Today in Black History, 3/26/2014 - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 3/26/2014

• March 26, 1866 George Alexander McGuire, bishop and founder of the African Orthodox Church, was born in Sweets, Antigua. McGuire was educated at the Antigua branch of Mico College for teachers and at the Moravian Miskey Seminary. From 1888 to 1894, he was pastor of a Moravian church in the Danish West Indies (now Virgin Islands). McGuire came to the United States in 1894, joined the Episcopal Church, and in 1897 became an ordained priest. In 1905, he became the church’s highest ranking African American and the first to become an archdeacon when he was appointed Archdeacon for Colored Work in the Diocese of Arkansas where he served until 1909. As McGuire traveled around the U. S., he became discouraged by the dismal prospects for Black people in the Episcopal Church. In 1913, he left the denomination and returned to the West Indies. McGuire returned to the U. S. in 1918 and joined the Universal Negro Improvement Association and was appointed the first chaplain-general of the organization. In 1921, McGuire founded the African Orthodox Church which he envisioned as a home for Black people of the Protestant Episcopal persuasion who wanted ecclesiastical independence. McGuire stated “You must forget the white gods. Erase the white gods from your hearts. We must go back to the native church, to our own true God.” In 1924, McGuire was elected archbishop of the church and at the time of his death November 10, 1934, the AOC claimed over 30,000 members and 30 churches on 3 continents.

• March 26, 1872 Thomas J. Martin of Dowagiac, Michigan received patent number 125,063 for improvements in the fire extinguisher. The nature of his invention related to the construction, arrangement and combination of suitable pipes and valves for conducting water from suitable reservoirs to buildings by means of stationary engines, for the purpose of preventing or extinguishing fires in buildings. Not much else is known of Martin’s life.

• March 26, 1886 Hugh Mulzac, the first African American captain of a United States Merchant ship, was born in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. Mulzac’s life at sea started right after high school when he served on British schooners. In 1918, he immigrated to the United States and within two years became the first African American to earn a shipping master’s certificate. In early 1942, he was offered command of the SS Booker T. Washington which he initially refused because the crew was all Black. He stated “that under no circumstances will I command a Jim Crow vessel.” The Merchant Marines relented and agreed to an integrated crew and Mulzac took command of the ship September 29, 1942. He commanded the ship until 1947. After the war, Mulzac could not get command of another ship because of his race and because he was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. Mulzac died in 1971. His biography, “A Star to Steer By,” was published in 1972.

• March 26, 1917 Rufus Thomas, Jr., hall of fame blues singer, was born in Cayce, Mississippi but raised in Memphis, Tennessee. By ten, Thomas was tap dancing in amateur productions. In 1936, he joined the Rabbit Foot Minstrels, an all-Black revue that toured the South. From 1941 to 1963, he worked in a textile plant while also hosting a radio show. Thomas recorded his first single in 1943 but did not have a hit until “Walking the Dog” in 1963. In the early 1970s, he had three major hits, “Do the Funky Chicken” (1970), “Do the Push and Pull” (1970), and “The Breakdown” (1971). Thomas’ last album release was “That Woman is Poison” (1990). Thomas received the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Award in 1992 and was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2001. He died December 15, 2001. A street is named in his honor in Memphis.

• March 26, 1925, James Moody, jazz saxophone and flautist, was born in Savannah, Georgia. Moody joined the United States Army Air Corps in 1943 and played in the “Negro band” on a segregated base until he was discharged in 1946. In 1948, he relocated to Europe because he had been “scarred by racism in the United States.” In 1952, Moody returned to the U. S. and over his career recorded more than 50 albums, including “Moody’s Mood For Love” (1952), which was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2001 as a recording of “qualitative or historical significance,” “Feelin’ It Together” (1973), “Moody Plays Mancini” (1997), and his last album, “Moody 4B” (2010), which was nominated for the Grammy Award for the Best Jazz Instrumental Album. In 1998, the National Endowment for the Arts designated Moody a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz artist. In 2005, Moody established the Moody Scholarship Fund at the Conservatory of Music at the State University of New York. Moody died December 9, 2010.

• March 26, 1932 James Andrew Harris, the first African American to participate in a major new element identification program and co-discoverer of elements 104 and 105, was born in Waco, Texas. After earning his Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Houston-Tillotson College, Harris served in the United States Army. In 1960, he joined the Nuclear Chemistry Division of the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory at the University of California where in 1969 he was part of the team that discovered and identified elements 104 and 105. In 1973, Harris received an honorary doctorate degree from Houston-Tillotson College and later the Scientific Merit Award from the City of Richmond, California. In 1975, he earned his Master of Arts degree in public administration from California State University. Harris was committed to increasing the number of African Americans scientists and engineers, visiting and recruiting at universities around the country. He retired in 1988. Harris died December 12, 2000.

