My Shero Athlete

Althea Neale Gibson

(August 25, 1927-September 28, 2003)

Althea Neale Gibson was an American tennis player and professional golfer, and the first Black athlete to cross the color line of international tennis. In 1956, she became the first African American to win a Grand Slam title.

Gibson born in Silver, South Carolina to sharecropper parents move to Harlem at a young age. Gibson’s father found work as a garage attendant in the largely African–American section of New York City, where Gibson’s life at this time had its hardships. Her family struggled to make ends meet, living on public assistance for a time, and Gibson struggled in the classroom, often skipping school all together.

In a stroke of luck, the street on which their tenement apartment building sat on West 143rd Street had been closed off as a designated play area, and volunteers from the Police Athletic League (PAL) set up a paddle tennis court right in front of the building’s stoop.

Gibson took up the game at the age of nine, and three years later won the city paddle tennis title. Impressed by her natural athleticism, a PAL volunteer brought her to the Cosmopolitan Tennis Club in 1941, which was a local tennis facility open to both blacks and whites.

Gibson improved quickly under her coach at the Cosmopolitan, but was rebellious at home. She often defied her parents by staying out all night, and finally ran away from home. After a stint in a Roman Catholic shelter for teenaged girls, she became a ward of the city and was given a small rent stipend to live on her own. She was forced to take menial jobs to make ends meet but continued with her athletic training, and in 1942 won the first tennis tournament she ever entered. That title, the New York junior women’s, was granted by the American Tennis Association (ATA), an organization for black players. At the time, the United States Lawn Tennis Association (USTA) had no minority members.

In 1946, at the age of 19, Gibson was put in contact with two affluent black physicians, who sponsored both her and another promising young tennis player named Arthur Ashe. Gibson moved in with one of the families in North Carolina in order to finish high school, and went on to Florida A&M College. She continued to compete in ATA events, winning ten national championship titles in a row, and her prowess earned her a measure of media attention.

There were calls for her to be allowed to enter the USTA’s National Grass Court Championships at Forest Hills, New York, which was the precursor to the United States Open. But USTA officials declared that first Gibson must compete in a preliminary event—the catch being that organizers of such an event would have to extend an invitation. When none came, several USTA players rallied to the cause, led by Alice Marble, a former Wimbledon and U.S. Nationals titleholder.

Gibson made her debut on the courts of Forest Hills on August 28, 1950. She did well, very nearly unseating the current Wimbledon champion at the time, Louise Brough. The next year Gibson advanced all the way to Wimbledon, the legendary English event, but lost in the quarterfinals.

After finishing her Florida A&M degree in 1953, she was able to devote more time to her game, and emerged as a fearsome opponent over the next few years.

In 1956, Gibson won her first French championship, and the following year won both the singles and doubles titles at Wimbledon. She was feted with a ticker–tape parade in New York City when she returned, and went on to win the U.S. Open that summer as well.

Hailed in the press as a pioneering black athlete and inspiration to the civil–rights movement, Gibson was nevertheless wary of being linked to any cause. She won Wimbledon again in 1958 as well as the U.S. singles title, but there was no prize money in the sport at the time.

For a short time, too, the athletically gifted Gibson turned to golf, at 36, Gibson changed course and found herself making history again after earning status to play on the LPGA Tour.

While Gibson had support from the LPGA Tour and the players, her time in tennis prepared her for the hardships of playing golf professionally.

There were select clubs, like the Beaumont Country Club in Texas, that allowed Gibson to play but would not allow her into the clubhouse, denying her access to bathrooms and forcing her to change in her car.

Early on in Gibson’s golf career, she formed a friendship with fellow tour player Marlene Hagge. While Gibson was checking into a hotel, after calling and confirming her reservation, the hotel said that it neither had her reservation nor any space. Hagge walked into the lobby as Gibson tried to sort out her accommodations and overheard what was taking place. Hagge proceeded to sign in, asked for two keys and turned to Gibson and said, “You’re rooming with me.”

However, having spent years playing tennis, a sport predominantly for the white and wealthy, this did not phase her.

But failing to win on the course as she had on the courts, she eventually returned to tennis.

