Today in Black History, 11/26/2014 - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 11/26/2014

• November 26, 1883 Sojourner Truth, hall of fame abolitionist and women’s rights activist, died,. Truth was born Isabella Baumfree November 19, 1797 enslaved in Swartekill, New York. When she was nine, she was sold with a flock of sheep for $100. In 1826, Truth escaped to freedom and in 1843 changed her name and began traveling and preaching about abolition. In 1850, her memoir was published as “The Narrative of Sojourner Truth: A Northern Slave.” Truth attended the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention and delivered her famous “Ain’t I a Woman” speech May 29, 1851. During the Civil War, Truth helped recruit Black troops for the Union Army and later met with Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant. Truth was posthumously inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1981. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor in 1986 and she became the first Black woman to be honored with a bust in the United States Capitol April 28, 2009. A number of biographies have been published about Truth, including “Sojourner Truth: Slave, Prophet, Legend” (1993) and “Glorying in Tribulation: The Lifework of Sojourner Truth” (1994). Truth’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

• November 26, 1889 Jan Earnest Matzeliger of Lynn, Massachusetts posthumously received patent number 415,726 for a mechanism for distributing tacks, nails, and other small suspendable articles. His invention provided a process for receiving these items in bulk and discharging them through a chute at positive intervals. Matzeliger was born September 15, 1852 in Paramaribo, Dutch Guyana (now Suriname). After working as a sailor, he settled in the United States at 19. By 1877, he had moved to Lynn, Massachusetts and was working for a cobbler. After five years of work, he received patent number 274,207 for his automatic method for lasting shoes March 20, 1883. Matzeliger never saw the profits of his invention due to this death August 24, 1889. He also posthumously received patent numbers 421,954 for a nailing machine February 25, 1890, 423,937 for a tack separating and distributing mechanism March 25, 1890, and 459,899 for a lasting machine September 22, 1891. In 1991, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor and in 2006 he was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. “Shoes for Everyone: A Story about Jan Matzeliger” was published in 1986.

• November 26, 1895 The National Negro Medical Association was founded. At the turn of the 20th century, they became the National Medical Association with the following manifesto: “Conceived in no spirit of racial exclusiveness, fostering no ethnic antagonism, but born of the exigencies of American environment, the National Medical Association has for its object the banding together for mutual cooperation and helpfulness, the men and women of African descent who are legally and honorably engaged in the practice of the cognate professions of medicine, surgery, pharmacy and dentistry.” Today, the NMA is headquartered in Washington, D. C. and represents more than 25,000 Black doctors.

• November 26, 1901 John Denny, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, died. Denny was born around 1846 in Big Flats, New York. He joined the United States Army and served as a sergeant in Company C of the 9th Cavalry Regiment (Buffalo Soldiers) during the Indian Wars. On September 18, 1879 at Las Animas Canyon, New Mexico his unit was involved in battle when Denny “removed a wounded comrade, under a heavy fire, to a place of safety.” For his actions, Denny was awarded the medal, America’s highest military decoration, November 27, 1891. Not much else is known of Denny’s life.

• November 26, 1929 Matthew Leonard, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Eutaw, Alabama. Leonard served in the United States Army during the Korean and Vietnam Wars. On February 28, 1967, Leonard was serving as a platoon sergeant with Company B, 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division near Suoi Da, South Vietnam when his platoon came under attack. Leonard’s citation partially reads, “Although the platoon leader and several other key leaders were among the first wounded, P/Sgt. Leonard quickly rallied his men to throw back the initial enemy assaults. During the short pause that followed, he organized a defensive perimeter, redistributed ammunition, and inspired his comrades through his forceful leadership and words of encouragement. Noticing a wounded companion outside of the perimeter, he dragged the man to safety but was struck by a sniper’s bullet which shattered his left hand. Refusing medical attention and continuously exposing himself to the increasing fire as the enemy again assaulted the perimeter, P/Sgt. Leonard moved from position to position to direct the fire of his men against the well camouflaged foe. Under the cover of the main attack, the enemy moved a machine gun into a location where it could sweep the entire perimeter. ……………….P/Sgt. Leonard rose to his feet, charged the enemy gun and destroyed the hostile crew despite being hit several times by enemy fire. He moved to a tree, propped himself against it, and continued to engage the enemy until he succumbed to his many wounds. His fighting spirit, heroic leadership, and valiant acts inspired the remaining members of his platoon to hold back the enemy until assistance arrived.” For his actions, Leonard’s family was presented with the medal, America’s highest military decoration, by President Lyndon B. Johnson December 19, 1968.

