SACRAMENTO – Some saw many seasons and accomplished great things, while others were just on the brink of their potential, gone too soon. The past year has seen the loss of a number of Blacks who made an impact locally, nationally and internationally.
As the sun sets on 2013, we take a minute to reflect and acknowledge a few notable African Americans who have come to our attention and who have gone to their glory this year.
Mamie Rearden, the oldest person in America, died on January 2. The Edgefield, South Carolina native was 114. The Gerontology Research Group, which verifies information for the Guinness Book of World Records confirmed Ms. Rearden’s age and status.
Chandler Williams, a wide receiver for the professional arena football team, the Tampa Bay Storm, died on January 5, from a suspected heart condition. Williams, 27, was originally drafted by the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings in 2007 and was also on the roster for such teams as the Miami Dolphins, the Atlanta Falcons and the Kansas City Chiefs.
Young Sacramento mother Courtnee Davis was fatally shot in the early morning hours of January 12. Her father, local pastor Michael Davis, said she was returning home from an evening of bowling. Police say Ms. Davis, 20, was an innocent bystander, apparently traveling in a car with someone who was targeted by the shooter. Friends and family describe her as fun-loving and devoted to her then nine-month-old daughter.
James Hood, one of the first African Americans to enroll at the University of Alabama, died on January 17. Hood was 70.
In a case of mistaken identity, 15-year-old Chicago student Hadiya Pendleton was shot and killed on January 29 while standing with friends at an area park. Her death came one week after she performed with a choir at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration. First Lady Michelle Obama attended her funeral.
Cecil Womack, the brother of singer Bobby Womack, died February 1. Womack was a singer/songwriter in his own right and performed solo and with his wife, Linda, as Womack & Womack. He also wrote hit songs as “Love TKO” for Teddy Pendergrass and “I Just Want To Satisfy You” for the O’Jays.
Detroit Centenarian Louisiana Hines passed away on February 1 at age 113. Ms. Hines was a riveter during World War II and later became a restaurateur and beauty shop owner. At the time of her death she was the nation’s oldest African American.
Tyrice Thompson, a wide receiver in the NFL died on February 2. Thompson, 27, died five days after being stabbed while working as a bouncer at an Arizona nightclub. Thompson was signed to the Indianapolis Colts as an undrafted free agent in 2008.
Essie Mae Washington Williams, the Black daughter of South Carolina segregationist Sen. Strom Thurman, died of natural causes on February 4. The former teacher was 87.
Tuskegee Airmen George Porter died on February 9 at age 91. Porter was a mechanic with the pioneering Black aviators. He proudly told their story as part of the living history team for Sacramento’s George S. “Spanky” Roberts Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen.
Former professional football player Walter Easley died on February 14 at age 55. Easley, a fullback, played for the San Francisco 49ers for two years and was a member of the Super Bowl XVI championship team. He later played in the USFL, suiting up with the Chicago Blitz and Pittsburgh Maulers.
Former Indianapolis Colt running back Ken Clark died of a massive heart attack on February 16. He was 46. The Alabama native played for the Colts for three seasons.
Singer Damon Harris, who sang with The Temptations, died of prostate cancer in Baltimore on February 18. He was 62. Harris performed with The Temptations from 1971-1975. He later created an organization to raise awareness of prostate cancer among African Americans.
Fans of the Cosby spinoff “A Different World” knew him as the beloved campus diner owner, Mr. Gaines. Veteran actor Lou Meyers died of pneumonia on February 19. He was 77. In addition to television roles, Meyers starred in films and on and off Broadway, most notably in “The Piano Lesson” and “King Hedley II.”
Cleotha Staples, the oldest of the famed Staples Singers, died of Alzheimer’s disease on February 21. Ms. Staples was 78 years old. She and her singing siblings had hits with such songs as “Respect Yourself,” “I’ll Take You There” and “Let’s Do It Again.” They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1999.
Beulah Murchison, one of Sacramento’s celebrated centenarians, went on to her glory on February 20. Mrs. Murchison was 106 years old.
