Today in Black History, 1/12/2013 - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 1/12/2013

• January 12, 1886 Lewis H. Latimer of New York City received patent number 334,078 for an improved device for cooling, deodorizing, or disinfecting a room. His device consisted of a screen which was stretched in front of a window and saturated with water for cooling or chemicals for disinfecting or deodorizing. Latimer was born September 4, 1848 in Chelsea, Massachusetts. He joined the United States Navy at the age of 15 and after receiving an honorable discharge joined a patent law firm as a draftsman at the age of 17. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell employed Latimer to draft the drawings required to receive a patent for Bell’s telephone. Although Thomas Edison is credited with the invention of the light bulb, Latimer made significant contributions to its further development. On January 17, 1882, Latimer received patent number 252,386 for the Process of Manufacturing Carbons, an improved method for the production of carbon filaments for light bulbs. In total, Latimer received seven patents before his death December 11, 1928. He was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006 and Lewis H. Latimer School in Brooklyn, New York is named in his honor. His biography, “Lewis Latimer: Bright Ideas,” was published in 1997. Latimer’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum in Detroit, Michigan.

• January 12, 1890 Mordecai Wyatt Johnson, educator and the first black president of Howard University, was born in Paris, Tennessee. Johnson earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Morehouse College in 1911, his second Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Chicago in 1913, and his Bachelor of Divinity degree from the Rochester Theological Seminary. From 1917 to 1926, he served as pastor of the First Baptist Church in West Virginia. On June 26, 1926, Johnson was unanimously elected president of Howard University, a position he held until his retirement in 1960. During his tenure, he greatly expanded the campus, building a library and several new structures for several schools within the university. Enrollment increased from 2,000 to 10,000 students and finances were stabilized. In 1929, Johnson was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal. Johnson died September 10, 1976 and his biography, “Mordecai, The Man and His Message: The Story of Mordecai Wyatt Johnson,” was published in 1998.

• January 12, 1896 Freddie Stowers, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Sandy Springs, South Carolina. Stowers was drafted into the United States Army in 1917 and by September 28, 1918 was serving as a corporal in Company C, 371st Infantry Regiment, 93rd Division. His actions on that date earned him the medal, America’s highest military decoration. His citation partially reads, “His company was the lead company during the attack on Hill 188, Champagne Marne Sector, France, during World War I. A few minutes after the attack began, the enemy ceased firing and began climbing up onto the parapets of the trenches, holding up their arms as if wishing to surrender. The enemy’s actions caused the American forces to cease fire and come out into the open. As the company started forward and within 100 meters of the trench line, the enemy jumped back into their trenches and greeted Corporal Stowers’ company with interlocking bands of machine gun fire and mortar fire causing well over fifty percent casualties. Faced with incredible enemy resistance, Corporal Stowers took charge, setting such a courageous example of personal bravery and leadership that he inspired his men to follow him in the attack. With extraordinary heroism and complete disregard of personal danger under devastating fire, he crawled forward leading his squad toward an enemy machine gun nest, which was causing heavy casualties to his company. After fierce fighting, the machine gun position was destroyed and the enemy soldiers killed. Displaying great courage and intrepidity, Corporal Stowers continued to press the attack against a determined enemy. While crawling forward and urging his men to continue the attack on a second trench line, he was gravely wounded by machine gun fire. Although Corporal Stowers was mortally wounded, he pressed forward, urging on the members of his squad, until he died. Inspired by the heroism and display of bravery of Corporal Stowers, his company continued the attack against incredible odds, contributing to the capture of Hill 188 and causing heavy enemy casualties.” Shortly after his death, Stowers was recommended for the Congressional Medal of Honor, but the recommendation was not processed. In 1990, the Department of the Army conducted a review and the Stowers recommendation was discovered. After an investigation of the circumstances of his death, on April 24, 1991 President George H. W. Bush presented the medal to Stowers’ two sisters. The Stowers review led to another army study in 1992 which found that several African Americans deserving of the Congressional Medal of Honor during World War II had not received it because of bias on the part of the Decorations Board. Freddie Stowers Elementary School in Ft. Benning, Georgia is named in his honor.

