· November 28, 1907 Charles Henry Alston, artist and professor, was born in Charlotte, North Carolina. Alston earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1929 and his Master of Fine Arts degree in 1931 from Columbia University. He began his art career illustrating album covers for Duke Ellington and book covers for Langston Hughes. During the Great Depression, Alston co-directed the Harlem Art Workshop where he was a mentor to Jacob Lawrence, among others. Alston was the first African American instructor at the Art Students League of New York where he worked from 1950 to 1971. He became a full professor at the City University of New York in 1973. Alston died April 27, 1977 and his works are in the permanent collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art. His biography, “Charles Alston,” was published in 2007.
· November 28, 1929 Berry Gordy, Jr., record producer and founder of Motown Records, was born in Detroit, Michigan. Gordy served in the United States Army from 1950 to 1953 during the Korean War. After returning from the service, he co-wrote “Reet Petite” (1957) and “Lonely Teardrops” (1958) for Jackie Wilson and “All I Could Do Was Cry” (1960) for Etta James. In 1957, Gordy discovered The Miracles and began to build a portfolio of successful artists and in 1959 he created Tamla Records which produced Marv Johnson’s “You Got What It Takes” and Barrett Strong’s “Money (That’s What I Want).” In 1960, he formed Motown Records and merged it with Tamla. Gordy’s gift for identifying and bringing together musical talent, along with careful management, made Motown a major national and international success. In 1972, Gordy produced the film “Lady Sings the Blues” and followed that in 1975 with “Mahogany.” In 1988, Gordy sold his interest in Motown Records for $61 million. Gordy published his autobiography, “To Be Loved,” in 1994. Gordy was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 and the Junior Achievement United States Business Hall of Fame in 1998.
· November 28, 1933 Robert Bowie Spikes of San Francisco, California received patent number 1,936,996 for an improved transmission and gear shifting means for automobiles. This was the first workable automatic transmission. Little is known of Spikes’ life except that he was born December 4, 1884 and was an incredible inventor. He had five additional patents, including patent number 1,362,197 for a trolley pole arrester on December 14, 1920, patent number 1.441,383 for a brake testing machine on January 9, 1923, patent number 1,889,814 for an improved gear shift on December 6, 1932, patent number 2,517,936 for a horizontally-swinging barber’s chair on August 8, 1950, and patent number 3,015,522 for an automatic brake safety system on January 2, 1962. Spikes died in 1962.
· November 28, 1942 Paul Dryden Warfield, hall of fame football player, was born in Warren, Ohio. Warfield was a football and track star in high school and at Ohio State University where he graduated in 1963. He was selected by the Cleveland Browns in the 1964 NFL Draft and over his 13 season professional career, Warfield was an eight time Pro Bowl selection. Warfield retired in 1977 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1983. In 1977, he earned his Master of Arts degree from Kent State University. Warfield worked as a scout and front office executive for the Browns until his retirement.
· November 28, 1952 Sharon Epatha Merkerson, television, film, and stage actress, was born in Saginaw, Michigan. Merkerson earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree from Wayne State University in 1975 and in 1978 moved to New York to begin her acting career. Merkerson is best known for her role on the television crime drama “Law and Order,” where she has appeared longer than any other cast member. Merkerson has won two Obie (Off Broadway Theater) Awards for Outstanding Performances, in 1992 for “I’m Not Stupid” and in 2006 for “Birdie Blue.” She also won the Emmy Award in 2005 for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie for “Lackawanna Blues” and, in 2008, was nominated for the Tony Award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play for “Come Back, Little Sheba.” Merkerson is an advocate against smoking and for lung cancer research and awareness and previously served on the board of directors of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Merkerson was conferred an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by Wayne State University in 2009.
· November 28, 1960 Richard Nathaniel Wright, author, died in Paris, France. Wright was born September 4, 1908 in Roxie, Mississippi. At the age of 15 he penned his first story “The Voodoo of Hell’s Half-Acre,” which was published in the local black paper. In 1937 Wright won first prize from Story Magazine for his short story “Fire and Cloud” and, in 1938, he gained national attention for “Uncle Tom’s Children,” a collection of four short stories. In 1940, his first novel, “Native Son,” was selected by the Book of the Month Club as its first book by an African American writer. Wright was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal in 1941 and in 1945 his semi-autobiographical “Black Boy” was published. In 1946, Wright became a permanent American expatriate when he moved to Paris. In 2008, Julia Wright, his daughter, published his unfinished novel “A Father’s Law.” In 2009, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor.
· November 28, 1961 Ernest Davis became the first African American to be awarded the Heisman Trophy as college football’s top player of the year. Davis was born December 14, 1939 in New Salem, Pennsylvania, but raised in Elmira, New York. He attended Syracuse University where he was a running back from 1959 to 1961, winning first-team All-American honors in 1960 and 1961 and earning the nickname “The Elmira Express.” He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in economics in 1962. Davis was selected number one in the 1962 NFL Draft, the first African American to be drafted number one, by the Washington Redskins and traded to the Cleveland Browns. Before playing a game of professional football, Davis died from leukemia on May 18, 1963. More than 10,000 people filed past his coffin in a single day and President John F. Kennedy sent a condolence telegram. Despite never playing a game for them, the Browns retired his jersey number 45. Davis was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1979 and a film biography, “The Express,” based on the book “Ernie Davis: The Elmira Express” (1999), was released in 2008. A commemorative statue stands in front of Ernie Davis Middle School in Elmira.
· November 28, 1969 Elbert Frank Cox, the first black person in the United States to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics, died. Cox was born December 5, 1895 in Evansville, Indiana. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics from the University of Indiana in 1917. After serving in the United States Army in France during World War I, he returned to earn his Ph.D. from Cornell University on September 26, 1925. After graduation, Cox taught at West Virginia State College from 1925 to 1929 and at Howard University from 1929 to 1961. In 1980, the National Association of Mathematicians established the Cox-Talbert Address which is given annually at their national meeting. Also, Howard University established the Elbert F. Cox Scholarship Fund to help black students pursue their studies.