Today in Black History, 9/5/2011

·   September 5, 1910 Benjamin Brown, Medal of Honor recipient, died. Brown was born in 1859 in Spotsylvania County, Virginia. On May 11, 1889, he was serving as a sergeant in Company C of the 24th Infantry Regiment when his unit was involved in an engagement with robbers in Arizona during the Indian Wars. His actions during the engagement earned him the medal, America’s highest military decoration. The medal was awarded on February 19, 1890 and his citation reads: “Although shot in the abdomen, in a fight between a paymaster’s escort and robbers, did not leave the field until again wounded through both arms.”

·   September 5, 1916 Frank Garvin Yerby, novelist, was born in Augusta, Georgia. Yerby earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Paine College in 1932 and his Master of Arts degree from Fisk University in 1938. Yerby was originally noted for writing romance novels set in the Antebellum South. In the 1940s, he embarked on a series of best-selling historical novels ranging from the Athens of Pericles to Europe in the Dark Ages. In all, he wrote 33 novels and sold more than 55 million books worldwide. In 1946, he became the first African American to publish a best seller with “The Foxes of Harrow” which that same year was purchased by a Hollywood studio, another first for an African American author. Ultimately the book became a 1947 Academy Award-nominated film of the same title. In 1958, his “The Serpent and The Staff” appeared on the New York Times Best Seller List for fiction. Other novels by Yerby include “The Devil’s Laughter” (1953), “The Dahomean” (1971), and “McKenzie’s Hundred” (1985). Yerby left the United States in 1955 in protest against racial discrimination and moved to Spain where he lived until his death on November 29, 1991.

·   September 5, 1939 Claudette Colvin, civil rights pioneer, was born in Montgomery, Alabama. On March 2, 1955 while returning from high school on the bus, Colvin refused to give up her seat to a white person in violation of local law. As a result, she was removed from the bus by two police officers and taken to jail. At the time, black leaders were looking for a case to litigate in an effort to overturn the law, but because of Colvin’s poor background they decided to wait until they had a plaintiff who was more upstanding. Nine months later, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white person resulting in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Colvin was sentenced to probation and in 1958 moved to New York City. She retired in 2004 after 35 years as a nurse’s aide at a Manhattan nursing home. Colvin’s story was told in the biography “Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice” which won the 2009 National Book Award for Young People’s Literature.

·   September 5, 1994 Isiah “Ike” Williams, hall of fame boxer, died. Williams was born August 2, 1923 in Brunswick, Georgia. He began boxing professionally in 1940 and won the World Lightweight Boxing Championship in 1945. He successfully defended the title five times before losing it in 1951. He was named Ring Magazine Fighter of the Year in 1948. Williams retired from boxing in 1956 with a record of 125 wins, 24 losses, and 5 draws. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.