Today in Black History, 11/27/2014 - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 11/27/2014

• November 27, 1923 Jesse Ernest Wilkins, Jr., mathematician, engineer and educator, was born in Chicago, Illinois. Wilkins entered the University of Chicago at 13. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics at 17, his Master of Science degree at 17, and his Ph. D. at 19. The national press referred to him as the “Negro genius.” In 1944, he joined the university staff initially as an associate mathematical physicist and later as a physicist working on the Manhattan Project that resulted in the atomic bomb. During this time, Wilkins was the discoverer or co-discoverer of a number of phenomena which bear his name, including the Wilkins effect and the Wilkins spectra. From 1946 to 1970, he worked in private industry where he helped to design and develop nuclear reactors for electrical power generation. To enhance his career, Wilkins earned his bachelor’s degree in 1957 and his master’s degree in 1960 in mechanical engineering from New York University. In 1970, he joined Howard University as distinguished professor of applied mathematical physics. While there, he founded the university’s Ph. D. program in mathematics. Wilkins returned to private industry in 1977 before retiring in 1985. In 1990, he came out of retirement to join Clark Atlanta University as distinguished professor of applied mathematics and mathematical physics. He retired for good in 2003. Wilkins served as president of the American Nuclear Society from 1974 to 1975 and in 1976 was the second African American elected to the National Academy of Engineering. He published more than 100 professional papers and earned numerous scientific awards. Wilkins died May 1, 2011.

• November 27, 1927 John Hurst Adams, clergyman and civil rights activist, was born in Columbia, South Carolina. Adams earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in history in 1947 from Johnson C. Smith University and his Bachelor of Sacred Theology in 1952 and Master of Sacred Theology in 1956 from Boston University School of Theology. In 1956, he was appointed president of Paul Quinn College, the youngest college or university president in the country. He remained there until 1962 when he became pastor of the oldest Black church in Seattle, Washington. While in Seattle, Adams chaired the Central Area Civil Rights Committee from 1963 to 1968 and co-founded the nation’s first war on poverty agency. In 1972, he was made Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Texas. He later served as bishop of several AME districts before retiring in 2004. While serving in South Carolina, he led the successful effort to remove the Confederate flag from the South Carolina State House. Adams founded the Congress of National Black Churches, Inc. in 1978. He also served as chair of the Interdenominational Theological Center and served on the boards of Allen University, Edward Waters College, and Morris Brown College.

• November 27, 1928 Marjorie Stewart Joyner received patent number 1,693,515 for her invention of the permanent wave machine which could be used to curl or straighten hair by wrapping rods above the person’s head and then cooking them to set the hair. This method allowed hairstyles to last several days. The machine was popular with African American and White women. Joyner was born October 24, 1896 in Monterey, Virginia. In 1916, she became the first African American to graduate from A. B. Molar Beauty School in Chicago, Illinois. After graduating, she went to work for Madam C. J. Walker, overseeing 200 of her beauty schools as the national advisor. As a result, Joyner’s invention was credited to Madam Walker’s company and she received almost no money for it. In 1945, Joyner co-founded the United Beauty School Owners and Teachers Association and in 1973, at the age of 77, she received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Bethune-Cookman College. Joyner died December 7, 1994.

• November 27, 1940 George Henry Wanton, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, died. Wanton was born May 15, 1868 in Paterson, New Jersey. By June 30, 1898, he was serving as a private in the 10th Calvary Regiment (Buffalo Soldiers) in the Spanish-American War. On that day, American forces aboard the USS Florida near Tayacoba, Cuba dispatched a small landing party to provide reconnaissance on Spanish outposts in the area. The party was discovered and came under heavy fire. Their boats were sunk, leaving them stranded on shore. After four failed attempts, Wanton and three other members of the 10th Calvary successfully found and rescued the surviving members of the landing party. In recognition of his actions, Wanton was awarded the medal, America’s highest military decoration, June 23, 1899. Wanton continued to serve in the military and reached the rank of master sergeant and served in the Quartermaster Corps before retiring.

• November 27, 1942 James Marshall “Jimi” Hendrix, hall of fame guitarist, singer and songwriter, was born in Seattle, Washington. Hendrix acquired his first guitar at 15. A self-taught musician, he moved to New York City in 1964 and played with several backing bands for soul, R&B, and blues musicians. In 1966, The Jimi Hendrix Experience was formed and the band enjoyed immediate success in Europe but did not achieve fame in the United States until their 1967 performance at the Monterey Pop Festival. Most of Hendrix’s albums were released after his death September 18, 1970, including “The Cry of Love” (1971), “Crash Landing” (1975), and “Valley of Neptune” (2010). Hendrix is widely considered to be the greatest guitarist in the history of rock music and one of the most influential musicians of his era. He has been posthumously honored with many awards, including induction into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1970, induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1994. In 2006, his debut album, “Are You Experienced” (1967), was added to the Library of Congress National Recording Registry as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” and in 2010 he was inducted into the Fender Hall of Fame. Many books have been written about Hendrix, including “Jimi Hendrix – Electric Gypsy” (1991) and “Jimi Hendrix, Musician” (2003).

