Today in Black History, 3/25/2015 - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 3/25/2015

• March 25, 1931 Ida Bell Wells-Barnett, journalist and civil and women’s rights activist, died. Wells was born enslaved July 16, 1862 in Holly Springs, Mississippi. She was freed after the end of the Civil War. She attended Rust College but was expelled for her rebellious behavior after confronting the president of the college. Wells became co-owner and editor of Free Speech and Headlight, an anti-segregationist newspaper in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1889. In 1891, a grocery store owned by three Black men was perceived to be taking away a substantial amount of business from a White owned grocery store across the street. The Black owned store was invaded by a mob resulting in three White men being shot and injured. The three Black owners, who were friends of Wells, were jailed and subsequently lynched. The murder of her friends sparked Wells’ interest in investigative journalism about lynching and becoming the leader of the anti-lynching crusade. She published “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in all Its Phases” in 1892 and “A Red Record, 1892 – 1894,” which documented lynchings since the Emancipation Proclamation, in 1895. Wells and other Black leaders organized a boycott of the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, Illinois to protest lynchings in the South. Wells was also significantly involved in the founding of the National Association of Colored Women, the National Afro-American Council, which later became the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the Women’s Era Club, which was renamed the Ida B. Wells Club. Wells spent the latter 30 years of her life working on urban reform in Chicago. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor in 1990. “Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells” was published in 1970 and her life is also the subject of a musical drama, “Constant Star,” which debuted in 2006. The Ida B. Wells Housing Project in Chicago is named in her honor. Wells-Barnett’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

• March 25, 1939 Toni Cade Bambara, author, social activist and educator, was born Miltona Mirkin Cade in New York City. Bambara earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in English and theater from Queens College in 1959 and her Master of Arts degree in African fiction from City College of New York in 1964. She taught at Rutgers University from 1969 to 1974. She edited the 1970 anthology “The Black Woman,” a collection of poetry, short stories, and essays by such writers as Nikki Giovanni, Audre Lorde, Alice Walker, and Paule Marshall. Her first collection of short stories, “Gorilla, My Love,” was published in 1972. Bambara’s works were strongly influenced by radical politics, feminism, and African American culture. Those works include “The Sea Birds Are Still Alive” (1977), “The Bombing of Osage Avenue” (1986), and “Those Bones Are Not My Child” (1999) which was published after her death December 9, 1995.

• March 25, 1942 Aretha Louise Franklin, hall of fame pianist, singer and songwriter, was born in Memphis, Tennessee but raised in Detroit, Michigan. Franklin was a self-taught piano prodigy and recorded her first album, “Songs of Faith,” at 14. She recorded her breakthrough single, “I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You),” in 1967. That was followed by “Respect” which reached number one on both the R&B and the Pop charts and earned the Grammy Awards for Best R&B Recording and Best Female R&B Performance. By the end of the 1960s, Franklin’s position as “The Queen of Soul” was firmly established. She released “Amazing Grace” in 1972 and it sold more than 2 million copies, the best-selling gospel album of all time. Other albums by Franklin include “Jump to It” (1982), “Aretha” (1986), “A Rose Is Still a Rose” (1998), “So Damn Happy” (2003), and “Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics” (2014). Franklin has had 20 number one singles on the Billboard R&B chart and earned 18 Grammy Awards, including the Living Legend Award in 1991 and the Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994. Franklin was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, received the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992, the youngest recipient of Kennedy Center Honors in 1994, awarded the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President William J. Clinton September 29, 1999, awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President George W. Bush November 9, 2005. Also in 2005, she was the second woman inducted into the United Kingdom Music Hall of Fame and was inducted into the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame in 2012. She has received several honorary doctorate degrees, including honorary Doctor of Music degrees from the University of Michigan in 1987, the Berklee College of Music in 2006, Yale University in 2010, and Princeton University in 2012. Franklin’s autobiography, “Aretha: From These Roots,” was published in 1999.

• March 25, 1949 Lillian Elaine Fishburne, the first African American female to hold the rank of rear admiral in the United States Navy, was born at Patuxent River, Maryland but raised in Rockville, Maryland. Fishburne earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology from Lincoln University in 1971 and was commissioned an ensign after completing Women Officers School in 1973. From 1977 to 1980, she was the officer in charge of the Naval Telecommunications Center in Illinois. Fishburne earned her Master of Arts degree in management from Webster College in 1980 and her Master of Science degree in telecommunications systems management from the Naval Postgraduate School in 1982. Subsequent appointments to positions like executive officer of the Naval Communications Command in Japan and special projects officer for the navy’s Command, Control , and Communications Directorate led to her selection for the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, from which she graduated in 1993. Fishburne was promoted to rear admiral February 1, 1998 and retired from the navy in 2001.

