Today in Black History, 06/17/2015 | Venus Williams - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 06/17/2015 | Venus Williams

  • June 17, 1851 John Brown Russwurm, abolitionist and newspaper editor, died. Russwurm was born enslaved October 1, 1799 in Port Antonio, Jamaica. He was sent by his White father to Quebec, Canada in 1897 to attend school and moved with his father to Portland, Maine in 1812. Russwurm graduated from Hebron Academy in his early twenties and taught at an African American school in Boston, Massachusetts. Russwurm earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Bowdoin College in 1826, the first African American to graduate from the institution. Russwurm moved to New York City in 1827 and along with his co-editor, Samuel Cornish, published the first edition of Freedom’s Journal, an abolitionist newspaper dedicated to opposing slavery, March 16, 1827. Freedom’s Journal was the first newspaper in the United States owned and operated by African Americans. Russwurm immigrated to Liberia in 1829 and served as the colonial secretary for the American Colonization Society until 1834. He also worked as editor of the Liberia Herald and served as the superintendent of education. He became the first Black Governor of the Maryland section of Liberia in 1836, a post he held until his death. There is a statue of Russwurm at his burial site in Harper, Cape Palmas, Liberia. The Russwurm African American Center on the campus of Bowdoin was dedicated in 1970 and the John B. Russwurm House in Portland was listed on the National Register of Historic Places July 21, 1983. John B. Russwurm Elementary School in New York City is named in his honor. Biographies of Russwurm include “John Brown Russwurm” (1970) and “The Struggles of John Brown Russwurm: The Life of a Pan-Africanist Pioneer, 1799-1851” (2010).
  • June 17, 1871 James Weldon Johnson, author, diplomat, poet, songwriter and civil rights activist, was born in Jacksonville, Florida. Johnson earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1894 and Master of Arts degree in 1904 from Atlanta University. Johnson along with his brother, John Rosamond Johnson, co-composed “Lift Every Voice and Sing” in 1900 and it later became known as the Negro National Anthem.  In 1904, Johnson became treasurer of the Colored Republican Club and a year later became president. He served as United States Consul to Venezuela from 1906 to 1909. During that time, he wrote his most famous book “The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man” which was published in 1912. Other works by Johnson include “The Book of American Negro Spirituals” (1925), “Black Manhattan” (1930), and “Negro Americans, What Now?” (1934). Johnson became editor of the New York Age in 1914 and became the national organizer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1916. He was elected to manage the organization in 1920, the first African American to hold that position, and eventually became the first Black secretary in the organization’s history. He was awarded the 1925 NAACP Spingarn Medal and his work “God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse” was published in 1927 and won the Harmon Gold Award. He was a major inspiration and promoter of the Harlem Renaissance throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Johnson died June 26, 1938. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 1988. Johnson published his autobiography, “Along This Way: The Autobiography of James Weldon Johnson,” in 1933. His name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.
  • June 17, 1933 Maurice Stokes, hall of fame basketball player, was born in Rankin, Pennsylvania. Stokes played college basketball for Saint Francis University and graduated in 1955. He was named Most Valuable Player at the 1955 National Invitational Basketball Tournament. He was selected by the Rochester Royals in the 1955 National Basketball Association Draft and was named Rookie of the Year that season. Stokes professional career was cut short when he fell and hit his head in the last game of the 1958 season. He later suffered a seizure, fell into a coma, and was left permanently paralyzed. Stokes died April 6, 1970. He was posthumously inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2004 and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. His story was told in the 1973 film “Maurie.” The Stokes Athletic Center on the campus of Saint Francis University is named in his honor.

