Today in Black History, 1/16/2012 - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 1/16/2012

· January 16, 1901 Hiram Rhodes Revels, the first African American to serve in the United States Senate, died. Revels was born September 27, 1827 in Fayetteville, North Carolina. He was ordained an African Methodist Episcopal minister in 1845 and in 1846 he was given a pastorship in Natchez, Mississippi. Revels was elected an Alderman in Natchez in 1868 and elected to the Mississippi State Senate in 1869. At that time, the state legislature elected United States Senators and Revels was elected to finish the term of one of the state’s seats left vacant since the Civil War. On February 25, 1870, he took the seat in the U.S. Senate, where he served until he resigned on March 3, 1871, two months before the end of his term, to become the first president of Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College (Alcorn State University) where he served until his retirement in 1882.

· January 16, 1920 Zeta Phi Beta was founded on the campus of Howard University with the principles of “Scholarship, Sisterly Love, Service and Finer Womanhood.” Today they have a membership of 125,000 women in more than 800 undergraduate and graduate chapters throughout the world. Notable Zeta members include Julia Carson, Sheryl Underwood, Grace Bumbry, Dionne Warwick, and Janet Dubois.

· January 16, 1943 Marcelite Jordan Harris, the first African American female general in the United States Air Force, was born in Houston, Texas. Harris earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in speech and drama from Spelman College in 1964 and was commissioned through Office Training School in 1965. She has held a variety of assignments, including the first female aircraft maintenance officer, one of the first two female air officers commanding at the U.S. Air Force Academy, and the first female deputy commander for maintenance. She also served as a White House social aide during the administration of President Jimmy Carter. Harris earned her Bachelor of Science degree in business management from the University of Maryland in 1989. She retired from the air force in 1997. After retiring, she worked at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as the Florida site director and logistics process owner for the company managing the nation’s shuttle program. In 2010, Harris was appointed by President Barack Obama to the Board of Visitors for the U.S. Air Force Academy.


· January 16, 1950 Deborrah Kaye Allen, actress, choreographer, director, and producer, was born in Houston, Texas. Allen earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in classical Greek literature, speech, and theater in 1971 from Howard University and made her Broadway debut in the chorus of “Purlie” in 1972. In 1980, her appearance in the Broadway revival of “West Side Story” earned her a Tony Award nomination and the Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Featured Artist in a Musical. That same year, she appeared in the film “Fame” and from 1982 to 1987 she appeared in the television series of the same name, winning the Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Choreography in 1982 and 1983 and the Golden Globe Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a TV Series-Comedy/Musical. She also won the 1991 Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Choreography for “Motown 30: What’s Goin’ On!” In 2001, Allen opened the Debbie Allen Dance Academy in Los Angeles, California offering a comprehensive curriculum for boys and girls in all the major dance techniques. Also in 2001, she was appointed by President George W. Bush to the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. In 2008, Allen directed the all-African American Broadway production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” Allen has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame for her contributions to the television industry and has been awarded honorary doctorates by the North Carolina School of the Arts and Howard University.

· January 16, 1979 Aaliyah Dana Houghton, recording artist, actress, and model, was born in Brooklyn, New York, but raised in Detroit, Michigan. At the age of nine, Aaliyah appeared on the television show “Star Search” and at the age of eleven she performed in concert with Gladys Knight. Her debut album, “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number,” was released in 1994 and sold more than two million copies. Both of her next two albums, “One in a Million” (1996) and “Aaliyah” (2001), also sold more than two million copies and were certified double platinum. She appeared in her first major film, “Romeo Must Die,” in 2000 and a track from the film, “Try Again,” earned her a Grammy Award nomination for Best Female R&B Vocalist. On August 25, 2001, Aaliyah and eight others were killed in an airplane crash in the Bahamas. Aaliyah sold more than 32 million records worldwide and in 2002 was posthumously awarded the American Music Awards Favorite Female R&B Artist and Favorite R&B/Soul Album.

· January 16, 1981 Archibald John Motley, Jr., painter, ceramist, and sculptor, died. Motley was born October 7, 1891 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He studied painting at the School of Art Institute of Chicago and graduated in 1918. His painting “Mending Socks” was voted the most popular work in a 1927 exhibit of works by living American painters. In 1928, Motley was presented the Harmon Foundation Award and became the first African American to have a one man exhibit in New York City. In 1929, he won a Guggenheim Fellowship and studied in France for a year. Motley was highly interested in skin tone and did numerous portraits documenting women of varying African American blood quantities. These portraits celebrate skin tone as something diverse, inclusive, and pluralistic. His night and crowd scenes, heavily influenced by jazz culture, are the most popular as they depict a vivid urban black culture that bore little resemblance to the conventional and marginalizing rustic images of black southerners so popular at the time. Other works by Motley include “Blues” (1929) and “Playing Poker” (1933) and his work is included in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Howard Univesity Art Collection.

· January 16, 2001 President William Clinton presented the Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration, to the descendents of Andrew Jackson Smith at a White House ceremony. Smith was initially nominated for the medal in 1916, but was denied. He earned the medal for his actions on November 30, 1864 when he was serving as a corporal in the 55th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry at the Battle of Honey Hill in South Carolina during the Civil War. Smith’s citation partially reads, “Forced into a narrow gorge crossing a swamp in the face of the enemy position, the 55th’s Color-Sergeant was killed by an exploding shell, and Corporal Smith took the Regimental Colors from his hand and carried them through heavy grape and canister fire. Although half of the officers and a third of the enlisted men engaged in the fight were killed or wounded, Corporal Smith continued to expose himself to enemy fire by carrying the colors throughout the battle. Through his actions, the Regimental Colors of the 55th Infantry Regiment were not lost to the enemy.” Smith was born enslaved on September 3, 1843. With the outbreak of the Civil War, Smith’s owner joined the Confederate military with the intention of taking Smith with him. When Smith learned of his intentions, he escaped and joined the Union Army. Smith died March 4, 1932.

· January 16, 2006 Ellen Johnson Sirleaf took office as the President of Liberia, the first and currently the only female head of state in Africa. Sirleaf was born October 29, 1938 in Monrovia, Liberia. She earned her bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and in 1971 earned her Master of Public Administration degree from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. From 1972 to 1973, she served as assistant minister of finance and from 1979 to 1980 as minister of finance for Liberia. As a result of disagreements with the government in power, Sirleaf spent much of the 1980s and 1990s in exile. In 1996, she returned to Liberia and in 2005 Sirleaf was elected President of Liberia. In 2007, she was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States government’s highest civilian award, by President George W. Bush. Sirleaf has also received honorary Doctor of Law degrees from several universities, including Indiana University and Yale University. Sirleaf was elected to a second five-year term in 2011.

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