Today in Black History, 6/26/2014 - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 6/26/2014

• June 26, 1898 William Lee Conley “Big Bill” Broonzy, hall of fame blues singer, songwriter and guitarist, was born in Lake Dick, Arkansas but raised in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. Broonzy began playing music at an early age and at ten made himself a fiddle from a cigar box and began playing spirituals and folk songs. Broonzy was drafted into the United States Army in 1917 and served two years in Europe during World War I. In 1920, he moved to Chicago, Illinois and released his first recordings in 1927, “Big Bill’s Blues” and “House Rent Stomp.” Broonzy wrote and recorded over 300 compositions, most of which were released after his death August 15, 1958. Broonzy influenced a number of blues guitarist, including Muddy Waters and Memphis Slim. In 1980, Broonzy was an inaugural inductee into the Blues Hall of Fame and in 2007 was an inaugural inductee into the Gannett Records Walk of Fame. His autobiography, “Big Bill Blues,” was published in 1955. In 2011, a biography, “I Feel So Good: The Life and Times of Big Bill Broonzy,” was published.

• June 26, 1915 Willard Jessie Brown, hall of fame Negro league baseball player, was born in Shreveport, Louisiana. Brown began his professional baseball career in 1934. In 1936, he joined the Kansas City Monarchs with whom he played until 1944 when he joined the army. During that time, he established himself as a powerful hitter, hitting more home runs than Josh Gibson. In fact, Gibson nicknamed him “Home Run Brown.” Brown also regularly had a batting average overn 350. Brown briefly played in the major leagues with the St. Louis Browns in 1947 and was the first Black player to hit a home run in the American League. Brown retired from baseball in 1956 and moved to Houston, Texas. Brown died August 4, 1996. He was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.

• June 26, 1926 Mordecai Wyatt Johnson was unanimously elected president of Howard University, the institution’s first Black president. Johnson was born January 12, 1890 in Paris, Tennessee. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Morehouse College in 1911, his second Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Chicago in 1913, and his Bachelor of Divinity degree from the Rochester Theological Seminary. From 1917 to 1926, he served as pastor of the First Baptist Church in West Virginia. Johnson served as president of Howard until his retirement in 1960. During his tenure, he greatly expanded the campus, building a library and several new structures for schools within the university. Enrollment increased from 2,000 to 10,000 students and finances were stabilized. In 1929, Johnson was awarded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal. Johnson died September 10, 1976. His biography, “Mordecai, The Man and His Message: The Story of Mordecai Wyatt Johnson,” was published in 1998.

• June 26, 1926 Hamilton Naki, South African surgical assistant and teacher, was born in the East Cape of South Africa. Naki was formally educated up to 14. While working as a gardener at the University of Cape Town, Naki was selected to work in the clinical laboratory to look after animals and perform other basic duties. Over time, Naki became one of four technicians in the research laboratory at the medical school. Despite being listed on the hospital records as a gardener, he was paid the salary of a senior lab technician, the highest pay for someone without a diploma. In the late 1950s, Naki began working with Christiaan Barnard while he was developing open heart surgical techniques. In an interview, Bernard called Naki “one of the great researchers of all time in the field of heart transplants” and “Naki was a better craftsman than me, especially when it came to stitching.” Naki went on to train students and professors on transplant techniques. He retired in 1991 on a gardener’s pension. In 2002, he received the National Order of Mapungubwe in Bronze, which is awarded to South African citizens for excellence and exceptional achievement, and in 2003 he received an honorary degree in medicine from the University of Cape Town. Naki died May 29, 2005. The documentary “Hidden Heart-The Story of Christian Barnard and Hamilton Naki” was produced in 2008.

• June 26, 1936 Harold Everett Greer, hall of fame basketball player, was born in Huntington, West Virginia. Greer played college basketball at Marshall University as its first Black scholarship athlete. He was also the first African American to play for a major college in West Virginia. At Marshall, he was the Mid-American Conference Most Valuable Player in 1958 and at the time of graduation held the school’s career record for field goal percentage. Greer was selected by the Syracuse Nationals, who became the Philadelphia 76ers in 1963, in the 1958 National Basketball Association Draft. Over his 15 season professional career, Greer was a ten-time All-Star. Greer retired in 1973 and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982. Greer was named one of the “NBA’s 50 Greatest of All Time” in 1996. He was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. Huntington honored him by renaming the main street between the campus/downtown area and Interstate 64 Hal Greer Boulevard.

