Today in Black History, 07/02/2015 | The Civil Rights Act of 1964 - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 07/02/2015 | The Civil Rights Act of 1964


  • July 2, 1822 Denmark Vesey was executed for planning what would have been one of the largest slave rebellions in the United States. It is thought that Vesey was born around 1767 on the island of St. Thomas. In 1781, he was purchased by Captain Joseph Vesey who eventually settled in Charleston, South Carolina. Vesey won $1500 in a city lottery in 1799 and used it to purchase his freedom and began working as a carpenter. He co-founded a branch of the African Methodist Church in 1816. Inspired by the revolutionary spirit and actions of enslaved people during the 1791 Haitian Revolution, Vesey began to plan a slave rebellion. His insurrection, which was to take place July 14, 1822, became known to thousands of Black people along the Carolina coast. Their plan was to sail to Haiti after the revolt. The plot was leaked and 67 men were convicted and 35 hanged, including Vesey. Many antislavery activists came to regard Vesey as a hero and during the Civil War Frederick Douglas used Vesey’s name as a battle cry to rally African American regiments. Vesey was the subject of a 1939 opera named after him and a 1980s made for television drama, “Denmark Vesey’s Revolt.”  A biography, “He Shall Go Free: The Lives of Denmark Vesey,” was published in 2004.
  • July 2, 1829 The Oblate Sisters of Providence, the first successful Roman Catholic sisterhood in the world established by women of African descent, was founded in Baltimore, Maryland. It was founded by four women who were part of the Caribbean refugee colony which began arriving in Baltimore in the late 18th century with the mission of teaching and caring for African American children. The first paragraph of their rules stated “The Oblate Sisters of Providence are a religious society of virgins and widows of color. Their end is to consecrate themselves to God in a special manner not only to sanctify themselves and thereby secure the greater glory of God, but also to work for the Christian education of colored Children.” They opened St. Francis Academy, a Catholic school for girls, which continues to operate today as the oldest continuously operated school for Black Catholic children in the United States. The order opened a mission in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1863 and one in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1867. Eventually the order founded schools in 18 states. There were over 300 Oblate Sisters of Providence by the 1950s, teaching and caring for Black children across the U. S. and the Caribbean. Our Lady of Mount Providence was built in southwest Baltimore County in 1961 and it remains the order’s motherhouse today. The sisterhood has operated a child development center and reading and math center at the motherhouse since 1972. Today, the order has approximately 80 members.
  • July 2, 1908 Thurgood Marshall, the first African American to serve on the Supreme Court of the United States, was born in Baltimore, Maryland. Marshall earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Lincoln University in 1930 and his Bachelor of Laws degree from Howard University School of Law in 1933. He began working for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1934. He won his first major civil rights case, Murray v. Pearson, in 1936 and his first case before the U. S. Supreme Court, Chambers v. Florida, in 1940. Marshall won 29 of 32 cases he argued before the U. S. Supreme Court. His most famous case was the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, in which the court ruled that separate but equal public education could never be truly equal. Marshall was the 1946 recipient of the NAACP Spingarn Medal. President John F. Kennedy appointed Marshall to the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in 1963 and President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him to the U. S. Supreme Court June 13, 1967. He served on the court for 24 years before retiring. Marshall died January 24, 1993. There are numerous memorials to him around the country, including the main office building of the federal court system which is named in his honor and has a statue of him in the atrium. Texas Southern University named their law school after him in 1976 and the University of Maryland opened the Thurgood Marshall Law Library in 1980. Marshall received the Liberty Medal in 1992 in recognition of his long history of protecting individual rights under the Constitution and was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President William J. Clinton November 30, 1993. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 2003. Biographies of Marshall include “Thurgood Marshall: American Revoulutionary” (1998) and “Thurgood Marshall” (2002). Marshall’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.
  • July 2, 1908 Charles “Teenie” Harris, photographer, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Harris began his photography career in the early 1930s and joined the Pittsburgh Courier as staff photographer in 1936. He worked for the Courier until 1975 and during that time took thousands of images capturing celebrities and chronicling decades of Black life in Pittsburgh. He photographed celebrities like Lena Horne, Martin Luther King, Jr., Satchel Paige, and Muhammad Ali but also featured Black cab drivers, musicians, policemen, and thousands of others. As the result of the Pittsburgh Courier’s bankruptcy in 1965, Harris lost his pension and he sold control of his negatives for $3,000. He won back control of the negatives after a 1998 trial and the rights were sold to the Carnegie Museum of Art for an undisclosed sum. Harris died June 12, 1998. The museum mounted an exhibition of almost one thousand of his photographs in 2012.
