Today in Black History, 1/30/2015 - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 1/30/2015

• January 30, 1910 Granville T. Woods, hall of fame inventor often called the “Black Edison,” died. Woods was born April 23, 1856 in Columbus, Ohio. He and his brother formed the Woods Railway Telegraph company in 1884 to manufacture and sell telephone and telegraph equipment. On December 2, 1884, Woods was granted patent number 308,876 for a telephone transmitter, an apparatus that conducted sound over an electrical current. His instrument improved on models then in use by carrying a louder and more distinct sound over a longer distance. On November 29, 1887, he received patent number 373,915 for the synchronous multiplex railway telegraph which allowed communication between stations from moving trains. Over his lifetime, Woods was granted approximately 60 patents but he died virtually penniless. The Granville T. Woods Math and Science Community Academy in Chicago, Illinois is named in his honor. Woods was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006. “Granville T. Woods: African American Communications and Transportation Pioneer” was published in 2013.

• January 30, 1911 Roy David Eldridge, hall of fame jazz trumpeter, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Eldridge originally played drums, tuba, and trumpet. He moved to St. Louis, Missouri and New York City where he played in various bands in the early 1930s. From 1941 to 1943, he played in the Gene Krupa Orchestra and then joined Artie Shaw’s band. Recordings by Eldridge as a bandleader include “Nuts” (1950), “Little Jazz” (1957), “Happy Time” (1975), and “Roy Eldridge & Vic Dickenson” (1978). Eldridge was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1971 and was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor that the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1982. Eldridge died February 26, 1989. His biography, “Roy Eldridge, Little Jazz Giant,” was published in 2002.

• January 30, 1919 Margaret Bush Wilson, lawyer and activist, was born in St. Louis, Missouri. Wilson earned her Bachelor of Science degree, cum laude, in economics from Talladega College in 1939 and her law degree from the Lincoln University School of Law in 1943. After passing the bar, she was the second woman of color admitted to practice in Missouri. Wilson served as consul to the Black Real Estate Brokers Association and was instrumental in the 1948 Shelly v. Kraemer Supreme Court ruling that held housing covenants unconstitutional. Wilson became president of the Missouri State National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1962 and became chair of the NAACP national board in 1975, the first woman to hold that position. She served nine terms in that capacity. She was also board chair of St. Augustine’s College and Talladega College. Wilson died August 11, 2009.

• January 30, 1928 Ruth Brown, hall of fame R&B singer and actress, was born Ruth Alston Weston in Portsmouth, Virginia. Brown recorded her first hit, “So Long,” in 1949 and from that time to 1955 was on the R&B charts for 149 weeks with 16 top 10 blues records, including five number ones. Those hits were “Teardrops From My Eyes” (1950), “I’ll Wait For You” (1951), “5-10-15 Hours” (1952), “(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean” (1953), and “Oh What a Dream” (1954). Brown won the 1989 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical for her performance on Broadway in “Black and Blue” and the 1990 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal by a Female for her album “Blues on Broadway.” Brown’s fight for musician’s rights and royalties in 1987 led to the founding of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation. She was an inaugural recipient of the organization’s Pioneer Award in 1989, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, and the Blues Hall of Fame in 2002. Her autobiography, “Miss Rhythm,” was published in 1996. Brown died November 17, 2006.

• January 30, 1944 Sharon Pratt Kelly, the first African American woman to serve as mayor of a major American city, was born in Washington, D. C. Pratt earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Howard University in 1965 and her Juris Doctorate degree from Howard University School of Law in 1968. From 1977 to 1990, she was a member of the Democratic National Committee from D. C., the first female member, and from 1985 to 1989 was DNC treasurer. In 1983, Kelly was appointed vice president of community relations at Pepco, the D. C. power utility, the first woman and African American to serve in that role. That same year, she received the Presidential Award from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. On November 6, 1990, Pratt was elected Mayor of Washington, D. C.. Pratt only served one term as mayor and is currently head of Pratt Consulting, a homeland security and emergency preparedness firm.

