Today in Black History 07/04/2015 | Judge Damon Jerome Keith - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History 07/04/2015 | Judge Damon Jerome Keith

  • July 4, 1819 George Latimer, famous fugitive from slavery, was born enslaved in Norfolk, Virginia. Latimer was a domestic servant until 16 when his labor was hired out. On two separate occasions he spent time in prison as a result of his master’s debt. Latimer and his wife ran away October 4, 1842. They hid beneath the deck of a northbound ship that took them to Baltimore, Maryland and eventually made their way to Boston, Massachusetts. Soon after their arrival in Boston, Latimer was recognized as an escapee and was arrested with the intent to return him to his owner. His arrest caused an uproar in Boston and a Latimer Committee was formed. The committee created the Great Massachusetts Petition and collected more than 64,000 signatures for delivery to the State Assembly. The petition significantly contributed to the passage of the 1843 Personal Liberty Act, also known as the Latimer Law, which prevented Massachusetts officials from assisting in the detention of suspected fugitive slaves and banned the use of state facilities to detain such suspects. The committee also raised money and eventually purchased Latimer’s freedom for $400. After gaining his freedom, Latimer worked as a paperhanger in Lynn, Massachusetts. Latimer died around 1896. One of his sons was the inventor Lewis Howard Latimer.
  • July 4, 1845 Mary Edmonia Lewis, the first African American woman to gain international recognition as a sculptor, was born in Albany, New York. Lewis attended Oberlin College from 1859 to 1862. She moved to Boston, Massachusetts in 1863 and began to study under a well-known sculptor. She had her first public solo exhibit in 1864. Her early works were highly popular, including medallion portraits of the abolitionists John Brown and William Lloyd Garrison. In 1865, Lewis moved to Rome, Italy where she spent most of her career. Lewis had many major exhibitions, including one in Chicago, Illinois in 1870 and one in Rome in 1871. In 1873, the New Orleans Picayune stated, “Edmonia Lewis had snared two $50,000 commissions.” For the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, she created the monumental 3,015 pound marble sculpture “The Death of Cleopatra.” One critic wrote that Cleopatra was “the most remarkable piece of sculpture in the American section.” President Ulysses S. Grant commissioned Lewis to do his portrait in 1877. Other works by Lewis include “Old Arrow Maker and his Daughter (1866), “Forever Free” (1867), and “Hagar” (1868). Little is known of Lewis’ later life except that she died September 17, 1907. Her name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.
  • July 4, 1881 Tuskegee University was founded as the Tuskegee Normal School for Colored Teachers with Booker T. Washington as its first principal. Washington bought a plantation in 1882 and over the years new campus buildings were constructed, usually by students. Washington also developed a network of wealthy philanthropists who donated to the school. At the time of Washington’s death in 1915, Tuskegee’s endowment exceeded $1.5 million. The school was known as Tuskegee Institute by 1941 and that year the United States Army Air Corps established a program at the school to train Black aviators. The graduates became known as Tuskegee Airmen. After World War II, Tuskegee continued to expand its educational offerings, adding veterinary medicine, mechanical engineering, and architectural programs. It was renamed Tuskegee University in 1985. Today, the school has approximately 3,100 students and an endowment of approximately $122 million. It offers 35 bachelor’s degree programs, 12 master’s degree programs, and 2 doctorial degree programs. It is the only historically Black college or university to offer the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine program. Notable alumni include Alice Marie Coachman, Daniel “Chappie” James, Tom Joyner, Claude McKay, Lionel Richie, and Betty Shabazz. The campus of Tuskegee was designated a National Historic Landmark June 23, 1965 and the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site at Moten Field was listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and designated a National Historic Landmark District November 6, 1998.
