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Today in Black History, 7/26/2013

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• July 26, 1916 Spottswood William Robinson III, educator, civil rights attorney and judge, was born in Richmond, Virginia. Robinson earned his bachelor’s degree from Virginia Union University in 1936 and his Bachelor of Laws degree from Howard University in 1939, graduating first in his class and achieving the highest scholastic average in the history of the university. From 1939 to 1947, Robinson was on the faculty of Howard’s School of Law and from 1948 to 1960 worked with the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. In 1951, Robinson litigated the lawsuit Davis v. County School Board of Prince Edward County which was one of the cases consolidated and decided under Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. From 1960 to 1964, Robinson was dean of Howard’s School of Law. In 1964, he became the first African American appointed to the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. In 1966, he became the first African American appointed to the U. S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and in 1981 he became the first African American to serve as chief judge of the District of Columbia Circuit Court. He took senior status in 1989. Robinson died October 11, 1998.

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Today in Black History, 7/25/2013

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• July 25, 1824 George Boyer Vashon, the first African American graduate of Oberlin College, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At an early age, Vashon displayed an aptitude for languages, speaking Sanskrit, Hebrew, and Persian, and being well versed in Greek and Latin. In 1844, Vashon earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Oberlin and was valedictorian of his class. In his speech titled “Liberty of Mind” he stated, “genius, talent, and learning are not withheld by our common Father from people of color”. In 1846, Vashon applied for admission to the Allegheny County bar but his application was rejected because of his race. He therefore moved to New York State and successfully completed their bar examination in 1848, becoming the first Black lawyer in New York. In 1849, Vashon moved to Port-au-Prince, Haiti where he served as a professor of Latin, Greek, and English. In 1851, he returned to the United States and joined the faculty of the predominately White New York Central College. While there, he wrote “Vincent Oge” (1854), an epic poem on the Haitian insurrection. In 1863, Vashon became the second Black president of Avery College. He later became a professor of mathematics and ancient and modern languages at Alcorn College where he served until his death October 5, 1878.

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Today in Black History, 7/24/2013

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• July 24, 1802 Alexander Dumas, playwright and novelist, was born Dumas Davy de la Pailleterie in Picardy, France. Dumas’ paternal grandfather was from the colony now known as Haiti and his grandmother was an Afro-Caribbean Creole. In 1822, Dumas moved to Paris, France and began writing plays for the theater. His first two plays, “Henry III and His Court” (1829) and “Christine” (1830), were successful and brought him much acclaim. After writing more successful plays, Dumas turned to historical novels, including “The Three Musketeers” (1844), “Twenty Years After” (1845), and “The Count of Monte Cristo” (1846). Despite his success and aristocratic connections, his being of mixed-race affected him all his life. In response to a man who insulted him about his mixed-race background, Dumas stated, “My father was a mulatto, my grandfather was a Negro, and my great-grandfather a monkey. You see, Sir, my family starts where yours ends.” Also in 1843, he wrote the novel “Georges” that addressed some of the issues of race and colonialism. Dumas died December 5, 1870. His stories have been translated into almost 100 languages and have inspired more than 200 motion pictures. A Paris Metro station was named in his honor in 1970. Biographies of Dumas include “The Incredible Marquis: Alexandre Dumas” (1929) and “Alexandre Dumas: A Biography and Study” (1929).

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Today in Black History, 7/23/2013

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• 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 students 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 NAACP national board of directors and in 1940 was the recipient of the organization’s Spingarn Medal.

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Today in Black History, 7/22/2013

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• July 22, 1827 James Varick, founder and the first Bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, died. Varick was born January 10, 1750 near Newburgh, New York. He acquired an elementary education and for many years worked as a shoemaker and tobacco cutter. In 1800, after leaving the predominantly White church he had been associated with for 30 years over their racial policies, Varick and other Black members established the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church. Varick was ordained a deacon in 1806 and in 1822 was elected the first bishop. He was re-elected in 1824. Varick was a fierce opponent of slavery and fought for equal rights for African Americans. He was one of the Black leaders that petitioned the New York State Constitutional Convention to grant Black people the right to vote. He also actively supported the establishment of Freedoms Journal, the first Black newspaper in the United States. The James Varick Community Center was established in New York City in 1973.

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Today in Black History, 7/21/2013

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• July 21, 1818 Charles Lewis Reason, mathematician, educator and civil rights activist, was born in New York City. A mathematics child prodigy, Reason began teaching the subject at fourteen at the African Free School. He later studied at McGrawville College. In 1847, Reason co-founded the Society for the Promotion of Education among Colored Children, an organization authorized by the state legislature to oversee Black schools in New York City. In 1849, he was appointed professor of fine writing, Greek, Latin, and French and adjunct professor of mathematics at New York Central College, the first African American professor at a predominantly White college. Reason left that position in 1852 to become principal of the Quaker Institute for Colored Youth (later Cheyney University), a post he held until 1855. That year, he returned to New York City where he served as a teacher and administrator in the public school system until his retirement in 1892. Reason was committed to the antislavery cause and worked for improvements in Black civil rights. He founded the New York Political Improvement Association which won the right to a jury trial for previously enslaved fugitives in the state. He also headed the successful 1873 effort to outlaw segregation in New York schools. Reason died August 16, 1893.

