Today in Black History, 08/14/2015 | Molefi Kete Asante - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 08/14/2015 | Molefi Kete Asante

August 14, 1942 Molefi Kete Asante, educator, historian and author, was born Arthur Lee Smith, Jr. in Valdosta, Georgia. Asante earned his Bachelor of Arts degree, cum laude, from Oklahoma Christian College in 1964, his Master of Arts degree from Pepperdine University in 1965, and his Ph. D. from the University of California Los Angeles in communications studies in 1968. He was appointed professor and chair of the Department of Communication at the State University of New York Buffalo in 1973. Asante was elected president of the Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research in 1976. He joined Temple University as chair of African American Studies in 1984 and established the first Ph. D. program in African American Studies in 1986. Asante is a prolific writer and has authored more than 70 books, including “Afrocentricity: The Theory of Social Change” (1980), “The Afrocentric Idea” (1987), “An Afrocentric Manifesto: Toward an African Renaissance” (2007), and “As I Run Toward Africa: A Memoir” (2011). He has also written more than 400 articles and is the founding editor of the Journal of Black Studies. 


  • August 14, 1874 Jonathan Clarkson Gibbs, minister, educator, politician and the first African American Secretary of State and Superintendent of Public Instruction of Florida, died. Gibbs was born September 28, 1821 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He became the third African American to graduate from Dartmouth College and the second Black man to deliver a commencement address at a college in 1852. Gibbs attended Princeton Theological Seminary from 1853 to 1854 but had to drop out due to financial constraints. He was ordained a minister in 1856 and became active in the abolitionist movement. Gibbs moved to Charleston, South Carolina in 1864 to do missionary work and open a school for recently freed Black people. He moved to Jacksonville, Florida in 1867 and opened an academy for young people and became involved in politics. He was elected to the 1868 State Constitutional Convention and that same year was appointed Secretary of State, a position he held until 1872. Gibbs was elected to the Tallahassee, Florida City Council in 1872 and appointed Superintendent of Public Instruction in 1873. Gibbs High School and Gibbs Junior College (now part of St. Petersburg College) in St. Petersburg, Florida are named in his honor.
  • August 14, 1876 Prairie View A&M University, the second oldest state sponsored institution of higher learning in Texas, was founded. The Texas legislature authorized an “Agricultural and Mechanical College for the Benefit of Colored Youth” in 1876. Today, Prairie View has an enrollment of more than 8,000 students with more than 400 faculty members and offers baccalaureate degrees in 50 academic majors, 37 master’s degrees, and 4 doctorate degree programs. Some notable alumni include Rev. Emanuel Cleaver II, United States House of Representatives, Frederick D. Patterson, founder of the United Negro College Fund, and Otis Taylor, Hall of Fame professional football player.
  • August 14, 1883 Ernest Everett Just, pioneering biologist and one of the founders of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, was born in Charleston, South Carolina. Just earned his Bachelor of Arts degree, magna cum laude, from Dartmouth College in zoology in 1907. He was also class valedictorian. After graduating and encountering the reality that it was almost impossible for an African American to join the faculty of a White college or university, Just accepted a position at Howard University. Just served as the academic advisor to three Howard students in establishing Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc. November 17, 1911. He was appointed head of the Department of Zoology at Howard in 1912, a position he held until his death October 27, 1941. Just was the first recipient of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Springarn Medal in 1915 and the next year earned his Ph. D. in zoology from the University of Chicago. In 1930, he became the first American invited to the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in Berlin, Germany where several Nobel Prize winners conducted research. He wrote the important textbook “Biology of the Cell Surface” in 1939. Just’s biography, “Black Apollo of Science: The Life of Ernest Everett Just,” was published in 1983. The book received the 1983 Pfizer Award and was a finalist for the 1984 Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 1996. The Medical University of South Carolina has hosted the annual Ernest E. Just Symposium to encourage non-White students to pursue careers in biomedical sciences and health professions since 2000. The Ernest Everett Just Middle School in Mitchellville, Maryland is named in his honor.
