Today in Black History 06/26/2015 | Bernard Anthony Harris, Jr., - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History 06/26/2015 | Bernard Anthony Harris, Jr.,


    • June 26, 1879 Clinton Greaves received the Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration, for his actions during the Indian Wars. Greaves was born enslaved August 12, 1855 in Madison County, Virginia. He joined the United States Army in 1872 and by January 24, 1877 was serving as a corporal in Company C of the 9th Cavalry Regiment. On that day, his actions earned him the medal. His citation reads, “While part of a small detachment to persuade a band of renegade Apache Indians to surrender, his group was surrounded. Cpl. Greaves in the center of the savage hand-to-hand fighting, managed to shoot and bash a gap through the swarming Apaches, permitting his companions to break free.” Greaves rose to the rank of sergeant before leaving the army after 20 years of service. Greaves died August 18, 1906. Camp Greaves, a U. S. Army installation in the Republic of South Korea which was closed in 2004, was named in his honor.

    • June 26, 1898 “Big Bill” Broonzy, hall of fame blues singer, songwriter and guitarist, was born Lee Conley Bradley in Lake Dick, Arkansas but raised in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Broonzy began playing music at an early age and made himself a fiddle from a cigar box at ten and began playing spirituals and folk songs. He moved to Chicago, Illinois around 1924 and released his first recordings, “Big Bill’s Blues” and “House Rent Stomp,” in 1927. Broonzy wrote and recorded over 220 songs between 1927 and 1942, including “I Can’t Be Satisfied” (1930), his first hit, “Matchbox Blues” (1936), “Just a Dream” (1939), and “Key to the Highway” (1941).  Broonzy died August 15, 1958. He influenced a number of blues guitarist, including Muddy Waters and Memphis Slim. Broonzy was an inaugural inductee into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980 and an inaugural inductee into the Gannett Records Walk of Fame in 2007. His autobiography, “Big Bill Blues,” was published in 1955. A biography, “I Feel So Good: The Life and Times of Big Bill Broonzy,” was published in 2011.  

    • June 26, 1915 Willard Jessie Brown, hall of fame Negro Baseball League player, was born in Shreveport, Louisiana. Brown began his professional baseball career in 1934. He joined the Kansas City Monarchs in 1936 and played with them until 1944 when he joined the United States Army. During that time, he established himself as a powerful hitter, hitting more home runs than Josh Gibson. In fact, Gibson nicknamed him “Home Run Brown.” Brown also regularly had a batting average over .350. He briefly played in the major leagues with the St. Louis Browns in 1947 and was the first Black player to hit a home run in the American League. Brown retired from baseball in 1956 and moved to Houston, Texas. Brown died August 4, 1996. He was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.

    • June 26, 1926 Mordecai Wyatt Johnson was unanimously elected president of Howard University, the institution’s first Black president. Johnson was born January 12, 1890 in Paris, Tennessee. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Morehouse College in 1911, his second Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Chicago in 1913, and his Bachelor of Divinity degree from the Rochester Theological Seminary. He served as pastor of the First Baptist Church in West Virginia from 1917 to 1926. Johnson served as president of Howard until his retirement in 1960. During his tenure, he greatly expanded the campus, building a library and several new structures for schools within the university. Enrollment increased from 2,000 to 10,000 students and finances were stabilized. Johnson was awarded the 1929 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal. Johnson died September 10, 1976. His biography, “Mordecai, The Man and His Message: The Story of Mordecai Wyatt Johnson,” was published in 1998.

