Today in Black History, 08/12/2015 | Emma Ophelia DeVore - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 08/12/2015 | Emma Ophelia DeVore

August 12, 1922 Emma Ophelia DeVore, the first prominent African American model in the United States, was born in Edgefield, South Carolina. DeVore began modeling at 16 and as a fair skinned African American gained contracts throughout Europe. Determined to create a market for non-White women in the U. S., DeVore established the Grace Del Marco Agency in 1946. The agency was a stepping stone for countless household names, including Diahann Carroll, Richard Roundtree, Cicely Tyson, and others. She received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Allen University in 1974. DeVore was featured in “I Dream a World,” a collection of portraits and biographies of Black women who helped change America, in 1989. She was honored by the Fashion Institute of Technology and the Fashion Arts Xchange, Inc. in 2004 for her contributions to fashion and entertainment. She was also the chief executive officer and publisher of The Columbus Times newspaper in Columbus, Georgia. DeVore died February 28, 2014.


  • August 12, 1825 Orindatus Simon Bolvar Wall, the first Black man commissioned a captain in the United States Army, was born enslaved in Richmond County, North Carolina. Wall was freed in 1837 when his father sent him to the Harveyburg Black School in what is now Ohio. He attended Oberlin College before establishing a successful boot and shoemaking business. At the start of the Civil War, he raised recruits for the 104th Colored Infantry Volunteers and was commissioned a captain in the army in March, 1865. Wall moved to Washington, D. C. in 1867 and graduated from the Howard University Law School. He established a law practice and served as a police magistrate and justice of the peace. For many newly freed African Americans in the district, he was the law. Wall was also elected to two terms in the district legislature, representing a majority White district. Wall died April 26, 1891. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
  • August 12, 1855 Clinton Greaves, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was born enslaved in Madison County, Virginia. Greaves joined the United States Army in 1872 and by January 24, 1877 was serving as a corporal in Company C of the 9th Cavalry Regiment during the Indian Wars. On that day, his actions earned him the medal, America’s highest military decoration. His citation reads, “While part of a small detachment to persuade a band of renegade Apache Indians to surrender, his group was surrounded. Cpl. Greaves in the center of the savage hand-to-hand fighting, managed to shoot and bash a gap through the swarming Apaches, permitting his companions to break free.” Greaves received the medal June 26, 1879. He rose to the rank of sergeant before leaving the army after 20 years of service. Greaves died August 18, 1906. Camp Greaves, a U. S. Army installation in the Republic of South Korea which was closed in 2004, was named in his honor.
  • August 12, 1891 Lillian Evanti, one of the first African American women to become an internationally prominent opera performer, was born Lillian Evans in Washington, D. C. A gifted student and performer, she could speak and sing in five different languages and earned her Bachelor of Music degree from Howard University in 1917. Evans, a lyric soprano, began singing professionally in 1918 under the stage name Evanti. She moved to France in 1925 where she became the first African American woman to sing with a European opera company. She gave a special command performance for President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934. She and Mary Caldwell Dawson created The National Negro Opera Company in 1941 to provide a venue for African American performers. Over her career, Evanti performed in 24 operas. Evanti died December 6, 1967. Her home in Washington, D. C. was listed on the National Register of Historic Places September 8, 1987.
  • August 12, 1920 Percy Mayfield, hall of fame blues singer and songwriter and the “Poet Laureate of the Blues,” was born in Minden, Louisiana. Mayfield began his performing career in Texas and moved to Los Angeles, California in 1942. He recorded his song “Two Years of Torture” in 1947 and it was a minor hit. He recorded his biggest hit, “Please Send Me Someone to Love,” in 1950 and it was a number one R&B hit. Mayfield was involved in a car accident in 1952 which disfigured his face and caused him to limit performing but he continued to write and record. Other recordings by him include “I Dare You Baby” (1953), “Loose Lips” (1954), and “The Voice Within” (1955). Mayfield was signed by Ray Charles in 1961 and he wrote “Hit the Road Jack” which was recorded by Charles and was number one on the Billboard Pop Chart for two weeks. Mayfield slipped into relative obscurity and poverty after the early 1970s and died August 11, 1984.He was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1987.