Maya Jackson Randall, a writer for the Wall Street Journal, Money magazine and Dow Jones Newswires died of leukemia on February 26. Ms. Jackson Randall was 33.
Richard Street, another former member of The Temptations, died in Las Vegas on February 27. Street performed with the legendary group from 1971-1993. He was featured on such songs as “Oh, What A Night,” “Take A Look Around” and “What It Is.”
The Arts community of Sacramento mourned the loss of Michelle Walker, former Director of the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission (SMAC). Ms. Walker, who led the fifth largest local arts agency in the state,was 53. Ms.Walker was the director of SMAC from 1992 to 2006.
Sports pioneer Harold Hunter died on March 7. Hunter, 87, was a basketball coach at Tennessee State University and the first African American to sign an NBA contract.
Mitchell Melton, a former member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives and founder of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, died of prostate cancer on March 11. He was 69 years old.
Lenard “Lenny” LeBaron Yates, a World War II Documented Original Tuskegee Airmen (DOTA), passed away on March 13. He was 87 years old. At the time of his passing, the Sacramento Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen was down to six living DOTAs.
Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe, who had been praised by Nelson Mandela as the writer who “brought Africa to the world,” died March 22 in Boston after a brief illness. Achebe’s 1958 debut novel, “Things Fall Apart,” presented European colonization from an African viewpoint and established him as the patriarch of modern African literature.
Former African American civil rights attorney James Nabrit died of lung cancer on March 22. Nabrit, 80, was a friend and ally to Thurgood Marshall and won several important decisions before the U.S. Supreme Court. Nabrit, a child of segregation, also went on to serve as president of Howard University and the NAACP Legal Defense & Education Fund.
Showers of Blessings COGIC’s beloved “Mother,” Evelyn Martin went on to her glory on March 23. Mother Martin was a renowned singer at revivals across the country. She was 92.
Sacramento’s Madelyn P. Boyden, a former teacher and consultant for the State of California, died on March 24. Ms. Boyden was 92.
Kathryn C. Lee, co-publisher of the Sacramento Observer Newspaper, passed away peacefully on March 25. She was 77. Mrs. Lee was the first African American woman to work at the Sacramento County Sheriff’s office and helped open doors for other African American women pursuing careers in law enforcement. She also worked as a pioneering legislative aide in the California State Capitol for 14 years and was the first African American to serve on the Sacramento County Grand Jury in 1973.
Champion sprinter Ronald “Ronnie” Smith died on March 31 in a hospice facility in Los Angeles. He was 64. Smith, an alum of San Jose State University, won of the gold medal in the 4?100 m relay at the 1968 Summer Olympics. Running the third leg at the Mexico Olympics, Smith helped the team set a new world record of 38.24 seconds.
Former New York Assemblymember Estella Diggs, 96, died on April 18. Ms. Diggs, who represented her beloved Bronx, introduced the state’s first Women, Infants and Children’s (WIC) program in the 1970s.
Journalist and author Lynne Duke died of lung cancer on April 19; she was 56. The Los Angeles native wrote local, national and international articles for The Washington Post and the Miami Herald. Ms. Duke wrote of her personal and work-related journeys to Africa in the 2003 book “Mandela, Mobutu and Me: A Newswoman’s Bold African Journey.” The book spans 1995-1999, when Ms. Duke served as The Washington Post’s Johannesburg bureau chief. As a reporter, Ms. Duke covered everything from the crack epidemic and apartheid to life in New York post 9/11. To honor her legacy, the National Association of Black Journalists established the Lynne Duke International Fellowship.
Female basketball star Alicia Gladden was killed on April 19 by a drunk driver in her native Orange Park, Florida. Ms. Gladden was 27. She was a standout at Florida State before heading to Europe to play professionally. Ms. Gladden helped her Serbian team, ZKK Partizan win a national championship in 2012. She returned home to coach a high school team. Her own high school posthumously retired her jersey in November.
