Today in Black History, 1/23/2014 - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 1/23/2014

• January 23, 1898 Ora Mae Washington, hall of fame athlete considered by many the finest female athlete of the 1920s and 1930s, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Washington began playing tennis in 1924 and by 1929 was the national singles champion of the American Tennis Association, the oldest African American sports organization in the United States. She won that title eight times in the nine years between 1929 and 1937 and won 12 straight doubles championships. Due to segregation and the unwillingness of White players to take the challenge, Washington was not able to prove that she was the best women’s tennis player in the country. In 1931, in the midst of her tennis career, Washington began playing basketball for the Philadelphia Tribune team, Black America’s first premier sports team. The Tribune only lost six times in games played during the 1930s. Washington played basketball for 18 years. After retiring from sports, Washington supported herself as a housekeeper. Washington died May 28, 1971. In 2009, she was posthumously inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame.

• January 23, 1915 William Arthur Lewis, the first Black person to win a Nobel Prize in a category other than peace, was born in Castries, Saint Lucia. After earning his Bachelor of Science degree in 1937 and his Ph. D. in 1940 from the London School of Economics, Lewis lectured at the University of Manchester until 1959 when he was appointed vice chancellor of the University of West Indies. Key works by Lewis include “Economic Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labour” (1954) and “The Theory of Economic Growth” (1955). Lewis was knighted in 1963 and received the Nobel Memorial Prize for economics December 8, 1979. He served as a full professor in the Department of Economics at Princeton University from 1964 to his retirement in 1983. After his retirement, he became president of the American Economics Association. Lewis died June 15, 1991. He was buried on the grounds of the Saint Lucian community college named in his honor. In 2007, the Arthur Lewis Building was opened at the University of Manchester.

• January 23, 1930 Derek Alton Walcott, Nobel Prize winning poet, playwright and visual artist, was born in Castries, Saint Lucia. Walcott earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of the West Indies in 1952. In 1959, he founded the Trinidad Theater Workshop and in 1981 founded Boston Playwrights Theater at Boston University. Walcott has published more than 20 plays, including “Wine of the Country” (1953) and “Walker and The Ghost Dance” (2002). His play “Dream on Monkey Mountain” won the 1971 Off-Broadway Theater (OBIE) Award for Best Foreign Play. He has also written a number of collections of poetry, including “The Castaway and Other Poems” (1965) and “White Egrets” (2010) which won the T. Elliot Prize in 2011. Walcott received a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Award in 1981. On December 7, 1992, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature “for a poetic oeuvre of great luminosity, sustained by a historical vision, the outcome of a multicultural commitment.” He is currently the Professor of Poetry at the University of Essex which awarded him an honorary doctorate degree in 2008. Walcott’s most current play, “O Starry Starry Night,” premiered in 2013.

• January 23, 1935 Robert Parris “Bob” Moses, educator and civil rights activist, was born in Harlem, New York. Moses earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Hamilton College in 1956 and his Master of Arts degree from Harvard University in 1957. In 1960, he became field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In 1964, Moses became co-director of the Council of Federated Organizations, an umbrella organization for civil rights groups working in Mississippi, and was instrumental in the formation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. From 1969 to 1977, Moses worked as a teacher in Tanzania before returning to the United States to earn his Ph. D. in philosophy at Harvard University. In 1982, he received a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Award and created the Algebra Project, a project devoted to improving minority education in mathematics. In 2005, Moses was selected as one of the inaugural Alphonse Fletcher, Sr. Fellows by the Fletcher Foundation which awards grants to scholars and activists working on civil rights issues. In 2006, Moses was named a professor at Cornell University and in 2007 received an honorary doctorate degree from Swarthmore College.

