Today in Black History, 04/24/2015 | Duke Ellington - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 04/24/2015 | Duke Ellington



  • April 24, 1886 Augustine John Tolton was ordained to the priesthood in Rome, Italy and directed to return to the United States to serve the Black community, the first Black Roman Catholic priest in the U. S. Tolton was born enslaved April 1, 1854 in Ralls County, Missouri. During the Civil War, the Tolton family escaped to Quincy, Illinois. There Tolton was tutored by several priests. No American seminary would admit a Black student, therefore he attended the Urban College of the Sacred Congregation de Propaganda Fide in Rome. After being ordained and returned to the U. S., he organized St. Joseph Catholic Church and School in Quincy. He was later reassigned to Chicago, Illinois where he led the development and administration of the “Negro national parish” of St. Monica’s Catholic Church which he grew to 600 parishioners. This earned him national attention. Tolton was known for his eloquent sermons, beautiful singing voice, and his talent for playing the accordion. Tolton died July 9, 1897. His biography, “From Slave to Priest: A Biography of the Reverend Augustine Tolton (1854-1897),” was published in 1973. The Father Augustine Tolton Regional Catholic High School in Columbus, Missouri is named in his honor. The Roman Catholic Church officially began the formal introduction of the cause for sainthood of Tolton in 2011. He is now designated Servant of God – Fr. Augustus Tolton.
  • April 24, 1898 Andrew Lewis Cooper, hall of fame Negro Baseball League pitcher and manager, was born in Waco, Texas. Cooper pitched for the Detroit Stars from 1920 to 1927 before he was traded to the Kansas City Monarchs where he pitched for another ten seasons. Cooper holds the Negro league career record for saves with 29 and is considered the second best left-handed pitcher in Negro league history. He also managed the Monarchs to four consecutive pennants. Cooper died June 3, 1941. He was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2006.
  • April 24, 1919 David Harold Blackwell, the first African American inducted into the National Academy of Sciences, was born in Centralia, Illinois. Blackwell earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1938, Master of Arts degree in 1939, and his Ph.D. in mathematics in 1941 from the University of Illinois. After earning his doctorate, he applied for a position at the University of California, Berkeley but was turned down because of his race. From 1942 to 1954, he taught at Southern University, Clark College, and Howard University where he became the head of the mathematics department at 28. Blackwell was hired by the University of California, Berkeley in 1955 and became the first Black tenured faculty member. He won the 1979 von Neumann Theory Prize, awarded annually “to a scholar who has made fundamental, sustained contributions to theory in operations research and the management sciences.” Blackwell published over 90 papers and wrote “Theory of Games and Statistical Decisions” (1954) and the textbook “Basic Statistics” (1969). He was president of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics in 1955. He also was vice president of the American Statistical Association, the International Statistical Institute, and the American Mathematical Society. He was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1965. Blackwell died July 8, 2010.
  • April 24, 1937 Joe Henderson, hall of fame jazz tenor saxophonist, was born in Lima, Ohio. After serving in the United States Army from 1960 to 1962, Henderson moved to New York City and joined Horace Silver’s band. He appeared on 30 albums between 1963 and 1968, including five released under his name. His music began to reflect his growing political awareness and social consciousness by the late 1960s with albums like “Power to the People” (1969), “In Pursuit of Blackness” (1971), and “Black Narcissus” (1975). Henderson won the Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Jazz Solo and Record of the Year from Down Beat Magazine for “Lush Life” in 1992. He won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumentalist and Jazz Record of the Year from Billboard Magazine for “So Near, So Far” in 1993. Henderson was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1999. Henderson died June 30, 2001. He was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame that same year.
  • April 24, 1949 John W. Thompson, hall of fame businessman, was born in Fort Dix, New Jersey. Thompson earned his Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Florida A&M University in 1971 and his Master of Business Administration degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management in 1983. He held senior positions at IBM Corporation from 1971 to 1999. In his last position as general manager of IBM Americas he was also a member of the company’s Worldwide Management Council. Thompson was appointed chief executive officer of Symantic in 1999 and over his ten year tenure transformed the company into an industry leader, growing revenue ten-fold to $6.2 billion a year. During that time, he was the only African American leading a major technology company. Thompson retired from Symantic in 2009. He was inducted into the Junior Achievement Business Hall of Fame in 2008. Thompson served on the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission in 2009 and is currently chief executive officer of Virtual Instruments. He is also chairman of the board of Microsoft.
