Today in Black History, 6/21/2012 - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 6/21/2012


• June 21, 1859 Henry Ossawa Tanner, the first African American painter to gain international acclaim, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1879, Tanner studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. In 1891, Tanner left the United States for France where he found that within French art circles race was not an issue. While Tanner’s early works such as “The Banjo Lesson” (1893) and “The Thankful Poor” (1894) were concerned with everyday life as an African American, his later works such as “The Resurrection of Lazarus” (1896) and “The Annunciation” (1898) focused mainly on religious subjects. During World War I, Tanner worked for the Red Cross Public Information Department and painted images from the front lines of the war. Tanner was made a chevalier of the Legion of Honour by the French government in 1923 and in 1927 became the first African American granted full membership in the National Academy of Design in the United States. Tanner died May 25, 1937. Tanner’s works are in the collections of a number of museums, including the Hampton University Museum, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Art Institute of Chicago. His “Sand Dunes at Sunset, Atlantic City” (1885) hangs in the Green Room of the White House, the first painting by an African American to become part of their permanent collection. In 1973, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor. His biography, “Henry Ossawa Tanner: American Artist,” was published in 1969.


• June 21, 1915 The United States Supreme Court in Guinn v. United States ruled that the grandfather clauses in the constitutions of Maryland and Oklahoma were unconstitutional. The ruled that “the grandfather clauses in the Maryland and Oklahoma constitutions to be repugnant to the Fifteenth Amendment and therefore null and void.” The Oklahoma constitution allowed an exemption to the literacy requirement for those voters whose grandfathers had either been eligible to vote prior to January 1, 1866, or was then a resident of some foreign nation, or were soldiers. This disenfranchised black voters because most of their grandfathers had been enslaved and therefore unable to vote before 1866. The ruling also affected similar provisions in the constitutions of Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Virginia. As a result of the ruling, state legislatures immediately passed new statues meant to restrict black voter participation.


• June 21, 1927 Carl Burton Stokes, the first African American Mayor of Cleveland, was born in Cleveland, Ohio. Stokes dropped out of high school and joined the United States Army at the age of 18. After his honorable discharge in 1946, he earned his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Minnesota in 1954 and his Juris Doctorate degree from Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in 1956. In 1962, Stokes was elected to the Ohio House of Representatives where he served three terms. In 1967, he became the first African American mayor of one of the ten biggest cities in the United States, an office he held until 1971. In 1970, the National League of Cities voted Stokes its first black president-elect. After his mayoral tenure, in 1972 Stokes became the first black television anchorman in New York City. From 1983 to 1994, he served as a municipal judge in Cleveland. Stoke died April 3, 1996 and several streets and buildings in Cleveland are named in his honor, including the Carl B. Stokes Federal Court House Building. Stokes published his autobiography, “Promises of Power: A Political Autobiography” in 1973.


• June 21, 1932 Marshall Walter “Major” Taylor, world champion cyclist, died. Taylor was born November 26, 1878 in rural Indiana. At the age of 13, he was hired to perform cycling stunts outside a bicycle shop while wearing a soldier’s uniform, hence the nickname” Major.” Taylor was banned from bicycle racing in Indiana because of his race, therefore he moved to the East Coast. In 1886, he entered his first professional race in Madison Square Garden and won. Over his career, he raced in the United States, Australia, and Europe, including winning the world one mile track cycling championship in 1899 and becoming known as “The Black Cyclone.” Although he was celebrated in Europe, Taylor’s career was held back in the United States and he retired in 1910, saying he was tired of the racism. Although he was reported to earn between $25,000 and $30,000 a week while racing, Taylor died a pauper. In 1948, a monument to his memory was erected in Worcester, Massachusetts and Indianapolis, Indiana named the city’s bicycle track the Major Taylor Velodrome. Nike markets a sports shoe called the Major Taylor. Taylor published his autobiography, “Autobiography: The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World,” in 1929.


• June 21, 1942 Togo Dennis West, Jr., attorney and public official, was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. West earned his Bachelor of Science degree in engineering in 1965 and his Juris Doctorate degree, cum laude, in 1968 from Howard University. In 1969, West entered the United States Army and served in the Judge Advocate General’s Corp. West later served as general counsel of the navy (1977-1979), special assistant to the Secretary of Defense (1979), and general counsel to the Department of Defense (1980-1981). After leaving the government, West was in private practice and served as president of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a think tank focused on issues of concern to minorities. From 1993 to 1997, West served as the U.S. Secretary of the Army and from 1998 to 2000 he was U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs, the second African American to serve in that position. West is chairman of TLI Leadership Group which provides strategic advice on national or homeland security issues. In 2009, he was appointed co-head of the team investigating the Fort Hood massacre.


• June 21, 1964 James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, civil rights activist, were murdered near Philadelphia, Mississippi while trying to investigate the burning of a church that supported civil rights activity. The FBI discovered their bodies on August 4, 1964. While searching for the three men’s bodies, the FBI also discovered the bodies of at least seven other black men whose disappearances over the past several years had not attracted attention outside of their local communities. The FBI arrested 18 men, but Mississippi officials refused to prosecute the men, therefore the United States Justice Department charged them with conspiring to deprive the three of their civil rights. Seven of the men were convicted and sentenced to three to ten years. None served more than six years. Books covering the murders include “Three Lives for Mississippi” (1965) and “Witness in Philadelphia” (1977). Several film dramatizations have been made of the events, including “Mississippi Burning” (1988) and “Murder in Mississippi” (1990).


• June 21, 2001 John Lee Hooker, singer, songwriter, and blues guitarist, died. Hooker was born August 22, 1917 in Coahoma County near Clarksdale, Mississippi. At the age of 15, Hooker ran away from home and in 1948 landed in Detroit, Michigan working at the Ford Motor Company and playing in the blues venues and saloons on Hasting Street. Hooker began recording in 1948 and over his career recorded over 100 albums, including “John Lee Hooker Sings the Blues” (1961), “The Healer” (1989), and “The Best of Friends” (1998). During his career, Hooker won four Grammy Awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000. He was a charter inductee to the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980, in 1991 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and in 1996 he received the Blues Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award. Two of his songs, “Boogie Chillen’” (1948) and “Boom Boom” (1962), are included in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll. His biography, “Boogie Man: The Adventures of John Lee Hooker in the 20th Century,” was published in 2000.


• June 21, 2005 Alvin Demar Loving, Jr., one of the foremost exponents of abstract expressionism and educator, died. Loving was born September 19, 1935 in Detroit, Michigan. He graduated from Cass Technical High School in 1954 and took classes at Wayne State University. In 1963, Loving earned his Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Illinois and in 1965 his Master of Fine Arts from the University of Michigan. Loving moved to New York City in 1968 and had a one-person show at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1969. By the late 1990s, his major works were selling for $70,000 each. From 1988 to 1996, Loving taught at City College in New York. His work is in the permanent collections of several museums, including the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Studio Museum of Harlem and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A mural commissioned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority completed by Loving in 2001 is on view at the Broadway-East New York subway station in Brooklyn.

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Today in Black History, 6/22/2012


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