Today in Black History, 7/23/2014 - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 7/23/2014

• July 23, 1863 Kelly Miller, educator, intellectual, and political activist, was born in Winnsboro, South Carolina. Miller earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Howard University in 1886. In 1887, he became the first African American to attend John Hopkins University where he did graduate studies in mathematics and physics. He had to leave John Hopkins before graduating because of financial difficulties. In 1890, Miller returned to Howard to teach mathematics. He also earned his Master of Arts degree in 1901 and his Bachelor of Laws degree in 1903 from the university. He established the department of sociology at Howard in 1895 and served as a professor in the department until his retirement in 1934. He also served as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences from 1907 to 1918. In 1897, Miller was a co-founder of the American Negro Academy. For more than 20 years, he wrote a weekly column, “Kelly Miller Speaks,” that appeared in over 100 newspapers. Miller died December 29, 1939. Kelly Miller High School in Clarksburg, West Virginia, which operated from 1903 to 1956, was named in his honor.

• July 23, 1891 Louis Tompkins Wright, physician and civil rights leader, was born in La Grange, Georgia. Wright earned his Bachelor of Arts degree as the valedictorian of his class from Clark University in 1911 and earned his medical degree, cum laude, from Harvard University in 1915. During his time at Harvard, Wright challenged and eventually defeated the practice of denying African American medical student’s access to White patients. During World War I, Wright served in the United States Army from 1917 to 1919, rising to the rank of captain and earning a Purple Heart. After the war, Wright went on to become the first Black physician to be appointed to the staff of a New York municipal hospital, the first Black surgeon in the New York City Police Department, the first Black surgeon admitted to the American College of Surgeons, and the first Black physician to head a public interracial hospital. Wright made important research contributions to the medical field, publishing 91 papers over his career. From 1934 until his death October 8, 1952, Wright served as chairman of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People national board of directors and in 1940 was the recipient of the organization’s Spingarn Medal.

• July 23, 1892 Emperor Haile Selassie I was born Tafari Makonnen in Ejersa Goro, Ethiopia. Selassie was Ethiopia’s Regent from 1916 to 1930 and Emperor from 1930 to 1974. His internationalist views led Ethiopia to become a charter member of the United Nations and in 1936 Time magazine named him “Man of the Year” because of his anti-Fascist positions. As the result of Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia, Selassie lived in exile from 1936 to 1941. In 1963, he presided over the establishment of the Organization of African Unity. Selassie was deposed as head of state in 1974 and imprisoned where he died under mysterious circumstances August 27, 1975. His autobiography, “My Life and Ethiopia’s Progress: The Autobiography of Emperor Haile Selassie I,” was published in 1999.

• July 23, 1909 Norman W. Lewis, painter, scholar and educator, was born in Harlem, New York. Always interested in art, Lewis had amassed a large art history library by the time he was a young man. His early paintings were mostly figurative, including “Meeting Place” (1930), “The Yellow Hat” (1936), and “Dispossed” (1940). In the late 1940s, his work became increasingly abstract, including “Tenement I” (1952), “Harlem Turns White” (1955), and “Night Walker No. 2” (1956). His painting “Migrating Birds” (1954) won the Popular Prize at the 1955 Carnegie International Exhibition. In 1963, Lewis was a founding member of the SPIRAL Group which sought to define how African American artists could contribute to the Civil Rights Movement. In 1972, Lewis received a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts and in 1975 received a Guggenheim Fellowship. Lewis died August 27, 1979. His paintings are in the collections of numerous major museums, including the Museum of Modern Art and the Art Institute of Chicago.

• July 23, 1915 Hallie Almena Lomax, journalist and civil rights activist, was born in Galveston, Texas but raised in Chicago, Illinois. Lomax 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. In 1946, Lomax won the Wendell L. Willkie Award for Negro Journalism for a column that challenged the stereotype of Black men’s sexual prowess. Lomax 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. She died March 25, 2011.

• July 23, 1936 William Grant Still became the first African American to conduct a major American orchestra when he conducted the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. Still was born May 11, 1895 in Woodville, Mississippi but raised in Little Rock, Arkansas. He attended Wilberforce University where he conducted the university band and started to compose. After serving in the United States Navy during World War I, he worked as an arranger for W. C. Handy and later played in the pit orchestra for the musical “Shuffle Along.” In 1934, Still was the recipient of the first Guggenheim Fellowship. On March 31, 1949, his opera “Troubled Island” (1939) was performed by the New York City Opera, the first opera by an African American to be performed by a major opera company. Despite selling out the first three nights and receiving 22 curtain calls on opening night, the opera was shut down, never to be staged again. “Just Tell the Story: Troubled Island” (2006) delves into some of the reasons why. Still eventually moved to Los Angeles, California where he arranged music for films, including “Pennies From Heaven” (1936) and “Lost Horizon” (1937). He received honorary doctorate degrees from a number of institutions. Still died December 3, 1978. On June 15, 1981, his opera “A Bayou Legend” became the first opera by an African American to be performed on national television when it premiered on PBS. His biography,” In One Lifetime: A Biography of William Grant Still”,” was published in 1984.

