· September 15, 1852 Jan Ernst Matzeliger, inventor, was born in Paramaribo, the Dutch Guyana (now Suriname). After working as a sailor, he settled in the United States at the age of 19. By 1877, Matzeliger had moved to Massachusetts and was working for a cobbler. On March 20, 1883, he received patent number 274,207 for his Automatic Method for Lasting Shoes. His machine could produce shoes ten times faster than working by hand and this cut the price of shoes considerably. Matzeliger subsequently received four additional patents. Matzelinger never saw the full profit of his inventions due to his early death on August 24, 1889. In 1991, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in recognition of his accomplishments and in 2006 he was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
· September 15, 1889 Claude McKay, writer and poet, was born in James Hill, Clarendon, Jamaica. McKay started writing poetry at the age of ten and published his first book of poems, “Songs of Jamaica,” in 1912. McKay emerged as one of the first and most militant voices of the Harlem Renaissance and was regarded as one of the major poets of the movement. A couple of his most famous poems were the militant “If We Must Die” (1919) and his self portrait “Outcast” (1922). In 1928, McKay published his most famous novel, “Home to Harlem,” which won the Harmon Gold Award for Literature. The tone for many of his works was race conscious and revolutionary. He was an advocate for full civil liberties and racial solidarity. McKay’s works heavily influenced a generation of black authors, including James Baldwin and Richard Wright. McKay died May 22, 1948. Biographies of McKay include “Claude McKay: Rebel Sojourner in the Harlem Renaissance” (1987) and “Claude McKay: A Black Poet’s Struggle for Identity” (1992).
· September 15, 1894 Hector Hyppolite, vodou priest and Haitian painter, was born in Saint-Marc, Haiti. Prior to fine art painting, Hyppolite made shoes and painted houses. In 1945, he moved to Port-au-Prince and began to seriously paint. In 1947, he exhibited at a UNESCO exhibition in Paris and was received enthusiastically. His work was realistic and religious and typically depicted vodou scenes. Hyppolite was a prolific painter and created more than 250 paintings in the three years prior to his death on June 9, 1948. In 2009, a major exhibition of his art was presented at the Art Museum of the Americas in Washington, D. C.
· September 15, 1898 The National Afro-American Council, the first nationwide civil rights organization in the United States, was founded in Rochester, New York. The council was the brainchild of New York journalist Timothy Thomas Fortune and was led for most of its existence by A. M. E. Zion Bishop Alexander Walters. Other officers of the organization included journalist Ida B. Wells and Federal Customs Official John C. Dancy. It was one of the first national organizations to welcome women members and treat them equally with men. The council was considered the nation’s premier organization of African Americans and met regularly with President William McKinley. The council was dissolved in 1907 due to internal friction and lack of funds. Many former members of the council helped form the core of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the National Urban League.
· September 15, 1905 James Edward O’Hara, lawyer and congressman, died. O’Hara was born February 26, 1844 in New York City. He studied law in North Carolina and at Howard University and served as a clerk for the 1868 North Carolina state convention that drafted a new state constitution. In 1871, he completed his law apprenticeship and passed the North Carolina bar exam. From 1872 to 1876, O’Hara served as chairman of the board of commissioners for Halifax, North Carolina and from 1883 to 1887 he served in the United States House of Representatives. During his time in Congress, O’Hara introduced one of the first bills to make lynching a federal crime. He also introduced a bill to prohibit gender-based salary discrimination in education. After being defeated for reelection, he resumed his private law practice.
· September 15, 1928 Julian Edwin “Cannonball” Adderley, jazz alto saxophonist and band leader, was born in Tampa, Florida. He and his brother, Nat, played with Ray Charles during the early 1940s. In 1955, Adderley moved to New York City and in 1957 he joined the Miles Davis Sextet and played on Davis’ recordings of “Milestones” (1958) and “Kind of Blue” (1959). The Cannonball Adderley Quintet/Sextet, which included Nat, recorded a number of albums, including “Autumn Leaves” (1963), “Money in the Pocket” (1966), “Accent on Africa” (1968), and “Lovers” (1975). In 1967, the group won the Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Jazz Performance, Small Group or Soloist With Small Group for their recording “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy! Live at the Club.” Adderley died August 8, 1975 and was posthumously inducted into the Downbeat Jazz Hall of Fame that same year.
