Today in Black History, 12/21/2012 - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 12/21/2012

• December 21, 1890 Alexander Thomas Augusta, surgeon, professor of medicine, and Civil War veteran, died. Augusta was born March 8, 1825 in Norfolk, Virginia. He attempted to study medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, but was not allowed due to his race. Therefore, he enrolled at Trinity Medical College of the University of Toronto and in 1856 received a degree in medicine. Augusta remained in Toronto and established his medical practice, supervised staff at Toronto General Hospital, directed an industrial school, and founded the Provincial Association for the Education and Elevation of the Colored People of Canada. In 1860, Augusta returned to the United States and in 1863 received a major’s commission as surgeon for African American troops in the Union Army, making him the first African American physician and the highest ranking African American in the army. After the war, Augusta accepted an assignment with the Freedman’s Bureau, heading Lincoln Hospital. He also served on the staff of the Washington, D.C. Freedman’s Hospital from 1868 to 1877. After his death, Augusta was interred with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.

• December 21, 1897 William Washington Browne, educator, minister, and businessman, died. Browne was born enslaved October 20, 1849 in Habersham County, Georgia. At 15, he ran away and joined the Union Army during the Civil War. After the war, he attended school in Wisconsin and then returned to the South in 1869 to teach in Georgia and Alabama. After becoming a Methodist minister in 1876, he urged the formation of groups to pool money and buy land. In 1889, he organized the True Reformers Savings Bank in Richmond, Virginia, the first black bank in the United States to receive a charter. At its peak in 1907, it took in more than $1 million in deposits. Browne was one of only eight men, including Booker T. Washington, selected to represent African Americans at the Cotton States and International Exposition in 1895. After his death, Browne’s funeral was one of the largest ever seen in Richmond’s black community.

• December 21, 1911 Josh Gibson, hall of fame Negro League baseball player, was born in Buena Vista, Georgia. In 1930, Gibson was recruited by the Homestead Grays, the preeminent Negro league team. The true statistical achievements of Negro league players may be impossible to know because complete statistics and game summaries were not kept, but it is claimed that Gibson hit almost 800 home runs over his 17 year professional career. He also was a ten-time All-Star and won two Negro League championships. Gibson died January 20, 1947, three months before Jackie Robinson became the first black player in modern major league history. Gibson was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972 and in 2000 was ranked 18th on The Sporting News list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players. Biographies of Gibson include “Josh Gibson: A Life in the Negro Leagues” (1978) and “Josh Gibson: The Power and The Darkness” (2004).

• December 21, 1921 Pickney Benton Stewart Pinchback, the first African American to become governor of a state in the United States, died. Pinchback was born May 10, 1837 in Macon, Georgia. In 1862, he made his way to New Orleans, Louisiana where he raised several companies of the Corps d’Afrique for the Union Army during the Civil War and was one of the few officers of African ancestry. Pinchback resigned his commission because of racial prejudice against black officers. In 1868, he was elected a Louisiana State Senator and in 1871 became the acting Lieutenant Governor of Louisiana. On December 9, 1872, the incumbent governor was removed from office and Pinchback became governor and served until January 13, 1873. During that brief 35 day period, he received vicious hate mail from around the country as well as threats on his life. After his brief governorship, Pinchback was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1874 and the U.S. Senate in 1876. Pinchback also served on the Louisiana State Board of Education and was instrumental in establishing Southern University and served on the board of trustees. In 1882, President Chester Arthur appointed him surveyor of customs in New Orleans. Pinchback later moved to Washington D.C. where he practiced law until his death. His biography, “Pickney Benton Stewart Pinchback,” was published in 1973.

• December 21, 1931 David Nathaniel Baker, Jr., hall of fame symphonic jazz composer, was born in Indianapolis, Indiana. Baker earned his Bachelor of Music and Master of Music degrees from Indiana University in 1953 and 1954, respectively. He was originally a trombonist, but an injury to his jaw left him unable to play. This caused him to focus on composition. In 1973, Baker was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Composition for “Levels” and in 1979 was nominated for a Grammy Award. Down Beat Magazine has recognized him as a trombonist, for lifetime achievement, and in 1994 he was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Education Hall of Fame. In 2000, he was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a Jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts. Baker has written over 2,000 compositions. He has also served on the boards of the American Symphony Orchestra League, Arts Midwest, and is past chair of the Jazz Advisory Panel at the Kennedy Center. He is currently the Distinguished Professor of Music and Chairman of the Jazz Department at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.

