1712—The New York City slave rebellion occurs. A group of 27 slaves began setting fires in the city and shooting Whites. At least a dozen Whites were killed before the state militia arrived to brutally put down the rebellion. Following the revolt, slave codes were toughened, 21 Blacks were executed and six committed suicide.
1872—William Monroe Trotter is born. Of all the Black leaders of the late 1800s and early 1900s, Trotter was the most militant. He used his Boston Guardian newspaper to pound away at racial injustice saying the newspaper was “propaganda against discrimination.” In 1905, he helped found the Niagara Movement, but then refused to join the resulting NAACP charging that it was too moderate and too White controlled. On Nov. 12, 1914 he made national headlines when he confronted President Woodrow Wilson in the White House over his failure to do anything to stop the lynching of Blacks. The confrontation led to a 45-minute argument, in which Wilson told Trotter he was offended by “the manner” in which he was talking to him. The New York Times denounced Trotter for showing “superabundant untactful belligerency.” But many Black leaders, including W.E.B. DuBois, praised him. Trotter was born on April 7, 1872 and died on April 7, 1934.
1915—Billie Holiday is born. She would go on to become the greatest blues and jazz singer of her era with songs like “The Man I Love” and “God Bless the Child Whose Got His Own.” She was born to a 13-year-old mother and began her working career as a small girl helping to clean up a Baltimore, Md., whorehouse—a house in which she was also raped. Holiday made money from her performances despite the fact that she never received any royalties from any of the 200 songs she recorded. Drug use was a factor in her premature death at 44.
1974—Hammering Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves breaks the homerun record of the legendary Babe Ruth when he hit his 715th homer during a game at Atlanta Stadium.
1990—Scientist Percy Julian, who developed drugs to combat glaucoma and methods to mass produce cortisone, is admitted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
1865—Black regiments lead assault upon and eventually captured a key Southern fort helping bring the Civil War to an end. The nine regiments led by General John Hawkins smashed through Confederate defenses at Forth Blakely, Ala. The 68th Division of USCT (United States Colored Troops) had some of the highest casualties of the Civil War.
1898—Paul Bustill Robeson is born in Princeton, N.J. Robeson would go on to become the greatest combination of entertainer and social activist in American history. He was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Rutgers University, while simultaneously being one of the school’s greatest football stars. After graduation he turned to entertainment—acting and singing on stage and in early movies. However, he was also an outspoken critic of American racism and imperialism, while being a strong proponent of socialism. This made him the target of a government disruption and destruction campaign. The campaign did not truly produce results until the anti-communist hysteria of the 1950s. Concert halls were closed to Robeson, the media began to attack him unrelentingly, established Black leaders began to shun him and the government took his passport so he could not perform and earn money abroad. Nevertheless, he remained a symbol which would later inspire activist entertainers such as Ossie Davis and Harry Belafonte. Robeson died in Philadelphia on Jan. 23, 1976.
1939—Operatic star Marian Anderson performs for an estimated 65,000 people on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., after the Daughters of the American Revolution made a racist decision denying her the right to perform at Constitution Hall.