  • August 12, 1937 Walter Dean Myers, author of young adult literature, was born Walter Milton Myers in Martinsburg, West Virginia but raised in Harlem, New York. Myers dropped out of school and joined the United States Army at 17. After completing his military service, he worked at various jobs and began to write. His first published book, “Where Does the Day Go?,” won a Council on Interracial Books for Children Award. Myers published more than 100 books, including “The Scorpion” and “Somewhere in the Darkness,” which were runner-up in 1989 and 1993 for the Newbery Medal which recognizes the previous year’s “most distinguished contribution to American literature for children,” and “Monster” which was the inaugural winner of the Michael L. Printz Award for young adult literature in 2000. Myers received the Margaret A. Edwards Award for Lifetime Achievement in writing for young adults in 1994 and was the inaugural recipient of the Coretta Scott King – Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2010. Also that year, he was the United States nominee for the Hans Christian Andersen Award. He was named the Library of Congress National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature in 2012. Myers died July 1, 2014.  
  • August 12, 1957 Albert Chalky Wright, hall of fame boxer, died. Wright was born February 10, 1912 in Wilcox, Arizona. He began boxing professionally in 1928, two weeks after turning 16. He fought for many years before winning the World Featherweight Boxing Championship in 1941. He successfully defended the title once before losing it in 1942. Wright retired in 1948 with a record of 160 wins, 43 losses, and 18 draws. After retiring, Wright served as a chauffeur and bodyguard for Mae West. Wright was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1997.
  • August 12, 1959 Lynette Woodard, hall of fame basketball player, was born in Wichita, Kansas. Woodard played college basketball at the University of Kansas where she was a four-time All-American, two-time Academic All-American, and earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in speech communications and human relations in 1986. Woodard was the 1981 recipient of the Wade Trophy as college women’s basketball national player of the year. She holds the major college women’s basketball record for most points scored during a career. Woodard was a member of the United States’ women’s basketball team that won the Gold medal at the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympic Games. She became the first female member of the Harlem Globetrotters in 1985. Woodard played basketball overseas from 1990 to 1997 and retired in 1999. That year, she was named one of Sports Illustrated magazine’s 100 Greatest Female Athletes. She was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2004 and the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2005. She serves on the advisory board of the Women’s Sports Foundation and works as a financial consultant. The Lynette Woodard Recreation Center in Wichita is named in her honor.
  • August 12, 1988 Jean-Michel Basquiat, the first painter of African descent to become an international art star, died. Basquiat was born December 22, 1960 in Brooklyn, New York. He was fluent in French and Spanish at 11. Basquiat dropped out of high school and started as a graffiti artist. He had become part of the neo-expressionist movement by 1982 and was showing his work regularly. He appeared on the cover of The New York Times magazine in 1985 in a feature entitled “New Art, New Money: The Marketing of an American Artist.” Examples of Basquiat’s representation of his heritage in his work include “Irony of Negro Policeman” (1981) and “Untitled (History of the Black People)” (1983). Several major museum retrospective exhibitions of his work have been held since his death, including the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Brooklyn Museum. His works sell for millions of dollars. His painting “Dustheads” sold for $48.8 million in 2013. A film biography titled “Basquiat” was released in 1996 and a documentary film, “Jean-Michel Basquiat: The Radiant Child,” was released in 2009.
  • August 12, 1997 Luther Allison, hall of fame blues guitarist, died. Allison was born August 17, 1939 in Widener, Arkansas but raised in Chicago, Illinois. He taught himself to play the guitar. During the 1950s and early 1960s, he worked the Chicago club circuit. He released his debut album, “Love Me Mama,” in 1968. Allison was signed by Motown records in 1972, the first and one of the few blues artists to sign with the company. He began touring Europe by the mid-1970s and moved to France in 1977. Allison returned to the United States in 1994 and released the album “Soul Fixin’ Man” which won four W. C. Handy Awards. He also released the album “Reckless” just before his death. Allison was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1998.