• July 23, 1962 Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson became the first African American to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. 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. Robinson 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 in 1947, the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1949, and was selected to six consecutive All-Star teams. Robinson retired in 1956 and that same year was awarded the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal. In the 1960s, Robinson helped to establish Freedom National Bank, an African American owned and operated financial institution in New York City. Robinson 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 jersey number 42. In recognition of his achievements on and off the field, Robinson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Ronald Reagan March 26, 1984 and the Congressional Gold Medal by President George W. Bush in 2005. 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.

• July 23, 1971 William Vacanarat Shadrach Tubman, former President of the Republic of Liberia, died in office. Tubman was born November 29, 1895 in Harper, Liberia. He initially planned to be a preacher and at 19 was named a Methodist lay pastor. After studying under private tutors, he passed the bar examination and became a lawyer in 1917. In 1923, Tubman was elected to the Senate of Liberia, making him the youngest senator in history. In 1937, he was appointed associate justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia where he served until 1943. Tubman was elected President of Liberia in 1943 and in 1944 was invited to the White House as the guest of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the first African head of state to be invited. During Tubman’s tenure as president, Liberia experienced a period of prosperity. Between 1944 and 1970, the value of foreign investments increased two hundredfold. From 1950 to 1960, Liberia experienced an average annual growth of 11.5%. The William V. S. Tubman University in Harper is named in his honor.

• July 23, 2003 Roberto Clemente Walker was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President George W. Bush. Clemente was born August 18, 1934 in Carolina, Puerto Rico. He was drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1954 and played 18 seasons with the team. During his career, he was a 12-time All-Star, 12-time Golden Glove winner, led the league in batting average four times, and was the National League Most Valuable Player in 1966. Clemente was involved in charitable activities throughout Latin America. He died in an airplane crash December 31, 1972 while delivering aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. After his death, the Baseball Hall of Fame waived the rule requiring a five year waiting period after the end of a player’s career and he was posthumously inducted into the hall of fame in 1973, the first Hispanic player inducted. Also that year, Clemente was awarded the Presidential Citizens Medal. Major League Baseball annually presents the Roberto Clemente Award to the player that best exemplifies Clemente’s humanitarian work. Roberto Clemente High School in Chicago, Illinois is named in his honor. His biography, “Clemente: The Passion and Grace of Baseball’s Last Hero,” was published in 2006.

• July 23, 2009 Everette “E” Lynn Harris, author, died. Harris was born June 20, 1955 in Flint, Michigan but grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas. In 1977, he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in journalism from the University of Arkansas. His first book, “Invisible Life,” was self-published in 1991. After that, Harris authored ten consecutive books to make the New York Times Best Seller list, including “And This Too Shall Pass” (1997), “Money Can’t Buy Me Love” (2000), “A Love of My Own” (2003), and “Basketball Jones” (2009). “Mama Dearest” (2009) and “In My Father’s House” (2010) were released posthumously. His personal memoir, “What Becomes of the Brokenhearted,” was published in 2004.

• July 23, 2013 Emile Alphonse Griffith, hall of fame boxer, died. Griffith was born February 3, 1938 in Saint Thomas, U. S. Virgin Islands. He began boxing professionally in 1958 and in April, 1961 won the World Welterweight Boxing Championship, the first world champion from the Virgin Islands. He lost the title in September, 1961 but regained it in March, 1962 in a fight which resulted in the death of his opponent, Benny Paret. That fight and the subsequent publicity and criticism became the basis for the 2005 documentary, “Ring of Fire: The Emile Griffith Story.” In April, 1966 Griffith won the World Middleweight Boxing Championship which he held until April, 1967. Ring magazine named Griffith Fighter of the Year in 1964. After 18 years of boxing, Griffith retired with a record of 85 wins, 24 losses, and 2 draws. After retiring, Griffith trained a number of other boxers, including Wilfredo Benitez and Juan Laporte who won world championships. He was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. A park in the Virgin Islands is named in his honor.

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