  • April 24, 1964 Djimon Gaston Hounsou, actor and model, was born in Cotonou, Benin. Hounsou made his film debut in the 1990 film “Without You I’m Nothing” but his breakthrough came with his portrayal of Cinque in the 1997 film “Amistad.” For that role he received wide critical acclaim and a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Actor-Drama. He was nominated for the 2004 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in “In America,” the first African to be nominated for an Oscar. He was nominated for the 2006 Academy Award and won the National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in “Blood Diamond.” Other films in which he has appeared include “Stargate” (1994), “Gladiator” (2000), “Beauty Shop” (2005), “The Tempest” (2010), “Elephant White” (2011), and “Furious 7” (2015).
  • April 24, 1970 Otis Spann, hall of fame blues pianist and singer, died. Spann was born March 21, 1924 in Jackson, Mississippi. He began playing the piano at 7 and by 14 was playing in bands around the Jackson area. He moved to Chicago, Illinois in 1946 and performed solo or with other bands in the area. Spann joined Muddy Waters’ band in 1952 and played with them until 1968. He also released a number of solo albums, including “Otis Spann is The Blues” (1960), “The Blues is Where It’s At” (1966), and “Sweet Giant of The Blues” (1969). A number of his recordings were released after his death, including the albums “Heart Loaded With Trouble” (1973), “I Wanna Go Home” (1973), and “Someday” (2012). Spann was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980. He is considered by many the greatest of the Chicago blues pianist.
  • April 24, 1990 A Pennsylvania State Historical Marker was dedicated in honor of James Forten in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Forten was born September 2, 1766 in Philadelphia. At 15, he served on a ship during the Revolutionary War and invented a device to handle ship sails. He started a very successful sailmaking company in 1786 and became one of the wealthiest African Americans in post-colonial America. Forten, with the help of Rev. Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, enlisted 2,500 African Americans to defend Philadelphia during the War of 1812. They also worked together to establish the Convention of Color in 1817. By the 1830s, Forten was one of the most powerful voices for people of color throughout the North. He helped William Lloyd Garrison and Robert Purvis form the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833 and provided generous financial support to the organization over the years. When Forten died March 4, 1842, he left behind an exemplary family, a sizable fortune, and a legacy of philanthropy and activism that inspired generations of Black Philadelphians. His biography, “A Gentleman of Color: The Life of James Forten,” was published in 2002.
  • April 24, 1991 President George H. W. Bush presented the Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration, to the sisters of Freddie Stowers who was killed in action during World War I. Stowers was born January 12, 1896 in Sandy Springs, South Carolina. He was drafted into the United States Army in 1917 and by September 28, 1918 was serving as a corporal in Company C, 371st Infantry Regiment, 93rd Division. His actions on that date earned him the medal. His citation partially reads, “His company was the lead company during the attack on Hill 188, Champagne Marne Sector, France, during World War I. A few minutes after the attack began, the enemy ceased firing and began climbing up onto the parapets of the trenches, holding up their arms as if wishing to surrender. The enemy’s actions caused the American forces to cease fire and to come out into the open. As the company started forward and within 100 meters of the trench line, the enemy jumped back into their trenches and greeted Corporal Stowers’ company with interlocking bands of machine gun fire and mortar fire causing well over fifty percent casualties. Faced with incredible enemy resistance, Corporal Stowers took charge, setting such a courageous example of personal bravery and leadership that he inspired his men to follow him in the attack. With extraordinary heroism and complete disregard of personal danger under devastating fire, he crawled forward leading his squad toward an enemy machine gun nest, which was causing heavy casualties to his company. After fierce fighting, the machine gun position was destroyed and the enemy soldiers were killed. Displaying great courage and intrepidity, Corporal Stowers continued to press the attack against a determined enemy. While crawling forward and urging his men to continue the attack on a second trench line, he was gravely wounded by machine gun fire. Although Corporal Stowers was mortally wounded, he pressed forward, urging on the members of his squad, until he died. Inspired by the heroism and display of bravery of Corporal Stowers, his company continued the attack against incredible odds, contributing to the capture of Hill 188 and causing heavy enemy casualties.”  Shortly after his death, Stowers was recommended for the Congressional Medal of Honor but the recommendation was never processed. The Department of the Army conducted a review in 1990 and the Stowers recommendation was discovered. After an investigation of the circumstances of his death, his sisters were presented with the medal. The Stowers review led to another army study in 1992 which found that several African Americans deserving of the Congressional Medal of Honor during World War II had not received it because of bias on the part of the Decorations Board. Freddie Stowers Elementary School in Ft. Benning, Georgia is named in his honor.
