February 15

1804—The New Jersey legislature passes a law leading to the gradual elimination of slavery in the state. However, the process was so gradual that there were still slaves in New Jersey right up to the start of the Civil War in 1860.

1851—In an extraordinary bold move for the times, a group of Black and White abolitionists invade a Boston courtroom and forcibly free a fugitive slave before he could be sent back to the South. Shadrach Minkins was hidden from slave catchers and he later fled to Canada.

1961—A group of U.S. Blacks and African nationalists disrupt a session of the United Nations to protest the slaying of Patrice Lumumba in the Congo. Lumumba was one of Africa’s bright and shining stars. But his nationalism and socialism frightened some Western nations. It is widely believed that Belgium intelligence and America’s CIA arranged the killing of Lumumba.



1965—Great singer and Jazz pianist Nat King Cole dies of lung cancer in Santa Monica, Calif. He was only 45. Cole was the first Black entertainer with his own radio program and later he became the first with a nationally televised TV variety show.

February 16

1923—The “Empress of the Blues” Bessie Smith makes her first recording—“Downhearted Blues”—which immediately sells over 800,000 copies for Columbia Records and over 2,000,000 copies by the end of the year. Those were astounding numbers for those days. The Chattanooga, Tenn., born Smith used her sweeping and powerful voice to sing songs of Black culture and real life such as “Nobody Knows You When You Are Down And Out,” “St. Louis Blues,” “Give Me A Pig Foot And A Bottle Of Beer” and the controversial “Give Me A Reefer And A Gang Of Gin.” She died in an automobile accident in 1937 in Clarksdale, Miss. Early reports that her death was caused by Mississippi medical personnel who refused to treat her because she was Black may not be true.

1951—The City Council in New York City passes what is believed to be the first law barring racial discrimination in public assisted housing.

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