Today in Black History, 4/24/2013 - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 4/24/2013

• April 24, 1898 Andrew Lewis Cooper, hall of fame Negro League baseball pitcher and manager, was born in Waco, Texas. Cooper pitched for the Detroit Stars from 1920 to 1927 before he was traded to the Kansas City Monarchs where he pitched for another ten seasons. Cooper holds the Negro league career record for saves with 29 and is considered the second best left-handed pitcher in Negro league history. He also managed the Monarchs to four consecutive pennants. Cooper died June 3, 1941 and was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.

• April 24, 1919 David Harold Blackwell, the first African American inducted into the National Academy of Sciences, was born in Centralia, Illinois. Blackwell earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1938, Master of Arts degree in 1939, and his Ph.D. in mathematics in 1941, at the age of 22, from the University of Illinois. After earning his doctorate, he applied for a position at the University of California, Berkeley, but was turned down because of his race. From 1942 to 1954, he taught at Southern University, Clark College, and Howard University where he became the head of the mathematics department at the age of 28. In 1955, Blackwell was hired by the University of California, Berkeley where he became the first black tenured faculty member. In 1979, Blackwell won the von Neumann Theory Prize, awarded annually “to a scholar who has made fundamental, sustained contributions to theory in operations research and the management sciences.” Blackwell published over 90 papers and wrote “Theory of Games and Statistical Decisions” (1954) and the textbook “Basic Statistics” (1969). Blackwell was president of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics in 1955. He also was vice president of the American Statistical Association, the International Statistical Institute, and the American Mathematical Society. In 1965, he was the first African American to be elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences. Blackwell died July 8, 2010.

• April 24, 1937 Joe Henderson, hall of fame jazz tenor saxophonist, was born in Lima, Ohio. After serving in the United States Army from 1960 to 1962, Henderson moved to New York City and joined Horace Silver’s band. Between 1963 and 1968, he appeared on 30 albums, including five released under his name. By the late 1960s, his music began to reflect his growing political awareness and social consciousness with albums like “Power to the People” (1969), “In Pursuit of Blackness” (1971), and “Black Narcissus” (1975). In 1992, Henderson won the Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Jazz Solo and Record of the Year from Down Beat Magazine for “Lush Life.” In 1993, he won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumentalist and Jazz Record of the Year from Billboard Magazine for “So Near, So Far.” Henderson was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1999. Henderson died June 30, 2001 and was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame that same year.

• April 24, 1949 John W. Thompson, former Chief Executive Officer of Symantic Corporation, was born in Fort Dix, New Jersey. Thompson earned his Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Florida A&M University in 1971 and his Master of Business Administration degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management in 1983. From 1971 to 1999, he held senior positions at IBM Corporation. In his last position as general manager of IBM Americas he was also a member of the company’s Worldwide Management Council. In 1999, Thompson was appointed chief executive officer of Symantic and over his ten year tenure transformed the company into an industry leader, growing revenue ten-fold to $6.2 billion a year. During that time, he was the only African American leading a major technology company. Thompson retired from the CEO position in 2009. In 2008, he was inducted into the Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame. Thompson served on the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission in 2009 and is currently chief executive officer of Virtual Instruments. He also serves on the boards of Microsoft and United Parcel Services.

• April 24, 1964 Djimon Gaston Hounsou, actor and model, was born in Cotonou, Benin. Hounsou made his film debut in the 1990 film “Without You I’m Nothing,” but his breakthrough came with his portrayal of Cinque in the 1997 film “Amistad.” For that role he received wide critical acclaim and a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Actor-Drama. In 2004, he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in “In America,” becoming the first African to be nominated for an Oscar. In 2006, he was again nominated for an Academy Award and won the National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in “Blood Diamond.” Other films in which he has appeared include “Stargate” (1994), “Gladiator” (2000), “Beauty Shop” (2005), “The Tempest” (2010), and “Elephant White” (2011).

