Today in Black History, 10/22/2015 | Julie Dash - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 10/22/2015 | Julie Dash

• October 22, 1952 Julie Dash, filmmaker and author, was born in Queens, New York. Dash earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from the Leonard Davis Center for the Performing Arts at City College of New York in 1974. She later earned her Master of Fine Arts degree in film and television production from the University of California, Los Angeles. Her first film to gain widespread attention and success was "Illusions" (1982). Dash released "Daughters of the Dust," the first full-length film by an African American woman to have a general theatrical release, in 1992. For that film, she was the producer, screenwriter, and director. "Daughters of the Dust" was added to the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress as a film of "cultural, historical, or aesthetical significance" in 2004. Since then, she has directed music videos and films for television, including "Funny Valentines" (1999) and "The Rosa Parks Story" (2002). She also wrote "Daughters of the Dust: A Novel" in 1997 as a sequel to the film set 20 years later.

• October 22, 1854 James Alan Bland, hall of fame songwriter and musician, was born in Flushing, New York but raised in Washington, D. C. Bland began performing professionally at 14. He earned his bachelor's degree from Howard University in 1873. Bland toured the United States and Europe, spending 20 years in London, England. While in Europe, he performed for Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales. Bland wrote more than 700 songs, including "In the Evening by the Moonlight," "O Dem Golden Slippers," and "Carry Me Back to Old Virginny" which in a slightly modified form was made the official state song of Virginia in 1940. Although Bland made as much as $10,000 per year, he died penniless May 5, 1911 and was buried in an unmarked grave without a funeral. His grave was found by the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers who landscaped it and erected a monument in 1939. Bland was posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970. Housing projects in Flushing and Alexandria, Virginia are named in his honor. 

• October 22, 1870 James W. C. Pennington, abolitionist, educator, historian and minister, died. Pennington was born enslaved on Maryland's eastern shore and named James Pembroke in January, 1807. He escaped from slavery in 1827 and changed his name to Pennington. Illiterate when he escaped, Pennington taught himself to read and write and was proficient in Greek and Latin by the early 1830s. He was elected a delegate to the first annual Free Colored Convention in 1831. He moved to New Haven, Connecticut in the mid-1830s to pursue theological studies. Because he was Black, Yale's School of Divinity refused to enroll him as a regular student. They did allow him to attend lectures but he could not participate in classes or borrow books from the library. Pennington successfully completed his training and received his ordination in 1838. He published "A Text Book of the Origin and History of the Colored People" in 1841 in which he argued against European claims to superiority and established the African origins of western European civilization. He also advocated African American emigration to Jamaica. Pennington was a delegate to the 1843 World Peace Society in London, England where he called for a boycott of all enslaver produced American goods. The University of Heidelberg in Germany awarded him an honorary Doctor of Divinity degree in 1849, the first African American to be awarded an honorary degree by a European university, and the next year he published his autobiography, "The Fugitive Blacksmith; or Events in the History of James W. C. Pennington, Pastor of a Presbyterian Church in New York, Formerly a Slave in the State of Maryland, United States." Pennington had become a leading figure in the United States by 1853 and that year was elected president of the National Free Colored People's Convention. Pennington advocated for Black support and enlistment in the Union Army during the Civil War. After the war, he broke from the Presbyterians because of their reluctance to get involved with uplift efforts for the freed Blacks. A biography, "American to the Backbone: The Life of James W. C. Pennington, the Fugitive Slave Who Became One of the First Black Abolitionist," was published in 2011. 

• October 22, 1936 Robert George "Bobby" Seale, co-founder of the Black Panther Party For Self Defense and author, was born in Dallas, Texas. After dropping out of high school, Seale joined the United States Air Force where he served for three years before being dishonorably discharged for disobeying orders. He and Huey P. Newton founded the Black Panther Party October 15, 1966 with Seale as chairman. Seale led a group of 30 armed Black Panthers into the California State Assembly May 2, 1967 to protest proposed gun control legislation aimed at the party. Seale served two years in prison for his participation in demonstrations at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. He has authored several books, including "Seize the Time: The Story of the Black Panther Party and Huey P. Newton" (1970), "A Lonely Rage: The Autobiography of Bobby Seale" (1978), and a cookbook titled "Barbequing with Bobby" (1987). He became involved with Reach!, an organization focused on youth education programs, in 2002. He also taught Black studies at Temple University.

• October 22, 1939 Joaquim Alberto Chissano, the second President of Mozambique, was born in Gaza Province, Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique). After leaving secondary school, Chissano went to Portugal to study medicine at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Lisbon. However, because of his political activities he had to end his studies and flee to Tanzania. Chissano represented the Front for the Liberation of Mozambique (FRELIMO) in Paris during the 1960s. He went on to fight in the Mozambican War of Independence and by June 25, 1975, when Mozambique achieved independence from Portugal, he had risen to the rank of major-general. After independence, Chissano was appointed foreign minister, a position he held for eleven years. Chissano became president in 1986 when Samora Machel was killed in an aircraft accident. He was reelected in 1994 and 1999. Chissano chose not to run for another term and stepped down from the presidency in 2006. Chissano was awarded the inaugural $5 million Prize for Achievement in African Leadership by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation in 2007 in recognition of his good governance. Chissano currently chairs the Joaquim Chissano Foundation and the Forum of Former African Heads of State and Government. 

