For the week of June 20-26
1967—Boxing champion Muhammad Ali is convicted in a Houston, Texas, federal court of violating the Selective Service Act by refusing to be inducted into the armed services. He was fined $10,000 and given five years in prison. The United States Supreme Court would later overturn the conviction. Ali’s refusal to be inducted was based, in part, on his opposition to America’s war in Vietnam. He often said, “No Vietnamese ever called me Nigger.”
1871—The first anti-Ku Klux Klan trials begin in Oxford, Miss. The trials were part of an effort begun by President Ulysses S. Grant to crush the Klan, which was populated by defeated Confederate soldiers from the Civil War and which was becoming increasingly powerful throughout the South. In Mississippi, White doctors, lawyers and even ministers were indicted for violating Black rights and conspiring against the U.S. government. Over 900 were indicted in Mississippi and 243 convicted. Similar trials took place throughout the South—most notably in South Carolina and North Carolina. Grant’s efforts succeeded in crushing the terrorist organization and it would not rise again until 1915.
1832—Joseph Haynes Rainey, the first African-American to serve in the United States House of Representatives, is born in Georgetown, S.C. He was elected in 1870 from the state of South Carolina. He served five terms in Congress and died in 1887. In 2005, a portrait of Rainey was finally hung in the U.S. Capitol Building.
1859—Henry O. Tanner, the first African-American painter to achieve international acclaim, is born in Pittsburgh, Pa,. to a middle class Black family. His most notable work was “The Banjo Lesson,” which he painted in 1893. Tanner would later teach at Clark University in Atlanta, Ga. Tanner was considered a formalist—meaning his paintings tended to be beautiful depictions of reality. He died in May 1937.
1915—The United States Supreme Court declares in the Guinn v. United States case that “grandfather clauses” in many Southern state constitutions and laws were illegal. The case grew out of the practice, common in the South, of setting up stringent requirements in order to prevent Blacks (former slaves) from voting. But in order to insure that Whites could vote, the laws exempted them from the difficult requirements by asserting that anyone (or his grandfather) who could vote prior to 1867 did not have to meet the tough standards. Since virtually no Blacks could vote prior to 1867, “grandfather clauses” had the effect of denying Blacks the right to vote.
1964—Three civil rights workers (James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner) disappear near Philadelphia, Miss., and are later found murdered. Seven Ku Klux Klan members, opposed to a Black voting rights campaign, were indicted for the killings, but none served more than six years in prison. The incident became one of the major sparks to the then young Civil Rights Movement. Justice for the three was finally completed in June 2005 when the leader of the group of Klansmen—Edgar Ray “The Preacher” Killen—was convicted of their murders. Ironically, Killen was convicted on June 21, 2005—41 years to the day that Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner were killed. Even more ironic, in May 2009, Philadelphia, Miss., elected its first Black mayor.
1909—One of this nation’s major pioneers in Black theatrical dance, Katherine Dunham, is born on this day in 1909 in Joliet, Ill. Dunham was one of the century’s most multi-talented Black artists. She was a dancer, choreographer, songwriter and actor with a degree in anthropology from the University of Chicago. Dunham’s heyday in dance was from the late 1940s to the early 1960s. She was also a political activist. One of her last acts was a 47-day hunger strike to protest U.S. treatment of Haitian boat people. She died in May 2006 at 97.
2001—Actor Whitman Mayo dies of a heart attack in Atlanta, Ga. He was 70. Mayo is best known for his role as “Grady” on the hit television series “Sanford and Son.”
1940—Childhood polio victim Wilma Rudolph is born in Clarksville, Tenn. Rudolph would go on to become one of the greatest Olympic athletes America has ever produced. She actually competed in her first Olympics at the age of 16. But it was in 1960 at the Rome Olympics where she distinguished herself by winning three gold medals in track and field events. Rudolph was the 20 or 22 child born to Ed and Blanch Rudolph. She would die young—at the age of 54—of brain cancer.
1997—Betty Shabazz, the widow of Black nationalist leader Malcolm X, dies in New York City as a result of injuries she received three weeks earlier in a house fire at her Yonkers, N.Y., home. Ironically, the fire was set by her grandson Malcolm Shabazz. Betty Shabazz was born Better Jean Sanders in Detroit, Mich. She went to school at Tuskegee (now university) Institute in Alabama and became a nurse.
1936—One of the nation’s foremost Black educators Mary McLeod Bethune is appointed director of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration. The agency was one of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” programs designed to combat the lingering effects of the Great Depression. Bethune had become one of the most influential Black women in America when she received her appointment. The South Carolina native was also the founder-president of Florida’s Bethune-Cookman College.
1968—Hundreds are arrested as law enforcement agents moved in to forcibly close “Resurrection City” in the nation’s capital. The tent city was part of the Poor People’s Campaign—a dream of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to unite poor people of all races to force Congress to pass legislation to better the conditions of the nation’s poor. The effort was carried forth by King’s chief lieutenant Rev. Ralph Abernathy. But Congress never responded in a meaningful way to the campaign.
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.
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 (propofol) 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 and found guilty of manslaughter in the case. He was sentenced to four years in prison.
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.
(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, D.C., 20037. Include $3.00 check payable to Robert N. Taylor to help defray mailing costs.)