Week of October 10-16
1778—What is believed to be the first formal school for Blacks—the Africa Free School—opens in New York City.
1899—Black inventor Isaac Johnson patents the bicycle frame.
1901—Frederick Douglass Patterson is born. He grows up to become President of Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn. From there he would later launch an effort that leads to the 1944 founding of the United Negro College Fund.
1917—Famed Jazz pianist Theolonius Monk is born in Rocky Mount, N.C.
1935—George Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess,” a Black spiritual opera, premiers on Broadway in New York City. It starred Todd Duncan from Howard University. The play becomes one of the most popular Black-themed shows ever to hit Broadway. The 1959 movie version stars Sidney Portier and Dorothy Dandridge.
1887—Alexander Miles patents a major safety improvement to the elevator. Miles did not invent the elevator. But he made it safer with an automatically closing door which prevented people from accidentally falling down elevator shafts.
1890—Black inventor Charles Orren Bailiff patents the shampoo headrest.
1939—The NAACP organizes the NAACP Education and Legal Defense Fund, which goes on to win many important legal battles guaranteeing civil and educational rights for Blacks.
1991—Comedian and actor Redd Foxx dies at age 68. He was born John Elroy Sanford in St. Louis, Mo. An IRS raid on his Las Vegas home to collect back taxes is thought to have hastened his death.
1854—Lincoln University is founded in Pennsylvania.
1932—Richard “Dick” Gregory is born in St Louis, Mo. Gregory advanced from comedian to political activist.
1945—The lynching of Jesse James Payne takes place in Madison County, Fla. The lynching came to typify the lies that prompted many a lynching. Payne got into an argument with his White boss and threatening to expose some of his boss’ illegal dealings. But the boss then spreads a rumor that Payne had molested his daughter and Payne is lynched.
1972—Nearly 50 Black and White sailors were injured in a race riot aboard the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk during the Vietnam War.
1999—Basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain dies at age 63. The 7’1”, 280 pound great included among his records the scoring of 100 points in one game when the Philadelphia Warriors beat the New York Knicks 169 to 147 on March 2, 1962.
1902—Arna W. Bontemps (1902-1973) is born. He was a noted poet and librarian of Fisk University in Nashville, Tenn. Bontemps frequently collaborated with another noted Black poet Langston Hughes.
1914—Garret Morgan invents and patents the gas mask.
1919—Whites riot in Phillips County, Ark., leaving nearly 80 Blacks lynched.
1926—Jesse Leroy Brown is born. He became the first Black naval aviator.
1970—Communist and activist Angela Davis is arrested as a fugitive in New York City for her alleged role in a California courthouse shootout that left four dead. She is later found not guilty
1902—William Allison Davis is born. He earns a PhD and becomes a leading educator and anthropologist. Among his lasting legacies were his well-documented challenges to the cultural bias of IQ tests which generally portrayed Blacks as less intelligent than Whites.
1916—Washington and Lee University of Virginia refuses to play Rutgers University of New Jersey because it has a Black player on its team. That player was Paul Robeson who withdrew from the game, but later became world famous as an actor, singer, and advocate of Black and socialist causes.
1964—Martin Luther King Jr. becomes the youngest man ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize. He was 35 and had already become world famous for his leadership of the U.S. civil rights movement.
1999—Former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere dies at 77 of cancer. He had led his country to independence and called on American Blacks to come to Africa to help rebuild the “motherland.”
1859—White minister and mystic John Brown leads a violent uprising in Harper’s Ferry, Va., in a bid to spark a Black uprising against slavery. Dozens of Whites are killed, but the revolt is eventually put down. President Abraham Lincoln once referred to him as a “misguided fanatic,” but Brown actually had a fanatical hatred of slavery and wanted it ended at all costs.
1887—The U.S. Supreme Court declares Civil Rights Act of 1885 unconstitutional. The decision was spurred by the end of Reconstruction and helped to usher in the Jim Crow period in the South whereby Black rights won during Reconstruction were taken away.
1991—Conservative Black judge Clarence Thomas is confirmed as the 106th associate justice of the U.S. Supreme. He remains on the court with a voting record, which continues to anger many Black leaders.
1849—The man considered the first Black historian in America is born. His name was George Washington Williams. He was also the first African-American to serve in the Ohio legislature. He died in Blackpool, England, in August 1891.
1855—John Mercer Langston, probably the first Black elected to public office in America—wins the race for Clerk of the Brownhelm Township, Lorain County, Ohio.
1876—Race riot in Cainhoy, S.C., leaves five Whites and one Black dead.
1895—The nation’s leading African-American medical group—National Medical Association—is founded in Atlanta, Ga.
1901—Booker T. Washington becomes the first Black leader to dine at the White House with the president when Theodore Roosevelt invites him. Some Black leaders charge Washington’s invitation was a result of his policies which they charge tended to accommodate racism. Nevertheless, the invitation and dinner served to crown Washington as the Black leader of the period.
1917—One of the most unsung heroes of the Civil Rights Movement, Fannie Lou Hamer, is born in Montgomery County, Miss. Her famous and most oft-repeated quote: “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
1940—Benjamin Oliver Davis Sr. is named the first Black general in the regular U.S. Army. Davis died in 1970 at the age of 90.
1968—Sprinters John Carlos and Tommie Smith give the clenched-fist black power salute when accepting their medals at the Mexico City Olympics as a protest against racism in America. Sadly the two sprinters would become involved in a personal dispute years later. The White Australian sprinter in the historic picture also wore a human rights badge in support of their protest.
1973—Maynard Jackson, elected the first Black mayor of Atlanta, Ga., dies of a heart attack while on a visit to Washington, D.C., in 2003.
1984—Bishop Desmond Tutu awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end White minority rule in South Africa.
1995—Nation of Islam leader Min. Louis Farrakhan leads the Million Man March in Washington, D.C. More than a million Black men gather to “atone” and organize. No permanent organizational efforts resulted from the historic gathering.
(This Week in Black History is compiled by Robert Taylor. Subscribe to his free bi-weekly “Black History Journal.” Include $3 to help defray postage costs to Robert N. Taylor, 1517 T Street, SE, Washington, D.C. 20020.)