Today in Black History, 08/01/2015 | The Universal Negro Improvement Association - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 08/01/2015 | The Universal Negro Improvement Association


  • August 1, 1834 The British Slavery Abolition Act of 1833 became effective, abolishing slavery in the majority of the British Empire. The act freed enslaved people under six. Enslaved people six and older were designated as apprentices and would continue to serve their former owners for up to six additional years before being freed. The Act also included the right of compensation for slave owners who would be losing their property.
  • August 1, 1844 Milton Murray Holland, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was born enslaved in Austin, Texas. Possibly the son of his owner, Holland and his two brothers were freed and sent to school in Ohio in the late 1850s. He joined the 5th United States Colored Troops in 1863 to fight in the Civil War. By September 29, 1864, he was serving as a sergeant major when his unit participated in the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm in Virginia. His actions during the battle earned him the medal, America’s highest military decoration, which was awarded April 6, 1865. His citation reads “Took command of Company C, after all the officers had been killed or wounded, and gallantly led it.” Despite his bravery and acting as an officer in combat, Holland never received an officer’s commission. He left the army in 1865 and moved to Washington, D. C. where he established an insurance company and worked for the government. Holland died May 15, 1910 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
  • August 1, 1854 Henry Walton Bibb, author and abolitionist, died. Bibb was born enslaved May 10, 1815 in Shelby County, Kentucky. He escaped to Cincinnati, Ohio in 1837 but was captured when he returned to free his wife. He escaped again in 1842 to Detroit, Michigan. After the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which required Northerners to cooperate in the capture of previously enslaved people, Bibb moved to Windsor, Canada. He established the first Black newspaper in Canada, “The Voice of the Fugitive,” in 1851. The paper promoted the abolitionist movement and provided information to parties on the Underground Railroad. Bibb and his wife also helped establish the Refugee Home Society which created settlements and assisted previously enslaved Black people who escaped to Canada. Bibb published his autobiography, “Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, An American Slave,” in 1848.
  • August 1, 1865 Ulysses Franklin Grant, hall of fame Negro Baseball League player, was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Grant played in the integrated professional International League prior to 1887, when Black men were banned from professional baseball. After that, he had a successful 15 year career in the Negro leagues, where he was one of the leading hitters and best fielders. Grant died May 27, 1937. He was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006, the earliest Negro league player to receive that honor.   
  • August 1, 1869 August Nathaniel Lushington, the first person of African descent to earn a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree in the United States, was born in Trinidad, British West Indies. Lushington earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Cornell University in 1894 and his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School in 1897. He practiced for much of his career in very segregated Lynchburg, Virginia where he experienced unfair treatment but eventually earned a reputation as a superior practitioner in the community. Lushington died February 12, 1939. Today a photograph of Lushington welcomes students to the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School.
  • August 1, 1874 Charles Clinton Spaulding, businessman, was born in Columbia County, North Carolina. Spaulding graduated from high school at 23.  He co-founded North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company in 1899 and was appointed general manager. Spaulding was made president of the company in 1923.  During his tenure, North Carolina Mutual grew to be the largest Black owned business in the United States with assets of $40 million at his death. Spaulding also assumed leadership of the Mechanics and Farmers Bank and the Mutual Building and Loan Association in 1921. In addition, he was vice president of the Bankers Fire Insurance Company and the Southern Fidelity Mutual Insurance Company. In all of these capacities, he focused on expansion of home ownership, business growth, and general race uplift. Spaulding was awarded the Harmon Foundation Gold Medal for distinguished achievement in business in 1926. He received honorary doctorate degrees from Shaw University, Tuskegee Institute, and Atlanta University. Spaulding also served as national chairman of the Urban League’s Emergency Advisory Council from 1930 to 1939, campaigning to secure New Deal jobs for African Americans. Spaulding died August 1, 1952.
  • August 1, 1879 Mary Eliza Mahoney became the first African American registered nurse in the United States. Mahoney was born May 7, 1845 in Dorchester, Massachusetts. She worked at the New England Hospital for Women and Children for fifteen years before being accepted into nursing school. She co-founded the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses in 1908 and served as director of the Howard Orphan Asylum for Black Children from 1911 to 1912. Mahoney was also a strong advocate for women’s equality and women’s suffrage. She was one of the first women in Boston, Massachusetts to register to vote in 1920. Mahoney died January 4, 1926. She was posthumously inducted into the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame in 1976 and the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993. The Mary Mahoney Award is bestowed biennially by the ANA in recognition of significant contributions in advancing equal opportunities in nursing for minority groups. The Mary Eliza Mahoney Dialysis Center in Boston and the Mary Mahoney Lecture Series at Indiana University are named in her honor.