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Today in Black History, 7/20/2013

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• July 20, 1925 Frantz Fanon, psychiatrist, revolutionary and writer, was born on the Caribbean island of Martinique. Fanon served in the French army during World War II. His experiences on Martinique and his service in the army fueled his first book, “Black Skin, White Mask” (1952), which analyzed the effects of colonial subjugation on humanity. In 1961, he wrote “The Wretched of the Earth” which discussed the effects on Algerians of torture by the French forces during the Algerian revolution. Fanon died December 6, 1961. Many of his shorter writings were posthumously published in the book “Toward the African Revolution”. Several biographies have been published on Fanon, including “Fanon” (1971) and “Frantz Fanon: A Life” (2001).

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Today in Black History, 7/19/2013

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• July 19, 1783 Richard Potter, the first successful Black magician in the United States, was born in Boston, Massachusetts. Potter 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. Potter died September 20, 1835.

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Today in Black History, 7/18/2013

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• July 18, 1753 Lemuel Haynes, the first African American to serve as a pastor of a white congregation, was born in West Hartford, Connecticut. At the age of five months, Haynes was given over to indentured servitude and remained until he was freed at 21. After being freed, Haynes joined the minutemen and served during the Revolutionary War. After the war, he began to write extensively, criticizing the slave trade and slavery as an institution. He wrote “liberty is equally as precious to a Black man, as it is to a White one, and bondage as equally as intolerable to the one as it is to the other.” By the early 1780s, Haynes had become a leading Calvinist minister and starting in 1783 ministered to Rutland’s West Parish in Vermont for 30 years. In 1804, Middlebury College granted Haynes an honorary Master of Arts degree, the first advanced degree bestowed upon an African American. Haynes died September 28, 1833. His home for the last 11 years of his life in South Granville, New York was declared a National Historic Landmark May 15, 1975. His biography, “Black Puritan, Black Republican: The Life and Thought of Lemuel Haynes, 1753 – 1833” was published in 2003.

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Today in Black History, 7/17/2013

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• July 17, 1794 The African Episcopal Church of St. Thomas, the first black church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and the first black Episcopal church in the United States, opened its doors. The church was founded in 1792 by Absalom Jones as the African Church of Philadelphia. It developed from the Free African Society, a non-denominational group formed by Jones and Richard Allen who left St. George Methodist Church because of discrimination. While the church has been located in several different building, it has operated continuously since its founding. The church was the first black church in the country to purchase a pipe organ and the first to hire a black woman as organist. A historical marker was erected at the original location in 1984 by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission. In 1966, the church dedicated the Absalom Jones chapel with a Festal Eucharist and enshrined his ashes in the altar.

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Today in Black History, 7/16/2013

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• July 16, 1862 Ida Bell Wells-Barnett, journalist and civil and women’s rights activist, was born enslaved in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Wells was freed at the end of the Civil War. She attended Rust College but was expelled for her rebellious behavior after confronting the president of the college. In 1889, Wells became co-owner and editor of Free Speech and Headlight, an anti-segregationist newspaper in Memphis, Tennessee. In 1891, a grocery store owned by three Black men was perceived to be taking away a substantial amount of business from a White owned grocery store across the street. The Black owned store was invaded by a mob resulting in three White men being shot and injured. The three Black owners, who were friends of Wells, were jailed and subsequently lynched. The murder of her friends sparked Wells’ interest in investigative journalism about lynching and becoming the leader of the anti-lynching crusade. In 1892, she published “Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in all Its Phases” and in 1895 published “A Red Record, 1892-1894” which documented lynchings since the Emancipation Proclamation. In 1893, Wells and other Black leaders organized a boycott of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago to protest lynchings in the South. Wells was also significantly involved in the founding of the National Association of Colored Women, the National Afro-American Council, which later became the NAACP, and the Women’s Era Club, which was renamed the Ida B. Wells Club. Wells spent the latter 30 years of her life working on urban reform in Chicago, Illinois. Wells died March 25, 1931. In 1990, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor. “Crusade for Justice: The Autobiography of Ida B. Wells” was published in 1970. Her life is also the subject of a musical drama, “Constant Star,” which debuted in 2006. The Ida B. Wells Housing Project in Chicago is named in her honor. Wells-Barnett’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

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Today in Black History, 7/15/2013

