1925—On this day in 1925 a series of events are set in motion which would lead to one of America’s periodic trials of the century. In this case, prominent Black doctor Ossian Sweet moves into an all White neighborhood in Detroit, Mich. The following day a crowd of nearly 1,000 angry Whites gather around his home in a bid to force him out. Sweet had anticipated trouble and had 11 family members and friends in the house to help defend his property. A shot rings out from the Sweet home killing one member of the angry mob. All 11 persons in the Sweet home are charged with murder. The family is defended by Clarence Darrow—one of the nation’s best known and most progressive lawyers. Sweet’s brother admits to firing the deadly shot but Darrow convinces an all White jury he acted in self defense and they found him not guilty. Charges are then dropped against all the others. Sweet would later write “I have to die a man or live a coward.”
1965—Dorothy Dandridge, perhaps the most prominent African-American actress of the 1940s and 1950s, commits suicide in Los Angeles, Calif. She had been suffering from a host of financial and emotional problems. In the early years of her career, she starred in a number of so-called “race films” oriented at Black audiences, but Hollywood “discovered” her and expanded her roles while simultaneously subjecting her to various forms of discrimination. Nevertheless, she would become the first Black actress nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Actress category. She was only 42 when she died.
1739—The so-called Stono, S.C., slave revolt begins. It was led by a slave from Angola named Jemmy. The group gathered near the Stono River about 20 miles from Charleston and began a march and insurrection, which resulted in the deaths of at least 25 Whites. Marching under a banner proclaiming “Liberty,” it took a couple of hundred armed Whites to put down the revolt.
1817—Merchant, anti-slavery activist and “Back to Africa” advocate Paul Cuffee dies on this day in 1817. Cuffee had been born free in Massachusetts in 1759. Shortly after America’s war for independence from Britain, Cuffee and his brother built a boat and started a trading business. Overtime, Cuffee became a wealthy man. However, he grew frustrated with America’s injustices against Blacks and became a “Back to Africa” advocate. On Dec. 10, 1815, he sailed a group of free Blacks to the West African nation of Sierra Leone to establish a settlement. The settlement rapidly became successful but on a return trip to the U.S. in 1817, he died.
1817—This is the day that Alexander Lucius Twilight received his B.A. degree from Middlebury College and thus became the first African-American college graduate. Twilight, born free in Vermont, would go on to become a Presbyterian minister and pastor at several churches.
1915—The “Father of Black History,” Carter G. Woodson, leads the founding of the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History during a meeting in Chicago. It was originally called the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History. The organization became the nation’s leading organizing center for the dissemination of information on Black history. Woodson was also the founder of Negro History Week, which grew into the current day Black History Month.
1934—Renowned poet Sonia Sanchez was born Wilsonia Benita Driver on this day in Birmingham, Ala. She has authored more than a dozen books of poetry and has been a professor at several American universities. Sanchez joined the Nation of Islam in 1972, but left in 1975 following a dispute over the issue of women’s rights.