1975—Tennis star Arthur Ashe becomes the first Black man to win the men’s singles championship at Wimbledon defeating Jimmy Connors. Ashe was born and raised in Richmond, Va. During his prestigious career he had become active in several social causes including frequent protests against the system of racial oppression known as apartheid in then White-ruled South Africa. Ashe contracted AIDS as a result of blood transfusion in 1988. He died of AIDS complications on Feb. 6, 1993.
1853—The first novel written by an African-American is published on this day. However, the novel had to be published in England because the author William Wells Brown was a fugitive slave. The novel was entitled “Clotel” or “The President’s Daughter” and may have been partially inspired by the then rumored relationship between President Thomas Jefferson and the slave Sally Hemmings.
1862—One of the most pioneering and militant Black journalists in Black American history is born. Ida B. Wells-Barnett came into the world on this day in Holly Springs, Miss. The legendary journalist was also a relentless anti-lynching crusader and a fighter for women’s right to vote. She even made a stand against one of the more insulting laws of Jim Crow segregation nearly 70 years before Rosa Parks. In 1884, she refused to give up her seat on a train to a White man and move to an already over-crowded smoking car. It took the conductor and two other men to drag her off the train. She was among the group of Blacks and progressive Whites who helped establish the NAACP. When she was just 25 she established her lifelong attitude towards women being submissive to men declaring, “I will not begin at this late day by doing what my soul abhors: sugaring men, weak deceitful creatures, with flattery to retain them as escorts …” She died in Chicago in 1931.
1957—Althea Gibson becomes the first Black person (male or female) to win the singles championship at Wimbledon. Gibson was born in Silver, S.C., and grew up in Harlem, N.Y. She died in September 2003. She often said she was driven to success in life by an attitude she developed during childhood. She summarized that attitude as “I always wanted to be somebody.”
1971—Henry T. Sampson invents the “gamma electric cell.” His invention and other engineering accomplishments had wide-ranging applications, but he did not invent the cell phone as some histories suggest. The gamma-electric cell converted nuclear radiation from reactors into electricity without going through the heat process.