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• July 15, 1864 Maggie Lena Walker, hall of fame businesswoman, educator and the first black female bank president, was born in Richmond, Virginia. Walker attended the Colored Normal School to be trained as a teacher and received her diploma with honors in 1883. After graduation, she taught for three years. In 1899, Walker was elected Right Worthy Grand Secretary-Treasurer of the Independent Order of St. Luke, a Black social and civic organization. In 1902, Walker founded the order newspaper, St. Luke Herald and opened the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank with her as president July 31, 1903. By 1920, the bank had loaned money to purchase 600 homes. In 1930, the bank merged with two other Black owned banks in Richmond to become the Consolidated Bank and Trust Company with Walker as chairman of the board. The bank continues to operate today as the oldest continuously operating minority-owned bank in the country. As a result of her business acumen, the order became financially successful and by 1924 had 100,000 members, 1500 local chapters, and assets of almost $400,000. Walker served as the leader of the Independent Order of St. Luke and chairman of the bank until her death December 15, 1934. She was the founder and lifelong head of the Colored Women’s Council of Richmond which raised money for local projects and maintained a community house. She was the co-founder and vice president of the Richmond branch of the NAACP and served on the national board for ten years. She also served as a trustee of Hartshorn College and Virginia Union University. Her home in Richmond was designated a National Historic Landmark May 15, 1975 and was opened as a museum in 1985. The Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School for Government and International Studies in Richmond is named in her honor. In 2001, Walker was posthumously inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame. “Maggie L. Walker and the I. O. of St. Luke: The Woman and Her Work” was published in 1927.

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Today in Black History, 7/14/2013

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• July 14, 1848 Walter “Wiley” Jones, one of the first wealthy African Americans in the South, was born enslaved in Madison County, Georgia but raised in Jefferson County, Arkansas. When Jones’s owner enlisted in the Confederate Army in 1861, Jones became a camp servant. After the war, he moved to Pine Bluff, Arkansas and worked as a barber and waiter in a hotel. He saved his money and invested in real estate and opened several businesses, including a successful saloon and horse-racing park. In 1886, Jones became one of the first African Americans to receive a franchise to operate a mule-drawn streetcar system, the Wiley Jones Street Car Lines. Although he never ran for office, Jones was one of the most influential political citizens in Arkansas during the 1880s and 1890s. He was a delegate to several national Republican conventions and served as Circuit Clerk of Jefferson County from 1892 to 1894. Jones also supported the Colored Industrial Institute and donated land to the St. James Methodist Church. When Jones died December 7, 1904, he was the richest black person in the state with an estate valued at $300,000.

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Today in Black History, 7/13/2013

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• July 13, 1863 The New York Draft Riots started. Initially intended to express anger at the draft for the Civil War, the protests turned ugly and degraded into “a virtual racial pogrom, with uncounted numbers of Blacks murdered in the streets”. Numerous buildings were destroyed, including an orphanage for Black children. Many of the protesters were immigrants and viewed freed African Americans as competition for scarce jobs. Order was restored after four days and it is estimated that 120 people were killed and 2,000 injured. At least eleven Black men were lynched. Several books have been written about the riots, including “The Armies of the Streets: The New York City Draft Riots of 1863” (1974) and “The New York City Draft Riots: Their Significance for American Society and Politics in the Age of the Civil War” (1990).

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Today in Black History, 7/12/2013

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• July 12, 1864 George Washington Carver, hall of fame scientist, botanist, educator and inventor, was born enslaved in Diamond, Missouri. Carver and his family were freed after slavery was abolished. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1894 and his Master of Science degree in 1896 from Iowa State Agricultural College where he was the first Black student and later the first Black faculty member. In 1896, he accepted the position to lead the Agricultural Department at Tuskegee University and remained there for 47 years. During that time, Carver devoted himself to the research and promotion of alternative crops to cotton, including peanuts and sweet potatoes. He also created approximately 100 products made from peanuts that were useful for the house. In 1923, Carver received the NAACP Spingarn Medal. Carver died January 5, 1943. On his grave is written, “He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world.” On July 14, 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the George Washington Carver National Monument near Diamond, Missouri, the first national monument dedicated to an African American and also the first to a non-president. The United States Postal Service issued commemorative postage stamps in honor of Carver in 1948 and 1998. In 1977, Carver was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame for Great Americans, in 1990 was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, and in 2000 was a charter inductee in the United States Department of Agriculture Hall of Heroes as the “Father of Chemurgy”. Biographies of Carver include “George Washington Carver: Man’s Slave, God’s Scientist” (1981) and “George Washington Carver: His Life & Faith in His Own Words” (2003). Dozens of schools around the country are named in his honor and his name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

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Today in Black History, 7/11/2013

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• July 11, 1821 Lucy Terry, creator of the oldest known work of literature by an African American, died. Terry was born around 1730 and stolen from Africa as an infant and sold into slavery in Rhode Island. On August 25, 1746, Native Americans attacked two White families in Deerfield, Massachusetts in an area called “The Bars”. Terry composed a ballad about the attack titled “Bars Fight” which earned her local acclaim. A successful free Black man purchased Terry’s freedom and married her in 1756. A persuasive orator, Terry won a case against false land claims before the Supreme Court of Vermont in the 1790s. She also delivered a three hour address to the Board of Trustees of Williams College to support the admittance of her son to the college. Although unsuccessful, the speech was remembered for its eloquence and skill. Her poem was preserved orally until it was published in 1855.

