Today in Black History, 9/20/2013 - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 9/20/2013

• September 20, 1758 Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the first ruler of independent Haiti, was born enslaved in Saint-Domingue, Haiti. Dessalines worked in the sugar cane fields as a laborer until he was 30 years old when he was bought by a free Black man. He worked for the Black man for three years until the slave uprisings of 1791. Dessalines joined the rebellion and quickly rose to the rank of lieutenant. He then joined the forces of Toussaint Louverture and by 1799 was serving as brigadier general. After the capture of Louverture, Dessalines became the leader of the revolution. He defeated the French troops at the Battle of Vertieres in 1803 and declared Haiti an independent nation January 1, 1804 with himself as Governor-General for life. Dessalines declared Haiti an all-Black nation and forbade White people from owning land or property. Dessalines was assassinated October 17, 1806. Today, he is considered one of the founding fathers of Haiti and a monument at the northern entrance to Port-au-Prince marks the place where he was killed. Also, the national anthem of Haiti, “La Dessalinienne,” is named in his honor, as is the city of Dessalines.

• September 20, 1835 Richard Potter, the first successful Black magician in the United States, died. Potter was born July 19, 1783 in Boston, Massachusetts. He was the son of an English baronet and an African American serving woman. As a result, he was educated in Europe and traveled widely before becoming an entertainer. Potter was known for his skills in ventriloquism, hypnosis, and magic and performed throughout New England and Canada. He became a wealthy man and in 1813 bought a 175 acre farm in Andover, New Hampshire in a village now known as Potter Place.

• September 20, 1885 Jelly Roll Morton, hall of fame ragtime and jazz pianist, bandleader and composer, was born Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe in New Orleans, Lousiana. The date of his birth is not confirmed because no birth certificate has ever been found but it is generally believed to be this date. At the age of 14, Morton began playing piano in a brothel and around 1904 was wandering the south, working with minstrel shows and composing. By 1914, Morton started writing down his compositions and his “Jelly Roll Blues” (1915) was the first jazz composition ever published. Other compositions by Morton include “Black Bottom Stomp” (1925) and “Wolverine Blues” (1927). In 1926, Morton got a contract to record for Victor Records and these recordings by Jelly Roll Morton & His Red Hot Peppers are regarded as classics of 1920s jazz. In 1938, Morton recorded music and interviews for the Library of Congress which was released in 2005 as “The Complete Library of Congress Recordings”. The collection won Grammy Awards for Best Historical Album and Best Album Notes. Morton died July 10, 1941. In 1963, he was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame. In 1998, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in 2005 was honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Two Broadway shows have featured his music, “Jelly Roll” and “Jelly’s Last Jam”. Several biographies have been written about Morton, including “Mister Jelly Roll” (1950) and “Jelly’s Blues: The Life, Music, and Redemption of Jelly Roll Morton” (2003).

• September 20, 1915 Hughie Lee-Smith, artist and educator, was born in Eustis, Florida but grew up in Atlanta, Georgia and Cleveland, Ohio. Lee-Smith attended classes at the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Cleveland Institute of Art. In 1934, he won a National Scholastic Art Competition Scholarship for one year of study at the Detroit Society of Arts & Crafts (now Center for Creative Studies, College of Art & Design). He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Wayne State University in 1953 and began to teach art. In 1958, Lee-Smith moved to New York City where he taught at the Art Students League from 1958 to 1973. In 1963, Lee-Smith was elected an associate member of the National Academy of Design, the second African American to be elected to the academy. In 1967, he was made a full member. In 1994, Lee-Smith was commissioned to paint the official portrait of Mayor David Dinkins for the New York City Hall. Most of Lee-Smith’s works are surreal in mood, often featuring distant figures seen under vast skies in desolate urban settings. Lee-Smith died February 23, 1999. His works are in the collections of a number of major museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Museum of American Art, and the Detroit Institute of Art.

• September 20, 1918 Charles Howard Wright, physician, author and museum founder, was born in Dothan, Alabama. Wright earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Alabama State College in 1939 and his Doctor of Medicine degree from Meharry Medical College in 1943. Wright served two residencies in pathology prior to practicing general medicine in Detroit, Michigan from 1946 to 1950. He completed his residency in obstetrics and gynecology in 1953 and was certified as a general surgeon and OB/GYN specialist in 1955. Wright served as a physician at Hutzel Hospital from 1955 to his retirement in 1986 and during that time delivered more than 7,000 babies. He also served as assistant clinical professor of OB/GYN at Wayne State University Medical College from 1969 to 1983. In 1960, Wright led the African Medical Education Fund to raise funds to train African medical students in America. He also served as a physician during the civil rights marches of the mid-1960s. In 1965, he founded an African American museum which is now named the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in his honor. The Charles H. Wright Academy in Detroit is also named in his honor. Wright was the author of “Robeson: Labour’s Forgotten Champion” (1975) and “Medical Association Demand Equal Opportunity” (1995). Wright died March 7, 2002.

