Today in Black History, 07/11/2015 | Martin Luther King Jr. was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 07/11/2015 | Martin Luther King Jr. was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom

  • July 11, 1821 Lucy Terry, creator of the oldest known work of literature by an African American, died. Terry was born around 1830 and stolen from Africa as an infant and sold into slavery in Rhode Island. On August 25, 1746, Native Americans attacked two White families in Deerfield, Massachusetts in an area called “The Bars.” Terry composed a ballad about the attack titled “Bars Fight” which earned her local acclaim. A successful free Black man purchased Terry’s freedom and married her in 1756. A persuasive orator, Terry won a case against false land claims before the Supreme Court of Vermont in the 1790s. She also delivered a three hour address to the Board of Trustees of Williams College to support the admittance of her son to the college. Although unsuccessful, the speech was remembered for its eloquence and skill. Her poem was preserved orally until it was published in 1855.
  • July 11, 1892 Luther Porter Jackson, historian, educator and author, was born in Lexington, Kentucky. Jackson earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Fisk University in 1914, his Master of Arts degree from Columbia Teacher’s College in 1922, and his Ph. D. in history from the University of Chicago in 1937. He began his teaching career in 1913 and joined the faculty of Virginia Normal and Technical Institute (now Virginia State University) in 1922. There, he established the department of history and served as chairman until his death April 20, 1950. Jackson assisted in the formation of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History in 1916. He published several historical books, including “Free Negro Labor and Property Holders in Virginia, 1830-1860” (1942) and “Negro Officeholders in Virginia, 1865-1895” (1945). He was also concerned about the lack of voting rights in the South and organized the Petersburg, Virginia League of Negro Voters in 1935. During the 1940s, he published an annual report on the voting status of African Americans in Virginia. The University of Virginia established the Luther P. Jackson House on campus in 1977 and the Luther Porter Jackson Middle School in Dendron, Virginia is named in his honor.  
  • July 11, 1905 29 men met in Fort Erie, Ontario, on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, to form a civil rights organization which became known as the Niagara Movement. The group was led by W. E. B. Du Bois and William Monroe Trotter. It was named for the mighty current of change the group wanted to effect. The group met for three days and developed a Declaration of Principles which, amongst other things, called for Blacks to be granted manhood suffrage and equal treatment of all American citizens alike. By the end of 1905 there were chapters of the Niagara Movement in 21 states and they had a total membership of 170. The movement continued to meet through 1909 but dwindled in members and significance due to opposition from Booker T. Washington and his supporters and disunity within the organization. In 1911, Du Bois recommended that the remaining members join the newly formed National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
  • July 11, 1915 Mifflin Wistar Gibbs, businessman, politician and the first elected African American municipal judge, died. Gibbs was born April 17, 1823 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He moved to San Francisco, California after the 1849 gold rush and became a successful retail merchant and a leader of the San Francisco Black community. Gibbs founded The Mirror of the Times, the first Black newspaper west of the Mississippi River, in 1855. He moved to Victoria, British Columbia in 1858 to escape growing racial prejudice in California and became the first Black person elected to the Victoria City Council in 1866. Gibbs returned to the United States in 1870 and settled in Little Rock, Arkansas and began to study the law. He passed the bar examination in 1872 and was elected Little Rock Police Judge in 1873, a position he held until 1875. President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed Gibbs registrar of the Little Rock district land office in 1877. President Benjamin Harrison appointed him receiver of public monies in 1889 and President William McKinley appointed him U. S. Consul to Madagascar in 1897. Gibbs founded the Capital City Savings Bank in 1903 and it had deposits of $100,000 by 1905. His autobiography, “Shadow and Light: An Autobiography with Reminiscences of the Last and Present Century,” was published in 1902.
  • July 11, 1925 Mattiwilda Dobbs, coloratura soprano and one of the first Black singers to enjoy a major international career in opera, was born in Atlanta, Georgia. Dobbs began piano lessons at seven and sang in the church choir. She earned her bachelor’s degree, first in her class, in music and Spanish from Spelman College in 1946 and her Master of Arts degree in Spanish from Columbia University Teachers College. After winning the International Music Competition in 1951, Dobbs made her professional debut. She debuted at the La Scala Opera House in 1953, the first time a Black artist sang in that opera house. Dobbs made her American debut in 1954 and debuted at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1956. She was the first Black singer offered a long-term contract by the Met. Dobbs refused to perform for segregated audiences therefore she was unable to perform in her home town of Atlanta until 1962. She retired from the stage in 1974 and began teaching at the University of Texas where she was the first African American on the faculty. She also taught at Howard University. She received an honorary doctorate degree from Spelman in 1979. Dobbs served on the board of the Metropolitan Opera and on the National Endowment for the Arts Solo Recital Panel.
  • July 11, 2010 Walter Hawkins, hall of fame gospel music singer, died. Hawkins was born May 18, 1949 in Oakland, California. He began his career as a member of his brother’s chorale, The Edwin Hawkins Singers. They produced “Oh Happy Day” (1967) which was one of the first gospel songs to cross over and become a mainstream hit. Hawkins left The Edwin Hawkins Singers in the early 1970s and founded the Love Center Choir. They produced the “Love Alive” series of recordings which sold well over a million copies from the 1970s through the 1990s. “Love Alive IV” (1990) was number one on the Billboard Gospel Album charts for 33 weeks. Hawkins produced and/or collaborated on 116 songs which were listed on the Billboard Gospel Music charts. He was nominated for nine Grammy awards and won the 1981 Grammy Award for Best Gospel Performance, Contemporary or Inspirational for “The Lord’s Prayer.” Hawkins was inducted into the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame in 2005.
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