Today in Black History 07/03/2015 | “The Hazel Scott Show” - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History 07/03/2015 | “The Hazel Scott Show”

  • July 3, 1844 Macon Bolling Allen became the first African American licensed to practice law in the United States after passing the State of Maine bar exam and earning his recommendation. Allen was born Allen Macon Bolling August 4, 1816 in Indiana. He grew up a free man and learned to read and write on his own. He moved to Portland, Maine in the early 1840s and earned his license to practice law. However, because White people were unwilling to have a Black man represent them in court, he moved to Boston, Massachusetts in 1845. Allen passed the Massachusetts bar exam that same year and he and Robert Morris, Jr. opened the first Black law office in the U. S. Allen passed another exam in 1848 to become Justice of the Peace for Middlesex County. After the Civil War, Allen moved to Charleston, South Carolina and was appointed Judge in the Inferior Court of Charleston in 1873. The next year, he was elected Judge Probate for Charleston County. Later, Allen moved to Washington, D. C. where he worked as an attorney for the Land and Improvement Association. Allen practiced law right up until his death June 11, 1894.
     
  • July 3, 1855 Gertrude E. H. Bustill Mossell, educator, journalist and author, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. After graduating from the Institute for Colored Youth (now Cheyney University), Mossell taught for seven years in the public school systems of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Kentucky. She also contributed columns related to African American women to the African American newspapers in Philadelphia. Mossell was woman’s editor for the New York Age from 1885 to 1889 and held the same position with the Indianapolis World from 1891 to 1892. Mossell encouraged the growth of Black newspapers and worked to attract Black women to journalism. She published “The Work of the Afro-American Woman” in 1894, a collection of essays and poems that recognized the achievements of Black women in a number of fields. She also published a children’s book, “Little Dansie’s One Day at Sabbath School,” in 1902. Mossell also served as director of the charity fund for the Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and Training School and raised more than $30,000 in 1895. She also organized the Philadelphia branch of the National Afro-American Council. Mossell died January 21, 1948.
     
  • July 3, 1861 Peter “Black Prince” Jackson, the first Black man to win a national boxing crown, was born in Christiansted, Saint Croix. Jackson began working as a dock hand in the Sydney, Australia docks when he was 14. He won the Australian Heavyweight Boxing Championship September 25, 1886 with a 30th round knockout of Tom Leeds. Jackson soon found it difficult to get opponents in Australia so he moved to the United States. He beat “Old Chocolate” Godfrey to win the World “Colored” Heavyweight Boxing Championship in 1888. John L. Sullivan, the reigning world heavyweight champion, refused to fight Jackson in 1891 because he was a Black man and therefore Jackson fought James Corbett to a 61 round draw that was stopped because both boxers were too exhausted to continue. The next year, Corbett knocked out Sullivan to win the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship. Corbett stated in his autobiography that Jackson could have beaten any heavyweight he ever saw. Jackson won the British Empire Boxing Championship in 1892. He retired in 1899 with a record of 45 wins, 4 losses, and 5 draws. Jackson died July 13, 1901. He was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990 and the Australian Boxing Hall of Fame in 2004. “Peter Jackson: A Biography of the Australian Heavyweight Champion, 1860-1901” was published in 2011.
     
  • July 3, 1893 Mississippi John Hurt, hall of fame blues singer and guitarist, was born in Carroll County, Mississippi but raised in Avalon, Mississippi. Hurt taught himself to play the guitar around nine and began to play local dances. He recorded a number of singles in 1928, including “Candy Man Blues,” “Spike Driver Blues,” and “Avalon Blues” but they were commercial failures. After that, Hurt went back to playing local dances and working as a sharecropper. He was rediscovered in 1963 and began to play colleges, concert halls, and coffee houses. He also recorded three albums, “Worried Blues” (1964), “Today!” (1966), and “The Immortal Mississippi John Hurt” (1967) which was released posthumously. Hurt died November 2, 1966. Many of his songs have been recorded by others, including Bob Dylan, Beck, and Taj Mahal. Hurt was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1988 and his biography, “Mississippi John Hurt: His Life, His Times, His Blues,” was published in 2011. The Mississippi John Hurt Festival is held annually in Avalon.
     
