Today in Black History, 1/29/2015 - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 1/29/2015

• January 29, 1900 William Craft, daring escapee from enslavement, died. Craft was born enslaved September 25, 1824 in Macon, Georgia. Craft’s wife Ellen was at least three-quarters European by ancestry and very fair. In December, 1848, they escaped enslavement by traveling openly by train and steamboat. She posed as a White male planter and he as her personal servant. Their escape was widely publicized and over the next two years, they made numerous public appearances to recount their escape. As a result, they were among the most famous fugitives from slavery. In 1850, the United States Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act which made it a federal crime to aid an escaped slave and required law enforcement, even in free states, to aid efforts to recapture fugitives. Threatened by this act, the Crafts moved to England where they lived for the next 19 years. They published their story in “Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom: Or, The Escape of William and Ellen Craft from Slavery” in 1860. The Crafts returned to the U. S. in 1868, bought 1800 acres of land near Savannah, Georgia in 1870, and founded the Woodville Co-operative Farm School for the education and employment of freedmen in 1873. Ellen Craft died in 1897.

• January 29, 1923 Edward Taylor, hall of fame blues guitarist and singer, was born in Benoit, Mississippi. Taylor got his first guitar at 13 and taught himself to play. He moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1949 and over the years performed and recorded with Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, Elmore James, and many other Chicago blues performers. Albums by Taylor as leader include “I Feel So Bad – The Blues of Eddie Taylor” (1972), “Ready for Eddie” (1975), and “Big Town Playboy” (1981). Although he never achieved the stardom of some of his peers, Taylor was one of the most influential guitarist on the Chicago blues scene. Taylor died December 25, 1985. He was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1987.

• January 29, 1926 Violette Neatley Anderson became the first African American woman admitted to practice before the United States Supreme Court. Although admitted to practice, she never argued a case before the court. Anderson was born July 16, 1882 in London, England but raised in Chicago, Illinois. She worked as a court reporter from 1905 to 1920 and this sparked her interest in the law. Anderson earned her Bachelor of Laws degree from the Chicago Law School in 1920 and from 1922 to 1923 served as the first female city prosecutor in Chicago from 1922 to 1923. In addition to her legal practice, Anderson was the first vice president of the Cook County Bar Association and was a member of the executive board of the Chicago Council of Social Agencies. She was also the eighth Grand Basileus of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc. Anderson died December 24, 1937.

• January 29, 1936 James Lee Jamerson, hall of fame bass player and member of Motown’s Funk Brothers, was born on Edisto Island, South Carolina. Jamerson moved to Detroit, Michigan in 1954. He learned to play the bass at Northwestern High School and soon began playing in blues and jazz clubs. He joined Motown Records in 1959 and is reported to have played on 95% of Motown recordings between 1962 and 1968. Jamerson’s relationship with Motown ended in 1973 and he went on to perform on such hits as the Hues Corporation’s “Rock the Boat” (1974), The Sylvers’ “Boogie Fever” (1975), and Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis’ “You Don’t Have To Be A Star (To Be In My Show)” (1976). Jamerson died August 2, 1983. He was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000 and the Fender Hall of Fame in 2009.

• January 29, 1942 Arnaldo Tamayo Mendez, the first person of African descent to travel in space, was born in Guantanamo, Cuba. Tamayo was a pilot in the Cuban Air Defense Force before being selected as part of the Soviet Union’s Intercosmos program in 1978. On September 18, 1980, he and a Soviet cosmonaut were launched into space where they spent 188 hours conducting experiments on space adaptation syndrome. Following his time in the Intercosmos program, Tamayo became director of international affairs in the Cuban armed forces. He is also a deputy in the Cuban National Assembly.

