1867—The first national meeting of the Ku Klux Klan is held at the Maxwell House in Nashville, Tenn. The White supremacist organization and its various offshoots would go on to launch a wave of terror, which would result in death and injury to thousands of African-Americans over the years. The Klan would remain the nation’s most powerful anti-Black terrorist organization for the next 70 years. The first chapter, however, was actually formed a year earlier in Pulaski, Tenn. Most of the early Klan members were former soldiers of the defeated Confederate Army from the Civil War. The group’s initial aim was to spread fear among Blacks and prevent them from voting. But as the organization grew, it expanded into anti-Jewish, anti-Catholic and anti-foreigner activities. The first grand wizard was Nathan Bedford Forest.
1944—The United Negro College Fund is incorporated. Over the years, the fundraising activities of the UNCF would result in thousands of college educations for African-Americans.
1944—Whites only political primaries are declared unconstitutional. In a case known as Smith v. Allwright, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a “Whites only” primary law, which excluded Blacks from voting, was a violation of the 15th Amendment and was thus unconstitutional. Such laws had been common throughout the South.
1918—Jazz singing legend Ella Fitzgerald is born in Newport News, Va. Orphaned at an early age, Fitzgerald was literally living in the streets when she was discovered in Harlem, N.Y., by bandleader Chick Webb. Despite never having received formal vocal training, musical experts often compared her techniques and vocal range to that of a conservatory trained singer. One of the ultimate compliments to her abilities was given by the great song writer Ira Gershwin who said, “I didn’t realize our songs were so good until I heard Ella sing them.” Fitzgerald died at the age of 79 on June 15, 1997.
1943—Tuskegee Institute President Frederick Patterson writes his famous letter (published in the Pittsburgh Courier) urging the presidents of the nation’s predominantly Black colleges and universities to “pool their small resources and make an appeal to the national conscience” in order to produce more scholarship funds for the education of Black students. One year later the United Negro College Fund is incorporated with 27 member colleges.
1886—The “mother of the Blues” Gertrude “Ma” Rainey is born Gertrude Pridgett in Columbus, Ga. She began her career touring with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels. She was the first person to sing the Blues in minstrel shows. Rainey also coached, then young Blues singer Bessie Smith who would become more famous and celebrated than Rainer. Rainey died Dec. 22, 1939.
1994—The first all race elections take place in then White ruled South Africa. The elections would bring an end to 300 years of White minority rule, known as apartheid, in the African nation as well as bring about the election of Nelson Mandela as the country’s first Black and democratically elected president. Mandela had spent 27 years in prison because of his leadership of the African National Congress which had led the struggle against apartheid.