Today in Black History, 7/18/2012 - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 7/18/2012

• July 18, 1863 The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, composed of free blacks from the North, launched an assault on Fort Wagner in Charleston, South Carolina. Serving in the regiment was Sergeant William Harvey Carney, who although wounded, saved the American flag and planted it on the parapet. After being wounded twice more and returning the flag to the Union lines, Carney said, “boys I only did my duty; the old flag never touched the ground.” For his heroics, Carney was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration, on May 23, 1900, nearly 40 years later. Carney was born enslaved on February 29, 1840 in Norfolk, Virginia. He escaped to Massachusetts and later bought the rest of his family out of enslavement. After leaving the army, Carney was a postal employee and popular speaker at patriotic events. He died December 8, 1908. Sgt. Wm. H. Carney Memorial Academy in New Bedford, Massachusetts is named in his honor. The assault and Carney’s heroics were depicted in the 1989 movie, “Glory.”

• July 18, 1899 Leonard C. Bailey of Washington, D.C. received patent number 629,286 for a portable folding or collapsible bed. Not much is known of Bailey’s life except that he was born with a physical disability and was poor. But through his business ventures and ambitious dreams, he overcame those obstacles and made a significant impact on the black community. He was treasurer of the Capital Savings Bank, a black bank, and on the board of directors of the Industrial Buiding and Savings Company.

• July 18, 1899 Clatonia Joaquin Dorticus of Newton, New Jersey received patent number 629,315 for a hose leak stop. His invention was intended to be closed and locked around fire or other hoses that sprung a leak while in use. Dorticus had previously received patent number 535,820 on March 19, 1895 for a device for applying coloring liquids to the sides or heels of shoes, patent number 537,442 on April 16, 1895 for a machine for mounting and embossing photographs, and patent number 537,968 on April 23, 1895 for a photographic print or negative washer. Other than the fact that he was born in Cuba, little else is known of Dorticus’ life.

• July 18, 1918 Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the first South African president to be elected in a fully representative democratic election, was born in Mvezo, South Africa. Mandela enrolled at Fort Hare University, but was expelled because of his involvement in a Students’ Representative Council boycott against university policies. He completed his Bachelor of Arts degree and earned his law degree in 1942 at the University of South Africa. After 1948, Mandela became active in politics, playing a prominent role in the African National Congress’ 1952 Defiance Campaign and the 1955 Congress of the People. In 1961, he became leader of the ANC’s armed wing and coordinated sabotage campaigns against military and government targets. In 1962, with the help of the United States Central Intelligence Agency, the South African government arrested Mandela and he spent the next 27 years in prison. Following his release from prison in 1990, Mandela returned to the leadership of the ANC and between 1990 and 1994 led the party’s negotiations with the government for multi-racial elections. In 1994, Mandela was elected President of South Africa in the country’s first multi-racial election. Mandela served as president until 1999 when he retired. In 2007, Mandela founded The Elders, a group of world leaders who contribute their wisdom and independent leadership to address the world’s toughest problems. He has also been active in the fight against AIDS. Mandela has received more than 250 awards, including the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor, presented by President George W. Bush in 2002. In 2009, the United Nations General Assembly announced that July 18 would be known as “Mandela Day” to mark his contribution to world freedom. His autobiography, “Long Walk to Freedom,” was published in 1994 and “Conversations with Myself, a collection of Mandela’s writings and interviews, was published in 2010.

• July 18, 1941 Martha Rose Reeves, R&B singer and former politician, was born in Eufaula, Alabama, but raised in Detroit, Michigan. In 1957, Reeves formed a vocal group called the Del-Phis with three other female teenagers and they recorded one single, “I’ll Let You Know,” in 1961. In 1962, the group, minus one member, signed with Motown Records and were renamed Martha and the Vandellas. Initially they helped other Motown acts by singing background, most prominently on Marvin Gaye’s “Stubborn Kind of Fellow” (1962), “Hitch Hike” (1962), and “Pride & Joy” (1963). Martha and the Vandellas quickly ascended from background singers with hits that included “Come and Get These Memories” (1963), “Dancing in the Streets” (1964), “Nowhere to Run” (1965), and “Jimmy Mack” (1967). The group disbanded in 1972 and in 1974 Reeves released her first solo album, “Martha Reeves.” Reeves released several additional solo albums with limited commercial success. In 1995, Martha and the Vandellas were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in 2003 they were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame. In 2005, Reeves was elected to the Detroit City Council where she served until 2009. After serving on the council, she returned to performing.

• July 18, 1943 Calvin Peete, retired professional golfer, was born in Detroit, Michigan. Peete did not begin playing golf until he was in his 20’s, but immediately excelled at the game. Peete turned professional in 1971 and qualified for the Professional Golf Association tour in 1975. Peete won his first PGA tournament in 1979 and over his career won 12 PGA tournaments. In 1984, he won the Byron Nelson Award as the PGA Tour leader in scoring average. Peete joined the Senior Tour in 1993 and retired in 2001. He founded the Calvin Peete National Minority Golf Foundation in 1989 and began to hold 12 to 15 golf clinics a year for disadvantaged youth.

• July 18, 1992 Willa Beatrice Brown Chappell, hall of fame aviator, died. Chappell was born January 22, 1906 in Glasgow, Kentucky. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Indiana Teachers College in 1927. Chappell started to take flying lessons in 1934 and earned her pilot’s license in 1937, making her the first African American woman licensed to fly in the United States. Also that year, she earned her Master of Business Administration degree from Northwestern University and co-founded the National Airmen’s Association of America with a mission to get African Americans into the United States Air Force. In 1939, she earned her commercial pilot’s license and the next year co-founded the Coffey School of Aeronautics where approximately 200 pilots were trained over the next seven years. Many of these pilots later became Tuskegee Airmen. In 1941, Chappell became the first African American officer in the Civil Air Patrol and in 1942 she became a training coordinator for the Civil Aeronautics Administration. In 1943, Chappell earned her mechanic’s license, making her the first woman in the U. S. to have both a mechanic’s and a commercial pilot’s license. In 1972, she was appointed to the Federal Aviation Administration Women’s Advisory Board in recognition of her contributions to aviation as a pilot, instructor, and activist. Chappell was posthumously inducted into the Aviation Hall of Fame in 2003.

• July 18, 2005 James Thomas “Jim” Parker, hall of fame football player, died. Parker was born April 3, 1934 in Macon, Georgia. He played collegiate football at Ohio State University where he was named an All-American in 1955 and 1956 and won the 1956 Outland Trophy as the best college football interior lineman. Parker was selected by the Baltimore Colts in the 1957 NFL Draft and over his eleven-season professional career was a ten-time All-Pro selection. He retired in 1967 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1973 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 1974. Many consider him to be the greatest lineman to ever play professional football.

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