Today in Black History, 12/20/2015 | Ernest James Gaines - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 12/20/2015 | Ernest James Gaines

December 20, 2000 Ernest James Gaines was awarded the National Humanities Medal, for work that has "deepened the nation's understanding of the humanities, broadened our citizen's engagement with the humanities, or helped to preserve and expand American's access to important resources in the humanities," by President William J. Clinton. Gaines was born January 15, 1933 in Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana. He wrote his first novel when he was 17 and sent it to a publisher who rejected it. He later rewrote it and it became his first published novel "Catherine Carmier" (1964). He published his first short story, "The Turtles," in 1956 in a magazine at San Francisco State University where he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in literature in 1957. His 1971 novel "The Autobiography of Jane Pittman" was adapted for a 1974 television movie of the same title that won eight Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Special-Comedy or Drama. His 1993 novel "A Lesson Before Dying" won the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction and was adapted for a television movie of the same title that won the 1999 Emmy Award for Outstanding Made for Television Movie. Other books by Gaines include "A Gathering of Old Men" (1983) and "Mozart and Leadbelly: Stories and Essays" (2005). Gaines was presented the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation "Genius" Award in 1993. The Baton Rouge Area Foundation established the Earnest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence in 2007 to honor his legacy. Gaines was awarded the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor the nation bestows on an individual artist, by President Barrack H. Obama July 10, 2013.

December 20, 1935 William Julius Wilson, sociologist, educator and author, was born in Derry, Pennsylvania. Wilson earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Wilberforce University in 1958, his Master of Arts degree from Bowling Green State University in 1961, and his Ph. D. from Washington State University in 1966. He taught at the University of Massachusetts Amherst from 1965 to 1972 and the University of Chicago from 1972 to 1996. He was appointed the Lucy Flower University Professor and director of the University of Chicago's Center for the Study of Urban Equality in 1990. Wilson joined the faculty of Harvard University in 1996 and is currently the Lewis P. and Linda L. Geyser University Professor. Wilson has authored a number of books, including "The Declining Significance of Race: Blacks and Changing American Institutions" (1978), "The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the Underclass, and Public Policy" (1987), and "More Than Just Race: Being Poor and Black in the Inner City" (2009). He is past president of the American Sociological Association and has been elected to the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Wilson has received many honors, including more than 40 honorary doctorate degrees, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur "Genius" Award in 1987, and the only non-economist to receive the Seidman Award in Political Economy. He received the National Medal of Science, the highest honor the United States bestows on scientist, engineers, and inventors, from President William J. Clinton December 8, 1998 and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Lifetime Achievement Award in Nonfiction in 2010.

December 20, 1942 Robert Lee "Bullet Bob" Hayes, hall of fame track and field athlete and football player, was born in Jacksonville, Florida. While a student at Florida A&M University, Hayes was the Amateur Athletic Union 100 yard dash champion from 1962 to 1964 and was the National Collegiate Athletic Association champion in the 200 meter race in 1964. At the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games, he won Gold medals and set world records in the 100 meter race and the 4 by 100 meter relay. At that time, he was considered the world's fastest man. Hayes was selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the 1964 National Football League Draft. Over his 11 season football career, he was a three-time Pro Bowl selection and was instrumental in the Cowboys' 1972 Super Bowl victory. Hayes is the only man to win an Olympic Gold medal and a Super Bowl ring. He was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1972 and published his autobiography, "Run, Bullet, Run: The Rise, Fall, and Recovery of Bob Hayes," in 1992. Hayes died September 18, 2002. He was posthumously inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.

December 20, 1968 George Edward Chalmer Hayes, lawyer, died. Hayes was born July 1, 1894 in Richmond, Virginia. He earned his bachelor's degree from Brown University in 1915 and his law degree from Howard University School of Law in 1918. He attained one of the highest academic averages on record at Howard. Hayes worked to desegregate the public schools in the capitol as a member of the District of Columbia Board of Education from 1945 to 1949. He was the lead attorney in the 1954 Supreme Court case, Bolling v. Sharpe, in which the court decided that the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment implicitly forbade most racial discrimination by the federal government. President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Hayes to the District of Columbia Public Utilities Commission in 1955, the first African American to serve on the commission. The District of Columbia Bar Association named him to its Board of Directors in 1962, the first African American to hold office in that organization.