• January 12, 1910 Bass Reeves, one of the first African Americans to receive a commission as a deputy United States marshal, died. Reeves was born enslaved in July, 1838 in Crawford County, Arkansas. During the Civil War, he escaped into Indian Territory and lived with the Seminole and Creek Indians. Later, he moved back to Arkansas and farmed until 1875. At that time, he was recruited as a deputy marshal because he was an expert with rifle and pistol, knew the Indian Territory, and spoke several Indian languages. Reeves worked 32 years as a federal peace officer and arrested over 3,000 felons before retiring in 1907. Many scholars consider Reeves to be one of the most outstanding frontier heroes in U.S. history. His biography, “Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves,” was published in 2006. In 2007, the U.S. Route 62 bridge crossing the Arkansas River was named the Bass Reeves Memorial Bridge in his honor. The Bass Reeves Legacy Monument in Fort Smith, Arkansas was dedicated May 26, 2012.

• January 12, 1916 James Columbus “Jay” McShann, hall of fame jazz and blues pianist and bandleader, was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma. McShann began working as a professional musician in 1931. He moved to Kansas City, Missouri in 1936 and formed The Jay McShann Orchestra. After serving in the United States Army during World War II, he began to lead small groups. McShann recorded and toured throughout the 1990s. His recordings “Paris All-Star Blues (A Tribute to Charlie Parker)” was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Performance in 1991 and “Goin’ to Kansas City” was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album in 2003. McShann was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1987. In 1988, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame and in 1996 received the Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation. McShann died December 7, 2006.

• January 12, 1920 James L. Farmer, Jr., civil rights activist, was born in Marshall, Texas. Farmer was a child prodigy and at the age of 14 was attending Wiley College and participating on the debate team that was portrayed in the 2007 film “The Great Debaters.” Farmer earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Wiley in 1938 and his Bachelor of Divinity degree from the Howard University School of Religion in 1941. In 1942, Farmer co-founded the Committee of Racial Equality, later renamed the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), to bring an end to racial segregation through active nonviolence. He served as the national chairman until 1944. In 1961, he organized the Freedom Rides which eventually led to the desegregation of inter-state busing in the United States. In 1975, Farmer co-founded Fund for an Open Society with a vision of a nation in which people live in stable integrated communities and where political and civic power is shared by people of different races and ethnicities. He led that organization until 1999. In 1985, he published “Lay Bare the Heart: An Autobiography of the Civil Rights Movement” and in 1998 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President William Clinton. Farmer died July 9, 1999.

• January 12, 1944 Joseph Billy “Smokin’ Joe” Frazier, hall of fame boxer, was born in Beaufort, South Carolina. Frazier won the Gold medal in the heavyweight boxing division at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games and turned professional in 1965. He won theWorld Heavyweight Boxing Championship in 1970 and held the title until 1973. Frazier is most remembered for his three epic bouts with Muhammad Ali, including the “Thrilla in Manila.” Frazier retired from boxing in 1976 with a record of 32 wins, 4 losses, and 1 draw. After retiring, he trained fighters at his gym in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Frazier was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990 and published his autobiography, “Smokin’ Joe: The Autobiography of a Heavyweight Champion of the World, Smokin’ Joe Frazier,” in 1996. Frazier died November 7, 2011.

• January 12, 1948 The United States Supreme Court ruled in Sipuel v. Board of Regents of University of Oklahoma that colleges could not deny admittance based on race. In 1946, Ada Lois Sipuel applied for admittance to the University of Oklahoma law school, the only taxpayer funded law school in the State of Oklahoma, and was denied based on her race. On this date, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “petitioner is entitled to secure legal education afforded by a state institution. The State must provide it for her in conformity with the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and provide it as soon as it does for applicants of any other group.” In reaction to the ruling, the Oklahoma legislature created the Langston University School of Law. Sipuel refused to attend Langston and announced her intention to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court. As a result, she was finally admitted to the University of Oklahoma School of Law on June 18, 1949. The Ada Lois Sipuel Fisher Garden on the campus of the University of Oklahoma now stands in honor of this event.

• January 12, 1950 Sheila Jackson-Lee, congressperson, was born in Queens, New York. Jackson-Lee earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Yale University in 1972 and her Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Virginia Law School in 1975. In 1987, she was appointed a municipal judge and in 1989 was elected to the Houston City Council, the first African American woman elected to the council. In 1994, she was elected to the United States House of Representatives. She serves on the Judiciary Committee, where she focuses on issues such as civil rights and abortion rights, and the Homeland Security Committee.

