Burl Toler (1928-2009) takes his place in history as the very first African American official in the National Football League (NFL). Toler is also known for his career as a college football player at the University of San Francisco. The team was undefeated and untied in 1951 but was denied a bowl game because of their refusal to leave two African American players behind, Burl Toler and Ollie Matson. Toler later became a 9th round draft pick for the Cleveland Browns but never played a game for the team due to a knee injury he sustained in a college game.
Toler began officiating for the NFL in 1965; making him the first African American official in a major American professional team sport. Toler’s career spanned 25 years as a head linesman and field judge in the NFL. He was also the first African American official to work in a Super Bowl Game. Toler retired in 1990.
While Toler was the first African American official in the NFL. Johnny Grier was the first African American to be an NFL referee. In professional football there are several on-field officials. Many times, these roles can be referred to as a “referees”. So technically speaking, Grier was the first African American “referee” in the NFL. However, Toler remains the first African American official in the NFL. Toler died at the age of 81 in 2009.
Viola Davis has joined a signature group of actors by wining an Emmy, Oscar, and Tony award. On 2/26/17 Davis completed the “triple crown” by winning the Oscar for best supporting actress for her role in “Fences”.
Madame CJ Walker, a self made millionaire was a pioneering entrepreneur developing hair care products that catered to black women. She was orphaned at the age of 7, widowed with a young child by age 18, and could barely read or write……YET she let none of this stop her. In achieving success, she also wanted to empower other black women to be successful by creating employment opportunities for them. She shared this quote at at a National Negro Business League Convention:
“I am not merely satisfied in making money for myself. For I am endeavoring to provide employment for hundreds of the women of my race”
Launched on February 26, 1872, Cookman Institute was an early forerunner of the historically black colleges and universities. Rev. S.B. Darnell founded Cookman Institute in Jacksonville, FL. It was named after Rev. Alfred Cookman who was a Methodist Minister. Rev. Cookman donated funds toward construction of the new building. Cookman Institute was closely affiliated with Clark University. It was the first the educational institution for African Americans in Florida and remained so for quite some time. In operation for close to 50 years, Cookman Institute touched the lives of thousands of students. Many of Cookman’s first students were ex-slaves. Continue reading “Cookman Institute: Pioneering Institution That Proceeded Historically Black Colleges & Universities”→
The 25th Infantry Bicycle Corp was formed in 1869. It was one of four African American military units serving as a peacekeeping force west of the Mississippi. The black soldiers were known as “Buffalo Soldiers”. The unit was originally stationed in Texas until 1880. It then moved to the Dakota Territory and then eight years later the unit moved to Fort Missoula, Montana. The soldiers were used as guards and peacekeepers during railroad and mine strikes. They also fought forest fires in Montana and Idaho. The development of the chain driven safety bicycle in 1874 and in 1888 the pneumatic tire invention increased the use of bicycle for sports and leisure piqued the interest of the military as a possible method of transport.
The U.S. Army began experimenting with the use of bicycles in 1896 deploying the 25th Infantry to pilot its efforts. The newly formed group was initially comprised of eight black enlisted officers and their white commander, Lieutenant James A. Moss. The 25th Infantry was given its first long distance assignment of riding north to Lake McDonald and back. The trip was a “test” to see how they would bicycles would perform. It was distance of 126 miles. The trip took 3 days. The Infantry encountered extremely challenging weather including heavy rain, fierce winds, and deep mud. The group experienced flat tires and may other issues with their bikes. Again in August 15, the group conducted another test run. Leaving Fort Missoula they headed for Yellowstone Park. It was a ten day trip of 500 miles. They remained in Yellowstone for 5 days before returning to Fort Missoula. The groups speed in covering the terrain was impressive. They averaged 6 miles per hour over the roughest and steepest part of the terrain. Continue reading “25th Infantry Bicycle Corp: Black Soldiers On Wheels”→
Minnie Cox (1869-1933) was appointed as post master in Indianola, Mississippi in 1891. Before her employment at the post office, Cox was an educator and school principal. She was a graduate of Fisk University. Initially she was appointed by President Benjamin Harrison to the postmaster role when there was no white Republican who qualified for the job. She is believed to be the first African American woman to hold a post master position. Her appointment was made during the post civil war reconstruction era when African Americans were appointed and elected to various political roles that had previously been unavailable to them before the Civil War. Cox was again reappointed in 1897 under President William McKinley and continued under the term of Theodore Roosevelt. Indianola was a predominately African American community. Minnie Cox and her husband were well respected members of the community.
