Today in Black History, 2/25/2015 - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 2/25/2015

• February 25, 1870 Hiram Rhodes Revels became the first African American to serve in the United States Senate. Prior to that, Revels was a Mississippi State Senator and the state legislature elected U. S. senators. Revels was elected to finish the term of one of the state’s seats left vacant since the Civil War. He served until resigning March 3, 1871, two months before the end of his term, to become the first president of Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Alcorn State University). Revels was born September 27, 1827 in Fayetteville, North Carolina. He was ordained an African Methodist Episcopal minister in 1845 and was given a pastorship in Natchez, Mississippi in 1846. He was elected an alderman in Natchez in 1868 and elected to the Mississippi State Senate in 1869. He served as president of Alcorn until his retirement in 1882. Revels died January 16, 1901.

• February 25, 1890 Jan Earnst Matzeliger of Lynn, Massachusetts posthumously received patent number 421,954 for his nailing machine. His machine improved the process of receiving tacks and nails in bulk and separating and discharging them one at a time. Matzeliger was born September 15, 1852 in Paramaribo, Dutch Guyana (now Suriname). After working as a sailor, he settled in the United States at 19. By 1877, he had moved to Lynn, Massachusetts and was working for a cobbler. After five years of work, he received patent number 274,207 March 20, 1883 for his automatic method for lasting shoes. His machine could produce shoes ten times faster than working by hand and resulted in a more than 50% reduction in the cost of shoes. Matzeliger never saw the profits of his invention due to his death August 24, 1889. He also posthumously received patent numbers 415,726 for a mechanism for distributing tacks and nails November 26, 1889, 423,937 for a tack separating and distributing mechanism March 25, 1890, and 459,899 for a lasting machine September 22, 1891. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 1991 and he was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2006. “Shoes for Everyone: A Story about Jan Matzeliger” was published in 1986.

• February 25, 1894 William Leo Hansberry, scholar and educator, was born in Gloster, Mississippi. Hansberry earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1921 and Master of Arts degree in anthropology in 1932 from Harvard University. He was unable to earn a Ph. D. because his knowledge of African civilizations and cultures was so great that there were no schools with faculty members qualified to supervise his dissertation. Hansberry joined Howard University in 1922 and taught there for 42 years. He started the African civilization section of the history department and his students included Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana, and Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first president of Nigeria. By the mid-1930s, he was internationally recognized as an outstanding scholar in his field. Hansberry died November 3, 1965. His research was posthumously edited and published in “Pillars in Ethiopian History’ (1974) and “African and Africans as Seen by Classical Writers” (1977). Howard named a lecture hall in his honor in 1972.

• February 25, 1894 Ambrose Caliver, educator and adviser to presidents, was born in Saltsville, Virginia. Caliver earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Knoxville, College in 1915, his Master of Arts degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1920, and his Ph. D. from Columbia University’s Teachers College in 1930. Caliver was hired by Fisk University in 1917 to implement its vocational education program and he rose through various positions to become dean in 1927. He was appointed senior specialist in the education of Negroes in the United States Office of Education by President Herbert C. Hoover in 1930. He remained in that position under President Franklin D. Roosevelt and became a member of the president’s Black cabinet. In that position, Caliver attempted to raise national awareness of the disparities in education between Black and White people. His office also created “Freedom Peoples,” a nine-part radio series that showcased African American history and achievements. In 1946, Caliver was named director of the Project for Literacy Education where he helped create materials for adult literacy education and trained adult literacy teachers. He also served as an adviser to the U. S. Displaced Persons Commission in 1949 and the United Nations Special Committee on Non-Self Governing Territories in 1950. Caliver died January 29, 1962.

• February 25, 1895 George Samuel Schuyler, journalist, author and social commentator, was born in Providence, Rhode Island but raised in Syracuse, New York. Schuyler enlisted in the United States Army at 17 and was promoted to first lieutenant. He went Absent Without Leave after a Greek immigrant refused to shine his shoes because of his race. After turning himself in, he was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. He was released after nine months as a model prisoner. Schuyler began to work at the Pittsburgh Courier in 1924 and became the chief editorial writer in 1926. He published his first novel, “Black No More: Being an Account of the Strange and Wonderful Workings of Science in the Land of the Free,” in 1931. From 1937 to 1944, Schuyler served as business manager for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. In the mid-1940s, Schuyler moved to the political right and published “The Communist Conspiracy Against the Negroes” in 1947. He was dismissed by the Courier in 1966. Schuyler died August 31, 1977. His autobiography, “Black and Conservative: The Autobiography of George S. Schuyler,” was published in 1966.

