1874—Arthur Schomburg is born Arturo Alfonso Schomburg in Puerto Rico. After moving to New York City in April 1891, he became known over time as the “Sherlock Holmes” of Black history because of his relentless digging for Black historical truths and accomplishments. Reportedly, his drive to discover Black history was sparked by a fifth grade teacher who told him “Black people have no history, no heroes, no great moments.”
1885—Martin R. Delaney (1812-1885) dies on this day in Xenia, Ohio. Delaney was perhaps the leading Black nationalist of the 1800s. After fighting in the Civil War to end slavery and becoming the first Black field officer in the U.S. Army, Delaney became disillusioned with America. He began to advocate Black separatism and/or a return to Africa. He was a journalist and a physician who wrote several books including one detailing how ancient Egypt and Ethiopia were the first great civilizations long before ancient Greece. Although relatively unknown today, Delaney was also brilliant. Abraham Lincoln once told his Edwin Stanton, secretary of war, about Delaney, saying, “Do not fail to meet this most extraordinary and intelligent Black man.”
1993—The first Black U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall died on this day. Unlike current justice Clarence Thomas, Marshall was a true progressive and fighter for Black rights, having spent years with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund waging ongoing battles with the legal establishment to protect and expand rights and opportunities for African-Americans.
1851—The first Black Women’s Rights Convention is held in Akron, Ohio. The keynote speaker was anti-slavery activist Sojourner Truth.
1966—Constance Baker Motley became the first African-American woman appointed to a federal judgeship. She took the bench in the Southern District of New York. Motley was a major civil rights heroine helping win several important cases during the 1950s and ’60s. Among the cases was the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case that desegregated the nation’s schools. She worked for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and helped Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in several of his legal battles. Born in 1921 in New Haven, Conn., Motley died in 2006.
1980—Black Entertainment Television (BET), the first Black-owned company listed on the New York Stock Exchange, began broadcasting from its headquarters in Washington, D.C. While still Black programmed, BET is now owned by media conglomerate Viacom.
1893—“Queen Bess,” Bessie Coleman, the nation’s first Black female aviator, was born in the small town of Atlanta, Texas. Coleman was also the first African-American (male or female) to earn an international pilot’s license. Because of the racism and sexism in America, she had to travel to France to earn the license. She traveled the U.S. encouraging other Blacks to become pilots. Queen Bess died in plane accident in 1926.
1944—Political activist Angela Davis is born in Birmingham, Ala. She was a brilliant scholar and philosopher who made the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list because of her suspected involvement in the violent Aug. 7, 1970 courthouse attempt to free jailed Black revolutionary inmate George Jackson. She was also associated with the Black Panther Party. However, shortly after the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., she joined the Communist Party. She later became a tenured professor at the University of California Santa Cruz although then governor and later U.S. President Ronald Reagan had vowed to block her from teaching.
1958—Grammy award-winning songstress Anita Baker is born on this day in Toledo, Ohio. Baker was raised in Detroit.