• March 26, 1937 Wayne Richard Embry, hall of fame basketball executive and the first African American general manager in the National Basketball Association, was born in Springfield, Ohio. Embry played college basketball at Miami University and earned his Bachelor of Science degree in education with a minor in business administration. He was selected by the St. Louis Hawks in the 1958 NBA Draft and over his eleven season professional career was a five-time All-Star. After retiring as a player, Embry became the general manager of the Milwaukee Bucks March 6, 1972, the first African American general manager in the NBA, a position he held until 1979. He later served in the same capacity for the Cleveland Cavaliers from 1985 to 1992. In 1994, he became president and chief operating officer of the Cavaliers, the first African American to hold this position in the NBA. He held this position until 1999. He was selected NBA Executive of the Year in 1992 and 1998. Embry was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999 as an individual that had made a “significant contribution to the game of basketball” and to the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame as a “Contributor” in 2006. Since 2004, he has served as senior basketball advisor for the Toronto Raptors. Embry published his autobiography, “The Inside Game: Race, Power, and Politics in the NBA,” in 2004.

• March 26, 1944 Diana Ernestine Ross, singer and actress, was born in Detroit, Michigan. In 1959, Ross joined The Primettes who in 1961 were signed by Motown Records and their name was changed to The Supremes. The Supremes became the most successful vocal group of the 1960s with 12 number one singles. Ross was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1998 as a member of The Supremes. Two of their recordings, “Where Did Our Love Go” (1999) and “Stop! In the Name of Love” (2001), were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame as recordings of “qualitative or historical significance.” In 1969, Ross began her solo career and her first album, “Diana Ross,” was released in 1970. In 1972, Ross starred in the movie “Lady Sings the Blues” for which she received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress and won the Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer-Female. In 1975, she starred in “Mohogany,” in 1978 “The Wiz,” and in the 1990s she starred in two television movies, “Out of Darkness” (1994) and “Double Platinum” (1999). In 1977, Ross won the Tony Award for Best Musical Special for her one woman show, “An Evening With Diana Ross.” Other albums by Ross include “Touch Me in the Morning” (1973), “The Boss” (1979), “diana” (1980), and “I Love You” (2006). Including her work with The Supremes, Ross has released 67 albums and sold more than 100 million records. In 1976, Billboard magazine named her the “Female Entertainer of the Century” and in 2007 she received Kennedy Center Honors. In 2012, she was presented the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Ross’ autobiography, “Secrets of a Sparrow,” was published in 1995.

• March 26, 1950 Theodore DeReese “Teddy” Pendergrass, singer and songwriter, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Pendergrass’ career began as a drummer with The Cadillacs who soon merged with Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes. With Pendergrass singing lead vocals, the group had hits such as “If You Don’t Know Me by Now” (1972) and “Wake Up Everybody” (1975). In 1977, Pendergrass launched his solo career and released a number of successful albums, including “Teddy Pendergrass” (1977), “Life is a Song Worth Singing” (1978), which included the hit single “Close the Door,” and “It’s Time for Love” (1981). In 1982, Pendergrass was involved in a car accident that left him paralyzed from the waist down. After therapy, Pendergrass returned to the studio and released “Love Language” (1984), “Joy” (1988), and “You and I” (1997). In 1998, he published his autobiography, “Truly Blessed.” In 2006, Pendergrass announced his retirement from the music business. He died January 13, 2010.

• March 26, 1960 Marcus LeMarr Allen, hall of fame football player, was born in San Diego, California. Allen played college football at the University of Southern California from 1978 to 1981. In 1981, he became the first player in National Collegiate Athletic Association history to rush for over 2,000 yards in one season. That same year, he won the Heisman Trophy, presented to the most outstanding player in collegiate football, and earned his bachelor’s degree. Allen was selected by the Los Angeles Raiders in the 1982 National Football League Draft. That year he was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. Over his 16 season professional career, Allen was a six-time Pro Bowl selection and the 1985 NFL Most Valuable Player. He retired after the 1997 season as the first player ever to gain more than 10,000 rushing yards and 5,000 receiving yards during his career. Allen was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000 and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2003. Allen is a member of the Laureus World Sports Academy. He published his autobiography, “The Autobiography of Marcus Allen,” in 1997.

• March 26, 1962 Augusta Fells Savage, Harlem Renaissance sculptor, died. Savage was born February 29, 1892 in Green Cove Springs, Florida. In 1921, she was admitted to Cooper Union Art School in New York City. In 1923, she applied for an art program sponsored by the French government but was turned down by the international judging committee because of her race. During this time, she received her first commission, a bust of W. E. B. Du Bois for the Harlem Library. In 1929, Savage enrolled in the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere, a leading Paris art school. Savage returned to the United States in 1931 and in 1934 became the first African American artist to be elected to the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors. That year, she also launched the Savage Studio of Arts and Crafts which evolved into the Harlem Community Art Center. In 1939, Savage received a commission from the New York World’s Fair to create “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” a 16 foot sculpture that was the most popular work at the fair. One of her most famous busts, “Gamin,” is on permanent display at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. A biography intended for young readers, “In Her Hands: The Story of Sculptor Augusta Savage,” was published in 2009.