• January 29, 1954 Oprah Gail Winfrey, hall of fame television host, producer, businesswoman and philanthropist, was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi. Winfrey earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Tennessee State University in 1976. She moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1983 to host “AM Chicago” and within months it was the highest rated television talk show in the city. The show was expanded to an hour in 1986, renamed “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” and broadcast nationally. After 25 seasons, the final show was aired in September, 2011. Winfrey founded Harpo Productions in 1986 which produced the film “Beloved” in 1998 and produced the made for television movie “Their Eyes Were Watching God” in 2005. She co-starred in “The Color Purple” in 1985 and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress. She has also appeared in the television movies “The Women of Brewster Place” (1990) and “Before Women Had Wings” (1997) and the films “The Butler” (2013) and “Selma” (2014). Winfrey co-founded the Oxygen network in 1998, began publication of “O, The Oprah Magazine” in 2000, and she and Discovery Communications changed Discovery Health Channel into Own: The Oprah Winfrey Network in 2008. According to Forbes magazine Winfrey had a net worth of $2.9 billion in 2014. In 1998, Winfrey started Oprah’s Angel Network, a charity to encourage people around the world to make a diffhttp://static.oprah.com/images/tows/201104/20110413-oprah-whiteshirt-600x411.jpgerence in the life of the underprivileged, which has raised more than $51 million. She has invested $40 million to establish the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa which opened in 2007. She became the first Black person to be listed by Business Week magazine as one of America’s top 50 most generous philanthropists in 2005. In 2013, she donated $12 million to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. She received the 1995 George Foster Peabody Award, given annually for distinguished and meritorious public service in radio and television, the 2000 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal, was inducted into the Academy of Television Arts & Science Hall of Fame in 2001, and received Kennedy Center Honors in 2010. She was listed as one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World each year from 2004 to 2011 and on their list of the 100 Most Influential People of the Century. She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Barack H. Obama November 20, 2013. Forbes magazine listed her number 14 on its 2014 list of The 100 Most Powerful Women in the World. Several books have been written about Winfrey, including “Oprah Winfrey: The Real Story” (2001) and “Oprah Winfrey” (2007).

• January 29, 1962 Ambrose Caliver, educator and adviser to presidents, died. Caliver was born February 25, 1894 in Saltsville, Virginia. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Knoxville College in 1915, his Master of Arts degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1920, and his Ph. D. from Columbia University’s Teachers College in 1930. Caliver was hired by Fisk University in 1917 to implement its vocational education program and he rose through various positions to become dean in 1927. He was appointed senior specialist in the education of Negroes in the United States Office of Education by President Herbert C. Hoover in 1930. He remained in the position under President Franklin D. Roosevelt and became a member of the president’s Black cabinet. In that position, Caliver attempted to raise national awareness of the disparities in education between Black and White people. His office also created “Freedom Peoples,” a nine-part radio series that showcased African American history and achievements. In 1946, Caliver was named director of the Project for Literacy Education where he helped create materials for adult literacy education and trained adult literacy teachers. He also served as an adviser to the U. S. Displaced Persons Commission in 1949 and the United Nations Special Committee on Non-Self Governing Territories in 1950.

• January 29, 1964 Andre Darnell Reed, hall of fame football player, was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Reed played collegiate football at Kutztown University. He was selected by the Buffalo Bills in the 1985 National Football League Draft and over his 16 season professional career was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection. Reed retired in 2000 and ranks near the top in nearly all NFL career statistical receiving categories. Since his retirement, he has been a football commentator for ESPN2. Reed earned his bachelor’s degree from Kutztown in 2005. In 2010, he established the Andre Reed Foundation to help underprivileged children reach their full potential and become responsible contributors to their communities. Reed was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014. That same year, the football stadium at Kutztown was renamed Andre Reed Stadium in his honor.

• January 29, 1968 Aeneas Demetrius Williams, hall of fame football player, was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. Williams only played one season of collegiate football at Southern University but that year he tied the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I-AA record for most interceptions. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in accounting in 1990. Williams was selected by the Phoenix Cardinals in the 1991 National Football League Draft and over his 14 season professional career was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection and received the 2000 Bart Starr Man of the Year Award which is given to an NFL player who best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field, and in the community. Williams retired after the 2005 season and is recognized as one of the greatest cornerbacks of all time. He was selected to the NFL 1990s All-Decade Team. Williams was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2014. He is currently the founding pastor of a church in St. Louis, Missouri.

