Today in Black History, 1/12/2012

·   January 12, 1910 Bass Reeves, one of the first African Americans to receive a commission as a deputy United States marshal, died. Reeves was born enslaved in July, 1838 in Crawford County, Arkansas. During the Civil War, he escaped into Indian Territory and lived with the Seminole and Creek Indians. Later, he moved back to Arkansas and farmed until 1875. At that time, he was recruited as a deputy marshal because he was an expert with rifle and pistol, knew the Indian Territory, and spoke several Indian languages. Reeves worked 32 years as a federal peace officer and arrested over 3,000 felons before retiring in 1907. Many scholars consider Reeves to be one of the most outstanding frontier heroes in U.S. history. His biography, “Black Gun, Silver Star: The Life and Legend of Frontier Marshal Bass Reeves,” was published in 2006. In 2007, the U.S. Route 62 bridge crossing the Arkansas River was named the Bass Reeves Memorial Bridge in his honor.

·   January 12, 1920 James L. Farmer, Jr., civil rights activist, was born in Marshall, Texas. Farmer was a child prodigy and at the age of 14 he was attending Wiley College and participating on the debate team that was portrayed in the 2007 film “The Great Debaters.” Farmer earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Wiley in 1938 and his Bachelor of Divinity degree from the Howard University School of Religion in 1941. In 1942, Farmer co-founded the Committee of Racial Equality, later renamed the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), to bring an end to racial segregation through active nonviolence. He served as the national chairman until 1944. In 1961, he organized the Freedom Rides, which eventually led to the desegregation of inter-state busing in the United States. In 1975, Farmer co-founded Fund for an Open Society with a vision of a nation in which people live in stably integrated communities and where political and civic power is shared by people of different races and ethnicities. He led that organization until 1999. In 1985, he published “Lay Bare the Heart: An Autobiography of the Civil Rights Movement” and in 1998 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President William Clinton. Farmer died on July 9, 1999.

·   January 12, 1944 Joseph Billy “Smokin’ Joe” Frazier, hall of fame boxer, was born in Beaufort, South Carolina. Frazier won the Gold medal in the heavyweight boxing division at the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games and turned professional in 1965. He won the World Heavyweight Championship in 1970 and held the title until 1973. Frazier is most remembered for his three epic bouts with Muhammad Ali, including the “Thrilla in Manila.” Frazier retired from boxing in 1976 with a record of 32 wins, 4 losses, and 1 draw. After retiring, he trained fighters at his gym in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Frazier was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990 and published his autobiography, “Smokin’ Joe: The Autobiography of a Heavyweight Champion of the World, Smokin’ Joe Frazier,” in 1996. Frazier died November 7, 2011.

·   January 12, 1948 The United States Supreme Court ruled in Sipuel v. Board of Regents of University of Oklahoma that colleges could not deny admittance based on race. In 1946, Ada Lois Sipuel applied for admittance to the University of Oklahoma law school, the only taxpayer funded law school in the State of Oklahoma, and was denied based on her race. On this date, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “petitioner is entitled to secure legal education afforded by a state institution. The State must provide it for her in conformity with the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and provide it as soon as it does for applicants of any other group.” A garden on the campus of the University of Oklahoma now stands in honor of this event.

·   January 12, 1950 Sheila Jackson-Lee, congressperson, was born in Queens, New York. Jackson-Lee earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Yale University in 1972 and her Juris Doctorate degree from the University of Virginia Law School in 1975. In 1987, she was appointed a municipal judge and in 1989 was elected to the Houston City Council, the first African American woman elected to the council. In 1994, she was elected to the United States House of Representatives. She serves on the Judiciary Committee, where she focuses on issues such as civil rights and abortion rights, and the Homeland Security Committee.

·   January 12, 1952 Walter Ellis Mosley, novelist, was born in Los Angeles, California. Mosley earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from Johnson State College in 1977 and moved to New York City in 1981. While working at Mobil Oil, he took a writing course at City College. Mosley started writing at the age of 34 and has written every day since, writing more than 33 books. His first published novel, “Devil in a Blue Dress” (1990), was made into the 1995 movie of the same title. That was followed by novels such as “White Butterfly” (1992), “Fearless Jones” (2001), “Blonde Faith” (2007), and “When the Thrill is Gone” (2011). Mosley’s works have consistently addressed social and racial issues and have been translated into 21 languages. Mosley received the 2005 “Risktaker Award” from the Sundance Institute for his creative and activist efforts and in 2006 he was the first recipient of the Carl Brandon Society Parallax Award for his young adult novel “47” (2005).

·   January 12, 1956 Sam Langford, hall of fame boxer and, according to ESPN, “the greatest fighter nobody knows,” died. Langford was born March 4, 1883 in Weymouth Falls, Nova Scotia, Canada. Although he was only 5 feet 6 ½ inches tall and weighed 185 pounds, Langford fought greats from the lightweight division to the heavyweight division, beating many champions in the process. However, Langford was denied an opportunity to fight for a championship because of his race. In 1923, Langford fought and won boxing’s last “fight to the finish” for the Mexican Heavyweight Championship. Due to failing eyesight, he retired in 1926 with a record of 167 wins, 38 losses, and 37 draws. Heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey said, “The hell I feared no man. There was one man I wouldn’t fight because I knew he would flatten me. I was afraid of Sam Langford.” Langford eventually went completely blind and ended up penniless. He was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. Langford’s biography, “Sam Langford: Boxing’s Greatest Uncrowned Champion,” was published in 2008.

·   January 12, 1960 Jacques Dominique Wilkins, hall of fame basketball player, was born in Paris, France where his father was stationed in the United States Air Force. Wilkins led his high school basketball team to consecutive Class 3-A State Championships and entered the University of Georgia in 1979. He was named the SEC Men’s Basketball Player of the Year in 1981 and selected by the Utah Jazz in the 1982 NBA Draft. As a professional, he was nicknamed “The Human Highlight Film” for his incredible athletic ability and highlight reel dunks. Over his 18 year professional career, he was a nine-time All-Star and won the NBA scoring championship in 1986. His number 21 jersey was retired by the Atlanta Hawks in 2001 and he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2006. He currently serves as vice president of basketball for the Hawks and goodwill ambassador to the community.

·   January 12, 1965 Lorraine Hansberry, playwright and author, died. Hansberry was born May 19, 1930 in Chicago, Illinois. She moved to New York City in 1950 to pursue a career as a writer. In 1959, her play, “A Raisin in the Sun” debuted on Broadway. It was the first play written by an African American woman to be produced on Broadway. The play received the New York Drama Critics Award for Best Play of the Year, making Hansberry the youngest playwright and the fifth woman to receive that award. Her only other play to be produced on Broadway was “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window” (1965). After her death, her ex-husband completed several of her unfinished manuscripts, including “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” (1969) and “Les Blancs” (1994). The Lorraine Hansberry Theater in San Francisco, California in named in her honor. Her biography, “They Found a Way: Lorraine Hansberry,” was published in 1978. Hansberry’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.