• December 21, 1942 Carla Thomas, the Queen of Memphis Soul, was born in Memphis, Tennessee. Thomas began performing at the age of 10 as a member of the Teen Town Singers. Her first record, “Cause I Love You” was a duet with her father, Rufus Thomas. In 1960, Thomas recorded her most famous single, “Gee Whiz (Look at His Eyes)” which she wrote at age 15. Other recordings from Thomas include “I’ll Bring it Home to You” (1962), “A Woman’s Love” (1964), “Let Me Be Good to You” (1966), “Love Means” (1971), “Carla Thomas” (1994), and “Bohemian Cavern” (2007). During the 1980s, Thomas became heavily involved in the “Artists in the Schools” program that provided Memphis schoolchildren with access to successful artists. In 1993, she was awarded the Pioneer Award from the Rhythm & Blues Foundation.

• December 21, 1945 George Faison, dancer and choreographer, was born in Washington, D.C. Faison entered Howard University in 1964 to study dentistry, but dropped out in 1966 to pursue a career in dance. He moved to New York City and joined the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in 1967 and remained there through 1969. In 1971, he formed his own group, the George Faison Universal Dance Experience. He served as dancer and choreographer, creating original works such as “Suite Otis” (1971) set to the music of Otis Redding. He also created pieces with a historical and political bent such as “Poppy” (1971) which dealt with the problem of drug addiction. Faison made his choreographic debut on Broadway with “Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope” in 1972. In 1974, he choreographed “The Wiz” and won the Tony Award for Best Choreographer, the first for an African American in that category. Faison has choreographed more than 30 other plays and musicals, including “Via Galactica” (1973), “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue” (1976), “Porgy and Bess” (1983), which earned him the Tony Award nomination for Best Choreograher, and “Sing, Mahalia, Sing” (1985). He was nominated for the Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Choreography for his work on the HBO production “The Josephine Baker Story” (1991).

• December 21, 1958 Harry “The Black Panther” Wills, hall of fame boxer, died. Wills was born May 15, 1889 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He began his professional boxing career in 1911 and fought for over 20 years, often ranked as the number one challenger for the heavyweight title, but never given the opportunity to fight for the title due to his race. Wills spent six years trying to land a fight with Jack Dempsey, who was willing to fight him, but the Governor of the State of New York would not allow it fearing that race riots would follow the fight. Wills retired from boxing in 1932 with a record of 65 wins, 8 losses, and 2 draws. After retiring, he ran a successful real estate business until his death. Wills was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992.

• December 21, 1959 Florence Delorez “Flo-Jo” Griffith-Joyner, hall of fame track and field athlete, was born in Los Angeles, California. At the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, Griffith-Joyner won the Silver medal in the 200 meter race and at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games she won the Gold medal in the 100 and 200 meter races and in the 4 by 100 meter relay and the Silver medal in the 4 by 400 meter relay. Her world records in the 100 and 200 meter races still stand. In 1988, she was the recipient of the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States. Griffith- Joyner retired from competitive sports shortly after the 1988 Olympic Games and was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1995. Griffith-Joyner died September 21, 1998.

• December 21, 1972 Horace Mann Boyd, historian, college administrator, and social science researcher, died. Bond was born November 8, 1904 in Nashville, Tennessee. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree with honors from Lincoln University in 1923 and went on to earn his Master of Arts degree in1926 and Ph.D. in 1936 in education from the University of Chicago. His dissertation on black education in Alabama won the Rosenberger Prize in 1936 and was published in 1939. Bond taught at Langston, Fisk, and Dillard Universities while completing his doctorate. He was appointed the first president of Fort Valley State College in 1939 and served until 1945. In 1945, Bond was appointed the first African American president of Lincoln University, a position he held until 1957. In 1953, Bond provided research that helped support the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision. Bond later became dean of the School of Education and director of the Bureau of Educational and Social Research at Atlanta University (now Clark Atlanta University). He authored several books, including “The Education of the Negro in the American Social Order” (1934) and “Education for Freedom: A History of Lincoln University” (1976). Bond’s biography, “Black Scholar: Horace Mann Bond 1904-1972,” was published in 1992.

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Today in Black History, 12/22/2012
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