Today in Black History, 08/02/2015 | Claude Albert Barnett - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 08/02/2015 | Claude Albert Barnett

  • August 2, 1891 George Washington Williams, Civil War veteran, minister and historian, died. Williams was born October 16, 1849 in Bedford Springs, Pennsylvania. He enlisted in the Union Army at 14 and fought during the final battles of the Civil War. After returning to civilian life, he enrolled at the Newton Theological Institute and earned his Doctor of Divinity degree in 1874, the first African American to graduate from the institution. After graduating, Williams held several pastorates, including the historic Twelfth Baptist Church of Boston, Massachusetts. Later, Williams moved to Cincinnati, Ohio and became the first African American elected to the Ohio State Legislature, serving one term from 1880 to 1881. President Chester Arthur appointed Williams Minister Resident and Consul General (Ambassador) to Haiti in 1885. In addition to his religious and political achievements, Williams also authored “The History of the Negro Race in America 1619 to 1880” (1883) and “A History of Negro Troops in the War of Rebellion” (1887). Williams’ biography, “George Washington Williams,” was published in 1985.
     
  • August 2, 1911 Robert Allen Cole, composer, playwright and stage producer, drowned in what many believe to have been a suicide. Cole was born July 1, 1868 in Athens, Georgia. As a child, he learned to play several instruments, including the banjo, piano, and cello. By 1891, he was a member of “The Creole Show,” eventually becoming a writer and stage manager for the show. After publishing his first songs in 1893, Cole established his own Black production company and produced “A Trip to Coontown,” thought to be the first musical entirely created and owned by Black showmen. The show premiered September 27, 1897 in South Amboy, New Jersey and toured off and on until 1901. Cole formed a partnership with J. Rosamond Johnson and James Weldon Johnson in the early 1900s which resulted in more than 200 songs. They also wrote and produced two musicals, “The Shoe-Fly Regiment” (1907) and “The Red Moon” (1909). Shortly after, Cole’s health began to deteriorate. His biography, “Bob Cole: His Life and His Legacy to Black Musical Theater,” was published in 1985.
     
  • August 2, 1916 Samuel David Ferguson, the first Black person to be elected a bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, died. Ferguson was born January 1, 1842 in Charleston, South Carolina but raised in Liberia where he attended mission schools. He was appointed a teacher at a boy’s boarding school in Cavalla in 1862 and at a Mount Vaughan high school from 1863 to 1873. Ferguson was consecrated a deacon in 1865 and a priest in 1868. He was consecrated a bishop in New York City in 1885, the first Black member of the House of Bishops. As Missionary Bishop of Liberia, Ferguson founded what is now Cuttington University College in 1889, established the Bromley Episcopal Mission School in 1905, and organized countless other schools in local villages. Ferguson published “The American Church in West Africa” in 1909.
     
  • August 2, 1921 Mabel Lee, hall of fame dancer, singer and “Queen of the Soundies,” was born in Atlanta, Georgia. Lee began performing at four, was singing with a big band at nine, and was headlining at Georgia’s first Black owned nightclub at twelve. She moved to New York City in 1940 and joined the chorus line at the Harlem West End Theater. Lee made over 100 soundies, short musical films, between 1940 and 1946. During World War II, she performed in the first all-Black USO unit. After touring Europe in the late 1940s and early 1950s, Lee returned to the United States to star in the Broadway revival of “Shuffle Along” (1952). She also starred in the national touring production of “Bubblin’ Brown Sugar” in 1976. Lee received a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts in 1985 to make master dance videos of vintage chorus line routines. She received the Flo-Bert Award in 2004 for lifetime contribution to tap dance and was inducted into the American Tap Dance Foundation Hall of Fame in 2008.
     
  • August 2, 1923 Isiah “Ike” Williams, hall of fame boxer, was born in Brunswick, Georgia. Williams began boxing professionally in 1940 and won the World Lightweight Boxing Championship in 1945. He successfully defended the title five times before losing it in 1951. He was named the Ring Magazine Fighter of the Year in 1948. Williams retired from boxing in 1956 with a record of 125 wins, 24 losses, and 5 draws. He was named to Ring Magazine’s list of 100 greatest punchers of all-time and inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. Williams died in relative poverty September 5, 1994.
     