• September 20, 1921 Foreststorn “Chico” Hamilton, jazz drummer and band leader, was born in Los Angeles, California. Hamilton began playing drums early with jazz greats such as Charles Mingus, Illinois Jacquet, and Dexter Gordon. After six years playing with Lena Horne, he established his own band in 1955 and recorded his debut album, “Chico Hamilton Trio”. Other albums by Hamilton include “Drumfusion” (1962), “Reunion” (1991), “Thoughts Of…” (2002), and “Revelation” (2011). In 1965, Hamilton formed a commercial and film production company which has scored music for a number of feature films, television shows, and hundreds of commercials for television and radio. In 2004, he was designated a NEA Jazz Master, the highest honor the nation bestows on a jazz artist, by the National Endowment for the Arts. Hamilton continues to perform and record.

• September 20, 1927 Edward Stanley Temple, hall of fame track and field coach, was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Temple earned his Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts degrees in health and physical education with a minor in sociology from Tennessee State University (TSU). He began coaching the TSU women’s track and field team in 1953 and over the next 40 years led them to 34 national titles. Eight of his athletes have been inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame, including Wilma Rudolph, Wyomia Tyus, and Chandra Cheeseborough. Temple also served as the head coach of the United States Olympic women’s track and field team in 1960 and 1964. Temple retired in 1993 and that same year TSU inaugurated the annual Edward S. Temple Seminars on Sports and Society. Temple was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame in 1989 and the U. S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 2012. He received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from TSU in 2009. Temple published “Only the Pure in Heart Survive” in 1980.

• September 20, 1958 Ursula M. Burns, the first African American female Chief Executive Officer of a S&P 100 company, was born in a city housing project in New York City. Burns earned her Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from Polytechnic Institute of New York University in 1980 and her Master of Science degree in mechanical engineering from Columbia University in 1981. She initially worked for the Xerox Corporation as a summer intern and joined the company as a permanent employee after receiving her master’s degree. She steadily rose through the ranks, eventually becoming vice president for global manufacturing in 1999. In 2007, Burns was named president and in 2009 was named Chief Executive Officer of the company. She became chairman of the company May 20, 2010. Burns serves on numerous corporate, professional, and community boards, including American Express, Exxon Mobil, and FIRST. She also serves as vice president of the President’s Export Council. She received an honorary doctorate degree from Xavier University in 2012.

• September 20, 1973 Benjamin Francis Webster, hall of fame jazz tenor saxophonist, died. Webster was born March 27, 1909 in Kansas City, Missouri. He learned to play piano and violin at an early age and later learned to play the saxophone. Webster played in a number of orchestras during the 1930s, including Benny Moten’s, Fletcher Henderson’s, Cab Calloway’s, and Teddy Wilson’s. By 1940, he had become the first major tenor soloist of the Duke Ellington Orchestra, a position he held until 1943. In 1964, Webster moved to Copenhagen, Denmark where he died. The Ben Webster Foundation was founded in 1976 “to support the dissemination of jazz in Denmark”. Webster was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1974.

• September 20, 1984 “The Cosby Show” television comedy starring Bill Cosby premiered on the NBC network. The show focused on the Huxtable family, an upper-middle class African American family living in Brooklyn, New York. The show ran for eight seasons with 197 episodes until April 30, 1992. It was the third longest running comedy with a predominantly African American cast, after “The Jeffersons” and “Family Matters”. It was also one of only three television programs that have been number one in the Nielson ratings for five consecutive seasons. The show won Emmy Awards in 1984 for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series and in 1985 for Outstanding Comedy Series.

• September 20, 1994 Abioseh Davidson Nicol, academic, diplomat and writer, died. Nicol was born September 14, 1924 in Freetown, Sierra Leone. He graduated from Christ’s College, Cambridge University in 1946 and earned his Ph. D. in 1958. From 1960 to 1966, Nicol was the first native principal of Fourah Bay College in Freetown. He served as chairman and vice chancellor at the University of Sierra Leone from 1966 to 1969. Nicol left academia in 1969 to become Permanent Representative of Sierra Leone to the United Nations where he served until 1971. From 1972 to 1982, he served as Under-Secretary General of the United Nations. Nicol returned to academia and served as a visiting professor of international studies at the University of California from 1987 to 1988 and University of South Carolina from 1990 to his retirement in 1991. Nicol was a published author of short stories, poetry, music, academic literature, and a biography of Africanus Horton, an early Sierra Leonean author and one of the founders of African Nationalism. His last published work was “Creative Women” in 1982.

Today in Black History, 9/19/2013
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