1961—One of the original super groups—The Supremes—signed with Black record company Motown on this day in 1961. The name was later changed to Diana Ross and the Supremes and the R&B singers rocketed to international fame.
1901—Hiram R. Revels, the first African-American elected to the United States Senate, died on this day in Aberdeen, Miss. Revels, a politician, minister and educator was of Black and Cherokee descent.
1920—Zeta Phi Beta sorority was founded on the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C. by five socially conscious Black women. It became one of the nation’s leading Black sororities. It was founded as a sister organization to Phi Beta Sigma fraternity.
1950—Dancer-producer Debbie Allen is born on this day in Houston, Texas. She is perhaps best known for her work on the 1982 musical-drama television series “Fame,” where she portrayed dance teacher Lydia Grant, and served as the series’ principal choreographer. She is the younger sister of actress/director/singer Phylicia Rashad.
1759—Paul Cuffee is born near Dartmouth, Mass. He was one of the most prominent Blacks of the 1700s. Born of a Black father and an Indian mother, Cuffee grew wealthy as a whaling captain, ship builder and merchant. He was an ardent fighter for Black rights and built the first integrated school in the state. But in his later years he became frustrated with the slow progress for Black freedom and began to support a program calling for free Blacks to return to Africa and build a nation of their own. He actually financed and helped a small group of Blacks establish a base in the West African nation of Sierra Leone in 1815. His program ended with his death in 1818.
1874—Armed and racist Whites violently seize control of the Texas state government, bringing an end to Reconstruction and to post-Civil War Black rights and gains in the state. Actually, when it became clear that President Andrew Johnson was a friend of the old South and had no intention of enforcing rights for Blacks, Texas-style armed revolts took place in several Southern states in which integrated governments were violently and illegally driven from office.
1927—Multi-lingual singer, dancer and actress Eartha Kitt is born in a small plantation town called North, S.C. But when abandoned by her mother because her second husband did not want to raise a mixed-race child, she was raised by an aunt in New York City. Kitt became a star of stage and screen, including playing the role of Cat Woman in the Batman television series. But the U.S. entertainment industry would not touch her for nearly 10 years after a 1968 White House luncheon during which she angered President Lyndon Johnson’s wife by criticizing the war in Vietnam. Kitt died in December 2008 at the age of 81.
1931—Stage and screen actor James Earl Jones is born on this day in Tate County, Miss. Ironically, you cannot tell from his deep baritone voice today that he had a stuttering problem as a child.
1942—Boxing legend Muhammad Ali is born on this day in Louisville, Ky.