Today in Black History, 6/19/2013 - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 6/19/2013

• June 19, 1857 Alexander Lucius Twilight, educator, minister, politician, and the first black person known to have earned a bachelor’s degree from an American college, died. Twilight was born September 26, 1795 in Corinth, Vermont. From the age of 8 to 21, he was forced to work as an indentured servant. In 1823, he earned his bachelor’s degree from Middlebury College. He also studied for the ministry with the Congregational Church. In 1829, Twilight was hired as principal of Vermont Grammar School and in 1836 designed and built a massive four-story granite building called Athenian Hall to serve as a dormitory for the school, the first granite public building in Vermont. The building now serves as the Orleans County Historical Society and Museum. Also in 1836, he was elected to the Vermont General Assembly, the first African American elected to a state legislature. Twilight’s home was added to the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Brownington Village Historic District May 9, 1973 and the Alexander Twilight Auditorium at Lyndon State College and Alexander Twilight Hall at Middlebury College are named in his honor. Alexander Twilight College Preparatory Academy is located in Sacramento, California. His biography, “Alexander Twilight, Vermont’s African American Pioneer,” was published in 1998.

• June 19, 1907 Alexander Kelly, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, died. Kelly was born April 7, 1840 in Saltsburg, Pennsylvania. He enlisted in the Union Army during the Civil War and by September 29, 1864 was serving as a first sergeant in Company F of the 6th United States Colored Infantry Regiment at the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm in Virginia. His citation reads, “Gallantly seized the colors, which had fallen near the enemy’s lines of abates, raised them and rallied the men at a time of confusion and in a place of the greatest danger.” For his actions, Kelly was awarded the medal, America’s highest military decoration, April 6, 1865. Kelly was honorably discharged from the army in September, 1865 and for some time served as the night watchman at the Pittsburgh police stables. Not much else is known of Kelly’s life.

• June 19, 1912 Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial Normal School for Negroes in Nashville, Tennessee began operations with 247 students. In 1922, the school gained the authority to grant bachelor’s degrees and by 1924 was known as Tennessee Agricultural and Industrial State Normal College. In 1941, the Tennessee General Assembly authorized an upgrade to the educational program at the college, including graduate studies leading to a master’s degree. In the early 1970s, the school became Tennessee State University. In 1968, a lawsuit was filed alleging a duel system of higher education in Tennessee based on race. The case, Geier v. Tennessee, was settled July 1, 1979 with a court order merging the University of Tennessee at Nashville with TSU. Today, the university has over 7,000 undergraduate and 2,000 graduate students with 450 full-time faculty members. It offers 45 bachelor degree programs, 24 master’s programs, and awards doctoral degrees in a number of disciplines. Notable alumni include Oprah Winfrey, Richard Dent, Wilma Rudolph, Xernona Clayton, and Moses Gunn.

• June 19, 1921 Vernon D. Jarrett, newspaper, television, and radio journalist, was born in Paris, Tennessee. Jarrett earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Knoxville College in 1941. In 1946, he moved to Chicago, Illinois and began his career at the Chicago Defender. For three years beginning in 1948, he co-produced “Negro Newsfront,” the first daily radio news broadcast in the United States created by African Americans. In 1970, Jarrett became the first African American syndicated columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Also during that time, he was a host on the Chicago ABC-TV affiliate where he produced nearly 2,000 television broadcasts. In 1975, Jarrett was one of the founders of the National Association of Black Journalists and served as the organization’s second president. In 1977, he founded ACT-SO, the Afro-American Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics. Jarrett was nominated for seven Pulitzer Prizes for editorial writing before retiring in 1995. Jarrett died May 23, 2004. The Vernon Jarrett Medal for Journalistic Excellence is awarded annually by the Institute for Advanced Journalism Studies at North Carolina A&T University to honor “outstanding coverage of people of African descent and the issues that impact their lives.”

• June 19, 1923 Andrew T. Hatcher, the first African American associate press secretary to the President of the United States, was born in Princeton, New Jersey. Hatcher served in the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1946, rising to the rank of second lieutenant. After leaving the army, he moved to San Francisco, California where he became a journalist for the San Francisco Sun Reporter, an African American newspaper. Hatcher also served as a speechwriter for Adlai Stevenson during his two unsuccessful campaigns for the presidency during the 1950s. In 1959, he was appointed California assistant secretary of labor. In 1960, Hatcher served as a speechwriter for John F. Kennedy during his campaign for the presidency. After winning the election, Kennedy appointed Hatcher associate press secretary November 10, 1960. Hatcher resigned the position after the assassination of President Kennedy in 1964. Hatcher received an honorary doctorate degree from Miles College in 1962 and in 1963 was one of the founders of One Hundred Black Men of America. Hatcher died July 26, 1990.

