1816—The American Colonization Society is organized by Robert Finley with the aim of returning Blacks to Africa. Ironically, it received support from two groups with opposing interests. Some abolitionists and philanthropists who wanted to end slavery supported the ACS with the hope of giving slaves a chance to start new, free lives in Africa. Meanwhile, some slave owners supported the ACS because they saw it as a way of ridding the country of free Blacks who they saw as stirring up trouble among Blacks who were still enslaved. It is estimated that at this time, there were 2 million enslaved Blacks and 200,000 free Blacks in America. In 10 years, the ACS returned nearly 3,000 Blacks to Africa. They helped to form what are today the West African nations of Liberia and Sierra Leone. Indeed, the first president of Liberia was an American Black who had returned to Africa.
1905—Legendary Jazz great and pianist Earl “Fatha” Hines is born on this day in Duquesne, Pa., near Pittsburgh. He was in a class by himself and a major influence not only in Jazz but also upon the Swing and Bebop eras of American popular music. He collaborated with such greats as Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Sarah Vaughn and Dizzy Gillespie. He died in 1983. Among his best known hits were “Stormy Monday Blues” and “Second Balcony Jump.”
1954—Movie star Denzel Washington is born on this day in Mt. Vernon, N.Y.
1939—One of the most outstanding educators of the 20th century Kelly Miller dies in Washington, D.C. He was a champion of education for Blacks and was among that group of more radical Blacks who opposed the accommodating policies of Booker T. Washington. In 1887, Miller became the first African-American admitted to Johns Hopkins University. He became a long-time professor and dean at Howard University, while also being a prolific writer, essayist and newspaper columnist.
1928—R&B music legend Bo Diddley is born Ellas Bates on this day in McComb, Miss.
1929—Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority is officially incorporated. The international Black sorority was actually organized Nov. 22, 1922 by seven teachers in Indianapolis, Ind. It is currently headquartered in Cary, N.C., with the theme: “Sisterhood, Scholarship and Service.”
1929—A Black boycott of unfair store hiring practices begins during the Great Depression. The “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” campaign began in Chicago with the picketing of a chain of stores. It soon spread to New York, Los Angeles, Cleveland and several other major cities.
1862—This day has become known as “Watch Night”—the eve of the Emancipation Proclamation going into effect and nominally freeing slaves in the Confederacy. Thousands of free Blacks gathered in various locations throughout the nation to “watch” for midnight when the Emancipation of slaves became the law of the land. A focal point for celebration was the home of abolitionist Frederick Douglas in Rochester, N.Y.