December 20, 1988 Max Robinson, broadcast journalist, died. Robinson was born May 1, 1939 in Richmond, Virginia. He attended several colleges and briefly served in the United States Air Force before receiving a medical discharge. Robinson began his television career in 1959 in Portsmouth, Virginia where he had to read the news while hidden behind a slide of the station logo to conceal his race. Robinson had the slide removed one night and was fired the next day. He joined the "Eyewitness News" team in Washington, D.C. in 1969, the first Black television anchor in D.C. Robinson was the Chicago, Illinois based co-anchor of "ABC World News" from 1978 to 1983. Robinson was a founder of the National Association of Black Journalist in 1975.

December 20, 1995 Madge Dorita Walters Sinclair, actress, died. Sinclair was born April 28, 1938 in Kingston, Jamaica. She was a teacher in Jamaica until 1968 when she moved to New York City to pursue an acting career. She appeared in the 1977 television mini-series "Roots," a role which earned her an Emmy nomination for Best Actress in a Drama. She appeared in the series "Trapper John, M. D." from 1979 to 1986 and earned three Emmy nominations for her work on that show. She appeared in the 1988 film "Coming to America" and was a regular on the television series "Gabriel's Fire," which won her the 1991 Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Dramatic Series. A businesswoman also, Sinclair was an art dealer, chairwoman of clothing manufacturer Madge Sinclair, Inc., and the owner of an income tax service.

December 20, 2000 David C. Driskell was awarded the National Humanities Medal, for work that has "deepened the nation's understanding of the humanities, broadened our citizen's engagement with the humanities, or helped to preserve and expand American's access to important resources in the humanities," by President William J. Clinton. Driskell was born June 7, 1931 in Eatonton, Georgia. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in art from Howard University in 1955 and his Master of Fine Arts degree from Catholic University in 1962. He served as visiting professor at the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ife in Nigeria from 1969 to 1970. Driskell joined the faculty of the University of Maryland in 1977 and served as chair of the Department of Art from 1978 to 1983. He has served as cultural advisor and curator of the Camille and Bill Cosby Collection of Fine Art since 1977. Driskell has written more than 40 catalogues for exhibitions he has created. The David C. Driskell Center for the Study of the Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora was founded at the University of Maryland, College Park in 2001. Driskell's work is in the collections of many major museums, including the National Gallery of Art, the High Museum of Art, and Yale University Art Gallery. His life and work is detailed in "David C. Driskell: Artist and Scholar" published in 2006.

December 20, 2000 Quincy Delight Jones was awarded the National Humanities Medal, for work that has "deepened the nation's understanding of the humanities, broadened our citizen's engagement with the humanities, or helped to preserve and expand American's access to important resources in the humanities," by President William J. Clinton. Jones was born March 14, 1933 in Chicago, Illinois. He won a scholarship to the Berklee College of Music in 1951 but abandoned his studies when he received an offer to play in the band of Lionel Hampton. He composed the first of his 33 motion picture scores for the film "The Pawnbroker" in 1964. Jones' recordings also garnered acclaim, including "Walking In Space" (1969), "Smackwater Jack" (1971), "The Dude" (1981), and "Q's Juke Joint" (1995). He produced and conducted "We Are the World" in 1985 to raise money for the victims of Ethiopia's famine. Jones also produced "Off The Wall" (1979), "Thriller" (1982), and "Bad" (1987) for Michael Jackson. Jones was the first African American named musical director/conductor of the Academy Awards ceremony in 1971 and the first African American to win the academy's Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award in 1995. He has earned a record 79 Grammy Award nominations and 27 Grammy Awards, including the 1991 Grammy Legend Award. Jones was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor bestowed by the nation on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 2008. He is one of the founders of the Institute for Black American Music which is raising funds for a national library of African American art and music and is the founder of the Quincy Jones Listen Up Foundation which connects youth with technology, education, culture, and music. Harvard University endowed the Quincy Jones Professorship of Afro-American Music in 2000. Jones received Kennedy Center Honors in 2001, the George and Ira Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement in 2007 and the Clinton Global Citizen Award for Leadership in Philanthropy in 2009. Jones received the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, from President Barack H. Obama March 2, 2011. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013, received the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People 2014 Spingarn Medal, and received an honorary doctorate degree from the Royal Academy of Music in 2015. "The Autobiography of Quincy Jones" was published in 2001.

