Today in Black History, 11/19/2015 | The Muhammad Ali Center - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 11/19/2015 | The Muhammad Ali Center

November 19, 2005 The Muhammad Ali Center opened in Louisville, Kentucky. The center is a museum and cultural center built as a tribute to the champion boxer Muhammad Ali and his core values of respect, confidence, conviction, dedication, charity, and spirituality. 

November 19, 1797 Sojourner Truth, hall of fame abolitionist and women's rights activist, was born Isabella Baumfree enslaved in Swartekill, New York. Truth was sold with a flock of sheep for $100 at nine. She escaped to freedom in 1826 and changed her name in 1843 and began traveling and preaching about abolition. Her memoir, "The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave", was published in 1850. Truth attended the Ohio Women's Rights Convention and delivered her famous speech "Ain't I a Woman" May 29, 1851. Truth helped recruit Black soldiers for the Union Army during the Civil War and later met with Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant. Truth died November 26, 1883. She was posthumously inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1981, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor in 1986, and she was the first Black woman to be honored with a bust in the United States Capitol April 28, 2009. A number of biographies have been published about Truth, including "Sojourner Truth: Slave, Prophet, Legend" (1993) and "Glorying in Tribulation: The Lifework of Sojourner Truth" (1994). Her name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan. 

November 19, 1886 George Lewis Ruffin, the first African American to graduate from Harvard Law School, died. Ruffin was born December 16, 1834 in Richmond, Virginia. Prior to entering law school, Ruffin worked as a barber, studied law books, and wrote for a weekly publication. He served as a delegate to the 1864 National Negro Convention. Ruffin graduated from Harvard Law School in 1869 and was admitted into the Suffolk County Bar Association. He served on the Boston Common Council from 1876 to 1877 and was appointed a judge on the Charleston, Massachusetts Municipal Court in 1883, the first African American to serve in both positions. The George Lewis Ruffin Society was founded at Northeastern University in 1984 to support minorities studying in the Massachusetts criminal justice system. 

November 19, 1912 William B. Purvis of Sharon Hill, Pennsylvania shared patent number 530,710 for an improved Electric Railway System. This invention caused the third rail to be energized only when the railcar was passing over it, thus significantly reducing the chances of people being injured by coming into the contact with the third rail. Purvis had previously received patent number 419,065 for the fountain pen January 7, 1890. That invention made the use of an ink bottle obsolete by storing ink in a reservoir within the pen which was then fed to the tip of the pen. Over his lifetime, Purvis received nine additional patents over his lifetime. He is also believed to have invented, but not patent, several other devices. Not much else is known of Purvis' life. 

November 19, 1919 James Wormley Jones became the first African American special agent in the Bureau of Investigations (now Federal Bureau of Investigation). Jones was born September 22, 1884 in Fort Monroe, Virginia but raised in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He earned his bachelor's degree from Virginia Union University. He began work with the Washington Metropolitan Police Department in 1905 and was eventually promoted to detective. He was commissioned a captain in the United States Army in 1917 and served in France during World War I. After joining the Bureau of Investigations, he was assigned to track the activities of groups perceived as subversive. Jones resigned from the bureau in 1923. Not much is known of Jones' later life except that he died December 11, 1958. 

November 19, 1921 Roy Campanella, hall of fame baseball player, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Campanella began playing Negro league baseball for the Washington Elite Giants in 1937. He moved into the Brooklyn Dodgers' minor league system in 1946 and was elevated to the major leagues the next season. Over his ten season major league career, Campanella was an eight-time All-Star and National League Most Valuable Player in 1951, 1953, and 1955. In January, 1958, he was involved in a car accident that left him paralyzed from the shoulders down. Campanella was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969 and the Dodgers retired his uniform number 39 in 1972. Campanella died June 26, 1993. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 2006. His autobiography, "It's Good to Be Alive", was published in 1959. 

November 19, 1944 Ruben Rivers, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was killed in action. Rivers was born October 31, 1918 in Tecumseh, Oklahoma. When the United States entered World War II, Rivers enlisted and was assigned to the 761st Tank Battalion, nicknamed the "Black Panthers", 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 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. 

November 19, 1949 Ahmad Rashad, hall of fame football player and sportscaster, was born Robert Earl Moore in Portland, Oregon. Moore went to the University of Oregon on a football scholarship and was an All-American wide receiver and running back. Moore converted to Islam while at Oregon and changed his name to Ahmad Rashad. After graduating in 1972, Rashad was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in the National Football League Draft. Over the next eleven seasons, he was selected for the Pro Bowl four times and was the 1979 Pro Bowl Most Valuable Player. His autobiography, "RASHAD: Vikes, Mikes and Something on the Backside", was published in 1988. After retiring from football, Rashad began his career as a sportscaster. He served as studio host for NBC Television's coverage of the 1988 Seoul, 1992 Barcelona, and 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympic Games and won an Emmy Award in the category of writing for his work documenting the Seoul Olympic experience. He was named executive producer of "NBA Inside Stuff" and NBA Entertainment produced specials in 1998. Rashad was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2007. Rashad received an honorary Doctor of Journalism degree from the University of Puget Sound in 1996. 

