Today in Black History, 10/31/2015 | Earl Francis "Big Cat" Lloyd - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 10/31/2015 | Earl Francis "Big Cat" Lloyd

October 31, 1950 Earl Francis "Big Cat" Lloyd became the first African American to play in a National Basketball Association game. Lloyd was born April 3, 1928 in Alexandria, Virginia. He played college basketball at West Virginia State College where he was a two-time All-American and earned his Bachelor of Science degree in physical education in 1950. He was selected by the Washington Capitols in the 1950 NBA Draft and played professionally for nine seasons, retiring in 1960. He coached the Detroit Pistons from 1972 to 1973 and then served as a scout with the team for five seasons. Lloyd was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor in 2003 and the basketball court at T. C. Williams High School in his hometown is named in his honor. His autobiography, "Moonfixer: The Basketball Journey of Earl Lloyd," was published in 2009. Lloyd died February 26, 2015.

October 31, 1896 Ethel Waters, hall of fame gospel, blues and jazz vocalist and actress, was born in Chester, Pennsylvania. Waters began singing professionally in 1913 and for several years toured on the Black vaudeville circuit. She recorded "The New York Glide" and "At the New Jump Steady Ball" in 1921. Waters starred in the 1933 all-Black film "Rufus Jones for President." That same year, she took a role in the Broadway musical revue "As Thousands Cheer" where she was the first Black woman in an otherwise White show. Waters was nominated for the 1949 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for the film "Pinky" and won the 1950 New York Drama Critics Award for her performance in the play "The Member of the Wedding." Also in 1950, she starred in the television series "Beulah" but quit after complaining that the scripts portrayal of African Americans was degrading. Waters was nominated for the 1962 Emmy Award for Outstanding Single Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for an appearance on the television show "Route 66." Waters died September 1, 1977. She was posthumously inducted into the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame in 1984. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor in 1994. Waters' has several recordings in the Grammy Hall of Fame as recordings of "lasting qualitative or historical significance," "Dinah" (1928) inducted in 1998, "Stormy Weather" (1933) inducted in 2003, and "Am I Blue" (1929) inducted in 2007. "Stormy Weather" was listed on the National Recording Registry at the Library of Congress as "culturally, historically, or aesthetically important" in 2004. Waters authored two autobiographies, "His Eye is on the Sparrow: An Autobiography" (1951) and "To Me, It's Wonderful" (1972). A biography, "Heat Wave: The Life and Career of Ethel Waters," was published in 2011. 

October 31, 1899 William F. Burr of Agawam, Massachusetts received patent number 636,197 for inventing improvements in switching devices for railways. His invention provided a novel switching device for street railways which was simple to construct and automatically switched the railcar. Not much else is known of Burr's life. 

October 31, 1918 Ruben Rivers, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Tecumseh, Oklahoma. When the United States entered World War II, Rivers enlisted and was assigned to the 761st Tank Battalion, 26th Infantry Division. In November, 1944, he was serving as a staff sergeant in northeastern France and his actions during that time earned him the medal, America's highest military decoration. On November 8, Rivers and his company encountered a roadblock set-up by the Germans. "With utter disregard for his personal safety, Staff Sergeant Rivers courageously dismounted from his tank in the face of directed enemy small arms fire, attached a cable to the roadblock and moved it off the road, thus permitting the combat team to proceed. His prompt action thus prevented a serious delay in the offensive action and was instrumental in the successful assault and capture of the town." On November 16, Rivers was again leading an assault on a German position when his tank hit a mine, disabling it and seriously wounding Rivers. By the morning of November 19, Rivers' condition had deteriorated. After refusing to be evacuated, Rivers took another tank and led the attack against the German anti-tank unit. The Germans landed two direct hits with high explosive shells that killed Rivers instantly. Although his commanding officer recommended him for the Congressional Medal of Honor November 20, 1944, Rivers was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, America's second highest military decoration. A study commissioned by the U. S. Army in 1993 described systematic racial discrimination in the criteria for awarding medals during World War II. No Congressional Medal of Honor had been awarded to Black soldiers who served in the war. After a review of files, the study recommended that seven Black Distinguished Service Cross recipients have their awards upgraded to the Congressional Medal of Honor. The medal was presented to Rivers' family by President William J. Clinton January 13, 1997. 

October 31, 1920 Dedan Kimathi Waciuri, Kenyan freedom fighter, was born in the Nyeri District of Kenya. Kimathi enlisted in the army in 1941 to fight on the side of the British during World War II. He became a member of the Kenya African Union, a political organization formed to articulate Kenyan grievances against the British colonial administration, in 1946. Kimathi had become more radical by 1950 and joined the Forty Group, the militant wing of the Kikuyu Central Association, in 1951. Kimathi formed the Kenya Defence Council in 1953 to coordinate all fighters against the British. He was arrested by the colonial government in 1956 and executed February 18, 1957. Kimathi is viewed by most Kenyans as a national hero and many towns have buildings or streets named in his honor. A bronze statue of Kimathi was unveiled in Nairobi city centre February 18, 2007. "The Hunt for Kimathi" was published in 1958. 

