Today in Black History, 11/20/2013 - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 11/20/2013

• November 20, 1878 Charles Sidney Gilpin, one of the most highly regarded actors of the 1920s, was born in Richmond, Virginia. Gilpin first performed on stage as a singer at the age of 12. Beginning in 1905, he performed with a number of traveling musical troupes. In 1916, he appeared in whiteface in “The Octoroon” and in 1919 had a role in “Abraham Lincoln.” In 1920, Gilpin made his Broadway debut in the lead role of “The Emperor Jones” to great acclaim. The Drama League of New York named him one of the ten people in 1920 whom had done the most for American theater, the first Black person to be so honored. In 1921, he was awarded the Spingarn Medal by the NAACP and was honored at the White House by President Warren Harding. In 1922, the Dumas Dramatic Club of Cleveland, Ohio renamed itself the Gilpin Players in his honor. Gilpin died May 6, 1930.

• November 20, 1895 Sallie Martin, the “Mother of Gospel Music” and entrepreneur, was born in Pittfield, Georgia. Martin moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1927 where she met Thomas A. Dorsey and convinced him to hire her as part of a trio formed to introduce his songs to churches. In 1933, Martin helped to form the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses, Inc. and served as vice president until her death. In 1940, she co-founded Martin and Morris Music, Inc. which became the largest African American owned gospel publishing company in the country. They were responsible for publishing a number of gospel standards, including “Just a Closer Walk With Thee” (1940). Martin retired from music in 1970 and sold her portion of the publishing company in 1973. Martin’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement led to an invitation to attend the 1960 celebration marking the independence of Nigeria. This inspired her to donate to the Nigerian health program, resulting in a state office building named in her honor. Martin died June 18, 1988. She was posthumously inducted into the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame in 1991.

• November 20, 1910 Anne Pauline “Pauli” Murray, lawyer, teacher, writer, priest and civil and women’s rights activist, was born in Baltimore, Maryland but raised in Durham, North Carolina. Murray earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Hunter College in 1933. In 1942, she was one of the founders of the Congress of Racial Equiality. After being denied admission to the University of North Carolina Law School because of her race, she graduated as valedictorian from the Howard University Law School in 1944. After being denied admission to Harvard University Law School because of her gender, Murray earned her Master of Law degree from the University of California in 1947. Murray published her first poem, “The Song of the Highway,” in 1934. In 1950, she published “States’ Laws on Race and Color” which catalogued state statues discriminating against African Americans, Native Americans, and other groups. Other works by Murray include “Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family” (1956) and “Dark Testament and other poems” (1970). In 1961, Murray was appointed to the President’s Commission on the Status of Women. In 1965, Murray became the first African American to earn a Doctor of Judicial Science degree from Yale Law School. She was a professor of American studies at Brandeis University from 1968 to 1973 and also taught law in Ghana. In 1976, Murray earned her Master of Divinity degree and in 1977 became the first African American woman to become an Episcopal priest. She served in that capacity until her retirement in 1984. Murray died July 1, 1985. Her autobiography, “Song in a Weary Throat: An American Pilgrimage,” was published in 1987. In 1990, the Pauli Murray Human Relations Award was established by Orange County, North Carolina.

• November 20, 1923 Garrett Augustus Morgan, Sr. of Cleveland, Ohio received patent number 1,475,024 for his version of the traffic signal. Morgan was born March 4, 1877 in Paris, Kentucky. In 1895, he moved to Cleveland, Ohio where he worked repairing sewing machines for a clothing manufacturer. In 1907, he opened his own sewing machine and shoe repair shop and in 1908 helped to found the Cleveland Association of Colored Men. On October 13, 1914, Morgan received patent number 1,113,675 for the safety hood and smoke protector and became nationally known when he used it July 25, 1916 to save several men in a tunnel explosion under Lake Erie. Morgan was awarded the Medal of Bravery by the citizens of Cleveland but was denied the Carnegie Medal, which is awarded to civilians who risk their lives to an extraordinary degree saving or attempting to save the lives of others, due to his race. Morgan died August 27, 1963. The Garrett Morgan Treatment Plant and the Garrett A. Morgan Cleveland School of Science are named in his honor. “Garrett A. Morgan: American Negro Inventor” was published in 1969. Morgan’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michgian.

