This Week In Black History

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Week of October 15-21

October 15

1859—White minister and mystic John Brown leads a violent uprising in Harper’s Ferry, Va., in a bid to spark a Black uprising against slavery. Dozens of Whites are killed but revolt is eventually put down. President Abraham Lincoln once referred to him as a “misguided fanatic” but Brown actually had a fanatical hatred of slavery and wanted it ended at all costs.


1887—The U.S. Supreme Court declares Civil Rights Act of 1885 unconstitutional. Decision was spurred by the end of Reconstruction and helped to usher in the Jim Crow period in the South whereby Black rights won during Reconstruction were taken away.

1991—Conservative Black judge Clarence Thomas is confirmed as the 106th associate justice of the U.S. Supreme. He remains on the court with a voting record which continues to anger many Black leaders.

2007—Annette Holliday Fulton Cornish is the first Black person to put together the genealogy of the names in the Bible—more than 3,000 names appear in this one and only book. The book, “the Holy Bible’s Genealogy in chart format” has won the Publisher’s Award and has been selected to appear at two book shows, the 2009 New York Library Association Book Show in Niagara Falls, N.Y., Oct. 15-16, and the 2009 AARP Book Gallery Show in Las Vegas, Nev., Oct. 22 -24. The publisher is http://www.Xlibris.Com.

October 16

(Note: October 16 has to be considered one of the busiest days in Black history: In addition, October, not February, is Black History Month in England, Canada and several other countries.)

1849—The man considered the first Black historian in America is born. His name was George Washington Williams. He was also the first African-American to serve in the Ohio legislature. He died in Blackpool, England in August 1891.

1855—John Mercer Langston, probably the first Black elected to public office in America—wins the race for Clerk of the Brownhelm Township, Lorain County, Ohio.

1876—Race riot in Cainhoy, S.C., leaves five Whites and one Black dead.

1895—The nation’s leading African-American medical group—National Medical Association—is founded in Atlanta, Ga.

1901—Booker T. Washington becomes first Black leader to dine at the White House with the president when Theodore Roosevelt invites him. Some Black leaders charge Washington’s invitation was a result his policies, which they charge, tended to accommodate racism. Nevertheless, the invitation and dinner served to crown Washington as the Black leader of the period.

1917—One of the most unsung heroes of the Civil Rights Movement, Fannie Lou Hamer, is born in Montgomery County, Miss. Her famous and most oft repeated quote: “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”

1940—Benjamin Oliver Davis Sr. is named the first Black general in the regular U.S. Army. Davis died in 1970 at the age of 90.

1968—Sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith give the clenched-fist Black power salute when accepting their medals at the Mexico City Olympics as a protest against racism in America. Sadly the two sprinters would become involved in a personal dispute years later. The White Australian sprinter in the historic picture also wore a human rights badge in support of their protest.

1973—Maynard Jackson, elected the first Black mayor of Atlanta, Ga. dies of a heart attack while on a visit to Washington, D.C., in 2003.

1984—Bishop Desmond Tutu is awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end White minority rule in South Africa.

1995—Nation of Islam leader Min. Louis Farrakhan leads the Million Man March in Washington, D.C. More than a million Black men gather to “atone” and organize. No permanent organizational efforts resulted from the historic gathering.

October 17

1720—Jupiter Hammon, the first Black American poet, is born in slavery. He was a Calvinist and self-educated writer.

1787—Led by Black Mason Prince Hall, free Boston Blacks petition the Massachusetts legislature for equal school facilities for African-American children. In addition to spreading Freemasonry among Blacks, Hall became the most prominent Black leader of the period. For reasons which are not entirely clear, records show there were at least 21 men named “Prince Hall” living in Massachusetts at the time.

1871—President Ulysses Grant suspends the writ of habeas corpus in nine South Carolina counties in order to combat a Ku Klux Klan terror campaign against Blacks and some progressive Whites. Grant pretty much crushed the Klan during this period. It would not rise again until the 1920s.

1888—The nation’s first Black bank—Capital Savings—is chartered in Washington, D.C., by a group known as the Order of the True Reformers. The now little known but once influential group set up chapters throughout the South and advocated Black self-help and the starting of Black-owned businesses. The founder was William Washington Browne—a Methodist minister from Richmond, Va.

1928—Historian and Ebony magazine editor Lerone Bennett Jr. is born. His best known book is “Before the Mayflower.”

1956—Physician and astronaut Mae Jamison is born in Decatur, Ala.

1969—Dr. Clifton R. Wharton becomes the first Black in the 20th century to head a major, predominantly White university when he is named president of Michigan State University.

October 18

1917—“Dizzy” Gillespie, bandleader and pioneer of “B-bop Jazz”, is born John Birks Gillespie in Cheraw, S.C.

1945—Actor, singer, activist, and socialist Paul Robeson receives the NAACP’s prestigious Spingarn Medal for his artistic achievements. Robeson would be hounded by the U.S. government because of his leftist leanings. He was labeled a communist, blocked from working in America and later denied a passport so he could not travel to Europe to work.

1951—Novelist Terry McMillan is born in Port Huron, Mich.

October 19

1859—Co-founder of West Virginia State College, Byrd Prillerman, is born. He became one of the state’s most prominent educators

1870—First African-Americans elected to the U.S. House of Representatives came from South Carolina: Joseph H. Rainey, Robert C. Delarge, and Robert B. Elliott. Rainey was actually seated first and thus became the first African-American sworn in as a member of Congress. A portrait in his honor was finally placed in the U.S. Capitol Building in 2006.

1936—Johnetta Cole is born. She becomes the first Black president of Spelman College in 1987.

1894—Henry Ossawa Tanner wins the Medal of Honor at the Paris Expositions for his paintings. He was the first African-American painter to gain international acclaim for his works. Tanner was born in Pittsburgh, Pa. In fact, he eventually moved to Paris because of opposition to a Black artist in the United States. His most famous painting is “The Banjo Player.”

October 20

1898—The North Carolina Mutual And Provident Insurance Co. is founded by a group led by John Merrick. Company grows into the largest Black-owned insurance firm in America.

1904—Enolia P. McMillan is born. She becomes first female president of the NAACP.

October 21

1865—Jamaican national hero and independence advocate, George William Gordon, is unjustly arrested and sentenced to death for his struggle to free the Caribbean island nation from White minority rule. The son of a White man and a Black slave woman, Gordon is considered one of Jamaica’s most significant national heroes.

1950—Earl Lloyd becomes first Black person to play in an NBA game.

1994—Dexter King, youngest young of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., is named head of SCLC—an organization founded by his slain father. Ironically, Dexter’s sister Rev. Bernice King is now in line to head the civil rights group. A vote deciding the next SCLC president takes place on Oct. 29.

(This Week in Black History is compiled by Robert Taylor. He welcomes comments and additions. You can also have one free edition of his popular “Black History Journal” emailed to you by contacting him at or by leaving your email address at 202-657-8872.)

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