For the Week of August 12-18
1890—This is generally considered the day that the systematic and nominally legal exclusion of Blacks from the political life of the South began. It was the day that the Mississippi Constitutional Convention began. Barred by the 14th and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution from excluding Blacks by race, the convention instead adopted a host of strategies including literacy or so-called “Education Tests” specifically designed to prevent Blacks from voting. The tests required reading and interpreting the Constitution. Blacks would be given difficult passages to interpret while Whites were either exempted or given easy passages. Soon, most Southern states adopted the so-called Mississippi Plan to exclude Blacks from voting. The racist plan was effective. In one Mississippi County, for example, there were 30,000 Blacks but only 175 were eligible to vote.
OPHELIA MITCHELL, ERNEST E. JUST, MARCUS GARVEY
1922—Ophelia Devore Mitchell—the founding mother of African-American modeling—was born on this day in Edgefield, S.C. Her family moved to New York during the 1930s where she entered the Vogue School of Modeling at 17. She excelled at modeling as well as in academics, mastering Latin, German and French. She modeled professionally for several years before opening her own modeling school in 1946. Her aim was to overcome stereotypes and negative portrayals of Black women. She wrote a fashion column for the Pittsburgh Courier, started her own line of cosmetics and eventually help founded the Columbus Times newspaper in Georgia. In 2004, she was formally recognized by the Fashion Institute of Technology and the Fashion and Arts Exchange for her contributions to the industry.
1881—The first African-American nursing school opened at Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga.
1892—The Afro-American newspaper is founded. The first edition is published in Baltimore, Md., by John H. Murphy Sr. At its height, the newspaper chain would publish papers in Baltimore; Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia; Richmond, Va.; and Newark, N.J. It continues to publish today in Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
1906—The “Brownsville Affair” took place. Angry Black soldiers, who had been subjected to intense racial discrimination and insults, were accused of sneaking into Brownsville, Texas, and killing a local White bartender and wounding a police officer. Although the evidence was weak, President Theodore Roosevelt sided with Brownsville Whites and ordered 167 of the Black soldiers dishonorably discharged for a “conspiracy of silence” because they either denied involvement in the shootings or refused to say who was involved. However, 66 years later (as a result of the findings of a book) the Army opened a new investigation which cleared the accused soldiers and reversed the 1906 dishonorably discharges.
1862—President Abraham Lincoln (for the first time) met with a group of prominent Blacks to discuss the Civil War and public policy. But before the meeting was over, he would anger those gathered. Although an outspoken opponent of the expansion of slavery, Lincoln suggested that it would be best for America and Blacks if African-Americans were to emigrate to Africa or Central America. Nevertheless, a little over a month later on Sept. 22 he would issue the Emancipation Proclamation technically freeing all slaves in the rebellious Southern states.
1883—Ernest E. Just is born in Charleston, S.C. Just would become one of the nation’s most prominent biologists conducting pioneering research in cell division. He graduated magna cum laude from Dartmouth University in 1907 and would go on to establish the Zoology Department at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Just died in 1941.
1959—Modern basketball legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson is born on this day in Lansing, Mich.
1975—In another of those highly publicized “trials of century” which frequently grip the nation, 20-year-old Joann Little is found not guilty of murder after she stabbed a White jailer who had entered her cell in Beauty County, N.C. to sexually assault her. The trial had been moved to Raleigh because of widespread racial prejudice in the eastern North Carolina area where the incident actually took place.
1979—President Jimmy Carter forced the resignation of United Nations Ambassador Andrew Young after he angered Jewish groups by meeting with representatives of the Palestine Liberation Organization. The resignation created stormy relations between Blacks and the generally uncompromising pro-Israel lobby in the United States.
1922—Author and investigative reporter Louis E. Lomax is born in Valdosta, Ga. Little known today but in the 1960s Lomax was one of the most prominent Black journalists in America. He was renowned for his coverage of the Civil Rights Movement and his investigative reporting. He died mysteriously in an automobile accident near Santa Rosa, New Mexico July 30, 1970. One urban legend is that his car was forced off the road by people working for the FBI because he was completing a book that would show that the assassination of civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was part of a government plot. This urban legend is often repeated but there has been little concrete evidence offered to support it. His best known books are “Negro Revolt” and “To Kill a Black Man.”
1887—Black separatist and Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey was born on this day in St. Ann’s Bay, Jamaica. Garvey advocated Black pride and the building of Black institutions. He founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association in 1914 and with amazingly rapid speed built it into the largest independent Black organization in history with 1,100 branches in more than 40 countries. He came to the U.S. in 1916 and the FBI began a file on him in 1919. By 1923 he was indicted on what many considered trumped up mail fraud charges and eventually deported from his U.S. base in 1927. Garvey died in England on June 10, 1940. But years before his death, he predicted his return, writing, “Look for me in the whirlwind or the storm, look for me all around you, with God’s grace, I shall come and bring with me countless millions…to aid you in the fight for liberty, freedom and life.”
1963—The first Black person admitted to the University of Mississippi, James Meredith, graduated on this day in 1963. His graduation was unmarked by the protests and violence that marked his federally forced entry into the once segregated institution.
1964—White-ruled South Africa is officially banned from competing in the Olympics because of its system of racial oppression known as apartheid. The country’s Black majority would not achieve democratic rule, however, until May 1994 when the Nelson Mandela-led African National Congress won over two-thirds of the vote in the country’s first free elections.
(This Week in Black History is compiled by Robert Taylor. He welcomes comments and additions. You can also have a free edition of his popular “Black History Journal” e-mailed to you by contacting him at TaylorMediaPrime@yahoo
.com or by leaving an address at 202-657-8872.)