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Today in Black History, 7/10/2013

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• July 10, 1875 Mary Jane McLeod Bethune, hall of fame educator and civil rights leader, was born in Mayesville, South Carolina. Bethune attended Scotia Seminary (now Barber-Scotia College) from 1888 to 1894 and then Dwight Moody’s Institute for Home and Foreign Missions (now Moody Bible Institute). In 1904, she rented a small house in Daytona Beach, Florida and started the Literary and Industrial Training School for Negro Girls with 5 students. By 1910, enrollment rose to 102 and in 1923 the school merged with the Cookman Institute for Men, became co-educational and eventually became Bethune-Cookman University. Bethune served as president of the college from 1923 to 1942 and 1946 to 1947. From 1917 to 1925, Bethune served as the Florida chapter president of the National Association of Colored Women and in 1924 served as national president. She also served as president of the Southeastern Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs from 1920 to 1925. In 1935, Bethune founded the National Council of Negro Women to bring together 28 different organizations to facilitate improvements in the quality of life for women and their communities. In 1938, the NCNW hosted the White House Conference on Negro Women and Children. Also that year, Bethune was appointed director of the Division of Negro Affairs in the National Youth Administration, making her the first African American female federal agency head. Bethune dedicated her life to the education of black and white children and in 1939 stated “not only the Negro child, but children of all races should read and know of the achievements, accomplishments and deeds of the Negro. World peace and brotherhood are based on a common understanding of the contributions and cultures of all races and creeds.” Bethune was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal in 1935 and in 1949 became the first woman to receive the Medal of Honor and Merit, the highest award given by the Haitian government. Bethune died May 18, 1955. In 1973, she was posthumously inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. On July 10, 1974, a sculpture in her honor was unveiled in Washington, D.C. and in 1985 the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in her honor. The Mary McLeod Bethune Council House in Washington, D.C. was designated a National Historic Site October 15, 1982. There are a number of schools across the nation named in her honor. Bethune’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

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Today in Black History, 7/9/2013

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• July 9, 1793 The Act Against Slavery was passed by Upper Canada, that part of Canada that would eventually become Ontario, to prohibit the continuation of slavery. It was the first attempt to abolish slavery in the British Empire. The Act did not immediately abolish slavery, but ensured the eventual elimination. The Act stated that all enslaved people in the province would remain enslaved until death, that no new enslaved people could be brought into Upper Canada, and that children born to enslaved females would be freed at age 25. It further stated that any children born to this second generation while they were still enslaved would be free from birth. The Act remained in force until 1833 when the British Slavery Abolition Act abolished slavery in most parts of the British Empire.

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Today in Black History, 7/8/2013

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• July 8, 1777 The Commonwealth of Vermont abolished slavery in their constitution. The constitution declared that all men are born equally free and independent and that no male over the age of 21 or female over the age of 18 may serve another in the role of servant, slave, or apprentice. When Vermont was admitted to the union in 1791, it carried over that constitution and thus became the first U.S. state to have abolished slavery.

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Today in Black History, 7/7/2013

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• July 7, 1851 Charles Albert Tindley, hall of fame gospel music composer, was born in Berlin, Maryland. At birth, Tindley’s father was enslaved, but his mother was free, therefore Tindley was considered free. Tindley was primarily self-educated, but did attend night courses and took correspondence courses at the Boston University School of Theology, eventually earning a doctorate while working as a janitor at Calvery Methodist Episcopal Church. Tindley became the pastor of that church which under his leadership grew from 130 to a multiracial congregation of 12,500. After serving the congregation for over 30 years, the church was renamed Tindley Temple United Methodist Church in 1924. Tindley was also a noted songwriter and composer of gospel hymns and his composition “I’ll Overcome Someday” (1901) is considered by many to be the basis for the Civil Rights anthem “We Shall Overcome.” Tindley composed more than 60 other hymns, including “Stand by Me” (1905), “Nothing Between” (1905), “Some Day” (1906), and “Leave It There” (1916). Tindley was the first hymn writer to have a hymn copyrighted and in 1916 published a collection of hymns titled “New Songs of Paradise.” Tindley died July 26, 1933. He was posthumously inducted into the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame in 1993.

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