1856—Daniel Hale Williams is born in Hollidaysburg, Pa. He became a pioneering surgeon and is generally credited with performing the first open heart surgery. He was a strong advocate of the emerging antiseptic and sterilization procedures of his day. He believed that many patients died or became ill in the hospital because of a lack of cleanliness. Williams’ open heart surgery operation occurred July 10, 1893 when he repaired a knife wound to the chest of James Cornish. The operation was a success and Cornish lived another 20 years.
1918—The founder of Ebony and Jet magazines, John H. Johnson, is born on this day in rural Arkansas City, Ark. Shortly after the death of his father, Johnson’s mother moved the family to Chicago where Johnson attended high school during the day and read self-help books at night, laying the intellectual and motivational foundation for the eventual building of his publishing empire. Interestingly, among Johnson’s classmates at Chicago’s DuSable High School were Nate King Cole, Redd Foxx and future businessman, William Abernathy. Johnson died last year. His wife Eunice Johnson died last week.
1900—Black North Carolina Congressman George H. White introduced legislation to make lynching any American a federal crime. But opponents allowed the bill to die in committee and it never came up for a vote. It is estimated that 105 Blacks were lynched that year.
1947—Josh Gibson, perhaps the most famous and outstanding athlete to play in the old Negro Baseball, League dies on this day in 1947.
1986—The first national holiday in honor of civil rights legend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is celebrated.
1773—Poet Phyllis Wheatley, born in 1753, was freed on this day in 1773. Kidnapped in Africa and sold as a slave when she was only seven years old, Wheatley would become Black America’s first poet. She grew up in a prosperous Boston family that allowed her to learn to read. She not only mastered English but also excelled in Greek and Latin. Her first book of poetry received rave reviews in the United States and Europe.
1906—Pioneer Black aviator William Brown Chappell is born.
1941—Singer and political activist Richie Havens is born.
1942—“Big Band” leader Count Basie and his Orchestra recorded their famous “One O’clock Jump” for Okeh Records in New York City.
1950—R&B performer Billy Ocean is born.
1963—Former professional basketball great Hakeem Olajuwon is born in the West African nation of Nigeria.
1971—Twelve members of the Congressional Black Caucus boycotted President Richard Nixon’s State of the Union Address to protest his refusal to meet with them or address issues of concern to African-Americans.