Today in Black History, 11/15/2015 | Sarah Jane Woodson Early - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 11/15/2015 | Sarah Jane Woodson Early

November 15, 1825 Sarah Jane Woodson Early, educator, activist, and the first African American female college instructor, was born in Chillicothe, Ohio. Early graduated from Oberlin College in 1856, one of the first African American female college graduates. She was hired by Wilberforce University in 1858 to teach English and Latin and to serve as lady principal and matron. Early began teaching at a school for Black girls in North Carolina in 1868. She taught school for nearly four decades, believing that education was critical for the advancement of her race. She also served as principal of large schools in four cities. Early was elected national superintendent of the Colored Division of the Women's Christian Temperance Union in 1888 and during her tenure gave more than one hundred speeches to groups in a five state region. At the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago, Illinois, she was named "Representative Woman of the Year." She published "The Life and Labors of Rev. J. W. Early, One of the Pioneers of African Methodism in the West and South," a biography of her husband, in 1894. Early died August 15, 1907.

November 15, 1897 Elizabeth Evelyn Wright and Jessie Dorsey founded Denmark Industrial School for African Americans in Denmark, South Carolina. The school was modeled on Tuskegee Institute. Ralph Voorhees, a New Jersey philanthropist, gave the school a donation to purchase land and construct buildings in 1902 and it was renamed Voorhees Industrial Institute for Colored Youths in 1904. The school was affiliated with the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina in 1924 and became accredited as Voorhees College in 1962. Today, it is a private, historically Black college with approximately 600 undergraduate students and 42 full-time faculty members.

November 15, 1897 John Mercer Langston, the first Black person elected to represent Virginia in Congress, died. Langston was born December 14, 1829 in Louisa County, Virginia. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1849 and his Master of Arts degree in theology in 1852 from Oberlin College. He was denied admission to law school because of his race and therefore studied law under an established attorney and was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1854. Langston was active in the abolitionist movement and helped runaways escape to the North along the Ohio part of the Underground Railroad. He was elected president of the Ohio Anti-Slavery Society in 1858. He was elected president of the National Equal Rights League, which called for the abolition of slavery, support of racial unity and self-help, and equality before the law, in 1864. Langston moved to Washington, D. C. in 1868 to establish and serve as dean of Howard University's law school, the first Black law school in the country. President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Langston a member of the Board of Health of the District of Columbia. President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed him Minister to Haiti (Ambassador) in 1877 and he was appointed Charge d'affaires to the Dominican Republic in 1884. Langston returned to Virginia to become the first president of Virginia Normal and Collegiate Institute (now Virginia State University) in 1885. Langston ran for Congress in 1889 and was declared the loser. He contested the results and after an 18 month legal battle, was declared the winner and was seated in the United States House of Representatives September 23, 1890. He lost his bid for re-election. There are several schools named in Langston's honor, including Langston University in Oklahoma. The John Mercer Langston Bar Association in Columbus, Ohio is also named in his honor. His home in Oberlin, Ohio was designated a National Historic Landmark May 15, 1975. He published his autobiography, "From the Virginia Plantation to the National Capitol: or the First and Only Negro Representative in Congress from the Old Dominion," in 1894. His biography, "John Mercer Langston and the Fight for Black Freedom, 1829 – 65," was published in 1989.

November 15, 1898 John W. Outlaw of New York, New York received patent number 614,273 for improvements in the horseshoe. His invention provided a toothed roller in each heel of the horseshoe. When the horse placed weight on the shoe, the teeth of the roller projected below the shoe to give a firm hold on the ground. This resulted in a better foothold for horses on smooth or slippery surfaces. Not much else is known of Outlaw's life.

November 15, 1898 Lyda Newman of New York City received patent number 614,335 for a new and improved hair brush. She designed a brush that was easy to keep clean, very durable, easy to make, and provided ventilation during brushing by having recessed air chambers. Her brush was the first to use synthetic bristles. Prior to that brushes were made with animal hairs. Not much else is known of Newton's life.

November 15, 1908 Ebenezer D. Bassett, educator, abolitionist, civil rights activist and the United States' first African American diplomat, died. Bassett was born October 16, 1833 in Derby, Connecticut. He was the first Black student to attend the Connecticut Normal School in 1853 and after graduating taught school in New Haven, Connecticut. Soon after, Bassett moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to teach at the Institute for Colored Youth (Now Cheyney University) and became one of the leading voices for the abolition of slavery. He also used his position at the school to recruit Black men to serve in the Union Army during the Civil War. President Ulysses S. Grant appointed Bassett Minister Resident to Haiti (Ambassador) in 1869. After resigning that post in 1877, Bassett spent the next ten years as Consul General for Haiti in New York City. Bassett's biography, "Hero of Hispaniola – America's First Black Diplomat, Ebenezer D. Bassett," was published in 2008.

