Today in Black History, 08/13/2015 | Minnie Joycelyn Elders - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 08/13/2015 | Minnie Joycelyn Elders

August 13, 1933 Minnie Joycelyn Elders, the first African American United States Surgeon General, was born in Schaal, Arkansas. Elders earned her Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Philander Smith College in 1952. After serving three years in the U. S. Army, she earned her Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Arkansas Medical School in 1960. She also earned her Master of Science degree in biochemistry from the school in 1967. That same year, she began teaching at the medical center as an assistant professor, eventually becoming a full professor in 1976. Elders became the first person in Arkansas to be board certified as a pediatric endocrinologist in 1978. She was appointed director of the Arkansas Department of Health in 1987 and increased by tenfold the number of early childhood screenings annually and doubled the immunization rate for two year olds. She was elected president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officers in 1992. Elders was confirmed as U. S. Surgeon General September 7, 1993. However, because of her views on several controversial issues, her tenure was short and she was fired in December, 1994. She returned to the University of Arkansas Medical School where she is now professor emeriti. Elders earned a Doctor of Science degree from Bates College in 2002. Elders published her autobiography, “Joycelyn Elders, M. D.: From Sharecropper’s Daughter to Surgeon General of the United States of America,” in 1997.  


  • August 13, 1893 Eva Beatrice Dykes, the first Black female to fulfill the requirements for a doctorial degree, was born in Washington, D. C. Dykes earned her Bachelor of Arts degree, summa cum laude, from Howard University in 1914. She then attended Radcliffe College where she earned her second Bachelor of Arts degree, magna cum laude, in 1917 and her Master of Arts degree in 1918. She also was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. Dykes completed the requirements for her doctorial degree in 1921 but because Radcliff held its graduation later than some other universities, she was the third Black female to actually receive her Ph. D. Dykes taught English at Howard University from 1929 to 1944 and was chair of the English department at Oakwood College from 1944 to her retirement in 1975. Dykes co-authored “Readings from Negro Authors for Schools and Colleges” in 1931 and authored “The Negro in English Romantic Thought: Or a Study in Sympathy for the Oppressed” in 1942. The Oakwood College library was named in her honor in 1973. Dykes died October 29, 1986.
  • August 13, 1906 The Brownsville Affair started when a White bartender was killed and a White police officer was wounded in Brownsville, Texas. The citizens of Brownsville immediately accused the Black soldiers of the 25th Regiment at Fort Brown of the shootings. Despite the facts that the White commanders at Fort Brown confirmed that all of the soldiers were in their barracks at the time of the shooting and evidence that bullet cartridges from army rifles had been planted, Brownsville’s mayor and citizens continued to blame the soldiers. When the soldiers were pressured to name who fired the shots, they insisted that they had no idea. As a result, United States President Theodore Roosevelt, Jr. ordered 167 of the Black soldiers dishonorably discharged because of their “conspiracy of silence.” They were not given any type of hearing, trial, or the opportunity to confront their accusers. The dishonorable discharge prevented these men from receiving their pensions and ever working in a military or civil service capacity. “The Brownsville Raid,” the report of the in depth investigation into the incident which found the accused men to be innocent, was published in 1970. As a result, the U. S. Army conducted another investigation and found the accused members innocent and reversed President Roosevelt’s order in 1972. The administration of President Richard M. Nixon overturned the dishonorable discharges of the soldiers but refused to grant their families the back pension pay. Books about the incident include “The Brownsville Affair: National Crisis and Black Reaction” (1971) and “The Brownsville Raid” (1992).
  • August 13, 1911 James Benton Parsons, the first African American appointed to a lifetime federal judgeship in the United States, was born in Kansas City, Missouri but raised in Decatur, Illinois. Parsons earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Millikin University in 1934 and his Master of Arts degree in political science from the University of Chicago in 1946. Parsons served in the U. S. Navy from 1942 to 1945 and earned his Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Chicago Law School in 1949. From that time to 1961, he was in private practice as well as serving in several public capacities in Illinois. Parsons was appointed by President John F. Kennedy to a federal judgeship on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois August 30, 1961. He served on that court until his retirement in 1992. Parsons died June 19, 1993. Parsons Elementary School in Decatur and the ceremonial courtroom in the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago, Illinois are named in his honor.
  • August 13, 1919 Charles Edward Anderson, the first African American to receive a Ph.D. in meteorology, was born in St. Louis, Missouri. Anderson earned his Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry in 1941 from Lincoln University. After graduating, he enlisted in the United States Army Air Force and was sent to the University of Chicago where he earned his meteorological certification in 1943 and began serving as weather officer for the Tuskegee Airmen. Anderson earned his Master of Science degree from the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn in 1948 and his Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1960. He remained a weather officer in the U. S. Army Air Corps until 1960. Anderson was a professor from 1966 until his death October 21, 1994, first at the University of Wisconsin and then at North Carolina State University. The American Meteorological Society annually awards a Charles E. Anderson Award to recognize outstanding contributions to the promotion of diversity in the atmospheric sciences.