• January 29, 1992 William James “Willie” Dixon, hall of fame blues vocalist, songwriter and record producer, died. Dixon was born July 1, 1915 in Vicksburg, Mississippi. As a teenager, he began adapting the poems that he wrote into songs and selling them to local music groups. He moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1936 and helped form The Five Breezes. From 1948 through the early 1960s, he worked at Chess Records as a producer, talent scout, session musician, and staff songwriter. Dixon is mainly remembered as a songwriter, having written blues songs such as “Hoochie Coochie Man” (1954), “Back Door Man” (1961), “Little Red Rooster” (1961), and “Bring It On Home” (1963). In 1964, The Rolling Stones reached number one on the United Kingdom singles chart with their cover of Dixon’s “Little Red Rooster.” In his later years, Dixon became an ambassador of the blues, helping to found the Blues Heaven Foundation which works to preserve the blues’ legacy and to secure copyrights and royalties for blues musicians. Dixon was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980 and won the 1989 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Recording for his album “Hidden Charms.” Dixon was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994. He published his autobiography, “I Am the Blues: The Willie Dixon Story,” in 1990.

• January 29, 2003 Clarence Leroy Holte, assembler of what is believed to be the largest private collection of books on Black history and culture, died. Holte was born February 19, 1909 in Norfolk, Virginia. He studied at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. Holte worked as a teller in Harlem, New York during the 1930s before joining the Works Progress Administration. From 1952 to his retirement in 1972, Holte worked at a major advertising firm as an ethnic marketing specialist. In this capacity, he made numerous trips to Africa to promote construction projects on the continent. Over six decades of collecting, Holte assembled a collection of approximately 8,000 books about Africa and the African diaspora. He also founded The Basic Afro-American Reprint Library with the goal of educating primarily Black people about Black history. From 1977 to 1988, he funded the Clarence L. Holte Literary Prize which was awarded biennially in recognition of a significant contribution by a living writer to the cultural heritage of Africa and the African diaspora.

• January 29, 2002 Richard “Dick Night Train” Lane, hall of fame football player, died. Lane was born April 16, 1928 in Austin, Texas. He made his professional football debut with the Los Angeles Rams of the National Football League as a defensive back in 1952. In his rookie season, he set the NFL single season record for interceptions with 14 in 12 games, a record that stands to this day even though the season has been expanded to 16 games. From 1960 to 1965, Lane played with the Detroit Lions and over his 14 season professional career was a seven-time Pro Bowl selection. Lane was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1974 and was ranked 19th on The Sporting News’ list of the 100 Greatest Football Players in 1999. He published his autobiography, “Night Train Lane: The Life of NFL Hall of Famer Richard “Night Train” Lane,” in 2001.

• January 29, 2012 Camilla Ella Williams, the first African American to receive a contract with a major American opera company, died. Williams was born October 18, 1919 in Danville, Virginia. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree in music from Virginia State College in 1941 and earned a Marian Anderson Fellowship in 1943 and 1944. She debuted with the New York City Opera in 1946 and over the years sang throughout the United States and Europe with various other opera companies. Williams became the first African American to sing a major role with the Vienna State Opera in 1954 and sang the national anthem at the White House and at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. Williams retired from opera in 1970 and was appointed professor of voice at Indiana University in 1977 where she taught until her retirement in 1997. The City of Danville dedicated the Camilla Williams Park in her honor in 1979. In 2009, a “Tribute to Camilla Williams” program was held at the Schomburg Center and she was awarded the President’s Medal for excellence by Indiana University. Her autobiography, “The Life of Camilla Williams, African American Classical Singer and Diva,” was published in 2011.

Today in Black History, 1/28/2015
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