Week of April 9-15
1865—Black regiments led an assault on and eventually captured a key Southern fort helping bring the Civil War to an end. The nine regiments led by Gen. John Hawkins smashed through Confederate defenses at Forth Blakely, Ala. The 68th Division of USCT (United States Colored Troops) had some of the highest casualties of the Civil War.
1898—Paul Bustill Robeson is born in Princeton, N.J. Robeson would go on to become the greatest combination of entertainer and social activist in American history. He was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Rutgers University while simultaneously being one of the school’s greatest football stars. After graduation he turned to entertainment—acting and singing on stage and in early movies. However, he was also an outspoken critic of American racism and imperialism while being a strong proponent of socialism. This made him the target of a government disruption and destruction campaign. The campaign did not truly produce results until the anti-communist hysteria of the 1950s. Concert halls were closed to Robeson, the media began to attack him unrelentingly, established Black leaders began to shun him and the government took his passport so he could not perform and earn money abroad. Nevertheless, he remained a symbol that would later inspire activist entertainers such as Ossie Davis and Harry Belafonte. Robeson died in Philadelphia Jan. 23, 1976.
1939—Operatic star Marian Anderson performs for an estimated 65,000 people on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., after the Daughters of the American Revolution make a racist decision denying her the right to perform at Constitution Hall.
1943—Tennis great Arthur Ashe is born in Richmond, Va. Ashe’s spectacular abilities on the tennis court enabled him to become the first Black member of the American Davis Cup team; the first Black to win the U.S. Open and the first Black to win the men’s single’s title at Wimbledon in England. Unfortunately, Ashe would die of AIDS after receiving a contaminated blood transfusion.