• November 20, 1957 Dwight Eugene Stephenson, hall of fame football player, was born in Murfreesboro, North Carolina. Stephenson played college football at the University of Alabama where he was an All-American. Coach Bear Bryant called Stephenson the best player he had ever coached, regardless of position. Stephenson was selected by the Miami Dolphins in the 1980 NFL Draft and over his eight-season professional career was a five-time Pro Bowl selection. In 1985, Stephenson received the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award, which annually honors a player’s volunteer and charitable work and his excellence on the field, and in 2005 he was named the Walter Camp Man of the Year which is annually given to an individual who has been closely associated with the game of football. The recipient must have attained a measure of success, must have contributed to the public service, and must have a reputation for integrity. The Dwight Stephenson Foundation was founded in 2007 to generate increased funding for charities that provide educational, health and human services to support the needs of children and families. Stephenson is the chief executive officer of D. Stephenson Construction, Inc.

• November 20, 1957 Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan, President of the Republic of Nigeria, was born in Otueke, Bayelsa State, Nigeria. Jonathan earned his Bachelor of Science degree in zoology in 1981, Master of Science degree in hydrobiology and fisheries biology in 1985, and his Ph. D. in zoology in 1995 from the University of Port Harcourt. He worked as an education inspector, lecturer, and environmental protection officer before entering politics in 1998 when he was elected Deputy Governor of Bayelsa State. In 2005, Jonathan became Governor of Bayelsa State when the previous governor was impeached. In 2007, he was elected Vice President of Nigeria and became president when the incumbent died in 2010. Jonathan was elected to a full term as president in 2011. As president, he has launched initiatives to achieve stable electricity, create business opportunities for young people, and a citizen-focused foreign policy.

• November 20, 1976 Dominique Margaux Dawes, hall of fame gymnast and the first African American female to win an Olympic Gold medal in gymnastics, was born in Silver Springs, Maryland. Dawes was introduced to gymnastics at the age of six and competed in her first international meet at the age of twelve. As members of the Bronze medal winning United States Olympic gymnastics team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games, she and Betty Okino became the first African American females to win an Olympic gymnastics medal. Dawes was named Sportsperson of the Year by USA Gymnastics in 1994 and received the Henry P. Iba Citizen Award, which is presented annually to two outstanding athletes who have demonstrated good citizenship, in 1995. At the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, the U. S. team won the Gold medal and Dawes became the first Black woman to win an Olympic gold medal in gymnastics. At the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, Dawes contributed to the U. S. team winning the Bronze medal which gave her more Olympic team medals than any other U. S. gymnast. After retiring from the sport, Dawes earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Maryland in 2002 and began pursuing a career in acting, modeling and television production. She served as president of the Women’s Sports Foundation from 2004 to 2006, the youngest president in the foundation’s history, and is currently on the Advisory Board of Sesame Workshop’s “Healthy Habits for Life” program. She also works as a motivational speaker, concentrating on youth issues. Dawes was inducted into the USA Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 1998, the USA Olympic Hall of Fame in 2008, and the International Gymnastics Hall of Fame in 2009. In 2010, President Barack Obama appointed her co-chair of the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition.

• November 20, 1998 Meredith Charles Gourdine, athlete and hall of fame engineer and physicist, died. Gourdine was born September 26, 1929 in Newark, New Jersey but raised in Brooklyn, New York. He won the Silver medal in the long jump at the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games. Gourdine earned his Bachelor of Science degree in engineering physics from Cornell University in 1953 and his Ph. D. in engineering physics from the California Institute of Technology in 1960. After working in the private sector from 1957 to 1964, he founded a research laboratory, Gourdine Laboratories. In 1973, he founded Energy Innovations to produce direct energy conversion devices. Gourdine pioneered research in electrogasdynamics and was responsible for the engineering technique termed incineraid for removing smoke from buildings. His work on gas dispersion developed techniques for dispersing fog from airport runways. Gourdine is credited with 27 patents. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1991 and inducted into the Engineering and Science Hall of Fame in 1994.

• November 20, 2003 David Dacko, the first President of the Central African Republic, died. Dacko was born March 24, 1930 in the village of Bouchia in what was then French Equatorial Africa. Educated for a career in teaching, he became schoolmaster of a large primary school in 1951 and principal of Kouanga College in 1955. From 1957 to 1959, Dacko served in various capacities within the government and after the Central African Republic gained its independence August 13, 1960 became the first president of the CAR. On December 31, 1965, his government was overthrown and he was briefly imprisoned. In September, 1979, the French government overthrew the CAR government and restored Dacko to the presidency which he held until September, 1981 when he was overthrown again. Dacko ran for president again in 1999 and finished third.

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