  • August 12, 2009 Joseph Ecols Lowery received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Barack H. Obama. Lowery was born October 6, 1921 in Huntsville, Alabama. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Paine College in 1943 and Bachelor of Divinity degree from Paine Theological Seminary in 1950. He later completed a doctorate of divinity degree at the Chicago Ecumenical Institute. He helped lead the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott and co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957. Lowery served as president of SCLC from 1977 to 1997. He also co-founded and was president of the Black Leadership Forum, a consortium of advocacy groups that protested apartheid in South Africa. He is now retired from the ministry but remains active in the Civil Rights Movement. Lowery has received a number of awards, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997 and the National Urban League’s Whitney M. Young, Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award in 2004. Joseph E. Lowery Boulevard in Atlanta, Georgia and the Joseph E. Lowery Institute for Justice & Human Rights at Clark Atlanta University are named in his honor. He published “Singing the Lord’s Song in a Strange Land” in 2011.
  • August 12, 2009 Desmond Mpilo Tutu received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor, from President Barack H. Obama. Tutu was born October 7, 1931 in Klerksdorp, Transvaal, South Africa. Although Tutu wanted to become a physician, his family could not afford the training. Therefore, he studied education and began to teach in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1953. Tutu was ordained an Anglican priest in 1960 and traveled to London, England in 1962 to study at King’s College where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1965 and master’s degree in theology in 1966. He returned to South Africa and became chaplain at the University of Fort Hare in 1967 and lectured at the National University of Lesotho from 1970 to 1972.  Tutu returned to England in 1972 to serve as vice director of the Theological Education Fund of the World Council of Churches. He returned to South Africa in 1975 as Anglican dean of St. Mary’s Cathedral, the first Black person to hold that position. Tutu’s opposition to apartheid was vigorous and unequivocal and he was outspoken at home and abroad. He became the first Black person to lead the Anglican Church in South Africa when he became Archbishop of Cape Town September 7, 1986. He served as president of the All Africa Conference of Churches from 1987 to 1997. After the fall of apartheid, Tutu headed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Since his retirement, Tutu has worked as a global activist on issues pertaining to democracy, freedom, and human rights. Tutu was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize December 10, 1984 for “his role as a unifying leader figure in the campaign to resolve the problem of apartheid in South Africa.” He has also received numerous honorary doctorate degrees and fellowships from distinguished universities around the world. Tutu is the author of several collections of sermons and other writings, including “Crying in the Wilderness” (1982), “The Rainbow People of God: The Making of a Peaceful Revolution” (1994), “No Future Without Forgiveness” (1999), and “God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Time” (2004). The Desmond Tutu Peace Center is committed to creating a society that nurtures tolerance and understanding amongst all people. In 2013, Tutu received the Templeton Prize for “affirming life’s spiritual dimension.”
  • August 12, 2009 Sidney Poitier received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Barack H. Obama. Poitier was born February 20, 1927 in Miami, Florida. He moved to New York City at 17 and joined the American Negro Theater. He made his film debut in “No Way Out” (1950) and his breakout role was in “Blackboard Jungle” (1955). Poitier was in the first production of “A Raisin in the Sun” on Broadway in 1959 and starred in the film version in 1961. He became the first Black actor to win the Academy Award for Best Actor April 13, 1964 for his role in “Lilies of the Field.” Other films in which he has appeared include “The Defiant Ones” (1958), “A Patch of Blue” (1965), “In the Heat of the Night” (1967), and “The Jackal” (1997). Poitier has also directed a number of films, including “Buck and the Preacher” (1972), “Stir Crazy” (1980), and “Ghost Dad” (1990). He also has written three autobiographies, “This Life” (1980), “The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography” (2000), and “Life Beyond Measure – Letters to my Great-Granddaughter” (2008). Poitier was appointed Ambassador of the Bahamas to Japan in 1997 and served on the board of The Walt Disney Company from 1998 to 2003. He received Kennedy Center Honors in 1995 and an honorary award from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in 2002 “in recognition of his remarkable accomplishments as an artist and human being.” The documentary “Sidney Poitier: an Outsider in Hollywood” was released in 2008. Poitier published a novel, “Montaro Caine,” in 2013.
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