December 20, 2000 Toni Morrison was awarded the National Humanities Medal, for work that has "deepened the nation's understanding of the humanities, broadened our citizen's engagement with the humanities, or helped to preserve and expand American's access to important resources in the humanities," by President William J. Clinton. Morrison was born Chloe Ardella Wolford February 18, 1931 in Lorain, Ohio. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Howard University in 1953 and her Master of Arts degree in English from Cornell University in 1955. She became an editor at Random House in 1966 and played an important role in bringing African American literature into the mainstream. Morrison's first novel was "The Bluest Eyes" (1970) which was followed by "Sula" (1973), and "Song of Solomon" (1977), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award. Her novel "Beloved" was published in 1987 and won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the American Book Award. The New York Times Book Review named it the best American novel published in the previous 25 years in 2006. The book was adapted into a film of the same title in 1998. Other novels by Morrison include "Jazz" (1992), "Love" (2003), "Home" (2012), and "God Help the Child" (2015). Morrison was awarded the 1993 Nobel Prize in Literature and was cited, "who in novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, give life to an essential aspect of American reality." The National Endowment for the Humanities selected Morrison for the 1996 Jefferson Lecture, the nation's highest honor for achievement in the humanities. She received the 1996 National Book Foundation's Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters for "enriching our literary heritage over a life of service, or a corpus of work." Morrison held the Robert F. Goheen Chair in the Humanities at Princeton University from 1989 to her retirement in 2006. She won the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for Children for "Who's Got Game? The Ant or the Grasshopper? The Lion or the Mouse? Poppy or the Snake?." She was presented the Norman Mailer Prize for Lifetime Achievement in 2009 and received honorary Doctor of Letters degrees from Rutgers University and the University of Geneva in 2011. Morrison was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, by President Barack H. Obama May 29, 2012. She received the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Book Critics Circle in 2014. She is currently a member of the editorial board at The Nation magazine.

December 20, 2000 Bennett Lester "Bennie" Carter was presented the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor the nation bestows on an individual artist, by President William J. Clinton. Carter was born August 8, 1907 in New York City. Largely self-taught, he was sitting in with some of New York's top bands by 15. He formed his first band in 1929 and led the McKinney's Cotton Pickers from 1931 to 1932. He was also noted for his arrangements during the 1930s, including "Keep a Song in Your Soul" (1930), "Lonesome Nights" (1933), and "Symphony in Riffs" (1933). Carter moved to Europe in 1935 and became staff arranger for the British Broadcasting Corporation dance orchestra. He returned to the United States in 1938 and began to arrange for feature films, beginning with "Stormy Weather" in 1943. Carter was one of the first African Americans to compose music for films. He won the 1963 Grammy Award for Best Background Arrangement for "Busted" by Ray Charles. Carter was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1977, was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1986 and received Kennedy Center Honors in 1996. He was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987 and won the 1994 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Solo for "Prelude to a Kiss." He received honorary doctorate degrees from Princeton, Rutgers, and Harvard Universities and the New England Conservatory. Carter died July 12, 2003. His biography, "Benny Carter: A Life in Music," was published in 1982.

December 20, 2000 Maya Angelou was awarded the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor the nation bestows on an individual artist, by President William J. Clinton. Angelou was born Marguerite Ann Johnson April 4, 1928 in St. Louis, Missouri. She earned a scholarship to train in African dance in 1952 and toured Europe with a production of the opera "Porgy and Bess" from 1954 to 1955. She recorded her first album, "Miss Calypso," and was featured in the movie "Calypso Heat Wave" in 1957. She became active in the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1950s, serving as the northern coordinator for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Angelou's first and best known book, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" (1969), was nominated for a National Book Award and her 1971 volume of poetry, "Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water 'Fore I Diiie," was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. She recited her poem "On the Pulse of Morning" at the 1993 inauguration of President William J. Clinton. Her recording of the poem won the 1994 Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word or Non-Traditional Album. She also won the Grammy Award for Best Spoken Word Album for "Phenomenal Woman" in 1995 and "A Song Flung Up to Heaven" in 2002. Angelou received the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People 1994 Spingarn Medal. Angelou was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 1998 and was awarded the Lincoln Medal in 2008. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, by President Barack H. Obama February 15, 2011 and received the Norman Mailer Prize for Lifetime Achievement in 2013. Angelou was awarded over 30 honorary doctorate degrees and published seven autobiographies, the last one, "Mom & Me & Mom," in 2013. Angelou died May 28, 2014. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor in 2015.

