1821—The African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church is officially formed in New York City. However, the church had been actually operating since 1796. A decision to officially separate from the White-controlled Methodist Church was reached in 1820. The dispute centered in part on the refusal of the Whites to allow Black ministers to preach. Among the founders were James Varnick, Abraham Thompson and June Scott. Today the denomination has an estimated 1.2 million members and operates Livingstone College in Salisbury, N.C.
1933—Legendary music composer and producer Quincy Jones is born on this day in Chicago, Ill.
1977—One of the unsung heroines of the Civil Rights Movement, Fannie Lou Hamer, dies on this day in 1977. Hamer, the youngest of 20 children born in Ruleville, Miss., became active in voter registration and later became Mississippi field secretary for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee as well as head of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. She also coined the phrase, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
1897—The 55th Congress convenes with one Black member remaining in the legislative body—George White of North Carolina. All the Black political progress made during Reconstruction had been snatched away after the Hayes-Tilden Compromise of 1887. By 1890 states throughout the South had effectively taken away the right of Blacks to vote with schemes ranging from literacy tests to poll taxes to Whites-only primaries. As a result, Blacks were forced from elected office. When White’s term expired in 1901, there would not be another African-American elected to Congress for 27 years and he would come from the North—Oscar DePriest of the Southside of Chicago (1st Congressional District of Illinois).
1827—The first Black-owned and operated newspaper in America begins publishing. It was Freedom’s Journal. It published weekly in New York City from 1827 to 1829. Editors John Russwurm and Samuel Cornish declared as their mission: “We wish to plead our own cause. Too long have others spoken for us.”
1806—Norbert Rillieux, one of the earliest Black chemical engineers in America or Europe, was born on this day in 1806. The product of a wealthy French plantation owner in New Orleans and his Black mistress, Rillieux was given his freedom and sent to Paris, France, to be educated. He is best known for his invention of the “multiple evaporation process” which revolutionized the sugar and paper industries. It also saved the lives of many who had previously labored in extremely dangerous conditions. Rillieux returned to the U.S., but as conditions for free Blacks deteriorated prior to the Civil War, he went back to Paris and died there in 1894.
1999—Maurice Ashley, a Jamaican immigrant living in Brooklyn, becomes the first Black grandmaster in modern chess history.
1933—The first Black woman elected mayor of a Mississippi town, Unita Blackwell, was born on this day in Lula, Miss. The former field worker with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee became mayor of Mayersville, Miss., in 1977.
1963—Singer-actress and the first Black woman to win the Miss America Pageant, Vanessa Williams, was born on this day in Millwood, N.Y.
1970—Actress and rapper Queen Latifah was born on this day in 1970.