  • August 1, 1887 Joseph Hayne Rainey, the first African American directly elected to the United States Congress, died. Rainey was born enslaved June 21, 1832 in Georgetown, South Carolina. Shortly after his birth, Rainey’s father bought their family’s freedom. Rainey was drafted into the Confederate Army in 1861 to work on fortifications. After a year, he and his wife were able to escape to Bermuda. After the end of the Civil War, Rainey returned to South Carolina in 1866 and joined the executive committee of the state Republican Party. He was a delegate to the 1868 convention that wrote the state’s new constitution and was elected to the State Senate in 1870. Later that year, Rainey was elected to the United States House of Representatives where he served until 1879. During his time in Congress, Rainey focused on supporting legislation to protect the civil rights of southern Black people. He also served on the Committee on Indian Affairs and opposed legislation to limit the number of Asian immigrants to the U. S. He took the chair from the Speaker of the House in April, 1874 and became the first African American to preside over the House of Representatives. After leaving Congress, he was appointed Internal Revenue Agent of South Carolina, a position he held for two years. Rainey moved to Washington, D. C. and engaged in banking and the brokerage business until his retirement in 1886. His biography, “Detour – Bermuda, Destination – U. S. House of Representatives: The Life of Joseph Hayne Rainey,” was published in 1977.
  • August 1, 1894 Benjamin Elijah Mays, minister, educator, scholar and social activist, was born in Ninety Six, South Carolina. Mays earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Bates College in 1920 and his Master of Arts degree in 1925 and Ph. D. in the School of Religion in 1935 from the University of Chicago. He was ordained a Baptist minister in 1922. Mays was dean of the School of Religion at Howard University from 1934 to 1940.  He became president of Morehouse College in 1940 and served as a significant mentor to Martin Luther King, Jr. and many other African American men. After his retirement in 1967, Mays was elected president of the Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education where he supervised the peaceful desegregation of Atlanta’s public schools. He was awarded the 1982 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal. Mays died March 28, 1984. He was entombed on the campus of Morehouse College. His autobiography, “Born to Rebel: An Autobiography,” was published in 1971. The Benjamin E. Mays High School in Atlanta is named in his honor. Mays’ name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.
  • August 1, 1899 William B. Purvis of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania received patent number 630,267 for an improved Cutter for Roll-Holders. His invention a free projecting flap to be formed on the edge of the paper when the sheet was cut off thus making it easy to grab the paper by hand without having to lift the cutter bar or turn the roll to move the paper forward. Purvis had previously received patent number 419,065 January 7, 1890 for the fountain pen. That invention made the use of an ink bottle obsolete by storing ink in a reservoir within the pen which was then fed to the tip of the pen. Over his lifetime, Purvis received nine additional patents. He is also believed to have invented, but did not patent, several other devices. Not much else is known of Purvis’ life.
  • August 1, 1911 Jackie Ormes, the first African American female cartoonist, was born Zelda Mavin Jackson in Monongahela, Pennsylvania. Ormes started in journalism as a proofreader for the Pittsburgh Courier. Her one-panel comic strip “Torchy Brown in Dixie to Harlem” first appeared in the Courier in 1937. Ormes moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1942 and began writing articles and a social column for the Chicago Defender. At the end of World War II, her one-panel cartoon “Candy” appeared in the Defender for a few months. Ormes returned to the Courier in 1945 with the cartoon “Patty-Jo ‘n’ Ginger” which ran for eleven years. She contracted to have Patty-Jo dolls produced in 1947. It was the first African American doll to have an extensive upscale wardrobe. Today, the dolls are highly sought after collectors’ items. She developed a multi-panel comic strip “Torchy in Heartbeats” in 1950 which ran until 1954. Ormes retired from cartooning in 1956 and devoted the remainder of her life to the Southside Chicago community, including being a founding member of the board of directors of the DuSable Museum of African American History. Ormes died December 26, 1985. Her biography, “Jackie Ormes: The First African American Woman Cartoonist,” was published in 2008.
  • August 1, 1918 Theodore Judson “T. J.” Jemison, clergyman and civil rights activist, was born in Selma, Alabama. Jemison earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Alabama State University and his Doctor of Divinity degree from Virginia Union University. He was called to minister a church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1949 and served until retiring in 2003. Jemison led the first civil rights boycott of segregated seating in public bus service in 1953. It served as a model for the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He was one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957 and served as the organization’s first elected secretary. Jemison was elected president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. in 1982 and served until 1994. While president, he oversaw the construction of the convention’s headquarters, the Baptist World Center in Nashville, Tennessee. Jemison received a number of honorary doctorate degrees, including one from Southern University. Jemison died November 15, 2013. The T. J. Jemison Baptist Student Center at Southern is named in his honor.
