1975—General Daniel “Chappie” James becomes the nation’s first Black four-star general and takes command of the North American Air Defense Command. The position made him a key player in the nation’s nuclear defense system. James was born in Pensacola, Fla., and died at the relatively young age of 57 in 1978.
1977—Legendary actress and Blues and Gospel singer Ethel Waters dies at the age of 80 in Chatsworth, Calif. Born in Chester, Pa., Waters became the second African-American in history to be nominated for an Academy Award. For many Blacks, however, she was best known for her singing. The song which gained her the greatest popularity was the spiritual “His Eye is on the Sparrow…So I know He Watches Me.”
1766—Post-colonial era Black leader James Forten is born on this day in 1766. Little is known today but during that period he was one of the most prominent Black men in America. Born free in Philadelphia, Pa., he became a fierce anti-slavery activist, an inventor and successful businessman. In fact, the sail-making company he founded made him one of the wealthiest Black men in the nation. Forten and AME Church founder Richard Allen organized the First Convention of Color in 1817. He went back and forth on the issue of “re-Africanization,” which called for the return of Blacks to Africa. He financially supported Paul Cuffee’s venture in the West African nation of Sierra Leone, but he later turned against the American Colonization Society and its efforts to return free American Blacks to the West African nation of Liberia.
1945—As World War II comes to an end, official records show 1,154,720 Blacks were inducted into the military services including 3,902 women. The highest ranking African-American women during WWII were Majors Harriet M. West and Charity E. Adams.