  • August 13, 1921 Jimmy McCracklin, hall of fame songwriter, pianist and vocalist, was born James David Walker in Helena, Arkansas but raised in St. Louis, Missouri. McCracklin joined the United States Navy in 1938 and served for three years. After completing his military service, he moved to Richmond, California where he played in a local club. McCracklin recorded his debut single, “Miss Mattie Left Me,” in 1945. He went on to record more than 20 albums, including “Just Got to Know” (1963), “Think” (1965), and “A Taste of the Blues” (1994). His 1957 single “The Walk,” which he wrote, went to number seven on the Billboard Pop Chart. McCracklin claimed to have written almost a thousand songs and recorded hundreds of them. He received the Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 1991 and was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2008. McCracklin died December 20, 2012.
  • August 13, 1931 John W. Porter, the first Black state school superintendent in the United States since reconstruction, was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Porter earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Albion College in 1953 and his Master of Arts degree in counseling and guidance in 1957 and his Ph. D. in higher education in 1962 from Michigan State University. Porter worked as a teacher before becoming the first Black professional employee of the Michigan Department of Education. Porter was elected State Superintendent of Public Instruction in 1969, the youngest and first Black chief state school officer in the nation. He served in this capacity until 1979 when he was appointed president of Eastern Michigan University. Porter retired from EMU in 1989 and for two years served as interim superintendent of the Detroit Public School System. During his tenure, he executed a plan that eliminated a $160 million deficit and significantly reduced spending. Porter died June 27, 2012. The John W. Porter College of Education Building and the John W. Porter Distinguished Chair in Urban Education at Eastern Michigan University are named in his honor.
  • August 13, 1942 Frank “Son” Seals, hall of fame blues guitarist and singer, was born in Osceola, Arkansas. Seals began performing professionally at 13 and formed his own band, Son Seals and the Upsetters, at 19. He moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1971 and recorded his debut album, “The Son Seals Blues Band” in 1973. Other albums by Seals include “Midnight Sun” (1976), “Chicago Fire” (1980), and “Nothing But The Truth” (1994). He received the W. C. Handy Award for Best Blues Recording in 1985, 1987, and 2001. Seals died December 20, 2004. He was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2009.
  • August 13, 1947 George Godfrey, hall of fame boxer died. Godfrey was born Feab Smith Williams January 25, 1897 in Mobile, Alabama. He began boxing while serving in the military during World War I. He made his professional debut in 1919 and during his 18 year career compiled a record of 97 wins, 20 losses, and 3 draws. Godfrey never had a chance to fight for the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship because of his race. He did however win the Mexican and International Boxing Union Heavyweight Boxing Championships. Godfrey was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2007.
  • August 13, 1948 Kathleen Deanne Battle, operatic soprano, was born in Portsmouth, Ohio. Battle earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1970 and Master of Arts degree in 1971 from the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music in music education. She made her professional debut in 1975 with the Michigan Opera Theater. From there, she has performed in recitals, choral works, and operas, including singing for Pope John Paul II in 1985 and singing “The Lord’s Prayer” for Pope Benedict XVI at the White House in 2008. Although she no longer appears in operas, Battle remains active in concert and recital performances. Battle won the Grammy Award for Best Classical Vocalist Soloist Performance in 1986, 1987, and 1992 and the Grammy Award for Opera Recording in 1987 and 1993. She also won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement – Classical Music/Dance Programming – Performance in 1992 and is the recipient of seven honorary doctorate degrees from American universities, including the University of Cincinnati, Ohio University, and Seton Hall University.
  • August 13, 1950 Freeman A. Hrabowski, III, educator, was born in Birmingham, Alabama. Hrabowski was jailed for five days for participating in civil rights protests at 12. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree, with high honors in mathematics, from Hampton Institute (now University) in 1969 and his Master of Arts degree in 1971 and Ph. D. in 1975 from the University of Illinois. Hrabowski joined the University of Maryland, Baltimore County in 1987 as vice provost became president in 1992, his current position. During his tenure, he has turned UMBC from a struggling commuter college to what U. S. News & World Report described in 2011 as “the number one up and coming university in the nation” and the number four “Best Undergraduate Teaching” university. Hrabowski has co-authored two books, “Beating the Odds: Raising Academically Successful African American Males” (1998) and “Overcoming the Odds: Raising Academically Successful African American Young Women” (2001). Time magazine named him one of the Top Ten College Presidents in 2009 and named him one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2011. Also that year, he received the TIAA-CREF Theodore M. Hesburgh Award for Leadership Excellence and the Carnegie Corporation of New York’s Academic Leadership Award. President Barack H. Obama named Hrabowski chair of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for African Americans in 2012. He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society and is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Hrabowski has received more than 20 honorary doctorate degrees from universities around the country, including Harvard University, Princeton University, Duke University, and the University of Michigan.   
