Happy 113th Birthday to fellow Missourian, writer, poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and founding member of dopeness, Mr. James MercerLangston Hughes! Your words have filled many hearts with inspiration. Thank you, sir!
Jackie Ormes, the first female African American cartoonist, was born Zelda Mavin Jackson on August 1, 1911. Her earlier comics, such as Torchy Brown in Dixie to Harlem (1937-1938) and Candy (1945), shed light on the hardships of many African Americans and social issues. Later in 1946, Ormes came up with Patty Jo ‘n’ Ginger, which ran for 11 years and had a lot of political and social satire. The comic’s influence later gave way to the creation of the Patty Jo doll in 1947, becoming the first African American doll based off of a comic character.
Today we remember Ormes as a successful syndicated black female cartoonist, who put forth a positive new model for black depictions of the era, with intelligent and fashionable black women characters. She also gave African American children one of the first toys that did not reinforce negative stereotypes.
On this date, August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. made his “I Have A Dream” speech at the Lincoln Memorial during the Great March on Washington, one of the biggest political rallies with more than 200,000 Americans. The march brought to attention the political and social struggles of African Americans with speeches and performances from John Lewis, Josephine Baker, Mahalia Jackson, Bob Dylan and many others as well. This event is recognized as a pivotal moment in the American Civil Rights Movement.
On August 30, 1983, Dr. Guion Stewart “Guy” Bluford, Jr. became the first African American in space.
Bluford, pictured, had earned his M.S. and PhD in aerospace engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology. He flew the space shuttle, performed various experiments and aided in the launch of a $45 million weather and communications satellite for India. During this first mission with more to come, launched from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, Bluford received a call from Ronald Reagan in which he said, “You will serve as a role model for so many others and be so inspirational.”
Althea Gibson, tennis player and the first African American to compete in the U.S. Nationals, was born on this day, August 25, 1927. Gibson showed an appreciation for sports at a young age, playing basketball and paddle tennis. After joining the American Tennis Association, Gibson began her networking and career as a tennis player. At the age of 29, Gibson became the first black person to win the French championships.She was also the first African American to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Nationals in 1957 and then won again in 1958. Gibson faced a lot of racism at first, some of which included not being allowed to compete despite her skill level and being denied rooms at hotels but eventually, she was allowed to take the world by storm. Gibson won 11 Grand Slam events which placed her in the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame.
James Benton Parsons, the first African American to serve as a United States federal judge, was born on this day, August 13, 1911 in Kansas City, Missouri. Before he was a Judge, Parsons was a musician and a teacher. He taught public school and was a supervisor for two years in Greensboro, N.C. He then taught constitutional law at John Marshall Law School in Chicago and political science and music at Lincoln University. Parsons was the first African American to be a part of the U.S. District Court with life tenure appointed by President Kennedy in 1961. He was known to be an outspoken and controversial jurist and received a lot of criticism for his words and actions, as well as awards throughout his life as a judge. He served as chief judge from 1975 until 1981 and then had senior status in 1981 until his death in 1993, Chicago.
Stephanie Tubbs Jones, the first African American woman elected to the House of Representatives from Ohio, was born September 10, 1949 in Cleveland. She received her law degree from Case Western Reserve University in 1971. She was an assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor for three years. In 1981, she was elected a Cleveland Municipal Court Judge and then became a chief prosecutor. She was an active supporter of broader health care coverage for low and middle income individuals and assistance for re-entry of convicts into their communities. She also fought against predatory lending practices. In 1998, Jones was involved in the controversy of reopening the investigation of the murder of Dr. Sam Sheppard’s wife in 1954. In her later years, Jones was against additional financing for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Jones passed away in August 20, 2008, due to a ruptured brain aneurysm.
On this date, September 18, 1980, Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez became the first Cuban citizen, first Latin American and first person of African ancestry to travel in space.
Tamayo Méndez was born in Guantánamo, Cuba on January 29, 1942. He graduated from the Air Force Academy and then became a pilot in the Cuban air force. He then became a lieutenant colonel and was chosen to be a part of the Soviet Union’s Intercosmos program. Tamayo Méndez went into space as a crew member of Soyuz 38. In space, Tamayo Méndez and fellow cosmonaut Yuri Romanenko conducted many experiments. Some of their experiments included trying to find the cause for space adaptation syndrome and research on the crystallization of sucrose in microgravity with Cuban sugar. When Tamayo Méndez returned, he was presented with several awards such as the Hero of the Republic of Cuba medal.
Ralph Johnson Bunche, diplomat and political scientist, was the first African American and person of color to receive a Nobel Peace Prize for mediation in Palestine in 1950. He was born August 7, 1903 in Detroit, Michigan to a barber, Fred Bunche, and a musician, Olive Agnes. Bunche was valedictorian in 1927 at UCLA and earned his doctorate in political science at Harvard. Bunche was an active supporter of the civil rights movement. He participated in the March on Washington, as pictured in 1963, and fought for racial equality.
He was particularly important to the creation of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights as the United Nations document “Ralph Bunche, Visionary for Peace” says, “He championed the principle of equal rights for everyone, regardless of race and creed. He believed in the essential goodness of all people, and that no problem in human relations is insoluble.”
In 1947, he was asked to help a UN special committee to negotiate a settlement between Jews and Palestinian Arabs. Bunche was able to negotiate armistices in 1949. He was honored by the NAACP, and received more than 30 honorary degrees along with a Nobel Peace Prize.
Cab Calloway was born on Christmas Day, December 25, 1907 in Rochester, New York. He grew up in Baltimore, Maryland but moved to Chicago, Illinois, where he studied law at Crane College, now known as Malcolm X College. However, Calloway was more interested in music. After meeting Louis Armstrong and perfecting the art of scat singing in Chicago, Calloway moved to New York and performed at Harlem’s Cotton Club with Cab Calloway and his Orchestra. Calloway soon turned into one of the most popular entertainers of his time after the success of his song “Minnie the Moocher” with more than a million copies sold. Calloway continued to appear on stage and in films after. In 1993, he was presented with a National Medal of the Arts. He was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999. Calloway passed away at the age of 86.
Watch his performance of “Minnie the Moocher” in celebration of his birthday. Happy Holidays!
William “Count” Basie, American jazz pianist, organist, bandleader and composer, was born on this date, August 21, 1904 in Red Bank, New Jersey. His father was Harvey Basie, a mellophonist. His mother, Lillian, was a pianist who taught Basie the basics of the piano. Before he had his own band, he played piano for vaudeville. He stormed the world of music with talent and composition skill. Basie was the first African American male to receive a Grammy Award in 1958. Basie won several more Grammys later in his life and is known as one of the most influential Jazz musicians in history.
On this day, August 24, 1950, Edith Sampson, pictured on the right with Eleanor Roosevelt on the left, was named the first black delegate to the United Nations. Sampson held this position for three years. Sampson’s first degree was in social work and then she went to John Marshall for Law School, graduating with a dean’s commendation. She received her master of law degree from Loyola University and became one of the first African American women to join the Chicago chapter of the National Association of Women Lawyers and to practice law before the U.S. Supreme Court. Sampson later became a judge elected to a Municipal Court.