  • July 3, 1902 Edward Lee Baker, Jr. was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration, for his actions during the Spanish – American War. On July 1, 1898 while serving as a sergeant major in the United States Army at Santiago, Cuba, Baker “left cover and under fire, rescued a wounded comrade from drowning.” Baker was born December 28, 1865 in Laramie County, Wyoming. After the war, he was promoted to captain and put in command of the 49th Infantry. He retired from the military in 1902. Not much else is known of Baker’s life except that he died August 26, 1913.
     
  • July 3, 1919 Samuel Proctor Massie, Jr., chemist and educator, was born in North Little Rock, Arkansas. After being rejected for admission to the University of Arkansas because of his race, Massie earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Arkansas AM&N (now the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff) in 1937 and his master’s degree in chemistry from Fisk University in 1940. As a doctoral candidate during World War II, he worked on the Manhattan Project in the development of uranium isotopes for the atomic bomb. Massie earned his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Iowa State University in 1946. He taught at Langston University from 1947 to 1953 and at Fisk from 1953 to 1960. The Manufacturing Chemists Association named Massie one of the six best chemistry teachers in America in 1961. Massie became the first Black faculty member at the United States Naval Academy in 1966. He retired from the academy in 1993. Massie’s research led to the development of drugs to treat mental illness, malaria, meningitis, gonorrhea, herpes, and cancer. The U. S. Department of Energy created the Dr. Samuel P. Massie Chair of Excellence in 1994, his portrait was hung in the National Academy of Sciences Gallery in 1995, and Chemical and Engineering News named him one of the top 75 chemist of all time in 1998. Massie died April 10, 2005. His autobiography, “Catalyst: The Autobiography of an American Chemist,” was published in 2001.
     
  • July 3, 1920 Wade Hampton McCree, Jr., the first African American appointed to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, was born in Des Moines, Iowa. McCree earned his bachelor’s degree, summa cum laude, from Fisk University in 1941 and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He served a four year stint in the United States Army as a captain during World War II. He earned his law degree from Harvard University Law School in 1948. After graduating, McCree moved to Detroit, Michigan where he practiced at a private law firm from 1948 to 1952. He was appointed to the Michigan Workman’s Compensation Commission in 1953 and became the first African American appointed to the Circuit Court of Wayne County, Michigan in 1954. He served on that court until 1961 when he was appointed by President John F. Kennedy to the U. S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. McCree was appointed to the U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth District by President Lyndon B. Johnson and received his commission September 7, 1966. McCree served on that court until 1977 when he was appointed U. S. Solicitor General, the second African American to hold that position, by President Jimmy Carter. McCree resigned that position in 1981 and became the Lewis M. Simes Professor of Law at the University of Michigan, a position he held until his death August 30, 1987. McCree received honorary doctorate degrees from several institutions, including an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Michigan in 1971. The Wade McCree Incentive Scholarship is offered at Wayne State University.
     
  • July 3, 1940 Fontella Bass, soul singer, was born in St. Louis, Missouri. Bass showed great musical talent at an early age. She was providing piano accompaniment for her grandmother’s singing at five and was accompanying her mother on gospel tours throughout the South at nine. Bass started her professional career at 17, working in clubs in her hometown. She was hired to back Little Milton on piano for concerts and recordings in 1961. She signed with Chess Records in 1965 and recorded “Rescue Me” which sold over a million copies. Other more moderate hits by Bass released in 1966 include “Recovery,” “I Can’t Rest,” and “You’ll Never Know.” Bass retired from music in 1972 to concentrate on raising her family. She returned in 1990 with a gospel album titled “Promises: A Family Portrait of Faith.” Her 1995 album “No Ways Tired” was nominated for the Best Traditional Soul Gospel Grammy Award. Her last album, “Travelin’,” was recorded in 2001. Bass was inducted into the St. Louis Walk of Fame in 2000 and received the Rhyhm and Blues Foundation Pioneer award in 2001. Bass died December 26, 2012.
     
  • July 3, 1945 Ruth Jean Simmons, the first Black president of an Ivy League institution, was born in Grapeland, Texas. Simmons earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Dillard University in 1967 and her Master of Arts degree in 1970 and Ph. D. in romance literature in 1973 from Harvard University. Simmons served in various capacities at a number of colleges and universities prior to becoming the first African American woman to head a major majority White college or university when she was selected president of Smith College in 1995. At Smith, she started the first engineering program at a U. S. women’s college. Simmons was elected president of Brown University November 9, 2000, the university’s first female president and the first Black person to head an Ivy League institution. As president, Simmons completed a $1.4 billion fundraising initiative and made internationalization a strategic priority to better prepare students for the challenges and opportunities of an interconnected world. Simmons stepped down as president of Brown in 2012 but remains professor of comparative literature and Africana studies. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the American Philosophical Society and the Council on Foreign Relations. President Barack H. Obama appointed Simmons to the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships in 2009. She was awarded the Ellis Island Medal of Honor for her many humanitarian efforts in 2010. Simmons holds honorary doctorate degrees from numerous colleges and universities, including Amherst College, Harvard University, and Spelman College.
     
