This Week In Black History

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May 19

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MALCOLM X

1925—Black revolutionary Malcolm X was born Malcolm Little on this day in Omaha, Neb. His father, Earl Little, was an outspoken Baptist minister and a follower of the legendary Black Nationalist Marcus Garvey. For his outspokenness, Earl Little would be brutally killed in 1929 by a Ku Klux Klan type group. A smart and focused student, Malcolm dreamed of becoming a lawyer. But that dream would be crushed by prejudice when one of his favorite teachers told him that was “not a realistic goal for a nigger.” He would end up dropping out of school and moving with his mother to Boston, Mass. He would later travel to New York City where he began a criminal life of petty crimes, but rapidly moved up to coordinating drug, prostitution and gambling rings. With the “heat” on, he moved back to Boston where he was arrested and sentenced to prison on a burglary charge in 1946. By the time he was paroled in 1952, he was a devoted follower of Elijah Muhammad and a small Muslim sect known as the Nation of Islam and had dropped his “slave” last name in favor of being referred to as “Malcolm X.” From 1952 to 1963, he became the primary force behind the building of the Nation of Islam from a sect of fewer than 1,000 members to a national organization of over 30,000 members. But his faith in Elijah Muhammad was crushed when he learned in 1963 that the married and outwardly puritanical Muhammad had had extra-marital affairs with at least six young Nation of Islam women. A bitter separation resulted between Malcolm and the Nation. Malcolm then turned to a more orthodox version of Islam and began to seek closer relations with other Black Nationalist and civil rights groups. He was assassinated at Harlem, N.Y.’s, Audubon Ballroom on Feb. 21, 1965 by three men associated with the Nation of Islam. Malcolm X was 39.

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LORRAINE HANSBERRY

1930—Lorraine Hansberry is born in Chicago, Ill. During her short life she becomes one of Black America’s most prolific authors and playwrights. Her most famous play was “A Raisin in the Sun”—which was the first drama written by an African-American woman to be produced on Broadway. After her death from cancer in 1965, another one of her plays—“To Be Young, Gifted and Black” became a major off-Broadway production.

1952—Eccentric model and singer Grace Jones is born in Spanish Town, Jamaica. In addition to her singing and modeling, her unusual style propels her into a status as one of the icons of the disco and new music scene of the 1970s.

May 20

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TOUSSAINT L’OUVERTURE

1743—Touissant L’Ouverture, the father of Haitian independence, is born. Although he was not part of the initial disturbances, L’Ouverture was quickly drafted into leadership of the 1791 Slave Revolt. He converted the random burnings of plantations and killings of unlucky Whites into a full scale revolution against slavery on the island. Under his leadership, the slaves were organized into an effective fighting force which would go on to defeat the British army and the greatest conqueror of the period, France’s Napoleon Bonaparte. Indeed, L’Ouverture’s fighting might was indirectly responsible for the growth of America. Desperate to raise money to fight the Haitians, Napoleon sold the massive Louisiana territory to America at an amazingly low price. L’Ouverture was tricked into attending a phony “peace conference” in France. Once there he was jailed. But the leadership void was immediately filled by one of his lieutenants—Jean Jacques Dessalines who would complete the revolution started by L’Ouverture. Haiti became independent in 1804.

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