Week of July 11-17
1905—The Niagara Movement (forerunner of the NAACP) is founded during a meeting near Niagara Falls, N.Y. Among the most prominent Blacks at the meeting were intellectual and activist W.E.B. DuBois and newspaper publishers William Monroe Trotter and Ida B. Wells Barnett.
1915—Mifflin Wistar Gibbs dies. Gibbs had worked on the Underground Railroad helping Blacks escape from slavery along with Frederick Douglas. He would later become publisher of Mirror of the Times—the first Black newspaper in California. He was also the first African-American elected to a municipal judgeship in the state.
2010—Gospel legend Bishop Walter Hawkins dies. The Grammy award-winning Hawkins died at his home in Ripon, Calif. Hawkins was part of the influential Hawkins family. His brother was Edwin Hawkins and for a while he was married to gospel great Tramaine Hawkins.
1887—Mound Bayou, Miss., perhaps the nation’s best known historically all-Black town, is founded by ex-slave Isaiah Montgomery and his cousin Benjamin T. Green. It was built as a sanctuary for former slaves during a period when Jim Crow racism and terrorism by groups such as the Ku Klux Klan were on the rise. It is considered the oldest surviving all-Black town in America. According to the 2000 Census, the town had 2,100 residents.
1937—Actor, comedian and political activist William “Bill” Cosby is born on this day in Philadelphia, Pa. Cosby would rise from nightclub comedian, to actor in several of the so-called Black exploitation movies of the 1970s, to star of the hit NBC television series “The Cosby Show” from 1984 to 1992. The show won numerous awards and praise for its portrayal of a middle-class African-American family. Cosby has also been active in a wide-range of civil rights and social causes.
1949—Although he is seldom mentioned today, Frederick M. Jones was one of Black America’s most productive inventors. There are at least 60 patents to his credit. However, Jones is best known for the invention of an air conditioning unit. Specifically, he designed an automatic refrigeration system for long-haul trucks and trains which he patented on this day in 1949. Jones was born in 1893 in Covington, Ky., near Cincinnati. He died in 1961.
1863—One of the bloodiest race (or perhaps more appropriately “racist”) riots in America history begins. The event, known historically as New York City Draft Riots, was sparked by angry opposition to the congressionally passed Enrollment Act—a mandatory draft requiring White men to fight in the Civil War. Many Whites went on a rampage out of opposition to the draft and fear of freed Blacks competing with them for jobs. The rioting lasted from July 13 to July 16 before it was finally put down with the aid of Federal troops. But before it was over, an estimated 100 people had been killed and 300 wounded—most of them Blacks. The mandatory draft also reflected a fact commonly omitted from standard American history texts: the class nature of much legislation. In this instance, the draft only applied to poor and working class Whites. Wealthy Whites were officially exempted from the draft by paying a fee.
1868—Oscar J. Dunn, a former slave, is installed as Louisiana’s lieutenant governor. At the time, it was the highest elective state position ever achieved by any African-American. Another Black, Antoine Dubuclet, was installed as state treasurer. However, virtually all the Black political gains after the Civil War would be wiped out by the Hayes-Tilden Compromise of 1872 and the subsequent anti-Black Jim Crow laws. It would take nearly 100 years (during the 1960s) before Blacks would once again begin to match the political gains they had made during the post-Civil War period.
1891—Renowned Black inventor John Standard receives a patent for inventing what became the foundation for the modern refrigerator. Contrary to some history, Standard did not actually invent the first refrigerator. That appears to have been done in 1805 by American Oliver Evans. Standard once described his accomplishment this way: “This invention relates to improvements in refrigerators and consists of novel arrangements and combination of parts.” However, Standards’ “improvements” are generally credited with laying the foundation for the modern or “standard” refrigerator.
1941—The originator of the African-American holiday period known as Kwanzaa, Maulana Ron Karenga, is born Ron Everett in Parsonsburg, Md. Karenga also has the distinction of emerging from a prison sentence in the 1970s and earning two PhDs. He founded Kwanzaa in 1967. He had been imprisoned for the alleged abuse of two women who had been members of his United Slaves (US) organization.
1779—Noted Black spy Pompey Lamb supplies the American revolutionary forces with information, which enables them to win the Battle of Stony Point—the last major battle of the Revolutionary War in New York State. Lamb had worked as a fruit and vegetable delivery man for the British Army.
1822—Philadelphia becomes one of the first major cities to open its public schools to Blacks. The first school was a segregated one just for Black boys. One for girls was opened four years later in 1826. The city’s public schools would remain segregated until the 1930s.
1862—Crusading journalist and anti-lynching activist Ida B. Wells Barnett is born in Holly Springs, Miss. Wells-Barnett was a true militant activist. Her editorials so angered Whites in the Memphis, Tenn., area that a mob burned down the building which housed her newspaper. She was also one of the original founders of the NAACP and in 1884 she committed a “Rosa Parks” type act when she refused an order to give up her seat on a train to a White man. It took the conductor and two other men to remove her from the seat and throw her off the train.
1882—Violette A. Johnson is born. She would become the first Black female attorney allowed to practice before the United States Supreme Court.
1794—Former slave and Min. Richard Allen officially dedicated the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, Pa. The church was the first all-Black denomination not affiliated with a larger White congregation. The incident leading to the dedication took place in 1787 when Allen, Absalom Jones and several other Blacks were thrown out of Philadelphia’s St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church when they attempted to pray along-side Whites. The AME Church would go on to become one of the largest Black religious denominations in America.
1862—As the Southern, pro-slavery rebels prove more difficult in battle than expected, Congress passes a law giving President Abraham Lincoln the authority to begin recruiting free Blacks and recently freed slaves into military service during the Civil War.
1911—Frank M. Snowden is born in York County, Va. The Harvard educated Snowden would become a prominent professor at Washington, D.C.’s, Howard University and a leading authority on Blacks in ancient history. His major works include “Blacks in Antiquity: Ethiopians in the Greco-Roman Experience” and “Before Color Prejudice: The Ancient View of Blacks.” Snowden documented that “Ethiopians pioneered religion” and played a major role in the development of the greatness of ancient Egypt. Snowden also showed that Blacks influenced the development of both ancient Greek and Roman societies working in capacities ranging from musicians to scholars. Snowden died in February 2007 at the age of 95.
1942—Heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali is born Cassius Marcellus Clay in Louisville, Ky. Ali would join the Nation of Islam and become a major opponent of the U.S. war in Vietnam. He would later split with Malcolm X when Malcolm broke away from the Nation of Islam.
1944—The so-called Port of Chicago Mutiny takes place. In the middle of America’s involvement in World War II, an ammunitions depot at Port Chicago, Calif., explodes killing 320 men—most of them Black. It was the worse stateside disaster in U.S. military history. However, when 258 surviving Black soldiers refused to return to work until they received certain safety guarantees, their refusal was labeled a mutiny by military authorities. Fifty of the soldiers were convicted of mutiny and jailed. However, after the war, President Harry S. Truman commuted their sentences.
(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.)