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”→
Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) has the distinction of having one of the first women’s track teams in the United States. The team was started in 1929. 3 years later, two African American women, Louise Stokes (1913-1978) and Tidye Pickett (1914-1986) qualified for the 1932 Olympics in track and field. (Neither Stokes nor Pickett attended Tuskegee). They traveled to the Olympics with the team but were not allowed to compete because of their race. Replaced by 2 white teammates, Pickett and Stokes watched from the stands as their team competed.
John B. McLendon, Jr. (1915-1999) was trailblazing African American basketball coach. He is also recognized as the first African American basketball coach at a predominately white university and the first African American coach of a professional sports team.
McClendon, Jr.’s attended Sumner High School in Kansas City. While an all around athlete, McClendon, , Jr., did not play basketball while in high school. He was born in Hiawatha, KS and graduated from University of Kansas with a degree in physical education. He studied basketball at Kansas and was trained by the creator of the sport, Dr. James Naismith. McClendon Jr. was not allowed to play of the varsity team at the University of Kansas because he was black. However, he would go on to build an impressive career as a coach winning 8 CIAA (Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association) championships. McClendon, Jr. also invented several aspects of the game including the fast break, zone press, and four corners offense. Continue reading “John B. McClendon, Jr: Creator Of The Fast Break, Zone Press, And 4 Corners Offense”→
A native of Chicago, IL, Diane Nash (1938-) was one of the pioneering forces behind the Civil Rights movement. Nash and many other women were champions of the movement. She became active in the movement in 1959 as a new student at Fisk University in Nashville, TN. While at Fisk she would encounter the harsh realities of segregation and prejudice that were previously unknown to her. In 1959 she attended a workshop focused on non-violent protesting. She would quickly become a respected leader of Nashville’s “sit in” movement. Her efforts were instrumental in organizing the first successful campaign to end segregation of lunch counters. This effort engaged hundreds of black and white college students as volunteers. She was also one of the founders of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). SNCC would play a major role in the civil rights movement by engaging young college students in civil rights activism. These efforts were successful and in 1960, Nashville became first southern city to desegregate lunch counters. Continue reading “Diane Nash – Unsung Hero Of The Civil Rights Movement”→
Dr. Myra A. Logan (1908-1977) made history in 1943 by becoming the first woman to operate on a human heart. Logan was born in Tuskegee, Alabama. Her father was the treasurer of Tuskegee Institute. Her mother was well known suffragist and health care advocate. Her mother also had a college degree, which would have been rare at that time. Logan earned an MS in psychology from Columbia University. She then was awarded a scholarship to attend New York Medical College. She graduated in 1933 and completed an internship at Harlem Hospital in the emergency room. Continue reading “Dr. Myra Adele Logan: First Woman To Perform Open Heart Surgery”→