The Week of February 20-26
1895—The great Black leader Frederick Douglass dies at 78 in Washington, D.C. Douglass was the foremost Black abolitionist struggling to end slavery in the mid-1800s. He used his great oratory skills and his abilities as a newspaper publisher on behalf of freedom and justice for Blacks. Most of his early work emanated from the Rochester, N.Y., area. But after the Civil War he moved to Washington, D.C. Douglass was the nation’s foremost Black leader for nearly 40 years.
1927—Actor Sidney Poitier is born in Miami, Fla., and grows up on Cat Island in the Bahamas. However, by the early 1950s, he was establishing a career in movies. Indeed, it can be said that Poitier was the first Black actor to make it in mainstream movie roles without having to play stereotypical and often demeaning “Black roles.”
1963—Basketball great Charles Barkley is born on this day in Leeds, Ala.
1933—Song stylist and activist Nina Simone is born Eunice Waymon in Tryon, N.C. She was a child prodigy who was playing the piano by age 4. She had numerous songs to her credit, but one of the most memorable was “Mississippi Goddam,” which was composed as a protest against the terrorist bombing of a Black church in Birmingham, Ala., which resulted in the deaths of four little Black girls. Simone, often referred to as the High Priestess of Soul, died in France on April 21, 2003.
1965—The most prominent Black nationalist of the 20th century, Malcolm X, is assassinated on this day in Harlem, N.Y.’s Audubon Ballroom while giving a speech which was to issue a call for Black unity. Born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Neb., on May 19, 1925, he graduated at the top of his high school class but had his dream of becoming a lawyer crushed when a teacher told him that was “not realistic for a Nigger.” He gradually drifted into the underworlds of first Boston and then New York where he became a drug dealer and gangster known as “Detroit Red.” He was friends with comedian and upcoming star Redd Foxx, who at the time was known as “Chicago Red.” Malcolm was arrested and jailed for robbery at age 20. While in prison he converted to the Nation of Islam and after his release in 1952, he became the leading force building the group into a major national organization. He was a brilliant orator and organizer as well as a fierce opponent of racism, imperialism and the non-violent approach to combating the nation’s evils. But disagreements with Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad led to a split. He then formed the Organization for Afro-American Unity. However, 11 months after his split with the Nation of Islam he was assassinated. Many in the Black community felt the New York City police and the FBI played a role in his death. But three man associated with the Nation of Islam were tried and convicted of his murder.