Week of Sept. 10-16
1847—John Roy Lynch is born into slavery on this day near Vidalia, La. Lynch would be among the first group of Blacks to serve in the United States Congress after slavery. He represented the state of Mississippi. Lynch would even serve as temporary chairman of the Republican Party National Convention. During this period, the Republicans were the more progressive and friendly-to-Blacks party. But as the period of Reconstruction faded and Southern politicians made it virtually impossible for Blacks to remain in political office, Lynch moved to Chicago and practiced law. He died in 1939 at the age of 92.
1965—Father Divine dies in Philadelphia, Pa. From about 1910 to his death in 1965, Father Divine was Black America’s foremost spiritual and cult leader. Indeed, he claimed to be God and his full self-given name was Rev. General Jealous Divine. Critics called him a charlatan and a religious scam artist. But initially as a traveling preacher and then from a base in New York City, Divine built his small church into the International Peace Mission—a large mass congregation with members and churches throughout the United States and several foreign countries. Little is known about his background but he was probably born in Georgia and his real given name was probably George Baker. During his heyday, Divine’s only serious competition was another Black spiritual-cult leader by the name of Daddy Grace.
1976—Mordecai Johnson, the first Black president of historic Howard University in Washington, D.C., dies. He was one of the nation’s foremost educational leaders. He was 86 when he died.
1740—Was he America’s first Black doctor and or dentist? It is unclear but on this day in 1740 the Philadelphia Gazette carries a report of a “Negro” named Simon who was skilled in the abilities to “bleed and draw teeth.” During the colonial period, such a phrase was normally used in reference to doctors and dentists.
1851—In a fairly unusual development, a group of Blacks on this day in 1851 rout a group of slave catchers who had come to Christiana, Pa., to re-capture run-away slaves. One White was killed and a second one was seriously wounded.
1913—Track and field athletic legend Jesse Owens is born on this day in Oakville, Ala. Owens would achieve international fame when he won four gold medals at the 1936 summer Olympic Games in Berlin, Germany. His feat helped undermine Adolph Hitler’s myth of Aryan or White superiority.
1977—One of the greatest unsung heroes of the struggle against then White-ruled South Africa’s system of racial suppression known as apartheid is murdered on this day by South African law enforcement officials. Steve Biko was a leader of the country’s Black Consciousness Movement. He believed that one of the most destructive attitudes undermining Black progress throughout the world was that Blacks were not truly proud to be Black.
1992—Dr. Mae Jemison becomes the first African-American woman in space when she was launched from the Kennedy Space Center on this day as part of a joint U.S.-Japanese mission. Since resigning from NASA, the multi-talented Jemison has started a company which aims to improve health care in Africa. In addition to her native English, Jemison speaks Russian, Japanese and the East African language of Swahili.
1663—The first documented slave rebellion in America is set to take place. The revolt in Gloucester County, Va., involved Black slaves and White indentured servants. However, it was betrayed by a White indentured servant.
1885—Alain L. Locke, philosopher and the first Black Rhodes scholar is born. He became a professor at Howard University and one of Black America’s leading intellectual figures.
1962—In an event which demonstrated the tenacity of racism, especially in the South, Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett pledged to defy the federal government and block the court ordered admission of a Black man—James Meredith—to the University of Mississippi. He made his declaration during a statewide television and radio address. Barnett said he would go to jail to prevent integration, arguing, “There is no case in history where the Caucasian race has survived social integration.” Despite his talk, Barnett would eventually relent and Meredith (with the aid of U.S. Marshals) was allowed to attend the university.
1971—Approximately 1,500 state troopers are ordered by Gov. Nelson Rockefeller to storm New York’s Attica prison to breakup a takeover of the prison by Black inmates demanding better conditions. When the dust settled, the storming of the prison resulted in the deaths of 32 inmates and 10 guards who had been held hostage.
1996—Pioneering rapper Tupac Shakur dies from his wounds after being shot in Las Vegas, Nev. He was only 25. Shakur has now become a near cult figure among rappers. His killers were never brought to justice.
1940—Blacks are allowed for the first time to enter all branches of the U.S. military when President Franklin D. Roosevelt, on this day, signs the Selective Service Act.
1830—The First National Negro Convention takes place in Philadelphia, Pa. Top on the agenda were the better organizing of anti-slave activities and whether or not free Blacks should return to Africa.
1881—Inventor Jan E. Matzeilger is born in Dutch Guyana. He came to the United States in 1878 and by 1880 had patented a shoe lacing machine.
1889—One of Black America’s most outstanding poets, Claude McKay, is born. He would become a leading figure during the Black Cultural Revolution known as the Harlem Renaissance.
1963—In one of the most heartless terrorist attacks of the Civil Rights Movement, the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., is bombed by White supremacists and Ku Klux Klan members. Four little Black girls are killed. But instead of scaring African-Americans into backing away from their demands, the act actually inspired the Civil Rights Movement.
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—Blues great B.B. King is born on this day in Itta Benna, Mississippi.
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.
(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.)