Richie Havens, the veteran folk singer whose frenetic guitar strumming and impassioned vocals made him one of the defining voices and faces of Woodstock and 1960s pop music, died April 22 of a heart attack at his home in Jersey City, N.J. He was 72.
Sacramento’s Lynne Rankin-Cochran died on April 28 at age 62. In 2008, Ms. Rankin-Cochran planned events for the Sacramento Organizing for Obama campaign. She was also the co-founder and Vice President of Carrie’s TOUCH, Inc., a non-profit breast cancer organization dedicated to serving the African American community. She was also dedicated to her church home, St. Andrews A.M.E.
Former rapper Chris Kelly died of a drug overdose on May 1, he was 34. Kelly was one half of the hitmaking kid group Kris Kross. The group, backed by Jermaine Dupri, was known for dressing backward and had such hits as “Jump,” “I Missed The Bus” and “Live and Die For Hip-Hop.”
Harold N. Pauley, one of the brightest stars on the local gospel scene passed away of cancer on May 8. Pauley, 47, Pauley was a recording artist and musician for churches throughout Sacramento and the San Francisco Bay Area, including Trinity Missionary Baptist Church, Genesis Baptist Church and the Second Baptist Church of Vallejo. Harold also traveled the country with his music ministry, Unlimited Praise. Pauley’s gospel resume includes performances with industry notables such as Marvin Sapp, Albertina Walker, Bishop Walter Hawkins, and Edwin Hawkins.
David McMillan, a member of the Cleveland Browns was shot and killed on May 18. He was 31.
John “Mule” Miles, a player with the Negro Baseball Leagues, died on May 24. He was 90.
Sensational local senior, Ora Rakestraw left this earth on May 31 after suffering a stroke. “Grandma Ora” as she was called by local students, was 94. She was an active volunteer, lending her time to the Foster Grandparent Program, at Juvenile Hall, the Children’s Receiving Home of Sacramento and Woodbridge Elementary School. The Carmichael resident was recently honored by Molina Healthcare as a Community Champion.
Former professional football great David “Deacon” Jones passed away of natural causes on June 3, he was 74. Jones played with the LA Rams, San Diego Chargers and the Washington Redskins and was named to the Pro Hall of Fame in 1980. Jones, known as “The Secretary of Defense” is credited for coining the phrase “sack,” to describe when a defensive player knocks down a quarterback behind his own line.
Local activist Ples Fisher, Sr. died on June 13. Fisher, 68, was a member of the Sacramento Area Black Caucus.
Soul and gospel singer Mary Love Corner died on June 21. A Sacramento native, Corner was discovered by Sam Cooke’s manager and recorded such songs as “You Turned My Bitter To Sweet,” and “Move A Little Closer.”
Gospel and blues singer Bobby “Blue” Bland died on June 23 at the age of 83. Bland had hits with such songs as “Further Up The Road,” “Cry, Cry, Cry” and “I Pity The Fool.” He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1981 and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1992.
William H. Gray III, the former president of the United Negro College Fund died on July 1. He was 71. Gray was also a politician, serving Pennsylvania’s 2nd Congressional District from 1979-1991. He was also the Chairman of the House Committee on the Budget and the House Majority Whip. He led at UNC from 1991-2004.
One of the Sacramento region’s gifted and celebrated artists, John Franklin King, left this life on July 4. King, who helped establish the Sacramento Metropolitan Arts Commission, was 76. King was an educator, military veteran, and church trustee. However, he was widely known as a talented visual artist and his works were exhibited at Crocker Art Museum and other local and regional galleries.
Joseph Ganaway, a local champion for those trying to conquer drug and alcohol addiction, died on July 8. Ganaway, the former director for Sobriety Brings A Change, was 77.
Raymond “Ray” O’Bannon, Sr., an area police officer and Attendance/Behavior Specialist for the Grant Joint Unified and Twin Rivers Unified school districts, died on June 20. He was 65.
