Today in Black History, 1/17/2012 - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 1/17/2012

· January 17, 1882 Lewis Howard Latimer received patent number 252,386 for the process of manufacturing carbon filaments in light bulbs. His improvements reduced the time to produce bulbs and increased the quality. 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 the telephone. In total, Latimer received seven patents over his career. Latimer died December 11, 1928 and was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006. 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 of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

· January 17, 1889 Carl J. Murphy, journalist, civil rights leader, and educator, was born in Baltimore, Maryland. Murphy earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Howard University in 1911 and his Master of Arts degree from Harvard University in 1913. Murphy served as chairman of the German Department at Howard from 1913 to 1918. In 1922, he assumed control of the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper and over the next four decades solidified it as a major African-American newspaper, increasing circulation from 14,000 to more than 200,000 with over 200 employees. Under his leadership, the newspaper was deeply involved in the organization of the 1965 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Murphy was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal in 1955. The Fine Arts Center and the Carl J. Murphy Scholarship Fund at Morgan State University are named in his honor. Murphy died on February 25, 1967.

· January 17, 1890 Louis Santop, hall of fame Negro Baseball League catcher, was born in Tyler, Texas. Santop made his professional debut in 1909 and over his 15 season professional career had a .406 batting average. In 1911, he hit .470 and in 1914 .455. After World War I, he was the league’s biggest draw. After retiring in 1926, he became a broadcaster. Santop died on January 22, 1942 and was posthumously inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.

· January 17, 1927 Eartha Mae Kitt, singer, actress, and caberet star, was born in North, South Carolina. Kitt began her career as a member of the Katherine Dunham Company and made her film debut in “Casbah” (1948). A talented singer, Kitt’s hits include “Let’s Do It” (1953), “C’est si bon” (1953), and her most recognized song “Santa Baby” (1953). In 1950, Kitt had her first starring role on Broadway as Helen of Troy in “Dr. Faustus.” She also appeared in “St. Louis Blues” (1958) and “Anna Lucasta” (1959). In the 1960s, she appeared as Catwoman in the television series “Batman.” In 1968, she was invited to the White House and after being asked by Lady Bird Johnson about the Vietnam War, she replied “you send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed, no wonder the kids rebel and take pot.” This response led to a derailment of Kitt’s career and caused her to devote her performances to Europe and Asia. In 1978, she made a triumphant return in the Broadway musical “Timbuktu” for which she was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical. Kitt wrote three autobiographies, “Thursday Child” (1956), “Alone With Me” (1976), and “I’m Still Here: Confessions of a Sex Kitten” (1989). Kitt died on December 25, 2008.

· January 17, 1931 Lawrence Douglas Wilder, the first African American to be elected governor of a United States state, was born in Richmond, Virginia. Wilder earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Virginia Union University in 1951 and served in the United States Army during the Korean War where he earned a Bronze Star for heroism. In 1959, Wilder earned his Juris Doctorate degree from the Howard University School of Law. Wilder began his political career in 1969 by winning a special election for the Virginia State Senate where he served until he was elected Lieutenant Governor in 1985. In 1989, he was elected Governor of the State of Virginia. During his tenure he worked on crime and gun control initiatives and in May, 1990 ordered state agencies and universities to divest themselves of any investments in South Africa because of its policy of apartheid, making Virginia the first southern state to take such action. Wilder left office in 1994 because of term limits and in 2004 was elected Mayor of the City of Richmond, a position he held until 2009. He also serves as an adjunct professor in public policy at Virginia Commonwealth University. In 1990, Wilder was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal. Virginia Commonwealth University School of Government and Public Affairs, the Virginia Union University library, the Norfolk State University performing arts center, and a Hampton University dormitory are all named in his honor. Biographies of Wilder include “Hold Fast to Dreams: Doug Wilder’s Life Story” (1989) and “Claiming the Dream: The Victorious Campaign of Douglas Wilder” (1990).

