Week of September 16-22
1848—The French abolish slavery in all their territories. It would take a civil war and another 17 years before slavery is abolished in America.
1925—B.B. King, an American blues guitarist and singer-songwriter acclaimed for his expressive singing and guitar playing, is born on this day in Itta Benna, Miss. In the 1950s, King became one of the most important names in R&B music, amassing an impressive list of hits including “You Know I Love You” and “Woke Up This Morning,” King was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980.
1933—“Emperor Jones” is released on this day by United Artists. It starred social activist Paul Robeson as Brutus Jones. It was the first Hollywood film with a Black leading man and a White supporting cast.
1787—The United States Constitution is approved but it includes three clauses allowing for the continuation of slavery even though it was supposed to be a document of freedom.
1861—Hampton Institute (now a university) is founded. It has become one of the nation’s leading predominately Black educational institutions.
1973—Illinois becomes the first state to honor Civil Rights Movement icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a state holiday.
1850—Congress passes the Fugitive Slave Law as part of the Compromise of 1850. The Compromise was essentially a vain attempt to reconcile differences between the slave states of the South and the free states of the North as to whether Midwest states would be slave or free. The law basically required free states to help slave states capture escaped slaves.
BOOKER T. WASHINGTON
1895—Booker T. Washington delivered his famous (or infamous) “Atlanta Compromise” speech in which he promotes Black economic betterment at the expense of civil and political rights. The speech endeared him to Whites opposed to the social integration of Blacks but it angered progressive Blacks, including scholar W.E.B. DuBois, who began to portray Washington as an “Uncle Tom.”
1980—Cuban cosmonaut Arnaldo Tamayo becomes the first Black to fly on a space mission. He flew on a space craft from the then-Soviet Union.
1865—Atlanta University is founded in Atlanta, Ga. It was one of many educational institutions established during the Reconstruction period after the Civil War to educate former slaves.
1981—An estimated 400,000 people from various labor and civil rights organizations rally in Washington, D.C. to protest the domestic policies of President Ronald Reagan. His policies were viewed by the demonstrating groups as anti-Black and opposed to the best interests of working class people.
1664—Maryland enacts the nation’s first “Anti-Amalgamation Law.” It specifically outlawed marriages between Black men and White women. Soon, several other colonies followed the Maryland example. It would not be until the 1960s that U.S. Supreme Court in the famous Loving v. Virginia case declared all such laws unconstitutional. And even though it was not being enforced, it was not until 2000 that Alabama officially became the last state to strike from the books its law banning inter-racial marriages.
1830—The first National Negro Convention of Free Men meets in Philadelphia, Pa. Among a wide range of items on the agenda was a resolution encouraging free Blacks to boycott the purchase of items produced by slave labor. AME Church founder Richard Allen was elected president of the convention. Despite the fact that Allen had founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the name of the convention also reflected an attempt by free Blacks to reduce identification with Africa. At the time, most slaves and many free Blacks tended to refer to themselves as “Africans.”
1958—A deranged woman stabs then-rapidly emerging civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. during a book signing ceremony at a Harlem, N.Y., department store. Rumors circulated that the stabbing was part of a government conspiracy against King but no evidence was ever produced to support the theory.
1984—“The Cosby Show” starring comedian and activist Bill Cosby debuts on NBC television. It became one of the nation’s highest-rated television series and was widely praised by civil rights activists because of its generally positive portrayal of a Black middle-class family.
1872—John Henry Conyers becomes the first Black student at the U.S. Naval Academy. However, racism and often violent harassment forced him to leave the academy before he was able to graduate.
1905—The Atlanta Life Insurance Co. is established in Atlanta, Ga., and becomes one of the largest insurance companies in America serving a predominantly African-American clientele.
1984—Gen. Colin Powell becomes the first African-American named as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As the nation’s top military leader, Powell was praised by some Blacks as a role model while he was criticized for supporting what critics considered the government’s war-mongering policies. His generally positive reputation was damaged by his speaking before the United Nations and providing misinformation in 2003 in support of the Bush administration’s war in Iraq.
1863—Mary Church Terrell is born on this day in 1863. She became one of the nation’s leading activists advocating greater education for Blacks and women. She was the first Black person to sit on the Washington, D.C., school board and played a major role in desegregating that city’s restaurants.
1961—The Interstate Commerce Commission officially prohibits segregation in buses traveling in interstate commerce. It also banned segregated termi
nal facilities even though the ruling was largely ignored in many Southern states. But during the mid-1960s, civil rights activists would frequently cite the ruling as they integrated facilities throughout the South.
(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 your e-mail address at 202-657-8872.)