Martial arts expert Jim Kelly, who featured his skills, sharp wit and a trademark Afro in a number of films in the 1970s, died June 29 of cancer. He was 67. Kelly starred in the films “Enter the Dragon (with Bruce Lee), “Black Belt Jones” and “Three the Hard Way (with Fred Williamson and Jim Brown).
Jazz musician George Duke died on August 5 after a battle with chronic lymptocytic leukemia. He was 67.
HIV/AIDS activist Sean Sasser who some will remember from “The Real World: San Francisco” died of mesothelioma on August 7. Sasser was 44.
Former Sacramento Kings player Devin Gray died of a heart attack on August 17. Gray, 41, also spent time with the San Antonio Spurs and the Houston Rockets.
Actor Lee Thompson Young died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on August 19. Thompson, 29, was starring in the TNT’s detective drama “Rizzoli & Isles” at the time of his death. Thompson also starred in “The Famous Jett Jackson.”
Mighnon Papin, who taught etiquette to debutantes and worked at Sacramento’s Juvenile Hall, passed away on August 25 after a prolonged illness. She was 90. Ms. Papin was a charter member of the Eta Gamma Omega Chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., and served as a member for more than 70 years.
Retired pastor Mack T. Johnson went on to his glory on September 2. He was 78. Pastor Johnson led Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church, St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church and Providence Baptist Church. He also ran a community study center in the Glen Elder area and served as chaplain for the Richmond Police Department.
Ken Norton Sr., a former heavyweight boxing champion who beat Muhammad Ali once — breaking his jaw — and fought him to two other extremely close decisions, died Sept. 18 at a care facility near Las Vegas. He was 70.
He defended both Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks. Former civil rights attorney Demetrius Newton died on September 11 at age 85. Newton was also a member of the Alabama legislature.
Publicist to the stars, Patti Webster died of breast cancer on September 13. Ms. Webster, 49, counted actress Holly Robinson Peete, comic Steve Harvey, and singers Usher and Janet Jackson among her clients.
Bishop Sherwood C. Carthen, the charismatic and beloved pastor of Bayside of South Sacramento (BOSS), passed away on September 25. He was 54 years old. The well-known leader acted as president of the National Black Clergy for Substance Abuse Prevention; chairperson of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Worship Celebration Committee for the Sacramento community; and, served as chaplain for the Sacramento Kings.
Journalist Lee Thornton died of pancreatic cancer on September 25 at age 71. Ms. Thornton was a former CNN and CBS Correspondent. She was the first Black woman to cover the White House of CBS News and the first Black woman to host the weekend version of NPR’s “All Things Considered.”
Evelyn Lowery, the wife of civil rights leader, Rev. Joseph Lowery, died on September 26 after suffering a stroke a week prior. Mrs. Lowery was 88. A leader in her own right, she founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference Women’s Organizational Movement For Equality Now, Inc. in 1979.
Famed Pittsburgh Steeler L.C. Greenwood died of kidney failure on September 29. Greenwood played for the Steelers in the 1970s.
Connecticut mom Miriam Carey, 34, was fatally shot on October 3 by officers after attempting to ram her car into a security barrier outside the White House and leading them on a chase toward the U.S. Capitol Building. Ms. Carey, who had a history of mental illness, reportedly believed President Barack Obama was sending messages to her brain. Her infant daughter was in the vehicle for the entire incident. Last month, a lawyer for her family asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to look into the shooting, particularly the procedures followed by the officers who shot her to end the chase.
Herman Wallace, of the the famed Angola Three prisoners died of liver cancer on October 4 just days after a federal judge ruled his 1972 indictment had been unconstitutional. Wallace spent 41 years in solitary confinement at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola having been convicted of killing a prison guard. Wallace maintained his innocence.
Joshua Marks, 26, a finalist on the third season of FOX’s “MasterChef,” was found dead outdoors in Chicago from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head Oct. 11. Marks was open with fans about suffering from bipolar disorder.