· September 15, 1935 William Pinkney, the first African American to sail around the world solo, was born in Chicago, Illinois. After graduating from high school, Pinkney was trained as an x-ray technician and served in the United States Navy from 1956 to 1960 as a hospital corpsman second class. In 1977, he bought his first sailboat. On August 5, 1990, Pinkney sailed from Boston Harbor on a 47-foot cutter named The Commitment. He sailed around the five southern capes and covered 27,000 miles and returned to Boston Harbor on June 9, 1992, the fourth American and the first African American to sail around the world solo. In 1999, Pinkney set out to replicate the “middle passage,” the sailing route taken by slave traders from West Africa to Cuba. This time he traveled for six months covering 12,000 miles. On this trip, he was able to communicate with students in several hundred schools via on-line computer service and satellite television. In 2000, Pinkney became the first captain of the Amistad, a recreation of the 19th century schooner La Amistad. He retired from that position in 2003.
· September 15, 1945 Jessye Mae Norman, opera singer, was born in Augusta, Georgia. At the age of nine, Norman 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. In 1966, Norman won the National Society of Arts and Letters singing competition. In 1967, she earned her Bachelor of Music degree cum laude from Howard University and in 1968 earned her Master of Music degree from the University of Michigan. After graduation, Norman moved to Europe to establish herself. In 1969, she won the ARD International Music Competition in Munich, Germany 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. In January, 1985, she sang at the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan. She also performed in 1997 at the second inauguration of President William Clinton. After more than thirty years on stage, Norman no longer performs ensemble opera, concentrating on recitals and concerts. She is also on the Board of Directors of a number of organizations including Carnegie Hall, Dance Theater of Harlem, the Elton John AIDS Foundation and the LUPUS Foundation. Norman has won four Grammy Awards, including the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2006 and has received honorary doctorate degrees from thirty colleges, universities, and conservatories. In 2009, Norman was awarded the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President Barack Obama. The Jessye Norman School of the Arts in Atlanta, Georgia and The Jessye Norman Amphitheater in Augusta, Georgia are named in her honor.
· September 15, 1963 The 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama was bombed by members of the United Klan of America. Addie Mae Collins (14), Denise McNair (11), Carole Robertson (14), and Cynthia Wesley (14) were killed in the blast and 22 other people were injured. Outrage at the bombing resulted in violence across Birmingham resulting in the death of two more African American youths, Johnny Robinson (16) and Virgil Wade (13). Robert Edward Chambliss was convicted in 1978 of the four murders and sentenced to several terms of life imprisonment. He died in prison in 1985. Bobby Frank Cherry and Thomas Edwin Blanton, Jr. were convicted in 2002 and sentenced to life in prison. Cherry died in prison in 2004 and Blanton remains incarcerated. Herman Frank Cash, a primary suspect, died in 1994 without being charged. Another suspect, Troy Ingram, failed two polygraph examinations, but was never charged. He died in 1973. Many poems, songs, and books have been written in memory of the bombing, including the song “Mississippi Goddam” by Nina Simone and the poems “The Ballad of Birmingham” by Dudley Randall and “Birmingham Sunday” by Langston Hughes. A 1997 documentary about the bombing, “4 Little Girls,” directed by Spike Lee was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary.
· September 15, 1964 The Rev. K.L. Buford and Dr. Stanley Hugh Smith became the first black elected officials in Alabama since Reconstruction when they won seats on the Tuskegee City Council. Buford, a civil rights leader and Smith, a sociology professor at Tuskegee Institute defeated white incumbents in a run-off election.