Today in Black History, 06/14/2015 | Henry Ossian Flipper - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 06/14/2015 | Henry Ossian Flipper


  • June 14, 1854 Nat Love, one of the most famous cowboys of the Old West, was born enslaved in Davidson County, Tennessee. Although he had no formal education, Love learned to read and write on his own. After the end of the Civil War, Love was freed and headed west. Over the next few years, he worked as a ranch hand for several different ranches. He entered a 4th of July competition in Deadwood, South Dakota involving roping, bridling, saddling, and shooting in 1876. Love won every competition and was nicknamed Deadwood Dick. Love continued to work as a cowboy until 1889 when he married and took a job as a Pullman porter. He published his autobiography, “Life and Adventures of Nat Love, Better Known in Cattle Country as Deadwood Dick,” in 1907. Love died in 1921.

  • June 14, 1877 Henry Ossian Flipper became the first African American cadet to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point. Flipper was born enslaved March 21, 1856 in Thomasville, Georgia. After the Civil War, he enrolled at Atlanta University and as a freshman was appointed to West Point where there were already four Black cadets. Despite the difficulties caused by his White classmates, Flipper persevered and graduated. He described his experience at West Point in the 1878 book “The Colored Cadet at West Point.” As a second lieutenant, Flipper was the first non-White officer to command the Buffalo Soldiers of the 10th Cavalry. Flipper was found guilty of “conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman” in 1881 and dismissed from the service based on a relationship and correspondence with a White woman. He contested the charges and fought to regain his commission until his death May 3, 1940. The Department of the Army issued Flipper a posthumous Certificate of Honorable Discharge in 1976 and President William J. Clinton issued a pardon in 1990. After his discharge was changed, a bust of Flipper was unveiled at West Point and the Henry O. Flipper Award is given annually to graduating cadets who exhibit “leadership, self-discipline and perseverance in the face of unusual difficulties.” “Negro Frontiersman: The Western Memoirs of Henry O. Flipper” was published in 1963.

  • June 14, 1908 Thomas “Blind Tom” Wiggins, autistic savant and piano music prodigy, died. Wiggins was born enslaved and blind May 25, 1849 in Harris County, Georgia. He acquired piano skills based solely on hearing by four and composed his first tune, “The Rain Storm,” at five. Wiggins was licensed to a traveling show at eight and marketed as a “Barnum style freak.” Wiggins performed at the White House for President James Buchanan in 1860 and was taken on a European concert tour in 1866. It was said that his memory was prodigious and he never forgot anything. He was often called “a human parrot.” During the latter part of the 19th century, he was one of the most well-known American pianists. Despite his fame, Wiggins was exploited, deceived, and robbed of the money he earned by his White guardians. His biography, “The Ballad of Blind Tom, Slave Pianist,” was published in 2009.
  • June 14, 1918 LeRoy Tashreau Walker, the first Black president of the United States Olympic Committee, was born in Atlanta, Georgia. Walker earned his bachelor’s degree, magna cum laude, in science and romance languages from Benedict College in 1940, his Master of Science degree in health and physical education from Columbia University in 1941, and his Ph. D. in biomechanics from New York University in 1957. He became the head track coach at North Carolina Central University in 1945 and chaired the physical education and recreation departments. He was appointed vice-chancellor at NCCU in 1974 and chancellor in 1983. When he retired in 1986, members of his track teams had won 11 Olympic Gold medals, 80 had been named All-American, and 35 had won national championships. He also coached the track teams of other countries, including Israel, Ethiopia, Trinidad and Tobago, Jamaica, and Kenya. Walker became the first African American president of the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance in 1977. He became treasurer of the U. S. Olympic Committee’s contingency fund in 1988 and was elected president in 1992, a position he held until 1996. The Leroy T. Walker Physical Education and Recreational Complex is located on the campus of North Carolina Central University. NCCU also annually host the Leroy T. Walker Track and Field Invitational. Walker’s biography, “An Olympic Journey: The Saga of an American Hero: LeRoy T. Walker,” was published in 1998. Walker died April 23, 2012.

  • June 14, 1926 Donald Newcombe, former major league pitcher, was born in Madison, New Jersey. After playing one season in the Negro league, Newcombe signed a contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He made his major league debut May 20, 1949 and that year won the National League Rookie of the Year Award. Also that year, Newcombe became the first African American pitcher to start a World Series game. Newcombe became the first Black pitcher to win 20 games in 1955 and became the first pitcher to win the National League Most Valuable Player Award and the Cy Young Award in the same season in 1956. Until 2011, he was the only major league baseball player to have won the Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player, and Cy Young awards in his career. Newcombe retired after the 1960 season with a career record of 149 wins and 90 losses. He was named special adviser to the chairman of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2009.