  • August 13, 1960 The Central African Republic gained its independence from France. The Central African Republic is located in central Africa and is bordered by Chad to the Northwest, the Sudan to the Northeast, and Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and the Republic of Congo to the south. Bangui is the capital and largest city. The country is approximately 240,500 square miles in size and has a population of a little over 5 million people. Approximately 35% of the population practice indigenous beliefs, 25% are Protestant, 25% Catholic, and 15% Muslim. The official languages are Sango and French.
  • August 13, 1971 Marcellus Joseph “Mark” Johnson, hall of fame boxer and the first African American to win a World Flyweight Boxing Championship, was born in Washington, D. C. Johnson had a stellar amateur career and was the 1989 United States Amateur Light Flyweight Champion. He began boxing professionally in 1990 and won the International Boxing Federation Flyweight Championship in 1996. He successfully defended that title seven times before moving up in weight to win the IBF Super Flyweight Championship in 1999. He successfully defended that title twice before again moving up in weight to bantamweight. Johnson could not win the bantamweight title but did win the World Boxing Organization Super Flyweight Championship in 2003. Johnson lost that title in 2004 and retired in 2006 with a record of 44 wins, 5 losses, and 1 no contest. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2012. He currently works with at risk young people in the D. C. area.  
  • August 13, 1971 King Curtis, hall of fame saxophonist, band leader and record producer, died. Curtis was born Curtis Ousley February 7, 1934 in Fort Worth, Texas. He started playing the saxophone at 12 and joined the Lionel Hampton Band in 1950. He moved to New York City in 1952 and worked as a session player until the mid-1960s. Curtis recorded his most successful singles, “Memphis Soul Stew” and “Ode to Billie Joe” in 1967. Other recordings by Curtis include “Sweet Soul” (1968), “Instant Groove” (1969), and “Get Ready” (1970). He won the 1970 Grammy Award for Best R&B Instrumental Performance for “Games People Play.” Curtis was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.
  • August 13, 1982 Shani Davis, speed skater and the first Black athlete to win a Gold medal in an individual Winter Olympic Games sport, was born in Chicago, Illinois. Davis learned to roller skate at two and was enrolled at the Evanston Speed Skating Club at six. Davis was invited to Lake Placid, New York at 16 to participate in a development program for young speed skaters and after a year he moved to Marquette, Michigan to further his training. Davis made history in 2000 by becoming the first United States skater to make the long and short track teams at the Junior World Teams, a feat he accomplished again in 2001 and 2002. At the 2006 Turin Winter Olympic Games, Davis won the Gold medal at 1000 meters and the Silver medal at 1500 meters. He repeated that performance at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympic Games. Davis competed at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games but did not medal.  He has won more World Cup races than any American speed skater and is one of only three male skaters to accumulate more than 10,000 points in their World Cup career. Davis has set eight world records and currently holds three.
  • August 13, 1986 Caterina Jarboro, the first Black opera singer to sing on an opera stage in the United States, died. Jarboro was born Katherine Lee Yarborough July 24, 1908 in Wilmington, North Carolina. She was sent to Brooklyn, New York at 13 to study music. Jarboro also studied in Paris, France and made her grand opera debut in Milan, Italy in “Aida” in 1929. She continued to sing in France and Italy until 1933 when she joined the Chicago Opera Company and became the first Black singer to sing on an opera stage in the U. S. After her final engagement with the Chicago Opera in 1935, Jarboro sang for four seasons in Europe. She returned to the U. S. in 1941 and retired as a singer in 1955.
  • August 13, 2007 Asa Grant Hilliard, III, educator, historian and psychologist, died. Hilliard was born August 22, 1933 in Galveston, Texas. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Denver in 1955 and served in the United States Army as a first lieutenant from 1955 to 1957. Hilliard earned his Master of Arts degree in counseling in 1961 and his Doctor of Education degree in educational psychology in 1963 from the University of Denver. Hilliard taught at San Francisco State University for 18 years, serving as department chair and dean of education. He was also a consultant to the Peace Corp and superintendent of schools in Liberia. Hilliard was the Fuller E. Calloway Professor of Urban Education at Georgia State University from 1980 until his death. He served as lead expert witness in several landmark federal cases involving test validity and bias. He was also a founding member of the Association for the Study of Classical African Civilizations and the National Black Child Development Institute. His publications include “The Maroon Within Us: Selected Essays on African American Community Socialization” (1995), “The Reawakening of the African Mind” (1997), and “African Power: Affirming African Indigenous Socialization in the Face of the Cultural Wars” (2002).
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