On This Day In Black History… December 27

December 27, 1931 Ruth Carol Taylor, nurse, journalist and the first African-American airline stewardess in the United States was born in Boston, Massachusetts. Taylor graduated from the Bellevue School of Nursing as a registered nurse in 1955. After working as a nurse for several years, she decided to break the color barrier that existed for airline stewardess. Taylor applied to Trans World Airlines but was rejected. She then was hired by Mohawk Airlines in December, 1957 and on February 11, 1958 became the first African-American airline stewardess on a flight. Six months later, Taylor married and was forced to resign because of the requirement that stewardess be single. Taylor moved to Barbados and founded the country’s first professional nursing journal. She returned to New York in 1977 and resumed her nursing career. She also co-founded the Institute for Interracial Harmony which developed a test to measure racist attitudes. Taylor published “The Little Black Book: Black Male Survival in America,” a guide to help young Black men succeed in a racist society, in 1985.

December 27, 1939 John Amos, Jr., television, film and stage actor, was born in Newark, New Jersey. Amos attended Colorado State University and Long Beach City College and briefly played professional football. He is best known for his television roles on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” from 1970 to 1973 and “Good Times” from 1974 to 1976. Unhappy with the scripts, Amos quit “Good Times” after the third season. Amos appeared in the 1977 Emmy Award winning television miniseries “Roots,” for which he was nominated for the Emmy Award for Best Actor, and has guest starred on a number of other television programs, including “The Cosby Show,” “The West Wing” and “Men in Trees.” He has won more TV Land Awards than any other actor or actress. Amos has had roles in several films, including “Coming to America” (1988), “Die Hard 2” (1990), “Dr. Dolittle” (2006), and “Madea’s Witness Protection” (2012). He is the writer and producer of “Halley’s Comet,” a critically acclaimed one-man play that he performs around the world. He was the recipient of the New Jersey Education Association Award for Excellence in 2009.

December 27 1941 Nolan Richardson, hall of fame college basketball coach, was born in El Paso, Texas. Richardson played college basketball at the University of Texas – El Paso and earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1964. He began his coaching career in 1968. He moved to Western Texas Junior College in 1978 and won the 1980 National Junior College Basketball Championship. He moved to the University of Tulsa in 1981 and won the 1981 National Invitation Tournament Basketball Championship. He was hired by the University of Arkansas in 1985 and over his 17 year tenure led them to the National Collegiate Athletic Association National Basketball Championship Tournament Final Four three times. Richardson led Arkansas to the 1994 NCAA National Basketball Championship, the second Black head coach to win the championship, and was named the National Coach of the Year. Richardson is the only head coach to win the Junior College National Championship, the NIT,and the NCAA Tournament. He was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008. In October, 2009, Richardson was named head coach of the Tulsa franchise (formerly the Detroit Shock) in the Women’s National Basketball Association, a position he held until 2011. Nolan Richardson Middle School in El Paso, Texas is named in his honor. His biography, “Forty Minutes of Hell: The Extraordinary Life of Nolan Richardson,” was published in 2010. In 2014, Richardson was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

December 27, 1946 John Adolphus Payton, civil rights attorney, was born in Los Angeles, California. Payton earned his bachelor’s degree in 1973 from Pomona College where he was one of the founders of the Black Student Association. After receiving a Watson Fellowship to study literature in West Africa for a year, Payton earned his Juris Doctor degree, cum laude, from Harvard Law School in 1977. Over the next 30 years, he worked on several important civil rights cases, including defending the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People against an anti-trust lawsuit brought by White merchants in Mississippi who had lost business as the result of a desegregation boycott and serving as lead counsel for the University of Michigan in defending its law and undergraduate schools’ use of race in their admissions processes. Payton served as Washington, D. C. corporation counsel from 1991 to 1994 and president of the District of Columbia Bar in 2001. He was also a visiting professor at Harvard Law School, the Georgetown University Law Center, and Howard University Law School. In 2008, Payton was named president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, a position he held until his death March 22, 2012. The National Law Journal named Payton one of the Decade’s Most Influential Lawyers in 2010.

December 27, 1950 Varnette Patricia Honeywood, painter, writer and businesswoman, was born in Los Angeles, California. Honeywood earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in art from Spelman College in 1972 and her Master of Science degree in education from the University of Southern California in 1974. As part of a community outreach program at USC, she taught multicultural arts and crafts programs to minority children in the public schools. Honeywood and her sister founded the Black Lifestyles Greeting Card Company with cards showing Honeywood’s brightly colored portraits depicting the daily life of African-Americans, the first such company specializing in Black themes. Camille Cosby discovered Honeywood’s work on the greeting cards and she and her husband Bill began to collect Honeywood’s art. After that, Honeywood’s work appeared on the interior settings for “The Bill Cosby Show,” “A Different World,” “Amen,” and “227.” These paintings included “Birthday” (1974), “Club Alabam: Down at the Dunbar” (1981), and “The Groundbreaking” (1991). A recurring theme in her work is the vibrancy of Black culture despite barriers of racial oppression. Honeywood died September 12, 2010. The Varnette P. Honeywood Foundation was established to support those who suffer from and are prone to having reproductive cancers.

December 27, 1959 Andre Bernard Tippett, hall of fame football player, was born in Birmingham, Alabama. Tippett played college football at the University of Iowa from 1979 to 1982 and was an All-American defensive end. He was selected by the New England Patriots in the 1982 National Football League Draft. Over his 12 season professional career, Tippett was a five-time Pro Bowl selection and the 1985 AFC Defensive Player of the Year. He retired after the 1993 season and was selected to the NFL 1980s All-Decade Team. Tippett was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2008. He is currently executive director of community affairs for the Patriots.

December 27, 1997 James Madison Nabrit, Jr., civil rights lawyer, college president and deputy ambassador, died. Nabrit was born September 7, 1900 in Atlanta, Georgia. He earned his bachelor’s degree in 1923 from Morehouse College and his Doctor of Laws degree from Northwestern University in 1927. Nabrit joined the faculty of Howard University Law School in 1936 and established the first civil rights course for a United States law school. During his time at Howard, he also successfully argued a number of significant civil rights cases, including Lane v. Wilson (1939) concerning the registration of Black voters in Oklahoma and Terry v. Adams (1953) concerning the right of African-Americans to participate in primary elections in Texas. Nabrit became dean of the Howard University Law School in 1958 and two years later was appointed president of the university, a position he held until 1969. President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed him U. S. deputy ambassador to the United Nations in 1966. The Howard University School of Law annually hosts the James M. Nabrit Jr. Lecture Series.

December 27, 2003 Vincent Dacosta Smith, figurative painter, died. Smith was born December 12, 1929 in New York City. At 15, he dropped out of high school and became a hobo working odd jobs and spending a year in the army. He discovered his love of art in 1953 and became a full-time artist. His first solo show was held at the Brooklyn Museum Art School Gallery in 1955. In a career that spanned a half a century, Smith documented in brilliant color some of the most compelling events of the 20th century, including 1940s Harlem jazz clubs, civil rights workers confronting hate, and the creative militancy of the Black Arts Movement. One of his works, “Rootin Tootin Blues,” was presented to President William J. Clinton during his first inaugural ceremony. Smith’s work is in the collections of several museums, including The Newark Museum, The Brooklyn Museum of Art, and The Columbus Museum of Art.