For the week of July 18-24
1753—This is believed to be the day Lemuel Haynes escaped from slavery in Massachusetts. The product of a Black father and a mother who was normally described in history texts as “a White woman of respectable ancestry,” Haynes would become a renowned figure in early American history. He fought with distinction in American Revolutionary War for independence from Britain and would become the first Black person ordained as a minister by a mainstream Protestant church. He was also the first Black in American history to become head minister at a predominantly White church.
1863—Sergeant William H. Carney was the first Black person to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery in battle. The bravery which led to the medal occurred on this day in 1863 at the battle of Battery Wagner.
1918—Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is born in Transkei, South Africa. Mandela would spend 27 years in prison for his struggles against the system of racial oppression in South Africa known as apartheid. When he was finally released in 1990, it was a day of massive celebration for Blacks and progressive Whites throughout South Africa and much of the world. He won hundreds of awards for his anti-apartheid efforts including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. With the downfall of apartheid in the early 1990s, Mandela would become the first Black president of the country in 1994. He was widely praised for not launching a campaign of revenge against his White former oppressors.
1848—Anti-slavery activist and the foremost Black leader of his day Frederick Douglas gives a stirring speech at the First Women’s Rights Convention, which took place in Seneca Falls, N.Y. Douglas helped sway the 260 women and 40 men present to back a women’s right to vote resolution being pushed by Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Initially, many of the delegates opposed the resolution fearing it was too radical an idea for the times, but changed their minds after hearing Douglas’ presentation. Women would not finally get the right to vote until 1920.
1941—The first U.S. Army Flying Academy for Black cadets is officially dedicated at Tuskegee, Ala. Between 1940 and 1946, 992 pilots were trained. Over 400 would see action in World War II even though many Whites initially felt Blacks were not intelligent enough to fly airplanes. The Tuskegee Airmen, as they became known, would fly with great distinction during the war. They were credited with downing 109 German planes and destroying numerous enemy fuel dumps, trucks and planes. Approximately 150 of them lost their lives during training or combat. Finally, in March 2007, over 300 surviving members and their wives were honored and the airmen received the Congressional Gold Medal.
1952—Joe Louis Reliford broke the color barrier in Georgia State Baseball in Statesboro, Ga. He pinch hit, threw out a runner from left field and robbed the Statesboro Pilots best hitter, Jim Shuster of a home run—all in one inning and at the age 12. His historical catch is on display in Cooperstown, N.Y., where he is the only batboy among Major League Baseball Hall of Fame Inductees. Now, 69, Reliford, is the author of “From Batboy to the Hall of Fame.”
1967—The first Black Power Conference takes place in Newark, N.J. More than 1,000 delegates representing 126 organizations attended. The conference represented a break with the integration-with-Whites thrust of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Instead, delegates called for greater focus on Black political empowerment, economic development, community control and the building of Black institutions.
1864—Amazingly, what is now considered the first Black daily newspaper begins publishing on this day during slavery. The New Orleans Tribune was founded by wealthy Black Doctor Louis C. Roudanez and edited by a Belgium Jean-Charles Heuzean. The Tribune, however, actually followed the Daily Creole which began publication in 1856. But it was so pressured by Whites that it adopted pro-slavery positions. The Tribune, meanwhile, would begin as a tri-weekly and become a full-fledged daily in October.
1896—The National Association of Colored Women is founded in Washington, D.C., and Mary Church Terrell is elected president. The association would establish nurseries, help orphans, and battle for a woman’s right to vote. Terrell became an activist and power broker in the nation’s capital fighting for desegregation of restaurants and helping build schools. She was born in 1863 and died in 1954.
2001—Blues legend John Lee Hooker dies. He was 83.
1861—President Abraham Lincoln submits the first draft of the Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet. The order freeing slaves, however, was not actually issued until Jan. 1, 1863. And even then it benefited very few slaves. The Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in the rebellious Southern states. But the federal government at the time did not have control of the South so no slaves actually went free. In the so-called Border States where the federal government did have authority, the Proclamation did not apply. About the only slaves who benefited were those who had already escaped and fled to the Union side during the Civil War.
1939—Jane Matilda Bolin becomes the first Black female judge in America. New York City Mayor Fiorella LaGuadia appointed her a judge in the court of domestic relations.
1963—Floyd Patterson loses his heavyweight boxing title to Sonny Liston and Liston would later lose it to a young fighter by the name of Cassius Clay—later Muhammad Ali.
2001—Actor Whitman Mayo dies in Atlanta, Ga., of a heart attack. He was 71. Mayo is best known for his role as “Grady” in the popular 1970s television series “Sanford and Son.”
1900—The first Pan African conference takes place in London, England. Blacks from throughout the world gathered to plot strategies for bringing about rights for all people of African ancestry, independence from colonialism for African countries and international Black unity. This “conference” was the precursor of all the subsequent Pan African “Congresses.” Among the most prominent names present in 1900 were African-American activist and intellectual W.E.B. DuBois and West Indian lawyer H. Sylvester Williams. “Pan Africanism” became both a movement and a way of thinking.
1948—The Progressive Party Convention begins in Philadelphia. The convention nominates Henry Wallace for president and he makes the strongest showing of virtually any third party candidate in American history. Over 150 Blacks were at the convention and dozens ran for office on the Progressive Party ticket. They were attracted by the party’s call for an end to segregation, full voting rights for Blacks and universal government sponsored health insurance. The party was populated mainly by liberals and leftists. Wallace’s candidacy was even endorsed by the then relatively strong American Communist Party. The party came under vicious attack during the anti-Communist hysteria of the 1950s. But positions taken by the Progressive Party forced the Democratic Party to adopt meaningful changes in order to hold onto the Black vote.
1984—The first Black Miss America Vanessa Williams is forced to give up her crown as a result of the discovery of some sexually explicit photographs. She was replaced by the first runner-up (another African-American) Suzette Charles. Williams bounced back, however, and became a successful singer and actress.
1651—Anthony (or Antonio) Johnson, a free Black man who had purchased freedom for himself and his wife, is awarded 250 acres of land in North Hampton, Va. Johnson was among the first group of 20 Black indentured servants brought to America in 1619. Indentured servitude was a form of slavery which allowed the person to either work for or purchase his freedom. After becoming free, Johnson became the first wealthy Black person in America. He even purchased five indentured servants of his own. He probably picked up the name “Johnson” from his original owner but in official records from the period he is simply referred to as “Antonio the Negro.”
1802—Famed French writer Alexander Dumas is born. He was the product of a French general and a light-complexioned Black Haitian woman. Dumas would go on to become one of the world’s greatest and most prolific writers. He is best known for his classics such as “The Three Musketeers” and “The Count of Monte Cristo.” His blackness caused him some problems in French society, but by and large his fame and the money from his books enabled him to live an extravagant lifestyle.
1904—This is the day it is believed that actor Ira Aldridge was born in Africa. He would come to America, learn English and German, and develop into one of the world’s most accomplished Shakespearean actors. He played the role of the Moor Othello on many occasions.
(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.)