Today in Black History, 3/24/2015 - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 3/24/2015

• March 24, 1907 Janet Harmon Waterford Bragg, the first African American female to hold a commercial pilot license, was born in Griffin, Georgia. Bragg became interested in flying as a young girl but attended Spelman College and qualified as a registered nurse in 1929. After graduating, she moved to Chicago, Illinois to work as a nurse. Bragg enrolled at Aeronautical University in 1933 and she and other Black male aviators started the Coffey School of Aviation in 1939 which later provided students for the Army Air Corps training program at Tuskegee, Alabama. Also during the 1930s, she wrote a weekly column, “Negro Aviation,” for the Chicago Defender. In the early 1940s, Bragg completed the Civilian Pilot Training Program at Tuskegee but was denied a pilot’s license because she was a “colored girl.” She was able to gain her pilot’s license in Illinois in 1942. She applied to join the Women Airforce Service Pilots program in 1943 but was denied an interview because she was Black. Her application to the Army Nurse Corps was also denied on racial grounds. Bragg retired from flying in 1965. She and her husband managed nursing homes in Chicago until their retirement in 1972. Bragg died April 11, 1993. Her autobiography, “Soaring Above Setbacks: The Autobiography of Janet Harmon Bragg, African American Aviator,” was published in 1996.

• March 24, 1912 Dorothy Irene Height, hall of fame educator and social activist, was born in Richmond, Virginia. While in high school, Height was awarded a scholarship to Barnard College but when she enrolled she was denied admittance because at that time Barnard only admitted two African Americans per academic year and they had already admitted two. Height then pursued studies at New York University where she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in 1932 and Master of Arts degree in psychology in 1933. Height started working as a case worker with the New York City Welfare Department and joined the national staff of the Young Women’s Christian Association in 1944. From 1946 to 1957, she also served as the national president of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. Height was named president of the National Council of Negro Women in 1957, a position she held until 1997. Height served on numerous presidential committees, including the President’s Committee on the Employment of the Handicapped and the President’s Committee on the Status of Women. Height was named to the National Council for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research in 1974, established in response to the “Tuskegee Syphillis Study.” Height also served as chair of the executive committee of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. She received many awards and honors, including the Presidential Citizens Medal in 1989, the 1993 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President William J. Clinton August 8, 1994. Height was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993 and received the Congressional Gold Medal from President George W. Bush in 2004. Height died April 20, 2010. She published her autobiography, “Open Wide the Freedom Gates: A Memoir,” in 2005.

• March 24, 1930 David Dacko, the first President of the Central African Republic, was born in the village of Bouchia in what was then French Equatorial Africa. Educated for a career in teaching, he became the schoolmaster of a large primary school in 1951 and principal of Kouanga College in 1955. From 1957 to 1959, Dacko served in various capacities within the government and after the Central African Republic gained independence August 13, 1960 became the first president of the CAR. His government was overthrown in 1965 and he was briefly imprisoned. The French government overthrew the CAR government in 1979 and restored Dacko to the presidency which he held until 1981 when he was overthrown again. He ran for president again in 1999 and finished third. Dacko died November 20, 2003.

• March 24, 1959 Renaldo “Skeets” Nehemiah, hall of fame track and field athlete, was born in Newark, New Jersey. Nehemiah attended the University of Maryland where he won three National Collegiate Athletic Association titles and earned his bachelor’s degree in 1981. He was the first athlete to run the 110 meter hurdles in under 13 seconds and held the world record from 1981 to 1989. Nehemiah signed with the San Francisco 49ers of the National Football League as a wide receiver in 1982. He played three seasons with the 49ers before returning to track in 1986. Nehemiah was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1997 and currently serves as director of track and field for a sports management and marketing agency. He has represented many of the world’s best hurdlers and sprinters.