• October 22, 1963 Walter Davis, hall of fame blues pianist and singer, died. Davis was born March 1, 1911 in Grenada, Mississippi. He ran away from home at 13 and ended up in St. Louis, Missouri. Davis recorded his first single, "M&O Blues," in 1930. He released "Sunnyland Blues" in 1931 and it was a nationwide hit. Davis recorded prolifically, recording around 150 singles between 1930 and 1952, including "Ashes In My Whiskey," "Blue Blues," "Why Should I Be Worried?," and Come Back Baby." Davis suffered a stroke in 1952 and quit performing and became a preacher. He was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2005. 

• October 22, 1965, Milton Lee Olive, III, the first African American Congressional Medal of Honor recipient of the Vietnam War, was killed in action. Olive was born November 7, 1946 in Chicago, Illinois. He enlisted in the United States Army at 17 and was serving as a private first class in Vietnam by 1965. On this date, his actions earned him the medal, America's highest military decoration. His citation partially reads, "Pfc. Olive was a member of the 3rd Platoon of Company B, as it moved through the jungle to find the Viet Cong operating in the area. Although the platoon was subjected to a heavy volume of enemy gunfire and pinned down temporarily, it retaliated by assaulting the Viet Cong positions, causing the enemy to flee. As the platoon pursued the insurgents, Pfc. Olive and four other soldiers were moving through the jungle together when a grenade was thrown into their midst. Pfc. Olive saw the grenade, and then saved the lives of his fellow soldiers at the sacrifice of his own by grabbing the grenade in his hand and falling on it to absorb the blast with his body. Through his bravery, unhesitating actions, and complete disregard for his safety, he prevented additional loss of life or injury to the members of his platoon." President Lyndon B. Johnson presented the medal to Olive's father April 21, 1966. The City of Chicago recognized him by naming Olive Park on Lake Michigan in his honor in 1979. The Milton L. Olive Middle School in Long Island, New York is also named in his honor. 

• October 22, 1969 Tommy Edwards, singer, songwriter and the first African American individual performer to top the Billboard Hot 100, died. Edwards was born February 17, 1922 in Richmond, Virginia. He began his professional music career in 1931 and wrote "That Chick's Too Young to Fry" in 1946 which was a hit for Louis Jordan. Edwards began recording in 1949. He re-recorded "It's All in the Game," which he had originally recorded in 1951, in 1958 with a different arrangement and it became number one on Billboard, R&B, and the United Kingdom singles charts. It sold over 3.5 million copies worldwide. Edwards followed that with other successful singles, including "Love Is All We Need," "Please Mr. Sun," and "The Morning Side of the Mountain." Edwards received a State of Virginia highway marker in 2008. • October 22, 1988 Henry Armstrong, hall of fame boxer and the first to hold world titles in three weight classes at the same time, died. Armstrong was born Henry Jackson, Jr. December 2, 1912 in Columbus, Mississippi. He assumed the surname of his mentor and trainer, Harry Armstrong, in 1931. Because the fight purses were small, Armstrong usually fought at least twelve times a year. He won the World Featherweight Boxing Championship October 29, 1937, the World Welterweight Boxing Championship May 31, 1938, and the World Lightweight Boxing Championship August 17, 1938. Ring Magazine named him 1938 Boxer of the Year. Armstrong produced and starred in an autobiographical movie, "Keep Punching" in 1939. After losing his titles, Armstrong retired from boxing with a professional record of 145 wins and 29 losses. Armstrong was ordained a Baptist minister in 1951 and created the Henry Armstrong Youth Foundation which he funded with the profits from the two books he had written, "Twenty Years of Poem, Moods, and Mediations" (1954) and his autobiography "Gloves, Glory, and God" (1956). Armstrong was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. 

• October 22, 1992 Cleavon Jake Little, film and stage actor, died. Little was born June 1, 1939 in Chickasha, Oklahoma. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in dramatic arts from San Diego State University and received a full scholarship to graduate school at Juilliard. After completing Juilliard, he trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Little made his professional debut in the Off- Broadway production of "MacBird" in 1967. The following year, He made his first film and television appearances. Little made his Broadway debut in "Jimmy Shine" in 1969 and won the Tony Award and the Drama Desk Award for Best Actor in a Musical for his performance in "Purlie" in 1971. Other Broadway appearances include "All Over Town" (1975), "The Poison Tree" (1976), and "I'm Not Rappaport" (1988). Film roles include "Vanishing Point" (1971), "Blazing Saddles" (1974), "Once Bitten" (1985), and "Fletch Lives" (1989). Little won the 1989 Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actor for a role in an episode of "Dear John." He appeared in the television docu-drama, "Separate But Equal" in 1991. 

• October 22, 2004 Samuel Lee Gravely, Jr., the first African American commissioned an officer in the United States Navy, died. Gravely was born June 4, 1922 in Richmond, Virginia. He enlisted in the Naval Reserves in 1942 and successfully completed midshipman training December 14, 1944, the first African American commissioned an officer from the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps. His first assignment was to Camp Robert Smalls, a part of the Great Lakes Naval Training Station set aside for training African American enlisted men. Gravely was released from active duty in 1946 and returned to Richmond to earn his Bachelor of Arts degree in history from Virginia Union University in 1948. Gravely was recalled to active duty in 1949 and went on to be the first African American to serve aboard a fighting ship as an officer, the first to command a navy ship, the first fleet commander, and the first to become an admiral. Gravely retired from the navy in 1980 with several decorations, including the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, and Navy Commendation Medal. The USS Gravely, a U. S. Navy guided missile destroyer, was launched March 30, 2009. The Samuel L. Gravely, Jr. Elementary School in Haymarket, Virginia was posthumously named in his honor.


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