Week of May 28 to June 3
1936—Betty Shabazz, the widow of Black nationalist leader Malcolm X, was born on this day in Detroit, Mich. Shabazz was born Betty Jean Sanders and raised by foster parents. She attended Tuskegee Institute (now university) and became a registered nurse. In 1994, she created a national controversy when she linked Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan to the assassination of Malcolm X. However, she and Farrakhan reconciled in 1995 and she spoke at the historic Million Man March. She died June 23, 1997 as a result of injuries received in a house fire set by her grandson.
2010—A book is released revealing that during the mid-1970s when much of the world was lining up to help overthrow racist White minority rule in South Africa, Israel was attempting to aid the racist regime up to the point of providing it with chemical and nuclear weapons for possible use against the country’s majority Black population. The documents were discovered by American scholar Sasha Polakow-Suransky while researching the book “The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa.” Though seldom mentioned by American media, it was an open secret during the 1970s that Israel was one of the Apartheid regime’s closest allies. Apartheid is what the minority White government called its system of racial oppression.
1854—Escaped slave and abolitionist Sojourner Truth delivers her famous “Ain’t I a Woman” speech at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention in Akron. Truth, born Isabella Baumfree, had been physically and sexually abused by various slave owners and their wives in New York. She sought refuge in religion. She finally escaped after her last slave owner reneged on a promise to free her. She became the leading female abolitionist of the period giving powerful speeches. She traveled widely in her anti-slavery mission telling friends “The spirit calls me and I must go.”
1865—President Andrew Johnson announces his Reconstruction program after the Civil War. However, Johnson was one of the greatest betrayers of Blacks in American history. He went back on many of the promises made to the former slaves by the recently assassinated Abraham Lincoln. Indeed, Johnson’s Reconstruction program was more favorable to the former slave owners and Confederate soldiers than it was to the ex-slaves. Johnson even opposed granting Blacks voting rights.
1822—What could have been the largest and most elaborate slave rebellion in American history is betrayed by a house slave seeking favors from his White master. The rebellion was organized by Denmark Vesey and involved thousands of Blacks in the Charleston, S.C., area. Vesey was actually a free man who had purchased his freedom. He was doing a thriving business as owner of a carpentry shop. But he had secretly vowed “not to rest until all slaves are free.” The betrayal of the Vesey plot by a house slave resulted in dozens of people, including four Whites, being arrested and many of them were eventually hanged. Vesey was put to death on June 23, 1822.
1903—One of the most outstanding poets in the history of Black America, Countee Cullen, is born in Louisville, Ky., or Baltimore, Md. The exact city of his birth is still debated. However, he was raised in New York City and rose to fame in the early 1920s and became a leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance. Cullen married, but there were persistent rumors that he was a closet homosexual resulting from his troubled childhood including being abandoned by his mother. He died in 1946 of high blood pressure and what was then called uremic poisoning or acute kidney failure.