This Week In Black History

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JOHN CONYERS JR.

May 15
1911—Kappa Alpha Psi, one of the nation’s leading Black fraternities, is founded on this day on the campus of Indiana University by 10 young men led by Elder W. Diggs and Byron K. Armstrong.

1942—The 93rd Infantry is activated and assigned to combat in the Pacific. It thus became the first African-American division formed during World War II.

May 16
1868—The United States Senate fails by one vote in securing the two-thirds vote needed to convict President Andrew Johnson of the articles of impeachment, which had been brought against him. The failure was a major setback for Black rights in America because Johnson had become a leading opponent of voting rights and economic advancement for the recently freed slaves. While the impeachment trial did not center on Black rights, Blacks would have clearly benefited if Johnson had been expelled from office.

1929—Detroit Representative John Conyers Jr., one of the founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus, was born on this day in 1929. He remains one of the most progressive members of the United States Congress.

1966—Janet Jackson, of the famous and talented Jackson family, is born on this day in Gary, Ind. Controversy remains as to whether Janet has a secret daughter.

1990—Sammy Davis Jr. dies in Beverly Hills, Calif., at age 64. Davis, born in Harlem, N.Y., was a world class entertainer who performed well as an actor, singer and dancer. He was also a member of Hollywood’s popular and notorious “Rat Pack,” which included Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford.

May 17
1954—The United States Supreme Court renders its landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education (Topeka, Kan.) declaring segregation in public schools unconstitutional. The unanimous ruling was written by Chief Justice Earl B. Warren, who headed one of the most progressive Supreme Courts in U.S. history. The ruling read in part “Segregation of White and Negro children in the public schools of a state solely on the basis of race…denies Negro children the equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.” The legal team which argued the case was led by later Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshal. The ruling also had the effect of undermining all “Jim Crow” or segregationist laws.

1956—Boxing sensation Sugar Ray Leonard is born. The versatile fighter was named “Fighter of the Decade” for the 1980s.

1988—Black Ophthalmologist and inventor Dr. Patricia E. Bath of Los Angeles, Calif., patents an apparatus that efficiently removes cataracts by using laser technology.

May 18
1896—The United States Supreme Court issues its infamous ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson. The decision declared the doctrine of “separate but equal” was constitutional. By doing so it, in effect, approved all Jim Crow or segregationist laws designed to degrade Blacks or keep them separate from Whites. The ruling would stand until the Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954.

1955—Legendary educator Mary McLeod Bethune dies at 79 in Daytona Beach, Fla. Born the 15th of 17 children in Mayesville, S.C., Bethune would rise to become one of the nation’s foremost Black educators and early civil rights activist. She was a driving force behind the founding of Florida’s Bethune-Cookman College.

May 19
1925—Black revolutionary Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little on this day in Omaha, Neb. His father, Earl Little, was an outspoken Baptist minister and a follower of the legendary Black Nationalist Marcus Garvey. For his outspokenness, Earl Little would be brutally killed in 1929 by a Ku Klux Klan type group. A smart and focused student, Malcolm dreamed of becoming a lawyer. But that dream would be crushed by prejudice when one of his favorite teachers told him that was “not a realistic goal for a nigger.” He would end up dropping out of school and moving with his mother to Boston, Mass. He would later travel to New York City where he began a criminal life of petty crimes, but rapidly moved up to coordinating drug, prostitution and gambling rings. With the “heat” on, he moved back to Boston where he was arrested and sentenced to prison on a burglary charge in 1946. By the time he was paroled in 1952, he was a devoted follower of Elijah Muhammad and a small Muslim sect known as the Nation of Islam and had dropped his “slave” last name in favor of being referred to as “Malcolm X.” From 1952 to 1963, he became the primary force behind the building of the Nation of Islam from a sect of fewer than 1,000 members to a national organization of over 30,000 members. But his faith in Elijah Muhammad was crushed when he learned in 1963 that the married and outwardly puritanical Muhammad had had extra-marital affairs with at least six young Nation of Islam women. A bitter separation resulted between Malcolm and the Nation. Malcolm then turned to a more orthodox version of Islam and began to seek closer relations with other Black Nationalist and civil rights groups. He was assassinated at Harlem, N.Y.’s, Audubon Ballroom on Feb. 21, 1965 by three men associated with the Nation of Islam. Malcolm X was 39.

1930—Lorraine Hansberry is born in Chicago, Ill. During her short life she becomes one of Black America’s most prolific authors and playwrights. Her most famous play was “A Raisin in the Sun”—which was the first drama written by an African-American woman to be produced on Broadway. After her death from cancer in 1965, another one of her plays—“To Be Young, Gifted and Black” became a major off-Broadway production.

1952—Eccentric model and singer Grace Jones is born in Spanish Town, Jamaica. In addition to her singing and modeling, her unusual style propels her into a status as one of the icons of the disco and new music scene of the 1970s.

May 20
1743—Touissant L’Ouverture, the father of Haitian independence, is born. Although he was not part of the initial disturbances, L’Ouverture was quickly drafted into leadership of the 1791 Slave Revolt. He converted the random burnings of plantations and killings of unlucky Whites into a full scale revolution against slavery on the island. Under his leadership, the slaves were organized into an effective fighting force which would go on to defeat the British army and the greatest conqueror of the period, France’s Napoleon Bonaparte. Indeed, L’Ouverture’s fighting might was indirectly responsible for the growth of America. Desperate to raise money to fight the Haitians, Napoleon sold the massive Louisiana territory to America at an amazingly low price. L’Ouverture was tricked into attending a phony “peace conference” in France. Once there he was jailed. But the leadership void was immediately filled by one of his lieutenants—Jean Jacques Dessalines who would complete the revolution started by L’Ouverture. Haiti became independent in 1804.

May 21
1862—Mary Patterson becomes the first Black woman in U.S. History to be awarded a master’s degree. She earned it from Oberlin College in Ohio.

2009—NFL star quarterback Michael Vick is released from federal prison after serving 19 months of a 23 month sentence for financing a dog fighting ring. Formerly with the Atlanta Falcons, Vick is now with the Philadelphia Eagles.

2009—A Black man—James Young—is elected mayor of Philadelphia, Miss.,—a town which during the 1960s had the nation’s most racist reputation. Ku Klux Klan members dominated the town and it was known for the mistreatment and unpunished killings of Blacks. One of the most brutal events in the city was the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers. In his 2009 election victory, Young captured 30 percent of the White vote.

1881—Blanche Kelso Bruce is sworn in as a senator from Mississippi. He became the first Black man to serve a full term in the United States Senate. During his service, he advocated for the political and social rights of Blacks, Indians and Chinese immigrants.

1969—Police and National Guardsmen open fire on student demonstrators at predominantly Black North Carolina A&T University, leaving one student dead and five policemen injured.

 

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