• January 23, 1946 Susan L. Taylor, hall of fame journalist, editor and author, was born in Harlem, New York. Taylor started her career at Essence magazine in 1970 as a freelance fashion and beauty editor. By 1981, she had risen to editor– in–chief, a position she held until 2000. During the 1980s, she attended night school and earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology from Fordham University in 1991. In addition to her editing responsibilities, Taylor was executive producer and host of Essence, The Television Program during the 1980s and in the 1990s started Essence Books. In 2000, Taylor was promoted to publications director, a position she held until leaving the magazine in 2008. In 1998, Taylor received the Henry Johnson Fisher Award, considered one of the industry’s highest honors, from the Magazine Publishers of America. She was the first African American woman to receive the award. In 2002, she was inducted into the American Society of Magazine Editors’ Hall of Fame and in 2006 received the President’s Award from the NAACP. Taylor has published several books, including “In the Spirit: The Inspirational Writings of Susan L. Taylor” (1993), “Lessons in Living” (1995), and “All About Love: Favorite Selections from “In the Spirit” on Living Fearlessly” (2008). In 2005, Taylor founded the National Cares Mentoring Movement. Taylor has received honorary doctorate degrees from numerous colleges and universities, including Spelman College, Lincoln University, the University of Delaware, and Fordham University.

• January 23, 1955 Mary Violet Leontyne Price became the first Black person to appear in a televised opera when she sang the title role in “Tosca” for NBC-TV Opera. Several NBC affiliates cancelled the broadcast in protest. Price was born February 10, 1927 in Laurel, Mississippi. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Central State College in 1948. Her first important stage performance was in the 1952 production of “Falstaff.” Price made her opera house debut in 1957 in “Dialogues des Carmelites” in San Francisco, California. In the late 1960s, Price cut back on opera in favor of recitals and concerts. In January, 1973, she sang “Onward Christian Soldier” at the state funeral of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Price gave her operatic farewell in 1985 and her last recital in 1997. Also in 1997, she wrote a children’s book version of “Aida,” which became the basis for a hit Broadway musical. Among her many honors are the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, presented by President Johnson September 14, 1964, the NAACP Spingarn Medal in 1965, Kennedy Center Honors in 1980, the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, presented by President Ronald Reagan April 23, 1985, numerous honorary doctorate degrees, and 19 Grammy Awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1989. “Leontyne Price: Highlights of a Prima Donna” was published in 1973.

• January 23, 1964 The Twenty-fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified. The amendment prohibits both Congress and the states from conditioning the right to vote in federal elections on payment of a poll tax or other type of tax. Prior to the amendment, many states in the South used the payment of poll taxes as a way to prevent African Americans from voting.

• January 23, 1976 Paul LeRoy Bustill Robeson, hall of fame college football player, concert singer, scholar, stage and film actor and multi-lingual orator, died. Robeson was born April 9, 1898 in Princeton, New Jersey. He won a full academic scholarship to Rutgers University, the third African American student accepted at Rutgers. Although he was the only Black student on campus during his time there, he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1919 as class valedictorian. He also was named All-American in football in 1917 and 1918. In 1923, Robeson earned his Bachelor of Laws degree from Columbia Law School and began to find fame as an actor and singer with his bass voice and commanding presence. Early stage roles included “The Emperor Jones” (1924) and “Porgy” (1927). Robeson’s rendition of “Ol’ Man River” in “Show Boat” is considered the definitive version of the song. His Broadway run in “Othello” is the longest of any Shakespeare play. Robeson’s first film was “Body and Soul” (1924) and between 1925 and 1942 he appeared in eleven films, including “Song of Freedom” (1936), and “King Solomon’s Mines” (1937). At the height of his fame, Robeson became a political activist, speaking out against fascism and racism in the United States and abroad. Robeson traveled throughout the world and was conversant in 20 languages and fluent in 12. Robeson was the 1945 recipient of the NAACP Spingarn Medal. From 1950 to 1958, his passport was revoked and he was under surveillance by the FBI and CIA until his death. Robeson’s posthumous recognitions and honors number in the thousands and include three buildings on the Rutgers campus named in his honor, his West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania home was declared a National Historic Landmark November 22, 2000, 1995 induction into the College Football Hall of Fame, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998, and a 2004 commemorative postage stamp issued by the United States Postal Service. There are numerous biographies of Robeson, including “Paul Robeson: The American Othello” (1968) and “Paul Robeson: The Years of Promise and Achievement” (2001). Robeson’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

• January 23, 1977 “Roots” the television miniseries based on Alex Haley’s book “Roots: The Saga of an American Family,” began airing on ABC starring Ben Vereen, LeVar Burton, John Amos, Louis Gossett, Jr., Leslie Uggams, and George Stanford Brown. The series captivated audiences and garnered unprecedented Nielson ratings with the finale still the third highest rated television program ever. “Roots” won nine Emmy Awards, including Outstanding Limited Series, a Golden Globe, and a Peabody Award.

