Today in Black History, 2/21/2013 - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 2/21/2013

• February 21, 1905 Samuel Milton Nabrit, biologist, educator and college president, was born in Macon, Georgia. Nabrit earned his Bachelor of Science degree in biology from Morehouse College in 1925 and his Master of Science degree and Ph.D. from Brown University in 1928 and 1932, respectively. He was the first African American to be awarded a Ph.D. by Brown. Nabrit taught zoology at Morehouse from 1925 to 1931 and in 1932 became chairman of the biology department at Atlanta University. He became the dean of the graduate school of arts and sciences at Atlanta in 1947 and served in that position until 1955 when he became the second president of Texas Southern University. In his eleven years at Texas Southern, Nabrit more than doubled the enrollment of black students and encouraged their participation in the Civil Rights Movement. He declared that no student would be expelled for civil rights activities while he was president of the university. From 1956 to 1962, Nabrit served on President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s National Science Board and on August 1, 1966 President Lyndon B. Johnson swore him in as a member the Atomic Energy Commission, the first African American on that commission. In 1967, Nabrit founded and became director of the Southern Fellowship Fund, established to support and mentor black students studying for doctorates. He worked for the fund until his retirement in 1981. Between 1967 and 1972, Nabrit served as Brown University’s first black trustee and in 1985 the university established the Nabrit Fellowship to assist graduate students from minority groups. Nabrit died December 30, 2003.

• February 21, 1933 Nina Simone, singer, songwriter and civil rights activist, was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina. Simone began playing the piano at the age of three and made her debut as a classical pianist at 12. In 1958, she released her debut album, “Little Girl Blue,” and over her career recorded more than 40 albums with songs that included “My Baby Just Cares for Me” (1958), “Mississippi Goddam” (1964), “Four Women” (1966), and “To Be Young Gifted and Black” (1970). Simone recorded her last album, “A Single Woman,” in 1993. Simone performed and spoke at many civil rights events, including the Selma to Montgomery march, and her songs often contained a civil rights message. Her regal bearing and commanding stage presence earned her the title “High Priestess of Soul.” Simone left the United States in 1970 for Barbados and Europe before settling in France where she died April 21, 2003. Her autobiography, “I Put a Spell on You,” was published in 1992.

• February 21, 1936 Barbara Charline Jordan, hall of fame politician and the first African American woman to serve in the United States House of Representatives from a southern state, was born in Houston, Texas. Jordan earned her Bachelor of Arts degree magna cum laude from Texas Southern University in 1956 and her Juris Doctorate degree from Boston University in 1959. In 1966, Jordan became the first black woman to be elected to the Texas State Senate where she served until 1972 when she was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. During her time in Congress, she supported the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 that required financial institutions to lend and make services available to underserved poor and minority communities and the renewal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. On July 12, 1976, Jordan became the first African American woman to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention and that speech is considered by many historians to be the best convention keynote speech in modern history. Jordon retired from politics in 1979 and became adjunct professor at the University of Texas. Jordon was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1990 and in 1992 was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal. Jordon was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President William Clinton on August 8, 1994 and the United States Military Academy’s Sylvanus Thayer Award in 1995, becoming only the second female recipient. Jordan died January 17, 1996 and was the first black woman to be buried in the Texas State Cemetary in Austin. In April, 2009, a Barbara Jordan statue was unveiled at the University of Texas in Austin. Several schools in Texas are named in her honor as is the main terminal at Austin – Bergstrom International Airport. Her biography, “Barbara Jordan: American Hero,” was published in 2000 and a collection of her speeches, “Barbara Jordan: Speaking the Truth with Eloquent Thunder,” was published in 2007. Jordan’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

• February 21, 1940 John Robert Lewis, civil rights leader, politician and author, was born in Troy, Alabama. Lewis earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in theology from the American Baptist Theological Seminary in 1961 and another Bachelor of Arts degree in religion and philosophy from Fisk University in 1963. In 1960, he was a co-founder of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and from 1963 to 1966 served as the organization’s chairman. He participated in the Freedom Rides to desegregate the South and was beaten bloody by a white mob in Montgomery, Alabama in the spring of 1961. At the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, Lewis was the youngest speaker. In 1981, Lewis was elected to the Atlanta, Georgia City Council and in 1986 was elected to the United States House of Representatives where he serves today. Lewis received the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation Profile in Courage Award in 2001 “for his extraordinary courage, leadership and commitment to civil rights” and was the 2002 recipient of the NAACP Spingarn Medal. On February 15, 2011, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Barack Obama. Lewis has received more than 50 honorary degrees, including honorary Doctor of Laws degrees in 2012 from Brown University, Harvard University, and the University of Connecticut School of Law. Lewis published his autobiography, “Walking With the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement,” in 1999. In 2012, he published “Across That Bridge: Life Lessons and a Vision for Change.”

• February 21, 1943 Adah Belle Thoms, hall of fame nurse, died. Thoms was born January 12, 1870 in Richmond, Virginia. She graduated from the Women’s Infirmary and School of Therapeutic Massage in 1900 and the Lincoln Hospital and Home School of Nursing in 1905. She served as acting director at Lincoln from 1906 to 1923, but could not receive the official title of director because of her race. Thoms was a co-founder of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN) in 1908 and served as president from 1916 to 1923. She played a significant role in lobbying for the rights of African American women to serve in the United States military during World War I. In 1936, Thoms was the first recipient of the Mary Mahoney Medal from the NACGN and was an inaugural inductee into the American Nursing Association Hall of Fame in 1976.