  • July 2, 1925 Patrice Emery Lumumba, Congolese independence leader and the first elected Prime Minister of the Democratic Republic of Congo, was born in Kasai province of the Belgian Congo (now Democratic Republic of Congo). Lumumba helped found the Mouvement National Congolais in 1958 and later became the organization’s president. When the Congo gained independence from Belgium June 30, 1960, Lumumba was elected prime minister. Only ten weeks later, his government was deposed in a coup under circumstances suggesting the support and complicity of the Belgium and United States governments. Lumumba was imprisoned and executed January 17, 1961. Lumumba authored “Congo: My Country” which was published posthumously in 1962. Many books have been written about Lumumba, including “Lumumba: A Biography” (1969), “Conflict in the Congo: The Rise and Fall of Lumumba” (1972), “The Assassination of Lumumba” (2001), and “Death in the Congo: Murdering Patrice Lumumba” (2015). A major transportation artery in Kinshasa is named in his honor as well as streets in many cities throughout the world.
  • July 2, 1925 Medgar Wiley Evers, civil rights activist, was born in Decatur, Mississippi. Evers was inducted into the United States Army in 1943 and fought in France during World War II. He was honorably discharged in 1945 as a sergeant. Evers earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in business administration from Alcorn College (now Alcorn State University) in 1952. Soon after, he moved to Mound Bayou, Mississippi and became involved with the Regional Council of Negro Leadership. Evers was appointed Mississippi’s first field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1954. He was involved in a boycott campaign against White merchants and was instrumental in the desegregation of the University of Mississippi. A couple of weeks before his death, a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the carport of his home and five days before his death he was nearly run down by a car as he emerged from the Jackson, Mississippi NAACP office. Evers was finally assassinated June 12, 1963. Mourned nationally, he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors. Evers was posthumously awarded the 1963 NAACP Spingarn Medal. Byron De La Beckwith was arrested in 1964 and twice tried for Evers’ murder. In both trials, all-White juries deadlocked on his guilt. Finally, De La Beckwith was convicted of the murder in 1994. Medgar Evers College was established as part of the City University of New York in 1969. A made-for-television movie, “For Us the Living: The Medgar Evers Story,” was aired on PBS in 1983. The City of Jackson erected a statue in honor of Evers in 1992 and they changed the name of their airport to Jackson-Evers International Airport in 2004. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 2009. The USNS Medgar Evers supply ship was launched by the United States Navy October 29, 2011. Another statue of Evers was unveiled at Alcorn in Lorman, Mississippi June 13, 2013. “The Autobiography of Medgar Evers: A Hero’s Life and Legacy Revealed Through His Writings, Letters, and Speeches” was published in 2005.
  • July 2, 1930 Ahmad Jamal, hall of fame jazz pianist and composer, was born Frederick Russell Jones in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Jamal began playing the piano at three and began formal training at seven. He moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1950 and recorded his debut album, “Ahmad’s Blues” in 1951. Jamal recorded the album “But Not for Me” in 1958 and it included “Poinciana.” That album stayed on the Ten Best Selling charts for 108 weeks. Other recordings by Jamal include “Crystal” (1987), “A Quiet Time” (2009), and “Saturday Morning” (2013). Jamal was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor in jazz, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1994. That same year, he was named a Duke Ellington Fellow at Yale University. He was inducted into the Order of the Arts and Letters by the French government and received the Living Legends Award from the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 2007. Jamal was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 2011.
  • July 2, 1939 Paul Williams, singer, choreographer and member of the hall of fame The Temptations, was born in Birmingham, Alabama. As teenagers, Williams, Eddie Kendricks, and two other friends formed a singing group called The Cavaliers. Williams, Kendricks and one other member moved to Detroit, Michigan in 1957 and changed their name to The Primes. Although they never recorded, they were successful performers and launched a female group called the Primettes who later became The Supremes. The Primes disbanded in 1960 and Williams and Kendricks joined The Elgins who signed with Motown Records in 1961 and changed their name to The Temptations. Williams was the original lead singer in the group, singing lead on such hits as “I Want a Love I Can See” (1963) and “Don’t Look Back” (1965). He also was the group’s original choreographer, devising routines for his group and The Supremes. Williams was forced to leave the group due to health problems in 1971 and died August 17, 1973. As a member of The Temptations, Williams was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989 and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999.
  • July 2, 1946 Anthony Overton, the first African American to lead a major business conglomerate, died. Overton was born enslaved March 21, 1865 in Monroe, Louisiana. After the Civil War, his family moved to Kansas and Overton earned his Bachelor of Laws degree from Washburn College in 1888. After admission to the bar, Overton practiced for a few years and served as a judge for a year. He founded the Overton Hygienic Manufacturing Company in 1898 to create cosmetics specifically for the complexions of Black women. He patented his cosmetics and a line of perfume under the name High Brown. By the time he moved his company to Chicago, Illinois in 1911, he employed a salaried sales force as well as 400 door to door sales people. He was manufacturing 62 products by 1915 and the company was valued at more than $1 million in 1927. Overton founded The Half-Century in 1916, a magazine that enjoyed success until he phased it out in 1925. He founded the Douglass National Bank, the second nationally chartered Black-owned bank in the United States, in 1922 and the next year founded the Victory Life Insurance Company which had branches in eight states by 1925. Overton also founded the Chicago Bee newspaper, which had a national following into the 1940s, and built the Overton Hygienic/Douglass National Bank Building. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People awarded Overton the 1927 Spingarn Medal. In the early 1930s, the Depression caused much of Overton’s business to fail. Anthony Overton Elementary School in Chicago is named in his honor.