December 20, 2001 Leopold Sedar Senghor, poet and the first President of the Republic of Senegal, died. Senghor was born October 9, 1906 in Joal, Senegal. His father was a successful businessman which allowed Senghor to attend the best schools in Senegal and earn a scholarship to study in France where he graduated from the University of Paris. After graduation, he taught at the Universities of Tours and Paris. During this time, he and other African intellectuals conceived the idea of "negritude" in response to the racism in France. It was meant as a celebration of African culture and character. Senghor enlisted as a French army officer in 1939 and the following year was taken prisoner by the Germans and spent two years in different prison camps. After the war ended in 1945, Senghor took the position of dean of the linguistics department at the Ecole Natioanale de la France d'Outre-Mer, a position he held until 1960. The Republic of Senegal gained its independence from France June 20, 1960 and Senghor was elected the first president, a position he held until his resignation in 1980. Senghor published the first volume of a series of five titled "Liberte" which contained speeches and essays in 1964. The fifth volume was published in 1993. Other works by Senghor include "Songs for Naeett" (1949), "Ethiopiques" (1956), and "Nocturnes" (1961). He was elected a member of l'Academie francaise, the first African to sit at the Academie, in 1983. The airport in Dakar was renamed Aeroport International Leopold Senghor in 1996.

December 20, 2004 Frank "Son" Seals, hall of fame blues guitarist and singer, died. Seals was born August 13, 1942 in Osceola, Arkansas. He began performing professionally at 13 and formed his own band, Son Seals and the Upsetters, at 19. Seals moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1971 and recorded his debut album, "The Son Seals Blues Band," in 1973. Other albums by Seals include "Midnight Sun" (1976), "Chicago Fire" (1980), and "Nothing But The Truth" (1994). He received the W. C. Handy Award for Best Blues Recording in 1985, 1987, and 2001. Seals was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2009.

December 20, 2010 Roderick L. Ireland was sworn in as the first African American Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court. Ireland was born December 3, 1944 in Springfield, Massachusetts. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1966 from Lincoln University, his Juris Doctorate degree in 1969 from Columbia Law School, his Master of Laws degree in 1975 from Harvard Law School, and his Doctor of Philosophy in Law, Policy, and Society in 1998 from Northeastern University. He served as the chief attorney, deputy director, and executive director of the Roxbury Defenders Committee from 1971 to 1974. Ireland served on the Boston Juvenile Court from 1977 to 1990 and the Massachusetts Court of Appeals from 1990 to 1997. He was appointed associate justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court in 1997. Ireland has been an adjunct faculty member at the Northeastern University School of Criminology and Criminal Justice since 1978 and on the faculty of the Appellate Judges Seminar at New York University since 2001. He has received a number of honorary Doctor of Laws degrees.

December 20, 2012 Jimmy McCracklin, hall of fame songwriter, pianist and vocalist, died. McCracklin was born James David Walker August 13, 1921 in Helena, Arkansas but raised in St. Louis, Missouri. He joined the United States Navy in 1938 and served for three years. He moved to Richmond, California where he played in a local club. McCracklin recorded his debut single, "Miss Mattie Left Me," in 1945. He went on to record more than 20 albums, including "Just Got to Know" (1963), "Think" (1965), and "A Taste of the Blues" (1994). His 1957 single "The Walk," which he wrote, went to number seven on the Billboard Pop Chart. McCracklin claimed to have written almost a thousand songs and recorded hundreds of them. He received the Pioneer Award from the Rhythm and Blues Foundation in 1991 and was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2008.

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