1864—One of the most decisive battles of the Civil War begins on this day with Black troops helping to crush one of the South’s finest armies at the Battle of Nashville. In a bid to stop the advances of the Union Army under Maj. General William T. Sherman, rebel General John Bell Hood led the powerful Army of Tennessee to Nashville to cut off Sherman’s supply lines. After two weeks of positioning and waiting for a break in the cold weather, the Union side finally decided to hurl the 13th United States Colored Troops at the Army of Tennessee. Although suffering massive casualties, the Black troops broke through the Confederate lines in a matter of hours. The victory helped to seal the South’s fate and bring an end to the Civil War the very next year.
1934—Maggie Lena Walker dies on this day at age 69. She had become perhaps the most powerful Black female businesswoman and social activist in America. Born to former slaves who themselves became activists for Black betterment, Walker at the tender age of 14 joined the Independent Grand United Order of St. Luke in Richmond, Va. She would help transform the Order and led it to become a premier Black self-help group. At its height, the Order had 50,000 members, 1500 local chapters, and a multi-purpose financial complex. Under Walker, the Order started a newspaper–the St. Luke Herald and a bank—the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank. Indeed, the bank was the only Black Richmond bank to survive the Great Depression bringing other banks under its wing and becoming the Consolidated Bank and Trust Company. Walker was a strong proponent of Blacks pooling their resources.
1859–The last known slave ship–The Clotilde–lands in Mobile, Ala., with a cargo of 110 to 160 Africans. The importation of Africans as slaves had been illegal in America since 1808. But the law was poorly enforced. However, fearing possible arrest by federal authorities, owners burned the Clotilde and attempted to scatter the slaves. But a group managed to escape and succeeded in establishing a village near Mobile known as “Africatown.” The last known survivor of this group was Cudjo Lewis (African name Kossula).
1663—Queen Nzingha of Angola dies at the age of 82. Known as the Warrior Princess of Matamba, Queen Nzingha gained legendary fame for her resistance to Portuguese attempts to colonize the interior of Africa. She also battled the Dutch slave trade. Leading a tribal group known as the Jugas, she is generally credited with leading the stiffest resistance to early European colonialism and imperialism.
1939—Eddie Kendricks is born in Union Springs, Ala. Kendricks was the lead singer for the Temptations during the group’s heyday.
1975—Pioneer Jazz lyricist Noble Sissle dies on this day in 1975. He was one-half of the famous team of Sissle and Blake (Eubie Blake). Sissle wrote the lyrics and sang the songs while Blake composed and played the music. Sissle died at his home in Tampa, Fla. He was 86.