Week of October 31-November 6
1517—Revolutionary Christian leader Martin Luther posted his famed 95 Theses on the door of Wittenberg Palace in Germany setting off the Protestant Reformation against the Catholic Church. It is believed the parents of American Civil Rights Movement icon Martin Luther King Jr. named him after Martin Luther. However, King’s original name was “Michael” and was later changed to “Martin.”
1820—(circa) Irish Catholics bring Halloween to America where it first gains popularity among the lower classes and becomes heavily influenced by both American Indian and Black American (slave) superstitions.
1896 (or 1900)—Actor and singer Ethel Waters is born in Chester, Pa. She became one of the nation’s best known jazz and gospel singers. Waters was born to a 12-year-old Black girl who had been raped by a White man.
1604—William Shakespeare’s great play “Othello” was first performed at Whitehall Palace in London. It is the earliest known European play with a Black lead character.
1866—America’s first Civil Rights Act is passed over the veto of President Andrew Johnson. In part, it was Johnson’s opposition to such pro-Black legislation that led a group called the “Radical Republicans” to seek his impeachment. Johnson had become president after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and adopted a wide-range of anti-Black policies.
1910—Scholar and political activist W.E.B. DuBois publishes the first issue of the NAACP’s monthly magazine “Crisis.” DuBois would later break with the NAACP, charging that its approach to ending discrimination against Black was too “gradualist.”
1945—The first issue of Ebony Magazine is published in Chicago by founder John H. Johnson. Johnson died in September 2005. The magazine and its sister publication JET are now facing financial difficulties and may be purchased by a group of non-Blacks.
1991—Clarence Thomas takes his seat on the United States Supreme Court after a prolonged controversy over his alleged sexual harassment of former co-worker Anita Hill. Thomas would go on to disappoint much of Black America by rendering votes on major issues, which many leading African-Americans felt were anti-Black.
1999—Chicago Bears running back great Walter Payton dies of cancer at the age of 45. His power and grace on the football field led to his nickname “Sweetness.”
1889—The last great African king is crowned. Menelik II becomes “Negusa Nagast” (King of Kings) of Abyssinia (Ethiopia). At that time Abyssinia included not only present day Ethiopia but parts of Kenya, Somalia and the Sudan. European colonialism would weaken and reduce the size of the kingdom. Menelik could trace his heritage back to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba of the Christian Bible.
1903—Maggie L. Walker opens the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank in Richmond, Va. Walker was one of the most accomplished business women in Black American history having founded a bank, a newspaper, other businesses and a political party known as the Lily Black. Constant refrain in her speeches was “Let us put our money together…and reap the benefits.”
1930—Haile Selassie is crowned Emperor of Ethiopia after the death of Ethiopian Empress Zawditu. Tracing his lineage back to the Bible’s King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, some Blacks (most notably the Jamaican Rastafarians) consider him a god. Selassie’s name prior to being crowned emperor was Raz Tafari.
1983—Conservative Republican President Ronald Reagan signs the law which designates the third Monday in January Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Shortly after the signing he angers some Blacks when in response to a reporter’s question he suggests that King may have been a communist.
1868—John W. Menard is elected to the U.S. Congress and was among the first group of Blacks to take a seat in that body during the Reconstruction period which followed the Civil War. He defeated a White candidate in Louisiana’s 2nd district.
1883—Racist political coup takes place in Danville, Va. White conservatives aided by outright racists violently seize control of city government from an elected group of Blacks and Whites. Four Blacks are killed. This was during the Jim Crow period as Whites began reasserting authority as Reconstruction ended.
1890—South Carolina State University is established in Orangeburg, S.C.
1983—National Black political leader Jesse Jackson announces the first of his bids for president of the United States. His campaign, at the time, is credited with registering the largest number of Black voters in modern history.
1992—Carol Moseley Braun, D-Ill., becomes the first Black woman elected to the United States Senate.
1992—James Clyburn becomes the first Black person elected to the U.S. Congress from South Carolina since Reconstruction. He is now one of the most powerful people in Congress.
1922—The entrance to King Tutankhamen’s tomb is discovered in Egypt. Controversy reigns to this day as to “King Tut’s color. Many Black authorities claim White historians and museums continue a historic practice of using representations of Tut, which lighten his skin and down plays his African features.