• April 24, 1969 Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Richard M. Nixon. Ellington was born April 29, 1899 in Washington, D.C. He began taking piano lessons at the age of 7 and, at 14, wrote his first composition “Soda Fountain Rag.” At the age of 18, he formed his first group, The Duke’s Serenaders, who played throughout the Washington area. In 1924, Ellington made eight recordings, composing three, including “Choo Choo,” and in 1925 he contributed four songs to the all African American revue “Chocolate Kiddies.” In 1927, Ellington and his band began playing at Harlem’s Cotton Club and weekly radio broadcasts from the club gave them national exposure. Ellington delivered some of his biggest hits during the 1930s and early 1940s, including “Mood Indigo” (1930, “Sophisticated Lady” (1933), “Caravan” (1937), and “Take the A Train” (1941). In 1943, with “Black, Brown, and Beige,” which told the story of African Americans and the place of slavery and the church in their history, Ellington began to compose and perform longer form jazz suites. Other innovative recordings include “Such Sweet Thunder” (1957), “The Far East Suite” (1966), and “The Afro-Eurasian Eclipse” (1971). Ellington also worked on film scores, including “Anatomy of a Murder” (1959) and “Paris Blues” (1961). Ellington earned 13 Grammy Awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1966, and 9 of his recordings were inducted into Grammy Hall of Fame as recordings of “qualitative or historical significance.” Additionally, he was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1956, received the NAACP Spingarn Medal in 1959, inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1971, and awarded the Legion of Honor by France in 1973. Ellington died May 24, 1974 and was posthumously inducted into the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame in 1978. In 1986, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor and in 2009 the U.S. Mint issued a special Washington, D.C. quarter featuring his image, making him the first African American to appear by himself on a circulating U.S. coin. His autobiography, “Music is My Mistress,” was published in 1976.

• April 24, 1990 A Pennsylvania State Historical Marker was dedicated in honor of James Forten in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Forten was born September 2, 1766 in Philadelphia. At the age of 15, he served on a ship during the Revolutionary War and invented a device to handle ship sails. In 1786, he started a very successful sailmaking company and became one of the wealthiest African Americans in post-colonial America. Forten, with the help of Rev. Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, enlisted 2,500 African Americans to defend Philadelphia during the War of 1812. They also worked together to establish the Convention of Color in 1817. By the 1830s, Forten was one of the most powerful voices for people of color throughout the North. In 1833, he helped William Lloyd Garrison and Robert Purvis form the American Anti-Slavery Society and provided generous financial support to the organization over the years. When Forten died March 4, 1842, he left behind an exemplary family, a sizable fortune, and a legacy of philanthropy and activism that inspired generations of black Philadelphians. His biography, “A Gentleman of Color: The Life of James Forten,” was published in 2002.

• April 24, 1991 President George H.W. Bush presented the Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration, to the sisters of Freddie Stowers who was killed in action during World War I. Stowers was born January 12, 1896 in Sandy Springs, South Carolina. He was drafted into the United States Army in 1917 and by September 28, 1918 was serving as a corporal in Company C, 371st Infantry Regiment, 93rd Division. His actions on that date earned him the medal. His citation partially reads, “His company was the lead company during the attack on Hill 188, Champagne Marne Sector, France, during World War I. A few minutes after the attack began, the enemy ceased firing and began climbing up onto the parapets of the trenches, holding up their arms as if wishing to surrender. The enemy’s actions caused the American forces to cease fire and to come out into the open. As the company started forward and within 100 meters of the trench line, the enemy jumped back into their trenches and greeted Corporal Stowers’ company with interlocking bands of machine gun fire and mortar fire causing well over fifty percent casualties. Faced with incredible enemy resistance, Corporal Stowers took charge, setting such a courageous example of personal bravery and leadership that he inspired his men to follow him in the attack. With extraordinary heroism and complete disregard of personal danger under devastating fire, he crawled forward leading his squad toward an enemy machine gun nest, which was causing heavy casualties to his company. After fierce fighting, the machine gun position was destroyed and the enemy soldiers were killed. Displaying great courage and intrepidity, Corporal Stowers continued to press the attack against a determined enemy. While crawling forward and urging his men to continue the attack on a second trench line, he was gravely wounded by machine gun fire. Although Corporal Stowers was mortally wounded, he pressed forward, urging on the members of his squad, until he died. Inspired by the heroism and display of bravery of Corporal Stowers, his company continued the attack against incredible odds, contributing to the capture of Hill 188 and causing heavy enemy casualties.” Shortly after his death, Stowers was recommended for the Congressional Medal of Honor, but the recommendation was never processed. In 1990, the Department of the Army conducted a review and the Stowers recommendation was discovered. After an investigation of the circumstances of his death, his sisters were presented with the medal. The Stowers review led to another army study in 1992 which found that several African Americans deserving of the Congressional Medal of Honor during World War II had not receive it because of bias on the part of the Decorations Board. Freddie Stowers Elementary School in Ft. Benning, Georgia is named in his honor.