In 1968, with the advent of tennis’ Open era, Gibson tried to repeat her past success. She was too old and too slow-footed, however, to keep up with her younger counterparts.

Following her retirement, in 1971, Gibson was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame.

Beginning in 1975, she served 10 years as commissioner of athletics for New Jersey State. She was also a member of the governor’s council on physical fitness.

Gibson suffered strokes in her later years and was rarely seen in public after 1990. She died on September 28, 2003, at the age of 76 in an East Orange hospital following treatment for an infection and a respiratory ailment. She is survived by a brother and a sister, as well as by the Foundation bearing her name that she helped establish that provides athletic and educational opportunities for the urban youth.

Gibson’s goal was to become somebody, and in her quest to do so, she helped others become somebody too.

References for post:

Pbs.org

PGA.org

Fee.org

Famousafricanamericans.org

Womenofthehall.org

Espn.com

History.com

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King Cole

(March 17, 1917-February 15, 1965)

Nathaniel Adams Coles

Nat King Cole African American musician, singer, jazz pianist, and composer widely beloved for his smooth, silky voice. He was the first African American artist to host his own television program and fought for civil rights in a determined but understated manner.

Born Nathaniel Adams Coles on March 17, 1917, in Montgomery, Alabama. Cole and his family moved to Chicago when he was four. His father became pastor of a church, and his mother was the choir director, introducing her children to music at a very early age. Chicago was a lively center for jazz, the first truly American form of popular music, and young Cole was captivated by the genre. He was also influenced by music in his father’s church.

The great trumpeter Louis Armstrong was a neighbor, and the young Cole heard pianists Earl “Fatha” Hines, Art Tatum, and Teddy Wilson at nearby clubs. Like many others in the Great Depression, Cole did not finish high school, but his mother taught him piano at the age of 12. Cole also played organ at church and sing in the choir. At the age of 15, Cole quit school to pursue a career as a jazz pianist. By age 17, he was writing songs and playing jazz piano in his older brother’s group, Eddie Cole’s Solid Swingsters, and making his first recordings with Decca Records.

When the revue Shuffle Along was revived in Chicago in 1937, Cole and his brother joined the band.

The show went on tour and Cole went with it, marrying dancer Nadine Robinson on the road and settling with her in Los Angeles when the show closed on the west coast. After playing piano in small towns and dives, he became a regular at Los Angeles’ Century Club.

By 1938, he had been asked to assemble a small band for the well-known Sewanee Inn. Cole recruited a drummer, also, Wesley Prince on bass, and Oscar Moore on guitar. When the drummer failed to appear on opening night, they went on without him and remained an original and influential trio for the duration of Cole’s jazz career. The group adopted the name the King Cole Trio, and Cole was thereafter called Nat King Cole. Gradually, Cole would emerge as a singer.

In the 1940s he made several memorable songs with the Trio, including “It’s Only A Paper Moon” and “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons.” The group displayed a finesse and sophistication which expressed the new aspirations of the black community. The trio enjoyed great success for nearly a decade, booked solidly in L.A.-area clubs, including many that had never before allowed African American performers. The King Cole Trio backed such significant jazz artists as Lionel Hampton and Lester Young; and in 1941, a national tour climaxed with several months in New York City.

In 1943, the trio signed with newly created Capitol Records. Their rendition of “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” which Cole based on one of his father’s sermons and an African American folk tale, was a crossover hit in 1944, and featured Cole’s vocals. The sound attracted both black and white audiences, bridging jazz and pop genres. Their success expanded with “Get Your Kicks on Route 66” and “For Sentimental Reasons.” The group was then engaged as Bing Crosby’s summer replacement for the popular Kraft Music Hall in 1946, making Cole became the first African American to host a radio program.

That winter, Cole and the trio immortalized Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song,” known for its opening lyric “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…” Backed by a string section for the first time, this was also Cole’s debut as a featured lead singer, and a huge hit for him and Capitol.

This also marked a decisive shift from his jazz roots. Cole had been unduly influenced by a young singer he met in 1946, Maria Ellington, whom he would marry just six days after divorcing his first wife Nadine Robinson in 1948. Cole and Maria had five children.

