Today in Black History, 12/2/2011

·   December 2, 1884 Granville T. Woods of Cincinnati, Ohio was granted patent number 308,817 for his invention of a telephone transmitter which produced more distinct and powerful effects resulting in transmission to longer distances. Woods was born April 23, 1856 in Columbus, Ohio and dedicated his life to developing a variety of improvements related to the railroad industry and controlling the flow of electricity. In addition to the telephone transmitter, Woods received 26 other patents and was known to many people of his time as the “Black Thomas Edison.” Woods died January 30, 1910.

·   December 2, 1891 Charles Harris Wesley, historian, educator, and author, was born in Louisville, Kentucky. Wesley earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Fisk University in 1911, his Master of Arts degree in economics from Yale University in 1913, and his Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1925. Wesley’s doctorate in history was the third Ph. D. awarded by Harvard to an African American. Wesley served on the faculty of Howard University from 1913 to 1942, as president of Wilberforce University from 1942 to 1947, president of Central State University from 1947 to 1965, and as executive director of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History from 1965 to 1972. Wesley authored a number of books, including “The History of Alpha Phi Alpha: A Development in Negro College Life” (1929), “The History of Sigma Pi Phi” (1954), “Ohio Negroes in the Civil War” (1962), and “Prince Hall: A Life and Legacy” (1977). Wesley died August 16, 1987.

·   December 2, 1912 Henry Jackson, Jr. (Henry Armstrong), the first boxer to hold titles in three weight classes at the same time, was born in Columbus, Mississippi. He assumed the surname of his mentor and trainer, Harry Armstrong, in 1931. Because fight purses were small, Armstrong usually fought at least twelve times a year. On October 29, 1937, he won the World Featherweight Championship, on May 31, 1938 the World Welterweight Championship, and on August 17, 1938 the World Lightweight Championship. Ring Magazine named Armstrong Boxer of the Year for 1938. In 1939, Armstrong produced and starred in an autobiographical movie, “Keep Punching.” After losing his titles, Armstrong retired from boxing with a professional record of 145 wins and 29 losses. In 1951, Armstrong was ordained a Baptist minister and he created the Henry Armstrong Youth Foundation which he funded with the profits from the two books he had written, “Twenty Years of Poem, Moods, and Meditations” (1954) and his autobiography “Gloves, Glory, and God” (1956). Armstrong died October 22, 1988 and was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.

·   December 2, 1922 Charles Cole Diggs, Jr., the first African American congressman from Michigan, was born in Detroit, Michigan. After serving in the United States Air Force during World War II, Diggs earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Mortuary Science from Wayne State University in 1946. In 1951, he was elected to the Michigan State Senate and in 1954 he was elected to the United States House of Representatives. In 1969, Diggs was a key player in the organization of the Congressional Black Caucus. From 1973 to 1978, he chaired the House District Committee which oversaw the affairs of Washington, D.C. During that time, he set in motion the process that led to a Home Rule Charter which allowed D.C. residents to elect their own government. He also chaired the African Affairs Subcommittee where he advocated for the elimination of apartheid in South Africa and U. S. aid to newly independent African nations. TransAfrica, a think tank devoted to African affairs, was founded in Diggs’ office. Diggs resigned from Congress in 1980 and died August 24, 1998. His biography, “The Untold Story of Charles Diggs: The Public Figure, The Private Man,” was published in 1988.

·   December 2, 1940 William Ferdie Brown, hall of fame football player, was born in Yazoo City, Mississippi. Brown played college football at Grambling State University and earned his bachelor’s degree in 1963, He was not drafted by a professional team in 1963 and signed with the Denver Broncos of the American Football League as a free agent. Over his 16 season professional career, Brown was a four-time Pro Bowl selection. Brown retired in 1978 and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1984. After retiring, he served as defensive backfield coach for the Oakland Raiders from 1979 to 1988 and director of staff development since 1995. Brown earned his master’s degree from California State University at Long Beach in 1991.

·   December 2, 1969 Marie Van Brittan Brown of Jamaica, Queens, New York received patent number 3,482,037 for a closed circuit television security system. The system used a motorized camera which slid up and down looking through a set of four peepholes. Anything the camera picked up was shown on a monitor viewed by the occupant. An electrical switch allowed the occupant to unlock the door by remote control. Brown was born October 30, 1922 in Queens, New York and died February 2, 1999. Not much else is known of her life.

·   December 2, 1969 The family of Eugene Ashley, Jr. was presented with the Medal of Honor, America’s highest military decoration, for his actions during the Vietnam War. Ashley was born October 12, 1931 in Wilmington, North Carolina, but raised in New York City. He joined the United States Army in 1950 and served in Korea and Vietnam. On February 6, 1968, while serving as a sergeant first class in Company C of the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne), 1st Special Forces, his heroism earned him the medal. His citation partially reads: “During the ensuing battle, Sfc. Ashley led a total of 5 vigorous assaults against the enemy, continuously exposing himself to a voluminous hail of enemy grenades, machine gun and automatic weapons fire. Throughout these assaults, he was plagued by numerous booby-trapped satchel charges in all bunkers on his avenue of approach. During his fifth and final assault, he adjusted air strikes nearly on top of his assault element, forcing the enemy to withdraw and resulting in friendly control of the summit of the hill. While exposing himself to intense enemy fire, he was seriously wounded by machine gun fire but continued his mission without regard for his personal safety. After the fifth assault, he lost consciousness and was carried from the summit by his comrades only to suffer a fatal wound when an enemy artillery round landed in the area. Sfc. Ashley displayed extraordinary heroism in risking his life in an attempt to save the lives of his entrapped comrades and commanding officer.” The Eugene Ashley High School in Wilmington is named in his honor.

·   December 2, 2008 Odetta Holmes, singer, actress, songwriter, and human rights activist, died. Odetta was born December 31, 1930 in Birmingham, Alabama. Her first professional experience was in musical theater in 1944 and in 1949 she joined the “Finian’s Rainbow” touring company. She began her solo career in 1956 with “Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues” and followed with “At the Gates of Horn” (1957), and “Odetta Sings Folk Songs” (1963). She sang “O Freedom” at the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and was named “The Voice of the Civil Rights Movement.” Odetta also acted in several films, including “Cinerama Holiday” (1955) and “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” (1974). From 1977 to 1997, Odetta recorded sparingly, but, beginning in 1998, she began to refocus on recording with “To Ella.” Subsequent albums include “Blues Everywhere I Go,” which was nominated for the 2000 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album, “Looking For a Home” (2002), and “Gonna Let It Shine” which was nominated for the 2007 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Folk Album. In 1999, President William Clinton presented Odetta with the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, and in 2005 the Library of Congress honored her with a Living Legend Award.