• November 26, 1933 William Lucy, labor union leader and civil rights activist, was born in Memphis, Tennessee but raised in Richmond, California. Lucy studied civil engineering at the University of California, Berkeley but did not graduate. In 1954, he started working for Contra Costa County in California and in 1956 became a member of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. By 1965, he had become president of the local chapter and in 1966 he joined the AFSCME International organization. During the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers strike, Lucy worked closely with Martin Luther King, Jr. and after King’s assassination participated in the successful negotiations that led to recognition of the sanitation workers’ union. Lucy was elected secretary/treasurer of the AFSCME, AFL-CIO in 1972 and re-elected every four years until his retirement in 2010. In 1972, he founded the Coalition of Black Trade Unionist and served as president until his retirement in 2012. In the 1980s, he was one of the founders of the Free South Africa Movement which conducted the successful anti-apartheid campaign in the United States. Lucy became the first African American elected president of Public Services International, the world’s largest union federation, in 1994. He also served on the boards of numerous organizations, including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the Black Leadership Forum, and TransAfrica. Lucy is one of the most influential African Americans in the history of the labor movement. He received an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree from Howard University in 2006.

• November 26, 1939 Tina Turner, hall of fame singer and actress, was born Anna Mae Bullock in Nutbush, Tennessee. Turner started her musical career, with husband to be Ike Turner, in 1960. During the 1960s and early 1970s, they recorded a number of hits, including “A Fool in Love” (1960), “River Deep, Mountain High” (1966), and “Proud Mary” (1971), which won the Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group. After leaving Ike in 1978, Turner recorded solo with only moderate success until the 1984 release of “What’s Love Got to Do With it,” which reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100, and the album “Private Dancer” which sold more than 11 million copies worldwide. Subsequent releases and tours have earned her the title of “The Queen of Rock and Roll.” Turner has sold nearly 180 million records worldwide and has sold more concert tickets than any other solo music performer in history. She has won eight Grammy Awards, including Best Female Rock Vocal Performance in 1985, 1986, 1987, and 1989 and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. Two of her recordings, “River Deep-Mountain High” (1999) and “Proud Mary” (2003), have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as recordings of “qualitative or historical significance.” Turner has also appeared in the films “Tommy” (1975), “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” (1985), and “Last Action Hero” (1993). Her autobiography, “I, Tina: My Life Story” (1987), was adapted for the 1993 film “What’s Love Got to Do with It.” Turner received Kennedy Center Honors in 2005.

• November 26, 1946 Arthur Shell, hall of fame football player and the first African American head coach in professional football in the modern era, was born in Charleston, South Carolina. Shell played collegiate football at Maryland State College (now University of Maryland Eastern Shore) and earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1968. That same year, he was selected by the Oakland Raiders in the National Football League Draft. Over his fifteen season professional career, Shell was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection. After retiring as a player, Shell served as an assistant coach before being named the head coach of the Oakland Raiders in 1989. That year, he was named American Football Conference Coach of the Year. Shell went on to coaching positions with the Kansas City Chiefs and Atlanta Falcons. He also served as NFL senior vice president in charge of football operations. Shell was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1989 and the College Football Hall of Fame in 2013.

• November 26, 1953 Harold Donald Carson, hall of fame football player, was born in Florence, South Carolina. Carson played college football at South Carolina State University from 1972 to 1975. During that time he became the first Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference player to win consecutive Defensive Player of the Year honors. In 1975, he and his teammates recorded six shutouts and held their opponents to a total of 29 points for the year, a National Collegiate Athletic Association record for a ten game season. Carson earned his Bachelor of Science degree in education and was selected by the New York Giants in the 1976 National Football League Draft. Over his 13 season professional career, Carson was a nine-time Pro Bowl selection. He retired after the 1988 season and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2002 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006. Carson co-authored “Point of Attack: The Defense Strikes Back” (1987), chronicling the New York Giants’ 1985 season. He currently owns Harry Carson, Inc., a sports consulting and promotion company and serves as executive director of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, an organization that works with the NFL to support a more diverse and inclusive league. Carson published his autobiography, “Captain for Life,” in 2011.