• February 25, 1919 Monford Merrill “Monte” Irvin, hall of fame Negro league baseball player, was born in Haleburg, Alabama. Irvin began playing baseball professionally in the Negro league where he starred until 1949 when he was signed by the New York Giants of the major leagues. Despite being interrupted by serving in the military from 1943 to 1945, Irvin was a five-time Negro league All-Star. In his eight season major league career, Irvin was a one-time All-Star and led the National League in Runs Batted In in 1951. After retiring, Irvin worked as a scout for the New York Mets for two years and served as a public relations specialist in the baseball commissioner’s office from 1968 to 1984. Irvin was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1973 and continues to campaign for recognition of deserving Negro league veterans. The San Francisco Giants retired Irvin’s uniform number 20 in 2010. Irvin is the oldest living African American that played in the major leagues.

• February 25, 1928 Aloyisus Leon Higginbotham, Jr., civil rights advocate, author and federal judge, was born in Ewing, New Jersey. Higginbotham earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Antioch College in 1949 and his law degree from Yale University in 1952. From 1954 to 1962, he worked in private practice as a member of the first African American law firm in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. President John F. Kennedy appointed Higginbotham a commissioner on the Federal Trade Commission September 26, 1962, the first African American commissioner on any regulatory commission. He was appointed a district court judge by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964 and served 13 years before being elevated to the United States Court of Appeals by President Jimmy Carter. He was Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals from 1990 to 1991 before retiring from the bench in 1993. Higginbotham founded the South Africa Free Election Fund and raised several million dollars to support fair elections in South Africa and served as one of the international mediators of the 1994 election. After the election, he helped the government draft a new constitution. Higginbotham received the first Spirit of Raoul Wallenberg Humanitarian Award from the American Swedish Historical Museum in 1994 for “his advocacy on behalf of America’s children within the legal profession and his human rights efforts in South Africa.” President William J. Clinton presented Higginbotham the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, September 29, 1995 and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People awarded him the 1996 Spingarn Medal. Higginbotham died December 14, 1998. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law annually present the A. Leon Higginbotham Corporate Leadership Award. Higginbotham authored “In the Matter of Color: Race and the American Legal Process 1: The Colonial Period” in 1978 and “Shades of Freedom: Racial Politics and Presumptions of the American Legal Process” in 1996.

• February 25, 1930 Archibald Henry Grimke, lawyer, journalist, diplomat and community leader, died. Grimke was born enslaved August 17, 1849 in Charleston, South Carolina. He and his family were freed by their owner at his death. Grimke went on to earn his Bachelor of Arts degree, with honors, and his Master of Arts degree from Lincoln University in 1870 and 1872, respectively. He earned his Bachelor of Laws degree from Harvard University in 1874 and did graduate work at Princeton Theological Seminary before becoming an ordained Presbyterian minister. Grimke served as the American Consul to the Dominican Republic from 1894 to 1898. He served as president of the American Negro Academy from 1903 to 1916 and was a co-founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1909. Throughout this period, Grimke published articles and pamphlets concerning Black life and history. In 1916, he testified against segregation before the House Committee on Reform in the Civil Service. In 1919, he was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal. His biography, “Archibald Grimke: portrait of a black independent,” was published in 1993.

• February 25, 1947 Lee Edward Evans, hall of fame track and field athlete, was born in Madera, California. Evans ran the 440 yard race in high school and was undefeated during his career. He attended San Jose State University where he was the Amateur Athletic Union 400 meter champion four years in a row from 1966 to 1969. He won Gold medals at the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games in the 400 meter race and as a member of the 4 by 400 meter relay team. He set a world record in the 400 meter race that stood for 20 years. After retiring from racing, Evans coached the national athletic programs of six different African countries before becoming the head cross country/track and field coach at the University of South Alabama in 2000. He left that position in 2008 to work for the United Nations in West Africa. There, he trains officials and gets venues ready for sports competitions. Evans was inducted into the USA Track & Field Hall of Fame and received the Nelson Mandela Award for Humanitarianism in 1983. He received the National Collegiate Athletic Association Silver Anniversary Award in 1993 for his work in Africa and Asia. “The Last Protest: Lee Evans in Mexico City” was published in 2006 and chronicles Evans’ career as well as his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement.