  • August 14, 1911 Ethel Lois Payne, journalist and the “First Lady of the Black Press,” was born in Chicago, Illinois. Payne briefly attended Crane Junior College. She took a job as a hostess at an army club in Japan in 1949 and while there maintained a diary of the treatment of African Americans in the military. Her diary was published in the Chicago Defender and when she returned to Chicago in 1951 she was hired by the paper. Payne was appointed to the paper’s Washington, D. C. bureau in 1954 and from there covered many of the events of the Civil Rights Movement, including the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the desegregation of the University of Alabama, and the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. She was the first African American woman to focus on international news, covering the Vietnam War and the Nigerian civil war. Payne became the first African American female commentator on a national television network when she was hired by CBS in 1972. She remained with the network until 1982. Payne died May 28, 1991. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor in 2002 and the National Association of Black Journalist award Ethel Payne Fellowships to journalists interested in obtaining international reporting experience in Africa. Her biography, “Eye on the Struggle: Ethel Payne, the First Lady of the Black Press,” was published in 2015.
  • August 14, 1914 Herman Russell Branson, physicist and president of two colleges, was born in Pocahontas, Virginia. Branson earned his Bachelor of Science degree, summa cum laude, from Virginia State College (now University) in 1936 and his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Cincinnati in 1939. He joined Howard University in 1941 and remained there for 27 years, eventually becoming the head of the Physics Department, director of a program in experimental science and mathematics, and working on the Office of Naval Research and Atomic Energy Commission Projects in Physics. Branson served as president of Central State University from 1968 to 1970 and Lincoln University from 1970 until his retirement in 1985. He was active in increasing federal funding for higher education and helped found the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education in 1969. Branson died June 7, 1995.
  • August 14, 1916 Jeni LeGon, hall of fame tap dancer and actress, was born Jennie Bell in Chicago, Illinois. LeGon got her first professional job as a chorus line dancer for the Count Basie Orchestra at 13. She later toured with a vaudeville dance troupe and ended up in Los Angeles, California. She made her film debut in “Hooray for Love” in 1935. After that performance, MGM signed her to a long-term contract, the first African American female to receive one, but she could not eat in the company dining room because of her race. LeGon danced, sang, and acted in 20 films, including “Arabian Nights” (1942), “Easter Parade” (1948), and “Somebody Loves Me” (1952).  LeGon moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada in 1969 and established a dance school. The National Film Board of Canada produced a documentary film about her life, “Jeni LeGon: Living in a Great Big Way,” in 1999. She was part of the inaugural class inducted into the International Tap Dance Hall of Fame in 2002 and that same year received an honorary Doctor of Performing Arts in American Dance degree from Oklahoma City University. LeGon died December 7, 2012.
  • August 14, 1922 Rebecca Cole, the second African American woman to become a doctor in the United States, died. Cole was born March 16, 1846 In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She graduated from the Institute for Colored Youth (now Cheyney University) in 1863 and earned her Doctor of Medicine degree from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1867. She practiced medicine for more than fifty years. Cole opened a Women’s Directory Center in 1873 to provide medical and legal services to destitute women and children and was appointed superintendent of a home run by the Association for the Relief of Destitute Colored Women and Children in Washington, D. C. in 1899. Cole fought for the medical rights of African Americans, women, children, and the poor until her death.
  • August 14, 1929 Dick Tiger, hall of fame boxer, was born Richard Ihetu in Amaigbo, Nigeria. Tiger started boxing professionally in 1952 and won the World Middleweight Boxing Championship in 1962. After losing that title, he moved up in weight and won the World Light Heavyweight Boxing Championship in 1966. Tiger was named Ring Magazine Fighter of the Year in 1962 and 1965. He retired from boxing in 1970 with a record of 60 wins, 18 losses, and 3 draws. Tiger died December 14, 1971. He was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991. His biography, “Dick Tiger: The Life and Times of a Boxing Immortal” was published in 2005.
  • August 14, 1959 Earvin “Magic” Johnson, hall of fame basketball player, was born in Lansing, Michigan. Johnson led his high school team, Lansing Everett, to the Michigan State High School Championship in 1977 and his college team, Michigan State University, to the National Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament Championship in 1979. He was selected in the 1979 National Basketball Association Draft by the Los Angeles Lakers. Over his 17 season professional career, he led them to five NBA championships. Johnson also won three NBA Most Valuable Player awards, appeared in 12 All-Star games, and led the league in assists four times. He was selected as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History in 1996 and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002. Johnson was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. Since his retirement, Johnson has been an advocate for HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention as well as a businessman, philanthropist, and motivational speaker. Johnson became part-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers major league baseball team in 2012 and the Los Angeles Sparks Women’s National Basketball Association team in 2014. His autobiography, “Magic Johnson: My Life,” was published in 1992. He also authored “Magic’s Touch: From Fundamentals to Fast Break With One of Basketball’s All-Time Greats” (1992) and “What You Can Do to Avoid AIDS” (1996).