During the 1950s, he went on to pursue a career as a solo artist and soon became a successful one. He earned many hits like ‘Unforgettable’, ‘Too Young’, ‘Mona Lisa’ and ‘Nature Boy’. He soon managed to work with some of the biggest names in music like, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Nelson Riddle. He also became friends with popular Frank Sinatra.

Cole often faced racism when he toured in the South. In 1956, while he was performing in Alabama in a mixed race concert, he was attacked by a group of white supremacists, after which he stuck to the promise that he would never return to the South. Cole took racism to the chin, suing hotels that wouldn’t admit him and purposely buying a house in Whites-only L.A. neighborhood.

In 1956, he hosted the NBC show, ‘The Nat King Cole Show’. Becoming the first African-American to host a variety series on television.The conventional wisdom about The Nat King Cole Show is that it was the first network TV program hosted by an African American, that NBC cancelled it after it failed to attract a sponsor, and that potential advertisers were reluctant to sign on for fear that their products would be boycotted by disgruntled Southerners.

At the time of his show’s premiere, Nat Cole was not merely one of the highest paid black people in America but one of the most successful entertainers in the world. His gentle, romantic style of singing endeared him to millions, and his record sales were phenomenal. There was every reason to believe that a TV show starring Nat King Cole would be a huge hit.There was just one slight problem: with legal segregation still in full force in the South and segregation in much of the rest of the country.

Black hosts had been tried before. Hazel Scott (in 1950) and Billy Daniels (in 1952) had each starred in a short-lived and quickly forgotten variety show. But Cole’s program was the first hosted by a star of his magnitude, and expectations were high. It was obvious that, if Cole were successful, it would open a lot of doors for other African American entertainers. There was a whole host of big stars, both black and white, who wanted to help and were willing to appear on the show. But despite the stars and the show’s high entertainment value and decent ratings, the show failed no national sponsor and Cole decided to call it quits after fourteen months on the air.

Cole ignored signs of declining health while at the height of his singing career maintaining a busy professional pace. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1964. Cole, a heavy smoker would smoke as much as three packs of cigarettes a day. The day before he died, he did a radio interview, stating: “I am feeling better than ever. I think I’ve finally got this cancer licked.”

He died on February 15, 1965, at St. John’s Hospital in Santa Monica, California and his funeral was held in Los Angeles. His remains were interred inside Freedom Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Los Angeles.

In his lifetime, he recorded over 100 pop chart singles and over two dozen chart albums, selling over 50 million records.

His last album, L-O-V-E, was recorded in early December 1964—just a few days before entering the hospital for treatment—and released just prior to his death; it peaked at number four on the Billboard Albums chart in the spring of 1965. A Best of album went gold in 1968. His 1957 recording of “When I Fall In Love” reached number four in the United Kingdom charts in 1987.

Cole was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1990.

In 1991, Mosaic Records released The Complete Capitol Recordings of the Nat King Cole Trio, an 18 compact disc set, consisting of 349 songs.

Nat’s youngest brother Freddy Cole, and his daughter, Natalie Cole are also singers. In the summer of 1991, Natalie and her deceased father had an unexpected hit when Natalie mixed her own voice with her father’s 1961 rendition of “Unforgettable,” as part of her album paying tribute to her father’s music. The song and the album of the same name won seven Grammy awards in 1992.

In 1994, the US postal department issued a stamp featuring Nat King Cole. In 1997 Cole was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame. In 2000, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as “One of the major influences on early rock and roll”.

Reference for this post:

blackpast.org

npr.org

newworldencyclopedia.org

pbs.org

rockhall.com

allmusic.com

A Science-Fiction “Genius”

(June 22, 1947- February 24, 2006)

Octavia Estelle Butler

Octavia Butler, a writer of science fiction, brought elements of African and African-American spiritualism, mysticism, and mythology to her novels and stories.