  • June 17, 1933 Roderick Raynor Paige, the first African American to serve as the nation’s education chief, was born in Monticello, Mississippi. Paige earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Jackson State University in 1955 and his Master of Arts degree in 1962 and Doctor of Physical Education degree in 1970 from Indiana University. He served in the United States Navy from 1955 to 1957. Paige served as head football coach at Jackson State from 1964 to 1968 and served in the same capacity at Texas Southern University from 1971 to 1975. He was the athletic director at Texas Southern from 1971 to 1980 and dean of the College of Education from 1984 to 1994. In that capacity, he established the university’s Center for Excellence in Urban Education. Paige served on the board of the Houston Independent School District from 1989 to 1994 when he was appointed superintendent of schools for the district. Paige was confirmed as U. S. Secretary of Education January 21, 2001 and held the position until his resignation in 2005. In that position, Paige was instrumental in developing the No Child Left Behind education law. After resigning, he founded Chartwell Education Group and served as chairman from 2005 to 2009. He currently serves on the board of Universal Technical Institute and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Paige wrote “The War Against Hope: How Teachers’ Unions Hurt Children, Hinder Teachers, and Endanger Public Education” in 2007 and co-wrote “The Black-White Achievement Gap: Why Closing It Is the Greatest Civil Rights Issue of Our Time” in 2010. Rod Paige Elementary School in Houston, Texas is named in his honor.

  • June 17, 1937 Robert Clyve Maynard, journalist and the first African American to own a major metropolitan newspaper, was born in Brooklyn, New York. Maynard dropped out of school at 16 to take a job as a reporter for the New York Age. He began reporting for the York Gazette and Daily in York, Pennsylvania in 1961. He received a Nieman Fellowship to Harvard University in 1965 and the following year joined the editorial staff of the Washington Post. Maynard became editor of The Oakland Tribune in 1979 and purchased the paper in 1981, the first African American to own a major metropolitan newspaper. He is recognized for turning the struggling newspaper into a 1990 Pulitzer Prize winning journal. That year, the paper won the prize for Spot News Photography. Maynard used the outreach of the paper to better the community by pushing for improved schools, trauma care centers, and economic development. Maynard co-founded the Institute for Journalism Education, an organization dedicated to training journalist of color and providing accurate representation of minorities in the news media, in 1977. The institute has trained more than 1,000 journalists and editors across the United States. Maynard died August 17, 1993. The institute was posthumously renamed in his honor.
  • June 17, 1940 Bobby Lee Bell, Sr., hall of fame football player, was born in Shelby, North Carolina. Bell played college football at the University of Minnesota where he was an All-American in 1961 and 1962 and won the 1962 Outland Trophy as the nation’s outstanding lineman. Bell was selected by the Kansas City Chiefs in the 1963 American Football League Draft and over his 12 season professional career was a six-time AFL All-Star and three-time National Football League All-Pro. He retired in 1974 and opened a restaurant chain. Since retiring from business, he has dedicated himself to raising money for former NFL players in need of medical care. Bell was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1991. Bell earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota in 2015.

  • June 17, 1967 Terry Wayne Norris, hall of fame boxer, was born in Lubbock, Texas. Norris started boxing as an amateur and compiled a record of 291 wins and 4 losses. He turned professional in 1986 and won the World Boxing Council Junior Middleweight Boxing Championship in 1990. Norris successfully defended the title ten times before losing it in 1993. He regained it in 1994, lost it in 1995, and regained it later that year. He lost the title for the last time in 1997 and retired from boxing in 1998 with a record of 47 wins and 9 losses. Norris was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2005. He and his wife founded The Final Fight Foundation “to serve as a catalyst for the under-served athletes in health and retirement assistance, during and after their careers.”

  • June 17, 1968 The United States Supreme Court in the case of Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Co. ruled that Congress could regulate the sale of private property in order to prevent racial discrimination. Reversing many precedents, the court held that the Civil Rights Act of 1866 prohibited both private and state-backed discrimination and that the 13th Amendment authorized Congress to prohibit private acts of discrimination. The case was filed by Joseph Lee Jones because the Alfred H. Mayer Co., a real estate developer, had refused to sell him a home in St. Louis County, Missouri solely because he was Black.

  • June 17, 1969 Paul Kibii Tergat, cross country and long distance runner, was born in Riwo, Kenya. Tergat won five straight International Associations of Athletics Federations World Cross Country Championships between 1995 and 1999, which was a record. He won Silver medals in the 10,000 meter races at the 1996 Atlanta and 2000 Sidney Summer Olympic Games. Tergat also held the world record in the marathon from 2003 to 2007. He is regarded as one of the most accomplished long-distance runners of all time. Tergat was named a United Nations World Food Program Ambassador Against Hunger in 2004 and he established the Paul Tergat Foundation in 2005 to help disadvantaged Kenyan sportspeople. He was given the 2010 Abebe Bikila Award by the New York Road Runners in recognition of his long-distance achievements, the first Kenyan male to receive that award. Tergat was elected a member of the International Olympic Committee in 2013. He also runs a sports marketing and public relations company.
  • June 17, 1991 The Population Registration Act of 1950 was repealed by the South African Parliament. The act required that each inhabitant of South Africa be classified and registered in accordance with their racial characteristics as part of the system of apartheid. The three basic classifications were Black, White, and Colored (mixed). Social and political rights, educational opportunities, and economic status were determined by which group an individual belonged to.

  • June 17, 1992 Grace Towns Hamilton, the first African American woman elected to the Georgia General Assembly, died. Hamilton was born February 10, 1907 in Atlanta, Georgia. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Atlanta University in 1927 and her master’s degree in psychology from Ohio State University in 1929. Hamilton was appointed executive director of the Atlanta Urban League in 1943, a position she held until 1961. She was elected to the Georgia General Assembly in 1965 and served continuously until 1985. During her tenure, she worked to expand political representation for Black people in city, county, and state government. Hamilton was posthumously inducted into the Georgia Women of Achievement in 2006. Books about Hamilton include “The Public Career of Grace Towns Hamilton, a Citizen Too Busy to Hate” (1976) and “Grace Towns Hamilton and the Politics of Southern Change” (1997). The Grace Towns Hamilton Women & Infants Pavilion in Atlanta is named in her honor.

  • June 17, 2002 William D. “Willie” Davenport, hall of fame track and field athlete, died. Davenport was born June 8, 1943 in Troy, Alabama. After graduating from high school, he joined the United States Army and became a member of the track team. Davenport competed in four Summer Olympic Games, winning a Gold medal in the 110-meter hurdles at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games and a Bronze medal in the 110-meter hurdles at the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games. He also competed in the 1980 Lake Placid Winter Olympic Games as a runner for the U.S. bobsleigh team. Davenport subsequently returned to military duty and rose to the rank of colonel in the Army National Guard. He coached the All-Army men’s and women’s track teams to an unprecedented four undefeated seasons between 1993 to 1996. Davenport was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1982.

  • June 17, 2010 Hannah Diggs Atkins, librarian and the first African American woman elected to the Oklahoma State House of Representatives, died. Atkins was born November 1, 1923 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree from St. Augustine College in 1943 and her Bachelor of Library Science degree from the University of Chicago in 1949. Atkins moved to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma in 1953 and worked for the Oklahoma City Public Library from 1953 to 1956 and the Oklahoma State Library from 1962 to 1968. Atkins was elected to the state House of Representatives in 1968 and served until 1980. During her tenure, she authored bills in the areas of health care, child welfare, mental health reform, and women’s and civil rights. Atkins was appointed an ambassador to the United Nations by President Jimmy Carter in 1980. She served as assistant director of the Oklahoma Department of Human Services from 1983 to 1987 and served in the dual roles of Secretary for Social Services and Secretary of State from 1987 to her retirement in 1991, the highest ranking woman in Oklahoma state government. Atkins earned her Master of Public Administration degree from the University of Oklahoma in 1989. Oklahoma State University established the Hannah Atkins Endowed Chair in Public Service in 1990. Atkins received honorary doctorate degrees from the University of Oklahoma in 1998 and Oklahoma State University in 2000.
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