This Week In Black History

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May 24

1854 —Anthony Burns, one of the most celebrated fugitive slaves in American history, is captured by deputy U.S. Marshals in Boston. But at the time anti-slavery feeling was running high in Boston and it was one of the cities which had vowed not to obey the Fugitive Slave Act—a federal law that required even those opposed to slavery to help slave owners capture run-away slaves. For fear that Boston residents would help Burns escape to Canada, the U.S. government sent 2,000 troops to Boston to assist in returning Burns to Virginia. Thousands lined the streets as Burns was marched to a ship on June 3 for a trip back South. However, a Black Boston church raised the money to purchase Burns and within a year of his capture, he was back in Boston a free man.

1856—The so-called Pottawatomie Massacre takes place. A force of men led by famed abolitionist John Brown attacks a pro-slavery settlement in Franklin County, Kan., leaving at least five men dead. The attack was part of a period known as “Bleeding Kansas” when pro and anti-slavery forces battled one another in a bid to determine whether Kansas would be a slave or free territory. The “Pottawatomie Massacre” was also one of the events which made the Civil War unavoidable.

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PATTI LABELLE

1944—Legendary singer Patti LaBelle is born Patricia Louise Holte in Philadelphia, Pa.

May 25

1878—World renowned dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson is born in Richmond, Va. Robinson was one of the best and best-known dancers in America up until the 1940s. He was known for his sensational footwork and speed. He once set a world record running the 75-yard-dash backwards in 8.2 seconds. But his “Bojangles” style—designed to please White audiences—angered some Blacks. However, he became a wealthy man appearing in 15 motion pictures after the 1930s.

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MADAME C.J. WALKER

1919—Wealthy cosmetics empire owner, Madame C.J. Walker, dies on this day at her estate on Irvington-on-the-Hudson in New York. Walker is generally believed to have been the first Black millionaire in American history.

1926—Famed Jazz trumpeter and composer Miles Davis was born on this day in 1926.

1943—One of the largest White riots of the 1940s takes place in Mobile, Ala. The Whites were outraged because the owners of a local shipyard company had upgraded the status and pay of 12 Black workers.

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ALEXANDER PUSHKIN

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