Week of Feb. 5-11
1866—Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, one of the great White heroes of Black history, offers his famous amendment to the Freedman’s Bureau bill to use land confiscated from former slave owners as well as some public lands to guarantee each adult former slave “40 acres and a mule.” However, even after the Civil War there was enough anti-Black and pro-South sentiment in Congress to defeat the measure 126 to 37. If the Stevens measure had passed, it may have changed the entire course of Black history in America because the former slaves would have had a solid economic foundation upon which to build their new lives and the poverty which plagued African-Americans for the next 100 years could have been prevented.
1934—Henry “Hammerin’ Hank” Aaron was born on this day in Mobile, Ala. The baseball great and eventual home run king (until Barry Bonds) began his career with the old Negro Baseball League playing for the Indianapolis Clowns before joining the Atlanta Braves in 1954.
1945—Jamaican Reggae legend Bob Marley, is born on this day as Robert Nesta Marley in Nine Miles, Saint Ann, Jamaica. He used his music not only to entertain but to tirelessly spread Reggae and the Rastafarian religion from Africa to Europe and the U.S. Much of his music deals with the struggles of the impoverished and the oppressed. Marley died from complications due to cancer in Miami in May 1981.
1820—The first organized emigration of Blacks from the U.S. back to Africa occurs. Eighty-six free Blacks leave New York Harbor on a ship named the “Mayflower of Liberia.” The group lands on the West African coast on March 9 and joins with ex-slaves freed by Britain to help form what would eventually become the West African nation of Sierra Leone.
1993—Tennis star Arthur Ashe dies on this day after contracting AIDS from a 1988 blood transfusion. Ashe was the first African-American to win at Wimbledon defeating Jimmy Connors in the finals in 1975. Born and raised in Richmond, Va., Ashe was also known for his activism in various social causes. Once asked what type of attitude was required of a champion, Ashe responded, “The ideal attitude is to be physically loose and mentally tight.”
1871—Alcorn A&M College (later “University”) opens in Mississippi. The great Black legislator Hiram Revels resigns his seat in Congress to become the first president of the institution, which would grow to become one of the leading Black colleges in the nation. At first it was only open to men but began admitting women in 1895.
1883—Eubie Blake is born James Hubert Blake in Baltimore, Md. Along with Noble Sissle, he popularizes Ragtime music. The genre had its birth in Black bars and whore houses in Southern and Midwestern cities. But Sissle and Blake took it mainstream with hits ranging from the “Charleston Rag” to “I’m Just Wild about Harry” to “Shuffle Along.” Blake died when he was 100 years old on Feb. 12, 1983.
1967—Comedian-actor Chris Rock is born on this day in Andrews, S.C. He is the oldest of seven children.