  • July 3, 1956 Montel Brian Anthony Williams, talk show host, actor and author, was born in Baltimore, Maryland. Williams enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1974. A year later he became the first Black marine selected to the U. S. Naval Academy Prep School. He graduated in 1980 with a degree in general engineering and a minor in international security affairs, the first African American enlistee to graduate from both the Prep School and the Academy. He went on to earn a degree in Russian from the Defense Language Institute. After 12 years in the military, Williams departed as a lieutenant commander. Williams began “The Montel Williams Show” on CBS television in 1991. The show ran until 2008 and over that time was nominated for the Emmy Award for Outstanding Talk Show in 2001 and 2002, and won the award in 1996. Williams has also guest starred on several television shows and off-Broadway plays. He has authored several books, including “Mountain, Get Out of My Way” (1997), “A Dozen Ways to Sunday” (2001), and “Climbing Higher” (2005). Williams established the MS Foundation in 2000 to focus on research and education of multiple sclerosis.
     
  • July 3, 1970 Audra McDonald, acclaimed actress and singer, was born in West Berlin, Germany but raised in Fresno, California. McDonald earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from the Juilliard School of Music in 1993. While in school, she made her Broadway debut in “The Secret Garden.” McDonald has won six Tony Awards, more than any other actor, and is the only person to win Tony Awards in all four acting categories. She won the Tony Awards for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical in 1994 for “Carousel” and in 1996 for “Ragtime.” She won the Tony Awards for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play in 1994 for “Master Class” and in 2001 for “A Raisin in the Sun.” She won the 2008 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical for “Porgy and Bess” and the 2013 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play for “Last Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.” Additionally, McDonald was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical in 1998 for “Marie Christine” and in 2005 for “110 in the Shade.” McDonald is a classically trained singer and was featured on the album “Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny” which won the 2008 Grammy Awards for Best Classical Album and Best Opera Recording. She has recorded five solo albums. McDonald has made a number of television appearances and was nominated for the 2001 Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie for her performance in “Wit.” She has also appeared in several films.
     
  • July 3, 1972 Mississippi Fred McDowell, hall of fame blues guitarist and singer, died. McDowell was born January 12, 1904 in Rossville, Tennessee. He began to play the guitar at 14. He moved to Memphis, Tennessee in 1926 and worked odd jobs and played music for tips. He moved to Mississippi in 1928 and continued to play on the streets and at dances. McDowell was not recorded until 1959. His recorded albums include “You Gotta Move” (1965), “I Do Not Play No Rock ‘N’ Roll” (1969), and “Live in New York” (1971). McDowell was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1991.
     
  • July 3, 2000 Harold Lloyd Nicholas, hall of fame dancer and half of the Nicholas Brothers dance team, died. Nicholas was born March 17, 1921 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina but grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He, nor his older brother, had any formal dance training but by 1932 were the featured act at the Cotton Club in New York City. They made their Hollywood film debut in “Kid Millions” in 1934 and their Broadway debut in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1936. Over the next four decades, they alternated between movies, Broadway, television, nightclubs, and tours of Latin America, Africa, and Europe. One of their signature moves was to dance down a flight of stairs, leapfrogging over each other and landing in a split on each step. They performed the move in the movie “Stormy Weather” (1943) and Fred Astaire declared that it was the greatest movie musical sequence he had ever seen. Gregory Hines declared that if their biography was ever filmed, their dance numbers would have to be computer generated because no one could duplicate them. Mikhail Baryshnikov called them the most amazing dancers he had ever seen in his life. The brothers also taught tap dance at Harvard University. Among their students were Debbie Allen, Janet Jackson, and Michael Jackson. The brothers received numerous awards, including honorary doctorate degrees from Harvard University, Kennedy Center Honors in 1991, and induction into the National Museum of Dance’s Mr. & Mrs. Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney Hall of Fame in 2001. “Brotherhood in Rhythm: The Jazz Tap Dancing of the Nicholas Brothers” was published in 2000.
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