• February 25, 1951 Joseph “Cyclone Joe” Williams, hall of fame Negro league baseball pitcher, died. Williams was born April 6, 1886 in Seguin, Texas. He began playing baseball professionally in 1905. Although records are sketchy, Williams was credited with 41 wins and 3 losses in 1914. He also pitched many games against major league stars in post-season barnstorming exhibitions and is credited with posting a record of 20 wins and 7 losses in those games. Williams retired in 1932 and although most modern sources consider Satchel Paige to be the greatest Negro league pitcher, a 1952 poll by the Pittsburgh Courier gave that title to Williams. Williams was posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001.

• February 25, 1967 Carl J. Murphy, journalist, civil rights leader and educator, died. Murphy was born January 17, 1889 in Baltimore, Maryland. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Howard University in 1911 and his Master of Arts degree from Harvard University in 1913. Murphy served as chairman of the German Department at Howard from 1913 to 1918. He assumed control of the Baltimore Afro-American newspaper in 1922 and over the next four decades solidified it as a major African American newspaper, increasing circulation from 14,000 to more than 200,000 with over 200 employees. Under his leadership, the newspaper was deeply involved in the organization of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Murphy was awarded the 1955 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal. Murphy died on the same day that the Maryland General Assembly repealed a state law banning interracial marriage, something that he had advocated for decades. The Fine Arts Center and the Carl J. Murphy Scholarship Fund at Morgan State University are named in his honor.

• February 25, 1968 Oumou Sangare, the “songbird of Wassoulou, was born in Bamako, Mali. Sangare was recognized as a gifted singer at five and was touring at 16. She recorded her first album, “Moussoulou,” in 1991 and it sold more than 200,000 copies in Africa. Other albums include “Oumou” (2004) and “Seya” (2009) which was nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Music Album. Sangare is considered an ambassador of Wassoulou, a historical region south of the Niger River. She is an advocate for women’s rights, opposing child marriages and polygamy. Sangare won the 2001 UNESCO Prize for her contribution to “the enrichment and the development of music as well as for the cause of peace” and was appointed goodwill ambassador for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 2003. Sangare won the 2011 Grammy Award for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals with Herbie Hancock for “Imagine.” Her most recent album, “Kounadia,” was released in 2012.

• February 25, 1976 David Nelson Crosthwait, Jr., mechanical and electrical engineer and hall of fame inventor, died. Crosthwait was born May 27, 1898 in Nashville, Tennessee but raised in Kansas City, Missouri. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1913 and Master of Engineering degree in 1920 from Purdue University. After graduating, he joined the C. A. Dunham Company where he conducted research in the fields of heat transfer and steam transport. As a result of his work, Crosthwait held 39 United States patents and 80 international patents. He designed the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems for the Rockefeller Center and Radio City Music Hall. After retiring in 1971, Crostwhwait taught a course on steam heating theory and control systems at Purdue. He became the first African American to be made a fellow of the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers in 1971 and received an honorary doctorate degree from Purdue in 1975. Crosthwait was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.

• February 25, 1978 Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr., the first African American to achieve the rank of general in the United States military, died. James was born February 11, 1920 in Pensacola, Florida. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Tuskegee Institute in 1942. During World War II, he trained pilots and during the Korean War flew 101 combat missions. James graduated from the Air Command and Staff College in 1957 and over the next ten years served in a number of assignments. During the Vietnam War, James flew 78 combat missions, including “Operation Bolo” in which seven Communist planes were destroyed, the highest total kill of any mission during the war. James was promoted to commander in chief, NORAD/ADCOM in 1975 and had operational command of all United States and Canadian strategic aerospace defense forces. During his career, James received the Distinguished Service Medal, Legion of Merit, and the Distinguished Flying Cross. James retired from the Air Force three weeks prior to his death. Several biographies have been published about James, including “Black Eagle, General Daniel “Chappie” James, Jr.” (1985) and “Chappie: America’s First Four-Star General: The Life and Times of Daniel James, Jr.” (1992). James’ name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