  • August 14, 1966 Frederick Wayman “Duke” Slater, college hall of fame football player and judge, died. Slater was born December 9, 1898 in Normal, Illinois but raised in Clinton, Iowa. He played college football for the University of Iowa from 1918 to 1921 and was a first-team All-American in 1921, the first Black All-American at Iowa. After graduating, Slater played ten years of professional football, including playing in the National Football League from 1926 to 1931. He was the NFL’s first African American lineman. The NFL began to exclude Black players from the league in 1927 and Slater was the only African American playing in 1929. By the time of his retirement in 1931, he had been named All-Pro six times. While playing professional football, Slater returned to Iowa to earn his law degree in 1928. After retiring, he moved to Chicago, Illinois and became an assistant district attorney. Slater was elected to Chicago’s Municipal Court in 1948, the second African American elected a judge in Chicago. He became the first Black member of the Chicago Superior Court in 1960 and moved to the Circuit Court of Cook County in 1964. Slater was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951. Slater Hall at the University of Iowa is named in his honor. His biography, “Duke Slater: Pioneering Black NFL Player and Judge,” was published in 2012.
  • August 14, 1968 Maria Halle Berry, Academy Award winning actress, was born in Cleveland, Ohio. Prior to becoming an actress, Berry won Miss Teen All-American in 1985, Miss Ohio USA in 1986, and was first runner-up in Miss USA 1986. That same year, she became the first African American entrant in the Miss World contest, finishing sixth. Berry’s breakthrough feature film role was in “Jungle Fever” (1989). Other films that she has appeared in include “Losing Isaiah” (1995), “Bulworth” (1998), and the “X-Men” trilogy. Berry won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in “Monster’s Ball” March 24, 2002, the first and only African American to win that award. In accepting the award Berry said, “This moment is so much bigger than me. This is for every nameless, faceless woman of color who now has a chance tonight because this door has been opened.” She won the 2000 Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress – Miniseries or Movie for her performance in “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge” and was nominated in that same category in 2005 for her performance in “Their Eyes Were Watching God.” Berry starred in “Frankie and Alice” and was nominated for the 2010 Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama.  Berry’s most recent films were “The Call” (2013) and “X-Men: Days of Future Past” (2014). She currently stars in the television series “Extant.”
  • August 14, 1994 Alice Childress, actress, playwright and author, died. Childress was born October 12, 1916 in Charleston, South Carolina but raised in Harlem, New York. She dropped out of high school and became involved in the theater. Childress studied drama at the American Negro Theater in 1939 and performed there for elven years, appearing in such productions as “On Strivers Row” (1940), “Natural Man” (1941), and “Anna Lucasta” (1944). She produced her first play, “Florence,” in 1949. Other plays that she produced include “Gold Through the Trees” (1952), “Mojo: A Black Love Story” (1970), and “Moms: A Praise Play for a Black Comedienne” (1987). Childress also wrote several novels, including “Like One of the Family” (1956), “A Hero Ain’t Nothin’ but a Sandwich” (1973), which was made into a film of the same title in 1978, and “Those Other People” (1989).
  • August 14, 2010 Abbey Lincoln, jazz vocalist, songwriter and actress, died. Lincoln was born Anna Marie Wooldridge August 6, 1930 in Chicago, Illinois but raised in a rural part of Michigan. She moved to California in 1951 to perform in nightclubs. She began her recording career with “Abbey Lincoln’s Affair: A Story of a Girl in Love” in 1956. Other recordings by Lincoln include “Abbey is Blue” (1959), “People in Me” (1973), “Devils Got Your Tongue” (1992), and “Abbey Sings Abbey” (2007). Lincoln sang on the landmark jazz civil rights recording “We Insist! – Freedom Now Suite” by Max Roach in 1960. Lincoln appeared in several films, including “The Girl Can’t Help It” (1956), “Nothing But a Man” (1964), “For Love of Ivy” (1968), for which she received a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress, and “Mo’ Better Blues” (1990). Lincoln was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2003. The Public Broadcasting System aired a documentary of Lincoln’s life, “You Gotta Pay the Band: The Words, the Music, and the Life of Abbey Lincoln,” in 1992.
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