  • July 4, 1885 Lucy Diggs Stowe, educator, administrator and one of the founders of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, was born in Berryville, Virginia but raised in Baltimore, Maryland. Stowe earned her bachelor’s degree from Howard University in 1908 and was class valedictorian. While at Howard, she co-founded the sorority January 15, 1908. She helped draft the sorority’s constitution and served as the first president. After graduation, Stowe returned to Baltimore to teach high school English. She also attended Columbia University where she earned her Master of Arts degree in 1915. Stowe won the national title at the first tournament of the American Tennis Association in 1917. She returned to Washington, D. C. in 1919 to establish the first junior high school in D. C. and served as principal until 1922. That year, she was appointed the first dean of women at Howard, a position she held until her death October 21, 1937. Stowe also founded the National Association of College Women, and served as the first president for several years, and the Association of Advisors to Women in Colored Schools. Lucy Diggs Stowe Hall at Howard opened in 1943 and Lucy Diggs Stowe Elementary School in D. C. is named in her honor. Stowe was posthumously inducted into the Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame in 2011. Her biography, “Faithful to the Task at Hand: The Life of Lucy Diggs Stowe,” was published in 2012.
  • July 4, 1892 Arthur George “A. G.” Gaston, entrepreneur and businessman, was born in Demopolis, Alabama. 
    Gaston’s formal education ended at the 10th grade. He enlisted in the United States Army in 1913 and served in France during World War I. After his discharge, Gaston returned to Alabama and worked in the mines. During this time, he formed the Booker T. Washington Burial Society which became the Booker T. Washington Insurance Company in 1932. He co-founded the Smith & Gaston Funeral Home in 1938 and the Booker T. Washington Business College in 1939. Other business ventures included Citizens Federal Savings and Loan Association, Vulcan Realty and Investment Company, the A. G. Gaston Home for Senior Citizens, two radio stations, a public relations company, and the A. G. Gaston Motel. He formed the A. G. Gaston Construction Company in 1986. Gaston was not outspoken on civil rights issues but did provide financial support to the Civil Rights Movement. He also served on the boards of Tuskegee University and Daniel Payne College. He received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Pepperdine University in 1975. He was named Entrepreneur of the Century by Black Enterprise magazine in 1992. Gaston died January 19, 1996.
  • July 4, 1898 Will Marion Cook’s composition “Clorindy: or, The Origin of the Cakewalk” became the first all-Black show to play in a prestigious Broadway house. Cook was born January 27, 1869 in Washington, D. C. His musical talents were apparent at an early age and he was sent to the Oberlin Conservatory to study violin at 15. He studied at the Berlin Hochschule fur Musik in Germany from 1887 to 1889 and made his professional debut in 1889. He became director of a chamber orchestra in 1890 and composed “Scenes from the Opera of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” Cook produced many successful musicals, including “Uncle Eph’s Christmas” (1901), “The Southerners” (1904), and “Swing Along” (1929). Cook died July 19, 1944. The Will Marion Cook House in New York City was declared a National Historic Landmark May 11, 1976. His biography, “Swing Alone: The Musical Life of Will Marion Cook,” was published in 2008.
  • July 4, 1938 William Harrison “Bill” Withers, Jr., hall of fame songwriter, singer and musician, was born in Slab Fork, West Virginia. Withers enlisted in the United States Navy at 18 and served for 9 years. After his discharge in 1965, he moved to Los Angeles, California to pursue a music career. Withers released his debut album “Just as I Am” in 1971 and it contained the singles “Grandma’s Hands” and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” which won the Grammy Award for Best Rhythm and Blues Song. He released his second album “Still Bill” in 1972 and it contained the single “Lean on Me” which sold more than 3 million copies and won the Grammy Award for Best Rhythm and Blues Song. Between 1977 and 1985, Withers concentrated on joint projects, including “Just the Two of Us” with saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr. which won the 1982 Grammy Award for Best Rhythm and Blues Song. In total, Withers has received nine Grammy Award nominations and won three. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2005,  received the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Award in 2008, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015. “Lean on Me” was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as a recording of “qualitative or historical significance” in 2007. Withers’ life was the subject of the 2009 documentary “Still Bill.”
  • July 4, 1942 Floyd Douglas Little, hall of fame football player, was born in New Haven, Connecticut. Little was a three-time All-American running back at Syracuse University and was picked by the Denver Broncos in the 1967 National Football League Draft. He led professional football in rushing yards for six consecutive years from 1968 to 1973. Over his nine season professional career, he was a three-time All-Pro. Little retired in 1975 and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1983 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010. Little was named the 1978 Walter Camp Man of the Year which annually recognizes an individual closely associated with college football as a player or coach. “The individual must have attained a measure of success and been a leader in their chosen profession. He must have contributed to the public service for the benefit of his community, country and his fellow man.” Little earned his Juris Doctor degree in 1975 from the University of Denver College of Law and owned a successful automobile dealership until his retirement in 2009. Little received the 2014 Doak Walker Legends Award which is annually given to running backs who have exemplified great teamwork, sportsmanship, and leadership on the field, as well as in the community. He currently serves as a special assistant to the athletic director at Syracuse University. “Floyd Little’s Tales from the Bronco’s Sideline” was published in 2006.
