Week of Dec. 24-30
1881—The Edgefield Exodus begins. More than 5,000 Blacks, driven in part by a wave of White violence and economic exploitation, begin leaving Edgefield County, S.C., and resettled in Arkansas. The movement was also encouraged by people like Pap Singleton who believed Southern Blacks could enjoy a better life if they moved to the Midwest. It is also believed that some Whites also encouraged the exodus in a bid to reduce South Carolina’s Black population, which was a majority in the state in the 1870s and 1880s.
JIM CROW RAILROAD CAR STATUE
1881—With the Reconstruction period over and federal troops withdrawn from the former slave states, Whites began to reassert their authority with a host of segregationist and anti-Black laws. On this day, Tennessee led the way to modern segregation with a “Jim Crow” railroad car statute. Basically, “Jim Crow” meant segregation. Virtually all the other Southern states soon did the same, passing laws designed to segregate or keep Blacks and White separated. How the name “Jim Crow” came to represent segregation is unclear. It is believed to have originated from a White minstrel show performer of the 1830s named Thomas “Daddy” Rice who stole the phrase from a slave who did a song and dance using the words “Jim Crow” as a criticism of his slave master. Regardless, many of the Jim Crow laws enacted in the 1880s remained in force until the successes of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
1760—The first poem written by a Black person and published in America is published on Christmas day 1760. It was written by Jupiter Hammon—a slave in Long Island, N.Y., who was allowed to attend school. The poem was entitled “An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ with Penitential Cries.” Hammon also wrote a poem to Phyllis Wheatley—another early and great African-American poet. Hammon is thought to have lived until he was 95 (1711-1806). He was devoutly religious.
1838—At the Battle of Okeechobee on Christmas Day 1838, a force of Seminole Indians soundly defeated U.S. government troops who were trying to force them off their lands. The Seminoles were led by a Black chief named John Horse. The Seminoles were perhaps the most racially integrated of all the Indian tribes. During the early 1800s, Blacks escaping slavery in Florida and Georgia were frequently granted safe haven by the Seminoles. Significant intermarriage resulted. Their aid for escaped slaves was one of the reasons the government wanted so desperately to relocate the Seminoles from Florida to the Midwest. But the Seminoles put up a more fierce resistance than any of the other Indian tribes. However in 1849, the government declared that the Black Seminoles were still slaves. Finally, in 1850, faced with overwhelming military force, large numbers of Seminoles, under the leadership of John Horse and a full blooded Seminole known as Wild Cat, left the U.S. for Mexico.
1951—Mr. and Mrs. Harry T. Moore are murdered when a bomb explodes under their home in Mims, Fla. Both were teachers and courageous civil rights activists. It is believed the bomb was planted by a White terrorist organization such as the Ku Klux Klan.
2006—James Brown dies. “Soul Brother #1”—one of the most influential figures in Soul or R&B music of the 20th Century dies at 73 while preparing for a performance. Born in Barnwell, S.C., Brown began his amazing career in 1953 and rose to fame to in the late 1950s. He remained highly popular through the 1960s and 1970s. While less popular, he continued to perform until the day of his death. Brown was also known for his soulful dancing style. His full name was James Joseph Brown Jr.
1848—In one of the most daring escapes from slavery in U.S. history, on this day in 1848, William and Ellen Craft began a 1,000-mile journey from a plantation in Macon, Ga., to freedom in Boston, Mass. The light-complexioned Ellen disguised herself as an infirmed White man and the dark-complexioned William pretended to be the faithful slave. The escape, though harrowing, was successful. But in 1850 when Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act, the Crafts found themselves being hunted down by both slave catchers from Georgia and U.S. Marshals. Then members of Boston’s powerful abolitionist and Underground Railroad communities stepped in. They helped the Crafts flee to Canada and then to Liverpool, England where the couple stayed until after the Civil War.
1966—The first Kwanzaa holiday celebrations take place. The alternative seven-day holiday period for African-Americans was originated by California Black nationalist Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga. Kwanzaa and its principles however, may be more widely respected than actually celebrated among American Blacks.
1873—William A. Harper, one of the most gifted Black artists of the 20th century, is born in Cayuga, Canada. He was a student at the Henry O. Tanner Art Institute in Chicago. Unfortunately, his brilliance was cut short by tuberculosis. He died in Mexico at the age of 36 in 1910.
1956—Segregation is outlawed on public buses in Tallahassee, Fla. The decision followed a six-month long boycott by the city’s African-American population. The boycott was patterned after the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott sparked by Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat to a White man.
1816—The American Colonization Society is organized by Robert Finley with the aim of returning Blacks to Africa. Ironically, it received support from two groups with opposing interests. Some abolitionists and philanthropists who wanted to end slavery supported the ACS with the hope of giving slaves a chance to start new, free lives in Africa. Meanwhile, some slave owners supported the ACS because they saw it as a way of ridding the country of free Blacks who they saw as stirring up trouble among Blacks who were still enslaved. It is estimated that at this time, there were 2 million enslaved Blacks and 200,000 free Blacks in America. In 10 years, the ACS returned nearly 3,000 Blacks to Africa. They helped to form what are today the West African nations of Liberia and Sierra Leone. Indeed, the first president of Liberia was an American Black who had returned to Africa.
1905—Legendary Jazz great and pianist Earl “Fatha” Hines is born on this day in Duquesne, Pa., near Pittsburgh. He was in a class by himself and a major influence not only in Jazz but also upon the Swing and Bebop eras of American popular music. He collaborated with such greats as Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Sarah Vaughn, and Dizzy Gillespie. He died in 1983. Among his best known hits were “Stormy Monday Blues” and “Second Balcony Jump.”
1954—Movie star Denzel Washington is born on this day in Mt. Vernon, N.Y.
1939—One of the most outstanding educators of the 20th century Kelly Miller dies in Washington, D.C. He was a champion of education for Blacks and was among that group of more radical Blacks who opposed the accommodating policies of Booker T. Washington. In 1887, Miller became the first African-American admitted to Johns Hopkins University. He became a long-time professor and dean at Howard University, while also being a prolific writer, essayist and newspaper columnist.
1928—R&B music legend Bo Diddley is born Ellas Bates on this day in McComb, Miss.
1929—Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority is officially incorporated. The international Black sorority was actually organized Nov. 22, 1922 by seven teachers in Indianapolis, Ind. It is currently headquartered in Cary, N.C., with the theme: “Sisterhood, Scholarship and Service.”
1929—A Black boycott of unfair store hiring practices begins during the Great Depression. The “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” campaign began in Chicago with the picketing of a chain of stores. It soon spread to New York, Los Angeles, Cleveland and several other major cities.
(This Week in Black History is compiled by Robert Taylor. Get a free subscription to his weekly Black History Journal by writing him at Robert N. Taylor, P.O. Box 58097, Washington, D.C. 20037. Simply include $3 to cover postage.)