Today is the first day of Hispanic Heritage Month (9/15-10/15). We will highlight some famous black Hispanics as well as some who are not so famous. You will likely be surprised at some folks who are of Hispanic descent but it is a testament to the oneness of the human race. Let’s start with Sammy Davis, Jr.
Samuel George "Sammy" Davis Jr. (December 8, 1925 – May 16, 1990) was an American entertainer and was also known for his impersonations of actors and other celebrities.
Samuel George Davis, Jr. was born in New York City, to Sammy Davis, Sr. (1900–1988), an African-American entertainer, and Elvera Sanchez (1905–2000), a tap dancer. During his lifetime, Davis, Jr. stated that his mother was Puerto Rican and born in San Juan; however, in the 2003 biography In Black and White, author Wil Haygood writes that Davis, Jr.'s mother was born in New York City to Cuban American parents, and that Davis, Jr. claimed he was Puerto Rican because he feared anti-Cuban backlash would hurt his record sales.
Davis' parents were vaudeville dancers. As an infant, he was raised by his paternal grandmother. When he was three years old, his parents separated. His father, not wanting to lose custody of his son, took him on tour. Davis learned to dance from his father and his "uncle" Will Mastin, who led the dance troupe his father worked for. Davis joined the act as a child and they became the Will Mastin Trio. Throughout his career, Davis included the Will Mastin Trio in his billing. Mastin and his father shielded him from racism. Snubs were explained as jealousy, for instance. When Davis served in the United States Army during World War II, however, he was confronted by strong racial prejudice. He later said, "Overnight the world looked different. It wasn't one color any more. I could see the protection I'd gotten all my life from my father and Will. I appreciated their loving hope that I'd never need to know about prejudice and hate, but they were wrong. It was as if I'd walked through a swinging door for eighteen years, a door which they had always secretly held open."
Photo: Offbeat Oregon, 1986 portrait by Allan Warren.