For the Week of September 4-10
1781—The city of Los Angeles is founded by 44 settlers of whom 26 were Black. This little known fact of history is found in H.H. Bancroft’s authoritative “History of California,” which details the ages, races and genders of the city’s founding fathers and mothers.
1957—Nine Black students are banned from Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., by Governor Orval Faubus. The move makes him a folk hero among White supremacists but sets in motion a major conflict with the federal government. President Dwight Eisenhower is forced to call out 1,000 federal troops in order to force the eventual integration of the school.
1981—Popular recording star Beyoncé Knowles is born on this day in Houston, Texas.
1859—The first novel written by a Black woman is published in the United States. The woman was Harriet Wilson and the novel was entitled “Our Nig: Or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black.” The novel was lost for years until reprinted with a critical essay by Black scholar Henry Louis Gates in 1982. The novel, which may have been a bit autobiographical, centers on the life of “Frada”—a Black indentured servant who was physically and emotionally abused by her owners.
1865—One of the great White heroes of Black history, Pennsylvania Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, first proposes an addition to the Freemen’s Bureau Act which would have required the confiscation of land from former slave owners and the redistribution to former slaves in “40 acre lots.” Although Stevens was at the time the most powerful person in the U.S. Congress and a friend of Blacks, he was unable to get the measure passed. The so-called “40 acres and a mule,” which promised to aid Black economic development after slavery was defeated in Congress on Feb. 5, 1866 by a 136 to 36 vote. The lopsided nature of the vote reflected lingering pro-slave owner sympathies in the Congress and a general lack of support for the freed slaves.
1859—John Merrick, co-founder of the North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance Company was born on this day in 1859. He would help make the Durham, N.C., based firm the largest Black controlled insurance company in the nation. Merrick was born in Clinton, N.C. He died in 1919.
1957—Ghana becomes the first African country to break from White colonial rule and become an independent nation. The West African nation, once known as the Gold Coast, was led to independence by the dynamic Pan-Africanist Kwame Nkrumah. He championed the slogan “Africa for the Africans” and encouraged the participation of Blacks throughout the world in building a strong and free Africa. However, the U.S. educated Nkrumah would be overthrown in a military coup in 1966. He befriended American activists ranging from W.E.B DuBois to Martin Luther King Jr.