Week of November 9-15, 2016
1731—Multi-talented scientist and inventor Benjamin Banneker is born in Ellicott Mills, Md. He is generally considered America’s first Black scientist. Banneker constructed the first clock made in America; completed the design and layout of Washington, D.C., after Pierre L’Enfant returned to France; published a farmer’s almanac for 10 years, while also studying astronomy; and predicted solar eclipses.
1868—The governor of Arkansas, Powell Clayton, calls out the state militia and declares martial law in 10 counties in a bid to put down a Ku Klux Klan-led insurrection.
1868—The Howard University Medical School—the first designed to train Black medical personnel—opens in Washington, D.C. There were eight students in the first class.
1901—Fiery pioneer Black journalist William Monroe Trotter starts the Guardian newspaper in Boston, Mass. Trotter made headlines throughout the nation when in November 1914, he confronted President Woodrow Wilson in the White House for failing to do more to stop the lynching of Blacks. For daring to argue with the president, the New York Times denounced Trotter saying he had “superabundant untactful belligerency.” But W.E.B. DuBois called him “fearless.”
1922—Actress Dorothy Dandridge is born in Cleveland, Ohio. She is generally considered one of Hollywood’s first Black female sex symbols. She appeared opposite Harry Belafonte in “Carmen Jones” and was the first Black woman nominated for an Oscar. Dandridge died in 1965 at age 43.
1898—George H. White introduces the first anti-lynching legislation in the U.S. Congress. The North Carolinian was one of the last Blacks in Congress before Jim Crow laws and attitudes drove most Blacks from high elected offices. After leaving Congress, he founded a Black bank and established an all Black community called Whiteville near present day Trenton, N.J.
1891—Granville T. Woods patents an improvement to the electric railway. Woods was one of the most prolific Black engineers and inventors in U.S. history. His motto could have been “I didn’t invent the product, but I invented something that made it better.” Born in Columbus, Ohio, he invented and patented improvements to the electric railway, air brakes, telegraphs, telephones and numerous other products.
1957—Charlie Sifford wins the Long Beach Open, becoming the first Black person to win a major professional golf tournament.
1994—Famed Jazz singer Carmen McRae dies in Beverly Hills, Calif. She was born in New York City on April 8, 1920.
1831—Anti-slavery rebel Nat Turner is hanged roughly two months after his capture for leading the bloodiest slave revolt in U.S. history. The minister and mystic told reporters God had called on him to lead the revolt, which left 55 Whites dead.
1775—General George Washington, first president and “father of the country” issues an order barring free Blacks from serving in the army as the U.S. struggled for independence from England. Washington was also a slave owner. The slave owning aristocracy felt if free Blacks fought for America’s liberation they would demand freedom for their enslaved brothers and sisters. Despite Washington’s order, hundreds of Blacks did fight in the Revolutionary War.
1900—Henry Ossawa Tanner becomes an internationally acclaimed artist as he takes a silver medal for his art displayed at the Paris Exposition. Nearly 7,000 artists had entered their works. The Pittsburgh-born Tanner had numerous major works including his painting called “The Banjo Lesson.”
1922—Sigma Gamma Rho is founded by seven Black women in Indianapolis, Ind. The sorority grows to become one of the largest in the nation.
1977—Ernest “Dutch” Morial is elected the first Black mayor of New Orleans, La.
1994—Track and field great and Olympics star Wilma Rudolph dies in Nashville, Tenn., at the age of 54.
1839—The Liberty Party—the nation’s first anti-slavery political party—is formed in Warsaw, N.Y. Among the founders were legendary abolitionists Samuel Ringgold Ward and Henry Highland Garnet. At this point in history the two major political parties—the Whigs and the Democrats—were both pro-slavery.
1913—Pioneering Black surgeon Daniel Hale Williams becomes a member of the American College of Surgeons. Williams is generally credited with being the first American doctor to perform open heart surgery. The history-making event took place in Chicago on July 9, 1893.
1922—Many Black historians have selected this as the date which marks the beginning of the Harlem Renaissance—perhaps the greatest period of artistic achievement by African-Americans in U.S. history. From poetry to plays and from paintings to sculptures, Black art reached a pinnacle. In a broader sense, the Harlem Renaissance ran from the early 1920s to the mid 1930s.
1951—Ballerina Janet Collins becomes the first Black woman to dance with the Metropolitan Opera Co. in New York City. Prior to that achievement she performed with the world-renowned Black dance troupe directed by the legendary Katherine Dunham.
1955—Whoopi Goldberg, given name Caryn Johnson, is born in New York City. She graduates from a stand-up comedy routine to become a major Hollywood actress and is currently one of the principal hosts of the television talk show “The View.”
1956—The United States Supreme Court upholds a lower court ruling which banned segregation on public buses in Montgomery, Ala. The decision was forced in major measure by a year-long Black bus boycott sparked by the refusal of Rosa Parks to give up her seat to a White man. Leadership of the boycott also launched the civil rights career of Martin Luther King Jr. and his status as the national Black leader.
1967—Carl Stokes wins the race for mayor in Cleveland, Ohio. In doing so, he becomes the first Black mayor of a major American city.
1985—New York Met Dwight Gooden becomes the youngest pitcher ever to win the Cy Young award.
1915—Booker T. Washington dies in Tuskegee, Ala. Washington was easily one of the top five most influential Black leaders in African-American history. Some considered him too accommodating to Whites, but his influence was still significant. Among the educator’s lasting accomplishments was the founding of Tuskegee Institute. He was only 59 when he died.
1934—William Levi Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony (Symphony Number One) is performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra. This marked the first time a classical symphony composed by an African-American was performed by a major White orchestra. Dawson also gained renown as the choral director at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. He died in 1990 at the age of 91.
1884—The Berlin Conference begins. This stands as one of the most significant events in all of African and Black history. Basically, seven European powers sat down and divided Africa for their benefit. They created countries which divided tribes and were often unworkable economically. The divisions and exploitations, resulting from the Berlin Conference, plague Africa to this day. The conference was completed in Berlin, Germany, in February 1885.
1897—John Mercer Langston dies. Today, Langston is an unsung hero, but in the 1800s he was one of the nation’s most dedicated fighters for Black freedom and betterment. Born to a White slave owner and an emancipated Black woman, Langston became an accomplished lawyer. He helped organize the National Black Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1848; organized Blacks to fight in the Civil War; worked in the Freedman’s Bureau; organized Howard University’s law department; became president of the Virginia Normal & Collegiate Institute; and became the first Black elected to Congress from Virginia. The town of Langston, Okla.—home of Langston University—is named after him.
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