  • August 2, 1924 James Arthur Baldwin, novelist, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist, was born in Harlem, New York. Baldwin began to write short stories, essays, and book reviews, many of which were later collected in “Notes of a Native Son” (1955), at 17. Disillusioned by prejudice against African Americans and homosexuals, he left the United States for Paris, France in 1948 and lived as an expatriate for most of his later life. Baldwin published his first novel, “Go Tell It on the Mountain” in 1953. Other works by Baldwin include “Amen Corner” (1954), “The Fire Next Time” (1963), “Blues for Mister Charley” (1964), and “Harlem Quartet” (1987). Most of Baldwin’s works deal with racial and sexual issues in the mid-20th century United States. Baldwin died November 30, 1987. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 2005. The James Baldwin School in New York City is named in his honor. Several biographies of Baldwin have been published, including “James Baldwin: A Biography” (1994) and “Baldwin’s Harlem: A Biography of James Baldwin” (2008). “James Baldwin: The Last Interview: And Other Conversations” was published in 2014.
     
  • August 2, 1945 Jewell Jackson McCabe, businesswoman and the first president of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, was born in Washington, D. C. McCabe studied dance at Bard College from 1961 to 1963 before becoming director of public affairs for the New York Urban Coalition in 1970. She did public relations work for the City and State of New York from 1973 to 1977 and worked as director of Government and Community Affairs for New York’s public broadcasting station from 1977 to 1982. McCabe became president of the New York Coalition of 100 Black Women in 1978 and pledged to take it national. By 1981, she had organized chapters in 22 states. McCabe served as president of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women from 1981 to 1991. During that time the organization grew to 62 chapters with more than 7,000 members. McCabe served on the board of Bard College and was the first Black member of the board of The Wharton School of Business. She is currently president of Jewell Jackson McCabe Associates in New York City, a consulting firm specializing in strategic communications, executive coaching, and competitiveness training. She also serves as associate professor of public administration at New York University Wagner. The Jewell Jackson McCabe Emerging Leaders Institute in Atlanta, Georgia is named in her honor.
     
  • August 2, 1951 William Henry Thompson was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration, for his actions during the Korean War. Not much is known of Thompson’s early life other than he was born August 16, 1927 in New York City and when he enlisted in the army he gave his address as the Home for Homeless Boys in The Bronx. On August 6, 1950, he was serving as a private first class in Company M, 24th Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division near Haman, South Korea. His actions on that day earned him the medal. Thompson’s citation partially reads, “While his platoon was reorganizing under the cover of darkness, fanatical enemy forces in overwhelming strength launched a surprise attack on the unit. Pfc. Thompson set up his machine gun in the path of the onslaught and swept the enemy with withering fire, pinning them down momentarily thus permitting the remainder of his platoon to withdraw to a more tenable position. Although hit repeatedly by grenade fragments and small-arms fire, he resisted all efforts of his comrades to induce him to withdraw, steadfastly remained at his machine gun and continued to deliver deadly, accurate fire until mortally wounded by an enemy grenade.” Thompson died from his wounds August 23, 1950. Initially, no Black soldiers were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for their service during World Wars I or II, making Thompson the first Black American to receive the medal since the Spanish-American War. This wrong was partially righted when the medals of one World War I veteran and seven World War II veterans were upgraded to the Congressional Medal of Honor in the 1990s.
     
  • August 2, 1963 Alysa Stanton, the first African American female rabbi, was born in Cleveland, Ohio but raised in Denver, Colorado. Stanton earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1987 and her master’s degree in education in 1992 from Colorado State University. She converted to Judaism in 1987. After earning her degree, she worked as a psychotherapist counseling abused and neglected children. Stanton earned her master’s degree in Hebrew letters from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 2009 and was ordained a rabbi June 6, 2009. That same year, she became leader of a synagogue in Greenville, North Carolina, a position she held until 2011.
     
  • August 2, 1983 James Lee Jamerson, hall of fame bass player and member of Motown’s Funk Brothers, died. Jamerson was born January 29, 1936 on Edisto Island, South Carolina. He moved to Detroit, Michigan in 1954. He learned to play the bass at Northwestern High School and soon began playing in blues and jazz clubs. Jamerson joined Motown Records in 1959 and is reported to have played on 95% of Motown recordings between 1962 and 1968. Jamerson’s relationship with Motown ended in 1973 and he went on to perform on such hits as the Hues Corporation’s “Rock the Boat” (1974), The Sylvers’ “Boogie Fever” (1975), and Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis’ “You Don’t Have To Be A Star (To Be In My Show)” (1976). Jamerson was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000 and the Fender Hall of Fame in 2009.
     
