This Week In Black History… Explorer Matthew Henson is born

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August 10

1867—Famed Black Shakespearean actor Ira Aldridge dies in Poland. Aldridge was born in New York, where he developed a love for the theater. But prejudice in America forced him to go to England to practice his craft. Despite running into racism there as well, he was able to find work. He came in for harsh criticism when paired with White female actresses. But after performing Shakespeare’s Othello, he was proclaimed “an actor of genius” by several newspapers. (Note: There is some authority that Aldridge actually died on Aug. 7.)

Jesse-Jackson-150x1501981—A nationwide African-American boycott of the giant Coca Cola bottling company ends after the firm reaches an agreement with Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Operation PUSH. Coke agreed to pump at least $34 million into Black businesses and increase the number of African-American-owned distributorships. Critics would later charge that the beverage giant reneged on the deal and the amount of money pumped into Black businesses never came to more than $11 million.

August 11

ThaddeusStevens1868—One of the greatest White heroes of Black history dies in Washington, D.C. His name was Thaddeus Stevens. Stevens, a congressman from Pennsylvania, and Sen. Charles Sumner, of Massachusetts, led the Radical Republicans movement, which favored punishing the South for starting the Civil War and taking land from the former slave owners and giving it to the former slaves. He headed the powerful House Ways and Means Committee and he used his power at every turn to aid Blacks. Indeed, many of the pro-Black measures and legislation of the period attributed to President Abraham Lincoln were actually initiated by Stevens and Sumner. After Lincoln’s assassination, Stevens led the move to impeach President Andrew Johnson in part because Johnson, a Southerner, opposed many measures which would have benefited Blacks. More than 20,000 people (nearly half of them Black) attended his funeral in Lancaster, Pa.

1921—Accomplished writer Alex Haley is born on this day in Ithaca, N.Y. Haley is best known for co-writing the “Autobiography of Malcolm X” and for “Roots”—a history of a Black family during slavery, which became a major television series during the 1970s. Haley died in February 1992.

1965—The largest, longest and possibly most destructive Black riot of the turbulent 1960s begins in Los Angeles, Calif. The Watts Rebellion lasted six days, caused between $35 million and $50 million in damage while leaving 34 people dead, over 1,000 injured and nearly 4,000 arrested. It took place during a “long hot summer” when similar riots were taking place throughout the country.

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