  • July 4, 1969 Theodore “Ted” Rhodes, the first African American professional golfer, died. Rhodes was born November 9, 1913 in Nashville, Tennessee. He learned to golf while working as a caddie at Nashville golf courses. Rhodes joined the Civilian Conservation Corps in the late 1930s and served in the United States Navy during World War II. He played in the 1948 U. S. Open, the first African American professional golfer. Rhodes and fellow African American golfer Bill Spiller sued the Professional Golfers’ Association to remove the association’s “Caucasian only clause.” Although Rhodes and Spiller prevailed in court, the PGA circumvented the ruling by changing its tournaments to invitationals and only inviting White golfers. Rhodes played mostly in United Golf Association tournaments, professional golf tournaments for Black golfers during the era of racial segregation, winning about 150 tournaments. Rhodes moved back to Nashville in the 1960s and mentored several future PGA golfers, including Lee Elder and Charlie Sifford. A month after his death, the Cumberland Golf Course in Nashville was renamed in his honor. Rhodes was posthumously inducted into the Tennessee Golf Hall of Fame in 1998 and the PGA granted posthumous membership to Rhodes and Spiller in 2009.
  • July 4, 2002 Benjamin Oliver Davis, Jr., commander of the World War II Tuskegee Airmen, died. Davis was born December 18, 1912 in Washington, D. C. After attending the University of Chicago, Davis entered the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1932. Despite shunning by his classmates, never having a roommate, and being forced to eat alone, he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1936, the fourth Black graduate from the academy. He was assigned to the first training class at Tuskegee Army Air Field in 1941 and became the first officer to earn his wings there in 1942. During World War II, the airmen commanded by Davis compiled an outstanding record in combat, flying more than 15,000 sorties, shooting down 111 enemy planes, and destroying or damaging 273 planes on the ground. After the war, Davis served at the Pentagon and in overseas posts for the next 20 years before retiring from active military service in 1970 as a lieutenant general. Davis published his autobiography, “Benjamin O. Davis: American” in 1991 and was advanced to the rank of General, United States Air Force in 1998, with President William J. Clinton pinning on his four-star insignia.
  • July 4, 2003 Barry White, hall of fame singer, songwriter and record producer, died. White was born Barrence Eugene Carter September 12, 1944 in Galveston, Texas. He began his musical career in the early 1960s singing in groups before going out on his own in the mid-1960s. He got his big break producing a female group he had discovered called Love Unlimited. Their 1971 release “Girl’s Point of View” sold more than 1 million copies. White’s debut album, “I’ve Got So Much to Give,” was released in 1973 and included the single “I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby” which rose to number one on the R&B charts. Other hits followed, including “Never, Never Gonna Give You Up” (1974), “You’re The First, the Last, My Everything” (1975), “It’s Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next to Me” (1977), and “Your Sweetness is My Weakness” (1978). Although White’s success on the charts slowed during the 1980s and early 1990s, he maintained a loyal following. White returned to the charts with the release of “The Icon Is Love” (1994) and “Staying Power” (1999) which won Grammy Awards for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance and Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance. Over his career, White won five Grammy Awards and sold more than 100 million records. He was posthumously inducted into the Dance Music Hall of Fame in 2004. His autobiography, “Love Unlimited,” was published in 1999.
  • July 4, 2012 James Louis Bivins, hall of fame boxer, died. Bivins was born December 6, 1919 in Dry Branch, Georgia but raised in Cleveland, Ohio. He started boxing professionally in 1940 and won his first 19 fights. He won 27 straight fights between 1942 and 1946. Despite being ranked the number one contender in both the light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions, he was never given the opportunity to fight for a world title. During his career, Bivins fought seven boxers that are in the International Boxing Hall of Fame and defeated four, including Ezzard Charles and Archie Moore. He retired from boxing in 1953 and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1999.
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