1952—The boxer-turned-actor Canada Lee dies in New York City at the age of 45. Second only to the legendary Paul Robeson, Lee was the leading serious (non-comedic) Black actor of the 1940s. He gave impressive performances in Alfred Hitchcock’s thriller “Lifeboat” (1944), the boxing classic “Body and Soul” (1947) and “Cry, The Beloved Country” (1951). However, like Robeson, Lee’s film career came to an end during the McCarthy Era when a host of Black and White stars, who were also social activists, were labeled communists and denied jobs.
1837—P.B.S. Pinchback is born in Macon, Ga., to a White plantation owner and a free Black woman. He becomes one of the leading Black politicians of the Reconstruction era, especially in Louisiana. After the Civil War, he became lieutenant governor of Louisiana and actually served as governor for 43 days. He was later elected to both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. He would also play a significant role in the establishment of Southern University and a major Black newspaper known as the Louisianan.
1994—After being released from 27 years of imprisonment for his battles against the racist system of apartheid, Nelson Mandela is elected the first Black president of South Africa.
1933—Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan is born Eugene Walcott on this day in the Bronx, N.Y. He was raised by his St. Kitts-born mother in Roxbury, Mass. Prior to joining the Nation of Islam in 1955, Walcott had achieved celebrity status in the Boston area as a Calypso singer, dancer and violinist known as “The Charmer.”
1968—Nine caravans of protesters arrive in Washington, D.C., for the first phase of the Poor Peoples Campaign—an anti-poverty effort conceived by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The campaign aimed to unite Black, White and Hispanic poor people in an effort to pressure the government to do more to eliminate poverty in America. King had been assassinated the previous April, so the campaign was led by his lieutenant Rev. Ralph Abernathy. The campaign erected a Resurrection City near the Lincoln Monument and held daily demonstrations in Washington from May 14-June 24.
1862—In a bold and heroic endeavor Robert Smalls leads 12 other slaves in the stealing of a Confederate war ship and turning it over to Union forces. The White captain of the steamer Planter and other officers had gone ashore for a party in Charleston, S.C. Smalls, a wheelman, quickly organized the Black crew and steered the ship out of Charleston harbor right pass the unsuspecting Confederate forces. For his daring deed, Smalls was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant. After the Civil War, Smalls was elected congressman from South Carolina.
1940—Jazz singer Al Jarreau was born on this day in Milwaukee, Wis.