Today in Black History, 06/18/2015 | Nicodemus - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 06/18/2015 | Nicodemus


  • June 18, 1839 Robert Reed Church, Sr., businessman and philanthropist, was born in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Church worked as a cabin boy and steward on his White father’s steamboat as a teenager and during the Civil War served as a cabin steward on a Union Army steamer. He moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 1865 and acquired a saloon, restaurant, and downtown hotel. During the Memphis Race Riot of 1866, a White mob shot him and left him for dead. Church recovered and after the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878 bought considerable real estate at depressed prices. He bought a tract of land on Beale Street in 1899 and built Church’s Park and Auditorium, the first major urban recreational center owned by an African American. The auditorium seated 2,000 and became a renowned cultural, recreational, and civic center for Black people in Memphis. President Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. spoke to 10,000 people at the auditorium and on the surrounding grounds in 1902. Church founded the Solvent Savings Bank and Trust Company in 1906. His net worth was approximately $700,000 and he gave liberally to local school, social, and civic organizations and was the most prominent philanthropist in the city. He paid off the creditors of Beale Street Baptist Church in 1908 to prevent their foreclosure. Church died August 29, 1912. Robert R. Church Elementary School in Memphis is named in his honor. “The Robert R. Churches of Memphis: A Father and Son Who Achieved in Spite of Race” was published in 1974.
  • June 18, 1939 Louis Clark “Lou” Brock, hall of fame baseball player, was born in El Dorado, Arkansas. Brock played college baseball at Southern University and made his major league debut with the Chicago Cubs in 1961. He was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1964 and helped them to World Series Championships in 1964 and 1967. Brock became the first player to steal 50 bases and hit 20 home runs in the same season in 1967. He stole 118 bases in 1974 and over his career stole 938, both records which have been subsequently broken. Over his 19 season professional career, Brock was a six-time All-Star. He won the 1975 Roberto Clemente Award which is given annually to the major league baseball player “who best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement, and the individuals contribution to his team” and the 1977 Lou Gehrig Memorial Award “as the player who best exemplified Lou Gehrig’s ability and character”. Brock retired from baseball in 1979 and that same year the Cardinals retired his uniform number 20. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985 and the National College Baseball Hall of Fame in 2012. Annually, the National League honors the player with the most stolen bases with the Lou Brock Award. A statue of Brock was unveiled August 29, 1999 in the pavilion at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Brock is an ordained minister and was recognized for his accomplishments on and off the field with the 2006 Bobby Bragan Youth Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award. He is also a successful businessman and has received honorary doctorate degrees from Washington University, Southern University, and Missouri Valley College. The Lou Brock Endowment Scholarship Fund at Southern provides scholarships for low income college bound students.
  • June 18, 1942 Thabo Mvuyelwa Mbeki, the second president of post-apartheid South Africa, was born in Idutywa, South Africa. Mbeki was expelled from school for his involvement in student strikes in 1959 and was elected secretary of the African Students Association in 1961. He went into exile in the United Kingdom in 1962 and while there earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from the University of London and his Master of Economics degree from the University of Sussex. Mbeki became a member of the African National Congress National Executive Committee in 1975. He was appointed head of the ANC information department in 1984 and became head of the international department in 1989. In that capacity, he led the ANC delegation in talks with the South African government that eventually resulted in the unbanning of the ANC and the release of political prisoners. Mbeki was elected deputy president in 1994 and President of South Africa in 1999, a position he held until 2008. He was included on Time magazine’s 2005 list of 100 Most Influential People in the World. Mbeki has received many honorary doctorate degrees from South African and foreign universities and was awarded the Good Governance Award by the Corporate Council on Africa in 1997. Several biographies have been published about Mbeki, including “A Legacy of Liberation: Thabo Mbeki and the Future of the South African Dream” (2009).