  • August 1, 1925 The National Bar Association was formally organized in Des Moines, Iowa. When the NBA was organized there were fewer than 1,000 African American lawyers in the United States. Today, it has 85 affiliate chapters throughout the United States and affiliations in Canada, the United Kingdom, Africa, and the Caribbean. It represents a professional network of over 20,000 lawyers, judges, educators and law students.
  • August 1, 1930 Geoffrey Lamont Holder, actor, dancer, painter, choreographer and director, was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. Holder began dancing in his brother’s dance troupe at seven. He made his Broadway debut in “House of Flowers” in 1954. He also appeared on Broadway in “Waiting for Godot” in 1957. Holder was a principal dancer with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet from 1955 to 1956. He made his film acting debut in “All Night Long” in 1961. Other film roles include “Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Sex” (1972), “Live and Let Die” (1973), “Annie” (1982), and “Boomerang” (1992). Holder won the 1975 Tony Awards for Best Director and Best Costume Design for the Broadway musical “The Wiz.” He was the first Black man to be nominated in either category.  He also directed and choreographed “Timbuktu!” in 1978. Holder choreographed and provided costumes for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and the Dance Theater of Harlem. He won a Guggenheim Fellowship in fine arts for his paintings in 1956, co-wrote and illustrated “Black Gods, Green Islands” in 1959, and published “Godffrey Holder’s Caribbean Cookbook” in 1973. Holder died October 5, 2014.  
  • August 1, 1941 Ronald Harmon Brown, the first African American to serve as United States Secretary of Commerce, was born in Washington, D.C. Brown earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Middlebury College in 1962. He served in the United States Army from 1963 to 1967, rising to the rank of captain. He earned his Juris Doctor degree from St. John’s University School of Law in 1970. Brown worked for the National Urban League from 1967 to 1979, rising to the position of deputy executive director for programs and governmental affairs.  He was elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1989 and played an integral role in the election of President William J. Clinton. President Clinton then appointed Brown Secretary of Commerce January 22, 1993. Brown died, along with 34 others, April 3, 1996 in a plane crash in Croatia. In honor of Brown, President Clinton established the Ron Brown Award for corporate leadership and responsibility. The United States Department of Commerce annually gives out the Ronald H. Brown Innovator Award and there is the Ronald H. Brown Center for Civil Rights and Economic Development at St. John’s University School of Law. Brown was posthumously awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2001. The new U. S. Mission to the United Nations building in New York City was named in his honor in 2011. His biography, “Ron Brown: An Uncommon Life,” was published in 2000.
  • August 1, 1953 Robert Cray, hall of fame blues guitarist and singer, was born in Columbus, Georgia but raised in Tacoma, Washington. Cray formed his first band in 1974 and recorded his debut album, “Who’s Been Talkin’?” in 1980. His breakthrough release “Strong Persuader” sold 2 million copies and won the 1988 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album. He also won that award in 1989 for “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark” and in 2000 for “Take Your Shoes Off.”  Other albums by Cray include “Time Will Tell” (2003), “This Time” (2009), and “In My Soul” (2014). He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2011.
  • August 1, 1960 Dahomey, renamed the Republic of Benin in 1990, proclaimed its independence from France. The Republic of Benin is located in western Africa and is bordered by Togo to the west, Nigeria to the east, and Burkina Faso and Niger to the north. It is approximately 43,500 square miles in size and the capital is Porto-Novo. The Republic of Benin has a population of approximately 8.5 million people with 43% Christian, 25% Muslim, and 17% practice Vodun. The official language is French.
  • August 1, 1962 Joetta Clark Diggs, hall of fame track and field athlete, was born in East Orange, New Jersey. Diggs attended the University of Tennessee where she was the National Collegiate Athletic Association indoor and outdoor 800 meter champion in 1983 and 1984. She also earned her bachelor’s degree in public relations in 1984. Over a career lasting almost 25 years, Diggs was a seven-time United States indoor champion, five-time U. S. outdoor champion, and competed in four Olympic Games. Diggs retired from track in 2000 and later earned a graduate degree in recreation administration. She is currently president of Joetta Sports & Beyond and executive director of the Joetta Clark Diggs Sports Foundation. She was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 2009.