    • June 26, 1926 Hamilton Naki, South African surgical assistant and teacher, was born in the East Cape of South Africa. Naki was formally educated up to 14. While working as a gardener at the University of Cape Town, he was selected to work in the clinical laboratory to look after animals and perform other basic duties. Over time, Naki became one of four technicians in the research laboratory at the medical school. Despite being listed on the hospital records as a gardener, he was paid the salary of a senior lab technician, the highest pay for someone without a diploma. In the late 1950s, Naki began working with Christiaan Barnard while he was developing open heart surgical techniques. In an interview, Bernard called Naki “one of the great researchers of all time in the field of heart transplants” and “Naki was a better craftsman than me, especially when it came to stitching.” Naki went on to train students and professors on transplant techniques. He retired in 1991 on a gardener’s pension. He received the National Order of Mapungubwe in Bronze, which is awarded to South African citizens for excellence and exceptional achievement, in 2002 and received an honorary degree in medicine from the University of Cape Town in 2003. Naki died May 29, 2005. The documentary “Hidden Heart-The Story of Christian Barnard and Hamilton Naki” was produced in 2008.

    • June 26, 1936 Harold Everett Greer, hall of fame basketball player, was born in Huntington, West Virginia. Greer played college basketball at Marshall University as its first Black scholarship athlete. He was also the first African American to play for a major college in West Virginia. At Marshall, he was the 1958 Mid-American Conference Most Valuable Player and at the time of graduation held the school’s career record for field goal percentage. Greer was selected by the Syracuse Nationals, who became the Philadelphia 76ers in 1963, in the 1958 National Basketball Association Draft. Over his 15 season professional career, Greer was a ten-time All-Star. He retired in 1973 and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982. Greer was named one of the “NBA’s 50 Greatest of All Time” in 1996. He was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. Huntington honored him by renaming the main street between the campus/downtown area and Interstate 64 Hal Greer Boulevard. Greer has worked in business and real estate since retiring from basketball.

    • June 26, 1938 James Weldon Johnson, author, diplomat, poet, songwriter and civil rights activist, died. Johnson was born June 17, 1871 in Jacksonville, Florida. He 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 became known as the Negro National Anthem. Johnson became treasure of the Colored Republican Club in 1904 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. Johnson 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. 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 26, 1956 Clifford Brown, hall of fame jazz trumpeter, was killed in an automobile accident. Brown was born October 30, 1930 in Wilmington, Delaware. He started playing professionally after briefly attending college. Brown performed with Lionel Hampton and Art Blakey, among others, before forming his own group with Max Roach. He won the Down Beat critic’s poll for New Star of the Year in 1954. He was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1972 and each year Wilmington hosts the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival. Despite leaving behind only four years of recordings, Brown had considerable influence on later jazz trumpeters, including Donald Byrd, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, and Wynton Marsalis. Brown’s biography, “Clifford Brown: The Life and Art of the Legendary Jazz Trumpeter,” was published in 2001.

    • June 26, 1960 The Republic of Madagascar gained its independence from France. Madagascar is an island country in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa. It is approximately 226,600 square miles in size and the capital and largest city is Antananarivo. Madagascar has a population of approximately 22,005,000 with approximately half Christian and half that practice traditional religion. The official languages are Malagasy and French.

    • June 26, 1968 Shannon Sharpe, hall of fame football player, was born in Chicago, Illinois but raised in Glennville, Georgia. Sharpe played college football at Savannah State College where he was the 1987 Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Year and a 1989 Division II All-American. After earning his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, he was selected by the Denver Broncos in the 1990 National Football League Draft. Over his 14 season professional career, Sharpe was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection and three-time Super Bowl champion. He was also the first tight end to accumulate over 10,000 receiving yards. Sharpe retired from professional football in 2003 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011. He was also named a member of the NFL All-Decade team for the 1990s. He served as a commentator for the CBS Sports pregame show “The NFL Today” from 2004 to 2014.

    • June 26, 1993 Roy Campanella, hall of fame baseball player, died. Campanella was born November 19, 1921 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He began playing Negro league baseball for the Washington Elite Giants at 16. He moved to the Brooklyn Dodgers’ minor league system in 1946 and was elevated to the major leagues the next season. Over his ten season major league career, Campanella was an eight-time All-Star and National League Most Valuable Player in 1951, 1953, and 1955. In January, 1958, he was involved in a car accident that left him paralyzed from the shoulders down. Campanella was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969 and the Dodgers retired his uniform number 39 in 1972. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 2006. His autobiography, “It’s Good to Be Alive,” was published in 1959.   
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