1866—The two-day Memphis, Tenn., race riots, one of the most savage events immediately following the civil war, begins. When it was over, former Confederate soldiers, angered by the loss of the Civil War and the new status for Blacks, had killed 46 Blacks and two of their White supporters, as well as raped five Black women and torched over 90 homes, schools and churches. In support of the rebel soldiers, local police arrested hundreds of Blacks and not the Whites who were rioting. However, the savage nature of the rioting in Memphis (and a similar disturbance in New Orleans) prompted Congress to pass radical Reconstruction to aid Blacks, a Civil Rights bill, and the 14th Amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing citizenship and equal protection to former slaves.
1950—Brilliant poet Gwendolyn Brooks, the first African-American to win a Pulitzer Prize, is born on this day in Topeka, Kan.
1967—The “Long Hot Summer” begins. The period between May 1 and Oct. 1, 1967 witnessed the most dramatic and destructive series of Black urban disturbances in American history. Major riots took place in 40 American cities. There were also lesser disturbances in 100 smaller towns and cities. Many felt the riots were sparked by a collective sense of frustrated hopes and a new urban generation less willing to adopt peaceful means for change.
1844—Master inventor Elijah McCoy is born in Colchester, Ontario, Canada. He would become the holder of over 50 patents—most were mechanical devices, which greatly improved engines, locomotives and steamships. The superiority of his inventions led to the phrase “the real McCoy” coming to mean the mark of excellent and authenticity. McCoy was born to slaves who escaped America for a free life in Canada. His parents became successful and sent him to study engineering in Scotland when he was only 16. After the end of U.S. slavery, he settled in Ypsilanti, Mich., and began his remarkable career.
1870—One of the most unsung religious leaders in American history, William Seymour, was born on this day in Centerville, La. Seymour became pastor of the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles and the catalyst for the worldwide Pentecostal movement. He not only rejected racial barriers in the church in favor of “Unity in Christ,” but he is also credited with eliminating many of the restrictions placed on women in the church. He died of a heart attack in 1922.