• March 24, 1969 William Maud Bryant, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was killed in action. Bryant was born February 16, 1933 in Cochran, Georgia. By this date, he was serving as a sergeant first class in Company A of the 5th Special Forces Group, 1st Special Forces. On that day, during a battle in Long Khanh province, Republic of Vietnam, his actions earned him the medal, America’s highest military decoration. His citation partially reads, “The Battalion came under heavy fire and became surrounded by the elements of 3 enemy regiments. Sfc. Bryant displayed extraordinary heroism throughout the succeeding 34 hours of incessant attack as he moved throughout the company position heedless of the intense hostile fire while establishing and improving the defensive perimeter, directing fire during critical phases of the battle, distributing ammunition, assisting the wounded and providing the leadership and inspirational example of courage to his men. When a helicopter drop of ammunition was to re-supply the beleaguered forces, Sfc. Bryant with complete disregard for his safety ran through the enemy fire to retrieve the scattered ammunition boxes and distributed needed ammunition to his men. During a lull in the intense fighting, Sfc. Bryant led a patrol outside the perimeter to obtain information of the enemy. The patrol came under intense automatic weapons fire and was pinned down. Sfc. Bryant single handedly repulsed 1 enemy attack on his small force and by his heroic action inspired his men to fight off other assaults. Seeing a wounded enemy soldier some distance from the patrol location, Sfc. Bryant crawled forward alone under heavy fire to retrieve the soldier for intelligence purposes. Finding that the enemy soldier had expired, Sfc. Bryant crawled back to his patrol and led his men back to the company position where he again took command of the defense. As the siege continued, Sfc. Bryant organized and led a patrol in a daring attempt to break through the enemy encirclement. The patrol had advanced some 200 meters by heavy fighting when it was pinned down by the intense automatic weapons fire from heavily fortified bunkers and Sfc. Bryant was severely wounded. Despite his wounds he rallied his men, calling for helicopter gunship support, and directed heavy suppressive fire upon the enemy positions. Following the last gunship attack, Sfc. Bryant fearlessly charged an enemy automatic weapons position, overrunning it, and single-handedly destroying its 3 defenders. Inspired by his heroic example, his men renewed their attack on the entrenched enemy. While regrouping his small force for the final assault against the enemy, Sfc. Bryant was mortally wounded by an enemy rocket.” The medal was presented to Bryant’s family by President Richard M. Nixon February 16, 1971.

• March 24, 1972 Zephaniah Alexander Looby, civil rights lawyer, died. Looby was born April 8, 1899 in Antigua. He moved to the United States in 1914 and earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Howard University in 1922, his Bachelor of Laws degree from Columbia University School of Law in 1925, and his Doctor of Juristic Science degree from New York University in 1926. After graduating, Looby moved to Nashville, Tennessee to take a job as an assistant professor at Fisk University. He was elected to the Nashville City Council in 1951, one of the first African Americans to be elected since 1911. Looby defended the students arrested in the Nashville sit-ins in 1960 and as a result his house was dynamited. The City of Nashville named a new library and community center in honor of Looby in 1976 and the Nashville Bar Association posthumously awarded him membership in 1982, a membership they had denied him in the 1950s because of his race. The Napier-Looby Bar Association in Nashville is named in his honor.

• March 24, 2002 Maria Halle Berry became the first African American to win the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance in “Monster’s Ball.” In accepting the award Berry said, “This moment is so much bigger than me. This is for every nameless, faceless woman of color who now has a chance tonight because this door has been opened.” Berry was born August 14, 1968 in Cleveland, Ohio. Prior to becoming an actress, she won Miss Teen All-American in 1985, Miss Ohio USA in 1986, and was first runner-up in Miss USA in 1986. That same year, she became the first African American entrant in the Miss World contest, finishing sixth. Berry’s breakthrough feature film role was in “Jungle Fever” (1989). Other films that she has appeared in include “Losing Isaiah” (1995), “Bulworth” (1998), and the “X-Men” trilogy. Berry won the 2000 Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress – Miniseries or Movie for her performance in “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge” and was nominated in that same category for her performance in “Their Eyes Were Watching God” in 2005. Berry starred in “Frankie and Alice” and was nominated for the 2010 Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Drama. Her most recent films were “The Call” (2013) and “X-Man: Days of Future Past” (2014). She currently stars in the television series “Extant.”

Today in Black History, 3/23/2015
Today in Black History, 3/25/2015
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