1750—Explorer Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable is born. As a result of his explorations and trading, he is credited with founding the early settlement which eventually became the city of Chicago. (Spellings of his last name vary and include De Sable and Au Sable.)
1872—P.B.S. Pinchback was elected to the United States Congress from Louisiana. He was one of the most colorful of the Blacks who took seats in Congress after the Civil War. His full name was Pinckey Benton Stewart Pinchback.
1872—Blacks actually take political power in Louisiana. C.C. Antoine is elected lieutenant governor; P.G. Deslonde becomes secretary of state; and W.B. Brown becomes superintendent of public education. Virtually all Black political gains would be taken away as the Reconstruction period gave way to the Jim Crow period.
1874—The Democratic Party sweeps the off-year elections. At this stage in history the Democrats are largely an anti-Black political party. Their taking control of the House of Representatives helps pave the way for the end of Reconstruction and the beginning of the racist Jim Crow period.
1982—Scholar and educator Rayford Logan dies. He was one of Black America’s most prominent educators, historians and was the author of numerous books. He was also the long time chairman of the Howard University history department.
1999—Daisy Bates dies at 84. Her efforts and leadership helped to integrate public school education in America. Bates was prominent in aiding the “Little Rock Nine”—the group of Black students which integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Ark.
1867—The first Reconstruction Constitutional Convention takes place in Montgomery, Ala. In attendance were 90 Whites and 18 Blacks. Reconstruction would bring forth a period of tremendous political and educational advancement for ex-slaves after the Civil War. But Reconstruction was significantly undermined by the Hayes-Tilden of 1877 and the beginning of the anti-Black Jim Crow period.
1902—Etta Moten (Barnett) is born in San Antonio, Texas. She would become one of the first major African-American Broadway stars. She starred in “Porgy and Bess” and had a successful Broadway career.
1926—Negro History Week is started by Black historian Carter G. Woodson. It would later grow into the current Black History Month which takes place each February in the United States. In England Black History Month takes place in October. Woodson (1875–1950) is recognized as the “Father of Black History Month.”
1956—The Nat King Cole Show—the first Black hosted network television variety show—debuts. The show began with just 15 minutes and later expanded to half-an-hour, but was pulled in 1957 for lack of advertiser support.
1968—Brooklyn, New York’s Shirley Chisholm becomes the first Black woman elected to the U.S. Congress. She would later make an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.
1974—Walter Washington becomes the first elected mayor of Washington, D.C., as the predominantly Black city gains limited voting rights. Washington had declined an earlier appointment to be the city’s commissioner because the proposal did not give him control of several city agencies including the police department.
1746—Absalom Jones is born into slavery in Sussex, Del. He becomes the first Black Episcopal Church priest. Along with African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church founder Richard Allen, he also founds a Black self-help group called the Free African Society. Jones dies in 1818.
1858—Samuel E. Cornish dies. Along with John Russwurm, he established the first Black owned and operated newspaper in America—“Freedom’s Journal.” The newspaper’s famous motto was “We wish to plead our cause.”
1860—Abraham Lincoln is elected the 16th president of the United States. His opposition to the expansion of slavery prompted slave-owning states to succeed from the union which brought about the Civil War. Lincoln’s opposition to slavery was more pragmatic than moral signified by his famous phrase—“A nation cannot exist half-slave and half-free.”
1900—James Weldon Johnson composes “Lift Ev’ry Voice And Sing.” The song becomes the “Black National Anthem.” In 1920, Johnson becomes the first Black head of the NAACP.
1928—Oscar DePriest (1871-1951) is elected to the 71st U.S. Congress from the first Congressional District of Illinois. He was the first Black congressman from the North and the first to take a seat in Congress since Jim Crow laws and attitudes drove the last Black from Congress in 1901.
1973—Coleman Young and Thomas Bradley are elected mayors of Detroit, Mich., and Los Angeles, Calif., respectively. They thus become the first Black mayors of cities with populations of 1 million or more.
(This Week in Black History is compiled by Robert Taylor. Subscribe to his free bi-weekly “Black History Journal.” Include $3.00 to help defray postage costs to Robert N. Taylor, 1517 T Street, SE, Washington, D.C. 20020.)