Octavia Estelle Butler was born an only child on July 22, 1947, in Pasadena to a housemaid Octavia Butler and shoeshine man Laurice. Her father passed away when she was a baby, so she was raised by her grandmother and her mother. As a girl, she was known as Junie, derived from “Junior” since her mother was also named Octavia. Butler’s mother worked as a maid to provide for the family after her father died, but nonetheless they continued to struggle in a poor but racially mixed neighborhood throughout her childhood. At the time, Pasadena was a more racially integrated city than others around the country. Still, Butler would later recount memories of blatant racism her mother endured at the hands of her employers — including racial slurs and not being allowed to enter residences through the front door.

Bulter grew up shy, losing herself in books despite having dyslexia. Bulter’s mom could not afford books, but she brought home the discards of the white families for whom she worked. Butler began writing when she was 10 years old.

Butler earned an associate’s degree from Pasadena City College in 1968, and later studied at California State University, Los Angeles. Over the years, Bulter would religiously get up each day at 2 a.m. to write.

Her novel, Kindred (1979), introduced the science fiction community to slavery in the United States through a narrative involving time travel, while Parable of the Sower (1993) raised questions about the environment, technology, theology, and metaphysics.

Butler’s Patternists series includes five novels published between 1976 and 1984, and investigates issues of gender and class identity within a society managed by an elite group of telepaths. Her Xenogenesis trilogy, including Dawn (1987), Adulthood Rites (1988), and Imago (1989), depicts the near destruction of the human world due to prejudice, class conflict, and violence.

In 1995 Octavia Butler was given a MacArthur Fellowship, the first science fiction writer to receive the award. She also received two Hugo Awards from the World Science Fiction Society and two Nebula Awards from the Science Fiction Writers of America.

Butler died on February 24, 2006, after falling and striking her head on a walkway outside her home in Lake Forest Park, Washington. Her books have been translated into 10 languages and have sold more than a million copies altogether.

References for post:

Historylink.org

Goldenstate.is

Latimes.com

Theguardian.com

Theportalist.com

Bojangles

Bill Robinson

(May 25, 1878- November 25, 1949)

Bill “Bojangles” Luther Robinson was an African American tap dancer, actor and activist. Born in Richmond, Virginia on May 25, 1878, Bill got his nickname “Bojangles” from “jangler,” meaning contentious, and invented the phrase “Everything’s Copasetic,” meaning tip-top.

Robinson’s father Maxwell was a machine shop worker, and mother Maria a choir singer. Both parents died in 1885, when Robinson was young so he was raised by his grandmother Bedelia, a former slave. At the age of five, Robinson made pocket money shining shoes and danced for pennies. Robinson received many disapproval arguments from his Baptist grandmother who thought dancing was the devil’s work.

Despite his grandmother’s disapproval protest Robinson continued his work until he was spotted by someone who gave him a job as a “pick”, short for pickanniny, child performers who supplied the cute factor in Black and White minstrel shows. Robinson never liked the name Luther and took on his brother’s name Bill, bestowing on his brother the name Percy.

At the age of nine, Robinson toured with Mayme Remington and Her Pickanninies, an all-African-American Vaudeville troupe. But when he outgrew the Pick roles, he moved on to doing a solo act in clubs and bars.

In 1898 he joined the US Army during its war against Spain, returning to show business when his duty ended. Robinson made a name for himself in 1900 when he challenged Harry Swinton, then considered America’s best dancer, to a dance-off and won.

However, he was often constrained by rules that “coloured” entertainers had to perform in pairs or paired with a white performer. Dexterous, energetic and always cheerful on stage and screen, offstage Robinson also worked to break down barriers for African-Americans.

In 1914, his white co-star, Rae Samuels, introduced him to agent Marty Forkins who became his manager and urged him to go solo.

When the US entered the war in 1917, Robinson offered his services to entertain the troops. It was the first time he performed in front of an audience that wasn’t all African-American. It earned him a War Department Commendation in 1918.

In 1922, he married Fannie Clay who became his business manager, secretary, and partner in efforts to fight the barriers of racial prejudice. A founding member of the Negro Actors Guild of America, Robinson was also named “Mayor of Harlem” in 1933.

Hailed as “The Dark Cloud of Joy” on the Orpheum Circuit, he performed in vaudeville from 1914-1927 without a single season’s layoff.

