1950—Basketball legend Julius “Dr. J” Erving is born in Roosevelt, N.Y. He was the most dominant NBA player of his era. The former Philadelphia 76’er was 6’7”, 210 pounds.
1868—Dr. W.E.B. DuBois is born William Edward Burghardt DuBois in Great Barrington, Mass. DuBois can easily qualify as Black America’s leading scholar and intellectual of the late 1800s and early 1900s. He was also an educator and social activist fighting tirelessly against racial injustice and U.S. imperialism. He started the NAACP’s influential “Crisis” magazine. He organized what many consider the First Pan African Congress. (Actually, it was the second. The first took place in 1900.) However, in his later years DuBois became increasingly frustrated with American racism, injustice and hypocritical brand of democracy. He turned to socialism around 1927 and despaired of the NAACP’s legalistic approach to obtaining rights for Blacks. He nevertheless authored several influential books including “The Souls of Black Folks.” He coined the phrase ‘talented tenth” to describe what he believed would have to be a class of educated and skilled Blacks who would have to lead the race out of its oppression. DuBois finally went into self-imposed exile in the West African nation of Ghana saying, “In my own country for nearly a century I have been nothing but a Nigger.” He died in Ghana’s capital, Accra, on Aug. 27, 1963. He was 95.
1864—Rebecca Lee Crumbler becomes the first African-American woman to receive a medical degree. Born in 1833, she graduated from the New England Female Medical College. Prior to becoming a doctor, she had worked as a nurse in Massachusetts for over six years.
1868—The U.S. House of Representatives voted 126 to 47 to impeach President Andrew Johnson. Johnson had run afoul of a group of pro-Black legislators known as the Radical Republicans because of his opposition to full citizenship rights for former slaves. He survived being ousted as president by one vote in the U.S. Senate. As far as historical speculation goes, it would have been much better for Black rights and the course of Black history if Johnson had been ousted. His opposition to full rights, including voting rights, for Blacks helped lay the foundation for the un-doing of Reconstruction and the many gains Blacks had made during that period.
1966—Kwame Nkrumah is ousted in a military coup as president of the West African nation of Ghana. This was another event which changed the course of black history for the worse. Nkrumah, educated at the predominantly Black Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, had been a major intellectual and pragmatic force for Pan-Africanism and worldwide Black unity. From the time he became the first president of Ghana in March 1957, he had worked tirelessly for international Black advance and world peace. His ouster left a void which after 40 years has not been filled by any other African leader. Nkrumah died in 1972.
1920—Dr. Carter G. Woodson (1875-1950) founds the first nationally organized celebration of Black American history (then called Negro History Week), which was first celebrated on this day in 1926. Woodson scheduled the week to coincide with the birthdays of Civil War President Abraham Lincoln and black abolitionist Frederick Douglass. However, in 1976, Negro History Week was expanded into the current day Black History Month. For his efforts in promoting knowledge of black historical achievements Woodson became known as the “Father of Black History.” In explaining the need for the celebration, Woodson once said, “Those who have no record of what their forebears have accomplished lose the inspiration which comes from the teaching of biography and history.”
1964—Heavyweight boxing champion Cassius Clay changes his name to Muhammad Ali after rejecting Christianity and joining the Elijah Muhammad-led Nation of Islam.