  • July 2, 1947 Richard Robert Wright, Sr., educator, military officer and banker, died. Wright was born enslaved May 16, 1855 near Dalton, Georgia but raised in Cuthbert, Georgia. After emancipation, he graduated from Atlanta University as valedictorian of the first graduating class in 1876. He served as the first president of Georgia State Industrial College for Colored Youth (now Savannah State University) from 1891 to 1921. During his tenure, enrollment increased from 8 students to more than 400. Wright was viewed as one of the leading figures in Black higher education. During the Spanish-American War, Wright took a leave of absence from the college and was commissioned as a major in the United States Army. President William McKinley appointed him paymaster of the U. S. Volunteers in 1896, the first African American to serve as an army paymaster. Wright was a founding member of the American Negro Academy December 18, 1896, the leading organization of African American intellectuals until its demise in 1928. Wright moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1921 and founded Citizens and Southern Bank and Trust Company, the only African American owned bank in the North and the first African American Trust Company. He also co-founded the Negro Bankers Association, the first African American banking association. Wright also initiated the movement to establish February 1 as National Freedom Day to memorialize the signing of the 13th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution by President Abraham Lincoln February 1, 1865. National Freedom Day was signed into law by President Harry S. Truman June 30, 1948, almost a year after Wright’s death.
  • July 2, 1965 Austin Thomas Walden, attorney and civil rights leader, died. Walden was born April 12, 1885 in Fort Valley, Georgia. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Fort Valley Industrial School in 1902, his Master of Arts degree from Atlanta University in 1907, and his Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Michigan Law School in 1911. He served in the United States Army from 1917 to 1918 during World War I and commanded Company I of the 365th Infantry in France and was a trial judge advocate. Walden founded and served as president of the Gate City Bar Association for African American lawyers in Atlanta, Georgia in 1948. He litigated cases that helped equalize pay for Black teachers in Georgia and won lawsuits to desegregate the Atlanta Public School System and the University of Georgia. He also served as president of the Atlanta branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, vice president of the national organization, and a member of the national legal committee. Walden was a delegate to the 1964 Democratic National Convention, the first year that Black people were included in the Georgia delegation. Also that year, he was appointed judge of the Atlanta Municipal Court, the first Black judge in Georgia since Reconstruction.
  • July 2, 1972 The National Black Network began operation as the first coast-to-coast radio network totally owned by African Americans. The network was put together by Eugene D. Jackson, Sydney L. Small, and Del Raycee. It started with 25 affiliates and aired 5 minute newscasts at the hour and sportscasts several times a day at the half hour. By the early 1980s, NBN offered a second news service, American Urban Information Radio, which concentrated on in-depth reporting. In the early 1990s, NBN merged with the Sheridan Broadcasting Network to form the American Urban Radio Network. The AURN is one of the largest networks reaching Urban America with more than 300 weekly shows and an estimated 25 million listeners.
  • July 2, 1982 DeFord Bailey, hall of fame country music performer and the first African American to perform on the Grand Ole Opry, died. Bailey was born December 14, 1899 in Smith County, Tennessee. He learned to play the harmonica at three. He moved to Nashville, Tennessee in 1918 and premiered on the Grand Ole Opry in 1927. From then to 1941, he was one of the most popular performers on the show and was nicknamed “The Harmonica Wizard.” During that time, he also toured with many major country stars, including Roy Acuff and Bill Monroe. Bailey was fired in 1941 because of a licensing conflict and spent the rest of his life shining shoes to make a living. The documentary “DeFord Bailey: A Legend Lost” was produced in 2005 and that same year he was posthumously inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame. The DeFord Bailey Tribute Garden in Nashville was dedicated in 2007. The Encyclopedia of Country Music refers to Bailey as “the most significant Black country star before World War II.”
  • July 2, 2002 Raymond Mathew Brown, hall of fame jazz double bassist, died. Brown was born October 13, 1926 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He started piano lessons at eight but in high school switched to the bass. After graduating from high school, he moved to New York City and in 1946 joined Dizzy Gillespie’s band. He played with Gillespie until 1951 when he joined the Oscar Peterson Trio with which he played until 1966. He moved to Los Angeles, California in 1966 and worked for various television show orchestras and accompanied some of the leading artist of the day, including Frank Sinatra, Billy Eckstine, Sarah Vaughan, and Nancy Wilson. It was during this time that he won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Composition for his composition “Gravy Waltz” which later became the theme music for “The Steve Allen Show.” Brown led his own trio during the 1980s and 1990s and continued to play until his death. Brown was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1995 and in 2003 was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 2003.



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