Local centenarian Marie Whitehorn-Taylor passed away on October 18. Ms. Whithorn-Taylor, 103, was a survivor of the infamous Tulsa, Oklahoma Race Riot. She called Sacramento’s Oak Park neighborhood home for 55 years.
Veteran Harrison E. Crump, Jr. died on October 27 at age 65. Crump was the leader of Celebrate Recovery, a group that helped combat substance abuse.
Naomi Conner, the fourth oldest living person in the United States died on October 18. Ms. Conner, the oldest living Texan, was 114.
Veteran educator and community leader Golden Angel Harris passed away on October 24 at age 84. Ms. Harris worked at Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson’s St. Hope Academy and Sacramento Charter High School. She worked as a substitute teacher with the Sacramento City Unified School District; as a volunteer with the Kennedy High School Scholar’s Program and an adjunct professor with the Los Rios Community College District.
R. Rollins Leon, the pastor of Sacramento’s New Life Christian Fellowship COGIC died on November 11. Leon was 77 years old.
Former Oakland Raider Thomas Howard died in a traffic accident on November 18. The CHP says Howard, 30, was driving “beyond recklessly” and that the BMW was “obliterated” in the accident that also killed Howard’s male passenger. Howard, who played for the Raiders from 2006-2010, had just been released from the Atlanta Falcons days before.
Original Tuskegee Airmen William L. Booker died in Seattle, Washington on November 30 after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease; he was 90. Booker served as a navigator and flight engineer on B-24 and B-25 bombers with the 477th Bombardment Group based at Godman Field, Kentucky. He flew with all-Black crews with pilots trained in Alabama at Tuskegee Institute. After World War II he worked for Boeing for 34 years. He served 10 years as president of the local Tuskegee Airmen’s chapter.
L.A.-born drummer Chico Hamilton, who helped forge the California sound dubbed “cool jazz” in the 1950s and launched the careers of a wealth of jazz artists, both as a bandleader and an educator, died Nov. 26. His landmark mid-’50s quintet consisted of Jim Hall, Carson Smith, Buddy Collette and Fred Katz. Hamilton was 92.
Dortha Lee Ware of Sacramento, her family’s beloved matriarch and a mighty woman of God, died on December 2. Ms. Ware, 92, was featured in THE OBSERVER in September for gathering five generations of her family together locally.
Nelson Mandela, the first Black president of South Africa, died on December 5. Mandela was 95. Mandela was an icon in his country for standing up against apartheid and rose to international prominence upon taking the helm of the country after spending 27 years in prison. South Africa’s current president, Jacob Zuma, called Mandela, the “founding president of our democratic nation.”
William “Richard” Shaw, the former President and CEO of the Sacramento Black Chamber of Commerce passed away on December 6. He was 68 years old. Shaw was a founding member of the Alliance for Business and Community and its Vice President of International Trade. After leaving the Sacramento Black Chamber of Commerce, he served as Director of Special Projects for the California Black Chamber of Commerce and later worked for Access Mortgage.
Jimmie Ward died on December 7. Ward, a former member of the U.S. Air Force was a former registered nurse who tended to locals’ well-being at Sutter Health, UC Davis Medical Center and the local VA at Mather.
Former Ohio legislator William L. Mallory, who was the state’s first Black House majority leader and longest-serving in its history, died on December 10 in Cincinnati after a brief illness; he was 82.
Delores Lewis, the co-founder of Sacramento’s Kosmos Club, died of breast cancer on December 11. Ms. Lewis was 80. Ms. Lewis was active in Sacramento’s African American civic community. She was a charter member of the local chapter of the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Le Beaux Arts Club, the Iota Phi Lamda Sorority and the Sacramento Valley Section of the National Council of Negro Women.
Tre’ Howard was fatally shot on December 17. The 21-year-old was a former student athlete at Hiram Johnson High School. Howard is described by family and friends as “funny” and “full of promise.” He volunteered with the American Cancer Society and his mother’s breast cancer awareness organization, Carrie’s TOUCH, Inc.
By Genoa Barrow
OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer