1739—The British government is forced to sign a peace treaty with the Jamaican Maroons. The Maroons were escaped slaves or, to put it another way, Africans who refused to be slaves. When the Spanish lost Jamaica to the British in 1665, they freed many of their slaves and called them Maroons or “wild.” The Maroons set up villages, were frequently joined by other escaped slaves and eventually began to wage a highly successful guerrilla war against the British. Under the terms of the peace treaty, the Maroons were designated a free people and given 1,500 acres of land.
1780—Pennsylvania becomes perhaps the first state to abolish slavery. There is some confusion about the effective dates of the laws passed during this period, which called for the gradual elimination of slavery. The honor of being the first state to ban slavery may actually go to Vermont.
1875—Congress enacts the first Civil Rights Bill. It granted Blacks the right to equal treatment in inns, on public transportation, in theaters and places of amusement. However, with the end of the progressive Reconstruction period, Jim Crow laws were passed throughout the South which largely ignored the Civil Rights Bill. African-Americans did not regain most of the rights granted in 1875 until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.
1927—Entertainer and political activist Harry Belafonte is born Harold George Belafonte on this day in Harlem, N.Y., to Jamaican immigrant parents. Belafonte developed an early flair for entertainment and in the post-World War II period, he came one of the most popular vocalists in America and made Calypso popular throughout the nation. In 1959, he became the first African-American to win an Emmy. However, from the 1960s forward he mixed his entertainment career with active participation in the Civil Rights Movement and other social causes. He has been a frequent critic of Republican conservatism and conservative Blacks. In 2002, he was accused of labeling Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice “house niggers” for their support of President Bush’s right wing domestic and foreign policies.
1967—On this day in Black history, the U.S. House of Representatives expelled flamboyant and outspoken Black New York Representative Adam Clayton Powell Jr. from Congress for allegedly misappropriating funds. However, in June 1969, the U.S. Supreme Court declared the expulsion unconstitutional and Powell returned to Congress, but without his seniority. He lost his seat to current Representative Charles Rangel in 1970 and Powell died on April 4, 1972. During his most powerful years in Congress, Powell headed the House Labor and Education Committee and used his powers to help pass a wide range of civil rights and progressive social legislation.
1807—Congress passes legislation banning the slave trade. The law which was to go into effect on Jan. 1, 1808 prohibited the importation of slaves into the U.S. or any of its territories. Despite the law, however, the illegal importation of slaves continued for years. The best available records suggest that the very last slave ship arrived in the U.S. in 1859 off the coast of Mobile, Ala. The ship was called the Clothilde.