This Week in Black History

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Week of January 7-13

January 7

From 4th Century AD—Ethiopian Christmas—known as Ganna—is celebrated on Jan. 7. Ethiopian Christianity was much closer to the Christian Coptic Church of Egypt and as a result never incorporated many of the dictates of the early Roman Catholic Church. Thus, a plausible argument can be made that Ethiopian Christianity is more pure (or less corrupted) than that which emerged from the early Christian Church in Europe. Regardless, the best scientific speculation is that Jesus was born neither on December 25th nor January 7th. The most probable month of his birth is April.

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Five Fisk graduates— From 1888. W.E.B. DuBois is second from left.

1891—Zora Neale Hurston is born in Eatonville, Fla. She became one of the central figures in that great African-American cultural movement known as the Harlem Renaissance. She excelled as a writer, folklorist and anthropologist.

1955—Marian Anderson debuts on this day at the New York Metropolitan Opera House as Alrica in Verdi’s operate “Mask Ball.” She was the first African-American to perform such an opera at a major opera house.

January 8

1811—The largest slave revolt in American history takes place on this day in 1811. Charles Deslandes leads an estimated 500 slaves in an uprising in St. Charles and St James parishes in Louisiana. After burning crops, plantations, and killing several Whites, the slaves march on New Orleans. But federal troops aided by a militia of plantation owners turn them back killing 63 Blacks. Deslandes and 20 other slaves were sentenced to death and beheaded.

1836—Fannie Mae Jackson is born. She becomes the first Black female college graduate.

January 9

1866—Fisk University is founded in Nashville, Tenn. for recently freed slaves by the American Missionary Association. The college grows to become one of the leading Black institutions of higher learning in America by graduating several figures that played major roles in Black cultural, political and entertainment life.

1906—Poet and novelist Paul Lawrence Dunbar dies. Born in Dayton, Ohio, Dunbar rapidly gained national recognition as a poet. Although he only lived to be 33, he was prolific—writing short stories, novels, plays and songs. In Dayton, he was a classmate of the Wright brothers of aviation fame. In fact, the Wright brothers helped Dunbar finance his newspaper—the Dayton Tattler.

1935—Black Enterprise magazine founder and publisher Earl Graves is born on this day in Brooklyn, N.Y.

1946—Poet Countee Cullen dies at 42 in New York City. Cullen was one of Black America’s greatest poets and novelists. One of his most controversial works was “The Black Christ & Other Poems.” He was born in 1903. But some mystery surrounds exactly where he was born with both Baltimore and New York City being given as his place of birth. Cullen also taught high school. One of his best known students was the great writer James Baldwin.

1967—The Georgia legislature finally seats Representative Julian Bond. In an amazing anti-democracy display of arrogance, Georgia legislators had refused to allow Bond to take the seat he had duly won because of his opposition to the U.S. war in Vietnam. But a 1966 U.S. Supreme Court ruling declared their action unconstitutional. Bond later became chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors.

January 10

1924—Legendary Jazz drummer and composer Max Roach is born in New York City. He was perhaps the greatest drummer-composer of the Jazz era performing with some of America’s best known Jazz musicians and singers. He formed Debut Records in 1952 with bassist Charles Mingus.

1957—The Southern Christian Leadership Conference is founded in New Orleans, La. by a group of Black ministers led by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The SCLC goes on to become one of the premier leadership organizations of the Civil Rights Movement. Among the original founders were Ralph Abernathy, Joseph Lowery, Fred Shuttlesworth and C.K. Steel. Washington, D.C. minister Walter Fauntroy was chairman of the board of directors and one of the leading women of the Civil Rights Movement, Ella Baker, became Executive Director. In 2009, King’s daughter Bernice was elected to head the organization.

January 11

1965—The extraordinarily talented author and dramatist Lorraine Hansberry dies. Deeply committed to the Black struggle, Hansberry’s brilliant career was cut short by cancer. She was only 35. Her primary works included “A Raisin In The Sun” and “To Be Young, Gifted and Black.” “A Raisin In The Sun” became the first play written by a young Black woman to be produced on Broadway.

1971—Popular R&B singer Mary J. Blige is born on this day in the Bronx, N.Y. She is said to be currently working on a movie about the legendary career of songstress Nina Simone.

1988—Scientists (paleo-anthropologists) announce the discovery of the “African Eve”—the mother of all humankind. Based on research in East African involving mitochondrial DNA, the researchers from the Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics in Oxford, England conclude that the original woman evolved in East Africa approximately 200,000 years ago and that all of humanity can ultimately trace their ancestry to this woman. However, some more recent studies suggest that humankind first evolved in Southern Africa.

January 12

1890—Educator Mordecai Wyatt Johnson is born in Paris, Texas. Johnson became the first Black president of Howard University and presided over the prestigious Black institution for over 30 years. He died in 1976.

1920—Civil rights leader James Farmer is born on this day in Marshal, Texas. During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s he was among the top 3 or 4 most prominent civil rights leaders. He helped organized the “Freedom Rides” to help desegregate public transportation and founded the Congress of Racial Equality. He died in 1999.

1944—Boxer Joe Frazier is born in Beauford, S.C. His fights with the legendary Muhammad Ali have become boxing classics.

1960—Basketball great Jacques Dominique Wilkins is born in Paris, France.

1971—The Congressional Black Caucus is first organized on this day in 1971.

January 13

1869—On this day in 1869, one of the earliest post-Civil War attempts at organizing Blacks on a national level occurs. The National Convention of Black Leaders is held in Washington, D.C. Frederick Douglass is elected president. Also, the first Black labor union convention takes place. It was called the Convention of the Colored National Labor Union.

1913—The sorority Delta Sigma Theta is organized on the campus of Howard University by 22 coeds. It develops into one of the most prestigious and influential Black Greek letter organizations in the nation.

1953—Don Barksdale becomes the first African-American to play in an NBA All-Star game.

1966—Robert C. Weaver becomes the first Black member of a presidential cabinet. Lyndon B. Johnson appoints him Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.

1987—In what many considered a racist decision, Arizona Governor Even Mecham rescinds the gubernatorial decree, which had established the birthday of civil rights legend Martin Luther King Jr. as a state holida
y. The decision sets off protests and a national Black boycott of Arizona.

1989—Poet Sterling Brown dies. Brown, a middle class Black, born into one of Washington, D.C.’s most prominent Black families, has probably never received full credit for the power, thought-provoking and even revolutionary nature of his poetry. He was a professor at Howard University for nearly 40 years.

1999—Superstar Michael Jordan retires from professional basketball. However, in 2009, Jordan was still ranked by Forbes magazine as one of the top 10 richest Blacks in America.

(This Week in Black History is compiled by Robert Taylor. You can receive Taylor’s popular weekly Black History Journal by writing him at “Robert N. Taylor,” P.O. Box 58097, Washington, DC 20037. Include $3.00 to cover postage.)

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