Broadway fame came with the all-black revue, Blackbirds of 1928, in which he sang and danced “Doin’ the New Low Down.” Success was instantaneous. He was hailed as the greatest of all dancers by at least seven New York newspapers. Brown Buddies (1930), Blackbirds of 1933, All in Fun (1940) and Memphis Bound (1945) followed.

Robinson turned to Hollywood films in the thirties, a venue hitherto restricted to blacks. His first film, Dixiana (1930) had a predominantly white cast; Harlem is Heaven (1933) was the first all-black film ever made.

The Hot Mikado (1939) marked Robinson’s sixty-first birthday, which he celebrated by dancing down all 61 blocks of Broadway, one block for each year.

As a publicity stunt he set a world record running 100 yards backwards in 13.5 seconds. This record stood until 1977.

After several more film appearances, he was cast in The Little Colonel. On set Shirly Temple and Robinson quickly took to each other, she called him “Uncle Billy”, and he called her “darlin”, their mutual affection made for great screen chemistry. He was cast with Temple in three more films — The Littlest Rebel (1935), Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938) and Just Around the Corner (1938).

He continued performing in his 60s, doing stage and radio shows, making films, appearing in benefit concerts, including those for WWII and the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP).

Robinson also convinced President Franklin Roosevelt to implement a better pay deal for negro soldiers serving in the war.

At the peak of his fame he was earning $6000 a week, but he was overly generous with his money and had a gambling habit, that left him struggling financially. Throughout his lifetime, he was a member of many clubs and civic organizations and an honorary member of police departments in cities across the United States. His participation in benefits is legendary and it is estimated that he gave away well over one million dollars in loans and charities.

Bill “Bojangies” Robinson died of a chronic heart condition on November 25, 1949.

Performers and fans of dance still pay tribute to Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, a man of professional genius and personal generosity.

In 1989 a joint U.S. Senate/ House resolution declared “National Tap Dance Day” to be May 25th, the anniversary of Bill Robinson’s birth.

Reference for post:

Aaregistry.org

pbs.org

npr.org

undark.org

blackpast.org

Straightforward Reporting

My lens view

only

see You.

Millions may

walk bye,

talked “Hi”,

looked fly

but

can’t

turn my channel

to sing your lullaby

to Me

center stage on any page…

Ain’t no ifs, or maybes,

your connection

is Clear

not staticky or wavy,

to distract away

my attention

from your handsome high-definition…

I trust

you

know this isn’t fiction,

You and I

are a lovely

addition,

creating memories

in slow mode

flashbacks,

grinding thru Life’s

falltracks,

to tune-in

to transparent, Us…

Ain’t no ifs or maybes,

it’s full view

baby,

I am your Lady

on your

closed-circuit

network

broadcasting in panoramic view

“Live”

I love only You.

1st P.h.D in Chemistry

(April 16, 1921-October 28, 2003)

Marie Maynard Daly

The first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry.

Marie M. Daly was born in 1921 in Corona, New York. Her parents inspired her passion for science; her mother fostered her love of books and her father passed on his love of chemistry. Before Marie was born, her father had enrolled at Cornell University to study chemistry, but ultimately had to leave due to a lack of money.

Marie’s parents were strong believers in education at a time when attending college was seen as impossible to many African Americans. As a woman of color, Marie overcame financial, gender, and racial hurdles. Hence, after graduating from Hunter College High School, an all-girls institution in New York City, Marie attended Queens College in Flushing, New York, where she majored in chemistry choosing to live at home in order to save money.

Marie graduated magna cum laude in 1942 with a Bachelor’s degree in chemistry and was offered a fellowship to pursue her graduate studies at New York University, whilst working part-time as a laboratory assistant at Queens College. Marie completed her Master’s degree in just one year.

In 1944, Marie enrolled at Columbia University as a doctoral student, where she undertook research into compounds the body produces and how these affect digestion. Working under the direction of Dr. Mary L Caldwell (the first female assistant professor at Columbia University), Marie completed her PhD with a thesis entitled “A study of the products formed by the action of pancreatic amylase on corn starch”.

In 1947, she became the first African American woman in the United States to be awarded a PhD in chemistry.

