This Week In Black History… Explorer Matthew Henson is born

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August 12

1890—This is generally considered the day that the systematic and nominally legal exclusion of Blacks from the political life of the South began. It was the day that the Mississippi Constitutional Convention began. Barred by the 14th and 15th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution from excluding Blacks by race, the convention instead adopted a host of strategies including literacy or so-called “Education Tests” specifically designed to prevent Blacks from voting. The tests required reading and interpreting the Constitution. Blacks would be given difficult passages to interpret while Whites were either exempted or given easy passages. Soon, most Southern states adopted the so-called Mississippi Plan to exclude Blacks from voting. The racist plan was effective. In one Mississippi County, for example, there were 30,000 Blacks but only 175 were eligible to vote. Most aspects of the Mississippi Plan were not overturned until the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

OpheliaDevoreMitchell1922—Ophelia Devore Mitchell—the founding mother of African-American modeling—is born on this day in Edgefield, S.C. Her family would move to New York during the 1930s, where she entered the Vogue School of Modeling at 17. She excelled at modeling, as well as in academics mastering Latin, German and French. She modeled professionally for several years before opening her own modeling school in 1946. Her aim was to overcome stereotypes and negative portrayals of Black women. She wrote a fashion column for the Pittsburgh Courier, started her own line of cosmetics and eventually helped found the Columbus Times newspaper in Georgia. In 2004, she was formally recognized by the Fashion Institute of Technology and the Fashion and Arts Exchange for her contributions to the industry.

August 13

1881—The first African-American nursing school opens at Spelman College in Atlanta, Ga.

1892—The Afro-American newspaper is founded. The first edition is published in Baltimore, Md., by John H. Murphy Sr. At its height, the newspaper chain would publish papers in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Richmond, Virginia and Newark, N.J. It continues to publish today in Baltimore and Washington, D.C.

1906—The “Brownsville Affair” takes place. Angry Black soldiers, who had been subjected to intense racial discrimination and insults, are accused of sneaking into Brownsville, Texas, and killing a local White bartender and wounding a police officer. Although the evidence was weak, President Theodore Roosevelt sided with Brownsville Whites and ordered 167 of the Black soldiers dishonorably discharged for a “conspiracy of silence” because they either denied involvement in the shootings or refused to say who was involved. However, 66 years later (as a result of the findings of a book) the Army opened a new investigation which cleared the accused soldiers and reversed the 1906 dishonorably discharges.

 

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