  • April 24. 1993 Oliver Reginald Tambo, co-founder of the African National Congress Youth League, died. Tambo was born October 27, 1917 in Pondoland, South Africa (now the Eastern Cape). He won a scholarship to Fort Hare, the only college that Black people could attend, but was expelled in 1939 for participating in a student strike. He later studied law by correspondence and qualified as an attorney in 1952. In 1943, he along with Nelson Mandela and Walter Sisulu founded the ANC Youth League with Tambo as national secretary. Tambo became secretary general of the ANC in 1955 and in deputy president in 1958. Tambo was banned by the South African government in 1959 and the ANC sent him to England to mobilize opposition to apartheid. He returned to South Africa in 1990 and was elected national chair of the ANC in 1991. The airport in Johannesburg was renamed Tambo International Airport in his honor in 2006.
  • April 24, 2001 Leon Howard Sullivan, minister, civil rights leader and activist, died. Sullivan was born October 16, 1922 in Charleston, West Virginia. He was ordained a Baptist minister at 18. Sullivan earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from West Virginia State College in 1943 and his Master of Arts degree in religion from Columbia University in 1947. Sullivan moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1950 and became pastor of Zion Baptist Church where he served for 38 years, increasing its membership from 600 to 6,000 and becoming known as “the Lion of Zion.” Sullivan led a boycott of local businesses in 1958 with the slogan “don’t buy where you don’t work” that resulted in thousands of jobs for African Americans over a period of four years. He founded Opportunities Industrialization Centers of America in 1964 to offer job training, instruction in life skills, and assistance in job placement. The organization grew into 60 affiliated programs in 30 states and served over 2 million disadvantaged and under-skilled people. Sullivan led the effort to build Progress Plaza in 1968, the first Black owned and developed shopping center. He joined the board of directors of General Motors Corporation in 1971, the first African American to serve on the board of a major corporation. He developed a code of conduct for companies operating in South Africa during apartheid called the Sullivan Principles in 1977. Sullivan authored several books, including “Build Brother Build” (1969), “Philosophy of a Giant” (1979), and “Moving Mountains: The Principles and Purpose of Leon Sullivan” (1998). He was the recipient of many awards, including the 1971 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, presented by President George H. W. Bush November 18, 1991, the Eleanor Roosevelt Award for Human Rights from President William J. Clinton in 1999, and honorary doctorate degrees from more than 50 colleges and universities. The Leon Sullivan Health Care Center in Seattle, Washington is named in his honor and the Leon H. Sullivan Foundation empowers underprivileged people worldwide by promoting the principles of self-help and social responsibility. The goal is to bring the corporate and governmental communities together for the economic benefit of all, and invite businesses and individuals to create partnerships with Africa with the ultimate goal of a peaceful, prosperous, and powerful Africa.
  • April 24, 2001 Albert George Hibbler, baritone vocalist and civil rights activist, died. Hibbler was born blind August 16, 1915 in Tyro, Mississippi but raised in Little Rock, Arkansas where he attended the Arkansas School for the Blind. After winning an amateur talent contest, he began singing with Dub Jenkins’ band. Hibbler joined Duke Ellington’s orchestra in 1943 and was featured on a number of standards, including “Do Nothin’ Til You Hear From Me,” “I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But the Blues,” and “I’m Just a Lucky So-and-So.” He was considered the best of Ellington’s male vocalist. Hibbler won the 1947 Esquire New Star Award and the 1949 Down Beat award for Best Band Vocalist. Hibbler left the Ellington band in 1951 and began a solo career. His hit solo singles include “Unchained Melody” (1955), “He” (1955), and “After the Lights Go Down” (1956). In the late 1950s and 1960s, Hibbler became a civil rights activist and was arrested for protests in 1959 and 1963. His activism caused major record labels to stop carrying his work. He received the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Award in 1991.
  • April 24, 2009 A statue of Barbara Charline Jordan was unveiled at the University of Texas in Austin. She was the first female public figure so honored on the campus. Jordan was born February 21, 1936 in Houston, Texas. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree, magna cum laude, from Texas Southern University in 1956 and her Juris Doctor degree from Boston University in 1959. Jordan became the first Black woman elected to the Texas State Senate in 1966 and served until 1972. That year, she was elected to the United States House of Representatives, the first African American woman to serve in Congress from a southern state. During her time in Congress, she supported the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 that required financial institutions to lend and make services available to underserved poor and minority communities and renewal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Jordan became the first African American woman to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention July 12, 1976 and that speech is considered by many historians to be the best convention keynote speech in modern history. Jordan retired from politics in 1979 and became adjunct professor at the University of Texas. She was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1990 and was awarded the 1992 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal. Jordan was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President William J. Clinton August 8, 1994 and the United States Military Academy’s Sylvanus Thayer Award in 1995, the second female recipient. Jordan died January 17, 1996. She was the first Black woman buried in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin. Her biography, “Barbara Jordan: American Hero,” was published in 2000. Jordan’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.
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