Today in Black History, 06/16/2015 | Francis B. “Frank” Johnson - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 06/16/2015 | Francis B. “Frank” Johnson

  • June 16, 1837 John Lawson, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. On August 5, 1864, while serving as a member of the USS Hartford’s berth deck ammunition party during the Battle of Mobile Bay, Alabama during the Civil War, Lawson’s actions earned him the medal, America’s highest military decoration. His citation partially reads, “Wounded in the leg and thrown violently against the side of the ship when an enemy shell killed or wounded the 6-man crew as the shell whipped on the berth deck, Lawson, upon regaining his composure, promptly returned to his station and, although urged to go below for treatment, steadfastly continued his duties throughout the remainder of the action.” Lawson was awarded the medal December 31, 1864. Not much else is known of Lawson’s life except that he died May 3, 1919. Over time, the tombstone that marked his grave was destroyed and a new tombstone was dedicated in his honor April 24, 2004.
  • June 16, 1899 Marita Odette Bonner Occomy, writer and educator, was born in Boston, Massachusetts. Bonner began to write in high school and enrolled in Radcliffe College in 1918. She was forced to commute to school because African American students were not allowed to live in campus dormitories. Bonner earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in comparative literature and English in 1922 and began teaching at Bluefield Colored Institute (now Bluefield State University). She published a number of short stories, essays, and plays in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Crisis magazine or the National Urban League’s Opportunity magazine between 1925 and 1941. She stopped writing in 1941 and started teaching in the Chicago Public School System where she remained until her retirement in 1963. Bonner died December 7, 1971. “Frye Street and Environs: The Collected Works of Marita Bonner” was published in 1987.
  • June 16, 1930 John M. Perkins, minister, activist, community developer and author, was born in New Hebron, Mississippi. Perkins left Mississippi after the fatal shooting of his brother by a police officer in 1947. He returned in 1960 and established Voice of Calvary Bible Institute in 1964. He led an economic boycott of White-owned stores in Mendenhall, Mississippi in 1969. As a result, he was arrested and tortured. By the mid-1970s, Voice of Calvary was operating thrift stores, health clinics, and a housing cooperative. Perkins founded the John M. Perkins Foundation for Reconciliation and Development in 1983 to advance the principals of Christian community development and racial reconciliation throughout the world. Perkins has authored nine books, including “A Quiet Revolution: The Christian Response to Human Need, A Strategy for Today” (1976) and “Follow Me To Freedom: Leading as an Ordinary Radical” (2009). Seattle Pacific University opened the John Perkins Center for Reconciliation, Leadership Training, and Community Development in 2004. Perkins has received honorary doctorate degrees from a number of institutions, including Belhaven University, Lynchburg University, and Wheaton College.
  • June 16, 1939 William Henry “Chick” Webb, hall of fame jazz drummer and band leader, died. Webb was born February 10, 1905 in Baltimore, Maryland. He began playing professionally at eleven. He moved to New York City at 17 and was leading his own band by 1926. Webb’s band became the house band at the Savoy Ballroom in 1931 and he became one of the highest regarded drummers and band leaders of the “swing” style. As the result of his band’s success in the “Battle of the Bands,” Webb became known as “King of Swing.” Art Blakey and Duke Ellington credited Webb with influencing their music and Gene Krupa credited him with raising the profile of drummers and paving the way for drummer led bands. Webb was posthumously inducted into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame in 1985.
  • June 16, 1942 Eddie Levert, lead vocalist of the R&B vocal group The O’Jays, was born in Bessemer, Alabama but raised in Canton, Ohio. While still in high school, Levert and four classmates formed a group called The Triumphs. The group was renamed the O’Jays in 1963 and they released their debut album, “Comin’ Through,” which contained the hit “Lonely Drifter” in 1965. Other hit singles by the O’Jays include “Back Stabbers” (1972), “Love Train” (1973), “Livin’ for the Weekend” (1976), and “Use ta Be My Girl” (1978). The O’Jays were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2004 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005. The relationship between Levert and his son Gerald became the subject of the book “I Got Your Back: A Father and Son Keep It Real about Love, Fatherhood, Family, and Friendship” which was published in 2007. Levert released the solo album “I Still Have It,” in 2012.
  • June 16, 1951 Denise Lynn Nappier, the first woman and first African American elected to statewide office in Connecticut, was born in Hartford, Connecticut. Nappier earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Virginia State University in 1973 and her Master of Arts degree in city planning from the University of Cincinnati in 1975. She worked in various positions in Connecticut prior to being elected Hartford City Treasurer in 1989. Nappier held that position until 1998 when she was elected State Treasurer of Connecticut. She has been re-elected four times. As the state’s chief financial officer, Nappier oversees $52 billion in state funds.
  • June 16, 1954 Matthew Saad Muhammad, hall of fame boxer, was born Maxwell Antonio Loach in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Saad Muhammad began his professional boxing career in 1974. He converted to Islam in 1977 and changed his name. Saad Muhammad won the World Light Heavyweight Boxing Championship in 1979. He successfully defended the title eight times before losing it in 1981. His 1980 title defense against Yaqui Lopez was named Fight of the Year by Ring magazine. He continued to box until retiring in 1992 with a record of 39 wins, 16 losses, and 3 draws. After retiring, he trained other boxers. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1998. Saad Muhammad died May 25, 2014.
