1849—Harriet (Ross) Tubman escapes slavery in Maryland. But she becomes perhaps the greatest “conductor” on the Underground Rail Road returning to the South 19 times and helping an estimated 300 slaves escape. Despite a serious head injury received from an angry slave master when she refused to beat another slave, Tubman was one of Black America’s greatest examples of courage and determination. During the Civil War she also spied on the South and relayed the information to Northern generals.
1870—Joseph H. Rainey (1832-1887) is sworn in as the first Black to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. He represented South Carolina—the state in which he was born a slave. But his father—a barber—managed to raise the money to purchase his family’s freedom. Earlier this year, the portrait of Rainey was finally hung in the House of Representatives.
1949—Blues legend Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter dies. Ledbetter was born in 1885 near Mooringsport, La. But he had a quick temper and a violent streak. Thus, he stayed in trouble with the law. Indeed, his musical genius was discovered in jail by a visiting White folklorist. Upon release from prison, he moved north and became a sensation performing in the U.S. and Europe.
1961—Revolutionary psychiatrist and writer Frantz Fanon dies in Washington, D.C., where he had gone for medical treatment. In his writings, the Martinique-born Fanon explored the psychological aspects of racial oppression and Black liberation. His most famous works were “Black Skins, White Masks” and “Wretched of the Earth,” which was considered by many “the handbook for Black revolution.”
1931—Comer Cottrell is born. Cottrell founds the Pro-Line hair care products company. He also becomes the first Black to own part of a professional baseball team when he buys into the Texas Rangers in 1989.
1941—Dorie Miller shoots down three or four Japanese war planes during the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Miller was a kitchen worker on the USS Arizona who had learned to operate the ship’s weapons. After his death he was awarded the Navy Cross.
1850—Lucy Ann Stanton graduates from Oberlin College in Ohio. She is believed to be the first Black female college graduate in America.
1936—The Gibbs v. Board of Education in Montgomery County, Md., decision is rendered. It was the first of a series of court rulings, which eliminated the practice of paying White teachers more than Black teachers.