• February 25, 1980 Robert Hayden, the first African American Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress, died. Hayden was born Asa Bundy Sheffey August 4, 1913 in Detroit, Michigan, He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish from Detroit City College (now Wayne State University) in 1936 and his Master of Arts degree from the University of Michigan in 1944. Hayden published his first book of poetry, “Heart-Shape in the Dust,” in 1940. Other books of poetry include “A Ballad of Remembrance” (1962), which won the grand prize for poetry at the First World Festival of Negro Arts in Senegal in 1966, “Words in the Mourning Time” (1970), and “Angle of Ascent: New and Selected Poems” (1975). His work often addressed the plight of African Americans and sometimes was political, including a series of poems on the Vietnam War. He was appointed Consultant in Poetry (later renamed Poet Laureate) to the Library of Congress in 1976. Hayden taught at Michigan from 1944 to 1946, Fisk University from 1946 to 1969, and returned to Michigan from 1969 to his death. Hayden received honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees from Brown University in 1976 and Fisk University in 1978. His biography, “From the Auroral Darkness: The Life and Poetry of Robert Hayden,” was published in 1984. The United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor in 2012.

• February 25, 1987 Edgar Daniel “E. D.” Nixon, civil rights activist, died. Nixon was born July 12, 1899 in rural Lowndes County, Alabama but raised in Montgomery, Alabama. He only received 16 months of formal education. In the early 1920s, Nixon began working as a Pullman car porter and joined the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1928. He went on to organize a chapter of the union and served as president for many years while working for the company until 1964. Nixon joined the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and organized 750 African Americans to march on the Montgomery County Court House in 1940 to attempt to register to vote. He became president of the Montgomery NAACP chapter in 1945 and president of the state organization in 1947. He became the first Black person to run for a seat on the County Democratic Executive Committee in 1954. In the early 1950s, Nixon and others decided to mount a court challenge to the discriminatory seating practices on Montgomery’s city buses. When Rosa Parks was arrested December 1, 1955 for refusing to give up her seat on the bus for a White passenger, Nixon led support for the organization of the Montgomery Improvement Association and a bus boycott. The boycott lasted 381 days and nearly bankrupted the bus system. On February 1, 1956, a bomb was exploded in front of Nixon’s house. On December 17, 1956, the United States Supreme Court in Browder v. Gayle upheld a lower court decision that the city and state’s laws on bus segregation were unconstitutional. After retiring from the railroad, Nixon worked as the recreation director of a public housing project and continued to work for improved housing and education for African Americans in Montgomery. Nixon received the NAACP Walter White Award in 1985 and his house in Montgomery was placed on the Alabama Register of Landmarks and Heritage in 1986, in recognition of his leadership in the state.

• February 25, 1994 Jersey Joe Walcott, hall of fame boxer, died. Walcott was born Arnold Raymond Cream January 31, 1914 in Merchantville, New Jersey. He made his professional boxing debut in 1930 and won the World Heavyweight Boxing Championship in 1951. At the time, he was the oldest man to win the heavyweight championship. Over his 23 year professional career, he had a record of 51 wins, 18 losses, and 2 draws. After retiring, Walcott worked as a boxing referee and became Sheriff of Camden County in 1972. He served as chairman of the New Jersey State Athletic Commission from 1975 to 1984. Walcott was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.

• February 25, 1997 Mabel Fairbanks became the first African American to be inducted into the United States Figure Skating Hall of Fame. Fairbanks was born November 14, 1916 in New York City. She fell in love with figure skating in the 1930s. Despite her ability, she was not allowed to join skating clubs because of her race. She was often told, “we don’t have Negroes in ice shows.” She eventually left the United States and joined the Rhapsody on Ice Show where she wowed international audiences. When she returned to the U. S., Fairbanks found that the situation had not changed. After retiring from skating, Fairbanks started a skating club and coached many future champions, including Scott Hamilton, Tai Babilonia, Randy Gardner, Kristi Yamaguchi, and Tiffany Chin. Fairbanks died September 29, 2001. She was posthumously inducted into the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2001.

