Week of June 25-July 1
1773—Massachusetts slaves petition for their freedom. As a result of the petition, a bill ending slavery in the state was actually drawn up and passed by the legislature. But the governor refused to sign it and there were not enough votes to override his veto.
1941—President Franklin D. Roosevelt issues Executive Order #8802 banning racial discrimination in the nation’s war industries on the eve of America’s involvement in World War II. The order came as a result of pressure from Black labor leader A. Phillip Randolph who had threatened a massive “March on Washington” to protest discrimination by the military and the military industry.
A. PHILLIP RANDOLPH
1968—Lincoln Alexander becomes the first Black member of the Canadian parliament.
2009—Pop music superstar Michael Jackson dies of cardiac arrest in his Los Angeles home after reportedly being given a powerful sedative (propopol) to help him sleep. Jackson was 50 years old and was in the process of preparing a major comeback tour. His doctor Conrad Murray has been charged with manslaughter in the case, which has not yet gone to trial.
1899—Black inventor William H. Richardson redesigns the baby carriage. While the idea for the baby carriage is nearly 300 years old, Richardson’s patent, filed at the Boston patent office, included several new features including a special joint which allowed the bassinet to be turned to face the mother or whoever was pushing the carriage. Many of Richardson’s designs are still in use today. [There is some authority that Richardson’s patent was actually filed on June 18.]
1942—Harvard medical student, Bernard W. Robinson, becomes the first African-American to win a commission to the United States Navy.
1833—Prudence Crandall, a liberal White woman, is arrested in Canterbury, Conn., for operating an academy designed to educate young Black women. The academy was permanently closed.
1872—Paul Lawrence Dunbar, one of the most popular poets in Black American history, is born in Dayton, Ohio. Dunbar first gained national recognition with a collection of works published in 1896 entitled “Lyrics of a Lowly Life,” which included “Ode to Ethiopia.” Despite the power of his poetry, Dunbar angered some Blacks who were concerned about “what will White people think” because he generally used Black dialect and not Standard English in much of his poetry. Dunbar’s first poem was published in a newspaper owned by high school friends and American airplane pioneers Orville and Wilbur Wright. The Wright brothers would also provide Dunbar with funds to open the Dayton Tattler—a newspaper geared toward the city’s Black community. Unfortunately, Dunbar died at the age of 34 in 1906 of Tuberculosis.
1839—Cinque (original name Senghbe), after being kidnapped and sold into slavery, is placed on the Spanish slave ship Amistad. The son of a King of the Mende (Mendi) tribe in West Africa would lead the most successful revolt on a slave ship during the entire history of the slave trade. The Amistad was captured by the slaves who killed the captain and attempted to sail the ship to Africa. But due to delaying tactics by the remaining White crew, the ship was captured by a U.S. naval ship. Cinque and the rebellious slaves were taken to New Haven, Conn., and put on trial for murder. Amazingly they won their case and were allowed to return to Africa.
1971—Muhammad Ali is allowed to box again after winning a victory in the United States Supreme Court. The court overturned his conviction for refusing to be drafted and serve in the United States war in Vietnam. When asked how he could claim to be a pacifist opposed to war while being a professional boxer, Ali’s most frequent response was, “I am not going 10,000 miles from here to help murder and kill and burn poor people to help continue the domination of White slave masters over the darker people.”
1978—The United States Supreme Court hands down the Bakke Decision which undermined affirmative action programs that had been designed to give preference to Blacks and other minorities in education and industry in order to compensate for decades of past discrimination. Although the court ruled affirmative action programs were constitutional; it struck down the use of quotas and that had the effect of weakening the affirmative action programs.
1970—NAACP Chairman Stephen Gill Spottswood creates a national controversy by telling the annual convention of the civil rights organization that the administration of President Richard Nixon was “anti-Negro” and was pursuing policies “inimical to the needs and aspirations” of African-Americans.
