Week of April 26-May 2
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.
1903—W.E.B. DuBois’ “The Soul of Black Folks” is published. The book did much to outline and summarize progressive African-American thought and opposition to the accommodation policies of Booker T. Washington—then the nation’s foremost Black leader. DuBois argued that “the problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line” and labeled Washington’s program as one of “industrial education, conciliation of the South, and submission and silence as to civil and political rights.” A collection of DuBois’ papers are currently being placed online by the University of Massachusetts.
1903—Maggie Lena Walker becomes the first Black woman to head a bank in America. In fact, she was the first woman of any color to head a bank when she was named president of the St. Luke Bank and Trust Company in Richmond, Va. Walker was an outstanding businesswoman who took over Richmond’s Order of St. Luke when it was nearly broke and rapidly losing membership. Within a few years the Order owned a bank, a newspaper, a printing press and a three-story department store despite the active opposition of Richmond’s White business community. Walker also helped found the Lilly Black Party in part as a slap at the segregated “Lilly White” political parties of the day. One of her mottos was “Don’t get angry, get busy.” She died Dec. 15, 1934.