• January 30, 1945 Floyd Harold Flake, pastor and former member of the United States House of Representatives, was born in Los Angeles, California. Flake earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Wilberforce University in 1970 and his Master of Divinity degree from United Theological Seminary in 1995. He was appointed pastor of Greater Allen African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1976 and under his leadership the church has grown from 1,400 to 23,000 parishioners. He was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives in 1986 and served until resigning in 1997. Flake has published several books, including “The Way of the Bootstrapper: Nine Action Steps for Achieving Your Dreams” (1999).

• January 30, 1963 Edward Allen Carter, Jr., Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, died. Carter was born May 26, 1916 in Los Angeles, California but because his parents were missionaries, grew up in India and Shanghai, China. While in his mid-teens, Carter joined the Chinese National Army fighting against the Japanese. In 1941, Carter enlisted in the United States Army and because of his previous combat experience, in less than a year was promoted to staff sergeant. On March 23, 1945 near Speyer, Germany during World War II, Carter performed the actions for which he was awarded the medal, America’s highest military decoration. His citation partially reads, “When the tank he was riding received heavy bazooka and small arms fire, Sgt. Carter voluntarily attempted to lead a three-man group across an open field. Two of his men were killed and the third seriously wounded. Continuing on alone, he was wounded five times and finally was forced to take cover. As eight enemy rifleman attempted to capture him, Sgt. Carter killed six of them and captured the remaining two. He then crossed the field, using as a shield his two prisoners from whom he obtained valuable information concerning the disposition of enemy troops.” For his actions, Carter was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, America’s second highest military decoration. Carter was refused re-enlistment in the army in 1949 because of unfounded allegations that he had communist contacts and allegiances. In 1993, a study commissioned by the U. S. Army described systematic racial discrimination in the criteria for awarding medals during World War II. No Congressional Medal of Honor had been awarded to Black soldiers who served in the war. After a review of files, the study recommended that seven Black Distinguished Service Cross recipients have their awards upgraded to the Congressional Medal of Honor. The medal was awarded to Carter’s son by President William Clinton January 13, 1997.

• January 30, 1971 Hugh Mulzac, the first African American captain of a United States Merchant ship, died. Mulzac was born March 26, 1886 in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. His life at sea started right out of high school when he served on British schooners. He immigrated to the United States in 1918 and within two years became the first African American to earn a shipping master’s certificate. In early 1942, he was offered command of the SS Booker T. Washington which he initially refused because the crew was all Black. He stated “that under no circumstances will I command a Jim Crow vessel.” The Merchant Marines relented and agreed to an integrated crew and Mulzac took command of the ship September 29, 1942. He commanded the ship until 1947. After the war, Mulzac could not get command of another ship because of his race and because he was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. His biography, “A Star to Steer By,” was published in 1972.

• January 30, 1980 Henry Roeland “Professor Longhair” Byrd, hall of fame blues pianist and singer, died. Byrd was born December 19, 1918 in Bogalusa, Louisiana but raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. He learned to play the piano as a child. After a stint in the United States military during World War II, he started his professional music career in 1948. He recorded his only national commercial hit, “Bald Head,” under the name Roy Byrd and His Blues Jumpers in 1950. Although locally popular, Byrd was never commercially successful. In 1964, he abandoned the music business to work odd jobs for a living. He began a comeback in 1971 and recorded several albums, including “Rock ‘N’ Roll Gumbo” (1974), “Live on the Queen Mary” (1978), and “Crawfish Fiesta” (1980). Byrd was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1981 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992. An album of his early recordings, “House Party New Orleans Style,” won the 1987 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album. A documentary, “Professor Longhair: Making a Gumbo,” is being produced.