1972—The United States Supreme Court rules in a historic five to four decision that as it was being carried out in America, the death penalty was “cruel and unusual punishment” and thus violated the Constitution. The ruling also suggested that the death penalty was racist. At the time 483 of the approximately 600 people waiting to be executed in the nation were Blacks or members of other minority groups. However, since the decision, at least 38 states and the federal government have re-instituted the death penalty by supposedly meeting Supreme Court guidelines.
1847—Dred Scott (and his wife Harriet) files his famous lawsuit in St. Louis Circuit Court arguing that after living with a slave master for several years in non-slave territories, they should be considered free. After several twists and turns, the case makes its way to the United States Supreme Court where the court rules against Scott and Justice Roger B. Taney writes what may be the most racist decision ever rendered by the court. Taney wrote that Scott was “private property” and had no right to sue in federal court. He also declared that Blacks were not citizens of America and never could be. Then he topped the decision by writing of Scott and all Blacks, “being of inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the White race … they have no rights which the White man is bound to respect.”
1917—Glamorous Singer-Actress Lena Horne is born in Brooklyn, N.Y., to an upper income Black family. She would perform with Jazz greats such as Artie Shaw, Teddy Wilson, Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington. She also became the first African-American woman to sign a long-term contract with a major Hollywood studio. But she became disenchanted with Hollywood and returned to her nightclub career. She is best known for her 1940s hit “Stormy Weather.” In her later years she became active in civil rights including participation in Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic 1963 March on Washington. Horne died on May 9, 2010 at the age of 92.
1967—Major Robert H. Lawrence is named the first Black U.S. astronaut in the NASA space program. The Chicago-born Lawrence would later die under somewhat mysterious circumstances during a training exercise in December 1967.
1974—A deranged Black man, Marcus Chennault, shoots and kills the mother of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Along with Mrs. Alberta Christine Williams King, a church deacon was killed and another church member wounded. Chennault, a Dayton, Ohio, native, reportedly claimed that Black Christians were deceiving and misleading Black people.
1995—Song stylist singer Phyllis Hyman commits suicide in New York City shortly before she was scheduled to perform at a concert. Hyman was one of the premier female vocalists of her day. The reasons for her suicide were unclear. She left a note which read in part “I’m tired. I’m tired.” Hyman was 45—six days short of her 46 birthday when she died.
1863—Walter Francis White is born in Atlanta, Ga. For nearly 25 years White was one of the most influential Black leaders in the nation. He headed the NAACP from1931 to 1955. However, he first received national attention because of the way he looked. As a light-complexioned Black man with blue eyes, White was able to infiltrate racist groups and investigate planned brutality against Blacks. But in 1919, he barely escaped with his life while attempting to investigate the deadly Elaine Race Riot in Phillips County, Ark., which had left over 200 Blacks dead. Somehow the mob discovered that White was in the area and set out to lynch him. But he was able to catch a train back to Little Rock before he could be identified. While on the train, the White conductor told him he was leaving town too early because the mob had discovered “a damn yellow Nigger passing for White and the boys are going to get him.” White would die in New York City in 1955. His autobiography is entitled “A Man Called White.”
1899—Thomas Andrew Dorsey is born in Villa Rica, Ga. Dorsey is widely credited with being the “Father of Gospel Music.” During the early 1930s, after leaving Atlanta for Chicago, Dorsey combined Gospel and the Blues while performing under the name “Georgia Tom.” He wrote over 400 Gospel and Blues songs including his most famous “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” He died in Chicago in 1993 at the age of 96. Once asked to comment on his life, Dorsey said, “I had hope, faith, courage, aspiration and most of all determination to accomplish something in life.”
(Robert Taylor is editor of “This Week in Black History.” Receive a free copy of his bi-weekly “Black History Journal” by writing him at “Robert N. Taylor,” P.O. Box 58097, Washington, DC 20037. Include $3.00 check payable to Robert N. Taylor to help defray mailing costs.)