This Week In Black History

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Week of May 23-29

May 23

1921—“Shuffle Along”—the first of a succession of widely popular Black musicals performed for White audiences—opened at the 63rd Street Theatre in New York City, becoming the first African-American Broadway musical. The musical comedy combined the talents of the legendary team of Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle. “Shuffle Along” produced a long list of hits including “Shuffle Along,” “I’m Just Wild about Harry,” “Gypsy Blues” and “Love Will Find A Way.”

EubieBlake
EUBIE BLAKE and NOBLE SISSLE

1981—Legendary Reggae artist Bob Marley is given an official state funeral in his homeland of Jamaica. He had died of cancer on May 11 in Miami. Marley and his band “The Wailers” had made Reggae popular worldwide with such hits as “Stir It Up” and “No Woman, No Cry.” He was considered the first third world superstar and a prophet of the Rastafarian religion. He was only 36 when he died. His body now lies in a mausoleum in Jamaica.

May 24

1854 —Anthony Burns, one of the most celebrated fugitive slaves in American history, is captured by deputy U.S. Marshals in Boston. But at the time anti-slavery feeling was running high in Boston and it was one of the cities which had vowed not to obey the Fugitive Slave Act—a federal law that required even those opposed to slavery to help slave owners capture run-away slaves. For fear that Boston residents would help Burns escape to Canada, the U.S. government sent 2,000 troops to Boston to assist in returning Burns to Virginia. Thousands lined the streets as Burns was marched to a ship on June 3 for a trip back South. However, a Black Boston church raised the money to purchase Burns and within a year of his capture, he was back in Boston a free man.

1856—The so-called Pottawatomie Massacre takes place. A force of men led by famed abolitionist John Brown attacks a pro-slavery settlement in Franklin County, Kan., leaving at least five men dead. The attack was part of a period known as “Bleeding Kansas” when pro and anti-slavery forces battled one another in a bid to determine whether Kansas would be a slave or free territory. The “Pottawatomie Massacre” was also one of the events which made the Civil War unavoidable.

1944—Legendary singer Patti LaBelle is born Patricia Louise Holte in Philadelphia, Pa.

May 25

1878—World renowned dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson is born in Richmond, Va. Robinson was one of the best and best-known dancers in America up until the 1940s. He was known for his sensational footwork and speed. He once set a world record running the 75-yard-dash backwards in 8.2 seconds. But his “Bojangles” style—designed to please White audiences—angered some Blacks. However, he became a wealthy man appearing in 15 motion pictures after the 1930s.

1919—Wealthy cosmetics empire owner, Madame C.J. Walker, dies on this day at her estate on Irvington-on-the-Hudson in New York. Walker is generally believed to have been the first Black millionaire in American history.

1926—Famed Jazz trumpeter and composer Miles Davis was born on this day in 1926.

1943—One of the largest White riots of the 1940s takes place in Mobile, Ala. The Whites were outraged because the owners of a local shipyard company had upgraded the status and pay of 12 Black workers.

May 26

1799—The famous Black Russian writer Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin is born in Moscow, Russia. Pushkin was of Russian and Ethiopian parentage. He was well educated and went on to become a prolific writer. Indeed, he is generally credited with being the “Father of Russian Literature.”

1949—Pamela Suzette Grier is born in Winston-Salem, N.C. Pam Grier becomes one of the premier Black actresses and one of the top sex symbols of the 1970s, playing in a host of so-called “Black exploitation movies.”

May 27

1958—Ernest Green graduates from Little Rock, Arkansas’ Central High School, becoming the first Black to do so. Green was a member of the “Little Rock Nine”—the group of Black students who first integrated the high school with the aid of federal troops.

2010—The Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University releases a stunning study showing that the typical White household had accumulated 20 times as much wealth as the typical Black household. According to the study, median White family wealth stood at roughly $100,000 while median Black family wealth was estimated at $5,000.

May 28

1936—Betty Shabazz, the widow of Black nationalist leader Malcolm X, was born on this day in Detroit, Mich. Shabazz was born Betty Jean Sanders and raised by foster parents. She attended Tuskegee Institute (now university) and became a registered nurse. In 1994, she created a national controversy when she linked Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan to the assassination of Malcolm X. However, she and Farrakhan reconciled in 1995 and she spoke at the historic Million Man March. She died June 23, 1997 as a result of injuries received in a house fire set by her grandson.

2010—A book is released revealing that during the mid-1970s when much of the world was lining up to help overthrow racist White minority rule in South Africa, Israel was attempting to aid the racist regime up to the point of providing it with chemical and nuclear weapons for possible use against the country’s majority Black population. The documents were discovered by American scholar Sasha Polakow-Suransky while researching the book “The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa.” Though seldom mentioned by American media, it was an open secret during the 1970s that Israel was one of the Apartheid regime’s closest allies. Apartheid is what the minority White government called its system of racial oppression.

May 29

1854—Escaped slave and abolitionist Sojourner Truth delivers her famous “Ain’t I a Woman” speech at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron. Truth (born Isabella Baumfree) had been physically and sexually abused by various slave owners and their wives in New York. She sought refuge in religion. She finally escaped after her last slave owner reneged on a promise to free her. She became the leading female abolitionist of the period giving powerful speeches. She traveled widely in her anti-slavery mission telling friends “The spirit calls me and I must go.”

1865—President Andrew Johnson announces his Reconstruction program after the Civil War. However, Johnson was one of the greatest betrayers of Blacks in American history. He went back on many of the promises made to the former slaves by the recently assassinated Abraham Lincoln. Indeed, Johnson’s Reconstruction program was more favorable to the former slave owners and Confederate soldiers than it was to the ex-slaves. Johnson even opposed granting Blacks voting rights.

(This Week in Black History is compiled by Robert Taylor. Get a free subscription to his bi-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.)

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