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Today in Black History, 4/9/2012

• April 9, 1866 The Civil Rights Act of 1866 was passed by the United States Congress. The act provided that “All persons within the jurisdiction of the United States shall have the same right in every State and Territory to make and enforce contracts, to sue, be parties, give evidence, and to the full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of persons and property as is enjoyed by white citizens, and shall be subject to like punishment, pains, penalties, taxes, licenses, and exactions of every kind and to no other.” The problem with the act was that it contained no remedies for violations and, because those being discriminated against had limited access to legal help, essentially left victims without any recourse.


• April 9, 1887 Florence Beatrice Price, the first African American woman to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra, was born in Little Rock, Arkansas. Price played her first piano recital at the age of four and her first work was published when she was eleven. She earned her Bachelor of Music degree from the New England Conservatory in 1906 and was professor of music at Shorter College from 1906 to 1910 and Clark University from 1910 to 1912. Price’s first major composition was “Fantasie Negre” (1929) and in 1932 she won the top prize for symphonic composition at the prestigious Wanamaker Competition. In 1933, her composition “Symphony in E Minor” was performed at the Chicago World’s Fair by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the first time a symphony written by a black woman had been performed by a major symphony orchestra. Over her career, Price composed over 300 works and her songs and arrangements were performed by some of the most admired voices of her day, including Marian Anderson. Price died June 3, 1953. Her papers, including correspondences and musical scores, are at the University of Arkansas.


• April 9, 1898 Paul LeRoy Bustill Robeson, concert singer, scholar, stage, and film actor, athlete and multi-lingual orator, was born in Princeton, New Jersey. Robeson won an academic scholarship to Rutgers University and although he was the only black student on campus during his time there, earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1919 as the class valedictorian. He also was named All-American in football in 1917 and 1918. In 1923, Robeson earned his Bachelor of Laws degree from Columbia Law School and began to find fame as an actor and singer with his bass voice and commanding presence. Early stage roles included “The Emperor Jones” (1924), “All God’s Chillun Got Wings” (1924), and “Porgy” (1927). Robeson’s rendition of “Ol’ Man River” in “Show Boat” in considered the definitive version of the song. Robeson’s first film was “Body and Soul” (1924) and between 1925 and 1942 he appeared in eleven films. At the height of his fame, Robeson became a political activist, speaking out against fascism and racism in the United States and abroad. In 1937, he co-founded the Council on African Affairs to focus on providing pertinent and current information about Africa to African Americans. Robeson was the 1945 recipient of the NAACP Spingarn Medal. From 1950 to 1958, his passport was revoked and he was under surveillance by the FBI and CIA until his death on January 23, 1976. Robeson’s only book, “Here I Stand,” was published in 1958. Robeson’s posthumous recognitions and honors include three buildings named in his honor on Rutgers’ campus, 1995 induction into the College Football Hall of Fame, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1998, and a 2004 commemorative postage stamp issued by the United States Postal Service in his honor. Robeson’s name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.


• April 9, 1929 Paulie Burke Marshall, journalist, writer, and educator, was born in Brooklyn, New York. Marshall earned her Bachelor of Arts degree, cum laude from Brooklyn College in 1953. She worked as a librarian for the New York Public Library and then as a journalist for the African American magazine Our World. Her first novel, “Brown Girl, Brownstones” was published in 1959. Subsequent novels include “The Chosen Place, the Timeless People” (1969), “Praisesong for the Widow” (1983), “Daughters” (1991), “The Fisher King” (2000), and “Triangular Road” (2009). In 1992, Marshall was a recipient of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur “Genius” Award for lifetime achievement.


• April 9, 1938 Augustus Walley, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, died. Walley was born enslaved on March 10, 1856 in Reistertown, Maryland. He was freed at the end of the Civil War in 1865 and enlisted in the United States Army in 1878. On August 16, 1881, he was serving as a private in Company I of the 9th Cavalry Regiment when he participated in an engagement in the Cuchillo Negro Mountains of New Mexico. He was cited for “bravery in action with hostile Apaches” for helping rescue stranded soldiers under heavy fire. For his actions Walley was awarded the medal, America’s highest military decoration, on October 1, 1890. Walley remained in the army until 1907, serving in the Spanish–American and Philippine–American Wars. He was recalled to duty during World War I and reached the rank of first sergeant before retiring in 1919.


• April 9, 1988 Brook Benton, singer and songwriter, died. Benton was born Benjamin Franklin Peay on September 19, 1931 in Lugoff, South Carolina. At the age of 18, he moved to New York City to pursue his music career. There, he changed his name at the suggestion of his record label and earned a living writing songs for Nat King Cole and Clyde McPhatter, for whom he wrote “A Lover’s Question.” In 1959, he made his breakthrough as a solo artist with “It’s Just a Matter of Time” and “Endlessly,” both of which were written by him and Clyde Otis. In 1960, Benton had two hit duets with Dinah Washington, “You Got What It Takes” and “A Rockin’ Good Way (To Mess Around and Fall in Love).” Over his career, Benton charted 49 singles on the Billboard Hot 100. His last major hit was “Rainy Night in Georgia” in 1970. The album “Fools Rush In” was released posthumously in 2005.


• April 9, 2001 Wilver Dornell “Willie” Stargell, hall of fame baseball player, died. Stargell was born March 6, 1940 in Earlsboro, Oklahoma. He was signed by the Pittsburg Pirates at the age of 18 and made his major league debut in 1962. Over his 21 season professional career with the Pirates, Stargell was the 1979 National League Most Valuable Player, a seven-time All-Star, two-time World Series champion, and in 1974 won the Roberto Clemente Award which is given to the player that best exemplifies the game of baseball, sportsmanship, community involvement and the individual’s contribution to his team. Stagell retired in 1982, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988, and in 2001 a larger than life statue of him was unveiled outside the Pirate’s PNC Park stadium. He published his autobiography, “Willie Stargell,” in 1984. The Willie Stargell Foundation provides funds to support kidney disease research and treatment.

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Founded in 1965 and located in the heart of Midtown Detroit’s Cultural Center, the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History is the world's largest institution dedicated to the African American experience. The Museum provides learning opportunities, exhibitions, programs and events based on collections and research that explore the diverse history and culture of African Americans and their African origins.