1851—The first Black Women’s Rights Convention is held in Akron, Ohio. The keynote speaker was anti-slavery activist Sojourner Truth.
1966—Constance Baker Motley becomes the first African-American woman appointed to a federal judgeship. She takes the bench in the Southern District of New York. Motley was a major civil rights hero helping win several important cases during the 1950s and ‘60s. Among the cases was the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, which desegregated the nation’s schools. She worked for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and helped Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in several of his legal battles. Born in 1921 in New Haven, Conn., Motley died in 2006.
1980—Black Entertainment Television (BET), the first Black owned company listed on the New York Stock Exchange, begins broadcasting from its headquarters in Washington, D.C. While still Black programmed, BET is now owned by media conglomerate Viacom.
1893—“Queen Bess,” Bessie Coleman, the nation’s first Black female aviator, is born in the small town of Atlanta, Texas. Coleman was also the first African-American (male or female) to earn an international pilot’s license. Because of the racism and sexism in America, she had to travel to France to earn the license. She traveled the U.S. encouraging other Blacks to become pilots. Queen Bess died in a plane accident in 1926.
1944—Political activist Angela Davis is born in Birmingham, Ala. She was a brilliant scholar and philosopher who made the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list because of her suspected involvement in the violent Aug. 7, 1970 courthouse attempt to free jailed Black revolutionary inmate George Jackson. She was also associated with the Black Panther Party. However, shortly after the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. she joined the Communist Party. She later became a tenured professor at the University of California Santa Cruz, although then governor and later U.S. President Ronald Reagan had vowed to block her from teaching.
1958—Grammy award winning songstress Anita Baker is born on this day in Toledo, Ohio. Baker was raised in Detroit.
1953—One of Black America’s most gifted novelists, Ralph Ellison, wins the prestigious National Book Award with his powerful novel “The Invisible Man.” The novel helped him achieve international fame. The main character constantly escapes one disaster after another. The disasters are brought on by a combination of virulent racism and the character’s own naivete. Ellison was born in Oklahoma City, Okla.
1961—Opera diva Leontyne Price makes her debut at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.
1972—Mahalia Jackson, generally considered the greatest gospel singer that ever lived, dies of heart failure on this day near Chicago (Evergreen Park), Illinois. She was born in New Orleans, La. After leaving there, she settled in Chicago where she briefly studied beauty culture under the nation’s first Black millionaire Madame C.J. Walker. Among her greatest and most frequently requested songs were “Did It Rain,” “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho,” “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
1938—Crystal Byrd Fauset becomes the first Black woman elected to a state legislature when she wins a seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
1944—Matthew Henson receives a medal from the U.S. Congress for being co-discoverer of the North Pole along with Robert Peary. The medal, however, came 35 years after the historic feat because Peary, a White man and Henson’s boss, received all the credit for decades. However, the records show that Henson, leading a party of four Inuits (Eskimos) actually reached the North Pole 45 minutes before Peary.
1989—After 62 years and numerous protests, the Colgate-Palmolive Company ends the sale of “Darkie Toothpaste.” The toothpaste, which was only sold in Asia, was renamed “Darlie” and the Sambo-style character on th
e tube was dropped.
1837—The great Russian literary genius Alexander Pushkin dies on this day as a result of a duel. He is generally considered Russia’s greatest poet. Unlike many famous Europeans of color, Pushkin was proud of his Black heritage, which is traced to his great grandfather on his mother’s side—Ibrahim Petrovich Gannibal who was most probably an Ethiopian who became part of Russian royalty. Pushkin’s poetic style combined drama, romance and satire.
1908—Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity is incorporated. The Black Greek-letter organization was actually founded, however, on Dec. 4, 1906. The “brothers of the black and gold” have included as members a host of distinguished men ranging from W.E.B. DuBois to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
1913—Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority is incorporated. It is the nation’s oldest Black Greek-letter sorority having been founded at Howard University in Washington, D.C., in 1908. The AKAs are currently headquartered in Chicago, Ill.
1954—Talk-show diva Oprah Winfrey was born on this day in Kosciusko, Miss. However, she was raised in Nashville, Tenn. Winfrey ended her popular “Oprah” show in 2011. She has already launched her own network, OWN.