  • June 14, 1931 Junior Walker, saxophonist and band leader, was born Autry DeWalt Mixon, Jr. in Blytheville, Arkansas but raised in South Bend, Indiana. Walker started a band called The Jumping Jacks in the mid-1950s. The band signed with Motown Records in 1961 and their name was changed to Jr. Walker & The All Stars. Their first hit, “Shotgun,” was written by Walker and was number one on the R&B charts in 1965. This was followed by such hits as “Shake and Fingerpop” (1965), “(I’m A) Road Runner” (1966), and “What Does It Take (To Win Your Love)” (1969). Walker went solo in 1979 but was not as successful as he had been with the All Stars. He received the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Award in 1995. Walker died November 23, 1995. “Shotgun” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2002 as a recording of “qualitative or historical significance.”
  • June 14, 1936 Renaldo “Obie” Benson, hall of fame member of the Four Tops, was born in Detroit, Michigan. Benson 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 Shadow of Love” (1966), and “Bernadette” (1967). Benson also co-wrote “What’s Going On” which was a hit for Marvin Gaye in 1971 and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a recording of “qualitative or historical significance.” Since the late 1980s, the group has focused on touring and live performances. The Four Tops have sold over 50 million records worldwide and were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990 and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999. Benson died July 1, 2005.

  • June 14, 1941 John Edgar Wideman, author and educator, was born in Washington, D. C. but raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Wideman earned his Bachelor of Arts degree, Phi Beta Kappa, from the University of Pennsylvania, where he was also an All-Ivy League basketball player, in 1963. He was the second African American to win a Rhodes scholarship and graduated from Oxford University in 1966. He also graduated from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. Wideman has won many literary awards and was the first author to win the International PEN/Faulkner Award twice, for “Sent for You Yesterday” in 1984 and for “Philadelphia Fire” in 1990. His nonfiction book “Brothers and Keepers” (1984) received a National Book Critics Circle nomination and his memoir “Fatheralong: A Meditation on Fathers and Sons, Race and Society” (1994) was a finalist for the National Book Award. His novel “The Cattle Killing” (1996) won the 1997 James Fenmore Cooper Prize for Best Historical Fiction. His most recent work, “Fanon,” was published in 2008. In 1993, Wideman was awarded a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant in 1993. He has taught at several universities and is currently Asa Messer Professor and Professor of Africana Studies and Literary Arts at Brown University.

  • June 14, 1951 Paul Yaw Boateng, the first Black cabinet minister in the United Kingdom, was born in Hackney, London but raised in Ghana. His family was forced into exile in Britain after the coup against Kwame Nkrumah in 1966. Boateng earned his Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Bristol in 1976 and began to practice civil rights law. He worked primarily on cases involving women’s rights, housing, and police complaints. Boateng was elected to the Greater London Council for Walthamstow in 1987 where he advocated greater accountability in the police and spoke out against racism in their dealings with the Black and Asian communities. He was elected to parliament in 1987 and became the United Kingdom’s first Black government minister as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Health in 1997. In that position, he published guidelines to end the denial of adoption purely on the basis of race. Boateng was appointed Chief Secretary to the Treasury in 2002, Britain’s first Black cabinet minister, a position he held until 2005. He served as British High Commissioner to South Africa from 2005 to 2009. Boateng was made a member of the House of Lords in 2010 and in his maiden speech highlighted the needs of poor and disadvantaged children. He also sits on the executive board of the international Christian charity, Food for the Hungry.

  • June 14, 1969 Wynonie Harris, hall of fame blues singer, died. Harris was born August 24, 1915 in Omaha, Nebraska. He formed a dance team in the early 1930s and began to sing in 1935. Harris moved to Los Angeles, California in 1940 and began to perform with the Lucky Millinder Orchestra in 1944. They recorded “Who Threw the Whiskey in the Well” that year and it was released in 1945 and reached number one on the Billboard R&B charts. The record was number one for eight weeks and remained on the charts for five months. Harris went solo in 1945 and had a number of hits in the late 1940s and early 1950s, including “Wynonie’s Blues” (1946), “Good Rocking Tonight” (1948), “All She Wants to Do Is Rock” (1949), and “Bloodshot Eyes” (1951). Harris’ popularity declined after the mid-1950s. In 1994, he was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame and his biography, “Rock Mr. Blues: The Life & Music of Wynonie Harris” was published.

  • June 14, 2002 June Millicent Jordan, poet, novelist, educator and activist, died. Jordan was born July 9, 1936 in Harlem, New York. She began writing poetry at seven. Her first book, “Who Look at Me,” a collection of poems for children was published in 1969. In total, Jordan published 29 books, including “Things That I Do in the Dark” (1977), “On Call: New Political Essays: 1981 – 1985” (1986), and “Touchstone” (1995). She also wrote the libretto for the 1995 opera “I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky.” She published her memoir, “Soldier: A Poet’s Childhood” in 2000. Jordan’s teaching career began at City College of New York in 1967 and she subsequently taught at Yale University, Sarah Lawrence College, Connecticut College, the State University of New York, and the University of California. She received numerous honors and awards, including a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in 1982, the Ground Breakers-Dream Makers Award from the Women’s Foundation in 1994, and the Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Writers Award from 1995 to 1998. Shortly before her death, Jordan completed “Some of Us Did Not Die,” a collection of political essays published posthumously in 2003.
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