Week of June 18-24
1941—Labor and civil rights leader A. Phillip Randolph initially rejected a plea by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to call off the first-ever Black-organized March on Washington designed to protest unfair employment practices by the military and the defense industry. The march was planned by Randolph, Bayard Rustin and A.J. Muste—all relatively unsung heroes of the early Civil Rights Movement. The march was not cancelled until Roosevelt signed the Fair Employment Act. Ironically, over 20 years later, Randolph would be one of the principal figures helping Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. organize his historic 1963 March on Washington.
A. PHILLIP RANDOLPH
1968—The United States Supreme Court bans racial discrimination in the sale and rental of housing. The decision came in a case known as Jones v. Alfred H. Mayer Company. The court used as its precedent the Civil Rights Act of 1866 to state that housing discrimination by either the government or private industry was unconstitutional.
1865—The Juneteenth Celebration begins. June 19, 1865 marks the day that many Blacks actually became free, especially those in Texas. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation technically freed all slaves in 1863, slavery actually continued in Texas until the end of the Civil War. It was not until June 19, 1865 that many slaves learned they had been freed. They called the day of freedom “Juneteenth.” It is normally marked with picnics, barbecues and commemorations. In 1980, the day became an official holiday in Texas.
1918—Ebony and Jet magazines founder John H. Johnson is born in Arkansas City, Ark. He moved to Chicago to build his publishing empire. Johnson was the first African-American to appear on the Forbes magazine list of 400 richest Americans with an estimated wealth of $500 million. Johnson died in August 2005. However, both magazines are now in financial trouble.
2009—The U.S. Congress issues a formal apology to Black Americans for the slavery of their ancestors. The resolution acknowledged the “fundamental injustice, cruelty, brutality and inhumanity of slavery and Jim Crow laws” which followed slavery. However, the resolution specific rejected paying Blacks reparations for past, discrimination, mistreatment and brutality.
1871—The first anti-Ku Klux Klan trials begin in Oxford, Mo. The trials were part of an effort begun by President Ulysses S. Grant to crush the Klan which was populated by defeated Confederate soldiers from the Civil War and which was becoming increasingly powerful throughout the South. In Mississippi, White doctors, lawyers and even ministers were indicted for violating Black rights and conspiring against the U.S. government. More than 900 were indicted in Mississippi and 243 convicted. Similar trials took place throughout the South—most notably in South Carolina and North Carolina. Grant’s efforts succeeded in crushing the terrorist organization and it would not rise again until 1915.
1967—Boxing champion Muhammad Ali is convicted in a Houston, Texas federal court of violating the Selective Service Act by refusing to be inducted into the armed services. He was fined $10,000 and given five years in prison. The United States Supreme Court would later overturn the conviction. Ali’s refusal to be inducted was based, in part, on his opposition to America’s war in Vietnam. He often said, “No Vietnamese ever called me Nigger.”
1832—Joseph Haynes Rainey, the first African-American to serve in the United States House of Representatives, is born in Georgetown, S.C. He was elected in 1870 from the state of South Carolina. He served five terms in Congress and died in 1887. In 2005, a portrait of Rainey was finally hung in the U.S. Capitol Building.
1859—Henry O. Tanner, the first African-American painter to achieve international acclaim, is born in Pittsburgh, Pa., to a middle class Black family. His most notable work was “The Banjo Lesson” which he painted in 1893. Tanner would later teach at Clark University in Atlanta, Ga.
1915—The United States Supreme Court declares in the Guinn v. United States case that “grandfather clauses” in many Southern state constitutions and laws were illegal. The case grew out of the practice, common in the South, of setting up stringent requirements in order to prevent Blacks (former slaves) from voting. But in order to insure that Whites could vote, the laws exempted them from the difficult requirements by asserting that anyone (or his grandfather) who could vote prior to 1867 did not have to meet the tough standards. Since virtually no Blacks could vote prior to 1867, “grandfather clauses” had the effect of denying Blacks the right to vote.
1964—Three civil rights workers (James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner) disappear near Philadelphia, Miss., and are later found murdered. Seven Ku Klux Klan members, opposed to a Black voting rights campaign, were indicted for the killings but none served more than six years in prison. The incident became one of the major sparks to the then young Civil Rights Movement. Justice for the three was finally completed in June 2005 when the leader of the group of Klansmen—Edgar Ray “The Preacher” Killen—was convicted of their murders. Ironically, Killen was convicted on June 21, 2005—41 years to the day that Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner were killed. Even more ironic, in May 2009, Philadelphia, Miss. elected its first Black mayor.
1909—One of this nation’s major pioneers in Black theatrical dance, Katherine Dunham, is born on this day in 1909 in Joliet, Ill. Dunham was one of the century’s most multi-talented Black artists. She was a dancer, choreographer, songwriter and actor with a degree in anthropology from the University of Chicago. Dunham’s heyday in dance was from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. She was also a political activist. One of her last acts was a 47-day hunger strike to protest U.S. treatment of Haitian boat people. She died in May 2006 at 97.
2001—Actor Whitman Mayo dies of a heart attack in Atlanta, Ga. He was 70. Mayo is best known for his role as “Grady” on the hit television series “Sanford and Son.”
1940—Childhood polio victim Wilma Rudolph is born in Clarksville, Tenn. Rudolph would go on to become one of the greatest Olympic athletes America has ever produced. She actually competed in her first Olympics at the age of 16. But it was in 1960 at the Rome Olympics where she distinguished herself by winning three gold medals in track and field events. Rudolph was the 20th or 22 children born to Ed and Blanch Rudolph. She would die young—at the age of 54—of brain cancer.
1997—Betty Shabazz, widow of Black nationalist leader Malcolm X, dies in New York City as a result of injuries she received three weeks earlier in a house fire at her Yonkers, N.Y., home. Ironically, the fire was set by her grandson Malcolm Shabazz.
Betty Shabazz was born Better Jean Sanders in Detroit, Mich. She went to school at Tuskegee (now uni
versity) Institute in Alabama and became a nurse.
1936—One of the nation’s foremost Black educators Mary McLeod Bethune is appointed director of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration. The agency was one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal programs designed to combat the lingering effects of the Great Depression. Bethune had become one of the most influential Black women in America when she received her appointment. The South Carolina native was also the founder-president of Florida’s Bethune-Cookman College.
1968—Hundreds are arrested as law enforcement agents moved in to forcibly close “Resurrection City” in the nation’s capital. The tent city was part of the Poor People’s Campaign—a dream of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to unite poor people of all races to force Congress to pass legislation to better the conditions of the nation’s poor. The effort was carried forth by King’s chief lieutenant Rev. Ralph Abernathy but Congress never responded in a meaningful way to the campaign.
(This Week in Black History is compiled by Robert Taylor. Readers can stay abreast of Black History by visiting http://BlackHistoryClub.ning.com. Send questions or comments to TaylorMediaPrime@yahoo.com or leave a brief message at 202-657-8872.)