Week of March 21-27
1955—Walter White dies. As head of the NAACP, White was perhaps the most prominent and powerful civil rights leader of the first half of the 20th century. The light complexioned, blue eyed White became somewhat of a legend in 1919 when he “passed for White” in order to investigate the notorious Elaine, Ark., race riot when marauding bands of Whites killed over 200 Blacks. He barely escaped with his life when news of his true identity leaked out.
1960—The Sharpsville Massacre occurs in then White-ruled South Africa when police fired on Blacks protesting the country’s “pass laws,” which greatly restricted the movement of the majority African population. At least 67 demonstrators were killed and 186 injured or wounded.
1965—The historic Selma to Montgomery March calling for full voting rights for African-Americans begins under federal protection. The original march had actually started on March 7. But the more than 600 demonstrators were attacked with clubs and tear gas by state and local police at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Organizers, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., then went to court to get confirmation of their Constitutional right to demonstrate. The court battle was won and the march resumed under federal protection on March 21. Five months later President Lyndon Johnson signed the historic 1965 Voting Rights Act.
2010—The U.S. House of Representatives passes President Obama’s signature legislation—Health Care Reform by a 219 to 212 vote. No Republican voted for the measure. However, since passage, Health Care Reform has been under political and legal attack from conservatives. Its future remains in doubt.
1492—Alonzo Pietro sets sail with Christopher Columbus as he begins his famous journey to find a new trade route to China but accidentally “discovers” the Americas. Pietro was one of Columbus’ navigators. He was known as “il Negro”—The Black.
1916—Marcus Garvey arrives in the United States from Jamaica. He would go on to build the largest Black nationalist and self-help organization in world history—the Universal Negro Improvement Association. The UNIA owned everything from bakeries to a shipping line. It would develop chapters throughout major cities in the U.S., Europe, Africa and the Caribbean. “Garveyism” emphasized racial pride, economic empowerment, Blacks doing for self and the establishment of a powerful Black nation in Africa to give protection to Blacks throughout the world.
1942—Scholar and political activist Walter Rodney is born in Georgetown, Guyana. Rodney would become one of the leading intellectual forces behind the worldwide Black Nationalist and Pan-Africanist movements of the 1960s and ‘70s. He was a brilliant scholar who traveled widely and among his major writings was the book “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.” He died in a car bombing in Guyana in 1980.
1837—Blacks in Canada are granted the right to vote. Most of these Blacks had escaped from slavery in America.
2002—Halle Berry becomes the first Black woman to win an Oscar for Best Actress. She won for her role in the movie “Monster’s Ball.” Berry was born on Aug. 14, 1966 in Cleveland, Ohio, to an African-American father and a Caucasian mother.
1931—Ida B. Wells Barnett dies. Barnett was one of the leading Black female activists in America for over 30 years. Born in Holly Springs, Miss., she became a crusading journalist against racism and injustice with her Memphis, Tennessee-based newspaper—“The Free Speech and Headlight.” When a prominent Memphis Black man (and friend or hers) was lynched in 1892, she launched a national campaign against lynching. In 1909, she became a member of the Committee of 40 which laid the foundation for the organization which would become the NAACP. But she later sided with scholar W.E.B. DuBois when he accused the NAACP of not being militant enough. Barnett would also later join with White suffragettes in demanding that women be given the right to vote.
1931—The “Scottsboro Boys” are arrested and accused of raping two young White women—a crime which evidence suggests (then and now) never occurred. However, the saga of the nine Scottsboro Boys (young Black men aged 12 to 20) would stretch out over a period of nearly 20 years in a series of trials, convictions, reversals and retrials. The racism of the period was so thick that even when one of the young White women recanted and admitted that no rape had occurred, an all-White Alabama jury still found members of the group guilty and sentenced them to death. The convictions were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court and more retrials and new convictions followed. Eventually, either by paroles or escapes, all the Scottsboro Boys would leave Alabama prisons. The last one died in 1989.
1942—Aretha Franklin, the “Queen of Soul” music, is born in Detroit, Mich.
1831—The founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church Church, Richard Allen, dies at age 71 in Philadelphia, Pa. As its first bishop, Allen set the AME Church on the path to becoming the first Black religious denomination in America to be fully independent of White control. He, in effect, chartered a separate religious identity for African-Americans. He also founded schools throughout the nation to teach Blacks. This includes Allen University in Columbia, S.C.
1944—Singer/Actress Diana Ross is born in Detroit, Mich. She headed the most popular female signing group of the 1960s—The Supremes.
1950—Singer Teddy Pendergrass is born in Philadelphia, Pa. For a period, Pendergrass was the leading sex symbol in R&B music. However, an automobile accident on March 18, 1982 left him paralyzed from the chest down. Pendergrass died Jan. 13, 2010.
1924—The sensational Jazz singer Sarah Vaughn was born on this day in Newark, N.J.
1970—One of the nation’s most popular current pop stars, Mariah Carey, was born on this day in Long Island, N.Y. Her parents are of Irish/African-American/Venezuelan background. She lists Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder as her favorite singers.
(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.)