For the Week of August 27-September 2
1963—African-American activist and intellectual giant W.E.B. DuBois dies in Accra, Ghana, at the age of 95. Born in Great Barrington, Mass., DuBois was one of the most dominant figures in the African-American struggle against racial oppression for nearly 40 years. He helped found the Niagara Movement (precursor to the NAACP) in 1906 and helped organize the first Pan African Conference in London.
An educational product of Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn., he also taught at Atlanta University in Atlanta, Ga., and edited the NAACP’s Crisis magazine. DuBois was a major opponent of Booker T. Washington’s grand “compromise” with Whites and he argued frequently with Marcus Garvey’s Black separatist ideology. However, the “attacker of injustice and defender of freedom” would eventually become frustrated with the slow, legalistic tactics of the NAACP and the tenacity of American racism. He turned to socialism and late in life went into self-imposed exile in the West African nation of Ghana. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would write of him: “History cannot ignore W.E.B. Dubois because history has to reflect the truth and Dr. DuBois was a tireless explorer of the truth.”
1975—Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie dies at the age of 83. He had worked to modernize the East African nation and rescue his land from foreign White control. Forced to flee Ethiopia when the Italians invaded in 1936, he would later return to lead a resistance movement which freed the country from European domination in 1941. Selassie traced his heritage all the way back to the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon of the Christian Bible. Many Blacks worldwide considered him a holy figure. Indeed, the Rastafarian religion gets its name from his original name Ras Tafari Makonnen. Selassie’s full title was “His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, Conquering Lion of Judah, King of Kings of Ethiopia and elect of God.”
1955—The body of Emmett Till is recovered from the Tallahatchie River near Money, Miss. The 14-year-old Chicago native had been kidnapped, tortured and murdered the previous day for allegedly whistling at a White woman. Till’s savage death became a rallying cry for the early Civil Rights Movement. Justice was never done in the case, however. The two White men responsible for his death were found not guilty by an all-White Mississippi jury. But both men—Ron Bryant and J.W. Milam—a few months later would brag in an interview with Look magazine they indeed had killed Till.
1963—The historic March on Washington for Black rights takes place. It was the largest civil rights demonstration in American history drawing people from throughout the nation to Washington, D.C. It was at this march that Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.
1920—Jazz legend Charlie “Yardbird” Parker was born on this day in Kansas City, Mo. The saxophonist and composer was one of the leading and most influential figures of the Jazz Age.
1924—Dinah Washington is born in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Her powerful voice would enable her to become one of the most influential singers of the 20th Century. Sadly, she died of a drug overdose in 1963.
1958—Michael Jackson is born on this day in Gary, Ind. The “King of Pop” was the seventh of nine children. He died June 25, 2009 apparently after being given a powerful drug to enable him to sleep.
1962—Mal Goode becomes America’s first Black network news commentator when he begins broadcasting for ABC Television on this day in 1962.
1800—The Gabriel Prosser-led slave rebellion is stopped before it can start because of bad weather and betrayal by two slaves who told their White masters of the impending revolt. Gabriel had meticulously planned the rebellion and organized an estimated 1,000 slaves to participate in an attack on Richmond, Va. One historian described the 24-year-old, 6’3” rebel as “a fellow of courage and intellect above his rank in life.” After the betrayal, Gabriel and 15 of his co-conspirators were hanged on Oct. 10, 1800. (Note: Most history texts refer to him as Gabriel Prosser but although he was a slave of Tomas Prosser there is no indication that he ever used “Prosser” as his last name.)
1838—The first African-American owned magazine—Mirror of Freedom—begins publication on this day in New York City.
1966—Prominent civil rights attorney Constance Baker Motley is confirmed to the U.S. District Court in New York. She thus became the first African-American female to hold a seat on the federal bench. Motley had participated in the historic Brown v. Board of Education case which led to the desegregation of the nation’s schools. She was also an advisor to civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Motley died in September 2005.
1935—Frank Robinson, the first African-American to manage a major league baseball team, was born on this day in Beaumont, Texas. Robinson became player-manager of the Cleveland Indians in 1975. He kept the job for about a year. He became manager of the San Francisco Giants in 1980.
2002—Jazz great Lionel Hampton died on this day at the age of 94. Hampton gained international fame as a “big band” leader and for his amazing abilities playing the vibraphone.
1975—General Daniel “Chappie” James becomes the nation’s first Black four-star general and takes command of the North American Air Defense Command. The position made him a key player in the nation’s nuclear defense system. James was born in Pensacola, Fla., and died at the relatively young age of 57 in 1978.
1977—Legendary actress and Blues and Gospel singer Ethel Waters dies at the age of 80 in Chatsworth, Calif. Born in Chester, Pa., Waters became the second African-American in history to be nominated for an Academy Award. For many Blacks, however, she was best known for her singing. The song which gained her the greatest popularity was the spiritual “His Eye is on the Sparrow…So I know He Watches Me.”
1766—Post-colonial era Black leader James Forten is born on this day in 1766. Little is known today but during that period he was one of the most prominent Black men in America. Born free in Philadelphia, Pa., he became a fierce anti-slavery activist, an inventor and successful businessman. In fact, the sail-making company he founded made him one of the wealthiest Black men in the nation. Forten and AME Church founder Richard Allen organized the First Convention of Color in 1817. He went back and forth on the issue of “re-Africanization,” which called for the return of Blacks to Africa. He financially supported Paul Cuffee’s venture in the West African nation of Sierra Leone, but he later turned against the American Colonization Society and its efforts to return free American Blacks to the West African nation of Liberia.
1945—As World War II comes to an end, official records show 1,154,720 Blacks were inducted into the military services including 3,902 women. The highest ranking African-American women during WWII were Majors Harriet M. West and Charity E. Adams.
(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.)