· January 17, 1931 James Earl Jones, stage, screen, and television actor, was born in Arkabula, Mississippi, but raised in Brethren, Michigan. Jones attended the University of Michigan for four years, but did not graduate. He began his acting career at the Ramsdell Theater in Manistee, Michigan. His first film role was in “Dr. Stangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” (1964). However, his first big role was in “The Great White Hope” (1970), for which he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor, the second African American male to be nominated in that category. Jones is probably best known for being the voice of Darth Vader in the “Star Wars” trilogy, but other film roles include “Claudine” (1974), “Field of Dreams” (1989), “Cry, The Beloved Country” (1995), and “Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins” (2008). Jones is an accomplished stage actor also and won Tony Awards for Best Actor in a Play for his roles in “The Great White Hope” (1969) and “Fences” (1987). He most recently appeared in the 2008 all-African American production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” In addition to the Academy Award nomination and the Tony Awards, Jones has been nominated for nine Emmy Awards and won three for his work on television, including the 1991 Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor-Drama Series for “Gabriel’s Fire.” In 1992, he was presented the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President George H. W. Bush and in 2002 he received Kennedy Center Honors. In 2011, Jones received an Honorary Academy Award “for his legacy of consistent excellence and uncommon versatility.” Jones published his autobiography, “James Earl Jones: Voices and Silences,” in 1993.

· January 17, 1934 Cedar Anthony Walton, Jr., jazz pianist and arranger, was born in Dallas, Texas. Walton’s mother was his first piano teacher and she exposed him to a wide range of jazz. At a young age, he began to emulate the recordings of such jazz greats as Nat King Cole and Errol Garner. In 1995, Walton moved to New York City where he quickly gained recognition. From 1958 to 1961, he played with the Jazztet, led by Benny Golson and Art Farmer, and from 1961 to 1964 he was a member of the Jazz Messengers. In 1974, Walton formed his own band, Eastern Rebellion. Recordings by Walton as bandleader include “Firm Roots” (1974), “Cedar’s Blues” (1985), and “Midnight Waltz” (2005). Walton was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the United States bestows upon a jazz musician, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2010.

· January 17, 1940 Kipchoge Keino, two-time Olympic Gold medalist, was born in Kipsamo, Kenya. Keino began his international distance running career at the 1962 Commonwealth Games in Perth, Australia and in 1965 broke the world record for the 3000-meter run in his first attempt at that distance. Later that year, he also broke the world record for the 5000-meter run. At the 1968 Mexico City Summer Olympics, he won the Gold medal in the 1500-meter race and the Silver medal at 5000 meters. Four years later at the Munich Summer Olympics, he won the Gold medal at 3000 meters and the Silver medal at 1500-meters. Keino retired from competitive racing in 1973 and today lives on a farm in Kenya where he runs a charitable organization for orphans and serves as president of the Kenyan Olympic Committee. In 1987, he was recognized by Sports Illustrated Magazine as one of the “Athletes Who Care” for his work with orphans and in 1996 he was inducted into the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame. Kip Keino High School in Eldoret, Kenya is named in his honor and the Kip Keino Athletics Stadium in Bristol, England was unveiled in 2010.

· January 17, 1942 Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. (Muhammad Ali), hall of fame boxer, was born in Louisville, Kentucky. Ali began boxing at the age of 12 and went on to win six Kentucky Golden Gloves titles, two national Golden Gloves titles, and the Light Heavyweight Gold medal at the 1960 Rome Summer Olympic Games. Ali turned professional in1960 and won the World Heavyweight Championship for the first time on February 25, 1964. Ali was stripped of the title and had his boxing license suspended in 1967 for refusing to be drafted into the army. He was quoted as saying “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong…….They never called me nigger.” Ali was allowed to fight again in 1970 and in 1974 regained his title in “The Rumble in the Jungle.” He lost the title in 1978, but regained it for the third time seven months later. Ali retired from boxing in 1981 and has devoted himself to humanitarian endeavors around the globe. Ali was named “Fighter of the Year” by Ring Magazine five times, more times than any other fighter, and in 1990 was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. In 1997, he was the recipient of the Arthur Ashe Courage Award and in 1999 was named Sportsman of the Century by Sports Illustrated Magazine and Sports Personality of the Century by the British Broadcasting Corporation. In 2001, a biographical film, “Ali,” was released. Ali received the Presidential Citizens Medal in 2001 and on November 9, 2005 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President George W. Bush. On November 19, 2005 the Muhammad Ali Center opened in downtown Louisville. Ali published his autobiography, “The Greatest, My Own Story,” in 1975. Other biographies include “Muhammad Ali: The Birth of a Legend, Miami, 1961 – 1964” (2000) and “Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times” (2004).

