1901—Legendary Jazz trumpeter Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong is born in New Orleans, La. Abandoned by his desperately poor parents, he was for a while a ward of the state. But by 1922, he followed the migration of Blacks to the North and ended up in Chicago where his Jazz skills really began to develop. Armstrong was frequently criticized for trying too hard to please his White audiences. Song stylist Billie Holliday once said of him, “Sure Satchmo toms but he toms from the heart.” Nevertheless, he would later become a major financial backer of Dr. Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement. In addition in 1957, he backed out of a State Department sponsored tour of the then Soviet Union declaring, “The way they are treating my people in the South, the government can go to hell!” Armstrong would die on July 6, 1971.
1931—Pioneering physician Dr. Daniel Hale Williams dies. The Pennsylvania born Williams was a principle founder of Chicago’s Provident Hospital and helped train many of the nation’s early Black doctors and nurses. But he is probably best known for performing America’s first successful open heart surgery. His patient—a young Black man named James Cornish—would live for another 20 years after the surgery.
1964—The bodies of three civil rights workers are found on a farm near Philadelphia, Miss. The three (one Black and two Whites) were participating in “Freedom Summer”—when thousands of people journeyed south to participate in the Civil Rights Movement and help Blacks register to vote. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were kidnapped on June 21 and killed the same night. Eighteen White men, including several law enforcement officers were indicted for the killings but only seven were convicted. One of the ringleaders, a local minister named Edgar Allen Killen, would not be found guilty until June 21, 2005 after the case had been re-opened. Ironically, Killen was found guilty of manslaughter 41 years to the day that the three civil rights workers were killed. The murders of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner helped galvanize support for the Civil Rights Movement by turning much of the nation against the terrorist-type tactics being employed by those opposed to it. Ironically, Philadelphia, Miss., elected its first Black mayor in May 2009.
1865—President Andrew Johnson reverses an order giving land abandoned or confiscated from slave-owning Whites to former Black slaves. The order—Special Field Order #15—had been issued in January by conquering Union Major General William T. Sherman as he and his troops marched through the South. Over 40,000 ex-slaves had received over 400,000 acres of land in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida. But after Lincoln was assassinated, Johnson reversed the order and returned the land to the Whites. Johnson, a Southerner, did much to reverse the policies of Lincoln and stifle progress for Blacks. Indeed, an argument can be made that President Johnson had a more negative post-Civil War impact on Black progress than any president in American history.