, 2009. The United States Basketball Writers Association annually presents the Wayman Tisdale Award to the College Basketball Freshman of the Year and the Wayman Tisdale Humanitarian Award honors an individual that used his or her high profile position in college basketball to make a difference off the court. The Oklahoma University Wayman Tisdale Specialty Health Center in Tulsa opened in 2014.
  • June 9, 1980 Clarence M. Mitchell, Jr. was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Jimmy Carter. Mitchell was born March 8, 1911 in Baltimore, Maryland. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Lincoln University in 1931 and later earned his law degree from the University of Maryland. He became the first labor secretary of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1945 and became head of the NAACP Washington, D. C. office in 1950. In that capacity, he was nicknamed “the 101st United States Senator” for his tireless campaigns to secure passage of the 1957 Civil Rights Act, the 1960 Civil Rights Act, the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the 1965 Voting Rights Act, and the 1968 Fair Housing Act. These efforts earned him the 1969 NAACP Spingarn Medal. Mitchell died March 19, 1984. The main courthouse in Baltimore is named in his honor. Also, the engineering building at Morgan State University and the main admission building at the University of Maryland are named in his honor. A biography, “Lion in the Lobby: Clarence Mitchell, Jr.’s Struggle for the Passage of Civil Rights Laws,” was published in 1990.
  • June 9, 1992 William Pickney became the fourth American and the first African American to sail solo around the world. On August 5, 1990, he sailed from Boston Harbor on a 47-foot cutter named The Commitment. He sailed around the five southern capes and covered 27,000 miles before returning to Boston Harbor. Pickney was born September 15, 1935 in Chicago, Illinois. After graduating from high school, he was trained as an x-ray technician and served in the United States Navy from 1956 to 1960 as a hospital corpsman second class. Pickney set out to replicate the “middle passage,” the sailing route taken by slave traders from West Africa to Cuba, in 1999. This time he traveled for six months covering 12,000 miles. On this trip, he was able to communicate with students in several hundred schools via on-line computer service and satellite television. Pickney became the first captain of the Amistad, a replica of the 19th century schooner La Amistad, in 2000. He retired from that positon in 2003. Pickney published his autobiography, “As Long As It Takes: Meeting the Challenge,” in 2006.
  • June 9, 1998 Lois Mailou Jones, artist and educator, died. Jones was born November 3, 1905 in Boston, Massachusetts. She began painting as a child and had shows of her work while in high school. She became one of the first African American graduates of the School of the Museum of Art in 1927. After graduating, she was turned down for a job there and told that “she should think of going down south to help her people.” Jones joined the art department at Howard University in 1930 and earned her bachelor’s degree, magna cum laude, in 1945. She remained there as professor of design and art until her retirement in 1977. Jones’ work reflects a command of widely different styles, from traditional landscape to African themed abstraction. The exhibition “Lois Mailou Jones: a life in vibrant color,” which included 70 paintings, showcased her various styles and experiences in America, France, Haiti, and Africa. Jones received honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters degrees from Suffolk University, Massachusetts College of Art, and Howard University and was elected a Fellow of The Royal Society of Arts in London, England. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter presented her an award for Outstanding Achievement in the Visual Arts. Her works are in museums around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Corcoran Gallery of Art.    
  • June 9, 2000 Jacob Lawrence, painter and educator, died. Lawrence was born September 7, 1917 in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Throughout his artistic career, Lawrence concentrated on depicting the history and struggles of African Americans. His series of paintings of the Haitian general Toussaint L’Ouverture were shown in an exhibit of African American artists at the Baltimore Museum of Art in 1940. This was followed by a series of paintings of the lives of Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, and John Brown. In 1942, he completed the sixty-panel set of narrative paintings entitled “Migration of the Negro,” now called “The Migration Series.” Lawrence was given his first major solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1944 and became the most celebrated African American painter in the country. Lawrence was awarded the 1970 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal. The Whitney Museum of American Art held a major retrospective of his work in 1974 and he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1983. He was awarded the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President George H. W. Bush September 10, 1990 and received The Washington Medal of Merit in 1998. After his death, the New York Times called him “One of America’s leading modern figurative painters” and “among the most impassioned chroniclers of the African American experience.” His last public work, the mosaic mural “New York in Transit,” is installed in the Times Square subway station in New York City. His work is in the permanent collections of numerous museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum, and the Detroit Institute of Arts. The White House Historical Association purchased Lawrence’s “The Builders” for $2.5 million in 2007. The painting hangs in the White House Green Room. Lawrence’s biography, “Jacob Lawrence: American Painter,” was published in 1986.
  • June 9, 2004 Roosevelt “Rosey” Brown, Jr., hall of fame football player, died. Brown was born October 20, 1932 in Charlottesville, Virginia. He played college football at Morgan State University where he was a Black College All-American in 1951 and 1952. Brown was selected by the New York Giants in the 1953 National Football League Draft. Over his 13 season professional career, Brown was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection and helped the Giants win the 1956 NFL Championship. Brown retired after the 1965 season and became the assistant offensive line coach for the Giants in 1966 and was promoted to offensive line coach in 1969. Brown was selected as a member of the NFL’s 1950s All-Decade Team and the NFL’s 75th Anniversary All-Time Team. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1975. A historical marker honoring Brown was unveiled in 2009 at the intersection of Roosevelt Brown Boulevard and Main Street in Charlottesville.
  • June 9, 2007 Ousmane Sembene, writer and “Father of African film,” died. Sembene was born January 1, 1923 in Casamance, Senegal. He was drafted into the French army in 1944 to fight in World War II. He moved to France in 1947 and discovered writers such as Claude McKay and Jacques Roumain. His first novel, “Le Docker Noir (The Black Docker),” was published in 1956. Other novels by Sembene include “Les Bouts de Bois de Dieu (God’s Bit of Wood)” (1960), “l’Harmattan (The Harmattan)” (1964), “Xala” (1973), and “Le Dernier de l’empire (The Last of the Empire)” (1981). Sembene’s goal was to reach the widest possible audience and after his 1960 return to Senegal, he realized that his books would only be read by a small cultural elite in Senegal. Therefore, he decided to become a filmmaker. He produced his first film, “Barom Sarret (The Wagoner),” in 1963. Subsequent films include “La Noire de ……” (1966), the first feature film ever released by a sub-Saharan African director, “Mandabi” (1968), “Camp de Thiaroye” (1987), and “Moolaade” (2004) which won awards at the 2004 Cannes Film Festival. Recurrent themes in Sembene’s films are the history of colonialism, the failings of religion, the critique of the new African bourgeoisie, and the strength of African women. Several books have been published about Sembene and his works, including “The Cinema of Ousmane Sembene: A Pioneer of African Film” (1984) and “Sembene: Imaging Alternatives in Film and Fiction” (2001).
  • June 9, 2013 Jefferson Eugene Grigsby, Jr., artist and educator, died. Grigsby was born October 15, 1918 in Greensboro, North Carolina. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Morehouse College in 1938, his Master of Arts degree from Ohio State University in 1940, and his Ph. D. from New York University in 1963. Grigsby served in the United States Army as a master sergeant during World War II. After the war, he taught art at the high school level before joining Arizona State University’s School of Art in 1966 where he taught for 20 years. Grigsby had his first art exhibition in 1938 and since then his work has been seen around the world. “The Art of Eugene Grigsby, Jr.: A 65 Year Retrospective” was featured at the Phoenix Art Museum in 2001. Grigsby’s works are in the collections of many institutions, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Library of Congress.
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