• June 19, 1948 Phylicia Rashad, stage, television and screen actress and singer, was born Phylicia Ayers-Allen in Houston, Texas. Rashad earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, magna cum laude, from Howard University in 1970. She initially gained recognition on the stage with a string of Broadway credits, including “The Wiz” from 1975 to 1979. From 1981 to 1983, she appeared in the television soap opera “One Life to Live.” Rashad is best known for her role on the television situation comedy “The Cosby Show” from 1984 to 1992. Rashad received two Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for that role. She also appeared in the follow-up comedy, “Cosby,” from 1996 to 2000. On June 6, 2004, Rashad became the first African American to win the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play for her role in the revival of “A Raisin in the Sun.” In 2005, she was nominated for the same award for her performance in “Gem of the Ocean.” In 2008, Rashad appeared in the television adaptation of “A Raisin in the Sun” and received an Emmy Award nomination for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie. She starred in the films “For Colored Girls” (2010) and “Good Deeds” (2012). Rashad has received honorary doctorate degrees from Brown University and Spelman College. In 2011, she was named the Denzel Washington Chair professor in theater at Fordham University.

• June 19, 1960 John Lee “Johnny” Gray, hall of fame track and field athlete, was born in Los Angeles, California. Gray attended Santa Monica College. He competed in the 800 meter race at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games, the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games, the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games where he won the Bronze medal, and the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games. Gray set the United States 800 meter record outdoor record in 1985 and the indoor record in 1992. Both records still stand. He was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 2008. Gray is currently an assistant track and field coach at the University of California, Los Angeles.

• June 19, 1993 James Benton Parsons, the first African American appointed to a lifetime federal judgeship in the United States, died. Parsons was born August 13, 1911 in Kansas City, Missouri, but raised in Decatur, Illinois. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Millikin University in 1934 and his Master of Arts degree in political science from the University of Chicago in 1946. Parsons served in the U.S. Navy from 1942 to 1945 and earned his Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Chicago Law School in 1949. From that time to 1961, he was in private practice as well as serving in several public capacities in Illinois. On August 30, 1961, Parsons was appointed by President John F. Kennedy to a federal judgeship on the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Parsons served on that court until his retirement in 1992. Parsons Elementary School in Decatur and the ceremonial courtroom in the Dirksen Federal Building in Chicago are named in his honor.

• June 19, 2008 President George W. Bush presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian award, to Benjamin Solomon Carson, Sr. Carson was born September 18, 1951 in Detroit, Michigan. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from Yale University in 1973 and his Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Michigan Medical School in 1977. At the age of 33, he became director of pediatric neurosurgery at John Hopkins Hospital, the youngest major division director at the hospital. In 1987, Carson became the first surgeon in the world to successfully separate Siamese twins conjoined at the back of the head. Other surgical innovations by Carson include the first intrauterine procedure to relieve pressure on the brain of a hydrocephalic fetal twin and a hemispherectomy to remove half of the brain of a young girl suffering from uncontrollable seizures. Carson continues to operate on more than 300 children a year. In 1994, he co-founded the Carson Scholarship Fund to recognize young people of all backgrounds for exceptional academic and humanitarian accomplishments. Carson was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal in 2006. He published his autobiography, “Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story,” in 1990. Other books by Carson are “Think Big” (1996), “The Big Picture” (2000), “Take The Risk” (2008), and “America the Beautiful: Rediscovering What Made This Nation Great” (2011),. He has received more than 60 honorary doctorate degrees and serves on the board of directors of Kellogg Company and Costco Wholesale Corporation.

• June 19, 2010 Manute Bol, former professional basketball player and human rights activist, died. Bol was born October 16, 1962 in Turalei, Sudan. He started playing basketball in 1978 and was selected by the Washington Bullets in the 1985 NBA Draft. Bol was one of the tallest players to play in the NBA and over his ten-season career was known for his shot blocking skills. He is the only player in NBA history to have more blocked shots than points scored. While he was playing, Bol established the Ring True Foundation to support various causes in Sudan. He gave most of his NBA earnings to this cause. After his death, tributes to his basketball career and charitable works came from around the world, including a salute on the floor of the United States Senate.

Today in Black History, 6/18/2013
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