  • August 2, 1994 Harold Delaney, scientist and educator, died. Delaney was born August 24, 1919 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1941 and Master of Arts degree in chemistry in 1943 from Howard University. He was one of the first two students to earn a Ph. D. in chemistry from Howard in 1958. Between 1943 and 1945, Delaney worked as a chemist on the Manhattan Project at the University of Chicago which led to the development of the atomic bomb. He was a faculty member at Morgan State University from 1948 to 1969 and became the first male president of Manhattanville College in 1974. He later served as vice president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. He retired from that position in 1987.
     
  • August 2, 1995 Lawrence Dunbar Reddick, historian, curator, educator and author, died. Reddick was born March 3, 1910 in Jacksonville, Florida. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1932 and Master of Arts degree in 1933 from Fisk University. He earned his Ph. D. in history from the University of Chicago in 1939. In 1934, Reddick led the Works Project Administration slave narratives project which collected 250 slave narratives. Reddick was outspoken in his view that the accurate portrayal of African American history was crucial to the advancement of the race and that the history of all persons of African ancestry be collected, recorded, and embraced. He served as curator at the Schomburg Collection of Negro Literature (now Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture) from 1939 to 1948. Reddick became chief librarian and professor of history at Atlanta University in 1948. He also became involved in the Civil Rights Movement and served on the board of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. His involvement in the movement resulted in him being fired from Atlanta University. After that, he held various positions at a number of schools before retiring in 1987. Reddick authored “Our Cause Speeds On” in 1957 and “Crusader Without Violence: A Biography of Martin Luther King, Jr.” in 1959. He co-authored “The Southerner as American” in 1960 and “Worth Fighting For: The History of the Negro in the United States During the Civil War and Reconstruction” in 1965.
     
  • August 2, 1997 Fela Anikulapo Kuti, multi-instrumentalist, composer and human rights activist, died. Fela was born Olufela Olusegun Oludotun Ransome-Kuti October 15, 1938 in Abeokuta, Nigeria. Fela was sent to London, England in 1958 to study medicine but decided to study music instead at the Trinity College of Music. He returned to Nigeria in 1963 and formed a band. Fela took the band to the United States in 1969 and discovered the Black Power Movement. After returning to Nigeria, his music became more politically motivated. His music was popular among the Nigerian public and Africans in general but unpopular with the ruling government. Fela released the album “Zombie” in 1977 which was an attack on the Nigerian military. The album was a smash hit with the public but resulted in an attack by Nigerian soldiers in which Fela was severely beaten and his mother was killed. Fela formed his own political party, Movement of the People, in 1979 and put himself up for president in Nigeria’s first elections in more than a decade. His candidacy was refused by the government. Fela was jailed by the government in 1984 for 20 months. He released the anti-apartheid album “Beasts of No Nation” in 1989. More than a million people attended Fela’s funeral. A number of biographies have been written about Fela, including “Fela, Fela! This Bitch of a Life” (1982), “Fela: The Life and Times of an African Musical Icon” (1997), and “The Ikoyi Prison Narratives: The Spiritualism and Political Philosophy of Fela Kuti” (2009). A production of his life titled “Fela!” opened on Broadway in 2009 and continues to tour around the world.
     
  • August 2, 2013 Julius LeVonne Chambers, lawyer, civil rights activist and educator, died. Chambers was born October 6, 1936 in Mount Gilead, North Carolina. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree, summa cum laude, in history from North Carolina Central University, Master of Arts degree from the University of Michigan in 1959, and Juris Doctor degree from the University of North Carolina Law School, where he was the first African American editor-in-chief of the law review and graduated first in his class, in 1962. He earned his Master of Laws degree from Columbia University Law School in 1964. Chambers was part of the first integrated law firm in North Carolina from 1964 to 1984. That firm successfully litigated a number of key civil rights cases before the United States Supreme Court. For these efforts, Chambers’ home was bombed in 1965 and his law office was firebombed in 1971. Chambers headed the NAACP Legal Defense Fund from 1984 to 1993. He then served as chancellor of North Carolina Central University from 1993 to 2001. Chambers also served as lecturer or adjunct professor at a number of law schools, including Harvard, University of Michigan, University of Virginia, and University of Pennsylvania. He received several honorary doctorate degrees.
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