1911—Josh Gibson, legend of the Negro Baseball League, is born in Buena Vista, Ga. Standing 6’2” and weighing between 205 and 215, Gibson was a near perfect physical specimen who became the league’s home run king. He is credited with up to 932 home runs and a lifetime batting average of over .350. The only Negro League baseball player better known than Gibson was the great pitcher Satchel Paige. The tremendous talent of the Negro League players was summed up by Washington Post sports writer Shirley Povich in a 1941 column, “The only thing keeping them out of the big leagues is the pigmentation of their skin.”
1941—Three time Grammy winning singer Dionne Warwick is born on this day. She is a woman of many accomplishments including leading Hollywood’s anti-AIDS campaign and having her own skin care line. Her career was tainted a bit by her latter day association with the so-called Psychic Friends Network.
1963—The east African nation of Kenya is proclaimed independent from colonial rule. The first president is the charismatic Jomo Kenyatta. Despite many of the same problems which beset most other African nations, Kenya has remained one of the most politically stable countries on the continent. This is despite its beginnings which saw the brutal British repression of the Mau Mau movement–a secret insurgency of Kikuyu tribesmen, which had risen up to, drive out the White settlers.
1903—Another one of the great unsung heroines of the Civil Rights Movement Ella Baker is born in Norfolk, Va. She directed the New York branch of the NAACP; became executive director of the Martin Luther King Jr. founded Southern Christian Leadership Conference during the turbulent 1960s; and played a key role in the founding of the “Black Power” oriented Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. In addition, she was a mentor to Rosa Parks and helped to lead the Mississippi voter registration drive. She frequently found herself as the only woman in the usually all male leadership structure of civil rights organizations and often had to battle sexism. Even more than Rosa Parks, Baker deserves to be called the “mother of the civil rights movement.” Baker, a teacher, mentor and organizer, died in 1986 on her 83rd birthday.
1913—Archie Moore is born Archibald Lee White in Benoit, Miss. He becomes light heavyweight champion in 1952.
1981—Old-style Black comedian Dewey “Pigmeat” Markham dies. His standup comedy routine was a major attraction at many Black-oriented events and shows during the 1950s and 1960s. He also achieved some national fame among Whites with his “here comes the judge” routine on the 1970s TV series “Laugh In.”
1799—The first President of the United States George Washington dies. In his will the “founding father” stipulated that his slaves shall be freed upon the death of his wife Martha. Washington was a wealthy Virginian who supported slavery but did not want to see it expanded. In this regard, he signed the notorious Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 but also signed legislation barring the expansion of slavery into the Northwest Territories. Upon her death, Martha Washington also freed the slaves she owned. One Washington slave is known to have escaped and was never recaptured. His name was Ona Judge Staines.
1915—Jack Johnson, perhaps the most controversial Black boxer in American history, wins the heavy weight championship. He fought at least 114 matches winning most of them. One biographer described Johnson as a man who “lived life his way.” But his outspokenness and affairs with White women ran him afoul of the racist authorities of the day. He was jailed for nearly a year in 1913 on trumped up charges. He fought his last match in 1928. After boxing he became a sensation on Broadway in the play “Great White Hope.” Born in Galveston, Texas, Johnson (full name Arthur John Johnson) died in Raleigh, N.C., as a result of an automobile accident. For reasons which remain unclear, President Obama has delayed granting Johnson a pardon on his 1913 conviction even though the measure has little opposition.