• November 27, 1942 Henry Carr, hall of fame track and field athlete, was born in Detroit, Michigan. Carr was a Michigan state champion sprinter at Northwestern High School and at Arizona State University won three national titles and set world records at 200 meters, 220 yards, and as a member of the 4 x 440 yard relay team. At the 1964 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games, Carr won Gold medals in the 200 meter race and for anchoring the 4 x 400 meter relay team. After the Olympics, Carr was selected by the New York Giants in the 1965 National Football League Draft and played three seasons as a defensive back. In 1997, he was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame.

• November 27, 1944 George Thomas “Mickey” Leland, former congressman, was born in Lubbock, Texas. Leland earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Texas Southern University in 1970. He was elected to the Texas state legislature in 1972 and the United States House of Representatives in 1979, where he served until his death. Although considered by some to be controversial, Leland was an effective advocate on hunger and public health issues. Leland died August 7, 1989 along with fourteen others in a plane crash in Gambela, Ethiopia. A Federal building and the international terminal at George Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, Texas are named in his honor. The United States Agency for International Development Leland Initiative to improve internet connectivity in Africa is also named in his honor. In 1989, the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s humanitarian award was renamed in his memory.

• November 27, 1971 Larry Christopher Allen, Sr., hall of fame football player, was born in Los Angeles, California. Allen played collegiate football at Sonoma State College where he was a two-time All-American. He was selected by the Dallas Cowboys in the 1994 National Football League Draft and over his 14 season professional career was an eleven-time Pro Bowl selection. Allen retired from football after the 2007 season. He was selected to the NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 1990s and the 2000s and is widely recognized as one of the NFL’s all-time best offensive lineman. Allen was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2013.

• November 27, 1997 Walter Fenner “Buck” Leonard, hall of fame Negro Baseball League player, died. Leonard was born September 8, 1907 in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. He left school at 14 because no high school education was available to Black children in his hometown. He began his Negro league career in 1933 and from 1934 until his retirement in 1950 played for the Homestead Grays. Leonard had a career batting average of .320 and usually led or was second in home runs. In 1948, he led the league with a .395 batting average. Leonard was selected to the Negro leagues’ East – West All-Star game a record eleven times. In 1952, Leonard was offered a major league contract but turned it down because he thought he was too old and might embarrass himself and hurt the cause of integration. Leonard was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972. In 1999, The Sporting News ranked him number 47 on its list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players of All-Time. Leonard’s biography, “Buck Leonard: The Black Lou Gehrig,” was published in 1995.

• November 27, 2007 William Karnet Willis, hall of fame football player, died. Willis was born October 5, 1921 in Columbus, Ohio. He played college football at Ohio State University and in 1944 was named an All-American. After graduating in 1945, Willis took a job as the head football coach at Kentucky State College. Since the National Football League unofficially barred African Americans from playing, in 1946 Willis joined the Cleveland Browns of the All-America Football Conference, the first African American to play in the conference. In his rookie season, he had to sit out the game against the Miami Seahawks because African Americans were forbidden by law from competing against White players in Miami, Forida. Willis played professional football for eight seasons and was named All-Pro each season. After retiring in 1954, he focused on helping troubled youth, first as Cleveland’s assistant recreation commissioner and later as chairman of the Ohio Youth Commission. Willis was inducted into the National Collegiate Football Hall of Fame in 1971 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977. On November 3, 2007, Ohio State University retired his jersey number 99.

• November 27, 2012 MacHouston “Mickey” Baker, R&B guitarist, died. Baker was born October 13, 1925 in Louisville, Kentucky. He was orphaned at 11 and ran away to New York City at 16. He was largely self-taught but did take some private lessons from different guitarist. By his early 20s, Baker was playing in a jazz band but realized that he could not make a living playing jazz and turned to rhythm and blues. By the 1950s, he was a much in demand studio musician and played on many hit records, including “Money Honey” by The Drifters, “Shake Rattle and Roll” by Joe Turner, and “Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean” by Ruth Brown. In the mid-1950s, Baker formed a duo, Mickey & Sylvia, with Silvia Vanderpool Robinson and in 1956 they recorded “Love is Strange” which sold more than a million copies and was number one of the Billboard R&B charts. They split up in the late 1950s. Albums by Baker as leader include “Wildest Guitar” (1959), “But Wild” (1963), and “Mississippi Delta Dues” (1973). He also wrote a series of instructional books called “The Complete Course in Jazz Guitar.” In the mid-1960s, Baker moved to France where he died. He received the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Award in 1999 and was listed number 53 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of 100 Greatest Guitarist of All Time in 2003.

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