• January 12, 1952 Walter Ellis Mosley, novelist, was born in Los Angeles, California. Mosley earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Johnson State College in 1977 and moved to New York City in 1981. While working at Mobil Oil, he took a writing course at City College. Mosley started writing at the age of 34 and has written every day since, writing more than 33 books. His first published novel, “Devil in a Blue Dress” (1990), was made into the 1995 movie of the same title. That was followed by novels such as “White Butterfly” (1992), “Fearless Jones” (2001), “Blonde Faith” (2007), “When the Thrill is Gone” (2011), and “All I Did Was Shoot My Man” (2012). Mosley’s works have consistently addressed social and racial issues and have been translated into 21 languages. Mosley received the 2005 “Risktaker Award” from the Sundance Institute for his creative and activist efforts and in 2006 was the first recipient of the Carl Brandon Society Parallax Award for his young adult novel “47” (2005). Mosley was awarded an honorary doctorate degree by City College of New York and is a member of Goddard College’s Board of Trustees.

• January 12, 1956 Sam Langford, hall of fame boxer and according to ESPN “the greatest fighter nobody knows,” died. Langford was born March 4, 1883 in Weymouth Falls, Nova Scotia, Canada. Although he was only 5 feet 6 ½ inches tall and weighed 185 pounds, Langford fought greats from the lightweight division to the heavyweight division, beating many champions in the process. However, Langford was denied an opportunity to fight for a championship because of his race. In 1923, Langford fought and won boxing’s last fight to the finish for the Mexican Heavyweight Boxing Championship. Due to failing eyesight, he retired in 1926 with a record of 167 wins, 38 losses, and 37 draws. Heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey said “The hell I feared no man. There was one man I wouldn’t fight because I knew he would flatten me. I was afraid of Sam Langford.” Langford eventually went completely blind and ended up penniless. He was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. Langford’s biography, “Sam Langford: Boxing’s Greatest Uncrowned Champion,” was published in 2008.

• January 12, 1960 Jacques Dominique Wilkins, hall of fame basketball player, was born in Paris, France where his father was stationed in the United States Air Force. Wilkins led his high school basketball team to consecutive Class 3-A State Championships and entered the University of Georgia in 1979. He was named the SEC Men’s Basketball Player of the Year in 1981 and selected by the Utah Jazz in the 1982 NBA Draft. As a professional, he was nicknamed “The Human Highlight Film” for his incredible athletic ability and highlight reel dunks. Over his 18 year professional career, he was a nine-time All-Star and won the NBA scoring championship in 1986. His number 21 jersey was retired by the Atlanta Hawks in 2001. In 2006, he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame. He currently serves as vice president of basketball for the Hawks and goodwill ambassador to the community.

• January 12, 1965 Lorraine Hansberry, playwright, died. Hansberry was born May 19, 1930 in Chicago, Illinois. She moved to New York City in 1950 to pursue a career as a writer. In 1959, her play, “A Raisin in the Sun,” debuted on Broadway. It was the first play written by an African American woman to be produced on Broadway. The play received the New York Drama Critics Award for Best Play of the Year, making Hansberry the youngest playwright and the fifth woman to receive that award. Her only other play to be produced on Broadway was “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window” (1965). After her death, her ex-husband completed several of her unfinished manuscripts, including “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” (1969) and “Les Blancs” (1994). The Lorraine Hansberry Theater in San Francisco, California in named in her honor. Her biography, “They Found a Way: Lorraine Hansberry,” was published in 1978. Hansberry’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

• January 12, 1980 Erinn Smart, Olympic fencer, was born in New York City. Smart began fencing at the age of 11 at the Peter Westbrook Foundation. She earned her bachelor’s degree in economics in 2001 from Barnard College at Columbia University. While at Columbia, Smart was a two-time All American in women’s foil. She also was the United States National Champion in 1998, 2002, 2004, and 2008. Smart won a Silver medal as a member of the U.S. foil team at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. She currently works in financial services and mentors young fencers.

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Today in Black History, 1/13/2013
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