  • June 16, 1959 Otis Frank Boykin of Chicago, Illinois received patent number 2,891,227 for a wire precision resistor that would be used in radios and televisions. Boykin was born August 29, 1920 in Dallas, Texas. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Fisk College (now University) in 1941. Boykin took a special interest in working with resistors and began researching and inventing on his own. He received patent number 2,972,726 February 21, 1961 for an improved electrical resistor which could be made more quickly and more cheaply and could withstand extreme changes in temperature and tolerate and withstand various levels of pressure and physical trauma without impairing its effectiveness. This device is used in electrical devices, including guided missiles, computers, and a control unit for artificial heart stimulators. Boykin created other important products, including a chemical air filter and a burglarproof cash register. In total, Boykin invented 28 different electronic devices and earned eleven patents before his death March 4, 1982. Boykin was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.
  • June 16, 1959 Desiree Glapion Rogers, the first African American to serve as White House Social Secretary, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. Rogers earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Wellesley College in 1981 and her Master of Business Administration degree from Harvard Business School in 1985. She ran the Illinois State Lottery from 1990 to 1997 and served in various capacities at what is now the Integrys Energy Group from 1997 to 2008. She was appointed White House Social Secretary in 2008, a position she held until 2010. She is currently Chief Executive Officer of Johnson Publishing Company.
  • June 16, 1970 Alonzo “Lonnie” Johnson, hall of fame blues and R&B guitarist and singer, died. Johnson was born February 8, 1899 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was playing in his father’s band by his late teens and toured Europe in a revue from 1917 to 1919. Johnson recorded approximately 130 singles between 1925 and 1932. He also recorded with Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. He recorded “Tomorrow Night” in 1948 and it was number one on the R&B chart for seven weeks. Other hits by Johnson include “Pleasing You (As Long as I Live),” “So Tired,” and “Confused.” He stopped performing and recording during the 1950s. He was rediscovered in 1959 and recorded several albums, including “Blues by Lonnie Johnson,” “Blues & Ballads,” and “Losing Game.” His playing influenced a number of performers, including Charlie Christian, Robert Johnson, and Django Reinhardt. Johnson was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1990.
  • June 16, 1971 Tupac Amaru Shakur, hall of fame hip hop rapper and actor, was born in New York City. His family moved to Baltimore, Maryland in 1986 and Shakur attended the Baltimore School for the Arts and studied acting, poetry, jazz, and ballet. Shakur’s professional career began in 1990 and he released his debut solo album, “2Pacalypse Now,” in 1991. Other albums released during his life include “Me Against the World” (1995) and “All Eyes on Me” (1996) which is one of the highest selling rap albums of all time. He also appeared in several movies, including “Juice” (1992), “Poetic Justice” (1993), and “Bullet” (1996). Shakur died September 13, 1996. Several of his albums were released posthumously, including “R U Still Down? (Remember Me)” (1997), “Until the End of Time” (2001), and “Loyal to the Game” (2004). Forbes magazine estimated that Shakur’s estate earned $15 million in 2008. He was posthumously inducted into the Hip Hop Hall of Fame in 2002. Several documentaries have been released about Shaukur’s life, including “Tupac Shakur: Thug Immortal” (1997), “Tupac Shakur Resurrection” (2003) which was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary, and “Tupac: Assassination II: Reckoning” (2009).
  • June 16, 1975 Alfred Masters, the first African American to serve in the United States Marine Corps, died. Masters was born February 5, 1916 in Palestine, Texas. He was sworn into the marines June 1, 1942. After his swearing in, he trained at Montford Point, North Carolina where other African American marines were later trained (now known as the Montford Point Marines). Masters eventually rose to the rank of technical sergeant. Not much else is known of Masters’ life.
  • June 16, 1975 The game show “Musical Chairs” premiered on CBS with Adam Wade as host, the first African American to host a game show. The daily half-hour show was not successful and only aired 95 episodes, ending October 31, 1975. 
  • June 16, 1976 The Soweto Children’s Uprising started in South Africa. On that day approximately 20,000 high school children in Soweto protested the imposition of the Afrikanns language for instruction. The students were ordered to disperse but before they could, police opened fire on the students. The official government death toll was 23 but most people put it close to 200. A news photograph of a dying Hector Pieterson, killed at 12, was published around the world and became the iconic image of the uprising. Today, June 16 is known as National Youth Day, a day on which South Africans honor young people and bring attention to their needs. The Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum was opened near the place where he was shot June 16, 2002. The Soweto Children’s Uprising is depicted in the 1987 film “Cry Freedom.” It also inspired the 1995 novel “A Dry White Season.”
  • June 16, 2014 Anthony Keith “Tony” Gwynn, hall of fame baseball player, died. Gwynn was born May 9, 1960 in Los Angeles, California. After starring at baseball and basketball at San Diego State University, he was selected by the San Diego Padres in the 1981 Major League Baseball Draft. Gwynn made his major league debut in 1982 and played his entire 20 season career with the Padres. Over that career, he was a 15-time All-Star, 5-time Gold Glove winner, 7-time Silver Slugger winner, and 8-time National League batting champion. Gwynn also won the 1995 Branch Rickey Award for exceptional community service, the 1998 Lou Gehrig Memorial Award for best exemplifying his character and integrity both on and off the field, and the 1999 Roberto Clemente Award for best exemplifying the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and his contribution to his team. Gwynn retired in 2001 with a lifetime batting average of .338, the highest among players whose careers began after World War II, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007. The address for the Padres’ baseball stadium is 19 Tony Gwynn Drive and a 10-foot statue of Gwynn was unveiled outside of the stadium July 21, 2007. Gwynn served as head baseball coach at San Diego State, where the baseball stadium is named in his honor, until his death. He also authored “Tony Gwynn’s Total Baseball Player” (1992) and “The Art of Hitting” (1998).
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