Good News in History, February 18

15 years ago today, American speed skater Shani Davis became the first Black athlete to win a gold medal in Winter Olympic history for an individual event, winning the men’s 1,000-meter in Italy. He also won a silver medal in the 1500-meter race. Four years later at the Olympics in Vancouver, Canada, he repeated the feat, and became the first man to win back-to-back gold medals in the 1000 meters, and repeating as the 1500-meter silver medalist, too.

A native of Chicago, Illinois, his mother worked for a local lawyer who happened to be a speed skating official and whose son was an elite-level skater. At the lawyer’s suggestion, Cherie enrolled Shani in lessons when he was 6—and later waking him every morning to run a mile, building his endurance.

In 2000, he made history by becoming the first U.S. skater to make both the long and short track teams for the Junior World Teams. His height of 6’2″ always made him unique among ‘short’ trackers, but he used the extra height to race lower to the ice.

Frozone, an animated African-American superhero with ice powers from the film The Incredibles, was allegedly inspired by Shani Davis—so was the creation of the Washington, DC Inner City Excellence (DC-ICE). He retired in 2019 but continues to support and encourage kids in the program. WATCH him win the gold… (2006)Featured photos: (left) Mingo Hagen, and (right) in 2006 by McSmit, CC licenses

MORE Good News on this Date:

  • Hindus and Hare Krishnas commemorate the day Lord Krishna left his body (3102 BC)
  • The First Academy Award winners were announced (1929)
  • Happy 67th Birthday to John Travolta, star of such films as Saturday Night Fever, Grease, Pulp Fiction, Get Shorty, Hairspray, and Swordfish (1954)
  • Gambia became the 37th sovereign state in Africa and last of Britain’s West African colonies to gain independence (1965)
  • California’s Supreme Court struck down the state’s death penalty (1972)
  • The Space Shuttle Enterprise test vehicle went on its maiden “flight” perched atop a Boeing 747 (1977)
  • Snow fell in the Sahara Desert for the only time in recorded history, with a snowstorm that lasted 30 minutes (1979)

136 years ago today, Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was first published in the US. 326px-Huckleberry_Finn_book

The sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is a scathing satire on entrenched attitudes, particularly racism, and was among the first novels in major American literature to be written fully in regional vernacular English, which made it controversial, especially in the 20th century, because of its course language and use of racial slurs. (1885)

And, 90 years ago today, Toni Morrison, the first African-American woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, was born.

toni morrison in wheelchair - FB
Morrison in 2015

Born Chloe Wofford in Lorain, Ohio, the author is known for her lyrically narrated novels of black American life, including, The Bluest Eye (her first), Song of Solomon, and Beloved, which became a film and also earned her a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1988. Her recent book, God Help the Child,  was also recorded as an audio book with Morrison reading it herself. She worked for years as a book editor for Random House and as Professor Emeritus at Princeton University. (1931-2019)

Pink Floyd 1973, public domain photo

Also, 53 years ago today, David Gilmour joined Pink Floyd, replacing a classmate who had checked himself into a psychiatric ward. With the addition of the innovative songwriter–vocalist–guitarist, whose sound is instantly recognizable, Pink Floyd achieved international success with the concept albums Dark Side of the MoonWish You Were HereAnimals, and The Wall. One of the most critically acclaimed acts in the history of popular music, the band by 2012 had sold over 250 million records worldwide. Now 72, the British-born Gilmour is ranked #14 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the greatest guitarists of all time.

In 2003, the multi-instrumentalist (plays bass, drums, keyboards, and more) sold one of his houses and donated the proceeds worth £3.6 million to help fund a housing project for the homeless. He has also contributed to animal rights, poverty, environmental, wildlife, human rights, and music therapy charities.

Fun Facts: Gilmour discovered and nurtured to a recording contract the singer-songwriter Kate Bush. He is also an aviator–pilot whose hobby was flying, buying, and selling vintage bi-planes. Check out his fifth solo album since 1995 when the band broke up. (1968)

2007 Photo by Petr Novák, Wikipedia, CC license

And, Happy Birthday to actress Cybill Shepherd who turns 71 today. Born in Memphis, Tennessee—and named after her grandfather Cy and father Bill—the blonde won a beauty pageant and became a model. A Glamour magazine cover of the 20-year-old caught the eye of film director Peter Bogdanovich, who cast her in The Last Picture Show co-starring Jeff Bridges, a critical and box office hit that earned several Oscars, with Shepherd nominated for a Golden Globe. Afterward, she was cast in The Heartbreak Kid and also earned good reviews for her work in the film Taxi Driver.

But it was her role as charismatic Maddie Hayes in the TV hit series Moonlighting (1985–1989) that defined her career. The brilliant chemistry and repartee with her young co-star Bruce Willis on the comedy detective show earned Shepherd two Golden Globes—and 40 Emmy nods for the show, with 7 wins.

In 2000, Shepherd’s bestselling autobiography was published, titled Cybill Disobedience: How I Survived Beauty Pageants, Elvis, Sex, Bruce Willis, Lies, Marriage, Motherhood, Hollywood, and the Irrepressible Urge to Say What I Think.

In 1997, she won her third Golden Globe for her sitcom Cybill in which she played an aging actress struggling to get roles, loosely modeled on herself, with Christine Baranski playing Cybill’s hard-drinking gal pal.

After many TV films, screen roles, and a Broadway debut, she starred in Being Rose, a 2019 drama about a dying ex-sheriff who finds love (with James Brolin) while soul searching in a motorized wheelchair on a road trip around the southwest during her final days.

WATCH the trailer and an interview about her career… (1950)

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