  • June 18, 1942 Clifford Chester Sims, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Port St. Joe, Florida. By February 21, 1968, Sims was serving in the United States Army as a staff sergeant in Company D, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division during the Vietnam War. His actions on that day near Hue in the Republic of Vietnam earned him the medal, America’s highest military decoration. His citation partially reads, “While continuing through the dense woods amidst heavy enemy fire, S/Sgt. Sims and his squad were approaching a bunker when they heard the unmistakable noise of a concealed booby trap being triggered immediately to their front. S/Sgt. Sims warned his comrades of the danger and unhesitatingly hurled himself upon the device as it exploded, taking the full impact of the blast. In so protecting his fellow soldiers, he willingly sacrificed his life.” Sims’ family accepted the medal from Vice President Spiro T. Agnew December 2, 1969. Clifford Chester Sims State Veterans Nursing Home in Panama City, Florida and Clifford Sims Parkway in Port St. Joe are named in his honor.
  • June 18, 1949 Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher became the first African American to attend law school in the State of Oklahoma when she was admitted to the University of Oklahoma School of Law. Fisher was born February 8, 1924 in Chickasha, Oklahoma. She graduated from Langston University, with honors, in 1945. She applied for admission to the University of Oklahoma School of Law in 1946 but was denied because of her race. The United States Supreme Court ruled in Sipuel v. Board of Regents of University of Oklahoma that colleges could not deny admittance based on race January 12, 1948. In reaction to the ruling, the Oklahoma legislature created the Langston University School of Law. Fisher refused to attend Langston and announced her intention to appeal to the U. S. Supreme Court. As a result, she was finally admitted to the University of Oklahoma School of Law. After admitting her, the law school gave her a chair marked colored and roped it off from the rest of the class. She also had to dine in a chained off guarded area of the law school cafeteria. Despite these hardships, Fisher earned her Master of Laws degree in 1951. After graduating, she practiced in her hometown and was a professor at Langston University. She was appointed to the Board of Regents of the University of Oklahoma in 1992. The Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher Gardens on the campus of the university are dedicated in her honor. Fisher died October 18, 1995. She was posthumously inducted into the Oklahoma Women’s Hall of Fame in 1996. Her autobiography, “A Matter of Black and White: The Autobiography of Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher”, was published in 1996.
  • June 18, 1963 Bruce Bernard Smith, hall of fame football player, was born in Norfolk, Virginia. Smith played college football at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University where he was All-American in 1983 and 1984 and won the 1984 Outland Trophy as the nation’s top college lineman. Smith finished his college career as the most honored player in Virginia Tech history. He was selected by the Buffalo Bills in the 1985 National Football League Draft and over his 19 season professional career was an 11-time All-Pro and the Defensive Player of the Year in 1990 and 1996. Smith retired after the 2003 season with 200 quarterback sacks, the most in NFL history. He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2006 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009. Since retiring from football, Smith has become a successful real estate developer.
  • June 18, 1987 Ella Jane Fitzgerald was presented the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President Ronald W. Reagan. Fitzgerald was born April 25, 1917 in Newport News, Virginia. She made her singing debut at the Apollo Theater at 17 and won the first prize of $25.00. She began singing with the Chick Webb Orchestra in 1935 and recorded several hits with them, including “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” (1938). Fitzgerald left the band in 1942 to start a solo career. Her 1945 scat recording of “Flying Home” was considered one of the most influential jazz recordings of the decade. Between 1956 and 1964, Fitzgerald recorded eight multi-album sets that became known as the Great American Songbook and were her most critically acclaimed and commercially successful work. Plagued by health problems, she made her last recording in 1991 and her last public performance in 1993. Fitzgerald died June 15, 1996. Over her career, Fitzgerald sold more than 40 million albums and won 14 Grammy Awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1967. Other major honors include Kennedy Center Honors in 1979, induction into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1979, and designation as a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1985. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President George H. W. Bush December 11, 1992. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor in 2007. Biographies of Fitzgerald include “Ella: The Life and Times of Ella Fitzgerald” (1986) and “Ella Fitzgerald: A Biography” (1994). Her name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.
  • June 18, 1987 Romare Bearden was presented the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President Ronald W. Reagan. Bearden was born September 2, 1911 in Charlotte, North Carolina. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in science and education from New York University in 1935. He went on to study at the Arts Student League from 1936 to 1937. Bearden served in the all-Black 372nd Infantry Regiment during World War II from 1942 to 1945. He gave up painting briefly to compose music, co-writing “Sea Breeze” which was recorded by Billy Eckstine and Dizzy Gillespie and is considered a jazz classic. Bearden started experimenting with collages during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement and his work became more representative and overtly social conscious. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1966 and to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1972. He co-authored “The Painter’s Mind” (1969) and “Six Black Masters of American Art” (1972). Bearden died March 12, 1988. His works are in the collections of several museums, including the Mint Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art. Several books have been written about Bearden and his art, including “Romare Bearden: His Life and Art” (1990) and “The Art of Romare Bearden” (2003). The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 2011.
  • June 18, 1988 Sallie Martin, the “Mother of Gospel Music” and entrepreneur, died. Martin was born November 20, 1895 in Pittfield, Georgia. She moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1927 and met Thomas A. Dorsey and convinced him to hire her as a part of a trio formed to introduce his songs to churches. Martin helped to form the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses, Inc. in 1933 and served as vice president until her death. She co-founded Martin and Morris Music, Inc. in 1940 and it became the largest African American owned gospel publishing company in the country. They were responsible for publishing a number of gospel standards, including “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” (1940). Martin retired from music in 1970 and sold her portion of the publishing company in 1973. Her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement led to an invitation to attend the 1960 celebration marking the independence of Nigeria. This inspired her to donate to the Nigerian health program, resulting in a state office building named in her honor. Martin was posthumously inducted into the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame in 1991.
  • June 18, 2003 Lawrence Eugene “Larry” Doby, hall of fame baseball player, died. Doby was born December 13, 1923 in Camden, South Carolina but raised in Patterson, New Jersey. He joined the Newark Eagles in the Negro Baseball League at 17 and led them to the Negro League Championship in 1946. He was signed by the Cleveland Indians in 1947, the second Black player in the major leagues and the first in the American League. Over his 12 season major league career, he was a seven-time All-Star. After retiring in 1959, Doby coached for the Montreal Expos and the Indians. He became manager of the Chicago White Sox in 1978, the second Black manager in the major leagues. The Indians retired his number 14 jersey in 1994 and Doby was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1998. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 2012. “Pride Against Prejudice: The Biography of Larry Doby” was published in 1988.
  • June 18, 2011 Frederick Jacob Titus Chiluba, the second President of the Republic of Zambia, died. Chiluba was born April 30, 1943 in Kitwe, Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). He did his secondary school education at Kawambwa Secondary School where he was expelled in the second year for political activities. He went on to join the National Union of Building and won the chair of the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions. He helped form the Movement for Multiparty Democracy in 1990 and was elected President of Zambia in 1991. Chiluba was elected to a second term in 1996 and stepped down at the end of that term due to a constitutional limitation of two terms. During his presidency, he presided over various economic reforms and helped broker a peace agreement to end the war in neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo.
  • June 18, 2014 Horace Ward Martin Tavares Silver, hall of fame jazz pianist, composer and bandleader, died. Silver was born September 2, 1928 in Norwalk, Connecticut. He began his career as a tenor saxophonist but later switched to the piano. He was discovered in 1950 by Stan Getz and moved to New York City in 1951. Silver along with Art Blakey formed the Jazz Messengers in 1954 and recorded “Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers” in 1955. He also was a member of the Miles Davis All-Stars that recorded “Walkin’” in 1954. Also that year, Silver won the Down Beat New Star Award. Recordings by Silver as leader include “The Stylings of Silver” (1957), “Song for My Father” (1964), “The Continuity of Spirit” (1985), and “Jazz Has a Sense of Humor” (1999). Silver was designated a NEA Jazz Maser, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1995, inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1996, and the National Academy of Recording Arts and Science gave him its President’s Merit Award in 2005. His autobiography, “Let’s Get to the Nitty Gritty: The Autobiography of Horace Silver”, was published in 2006.
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