  • August 1, 1966 Samuel Milton Nabrit became the first African American to serve on the Atomic Energy Commission when he was sworn in by President Lyndon B. Johnson. Nabrit was born February 21, 1905 in Macon, Georgia. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Morehouse College in 1925 and his Master of Science degree in 1928 and Ph. D. in 1932 from Boston University. He was the first African American to be awarded a Ph. D. by Brown. Nabrit taught zoology at Morehouse from 1925 to 1931 and became chairman of the biology department at Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University) in 1932. He became the dean of the graduate school of arts and science at Atlanta  in 1947 and served in that capacity until 1955 when he became the second president of Texas Southern University. In his eleven years at Texas Southern, Nabrit more than doubled the enrollment of Black students and encouraged their participation in the Civil Rights Movement. He declared that no student would be expelled for civil rights activities while he was president of the university. Nabrit served on President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s National Science Board from 1956 to 1962. Nabrit founded and became director of the Southern Fellowship Fund in 1967, to support and mentor Black students studying for doctorates. He worked for the fund until his retirement in 1981. Nabrit served as Brown University’s first Black trustee from 1967 to 1972 and the university established the Nabrit Fellowship in 1985 to assist graduate students from minority groups. Nabrit died December 30, 2003.
  • August 1, 1993 Barbara Ross-Lee became the first African American woman to head a medical school in the United States when she was appointed dean of the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine. Ross-Lee was born June 1, 1942 in Detroit, Michigan. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry and biology from Wayne State University in 1965. While working for the National Teaching Corps, she earned her Master of Arts degree in teaching special populations in 1969. She earned her Doctor of Osteopathy degree from Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine in 1973.  After leaving Ohio University in 2001, Ross-Lee became dean of the New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine and vice president of Health Sciences and Medical Affairs. Ross-Lee has received a number of awards, including an honorary doctorate degree from the New York Institute of Technology.
  • August 1, 1996 Michael Duane Johnson became the first man to win Gold medals in the 200 and 400 meter races at the same Olympic Games. Johnson was born September 13, 1967 in Dallas, Texas. He attended Baylor University where he won several National Collegiate Athletic Association championships in indoor and outdoor sprints and relays. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in business in 1990. In addition to the medals won at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympic Games, Johnson won Gold medals at the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympic Games as a member of the 4 by 400 meter relay team and at the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympic Games in the 400 meter race. He is the only man to successfully defend his Olympic title in the 400 meter race. Johnson received the 1996 John E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States and was named ABC’s Wide World of Sports Athlete of the Year. That same year, he published his autobiography, “Slaying the Dragon: How to Turn Your Small Steps to Great Feats.” Johnson retired from track after the 2000 Summer Olympics and currently runs a sports management company and a state of the art athletic training complex. He was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 2004 and his 1996 Olympic performance in the 200 meter race was named the greatest track and field moment of the last 25 years. Johnson holds the current world record in the 400 meter race and the 4 by 400 meter relay.
  • August 1, 2009 Naomi Ruth Sims, the first African American supermodel, died. Sims was born March 30, 1948 in Oxford, Mississippi but raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Her early attempts to get modeling work through established agencies were frustrated by racial prejudice with some telling her that her skin was too dark. Her first break came in August, 1967 when she was photographed for the cover of the New York Times’ fashion supplement. Her next breakthrough was when she was selected for a national television campaign for AT&T. After that, she went on to achieve worldwide recognition, appearing as the first Black model on the cover of Ladies’ Home Journal in 1968 and on the cover of Life Magazine in 1969. Sims retired from modeling in 1973 and started her own business, which expanded into a multi-million dollar beauty empire. She also authored several books on modeling, health, and beauty, including “All About Health and Beauty for the Black Woman” (1976), “How to Be a Top Model” (1979), and “All About Success for the Black Woman” (1982).
  • August 1, 2011 A statue in honor of Thomas Mboya was unveiled in Nairobi, Kenya. The statue is more than 33 feet tall and is located approximately 70 feet from where Mboya was assassinated July 5, 1969. Thomas Joseph Odhiambo Mboya was born August 15, 1930 in Kilima Mbogo, Kenya. He joined the African Staff Association in 1950 and a year later was elected president. He began molding the association into a trade union named the Kenya Local Government Workers Union. He received a scholarship to attend Ruskin College, Oxford in 1955 and graduated in industrial management in 1956. After returning from Britain, Mboya won a seat in the Legislative Council but became dissatisfied and formed his own party, the People’s Congress Party. At the 1958 All-African Peoples’ Conference, he was elected chairman at 28. Mboya organized the Airlift Africa project in 1959 and sent 81 Kenyan students to the United States to study at U. S. universities. Hundreds of Kenyan students benefitted from the project between 1959 and 1963. A book detailing the project, “Airlift to America: How Barack Obama, Sr., John F. Kennedy, Tom Mboya, and 800 East African Students Changed Their World and Ours,” was published in 2009. The People’s Congress Party merged with the Kenya Africa Union and Kenya Independent Movement in 1960 to form the Kenya African National Union with Mboya as secretary general. After Kenya gained independence December 12, 1963, Mboya became Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs and later Minister for Economic Planning and Development, the position he held at the time of his assassination. In addition to the statue, a street in Nairobi and the Tom Mboya Labour College in Kisumu, Kenya are named in his honor.
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