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Today in Black History, 6/11/2012

• June 11, 1850 Henry Johnson, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Boydton, Virginia. On October 5, 1879, Johnson was serving as a sergeant in Company D of the 9th Cavalry Regiment at Milk River, Colorado during the Indian Wars when his actions earned him the medal. His citation reads, “Voluntarily left fortified shelter and under heavy fire at close range made the rounds of pits to instruct the guards and fought his way to the creek and back to bring water to the wounded.” In recognition of his heroic actions, on September 22, 1890 Johnson was awarded the Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration. Not much is known of Johnson’s later life except that he died January 31, 1904 and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

 

• June 11, 1894 Macon Bolling Allen, the first African American licensed to practice law in the United States and the first black American Justice of the Peace, died. Allen was born Allen Macon Bolling on August 4, 1816 in Indiana. He grew up a free man and learned to read and write on his own. In the early 1840s, he moved to Portland, Maine. After passing the exam in Maine and earning his recommendation, he was given his license to practice law on July 3, 1844. However, because white people were unwilling to have a black man represent them in court, in 1845 Allen moved to Boston, Massachusetts. Allen passed the Massachusetts bar exam that same year and he and Robert Morris, Jr. opened the first black law office in the U.S. In 1848, Allen passed another exam to become Justice of the Peace for Middlesex County. After the Civil War, Allen moved to Charleston, South Carolina and in 1873 was appointed Judge in the Inferior Court of Charleston. The next year, he was elected Judge Probate for Charleston County. Later, Allen moved to Washington, D.C. where he worked as an attorney for the Land and Improvement Association. Allen practiced law right up until his death. The New York Bar Association and a civil rights clinic in Boston are named in his honor.

 

• June 11, 1920 Hazel Dorothy Scott, jazz and classical pianist and singer, was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, but raised in New York City. Scott performed extensively on the piano as a child and received further training at the Julliard School of Music. While still in high school, she hosted her own radio show. In 1940, Scott starred at the opening of Barney Josephson’s Café Society Uptown in New York and soon her piano pyrotechnics were acclaimed throughout the United States and Europe. She was called the “darling of café society.” In 1942, Scott made her Broadway debut in “Sing Out the News.” Scott appeared in a number of films, including “I Dood It” (1943). “Broadway Rhythm” (1944), and “Rhapsody in Blue” (1945). Scott was also the first woman of color to have her own television show, “The Hazel Scott Show” which premiered in July, 1950. Due to racism and McCarthyism, the show was cancelled in September of that year when she was accused of being a Communist sympathizer. Scott was one of the first black entertainers to refuse to play before segregated audiences. Albums released by Scott include “Hazel Scott’s Late Show” (1953) and “Relaxed Piano Mood” (1955). Scott died October 2, 1981. Her biography, “Hazel Scott: The Pioneering Journey of a Jazz Pianist, from Café Society to Hollywood to HUAC” (2008).

 

• June 11, 1930 Charles Bernard Rangel, Congressman from New York, was born in Harlem, New York. In 1948, Rangel enlisted in the United States Army and in 1950 earned a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for leading a group of soldiers out of a deadly Chinese Army encirclement during the Battle of Kunu-ri during the Korean War. After being honorably discharged in 1952, Rangel earned his Bachelor of Science degree from the New York University School of Commerce in 1957 and his law degree from St. John’s University School of Law in 1960. He served two terms in the New York State Assembly before being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1970. His longtime concerns with battling the importation and effects of illegal drugs led to his becoming chair of the House Select Committee on Narcotics where he helped define national policy on the issue during the 1980s. He also was a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1971 and served as chairman in 1974. In 2007, Rangel became chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, the first African American to hold that position. In 2010, he stepped down from the position after being found to have violated House ethics rules. Rangel has received honorary degrees from a number of colleges and universities, including Hofstra University, Syracuse University, and Bard College.

 

• June 11, 1930 Johnny D. Bright, hall of fame Canadian Football League player, was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Bright played college football at Drake University where he led the nation in total offense in 1949 and 1950. On October 20, 1951 in a game against Oklahoma State University, Bright was violently assaulted by white football player, Wilbanks Smith. During the first seven minutes of the game, Bright was knocked unconscious three times by blows from Smith. The final blow broke Bright’s jaw and he was eventually forced to leave the game. A six sequence photograph of the incident was captured by the Des Moines Register newspaper and it showed that the final blow was delivered well after Bright had handed the football off. That photographic sequence won the 1952 Pulitzer Prize for Photography and later made the cover of Life Magazine. After the game, Oklahoma State and conference officials refused to take any disciplinary action against Smith. Bright went on to earn his Bachelor of Science degree in education from Drake in 1952 and was selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1952 NFL Draft. However, because of concerns regarding the racial environment in the National Football League, Bright elected to play for the Calgary Stampeders of the Canadian Football League. Over his 13-season professional career, Bright led the league in rushing three times and was the 1959 Most Outstanding Player. He retired in 1964 as the CFL’s all-time leading rusher. After football, Bright worked as a teacher, coach, and school administrator until his death on December 14, 1983. He was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 1970 and posthumously inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1984. In 2005, Oklahoma State University formally apologized to Drake University for the incident and in 2010 the Johnny Bright School opened in Edmonton, Canada.

 

• June 11, 1935 Earlene Brown, hall of fame track and field athlete, was born in Laredo, Texas. Brown began her athletic career in 1956 and that same year won the AAU shot put championship. Brown was an eight-time national champion in the shot put and three-time national champion in the discus throw. At the 1960 Rome Olympic Games, she won the Bronze medal in the shot put, becoming the only American woman to ever win an Olympic medal in that event. Brown retired from track and field in 1964 and took up the sport of roller games. In that sport she was known as “747” because of her size and weight. Despite that, she displayed amazing quickness and agility. Brown retired from the roller games in 1974 and died May, 1983. She was posthumously inducted into the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2005.

 

• June 11, 1963 Alabama Governor George C. Wallace stood in the doorway of Foster Auditorium on the campus of the University of Alabama attempting to block two black students, Vivian Malone and James Hood, from enrolling at the university. President John F. Kennedy called on the Alabama National Guard to forcibly allow the students to enter the building if need be. Wallace denounced the actions, but stepped aside, allowing Malone and Hood to enter for registration. The incident is seen as one of the seminal events in the Civil Rights Movement. The building was declared a National Historic Landmark in 2005.

 

• June 11, 2000 Earl Shinhoster, civil rights leader, died in a car accident. Shinhoster was born July 5, 1950 in Savannah, Georgia. He got involved in the NAACP’s Savannah branch youth council at a young age and was president of the council at 16. Shinhoster earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from Morehouse College in 1972 and later earned his Juris Doctor degree from Cleveland State University College of Law. After returning to Atlanta, he took a staff position with the NAACP where he worked for the next 25 years, including serving as interim director of the organization from 1994 to 1995. During his brief tenure, $1 million in debt was eliminated and membership increased from 600,000 to nearly a million. From 1996 to 2000, Shinhoster served as coordinator of voter education for the Georgia Secretary of State’s office. There he developed a program to increase voter participation. The Earl T. Shinhoster Interchange, the Earl T. Shinhoster Bridge, and the Earl T. Shinhoster Post Office in Savannah are all named in his honor.

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Founded in 1965 and located in the heart of Midtown Detroit’s Cultural Center, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History is the world's largest institution dedicated to the African American experience. The Museum provides learning opportunities, exhibitions, programs and events based on collections and research that explore the diverse history and culture of African Americans and their African origins.

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