Today in Black History, 4/25/2014 - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 4/25/2014

• April 25, 1884 John Henry “Pop” Lloyd, hall of fame Negro league baseball player and manager, was born in Palatka, Florida. Lloyd began his professional baseball career in 1905 and over his career batted .343 and was generally considered the greatest shortstop in Negro league history. Lloyd was often referred to as the “Black Wagner,” a reference to hall of fame major league shortstop Honus Wagner. In response, Wagner said “it’s an honor to be compared to him.” Lloyd retired in 1932. He died March 19, 1964 and was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1977.

• April 25, 1917 Ella Jane Fitzgerald, hall of fame jazz and pop vocalist also known as the “First Lady of Song,” was born in Newport News, Virginia. Fitzgerald made her singing debut at 17 at the Apollo Theater and won the first prize of $25.00. In 1935, she began singing with the Chick Webb Orchestra and recorded several hits with them, including “A-Tisket, A-Tasket” (1938). In 1942, Fitzgerald left the band to start a solo career. Her 1945 scat recording of “Flying Home” was considered one of the most influential vocal jazz recordings of the decade. Between 1956 and 1964, Fitzgerald recorded eight multi-album sets that became known as the Great American Songbook and were her most critically acclaimed and commercially successful work. Plagued by health problems, Fitzgerald made her last recording in 1991 and her last public performance in 1993. She died June 15, 1996. Over her career, Fitzgerald sold more than 40 million albums and won 14 Grammy awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1967. Other major honors include the Kennedy Center Honors in 1979, induction into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1979, and designation as a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1985. Fitzgerald was awarded the National Medal of Art, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President Ronald Reagan June 18, 1987 and December 11, 1992 she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President George H. W. Bush. In 2007, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor. Fitzgerald’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan. Biographies of Fitzgerald include “Ella: The Life and Times of Ella Fitzgerald” (1986) and “Ella Fitzgerald: A Biography” (1994).

• April 25, 1920 Esther Gordy Edwards, entrepreneur and founder of the Motown Museum, was born in Oconee County, Georgia but raised in Detroit, Michigan. Edwards attended Wayne State University and Howard University prior to forming the Gordy Printing Company with two of her brothers in the mid-1940s. After her brother Berry started Motown Records, she served in various management positions up to vice president and chief executive officer of the company from the mid-1960s to 1988. She also was the first woman to serve on the boards of Bank of the Commonwealth in 1972 and the Greater Detroit Chamber of Commerce in 1973. In 1985, Edwards founded and became director of the Motown Historical Museum, a position she held until just prior to her death August 24, 2011.

• April 25, 1923 Albert King, hall of fame blues guitarist and singer, was born Albert Nelson in Indianola, Mississippi but raised near Forrest City, Arkansas. King began his professional career as a musician with a group called In The Groove Boys. He briefly played drums on several early recordings of the Jimmy Reed band. In 1953, King moved to Chicago, Illinois where he recorded his first single. In 1962, he released his first album, “The Big Blues,” which contained “Don’t Throw Your Love on Me So Strong” which was a major hit. In 1966, King moved to Memphis, Tennessee and signed with Stax Records and in 1967 released “Born Under a Bad Sign” which made him nationally known. Other albums by King include “Lovejoy” (1971), “New Orleans Heat” (1978), and “Red House” (1992). King influenced many other musicians, including Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan. He received the Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer Award in 1991. King died December 21, 1992. He was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.

• April 25, 1929 Byrd Prillerman, co-founder of West Virginia State College, died. Prillerman was born enslaved October 19, 1859 in Shady Grove, Virginia. After being freed, he began school at 12 and earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1889 from Knoxville College. Prillerman also earned his Master of Arts degree from Westminster College in 1894 and his Doctor of Letters degree from Selma University in 1916. In 1891, along with Rev. C. H. Payne, Prillerman secured legislative action to create the West Virginia Colored Institute which opened its doors the following year with Prillerman as the head of the Department of English. He taught in that capacity until 1909 when he was elected president of the institution, a position he held until his retirement in 1919. Prillerman was also one of the organizers, and for many years president, of the West Virginia Teachers’ Association. One of his favorite sayings was “a well painted two-story house owned by a Negro is sharper than a two-edged sword.” Byrd Prillerman High School in Amigo, West Virginia is named in his honor.

• April 25, 1932 Meadow “Meadowlark” Lemon, hall of fame basketball player and minister, was born in Wilmington, North Carolina. Lemon joined the Harlem Globetrotters in 1955 and over the next 25 years played in more than 16,000 basketball games and became known as the “Clown Prince” of the team. In 1980, he left the Globetrotters to form the first of multiple Globetrotter imitations that he formed. Lemon became an ordained minister in 1986 and received a Doctor of Divinity degree from Vision International University in 1988. In 2000, Lemon was presented the John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award, given annually by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame “to an individual who has contributed significantly to the sport of basketball” and in 2003 he was inducted into the hall of fame. Lemon is part-owner of a team in the American Basketball Association. He published “Trust Your Next SHOT: A Guide to a Life of Joy” in 2010. For more than 30 years Lemon has served as a motivational and inspirational speaker.

