This Week In Black History

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For the Week of July 23-29

July 23

1900—The first Pan African conference took place in London, England. Blacks from throughout the world gathered to plot strategies for bringing about rights for all people of African ancestry, independence from colonialism for African countries and international Black unity. This “conference” was the precursor of all the subsequent Pan African “Congresses.” Among the most prominent names present in 1900 were African-American activist and intellectual W.E.B. Du Bois and West Indian lawyer H. Sylves­ter Williams.

1948—The Progressive Party Convention begins in Philadelphia. The convention nominates Henry Wallace for president and he makes the strongest showing of virtually any third party candidate in American history. More than 150 Blacks were at the convention and dozens ran for office on the Progressive Party ticket. They were attracted by the party’s call for an end to segregation, full voting rights for Blacks and universal government sponsored health insurance. The party was populated mainly by liberals and leftists. Wallace’s candidacy was even endorsed by the then relatively strong American Communist Party. The party came under vicious attack during the anti-Communist hysteria of the 1950s. But positions taken by the Progressive Party forced the Democratic Party to adopt meaningful changes in order to hold onto the Black vote.

VANESSAWILLIAMS

VANESSA WILLIAMS

1984—The first Black Miss America Vanessa Williams is forced to give up her crown as a result of the discovery of some sexually explicit photographs. She was replaced by the first runner-up (another African-American) Suzette Charles. Williams bounced back, however, and became a successful singer and actress.

July 24

1651—Anthony (or Antonio) Johnson, a free Black man who had purchased freedom for himself and his wife, is awarded 250 acres of land in North Hampton, Va. Johnson was among the first group of 20 Black indentured servants brought to America in 1619. Indentured servitude was a form of slavery which allowed the person to either work for or purchase his freedom. After becoming free, Johnson became the first wealthy Black person in America. He even purchased five indentured servants of his own. He probably picked up the name “Johnson” from his original owner but in official records from the period he is simply referred to as “Antonio the Negro.”

1802—Famed French writer Alexander Dumas is born. He was the product of a French general and a light-complexioned Black Haitian woman. Dumas would go on to become one of the world’s greatest and most prolific writers. He is best known for his classics such as “The Three Musketeers” and “The Count of Monte Cristo.” His Blackness caused him some problems in French society, but by and large his fame and the money from his books enabled him to live an extravagant lifestyle.

1904—This is the day it is believed that actor Ira Aldridge was born in Africa. He would come to America, learn English and German, and develop into one of the world’s most accomplished Shakespearean actors. He played the role of the Moor Othello on many occasions.

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