1847—Dred Scott (and his wife, Harriet) files his famous lawsuit in St. Louis Circuit Court arguing that after living with a slave master for several years in non-slave territories, they should be considered free. After several twists and turns, the case makes its way to the United States Supreme Court where the court rules against Scott and Justice Roger B. Taney writes what may be the most racist decision ever rendered by the court. Taney wrote that Scott was “private property” and had no right to sue in federal court. He also declared that Blacks were not citizens of America and never could be. Then he topped the decision by writing of Scott and all Blacks, “being of inferior order, and altogether unfit to associate with the White race…they have no rights which the White man is bound to respect.”
1917—Glamorous Singer-Actress Lena Horne is born in Brooklyn, N.Y., to an upper-income Black family. She would perform with Jazz greats such as Artie Shaw, Teddy Wilson, Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington. She also became the first African-American woman to sign a long-term contract with a major Hollywood studio. But she became disenchanted with Hollywood and returned to her nightclub career. She is best known for her 1940s hit “Stormy Weather.” In her later years she became active in civil rights including participation in Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic 1963 March on Washington. Horne died on May 9, 2010 at the age of 92.
1967—Major Robert H. Lawrence is named the first Black U.S. astronaut in the NASA space program. The Chicago-born Lawrence would later die under somewhat mysterious circumstances during a training exercise in December 1967.
1974—A deranged Black man, Marcus Chennault, shoots and kills the mother of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. Along with Alberta Christine Williams King, a church deacon was killed and another church member wounded. Chennault, a Dayton, Ohio, native, reportedly claimed that Black Christians were deceiving and misleading Black people.
1995—Song-stylist and singer Phyllis Hyman commits suicide in New York City shortly before she was scheduled to perform at a concert. Hyman was one of the premier female vocalists of her day. The reasons for her suicide were unclear. She left a note which read in part “I’m tired. I’m tired.” Hyman was 45—six days short of her 46 birthday—when she died.
1863—Walter Francis White is born in Atlanta, Ga. For nearly 25 years White was one of the most influential Black leaders in the nation. He headed the NAACP from 1931 to 1955. However, he first received national attention because of the way he looked. As a light-complexioned Black man with blue eyes, White was able to infiltrate racist groups and investigate planned brutality against Blacks. But in 1919, he barely escaped with his life while attempting to investigate the deadly Elaine Race Riot in Phillips County, Ark., which had left more than 200 Blacks dead. Somehow the mob discovered that White was in the area and set out to lynch him. But he was able to catch a train back to Little Rock before he could be identified. While on the train, the White conductor told him he was leaving town too early because the mob had discovered “a damn yellow Nigger passing for White and the boys are going to get him.” White would die in New York City in 1955. His autobiography is entitled “A Man Called White.”
1899—Thomas Andrew Dorsey is born in Villa Rica, Ga. Dorsey is widely credited with being the “Father of Gospel Music.” During the early 1930s, after leaving Atlanta for Chicago, Dorsey combined gospel and the blues while performing under the name “Georgia Tom.” He wrote more than 400 gospel and blues songs including his most famous “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.” He died in Chicago in 1993 at the age of 96. Once asked to comment on his life, Dorsey said, “I had hope, faith, courage, aspiration and most of all determination to accomplish something in life.”