• February 25, 2002 James Leroy Usry, the first African American Mayor of Atlantic City, New Jersey, died. Usry was born February 2, 1922 in Athens, Georgia. He served in the United States Army as a military policeman during World War II. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Lincoln University in 1946 and played basketball with the New York Rens from 1946 to 1951. He began teaching in the Atlantic City public school system in 1952, rising to assistant superintendent from 1977 to 1984. Usry earned his Master of Arts degree from Glassboro State College (now Rowan University) in 1971. He was elected mayor March 13, 1984 and held the position until 1990. He was appointed to a two-year term on the National Advisory Council on Educational Research and Improvement by President Ronald W. Reagan in 1987. After leaving office, Usry served as a trustee at Lincoln University. An Atlantic City Historical Marker was unveiled in his honor in 2009. The James L. Usry Child Day Care Center in Atlantic City is also named in his honor.

• February 25, 2010 Annette Gordon-Reed received the National Humanities Medal, the nation’s highest honor in the arts and humanities for work that has “deepened the nation’s understanding of the humanities, broadened our citizen’s engagement with the humanities, or helped preserve and expand American’s access to important resources in the humanities,” from President Barack H. Obama. Gordon-Reed was born November 19, 1958 in segregated east Texas. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Dartmouth College in 1981 and Juris Doctor degree from Harvard Law School in 1984. She spent her early career as counsel to the New York City Board of Corrections. From 1992 to 2010, she was a professor at New York Law School. Gordon-Reed published her first book, “Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings: An American Controversy,” in 1997. That book established that Jefferson and Hemings had some type of intimate relationship. Her book “The Hemings of Monticello: An American Family” (2008) won the 2008 National Book Award for Nonfiction and was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for History April 20, 2009. Gordon-Reed was presented the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation “Genius” Award in 2010. She is currently professor of law and history at Harvard and the Carol K Pforzheimer Professor at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. Her most recent publication is “Andrew Johnson: The American Presidents Series-The 17th President, 1865-1869” (2011).

• February 25, 2010 David Levering Lewis received the National Humanities Medal, the nation’s highest honor in the arts and humanities for work that has “deepened the nation’s understanding of the humanities, broadened our citizen’s engagement with the humanities, or helped preserve and expand American’s access to important resources in the humanities,” from President Barack H. Obama. Lewis was born May 25, 1936 in Little Rock, Arkansas. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in history and philosophy, phi beta kappa, from Fisk University in 1956, his Master of Arts degree in history from Columbia University in 1959, and his Ph. D. in modern European and French history from the London School of Economics in 1962. Between 1970 and 1980, he taught at several universities. From 1985 to 2003, he was the Martin Luther King, Jr. Professor of History at Rutgers University. Lewis published “W. E. B. Du Bois: Biography of a Race, 1868-1919” (1994) which won the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Biography and published “W. E. B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century, 1919-1963” (2001) which won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Biography. This made him the first author to win two Pulitzer Prizes for Biography for back to back volumes. Other books by Lewis include “King: A Critical Biography” (1970) and “God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215” (2008). Lewis has been the Julius Silver University Professor and Professor of History at New York University since 2003.


• February 25, 2010 Jessye Mae Norman was awarded the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President Barack H. Obama. Norman was born September 15, 1945 in Augusta, Georgia. At nine, she heard opera for the first time and was immediately an opera fan. She credits Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price as inspiring figures in her career. Norman won the 1966 National Society of Arts and Letters singing competition. She earned her Bachelor of Music degree, cum laude, from Howard University in 1967 and her Master of Music degree from the University of Michigan in 1968. After graduation, Norman moved to Europe to establish herself. She won the ARD International music competition in Munich, Germany in 1969 and landed a three year contract with the Deutsche Opera Berlin. Norman made her United States opera debut in 1982 with the Opera Company of Philadelphia and by the mid-1980s was one of the most popular and highly regarded dramatic soprano singers in the world. She sang at the 1985 inauguration of President Ronald W. Reagan. She also performed at the second inauguration of President William J. Clinton in 1997. After more than 30 years on stage, Norman no longer performs ensemble opera, concentrating on recitals and concerts. She is on the boards of a number of organizations, including Carnegie Hall and the Dance Theater of Harlem. Norman has won four Grammy Awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006 and has received honorary doctorate degrees from more than 30 colleges, universities, and conservatories. She received Kennedy Center Honors in 1997 and the 2013 National Association for the Advancement of Colored People Spingarn Medal. The Jessye Norman School of the Arts in Atlanta, Georgia and The Jessye Norman Amphitheater in Augusta are named in her honor. Norman published her autobiography, “Stand Up Straight and Sing,” in 2014.

Today in Black History, 2/24/2015
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