November 15, 1931 Pascal Lissouba, the first democratically elected President of the Republic of the Congo, was born in Tsinguidi, Congo. Lissouba gained his education at the Lycee Felix Faure in Nice, France (1948-1952), the Ecole Superieure d'Agriculture in Tunis, Tunisia, and the University of Paris in France (1958-1961). He worked in the Congolese government from 1961 to 1977. He was imprisoned for two years in 1977 and then exiled to France until 1990. While in France, he was a professor at the University of Paris and worked for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization. Lissouba returned to the Congo in 1991 and was elected president in 1992. His government was overthrown in 1997 and he fled to London where he currently lives in exile.

November 15, 1931 Emilio Mwai Kibaki, the third President of the Republic of Kenya, was born in Nyeri District, Kenya. Kibaki earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in economics from Makerere University College in Uganda in 1955. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree, with distinction, in public finance from the London School of Economics in 1958. Kibaki returned to Kenya in the early 1960s to become an executive officer of the Kenya African National Union and was elected to parliament in 1963. He served as assistant minister of finance and chair of the Economic Planning Commission from 1963 to 1966, minister of commerce and industry from 1966 to 1969, and minister of finance and economic planning from 1969 to 1982. Kibaki founded the Democratic Party in 1991 and ran for the presidency of Kenya. He was defeated in that election and the 1997 elections. Kibaki was elected President of Kenya in 2002. He was re-elected in 2007 and served until 2013. The Kenyan economy improved significantly during Kibaki's presidency. He has received several honorary doctorate degrees from universities in Kenya.

November 15, 1932 Charles Waddell Chesnutt, author and political activist, died. Chesnutt was born June 20, 1858 in Cleveland, Ohio. He was a pupil/teacher at the Howard School in Fayetteville, North Carolina by 13. He eventually became assistant principal at the normal school now known as Fayetteville State University. Chesnutt passed the Ohio bar exam in 1887 and established a successful legal stenography business in Cleveland. His first short story, "The Goophered Grapevine," was published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1887 and his first book, "The Conjure Woman," was published in 1899. Other novels by Chesnutt include "The House Behind the Cedars" (1900) and "The Marrow of Tradition" (1901). His play "Mrs. Darcy's Daughter" was produced in 1906. Chesnutt served on the general committee of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and was one of the early 20th century's most prominent activists and commentators. He protested and successfully shutdown showings in Ohio of the film "Birth of a Nation" in 1917. Chesnutt was awarded the 1928 NAACP Spingarn Medal. More than 50 years before Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech, Chesnutt concluded one of his speeches, "Looking down the vista of time I see an epoch in our nation's history, not in my time or yours, but in not the distant future, when there shall be in the United States but one people, molded by the same culture, swayed by the same patriotic ideals, holding their citizenship in such high esteem that for another to share it is of itself to entitle him to fraternal regard; when men will be esteemed and honored for their character and talents." The Library of America added a major collection of Chesnutt's works to its important American author's series in 2002 and the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 2008. "Charles Waddell Chesnutt: Pioneer of the Color Line" was published in 1952.

November 15, 1932 Clyde McPhatter, hall of fame rhythm and blues singer, was born in Durham, North Carolina. McPhatter performed with Billy Ward & the Dominoes from 1950 to 1953 and they recorded "Sixty Minute Man" (1951) and "Have Mercy Baby" (1952). He quit that group in 1953 and formed the Drifters who released a number of hits, including "Money Honey" (1953) and "Whatcha Gonna Do" (1955). The Original Drifters, including McPhatter, were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1998 and "Money Honey" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999 as a recording of "lasting qualitative or historical significance." McPhatter was drafted into the United States Army in 1954. After his tour of duty, he left the Drifters for a solo career. He had a series of hits, including "Treasure of Love" (1956), "Long Lonely Nights" (1957), "A Lovers Question" (1958), and "Take My Love (I Want to Give It All to You)" (1961). McPhatter died June 13, 1972. He was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 1993. The original Drifters, including McPhatter, were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1998 and "Money Honey" was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999 as a recording of "lasting qualitative or historical significance."