Dr. Daly made important contributions in four areas of research: the chemistry of histones, protein synthesis, the relationships between cholesterol and hypertension, and creatine’s uptake by muscle cells.

Dr. Marie Maynard Daly, whose pioneering research resulted in a new understanding of the relationship between high cholesterol and clogged arteries. In fact, Dr. Daly’s work helped to shape much of what we now know about the biochemical aspects of cardiovascular health, identifying the link between high cholesterol levels and cardiovascular disease, which led to a better understanding of the causes of heart attacks.

Dr. Daly continued to teach and carry out pioneering research at Albert Einstein College, including the study into the effects of cigarette smoking on the lungs, until she retired in 1986.

Notably, Dr. Daly made significant contributions to the field of biochemistry while also advocating for increased enrollment of students of color in medical schools and science graduate programs. In honor of her father, she even created a scholarship program for minority students pursuing science degrees at Queens College.

In 1999, Dr. Marie Maynard Daly was recognized by the National Technical Association as one of the top 50 women in Science, Engineering and Technology.

Dr. Daly died on October 28, 2003.

Dr. Marie Maynard Daly’s impact on future generations of scientists extends far beyond her scientific contributions—her memory continues to inspire individuals from all walks of life to pursue careers in STEM.

Reference for post:

sciencehistory.org

undark.org

blackpast.org

africanamericanscientist.com

1st African American Astronaut

Robert Henry Lawrence Jr.

(October 2, 1935 -December 8, 1967)

Robert Henry Lawrence Jr., was a United States Air Force officer and the first African-American astronaut.

Major Lawrence was born on October 2, 1935, in Chicago, Illinois. At the age of 16, he was a graduate in the top 10% of Englewood High School.

At the age of 20, he became a graduate of Bradley University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Chemistry. In addition, while a student at Bradley University, he distinguished himself as Cadet Commander of the Bradley Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps and, upon graduation, received the commission of Second Lieutenant in the Air Force Reserve Program.

At the age of 21 he had become an Air Force pilot after completing flight training at Malden Air Force Base.

At the age of 22, he married the former Ms. Barbara Cress, the daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Henry Cress of Chicago. As he approached the age of 26, he had completed an Air Force assignment as an instructor pilot in the T-33 training aircraft for members of the German Air Force.

At the age of 30, Major Lawrence earned a Doctorate Degree in Physical Chemistry from Ohio State University during which time his grade point average (GPA) was above 3.5. His dissertation related to that part of chemistry which involved the conversion of tritium rays to methane gas.

At the age of 31, he served two roles in the Air Force; that of an Air Force pilot and also a research scientist in the Air Force Weapon’s Laboratory at Kirkland Air Force Base, New Mexico. While still in the Air Force, Lawrence earned a Ph.D. in Chemistry from Ohio State University in 1965.

At the age of 32, Major Lawrence was a senior pilot with over 2,500 flying hours, 2,000 of these in jet aircraft. He tested several aircraft, including the supersonic Lockheed F-104 Starfighter. His research became instrumental in bringing space shuttles safely back from orbit.

Major Lawrence successfully completed the Air Force Test Pilot Training School at Edwards Air Force Base in June 1967 and was selected to become an astronaut in the USAF’s Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) and therein becoming the First African American Astronaut on June 10, 1967. The Manned Orbital Laboratory Program was a precursor to the Shuttle Program.

Tragically, just six months later, in December of 1967, Lawrence was the backseat passenger flying as in instructor to a student pilot learning the steep descent glide technique. The pilot flying the F-104 made an approach to land but flared too late, causing the jet to crash. The pilot of the plane ejected successfully, however, by the time Lawrence ejected the plane had rolled onto its side and was on fire. Lawrence was killed instantly. The Purple Heart was posthumously awarded to Lawrence.

On December 8,1997 Robert Henry Lawrence, Jr.’s name was inscribed on the Space Mirror Memorial at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Memorial was dedicated in 1991 to honor of all astronauts who have lost their lives on space missions or training for missions.

References Researched for Post:

nasa.gov

pbs.org

amfcse.org

airspacemag.com

blackpressusa.com