Today in Black History, 3/1/2013 - The Charles H. Wright Museum Blog

Today in Black History, 3/1/2013

• March 1, 1843 Robert A. Pinn, Congressional Medal of Honor recipient, was born in Stark County, Ohio. Pinn joined the Union Army during the Civil War and by September 29, 1864 was serving as a first sergeant in Company I of the 5th U.S. Colored Infantry Regiment. On that day, his unit participated in the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm in Virginia and it was for his actions during the battle that he was awarded the medal, America’s highest military decoration, April 6, 1865. His citation reads, “Took command of his company after all the officers had been killed or wounded and gallantly led it in battle.” After the war, Pinn graduated from Oberlin College and became a high school teacher and principal. He also read for the law and was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1879, the first black lawyer in Massillon County. Pinn died January 5, 1911. In 1973, the Ohio National Guard named its new armory in his honor, the first armory to be named after a black soldier in Ohio, and in 1998 the shooting facility at the University of Akron was renamed the Robert A. Pinn Shooting Range. A historical marker honoring Pinn was unveiled in 2003 by the Ohio Historical Society in Massillon, Ohio.

• March 1, 1875 The Civil Rights Act of 1875 was signed into law by President Ulysses Grant. The act guaranteed that everyone, regardless of race, color or previous condition of servitude, was entitled to the same treatment in public accommodations. The law was rarely enforced and in 1883 the United States Supreme Court ruled the act unconstitutional. Many of the provisions of the act were included in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

• March 1, 1892 Anna M. Mangin of Woodside, New York received patent number 470,005 for inventing improvements in the pastry fork. Her invention provided an implement for working together butter or lard and flour without the operator having to touch these items with their hands. The fork could also be used to beat eggs, mash potatoes, and prepare salad dressing. Little else is known of Mangin’s life.

• March 1, 1914 Ralph Waldo Ellison, novelist, literary critic, and scholar, was born in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. In 1933, Ellison entered Tuskegee Institute on a music scholarship, but, after his third year, moved to New York City where he met Richard Wright who encouraged him to pursue a career in writing. From 1937 to 1944, Ellison had over 20 book reviews, short stories, and articles published in magazines. In 1952, he published the novel “Invisible Man” which won the 1953 National Book Award. In 1964, Ellison published “Shadow and Act,” a collection of essays, and began to teach at Rutgers University and Yale University. On January 20, 1969, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Lyndon B. Johnson and the following year became a permanent member of the faculty at New York University. In 1975, he was elected to The American Academy of Arts and Letters and Oklahoma City honored him with the Ralph Waldo Ellison Library. In 1985, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, by President Ronald Reagan. Ellison died April 16, 1994. His manuscripts “Flying Home and Other Stories” and “Juneteenth” were published posthumously in 1996 and 1999, respectively. “Ralph Ellison: A Biograpy” was published in 2007.

• March 1, 1927 Harold George “Harry” Belafonte, Jr., musician, actor, and social activist, was born in New York City. Belafonte served in the United States Navy during World War II and after his discharge began his music career singing in clubs to pay for acting classes. He recorded his first single, “Matilda,” in 1953, but his breakthrough recording was the album “Calypso” (1956) which was number 1 on Billboard’s Top 100 Albums for 31 weeks and on the charts for 99 weeks. One of the songs on that album is his famous “Banana Boat Song.” Belafonte won the Grammy Award for Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording for “Swing Dat Hammer” (1960) and the Grammy for Best Folk Recording for “An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba” (1965), a collaboration with Mariam Makeba that dealt with the political plight of black South Africans under apartheid. Belafonte has starred in several films, including “Carmen Jones” (1954), “Island in the Sun” (1957), “Uptown Saturday Night” (1974), “White Man’s Burden” (1995), and “Kansas City” (1996), for which he won the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Supporting Actor. Belafonte won the Tony Award for Best Featured Actor in a Musical for his role in the 1953 Broadway revue “John Murray Anderson’s Almanac” and he won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series, the first black man to win an Emmy, for his 1959 TV special “Tonight with Belafonte.” Belafonte was an early supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, financially supporting Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s family and raising thousands of dollars to bail out imprisoned protesters. During Freedom Summer in 1964, he bankrolled the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and was one of the organizers of “We Are the World” (1985) to raise funds for Africa. Belafonte received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1989, the National Medal of Arts, the highest honor bestowed on an individual artist by the United States, presented by President William Clinton in 1994, a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2000, and the Bishop John T. Walker Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award from Africare in 2002. “Belafonte: An Unauthorized Biography” was published in 1960 and Belafonte published his autobiography, “My Song,” in 2011.

• March 1, 1946 Elvin Lamont Bethea, hall of fame football player, was born in Trenton, New Jersey. Bethea played college football at North Carolina A&T State University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physical education in 1968. He was selected by the Houston Oilers in the 1968 AFL Draft. Over his 16 season professional career, Bethea was an eight-time Pro Bowl selection. He retired in 1983 with 105 quarterback sacks and that same year the Oilers retired his jersey number 65. Bethea was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2003 and in 2005 published his autobiography, “Smash Mouth: My Football Journey from Trenton to Canton.”

• March 1, 1980 Emmett Littleton Ashford, the first African American umpire in major league baseball, died. Ashford was born November 23, 1914 in Los Angeles, California. He earned his Bachelor of Science degree from Chapman College in 1941 and served in the United States Navy from 1943 to 1946. In 1951, Ashford became the first black professional umpire when he started in the Southwestern International League. He went on to umpire in the Pacific Coast League before being hired by the American League in 1961. On April 11, 1966, Ashford became the first African American to umpire a major league baseball game. He umpired in the major leagues until mandatory retirement in 1970. His biography, “Strrr-ike!!: Emmett Ashford, Major League Umpire,” was published in 2004.

• March 1, 1984 The Malcolm X House Site in North Omaha, Nebraska was listed on the National Register of Historic Places “because of the importance of Malcolm X to American history and national culture.” Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little May 19, 1925 in Omaha, Nebraska, but grew up in Lansing, Michigan. In 1946, he was sentenced to prison and while in prison became a member of the Nation of Islam. After his parole in 1952, he became one of the Nation’s leaders and chief spokesman. In 1953, he was named assistant minister of Temple Number One in Detroit, Michigan and by 1954 had established Boston, Massachusetts’ Temple Number Eleven and expanded Philadelphia, Pennsylvania’s Temple Number Twelve. Until his departure from the organization in March, 1964, Malcolm X was the public face of the Nation of Islam. After leaving, he became a Sunni Muslim, changed his name to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, made a pilgrimage to Mecca, and founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity. El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz was assassinated February 21, 1965. At his funeral, Ossie Davis delivered the eulogy and described him as “our shining Black prince.” His autobiography, “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” was published shortly after his death and in 1992 the film “Malcolm X” was released. Many streets and schools around the country are named in his honor, including the El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz Academy in Lansing. In 1999, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honor and in 2005 Columbia University opened the Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial and Educational Center. A biography, “Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention,” was published in 2011. His name is enshrined in the Ring of Genealogy at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit, Michigan.

Today in Black History, 2/28/2013
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