November 19, 1958 Annette Gordon-Reed, the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for History, was born in segregated east Texas. Gordon-Reed earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Dartmouth College in 1981 and her Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School in 1984. She spent her early career as counsel to the New York City Board of Corrections. She was a professor at New York Law School from 1992 to 2010. Gordon-Reed published her first book, "Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy", in 1997. That book established that Jefferson and Hemings had some type of intimate relationship. Her book "The Hemings of Monticello: An American Family" (2008) won the 2008 National Book Award for Nonfiction and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for History April 20, 2009. President Barack H. Obama awarded Gordon-Reed the National Humanities Medal February 25, 2010 for work that has "deepened the nations' understanding of the humanities, broadened our citizens' engagement with the humanities, or helped preserve and expand Americans' access to important resources in the humanities". Also that year, she was presented the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Award. Gordon-Reed is currently professor of law and history at Harvard and the Carol K. Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Her most recent publication is "Andrew Johnson: The American Presidents Series-The 17th President, 1865-1869" (2011). 

November 19, 1966 Yolanda Gail Devers, hall of fame track and field athlete and three time Olympic gold medalist, was born in Seattle, Washington. Devers qualified for the 1988 Seoul Summer Olympic Games but did not medal. Also that year, she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California at Los Angeles. She was diagnosed with Graves' disease in 1990 and underwent radioactive iodine treatment followed by thyroid hormone replacement therapy. After recovering, Devers won the Gold medal in the 100 meter race at the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympic Games and Gold medals in the 100 meter race and the 4 by 100 meter relay at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Olympic Games. Devers established the Gail Devers Foundation in 1999 to fund education, health, and community development projects. She retired from competition in 2005 but returned in 2007 to win the 60 meter hurdles event at the Millrose Games. Devers was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 2011 and the United States Olympic Hall of Fame in 2012. Devers was a recipient of the 2013 National Collegiate Athletic Association Silver Anniversary Award, presented annually to six former college student-athletes on the 25th anniversary of the college sports careers. 

November 19, 1968 Dwight Hal Johnson received the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Lyndon B. Johnson. Johnson was born May 7, 1947 in Detroit, Michigan. He was drafted into the United States Army in 1967 and by January 15, 1968 was serving in Company B, 1st Battalion, 69th Armor, 4th Infantry Division in the Republic of Vietnam. His actions on that day earned him the medal, America's highest military decoration. His citation partially reads, "Specialist Johnson's tank, upon reaching the point of contact, threw a track and became immobilized. Realizing he could do no more as a driver, he climbed out of the vehicle, armed only with a .45 caliber pistol. Despite intense hostile fire, Specialist Johnson killed several enemy soldiers before he had expended his ammunition. Returning to the tank through a heavy volume of antitank rocket, small arms and automatic weapons fire, he obtained a sub-machine gun with which to continue his fight against the advancing enemy. Armed with this weapon, Specialist Johnson again braved deadly enemy fire to return to the center of the ambush site where he courageously eliminated more of the determined foe. Engaged in extremely close combat when the last of his ammunition was expended, he killed an enemy soldier with the stock end of his sub-machine gun. Now weaponless, Specialist Johnson ignored the enemy fire around him, climbed into his platoon sergeant's tank, extricated a wounded crewmember and carried him to an armored personnel carrier. He then returned to the same tank and assisted in firing the main gun until it jammed. In a magnificent display of courage, Specialist Johnson exited the tank and again armed only with a .45 caliber pistol, he engaged several North Vietnamese troops in close proximity to the vehicle. Fighting his way through devastating fire and remounting his own immobilized tank, he remained fully exposed to the enemy as he bravely and skillfully engaged them with the tank's externally mounted .50 caliber machine gun: where he remained until the situation was brought under control." After his discharge from the army in 1971, Johnson had difficulty adjusting to his post-war role and was diagnosed with depression caused by post-Vietnam adjustment problems. On the night of April 29, 1971, he was shot while committing armed robbery and died the next day. Two plays have been written about Johnson's life, "Strike Heaven on the Face" and "The Medal of Honor Rag". 

November 19, 1985 Stepin Fetchit, hall of fame comedian and film actor, died. Fetchit was born Lincoln Theodore Monroe Andrew Perry May 30, 1902 in Key West, Florida. He began entertaining in his teens as a comic character. Stepin Fetchit was his stage name and Perry parlayed his persona as "the laziest man in the world" into a successful film career, appearing in 54 films between 1925 and 1976, including "The Mysterious Stranger" (1925), "The Prodigal" (1931), and "Amazing Grace" (1974). As the result of his success, Perry was the first Black actor to become a millionaire. In his personal life, Perry was highly literate and had a concurrent career writing for the Chicago Defender. Perry was often criticized by civil rights leaders for his roles but the Hollywood Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People awarded him a special NAACP Image Award in 1976 and he was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1978. Perry also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Biographies of Perry include "Stepin Fletchit: The Life and Times of Lincoln Perry" (2005) and "Shuffling to Ignominy: The Tragedy of Stepin Flechit" (2005).

​Annette Gordon-Reed

​The first African American to receive the Pulitzer Prize for history.

William B. Purvis

Shared patent for improvement of the electric rail system.

Sojourner Truth

​Abolitionist and women's right activist. 

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