• November 26, 1969 Kara Walker, collage artist, was born in Stockton, California. Walker earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from Atlanta College of Art in 1991 and her Master of Fine Arts degree from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1994. She first gained national attention with her 1994 mural “Gone, An Historical Romance of a Civil War as It Occurred Between the Dusky Thighs of One Young Negress and Her Heart.” In 1997, she was awarded a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur “Genius” grant, the second youngest recipient of a grant. In 2007, Walker was listed by Time magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. Walker’s works are in the collections of numerous museums, including the Detroit Institute of Arts, Solomon Guggenheim Museum, the Tate Collection, and the Museum of Contemporary Art. She is a professor of visual arts in the MFA program at Columbia University.

• November 26, 1970 Benjamin Oliver Davis, Sr., the first African American general in the United States Army, died. Davis was born July 1, 1877 in Washington, D. C. He entered the military service in 1898. Over his fifty year career in the military, he had many assignments, including several stints as professor of military science and tactics at Wilberforce University and Tuskegee University. Davis retired from the military July 20, 1948 in a public ceremony presided over by President Harry S. Truman. His United States military decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal and Bronze Star. His foreign awards and honors include the Croix de Guerre with Palm from France and the Grade of Commander of the Order of the Star of Africa from Liberia. Davis was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. His biography, “America’s First Black General: Benjamin O. Davis, Sr. 1880 – 1970,” was published in 1989. Davis’ name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

• November 26, 1985 Vivien Theodore Thomas, surgical technician and animal surgeon, died. Thomas was born August 29, 1910 in New Iberia, Louisiana. After graduating from high school, he had hoped to go to college and become a doctor. However, the Great Depression derailed his plans and in 1930 he secured a job with Dr. Alfred Blalock at Vanderbilt University. Although doing the job of a laboratory assistant, Thomas was classified and paid as a janitor. In 1941, Blalock accepted the position of chief of surgery at John Hopkins Hospital and requested that Thomas accompany him. On November 29, 1944, using the tools adapted by Thomas from the animal lab and with Thomas at his shoulder coaching him, Blalock performed the first surgery to relieve “blue baby syndrome.” The operation came to be known as the Blalock-Taussig shunt and Thomas received no mention. Over his 38 years at John Hopkins, Thomas trained many surgeons that went on to become chiefs of surgical departments around the country and in 1968 they commissioned the painting of his portrait which hangs next to Blalock’s in the lobby of the Alfred Blalock Clinical Sciences Building. The Vivian Thomas Young Investigator Awards are given by the Council on Cardiovascular Surgery and Anesthesiology and the Vivian T. Thomas Medical Arts Academy opened in Baltimore, Maryland in 2004. Thomas’ autobiography, “Partners of the Heart”: Vivian Thomas and his Work with Alfred Blalock” was published in 1985 and in 2004 his story was told in the HBO film “Something the Lord Made.”

• November 26, 1996 Ed Wilson, sculptor, died. Wilson was born March 28, 1925 in Baltimore, Maryland. After serving in the United States Army from 1943 to 1946, Wilson earned his Master of Arts degree from the University of Iowa in 1953. Wilson’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement is apparent in his works like “Minority Man” (1957). In 1964, he accepted a position at Harpur College of the State University of New York and was soon after made chairman of the college’s department of art and art history. Wilson worked primarily on civic commissions therefore his works were generally not displayed in museums but in public spaces. His works include the “JFK Memorial Park” (1969) in Binghamton, New York, “Second Genesis” (1971) in Baltimore, and “Portrait of Ralph Ellison” (1975) in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

• November 26, 2007 Herbert Henry McKenley, track and field athlete, died. McKenley was born July 10, 1922 in Clarendon, Jamaica. He attended the University of Illinois and won National Collegiate Athletic Association championships in the 220 yard and 440 yard races in 1946 and 1947. He also was the Amateur Athletic Union champion in the 440 yard race in 1945, 1947, and 1948. At the 1948 London Summer Olympic Games, McKenley won the Silver medal in the 400 meter race. At the 1952 Helsinki Summer Olympic Games, he won a Gold medal as a member of the 4 by 400 meter relay team and Silver medals in the 100 and 400 meter races. After retiring, McKenley coached the Jamaican national team from 1954 to 1973 and served as president of the Jamaican Amateur Athletic Association. He was awarded the Jamaican Order of Merit, the third highest honor bestowed by the nation, in 2004 for his contributions to track and field. The Herb McKenley Stadium in Clarendon is named in his honor.

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