· January 17, 1943 Rene Garcia Preval, past President of the Republic of Haiti, was born in Marmelade, Cap-Haitien. Preval studied business at the College of Gembloux and the University of Louvain in Belgium. He served as prime minister in 1991 before going into exile following a military coup. In 1996, Preval became the second democratically elected head of state in Haiti’s history when he was elected president. During his presidency he instituted a number of economic reforms, including the privatization of many government companies. In 2001, he stepped down at the end of his term. In 2006, he was re-elected as president for a new five year term which ended in 2011.

· January 17, 1961 Patrice Emery Lumumba, Congolese independence leader and the first elected Prime Minister of the Republic of the Congo, was executed by firing squad. Lumumba was born July 2, 1925 in Kasai province of the Belgian Congo. In 1958, he helped found the Mouvement National Congolais and later became the organization’s president. When the Congo gained independence from Belgium on June 30, 1960, Lumumba was elected prime minister. Only ten weeks later, his government was deposed in a coup and he was imprisoned and executed under circumstances suggesting the support and complicity of the Belgium and United States governments. Lumumba authored “Congo: My Country” which was published posthumously in 1962. A major transportation artery in Kinshasa is named in his honor as well as streets in many cities throughout the world.

· January 17, 1964 Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama, the first African American First Lady of the United States, was born in Chicago, Illinois. Obama earned her Bachelor of Arts degree cum laude from Princeton University in 1985 and her Juris Doctorate degree from Harvard University Law School in 1988. While at Harvard, she participated in demonstrations advocating the hiring of minority professors. Following law school, she held positions in the Chicago city government and in 1993 became executive director of the Chicago office of Public Allies, a non-profit encouraging young people to work on social issues, where she set fundraising records for the organization. In 2002, Obama began working for the University of Chicago Hospitals and in 2005 was appointed vice president for community and external affairs. As first lady, Obama has focused on reducing childhood obesity.

· January 17, 1990 Anna Arnold Hedgeman, educator, author and civil rights leader, died. Hedgeman was born July 5, 1899 in Marshalltown, Iowa. In 1918, she enrolled at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, becoming their first African American student, and earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English in 1922. For two years, she taught English and history at Rust College in Mississippi where she experienced the humiliation of segregation for the first time. Hedgeman then worked for the YWCA as executive director in Ohio, New Jersey, Harlem, Philadelphia, and Brooklyn. In 1954, she became the first African American woman to hold a mayoral cabinet position in New York City history. In later years, she owned Hedgeman Consultant Services and served as lecturer and consultant to numerous educational centers, boards, and colleges and universities, particularly in the area of African American studies. Hedgeman also authored “The Trumpet Sounds” (1964) and “The Gift of Chaos” (1977).

· January 17, 1996 Barbara Charline Jordan, the first African American woman to serve in the United States House of Representatives from a southern state, died. Jordan was born February 21, 1936 in Houston, Texas. In 1966, she became the first black woman to be elected to the Texas State Senate. She served in that body until 1972 when she was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. During her time in the house, she supported the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 that required banks to lend and make services available to underserved poor and minority communities and the renewal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In 1976, Jordan became the first African American woman to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention and that speech is considered by many historians to be the best convention keynote speech in modern history. Jordan retired from politics in 1979 and became an adjunct professor at the University of Texas. Jordon was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1990 and in 1992 was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal. Jordan was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President William Clinton in 1994 and the United States Military Academy’s Sylvanus Thayer Award in 1995, becoming only the second female recipient. After her death, she was the first black woman to be buried in the Texas State Cemetary in Austin. On April 24, 2009, a Barbara Jordan statue was unveiled at the University of Texas at Austin. Several schools in Texas are named in her honor as is the main terminal at Austin – Bergstrom International Airport. Her biography, “Barbara Jordan: American Hero,” was published in 2000 and a collection of her speeches, “Barbara Jordan: Speaking the Truth with Eloquent Thunder,” was published in 2007. Jordan’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

· January 17, 2000 South Carolina became the last state in the United States to recognize Martin Luther King, Jr. Day as a state holiday. President Ronald Reagan signed the legislation creating a federal Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday to be observed on the third Monday in January each year in honor of the birthday of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The legislation was introduced in Congress by Representative John Conyers of Detroit, Michigan. The holiday was first observed in 1986, but it was not until this date that it was observed in all 50 states of the country. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day is one of three federal holidays to commemorate an individual.

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