The position of postmaster was a highly respected and well paid federal position. As postmaster, Cox oversaw postal services for approximately 3,000 residents and was paid $1,100 annually which would have been a significant salary at that time. She was known to have a strong work ethic; working long hours and even helping residents pay their rental fees on post office boxes when they fell behind. Cox even had a telephone installed in the post office at her own expense so that residents would have better communication with the post office. As the political climate began to change; hiring of African Americans in roles of this kind, fell out of favor. Cox was initially hired due, in part to her affiliation with the Republican party. However, during the Roosevelt presidential administration, the white community in Indianola decided to rally to eliminate African Americans from serving in leadership roles.
A petition was started within the community to remove Minnie Cox from her postmaster position; hoping that the role would then be filled by a white person. James K. Vardaman, editor of the Greenwood Commonwealth and also a white supremacist was a vocal opponent of Cox. In one speech, Vardaman scolded the residents of Indianola for, “tolerating a negro wench as postmaster”. Vardaman wanted Cox removed so that he could take over the role himself. His speeches garnered greater support to remove Cox from her position. White residents demanded that Cox resign her position by January 1, 1903. Cox initially refused to step down before the end of her term but did indicate that she would not seek reappointment after her current term ended.
She soon found her physical safety to be at risk because of her refusal to step down. Local authorities refused to come to her aid. Postal inspector, Charles Fitzgerald saw these threats to Cox, as necessitating intervention by the federal government. He requested that if necessary, federal troops be dispatched to protect Cox since she was a federal employee. Fearing for her safety, Cox submitted her resignation. President Roosevelt intervened and indicated that that intervention of federal troops would not be necessary. He also refused to accept Cox’s resignation. Instead, President Roosevelt suspended mail service in Indianola on January 2, 1903 and told the city’s residents that mail service would be rerouted until Minnie Cox could safely resume her duties. He also ordered that Cox would continue to receive her salary during this time.
The city environment continued to remain hostile and Cox eventually left the Indianola fearing for her safety on January 5, 1903. President Roosevelt ordered that the citizens who had threatened Minnie Cox be prosecuted by the attorney general. This incident drew national media coverage and was also debated for several hours in the U.S. Senate. A year later, in 1904, at the time that Cox’s term would have expired, the post office was re-opened. However it was reduced in rank from 3rd class to 4th class. Minnie Cox died in 1933.
Thomas Greene Bethune Wiggins (1849 – 1908) was born to enslaved parents who lived on a Georgia plantation. The family was owned at first by Wiley Jones but was then sold to General James Bethune in Columbus, GA. Wiggins was blind from birth and was also considered to be autistic. He showed an early aptitude for music and also was said to have a great memory. By the age of 4 he was able to play the piano and made his musical concert debut at the age of 8, in Atlanta, GA. Wiggins was hired out as an enslaved musician. The fee for his performance was $15,000. He would be the first African American to perform at the White House for President James Buchanan in 1859, when he was 10 years old. Two of his original piano pieces “Oliver Galop” and “Virginia Polka” were published in 1860. During the Civil War, his musical talents were used to raise funds for Confederate relief efforts. By 1865, Wiggins was 16 years old and was considered an “indentured” servant to General Bethune. Continue reading “Thomas Bethune Wiggins: Enslaved, Blind, Musical Genius”→
On February 22, 1989, DJ Jazzy Jeff (Jeffrey Townes) and The Fresh Prince (Will Smith) won the first Rap Grammy Award, for “Best Rap Performance” for their hit single, “Parents Just Don’t Understand” written by Ready Rock C (Clarence Holmes). The group eventually sold over 5 million albums worldwide. The rap group formed in 1986. At the time the group launched, the Grammy Awards did not include a hip hop category. This did not occur until 1989. Though the group was nominated the category nomination was not going to be televised. The group was however, asked to perform their hit single at the Grammy Awards Show. Continue reading “DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince: 1st Rap Artists To Win A Grammy Award”→