• January 30, 1982 Sam John “Lightnin” Hopkins, hall of fame country blues guitarist, singer and songwriter, died. Hopkins was born March 15, 1912 in Centreville, Texas. He developed a deep appreciation of the blues at eight but did not make his first recording until 1946. By 1960, Hopkins had cemented his reputation as one of the most compelling blues performers and made his debut at Carnegie Hall. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, he released one or more albums a year and toured, playing at major folk festivals in the United States and internationally. His recordings include “Last Night Blues” (1960), “Lightnin’ Strikes” (1965), “My Life in the Blues” (1967), and “Freeform Patterns” (1968). It is estimated that Hopkins recorded between 800 and 1,000 songs during his career and recorded more albums than any other bluesman. He was an inaugural inductee into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980. A statue of Hopkins in Crockett, Texas was unveiled January 30, 2002 and a state historical marker was dedicated to him in Houston, Texas in 2010. Biographies of Hopkins include “Lightnin’ Hopkins: Blues Guitar Legend” (1995) and “Lightnin’ Hopkins: His Life and Blues” (2010).

• January 30, 1993 James Ellis LuValle, Olympic athlete and scientist, died. LuValle was born November 10, 1912 in San Antonio, Texas but raised in Los Angeles, California. He enrolled at the University of California at Los Angeles where he was the captain of the track and field team and nicknamed the “Westwood Whirlwind.” He won the Bronze medal in the 400 meter race at the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympic Games. That same year, he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in chemistry, Phi Beta Kappa. LuValle earned his Master of Arts degree in chemistry and physics from UCLA in 1937 and his Ph. D. in chemistry and mathematics from the California Institute of Technology in 1940. In 1941, LuValle joined the Eastman Kodak Company, the first African American to work in their laboratories. He subsequently worked on research projects at several other companies before 1975. His research on color photography resulted in three United States patents. From 1974 to his retirement in 1984, LuValle was a laboratory administrator for the chemistry department at Stanford University. The new student center at UCLA was named LuValle Commons in his honor in 1985.

• January 30, 1999 Ruth Wright Hayre, the first full-time African American teacher in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania public school system, died. Hayre was born October 26, 1910 in Atlanta, Georgia. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1930, her Master of Arts degree in 1931, and her Ph. D. in 1949 from the University of Pennsylvania. She taught at several institutions, including Arkansas State College for Negroes (now University of Arkansas at Monticello). Hayre became Philadelphia’s first African American teacher in 1946. She became a high school vice principal in 1953 and a principal in 1955, both firsts for an African American in Philadelphia. She became the first African American public school superintendent in 1963, a position she held until retirement in 1976. Hayre founded the Tell Them We Are Rising Fund in 1988 to pay college tuition for 116 sixth-grade students in two poor Philadelphia schools. She published her autobiography, “Tell Them We Are Rising: A Memoir of Faith in Education,” in 1997. Hayre received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1989.

• January 30, 2006 Coretta Scott King, civil rights leader and author, died. King was born April 27, 1927 in Perry County, Alabama. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in music at Antioch College in 1951. During her time at Antioch, she became active in the Civil Rights Movement, joining the college’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Race Relations and Civil Liberties Committee. After graduation, she won a scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music where she earned her Bachelor of Music degree in 1954. King married Martin Luther King June 18, 1953 and in their early years, was as well-known as a singer as he was a civil rights activist. King played an important role in the Civil Rights Movement, taking an active part in the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott and working hard to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1954. In her later life, King broadened her focus to include women’s rights, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) rights, and opposition to apartheid, capital punishment, and the war in Iraq. King was the recipient of many honors, including honorary doctorate degrees from Princeton University, Duke University, and Bates College. The American Library Association began awarding the Coretta Scott King medal to outstanding African American writers and illustrators of children’s literature in 1970 and the Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy was opened in Atlanta, Georgia in 2007. King published her autobiography, “My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr.,” in 1969. Her name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

2015 Black History Month at The Wright Museum; Mus...
Today in Black History, 1/31/2015
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