• April 24. 1993 Oliver Reginald Tambo, co-founder of the African National Congress Youth League, died. Tambo was born October 27, 1917 in Pondoland, South Africa (now the Eastern Cape). He won a scholarship to Fort Hare, the only college that Blacks could attend, but was expelled in 1939 for participating in a student strike. He later studied law by correspondence and qualified as an attorney in 1952. In 1943, he along with Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu founded the ANC Youth League with Tambo as national secretary. In 1955, Tambo became secretary general of the ANC and in 1958 became deputy president. In 1959, Tambo was banned by the South African government and the ANC sent him to England, where he lived until 1990, to mobilize opposition to apartheid. He returned to South Africa in 1990 and in July, 1991 was elected national chairperson of the ANC. In October, 2006 the airport in Johannesburg was renamed Tambo International Airport in his honor.

• April 24, 2001 Leon Howard Sullivan, minister, civil rights leader, and activist, died. Sullivan was born October 16, 1922 in Charleston, West Virginia. He was ordained a Baptist minister at the age of 18. Sullivan earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from West Virginia State College in 1943 and his Master of Arts degree in religion from Columbia University in 1947. In 1950, Sullivan moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and became pastor of Zion Baptist Church where he served for 38 years, increasing its membership from 600 to 6,000 and becoming known as “the Lion of Zion.” In 1958, Sullivan led a boycott of local businesses with the slogan “don’t buy where you don’t work” that resulted in thousands of jobs for African Americans over a period of four years. In 1964, he founded Opportunities Industrialization Centers of America which offered job training, instruction in life skills, and assistance in job placement. The organization grew into 60 affiliated programs in 30 states and served over 2 million disadvantaged and under-skilled people. In 1971, Sullivan joined the board of directors of General Motors Corporation, becoming the first African American to serve on the board of a major corporation. In 1977, he developed a code of conduct for companies operating in South Africa during apartheid called the Sullivan Principles. Sullivan was the recipient of many awards, including the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP in 1971, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, presented by President George H. W. Bush November 18, 1991, the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights from President William Clinton in 1999, and honorary doctorate degrees from more than 50 colleges and universities. Sullivan authored several books, including “Build Brother Build” (1969) and “Moving Mountains” (1998). The Leon Sullivan Health Care Center in Seattle, Washington is named in his honor and the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation empowers underprivileged people worldwide by promoting the principles of self-help and social responsibility. The goal is to bring the corporate and governmental communities together for the economic benefit of all, and invite businesses and individuals to create partnerships with Africa with the ultimate goal of a peaceful, prosperous, and powerful Africa.

• April 24, 2009 A statue of Barbara Charline Jordan was unveiled at the University of Texas in Austin. She was the first female public figure so honored on the campus. Jordan was born February 21, 1936 in Houston, Texas. She 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. That year, she was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, becoming the first African American woman to serve in Congress from a southern state. 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 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. Jordan retired from politics in 1979 and became adjunct professor at the University of Texas. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1990 and in 1992 was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal. Jordan was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President William Clinton August 8, 1994 and the United States Military Academy’s Sylvanus Thayer Award in 1995, becoming the second female recipient. Jordan died January 17, 1996 and was the first Black woman buried in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin. Her biography, “Barbara Jordan: American Hero,” was published in 2000. Jordan’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

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