• March 25, 1951 Oscar Devereaux Micheaux, author and film director, died. Micheaux was born January 2, 1884 in Metropolis, Illinois. He formed his own movie production company and became the first African American to write, direct, and produce a motion picture, “The Homesteader,” in 1919. Between 1919 and 1948, Micheaux wrote seven novels and wrote, directed, and produced 44 feature films, including “Within Our Gates” (1919), which attacked the racism depicted in “The Birth of a Nation,” and “Body and Soul” (1924) which introduced Paul Robeson. The Directors Guild of America posthumously honored Micheaux with a Golden Jubliee Special Award in 1986 and the Oscar Micheaux Award is presented annually by the Producers Guild of America. For his contribution to the motion picture industry, Micheaux has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a documentary film, “Midnight Ramble,” was released about him in 1994. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 2010. His biography, “Oscar Micheaux, The Great and Only: The Life of America’s First Black Filmmaker,” was published in 2007. The Oscar Micheaux Center in Gregory, South Dakota annually presents the Oscar Micheaux Film & Book Festival.

• March 25, 1967 Debra Janine “Debi” Thomas, hall of fame figure skater and physician, was born in Poughkeepsie, New York. Thomas won the United States National Ladies’ Figure Skating title February 8, 1986, the first African American to win the title. That same year, she won the Ladies’ World Figure Skating Championship and earned ABC’s Wide World of Sports Athlete of the Year Award. At the 1988 Calgary Winter Olympic Games, she won the Bronze medal in ladies’ singles figure skating. Thomas retired from amateur skating after the 1988 World Figure Skating Championships where she also won the Bronze medal. Thomas earned her bachelor’s degree in engineering from Stanford University in 1991 and her Doctor of Medicine degree from the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in 1997. Thomas was inducted into the U. S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 2000 and is currently an orthopedic surgeon.

• March 25, 1978 Louise Stokes Fraser, one of the first two African American women to qualify for the United States Olympic team, died. Fraser was born in 1913 in Malden, Massachusetts. While still in high school, she set a New England record in the 100-meter race and tied the world record in the standing broad jump. Fraser and Tydie Pickett qualified for the 1932 Los Angeles Summer Olympic Games as part of the 400-meter relay team but were replaced by two White runners for the actual race. Fraser qualified for the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympic Games as part of the 400-meter relay team but was again replaced by a White runner. After those games, she retired from track and became a professional bowler. She founded the Colored Women’s Bowling League in 1941. She also worked as a clerk for the Massachusetts Department of Corporations and Taxation until retiring in 1975. The field house at Roosevelt Park in Malden was dedicated in her honor in 1980 and a statue was dedicated in the courtyard of her high school in 1987.

• March 25, 1982 Rufus Paul Turner, engineer, educator and author, died. Turner was born December 25, 1907 in Houston, Texas. He began working with crystal diodes at 15 and published his first article on radio electronics at 17. He built what was then the world’s smallest radio in 1925 and was awarded a commercial radio operator’s license, the first licensed to a Black broadcaster in the United States. Over the years, Turner held a number of engineering positions and taught electronics at a vocational school and the University of Rhode Island. He published 40 books, including “Radio Test Instruments” (1945) and “Illustrated Dictionary of Electronics” (1980), and over 3,000 articles over his career. In the 1950s, Turner became interested in literature and earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1958 from California State College and his Master of Arts degree in English in 1960 and Ph. D. in 1966 from the University of Southern California. He served as an English professor at California State from 1960 to 1973.

• March 25, 2009 John Hope Franklin, historian and author, died. Franklin was born January 2, 1915 in Rentiesville, Oklahoma. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Fisk University in 1935 and his Master of Arts degree in 1936 and Ph. D. in history in 1941 from Harvard University. In the early 1950s, he served on the NAACP Legal Defense Fund team that developed the sociological case for Brown v. Board of Education. Franklin’s teaching career began at Fisk. From 1947 to 1956, he taught at Howard University and from 1956 to 1964 served as chair of the history department at Brooklyn College, the first person of color to head a major history department. From 1964 to 1968, Franklin was a professor of history at the University of Chicago and chair of the department from 1967 to 1970. He was appointed the James B. Duke Professor of History at Duke University in 1983. Franklin published his autobiography, “Mirror to America: The Autobiography of John Hope Franklin,” in 2005. In it he said “my challenge was to weave into the fabric of American history enough of the presence of Blacks so that the story of the United States could be told adequately and fairly.” Franklin authored numerous other books, including “The Free Negro of North Carolina, 1790 – 1860” (1943) and “Racial Equality in America” (1976). The National Endowment for the Humanities selected Franklin for the 1976 Jefferson Lecture, the federal government’s highest honor for achievement in the humanities. Franklin was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President William J. Clinton September 29, 1995. Other honors and awards include the 1993 Charles Frankel Prize, the 1995 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal, and the 2006 John W. Kluge Prize for lifetime achievement in the study of humanity.

• March 25, 2011 Hallie Almena Lomax, journalist and civil rights activist, died. Lomax was born July 23, 1915 in Galveston, Texas but raised in Chicago, Illinois. She studied journalism at Los Angeles City College but was unable to get a job at a newspaper. In 1941, she started the Los Angeles Tribune, a weekly newspaper targeted at the African American community. The Tribune had a reputation for fearless reporting publishing articles about racism in the Los Angeles Police Department and at its peak had a circulation of 25,000. Lomax won the Wendell L. Willkie Award for Negro Journalism in 1946 for a column that challenged the stereotype of Black men’s sexual prowess. Lomax was a delegate to the 1952 Democratic National Convention and led boycotts of the movies “Porgy and Bess” and “Imitation of Life” because she thought they misrepresented African Americans. Lomax closed the Tribune in 1960.

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