• February 21, 1961 Otis Frank Boykin of Chicago, Illinois received patent number 2,972,726 for an improved electrical resistor which could be made more cheaply and quickly and could withstand extreme changes in temperature and tolerate and withstand various levels of pressure and physical trauma without impairing its effectiveness. This device is used in electrical devices, including guided missiles, computers, and a control unit for artificial heart stimulators. Boykin was born August 29, 1920 in Dallas, Texas and graduated from Fisk College in 1941. He pursued graduate studies at the Illinois Institute of Technology, but had to drop out after two years because he was unable to afford tuition. In addition to the electrical resistor, Boykin created other important products, including a chemical air filter and a burglarproof cash register. In total, Boykin invented 28 different electronic devices and earned eleven patents. Boykin died March 4, 1982.

• February 21, 1961 Frederick McKinley Jones, hall of fame inventor and businessman, died. Jones was born May 17, 1893 in Cincinnati, Ohio. He boosted his natural mechanical ability and inventive mind with independent reading and study. In 1912, Jones moved to Hallock, Minnesota and after serving in the United States Army during World War I, taught himself electronics and built a transmitter for the town’s radio station. Around 1935, Jones designed a portable air-cooling unit for trucks carrying perishable food and received patent number 2,303,857 for it July 12, 1940. His air coolers made it possible to ship perishable food long distances during any time of the year. His units were also important during World War II, preserving blood, medicine, and food. During his lifetime, Jones was awarded 61 patents, mostly for refrigeration equipment, but also for portable X-ray machines, sound equipment, and gasoline engines. In 1944, Jones became the first African American to be elected into the American Society of Refrigeration Engineers. On September 16, 1991, Jones was posthumously awarded the National Medal of Technology by President George H. W. Bush, the first African American to receive the award. In 2007, he was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Biographies of Jones include “Man with a Million Ideas: Fred Jones, Genius/Inventor” (1976) and “I’ve Got an Idea: The Story of Frederick McKinley Jones” (1994).

• February 21, 1965 El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X), Muslim minister and human rights leader, was assassinated. Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska, but grew up in Lansing, Michigan. In 1946, he was sentenced to prison and while in prison became a member of the Nation of Islam. After his parole in 1952, he became one of the Nation’s leaders and chief spokesman. In 1953, he was named assistant minister of Temple Number One in Detroit, Michigan and by 1954 had established Boston, Massachusetts’ Temple Number Eleven and expanded Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s Temple Number Twelve. Until his departure from the organization in March, 1964, Malcolm X was the public face of the Nation of Islam. After leaving, he became a Sunni Muslim, changed his name to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, made a pilgrimage to Mecca, and founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity. At his funeral, Ossie Davis delivered the eulogy and described Malcolm X as “our shining Black prince.” His autobiography, “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” was published shortly after his death and in 1992 the film “Malcolm X” was released. Many streets and schools around the country are named in his honor, including the El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz Academy in Lansing. In 1999, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor and in 2005 Columbia University opened the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center. On March 1, 1984, the Malcolm X House Site in North Omaha, Nebraska was listed on the National Register of Historic Places “because of the importance of Malcolm X to American history and national culture.” A biography, “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention,” was published in 2011. His name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

• February 21, 1968 Clifford Chester Sims, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was killed in action. Sims was born June 18, 1942 in Port St. Joe, Florida. By this date, he was serving in the United States Army as a staff sergeant in Company D, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division during the Vietnam War. His actions on this date near Hue in the Republic of Vietnam earned him the medal, America’s highest military decoration. His citation partially reads, “While continuing through the dense woods amidst heavy enemy fire, S/Sgt. Sims and his squad were approaching a bunker when they heard the unmistakable noise of a concealed booby trap being triggered immediately to their front. S/Sgt. Sims warned his comrades of the danger and unhesitatingly hurled himself upon the device as it exploded, taking the full impact of the blast. In so protecting his fellow soldiers, he willingly sacrificed his life.” Sims’ family accepted the medal from Vice President Spiro Agnew on December 2, 1969. The Clifford Chester Sims State Veterans Nursing Home in Panama City, Florida is named in his honor.

• February 21, 1992 Eva Jessye, the first black woman to receive international distinction as a professional choral conductor, died. Jessye was born January 20, 1895 in Coffeyville, Kansas. She studied choral music and music theory at Western University, a now defunct historically black college, and earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Langston University in 1919. In 1926, she formed her own group, the Eva Jessye Choir. Jessye was the choral director for the 1929 film “Hallelujah.” In 1933, she was the music director for the opera “Four Saints in Three Acts” on Broadway and in 1935 was the music director for the opera “Porgy and Bess.” In 1928, Jessye published “My Spirituals,” a collection of arrangements of spirituals. She also composed her own choral works, including “The Life of Christ in Negro Spirituals” (1931), “Paradise Lost and Regained” (1934), and “The Chronicle of Job” (1936). An active supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, Jessye directed the official choir at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Before her death, Jessye established the Eva Jessye African-American Music Collection at the University of Michigan.

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Today in Black History, 2/22/2013
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