October 31, 1922 Jean-Baptiste Illinois Jacquet, jazz tenor saxophonist and composer, was born in Broussard, Louisiana but raised in Houston, Texas. Jacquet was tap dancing in his father's band at three and was a featured player in local bands by 15. After moving to Los Angeles, California, he joined the Lionel Hampton Orchestra and soloed on their recording of "Flying Home" in 1942. The record was a hit and was played by every saxophone player that followed Jacquet in the orchestra. Jacquet joined the Cab Calloway Orchestra in 1943 and the Count Basie Orchestra in 1946. He was part of a traveling group of all-stars known as Jazz at the Philharmonic during the late 1940s and 1950s. Jacquet became the first jazz musician to be artist-in-residence at Harvard University in 1983. He led the Illinois Jacquet Big Band from 1981 to his death July 22, 2004. Jacquet composed more than 300 tunes, including "Black Velvet," "Robbins' Nest," and "Port of Rico." The documentary "Texas Tenor: The Illinois Jacquet Story" was released in 1992 and he received the Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 1995. The Illinois Jacquet Scholarship in Jazz is awarded annually at The Julliard School. 

October 31, 1928 Jose de la Caridad Mendez, hall of fame Negro Baseball League pitcher and manager, died. Mendez was born March 19, 1887 in Cardenas, Matanzas, Cuba. He made his Negro league debut in 1908 and established himself when he pitched 25 consecutive scoreless innings in three appearances against the major league's Cincinnati Reds. In a March, 1913 article in Baseball magazine, a major league player wrote "he is a remarkable pitcher, and if he were a White man would command a good position on any major league club." Mendez was known as El Diamante Negro (The Black Diamond) in Cuba. Mendez joined the Kansas City Monarchs in 1920 as manager and occasional pitcher and led them to pennants in 1923, 1924, and 1925. He pitched his last game in 1927. He was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006. 

October 31, 1939 Ali Ibrahim "Farka" Toure, guitarist, singer and one of Africa's most internationally renowned musicians, was born in Timbuktu, Mali. Toure was the first African bluesman to achieve widespread popularity in Africa and was often called "the African John Lee Hooker." He appeared in the 2003 documentary "Feel Like Going Home" which traced the roots of the blues back to its genesis in West Africa. He won the 1994 Grammy Award for Best Traditional World Music Album for "Talking Timbuktu" and the 2005 award for "In the Heart of the Moon." Toure became mayor of the 53 villages of the Niafunke region of Mali in 2004 and used his own money to grade the roads, put in sewer canals, and provide the fuel for the generator that provided electricity. Toure was considered a national hero in Mali and when he died March 7, 2006 the government radio stations suspended regular programming to play his music. His last album, "Savane," was released posthumously and was chosen 2006 Album of the Year by a panel of experts from the World Music Chart Europe. Toure was ranked number 76 on Rolling Stone's list of the 100 Greatest Guitarist of All Time. 

October 31, 1961 Alonzo C. Babers, Olympic Gold medalist, was born in Montgomery, Alabama. Babers earned his bachelor's degree from the United States Air Force Academy with a major in aerospace engineering in 1983. At the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Olympic Games, he won Gold medals in the 400 meter race and the 4 by 400 meter relay. One month after the Olympics, Baber reported for flight training school and served as an active duty officer in the U. S. Air Force until 1991. He is currently a member of the Air Force Reserves and a pilot for United Airlines. 

October 31, 1967 Riley Leroy Pitts, the first African American commissioned officer to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, was killed in action. Pitts was born October 15, 1937 in Fallis, Oklahoma. He graduated from Wichita State University with a degree in journalism in 1960. After being commissioned as an officer in the United States Army, he was sent to Vietnam in December, 1966. Pitts served as an information officer until he was transferred to a combat unit. On this date, one month before he was to be rotated home, his unit was called upon to reinforce another company engaged against a strong enemy force. Captain Pitts led an assault that overran the enemy positions and then was ordered to move north to reinforce another company. During that battle, Pitts seized a grenade from a captured Viet Cong and threw it toward an enemy bunker. The grenade hit some foliage and rebounded toward Pitts' position. Without hesitation, Pitts threw himself on top of the grenade which fortunately did not explode. Without regard for his own safety, Pitts continued to fire, pinpointing the enemy's positions, while at the same time directing his men forward until he was mortally wounded. President Lyndon B. Johnson presented the medal to Pitts' widow, son, and daughter December 10, 1968. The Riley Leroy Pitts post of the American Legion in Mannheim, Germany and the Riley Leroy Park in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma are named in his honor. 

October 31, 2000 Samuel Riley Pierce, Jr., former United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, died. Pierce was born September 8, 1922 in Glen Cove, New York. He served in the U. S. Army's Criminal Investigations Division during World War II. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree, with honors, from Cornell University in 1947, Juris Doctor degree from Cornell Law School in 1949, and Master of Laws degree in taxation from New York University School of Law in 1952. Pierce was assistant U. S. attorney in New York from 1953 to 1955, assistant to the undersecretary of labor from 1955 to 1959, and a judge in New York City from 1959 to 1960. He became the first African American partner in a major New York law firm in 1961. He practiced with that firm until 1981 when he was appointed Secretary of HUD by President Ronald W. Reagan. Pierce held that post until 1989. During his tenure, HUD funding for low-income housing was cut by half and funding for new low-income housing was virtually ended.

​Malian Musician.

Kenyan Freedom Fighter.

Former United State Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

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Comments 1

Marketing on Tuesday, 03 November 2015 10:07

The NEW blog will take some getting use to. Are you not doing daily facts anymore? I noticed it stops at October 31st. Also, some of the links do not work.

The NEW blog will take some getting use to. Are you not doing daily facts anymore? I noticed it stops at October 31st. Also, some of the links do not work.
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