• April 25, 1944 The United Negro College Fund was incorporated by Frederick D. Patterson, Mary McLeod Bethune, and others to raise funds for 39 private historically Black colleges and universities. In 1972, the UNCF adopted the motto “A mind is a terrible thing to waste” which is one of the most widely recognized slogans in advertising history. Notable UNCF alumni include Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Alexis Herman, Spike Lee, Samuel L. Jackson, General Chappie James, and Dr. David Satcher. Today, the UNCF plays a critical role in enabling more than 60,000 students each year to attend college through scholarships and internships.

• April 25, 1950 Charles Henry “Chuck” Cooper became the first Black player to be drafted by a National Basketball Association team when he was selected by the Boston Celtics. Cooper was born September 29, 1926 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He served in the United States Navy from 1945 to 1946. Cooper played collegiate basketball at Duquesne University where he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1950. Cooper played six seasons in the NBA before retiring from basketball in 1957. He worked in various non-profit programs before being named director of Pittsburgh’s parks and recreation department, the city’s first Black department head. He also earned his master’s degree in social work from the University of Minnesota in 1961. Cooper served as an urban affairs officer at Pittsburgh National Bank from 1971 to his death February 5, 1984.

• April 25, 1950 Lenora Branch Fulani, psychotherapist, political activist and the first woman and first African American to appear on the presidential ballot in all 50 states, was born in Chester, Pennsylvania. Fulani earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Hofstra University in 1971, her Master of Arts degree from Columbia University’s Teachers College in the late 1970s, and her Ph.D. in developmental psychology from the City University of New York. In the early 1980s, she became active in the New Alliance Party and in 1988 was the party’s candidate for President of the United States. She appeared on the ballot in all 50 states and garnered almost 250,000 votes. Fulani also was the party’s candidate in 1992. That same year, she published her autobiography, “The Making of a Fringe Candidate.” In addition to her political activity, Fulani has worked on a number of community outreach and youth development projects in New York City, including the founding of the Castillo Cultural Center. She remains active with the Committee for Unified Independent Party.

• April 25, 1972 Otelia Cromwell, the first African American graduate of Smith College, died. Cromwell was born April 8, 1874 in Washington, D. C. After transferring from Howard University in 1898, she earned her bachelor’s degree from Smith in 1900. She taught for a number of years in the Washington, D. C. public school system before earning her Master of Arts degree from Columbia University in 1910 and Ph. D. from Yale University in 1926, the first African American woman to earn a Yale Ph. D. Cromwell became professor and chair of the department of English language and literature at Miner Teachers College, a position she held until her retirement in 1944. Cromwell authored three books, including “The Life of Lucretia Mott” (1958), and numerous articles. Since 1989, Smith College has recognized Otelia Cromwell Day when classes are cancelled and students and faculty explore issues of racism, diversity, and community at the college.

• April 25, 1990 Dexter Keith Gordon, hall of fame jazz tenor saxophonist and actor, died. Gordon was born February 27, 1923 in Los Angeles, California. He played the clarinet before switching to the saxophone at 15. Between 1940 and 1943, Gordon was a member of the Lionel Hampton Band and in 1943 made his first recording under his own name. During the first half of the 1960s, Gordon produced some of his most highly regarded work, including “Doin’ Alright” (1961) and “A Swingin’ Affair” (1962). In 1962, Gordon moved to Europe where he experienced less racism and greater respect for jazz musicians. While there, he produced “Our Man in Paris” (1963), “One Flight Up” (1964,) and “Getting Around” (1965). Gordon returned to the United States in 1976. In 1987, he starred in the movie “Round Midnight” which earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor. In 1978 and 1980, he was voted Musician of the Year by Down Beat Magazine and in 1980 was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame. In 1986, Gordon was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts.

• April 25, 1990 Clifton Reginald Wharton, Sr., the first African American to rise through the ranks of the United States Foreign Service to become an ambassador, died. Wharton was born May 11, 1899 in Baltimore, Maryland but raised in Boston, Massachusetts. He earned his Bachelor of Laws degree and Master of Laws degree from Boston University School of Law in 1920 and 1923, respectively. In 1924, Wharton took and passed the first Foreign Service examination and became a Foreign Service Officer March 20, 1925. Over the next 25 years, he rose through the ranks and moved through posts in Liberia, Canary Islands, Madagascar, and the Azores. In 1949, he became the first African American to hold a senior post in Europe when he was appointed first secretary and counsel general in Portugal. On February 8, 1958, Wharton was appointed U. S. minister to Romania, the first African American to head a mission outside of Africa. In March, 1961, he was appointed U. S. Ambassador to Norway by President John F. Kennedy, a position he held until his retirement in 1964. In 2006, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor.

• April 25, 2011 Fletcher Joseph “Joe the Jet” Perry, hall of fame football player, died. Perry was born January 22, 1927 in Stephens, Arkansas. After military service during World War II, Perry attended Compton Junior College where he won national championships in 1946 and 1947. Perry joined the San Francisco 49ers of the National Football League in 1948 and over his 16 season professional career was a three-time Pro Bowl selection and the 1954 NFL Most Valuable Player. He also was the first NFL runner to have consecutive 1,000 yards rushing seasons in 1953 and 1954. Perry retired in 1963 as the NFL career rushing leader. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1969.

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