Today in Black History, 10/27/2015 | Tulsa Race Riots Memorial - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 10/27/2015 | Tulsa Race Riots Memorial

Today in Black History, 10/27/2015 | Tulsa Race Riots Memorial

October 27, 2010 A memorial to those that died in the Tulsa Race Riots was dedicated in John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The memorial consists of a 25 foot tall bronze tower encircled by 12 large bronze memorial plaques that tell the story of the riots. The riots occurred May 31, 1921 in the Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa and resulted in 39 people killed, 35 city blocks of residences destroyed, and 10,000 predominantly Black people left homeless. The Greenwood section of Tulsa was predominantly Black and had a commercial district that was so prosperous that it was often referred to as "the Negro Wall Street." On Monday, May 30, a teenage Black man was accused and jailed for assaulting a young White woman. By the next day, thousands of armed White men had gathered to seek revenge and a smaller group of armed Black men gathered to provide protection. A confrontation occurred, resulting in large-scale civil disorder. The Oklahoma state legislature passed the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Reconciliation Act in 2001 which provided for more than 300 college scholarships for descendants of Greenwood residents, the creation of the memorial, and called for efforts to promote economic development in Greenwood. Books about the riot include "Death in a Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921" (1982) and "Reconstructing the Dreamland: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 – Race, Reparations, Reconciliation" (2002).

October 27, 1909 Henry "Mule" Townsend, blues guitarist and singer, was born in Shelby, Mississippi. Townsend ran away from home at nine and hoboed his way to St. Louis, Missouri where he learned to play the guitar in his early teens. He made his debut recording in 1929 and continued to record until 2006. He accompanied most of the blues stars of the era and in 1935 alone appeared on 35 recordings. Albums by Townsend include "Henry T. Music Man" (1973), "Mule" (1980), "The 88 Blues" (1998, and "My Story" (2004). He received a National Heritage Fellowship, the United States' highest honor in the folk and traditional arts, from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1985. Townsend died September 24, 2006. He posthumously received the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album for "Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen: Live in Dallas." A memorial plaque for Townsend was added to the Mississippi Blues Trail in 2009. His autobiography, "A Blues Life: As Told to Bill Greensmith," was published in 1999.

October 27, 1917 Oliver Reginald Tambo, co-founder of the African National Congress Youth League, was born in Pondoland, South Africa. Tambo won a scholarship to Fort Hare, the only college that Black people could attend, but was expelled in 1939 for participating in a student strike. He later studied law by correspondence and qualified as an attorney in 1952. He, along with Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu, founded the ANC Youth League in 1943 with Tambo as national secretary. Tambo became secretary general of the ANC in 1955 and deputy president in 1958. Tambo was banned by the South African government in 1959 and the ANC sent him to England to mobilize opposition to apartheid. He returned to South Africa in 1990 and was elected national chair of the ANC in 1991. Tambo died April 24, 1993. The airport in Johannesburg was renamed Tambo International Airport in 2006.

October 27, 1924 Ruby Dee, actress, playwright, poet and activist, was born Ruby Ann Wallace in Cleveland, Ohio but grew up in Harlem, New York. Dee earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Hunter College in 1945. She made several appearances on Broadway before gaining national recognition for her role in the 1950 film "The Jackie Robinson Story." Dee was nominated for eight Emmy Awards, winning for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Special for her role in the 1990 television film "Decoration Day." She was nominated for the 2007 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in "American Gangster." She and her husband, Ossie Davis, won the 2007 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for "With Ossie and Ruby." Other films in which she appeared include "A Raisin in the Sun" (1961), "Do The Right Thing" (1989), "Jungle Fever" (1991), and "A Thousand Words" (2012). Dee was a long time civil rights activist, belonging to the Congress of Racial Equality, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. She was personal friends with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X. She and Davis received the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on individual artist by the United States, from President William J. Clinton October 5, 1995. They received Kennedy Center Honors in 2004 and the Lifetime Achievement Freedom Award from the National Civil Rights Museum in 2005. Dee received the 2008 Spingarn Medal from the NAACP and an honorary doctorate degree from Princeton University in 2009. She and Davis published their autobiography, "With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together," in 1998. Dee died June 11, 2014.

October 27, 1933 Elijah Jerry "Pumpsie" Green, the first Black baseball player to play for the Boston Red Sox, was born in Boley, Oklahoma. Green entered the baseball game July 21, 1959 as a pinch-runner for the Red Sox, the last major league team to integrate. He played with the Red Sox until 1962 when he was traded to the New York Mets. Green retired from baseball after the 1963 season and for the next 20 years taught math and coached baseball at a California high school. Green was honored by the Red Sox April 17, 2009 in a first-pitch ceremony in recognition of 50 years since his breaking of the Red Sox color barrier.

October 27, 1941 Ernest Everett Just, pioneering biologist and one of the founders of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, died. Just was born August 14, 1883 in Charleston, South Carolina. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree, magna cum laude, from Dartmouth College in zoology in 1907. 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 adviser 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. Just was the first recipient of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal in 1915 and the next year earned his Ph. D. in zoology from the University of Chicago. In 1930, he was 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 E. Just," was published in 1983. The book received the 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.