November 15, 1933 Gloria Foster, stage and film actress, was born in Chicago, Illinois. Foster made her Broadway debut in 1961 in "A Raisin in the Sun." She won her first Off-Broadway Theater (OBIE) Award in 1963 for her performance in "In White America." She won her second OBIE Award in 1965 for her performance in "Medea" and her third in 1989 for "Forbidden City." Foster returned to the stage in 1995 as 103 year old Sadie Delany in "Having Our Say," for which she received rave reviews. Foster made her film debut in "The Cool World" (1964) but is probably best known as The Oracle in "The Matrix" (1999) and "The Matrix Reloaded" (2003). Foster died September 29, 2001.

November 15, 1937 Little Willie John, hall of fame rhythm and blues singer, was born William Edward John in Cullendale, Arkansas but raised in Detroit, Michigan. John initially sang in his family's gospel quintet. He also sang with Count Basie and Duke Ellington as a teenager. John had a hit with his debut single "All Around the World" in 1955. This was followed by such hits as "Fever" (1956), "Talk To Me" (1958), and "Sleep" (1960). Over his career, he made the Billboard Top 100 14 times. John was convicted of manslaughter in 1966 and sent to Washington State Prison where he died May 26, 1968. He inspired a generation of musicians and formed the basis for soul music. He was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. His biography, "Fever: Little Willie John; Fast Life, Mysterious Death and the Birth of Soul," was published in 2011.

November 15, 1998 Kwame Ture, political activist and one of the first users of the term "Black Power," died. Ture was born Stokely Carmichael June 29, 1941 in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy from Howard University in 1964. While at Howard, Ture became involved with the Nonviolent Action Group, a campus based civil rights group that was affiliated with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Working as a SNCC activist in Lowndes County, Alabama in 1965, Ture helped to increase the number of registered Black voters from 70 to 2,600. He became chairman of SNCC in 1966 and under his leadership the organization became more radical and focused on Black Power as its core goal and ideology. Ture stepped down as chairman of SNCC in 1967 and that same year published his book, "Black Power: The Politics of Liberation." During this period he also lectured around the world, including North Vietnam, China, and Cuba. He moved to Guinea-Conakry in 1969 and became an aide to Guinean Prime Minister Ahmed Sekou Torue. He also changed his name to Kwame Ture. His second book, "Stokely Speaks: Black Power Back to Pan-Africanism," was published in 1971. "Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture)" was published in 2005 and Stokely: A Life" was published in 2014.

November 15, 2013 Theodore Judson "T. J." Jemison, clergyman and civil rights activist, died. Jemison was born August 1, 1918 in Selma, Alabama. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Alabama State University and his Doctor of Divinity degree from Virginia Union University. He was called to minister a church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1949 and served until retiring in 2003. Jemison led the first civil rights boycott of segregated seating in public bus service in 1953. It served as a model for the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He was one of the founders of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957 and served as the organization's first elected secretary. Jemison was elected president of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. in 1982 and served until 1994. While president, he oversaw the construction of the convention's headquarters, the Baptist World Center in Nashville, Tennessee. Jemison received a number of honorary doctorate degrees, including one from Southern University. The T. J. Jemison Baptist Student Center at Southern is named in his honor.

November 15, 2014 Bunny Briggs, hall of fame tap dancer, died. Briggs was born February 26, 1922 in Harlem, New York. He started tap dancing at three and was soon after part of a kiddie dance group that performed in ballrooms around the city. He was performing in the homes of some of New York's wealthiest people by eight. He began touring with several big bands in the early 1940s, including the bands of Earl Hines, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington. Briggs also performed on a number of television shows, including "The Ed Sullivan Show" and "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson." Briggs was nominated for the 1989 Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical for his performance on Broadway in "Black and Blue." He received an honorary Doctor of Performing Arts in American Dance degree from Oklahoma City University in 2002 and was inducted into the International Tap Dance Hall of Fame in 2006.

November 15, 2014 Herman Jerome Russell, entrepreneur, philanthropist and community leader, died. Russell was born December 23, 1930 in Atlanta, Georgia. He bought his first property while still in high school and used it to provide funding to attend Tuskegee Institute (now University) where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in building construction in 1953. He returned to Atlanta and inherited his father's plastering business in 1957. Russell expanded the business throughout the 1960s and 1970s to include home building, real estate investments, and other large scale projects such as Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the Georgia Dome, and Turner Field. H. J. Russell and Company is today the largest minority owned real estate firm in the United States. Russell was also active in the Civil Rights Movement, although usually behind the scenes, providing advice and funding and serving on the board of the Atlanta Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. He was the first Black member and the second Black president of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce. The Herman J. Russell, Sr. International Center for Entrepreneurship at Georgia State University is named in his honor. He received the Horatio Alger Award in 1991.


Stage and film actress.

Patented hairbrush with synthetic bristles.

Historically Black Colelge renamed Voorhees College.

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