Today in Black History, 1/7/2012

·   January 7, 1891 Zora Neale Hurston, author and playwright, was born in Notasulga, Alabama, but raised in Eatonville, Florida, the first all-black town to be incorporated in the United States. Hurston describes the experience of growing up there in her 1928 essay “How It Feels to Be Colored Me.” Hurston earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in anthropology from Barnard College in 1928 and spent two years as a graduate student at Columbia University. Hurston’s best known work is the 1937 novel “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” but she also published short stories, essays and plays, including “Color Struck” (1925), a play first published in the Urban League’s Opportunity Magazine, and “Mule Bone” (1930), a play co-written with Langston Hughes. Hurston died January 28, 1960 and her house in Fort Pierce, Florida is a National Historic Landmark. Also the Zora Neale Hurston Festival of the Arts and Humanities is celebrated annually in Eatonville. Biographies of Hurston include “Zora Neale Hurston: A Literary Biography” (1977), “Wrapped in Rainbows: The Life of Zora Neale Hurston” (2003), and “Speak, So You Can Speak Again” (2004). Hurston’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

·   January 7, 1897 Rayford Whittingham Logan, historian and Pan-African activist, was born in Washington, D. C. Logan earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Williams College in 1917 and enlisted in the United States Army. In 1919, he requested and was granted a discharge because of his dissatisfaction with the treatment of African Americans. For the next five years, he lived and worked in Europe. Logan returned to the U.S. in the mid-1920s and earned this Master of Arts degree in history from Williams College in 1929. He went on to earn another Master of Arts degree in 1932 and his Ph. D. in 1936 from Harvard University. Logan was best known for his study of the post-Reconstruction period of the United States. In 1932, he was appointed to President Franklin Roosevelt’s Black Cabinet, where he drafted the executive order prohibiting the exclusion of blacks from the military in World War II. In the late 1940s, he was the chief advisor to the NAACP on international affairs. From 1950 to 1951, he served as the director of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. Logan was also a long-standing scholar and professor at Howard University and in 1980 he was awarded the NAACP Spingarn Medal. Logan died November 4, 1982. His biography, “Rayford W. Logan and the Dilemma of the African American Intellectual,” was published in 1993.

·   January 7, 1902 Granville T. Woods received patent number 690,809 for an apparatus for controlling electric motors or other electrical translating devices. His invention generated an electromotive force counter to the current supplied to the motor by the main source and by varying the counter electromotive force it could control the amount of current from the main source. Woods was born April 23, 1856 in Columbus, Ohio. He was often called the “Black Edison” and over his lifetime was granted approximately 60 patents. Despite these achievements, he died virtually penniless on January 30, 1910. The Granville T. Woods Math and Science Community Academy in Chicago, Illinois is named in his honor.

·   January 7, 1941 Frederick Drew Gregory, the first African American to pilot a space shuttle, was born in Washington, D. C. Gregory earned his Bachelor of Science degree from the United States Air Force Academy in 1964 and was a decorated helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War. He flew over 550 combat missions and retired as a colonel. He earned his Master of Science degree in information systems from George Washington University in 1977 and was selected as an astronaut by the National Aerospace and Space Administration in 1978. Gregory served as the pilot on STS-51B in 1985 and the spacecraft commander on STS-33 in 1989 and STS-44 in 1991. In total, he logged about 456 hours in space. From 1992 to 2005, Gregory served in various capacities in the NASA administration, including deputy administrator.

·   January 7, 1985 Lewis Carl Davidson Hamilton, the first black driver in Formula One automobile racing, was born in Stevenage, Hertfordshire, England. Hamilton’s father bought him a radio controlled car at the age of six and in 1992 Hamilton finished second in the national British Radio Car Association championship. He began his automobile racing career in the 2001 British Formula Renault Winter Series and in 2003 won the championship. In 2007, Hamilton debuted in Formula One and finished second in the championship. He won the world championship the following season. He has finished fifth, fourth, and fifth the last three years. Hamilton was made a member of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in the 2009 New Year Honours. He published his autobiography, “Lewis Hamilton: My Story,” in 2007. A number of other biographies have been written about him, including “Lewis Hamilton: A Dream Comes True” (2007) and “Lewis Hamilton: The Rise of F1’s New Superstar”(2008).

·   January 7, 2001 Lowell W. Perry, the first African American assistant coach in the National Football League, died. Perry was born December 5, 1931 in Ypsilanti, Michigan. He played college football at the University of Michigan where he was an All-American receiver. After earning his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1953, Perry was selected by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 1953 NFL Draft. After serving in the United States Air Force and earning the rank of 1st lieutenant, he joined the Steelers in 1956. His professional career ended after six games when a serious injury forced him to retire. The Steelers then hired him as an assistant coach and talent scout. Perry left the Steelers in 1958 to earn his Juris Doctorate degree from Detroit College of Law in 1960. In 1966, Perry became the first African American color analyst for CBS Television when they hired him to broadcast Steelers games. In 1973, Chrysler Corporation appointed Perry plant manager of its Detroit Universal Division, making him the first African American to hold that position at a U.S. automobile company. In 1975, President Gerald Ford appointed Perry chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a position he held for a year. From 1990 to 1995, Perry served as director of Michigan’s Department of Labor and from 1996 to his retirement in 1999 as the first director of the Office of Urban Programs.