October 27, 1946 Nathan Francis Mossell, the first African American graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, died. Mossell was born July 27, 1856 in Hamilton, Canada but raised in Lockport, New York. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in natural science from Lincoln University in 1879 and his medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1882. He did postgraduate training at hospitals in Philadelphia and London, England. He was the first Black physician elected a member of the Philadelphia County Medical Society in 1888. Mossell led the founding of Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and Training School in Philadelphia in 1895 and served as chief-of-staff and medical director until his retirement in 1933. After retiring from the hospital, Mossell worked in private practice until his death.

October 27, 1956 Charles Spurgeon Johnson, the first Black president of Fisk University, died. Johnson was born July 24, 1893 in Bristol, Virginia. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Virginia Union University in 1916 and his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1919. After the 1919 Chicago race riot, Johnson did much of the research which showed how the riot had deep roots in denial of economic and social opportunity to African Americans. His subsequent book, "The Negro in Chicago" (1922), became the classic model for comprehensive commission reports. Johnson moved to New York City in the 1920s to become research director for the National Urban League. He returned to the South in 1927 as head of sociology at Fisk University. Johnson was elected the first Black trustee of the Julius Rosenwald Fund in 1934 and became the first African American elected vice president of the American Sociological Society in 1937. Johnson became president of Fisk in 1946, a position he held until his death. Over his career, Johnson wrote 17 books, including "Shadow of the Plantation" (1934) and "Growing Up in the Black Belt: Negro Youth in the Rural South" (1940).

October 27, 1987 John Oliver Killens, novelist and educator, died. Killens was born January 14, 1916 in Macon, Georgia. He attended a number of institutions of higher learning, including Morris Brown College, Howard University, and Columbia University but never earned a degree. After serving in the military in the South Pacific from 1942 to 1945, Killens moved to New York City in 1948 to focus on establishing a literary career. Around 1950, he co-founded a writer's group that became the Harlem Writers Guild. Killens' first novel, "Youngblood," was published in 1954. Two of his novels, "And Then We Heard the Thunder" (1962) and "The Cotillion or One Good Bull is Half the Herd" (1971), were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in Fiction. Killens founded the National Black Writers Conference at Medgar Evers College where he taught English in 1986. "Liberation Memories: The Rhetoric and Poetics of John Oliver Killens" and "The Development of the Black Psyche in the Writings of John Oliver Killens 1916-1987" were published in 2003.

October 27, 2003 Walter Edward Washington, the first home-rule Mayor of Washington, D. C., died. Washington was born April 15, 1915 in Dawson, Georgia but raised in Jamestown, New York. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Howard University in 1938 and his Bachelor of Laws degree from Howard University School of Law in 1948. Washington was a supervisor for D. C.'s Alley Dwelling Authority from 1948 to 1961. He was appointed executive director of the National Capital Housing Authority in 1961. He was appointed Mayor-Commissioner of Washington, D. C. in 1967. When home-rule was granted to D. C. in 1973, Washington was elected Mayor of D. C. in 1974. After being defeated for re-election in 1978, he became a partner in a private law firm until 1999. The Walter E. Washington Estates housing development and the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in D. C. are named in his honor.

October 27, 2008 Es'kia Mphahlele, author, educator and activist, died. Mphahlele was born December 17, 1919 in Pretoria, South Africa. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1949 and Master of Arts degree in 1956 from the University of South Africa. Mphahlele taught high school from 1945 to 1952 and published his first book of short stories, "Man Must Live," in 1947. Banned from teaching by the apartheid government after publicly agitating against the Bantu Education Act, he left South Africa in 1957 and spent the next twenty years in exile. During that time, he earned his Ph. D. from the University of Denver in 1968 and taught at the University of Pennsylvania. Mphahlele returned to South Africa in 1977 and joined the faculty of the University of Witwatersrand. He authored a number of other books, including "The African Image" (1962), "The Wanderers" (1969), and "Father Come Home" (1984). He also authored two autobiographies, "Down Second Avenue" (1959) and "Afrika My Music: An Autobiography 1957-1983" (1984). The Es'kia Institute was founded in 2002 in Rivonia, South Africa to "nurture, support and develop community initiatives in Arts, Culture, Education and Literature in an effort to advance and preserve Afrikan Heritage."

October 27, 2009 Roy Rudolph DeCarava, photographer, died. DeCarava was born December 9, 1919 in Harlem, New York. He determined early that he wanted to be an artist and initially worked as a painter and commercial illustrator. Eventually he was drawn to photography and opened A Photographer's Gallery, pioneering an effort to win recognition for photography as a fine art, in 1955. Also that year, he collaborated with Langston Hughes on a book about life in Harlem, "The Sweet Flypaper of Life." DeCarava served as professor of photography at Cooper Union Institute from 1968 to 1975 and Hunter College from 1975 to his death. A collection of his photographs, "Roy DeCarava, Photographs," was published in 1981. He was presented the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President George W. Bush November 9, 2006.

Actress, Playwright, Poet and Activist

First Black president of Fisk University

Pioneering Biologist and one of the Founders of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity

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