• March 26, 1966 Joel Augustus Rogers, historian, author and journalist, died. Rogers was born September 6, 1883 in Negril, Jamaica and was largely self-taught. He emigrated to the United States in 1906 and settled in Harlem, New York. He worked as a journalist for several African American publications, including the Pittsburgh Courier, New York Amsterdam News, Crisis magazine, and the Negro World. He was the only Black United States war correspondent during World War II. Rogers was a prolific author who self-published most of his works. His first book, “From Superman to Man,” was published in 1917 and attacked the notion of African inferiority. Other works include “100 Amazing Facts About the Negro with Complete Proof” (1934), 3 volumes of “Sex and Race” published between 1941 and 1944, and 2 volumes of “World’s Great Men of Color” published between 1946 and 1947. Central themes of most of his works were that the color of skin did not determine intellectual genius and Africans had contributed more to the world than was previously acknowledged. As a result of extensive research in Europe, Rogers was multilingual, speaking German, Italian, French, and Spanish.

• March 26, 1969 The family of Rodney Maxwell Davis received the Congressional Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration, from Vice President Spiro T. Agnew. Davis was born April 7, 1942 in Macon, Georgia. He enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1961 and by 1966 had been promoted to sergeant. By September 6, 1967, he was serving as a platoon guide with Company B, 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, 1st Marine Division in Quang Nam Province of the Republic of Vietnam. His actions that day earned him the medal. Davis’ citation partially reads, “Elements of the Second Platoon were pinned down by a numerically superior force of attacking North Vietnamese Army Regulars. Remnants of the platoon were located in a trench line where Sergeant Davis was directing the fire of his men in an attempt to repel the enemy attack. Disregarding the enemy hand grenades and high volume of small arms and mortar fire, Sergeant Davis moved from man to man shouting words of encouragement to each of them while firing and throwing hand grenades at the onrushing enemy. When an enemy grenade landed in the trench in the midst of his men, Sergeant Davis, realizing the gravity of the situation, and in a final valiant act of complete self-sacrifice, instantly threw himself upon the grenade, absorbing with his own body the full and terrific force of the explosion. Through his extraordinary initiative and inspiring valor in the face of almost certain death, Sergeant Davis saved his comrades from injury and possible loss of life, enabling the platoon to hold its vital position.” On May 9, 1987, the USS Rodney M. Davis, a navy Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate, was commissioned in his honor.

• March 26, 1979 Beauford Delaney, painter, died. Delaney was born December 30, 1901 in Knoxville, Tennessee. He was attracted to art at an early age and at 23 moved to Boston, Massachusetts to study the subject. In 1929, he moved to New York City and in 1930 had his first solo show at the New York Public Library. Although recognized as a talented artist, Delaney had to work as a bellhop, doorman, janitor, and other menial jobs to earn a living. In 1953, he moved to Paris, France where he would live for most of his remaining life. While in Paris, he shifted his painting style from figurative compositions to abstract expressionist studies of color and light. His works are in the collections of many museums, including “Self Portrait” (1944) at the Art Institute of Chicago, “Can Fire in the Park” (1946) at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and “James Baldwin” (1963) at the National Portrait Gallery. His biography, “Amazing Grace: a life of Beauford Delaney,” was published in 1998.

• March 26, 1984 Ahmed Sekou Toure, the first president of Guinea, died. Toure was born January 9, 1922 in Faranah, French Guinea and first ventured into politics in 1945 as one of the founders of the Postal Workers Union. In 1952, he became the leader of the Guinean Democratic Party, a party agitating for the decolonization of Africa. In 1956, he was elected Guinea’s deputy to the French national assembly, a position he used to voice criticisms of the colonial regime. On October 2, 1958, Guinea became the first African country to leave the French community and Toure was elected president, a position he held until his death.

• March 26, 1984 Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Ronald Reagan. Robinson was born January 31, 1919 in Cairo, Georgia. He attended the University of California at Los Angeles, where he was a star athlete, from 1939 to 1941 and served in the United States Army as a first lieutenant from 1942 to 1945. He broke the major league baseball color barrier when he debuted with the Brooklyn Dodgers April 15, 1947. Over his ten season professional career, he won the Rookie of the Year Award, the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1949, and was selected to six consecutive All-Star Games. Robinson retired in 1956 and that same year was awarded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal. In the 1960s, he helped to establish Freedom National Bank, an African American owned and operated financial institution in New York City. Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame July 23, 1962, the first African American to be inducted. He died October 24, 1972. In 1987, Major League Baseball renamed the Rookie of the Year Award the Jackie Robinson Award and in 1997 permanently retired his uniform number 42. Robinson was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President George W. Bush in 2005. Since 2004, Major League Baseball has recognized April 15 as Jackie Robinson Day at all of their ballparks. Robinson published his autobiography, “I Never Had It Made,” in 1972. There are numerous other books about Robinson, including “Baseball’s Great Experiment: Jackie Robinson and His Legacy” (1983) and “Promises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed America” (2004). The Jackie Robinson Foundation was founded in 1973 and has provided college scholarships worth more than $22 million to more than 1,400 students. Robinson’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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