• June 26, 1938 James Weldon Johnson, author, diplomat, poet, songwriter and civil rights activist, died. Johnson was born June 17, 1871 in Jacksonville, Florida. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree and Master of Arts degree from Atlanta University in 1894 and 1904, respectively. In 1900, Johnson along with his brother, John Rosamond Johnson, co-composed “Lift Every Voice and Sing” which became known as the Negro National Anthem. From 1906 to 1909, he served as United States Consul to Venezuela. During that time, he wrote his most famous book, “The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man,” which was published in 1912. Other works by Johnson include “The Book of American Negro Spirituals” (1925), “Black Manhattan” (1930), and “Negro Americans, What Now?” (1934). In 1914, Johnson became editor of the New York Age and in 1916 became the national organizer for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In 1920, he was elected to manage the organization, the first African American to hold that position, and eventually became the first Black secretary in the organization’s history. In 1925, Johnson was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal and in 1927 his work “God’s Trombones: Seven Negro Sermons in Verse” was published and won the Harmon Gold Award. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Johnson was a major inspiration and promoter of the Harlem Renaissance. In 1988, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor. Johnson published his autobiography, “Along This Way: The Autobiography of James Weldon Johnson,” in 1933. Johnson’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

• June 26, 1956 Bernard Anthony Harris, Jr., the first African American to walk in space, was born in Temple, Texas. Harris earned his Bachelor of Science degree in biology from the University of Houston in 1978 and his Doctor of Medicine degree from Texas Tech University School of Medicine in 1982. He completed a residency in internal medicine at the Mayo Clinic in 1985. In 1988, Harris trained as a flight surgeon at the Aerospace School of Medicine and Joined the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Johnson Space Center as a clinical scientist and flight surgeon. Harris became an astronaut in 1991 and in 1993 flew on his first space mission as a mission specialist. He flew on his second space mission as the payload commander and during that mission became the first African American to walk in space February 9, 1995. In total, Harris logged 437 hours in space and traveled over 7.1 million miles. Harris left NASA in 1996 and in 1998 founded The Harris Foundation “to invest in community-based initiatives to support education, health and wealth. THF supports programs that empower individuals, in particular minorities and other economically and/or socially disadvantaged, to recognize their potential and pursue their dreams.” In 2006, the Bernard Harris Middle School opened in San Antonio, Texas. Harris is a past president of the American Telemedicine Association. He is currently president and CEO of a venture capital accelerator that invest in early stage companies in medical informatics and technology.

• June 26, 1956 Clifford Brown, hall of fame jazz trumpeter, was killed in an automobile accident. Brown was born October 30, 1930 in Wilmington, Delaware. He started playing professionally after briefly attending college. Brown performed with Lionel Hampton and Art Blakey, among others, before forming his own group with Max Roach. Brown won the Down Beat critic’s poll for New Star of the Year in 1954. He was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1972 and each year Wilmington hosts the Clifford Brown Jazz Festival. Despite leaving behind only four years of recordings, Brown had considerable influence on later jazz trumpeters, including Donald Byrd, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, and Wynton Marsalis. Brown’s biography, “Clifford Brown: The Life and Art of the Legendary Jazz Trumpeter,” was published in 2001.

• June 26, 1960 The Republic of Madagascar gained its independence from France. Madagascar is an island country in the Indian Ocean off the southeastern coast of Africa. It is approximately 226,600 square miles in size and the capital and largest city is Antananarivo. Madagascar has a population of approximately 22.005,000 with approximately half Christian and half that practice traditional religion. The official languages are Malagasy and French.

• June 26, 1968 Shannon Sharpe, hall of fame football player, was born in Chicago, Illinois but raised in Glennville, Georgia. Sharpe played college football at Savannah State College where he was the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Player of the Year in 1987 and a Division II All-American in 1989. After earning his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, he was selected by the Denver Broncos in the 1990 National Football League Draft. Over his 14 season professional career, Sharpe was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection and three-time Super Bowl champion. He was also the first tight end to accumulate over 10,000 receiving yards. Sharpe retired from professional football in 2003 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011. He was also named a member of the NFL All-Decade team for the 1990s. He is currently a commentator for the CBS Sports pregame show “The NFL Today.”

• June 26, 1993 Roy Campanella, hall of fame baseball player, died. Campanella was born November 19, 1921 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He began playing Negro league baseball for the Washington Elite Giants at 16. In 1946, he moved to the Brooklyn Dodgers’ minor league system and was elevated to the major leagues the next season. Over his ten season major league career, Campanella was an eight-time All-Star and National League Most Valuable Player in 1951, 1953, and 1955. In January, 1958, he was involved in a car accident that left him paralyzed from the shoulders down. Campanella was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1969 and in 1972 the Dodgers retired his uniform number 39. In 2006, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor. His autobiography, “It’s Good to Be Alive,” was published in 1959.

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