Today in Black History, 2/20/2013 - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 2/20/2013

• February 20, 1900 George Washington Murray of Sumter County, South Carolina received patent number 644,032 for a grain drill. His invention allowed seeds to be dropped in small furrows at predetermined distances regulated by the operator of the drill. Murray had previously received patent numbers 520,889 for a fertilizer distributor, 520,890 for a planter, and 520,892 for a reaper June 5, 1894. He later received patent number 887,495 for a portable hoisting device May 12, 1908. Murray was born enslaved September 22, 1853 in Sumter County. After being freed, he attended the University of South Carolina for two years and taught school for 15 years. He served as chairman of the Sumter County Republican Party and was known as the “Republican Black Eagle.” From 1890 to 1892, Murray served as inspector of customs at the Port of Charleston. In 1893, he was elected to the United States House of Representatives where he served until 1897. During his time in Congress, Murray fought for black rights, speaking in favor of retaining Reconstruction Period laws, and highlighting black achievement by reading into the congressional record a list of 92 patents granted to African Americans. He was the last black Republican to serve in Congress from South Carolina until 2010. In 1905, Murray moved to Chicago, Illinois where he sold life insurance and real estate until his death April 21, 1926. His biography, “A Black Congressman in the Age of Jim Crow: South Carolina’s George Washington Murray,” was published in 2006.

• February 20, 1913 Thomas Kilgore, one of the few men to lead two major national Baptist organizations, was born in Woodruff, South Carolina. Kilgore earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Morehouse College in 1935 and his Bachelor of Divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary in 1957. He began his fight for equality in the 1940s, registering voters and organizing tobacco workers in North and South Carolina. He moved to New York City in 1947 and as pastor of Friendship Baptist Church raised bail money for civil rights workers jailed in the South. He also served as founding president of the Heart of Harlem Neighborhood Church Association which was organized in 1957 to fight segregation in New York City. Kilgore was also an organizer of the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom in 1957 and the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. In 1963, he moved to Los Angeles, California and became pastor of Second Baptist Church, the oldest black Baptist church in the city. In 1969, he was elected president of the American Baptist Churches USA, the organizations first black president, and from 1976 to 1978, Kilgore served as president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention. Kilgore served as an advisor to three presidents of the University of Southern California and his papers are archived at the institution. Kilgore died February 4, 1998. The Morehouse College Campus Center is named in his honor.

• February 20, 1927 Sidney Poitier, actor, director, author, and diplomat, was born in Miami, Florida. At 17, Poitier moved to New York City and joined the American Negro Theater. He made his film debut in “No Way Out” (1950), but his breakout role was in “Blackboard Jungle” (1955). In 1959, Poitier acted in the first production of “A Raisin in the Sun” on Broadway and starred in the film version in 1961. On April 13, 1964, Poitier became the first black man to win the Academy Award for Best Actor for his role in “Lilies of the Field.” Poitier has also directed a number of films, including “Buck and the Preacher” (1972), “Stir Crazy” (1980), and “Ghost Dad” (1990). He has also written three autobiographies, “This Life” (1980), “The Measure of a Man: A Spiritual Autobiography” (2000), and “Life Beyond Measure – Letters to my Great-Granddaughter” (2008). In 1997, Poitier was appointed ambassador of the Bahamas to Japan. In 2002, Poitier received an honorary award from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences “in recognition of his remarkable accomplishments as an artist and as a human being.” On August 12, 2009, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor, by President Barack Obama. The documentary “Sidney Poitier: an Outsider in Hollywood” was released in 2008.

• February 20, 1936 John Hope, educator and political activist, died. Hope was born June 2, 1868 in Augusta, Georgia. He graduated from Worcester Academy in 1890 and earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Brown University in 1894. In 1898, Hope became professor of classics at Atlanta Baptist College (now Morehouse College) and in 1906 was appointed the institution’s first black president. Hope also joined W. E. B. Du Bois and William Monroe Trotter as founders of the Niagara Movement. In 1928, Morehouse and Spelman College affiliated with Atlanta University to form the Atlanta University Center and Hope was chosen to be president, a position he held until his death. In 1936, Hope was posthumously awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal. Hope was awarded honorary degrees by several colleges and universities, including Brown University, Bates College, and Howard University. Hope’s biography, “The Story of John Hope,” was published in 1948 and “A Clashing of the Soul: John Hope and the Dilemma of African American Leadership and Black Higher Education in the Early Twentieth Century” was published in 1998.

• February 20, 1937 Nancy Wilson, hall of fame song stylist, was born in Chillicothe, Ohio. At the age of 15, Wilson won a talent contest sponsored by a local television station. The prize was an appearance on a show which she ended up hosting. In 1956, she joined the Carolyn Club Big Band and toured with them until 1958. In 1960, she released her debut single “Guess Who I Saw Today.” Between March, 1964 and June, 1965 Wilson had four albums in the Top 10 of Billboard’s Top LP’s list. In 1964, she won her first Grammy Award for Best R&B Female Vocal Performance for the album “How Glad I Am.” She later won Grammy Awards for Best Jazz Vocal Album in 2005 for “R.S.V.P. (Rare Songs, Very Personal)” and in 2007 for “Turned to Blue.” In 1999, Wilson was inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame and in 2004 was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows upon a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2005, Wilson was inducted into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame.

• February 20, 1963 Charles Wade Barkley, hall of fame basketball player, was born in Leeds, Alabama. Barkley played college basketball at Auburn University where he was a three-time All-SEC selection and Conference Player of the Year in 1984. Barkley was selected by the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1984 NBA Draft and over his 16 season professional career was an 11-time NBA All-Star and the 1993 NBA Most Valuable Player. Additionally, he won Gold medals as a member of the United States men’s basketball team at the 1992 Barcelona and 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. Barkley retired in April, 2000 and published a memoir, “I May Be Wrong, but I Doubt It,” in 2002. In March, 2001, Barkley’s jersey number was retired by Auburn University and the Philadelphia 76ers, and in March, 2004 it was retired by the Phoenix Suns. Barkley was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. Since retiring as a player, Barkley has had a successful career as an Emmy Award winning commentator on basketball.

• February 20, 2000 Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman , religious leader, died. Agyeman was born Albert Cleage June 13, 1911 in Indianapolis, Indiana, but grew up in Detroit, Michigan. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Wayne State University in 1942 and his Bachelor of Divinity degree from Oberlin Graduate School of Theology in 1943. He was ordained in the Congregational Church that same year. After clashing with white Presbyterian leaders over racial issues, in 1953 Agyeman formed the Central Congregational Church with a commitment to minister to the downtrodden and offer programs for the poor. In 1967, he launched the Black Christian National Movement which called for black churches to reinterpret Jesus’ teachings to suit the social, economic, and political needs of black people. At the same time, he renamed Central Congregational the Shrine of the Black Madonna. In 1968, he published “The Black Messiah” which detailed his vision of Jesus as a black revolutionary leader. In 1972, he published “Black Christian Nationalism” and inaugurated the Black Christian Nationalist Movement as a separate denomination. The name of the denomination was later changed to the Pan African Orthodox Christian Church which continues the mission to uplift and liberate the Pan African world community through the teachings of Jesus, the Black Messiah.

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