• January 23, 1980, Paul Revere Williams, architect, died. Williams was born February 18, 1894 in Los Angeles, California. In high school, a teacher advised him against pursuing a career in architecture because he would have difficulty attracting clients in the majority White community and the Black community could not provide enough work. He studied at the Los Angeles School of Art and Design and at the Los Angeles branch of the New York Beaux-Arts Institute of Design Atelier. In 1921, Williams became the first certified African American architect west of the Mississippi River and in 1922 opened his own office. Williams was the first African American member of the American Institute of Architects and in 1939 won the AIA Award of Merit for his design of the MCA Building in Los Angeles. In 1957, he became the first African American to be voted an AIA Fellow. Williams designed more than 2,000 private homes and his client list included Frank Sinatra, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Lon Chaney, Lucille Ball, Tyrone Power, Barbara Stanwyck, and Danny Thomas. In 1953, Williams was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal and he received honorary doctorate degrees from Howard and Lincoln Universities and Tuskegee Institute. Biographies of Williams include “Paul R. Williams, Architect: A Legacy of Style” (1993) and “The Will and the Way: Paul R. Williams, Architect” (1994). Williams’ name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

• January 23, 1993 Thomas Andrew Dorsey, hall of fame songwriter and the “Father of Gospel Music,” died. Dorsey was born July 1, 1899 in Villa Rica, Georgia. He learned to play piano as a young man. In the 1920s, Dorsey was known for playing the blues and is credited with composing more than 400 blues and jazz songs, including the 1928 hit “Tight Like That” which sold seven million copies. Dorsey began recording gospel music in the mid-1920s and became the music leader of two churches in the early 1930s. In 1932, he wrote his most famous song, “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” and in 1937 wrote “Peace in the Valley.” Dorsey was the first African American elected to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1979 and was inducted into the Gospel Music Association’s Living Hall of Fame in 1982. In 2007, he was a charter inductee into the Gennett Record Walk of Fame. “The Rise of Gospel Blues: The Music of Thomas Andrew Dorsey in the Urban Church” was published in 1992.

• January 23, 2003 Nell Carter, singer and film, stage and television actress, died. Carter was born Nell Ruth Hardy September 13, 1948 in Birmingham, Alabama. Carter appeared on Broadway in “Dude” (1972) and “Annie” (1977) but became a star with her performance in “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” for which she won the 1978 Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical. She also won the 1982 Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement for the same role in a televised version of the play. From 1981 to 1987, Carter starred in the television situation comedy “Gimme a Break” for which she earned Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in 1982 and 1983 and Golden Globe Award nominations for Best Performance by an Actress in a TV Series-Comedy/Musical in 1983 and 1985.

• January 23, 2009 Lisa Perez Jackson became the first African American to serve as United States Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. She resigned the post in 2013. During her tenure, the EPA adopted vehicle fuel efficiency standards, new limits on toxic air pollution from power plants and industrial boilers, and stricter national standards for soot. Jackson was born February 8, 1962 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She earned her Bachelor of Science degree, summa cum laude, from the School of Chemical Engineering at Tulane University in 1983 and her Master of Science degree in chemical engineering from Princeton University in 1986. She began her career with the EPA in 1986 and over the next 16 years rose to regional deputy director of the enforcement division. In 2002, she joined the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection as assistant commissioner of compliance and enforcement. She later was appointed Commissioner of Environmental Protection for the state where she led a staff of 2,990 responsible for protecting, sustaining, and enhancing water, air, and land. Jackson was listed as one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World in 2010 and 2011. She currently serves as environmental director for Apple, Inc.

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