For the Week of July 30-August 5
|ADAM CLAYTON POWELL
1863—President Abraham Lincoln issues his famous “eye-for-an-eye” order. The order was basically a threat aimed at stopping the Confederate practice of killing captured Black soldiers instead of imprisoning them. Lincoln threatened to kill one captured rebel soldier for every Black soldier killed by the Confederates. In addition, he pledged to condemn one captured rebel soldier to life in prison at hard labor for every captured Black soldier sold into slavery by the rebelling Southerners. The order did not stop the Confederate practice of killing captured Black soldiers but it did have a restraining effect.
1945—Activist minister Adam Clayton Powell Jr. is elected to Congress from Harlem, N.Y., becoming one of only two Blacks in Congress. The other was William Dawson of Chicago. Powell, however, would become the first truly powerful Black political figure on Capitol Hill. By 1961, he headed the influential Education and Labor Committee in the House of Representatives. Powell would steer over 50 pieces of legislation through Congress. He also passed legislation making lynching a federal crime and bills to desegregate public schools and the military. In addition, he almost single handedly stopped Southern Congressmen from using the word “Nigger” during sessions of Congress. Despite his political influence, Powell constantly maintained that “Mass action is the most powerful force on earth.” He died on April 4, 1972.
1874—Father Patrick Francis Healy becomes the first Black president of a major White university when he is inaugurated on this day as president of Georgetown University. Healy was also the first African-American to earn a PhD. However, racial prejudice forced him to earn his degree in Europe not the United States. Healy was born in Macon, Ga., in 1834 to a Black slave woman and a White plantation owner who decided to acknowledge his five bi-racial children. They were all sent north to be educated. Although some felt he could have passed for White, Healy openly acknowledged his African ancestry. Healy died in 1910.
1960—Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad calls for an all-Black state in America during a speech in New York City. Muhammad was a fearless critic of American discrimination against and the mistreatment of Blacks and he also advocated independent, Black owned businesses, institutions and religion.
1961—Actor Lawrence Fishburn Jr. is born on this day in Augusta, Ga. He began his acting career at the age of 10.
1619—This is possibly the day that the history of Blacks in America begins. However, no one knows for sure the exact day that the ship arrived in Jamestown, Va., carrying at least 20 Africans who were sold as indentured servants. There is some authority that the ship arrived in late August. All that appears certain is that the month was August and the year was 1619—the beginning of Black history in America.
1834—Slavery is officially abolished in all British territories. It would take another 31 years and a Civil War before it was abolished in America.
1920—The national convention of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association begins at Liberty Hall in Harlem, N.Y. The next night Garvey addresses over 25,000 Blacks at Madison Square Garden. This period represented the height of the Garvey movement and the Black nationalism (non-integration with Whites) tendency within Black America. Garvey built the largest Black mass movement in history advocating Black pride, independent Black businesses and institutions as well as a strong and united Africa. He also brought motivation and showmanship unlike that of any other Black organization before or since.
1924—A man who would grow up to become one of the most prolific and complex Black writers of the 20th Century is born on this day in New York City. James A. Baldwin was a novelist, short story writer and poet. His works frequently had racial and sexual themes. In addition, he penned powerful essays on the Civil Rights Movement. Baldwin’s homosexuality is believed by many to have been a result of being raised by a “hard and often brutal father” and a submissive mother. Among his best known works are “Go Tell It on the Mountain,” “Giovanni’s Room,” and “The Fire Next Time.” In that last book, he predicted major upheavals in America if profound efforts were not taken to resolve the nation’s racial problems. He wrote, “If we do not now dare everything, the fulfillment of that prophecy, recreated from the Bible in song by a slave, is upon us. God gave Noah the Rainbow sign, no more water, the fire next time.” Baldwin died in France on Nov. 30, 1987.
1966—The Charles R. Drew Post Graduate Medical School (now Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science) is chartered in Los Angeles, Calif. The school was named in honor of the foremost Black doctor and research scientist of the first half of the 20th Century. Drew did pioneering work in blood transfusions and in the development of blood plasma. Drew’s life was cut short on April 1, 1950 as a result of an automobile accident in North Carolina.
1980—Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns wins the WBA welterweight title. It was one of the titles he won in five different weight classes. Hearns was the first Black boxer to achieve that feat.
1928—The Atlanta Daily World begins publication as the first Black daily newspaper in modern times. It was founded by William A. Scott III. Amazingly, the first Black daily newspaper in history—the New Orleans Tribune—was founded one year before the end of slavery in 1864.
1901—Legendary Jazz trumpeter Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong is born in New Orleans, La. Abandoned by his desperately poor parents, he was for a while a ward of the state. But by 1922, he followed the migration of Blacks to the North and ended up in Chicago where his Jazz skills really began to develop. Armstrong was frequently criticized for trying too hard to please his White audiences. Song stylist Billie Holliday once said of him, “Sure Satchmo toms but he toms from the heart.” Nevertheless, he would later become a major financial backer of Dr. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement. In addition in 1957, he backed out of a State Department sponsored tour of the then Soviet Union declaring, “The way they are treating my people in the South, the government can go to hell!” Armstrong would die on July 6, 1971.
1931—Pioneering physician Dr. Daniel Hale Williams dies. The Pennsylvania born Williams was a principle founder of Chicago’s Provident Hospital and helped train many of the nation’s early Black doctors and nurses. But he is probably best known for performing America’s first successful open heart surgery. His patient—a young Black man named James Cornish—would live for another 20 years after the surgery.
1964—The bodies of three civil rights workers are found on a farm near Philadelphia, Miss. The three (one Black and two Whites) were participating in “Freedom Summer”—when thousands of people journeyed south to participate in the Civil Rights Movement and help Blacks register to vote. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were kidnapped on June 21 and killed the same night. Eighteen White men, including several law enforcement officers were indicted for the killings but only seven were convicted. One of the ringleaders, a local minister named Edgar Allen Killen, would not be found guilty until June 21, 2005 after the case had been re-opened. Ironically, Killen was found guilty of manslaughter 41 years to the day that the three civil rights workers were killed. The murders of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner helped galvanize support for the Civil Rights Movement by turning much of the nation against the terrorist-type tactics being employed by those opposed to it. Ironically, Philadelphia, Miss., elected its first Black mayor in May 2009.
1865—President Andrew Johnson reverses an order giving land abandoned or confiscated from slave-owning Whites to former Black slaves. The order—Special Field Order #15—had been issued in January by conquering Union Major General William T. Sherman as he and his troops marched through the South. Over 40,000 ex-slaves had received over 400,000 acres of land in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. But after Lincoln was assassinated, Johnson reversed the order and returned the land to the Whites. Johnson, a Southerner, did much to reverse the policies of Lincoln and stifle progress for Blacks. Indeed, an argument can be made that President Andrew Johnson had a more negative post-Civil War impact on Black progress than any president in American history.
(This Week in Black History is compiled by Robert Taylor. Subscribe to his free bi-weekly “Black History Journal.” Include $3 to help defray postage costs to Robert N. Taylor, P.O. Box 58097, Washington, D.C. 20037.)