Week of July 4-10
1776—The United States formally becomes a nation with the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. The document was largely written by later President Thomas Jefferson. Amazingly, although he was a slave owner himself, Jefferson originally included a section in the Declaration denouncing slave traders and slave owners. But it was later deleted by Congress. The section said of the slave trader: “He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life and liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him.”
1792—Thaddeus Stevens is born. Stevens would become one of the great White heroes of Black history. He was a leader of a group known as the “Radical Republicans” which fought tirelessly in Congress against slavery. It was Stevens who introduced the 14th Amendment to the Constitution which, in effect, made the former slaves full citizens of the United States. It also contains the due process and equal protection clauses of the Constitution. These clauses are now considered two of the most fundamental underpinnings of American law and were used extensively during the Civil Rights Movement to outlaw discrimination against Blacks.
1881—Booker T. Washington opens Tuskegee Institute (now university) in Alabama. It would become a leading center for the education of Blacks.
1975—Tennis star Arthur Ashe becomes the first Black man to win the men’s singles championship at Wimbledon defeating Jimmy Connors. Ashe was born and raised in Richmond, Va. During his prestigious career he had become active in several social causes including frequent protests against the system of racial oppression known as apartheid in then White-ruled South Africa. Ashe contracted AIDS as a result of blood transfusion in 1988. He died of AIDS complications on Feb. 6, 1993.
1853—The first novel written by an African-American is published on this day. However, the novel had to be published in England because the author William Wells Brown was a fugitive slave. The novel was entitled “Clotel” or “The President’s Daughter” and may have been partially inspired by the then rumored relationship between President Thomas Jefferson and the slave Sally Hemmings.
1862—One of the most pioneering and militant Black journalists in Black American history is born. Ida B. Wells-Barnett came into the world on this day in Holly Springs, Miss. The legendary journalist was also a relentless anti-lynching crusader and a fighter for women’s right to vote. She even made a stand against one of the more insulting laws of Jim Crow segregation nearly 70 years before Rosa Parks. In 1884, she refused to give up her seat on a train to a White man and move to an already over-crowded smoking car. It took the conductor and two other men to drag her off the train. She was among the group of Blacks and progressive Whites who helped establish the NAACP. When she was just 25 she established her lifelong attitude towards women being submissive to men declaring, “I will not begin at this late day by doing what my soul abhors: sugaring men, weak deceitful creatures, with flattery to retain them as escorts …” She died in Chicago in 1931.
1957—Althea Gibson becomes the first Black person (male or female) to win the singles championship at Wimbledon. Gibson was born in Silver, S.C., and grew up in Harlem, N.Y. She died in September 2003. She often said she was driven to success in life by an attitude she developed during childhood. She summarized that attitude as “I always wanted to be somebody.”
1971—Henry T. Sampson invents the “gamma electric cell.” His invention and other engineering accomplishments had wide-ranging applications, but he did not invent the cell phone as some histories suggest. The gamma-electric cell converted nuclear radiation from reactors into electricity without going through the heat process.
1906—Baseball legend Satchel Paige is born in Mobile, Ala. He was one of 15 children born to John and Lula Paige. Paige first learned to pitch in a reform school where he had been sent at the age of 12 for shoplifting. He spent most of his career playing in the old Negro Baseball Leagues prior to the integration of Major League Baseball. He is generally recognized as one of the greatest pitchers to ever play the game. Baseball great Joe DiMaggio once said Paige was “The best and fastest pitcher I ever faced.” Paige pitched his last game in 1965 at the age of 60 throwing three shutout innings. The great Satchel Paige died on June 8, 1982.
1805—On this day in 1805, Bill Richmond becomes the first African-American to gain international fame as a boxer when he defeated Jack Holmes in a 26-round bout in England. The son of escaped slaves from Georgia, Richmond was born in New York City in 1763. He did most of his fighting in Europe. Near the end of his boxing career, he married a rich woman and retired. He died in London in December 1829.
1914—Jazz great Billy Eckstine is born in Pittsburgh, Pa. He was raised in Washington, D.C., where he began entering talent competitions at the age of 7. Eckstine would become one of the dominant Jazz singers during the era of the big bands. He has been described as “an exceptional singer who never failed to impress.” Eckstine died of a heart attack in 1993.
1863—Eight Black regiments play a major role as Union troops capture Port Hudson in Louisiana. They had laid siege to the Confederate fortress since May 23. The victory, along with the July 4 capture of Vicksburg, Miss., gave U.S. forces control of the Mississippi River, cut the Confederate army in half and laid the foundation for ending the Civil War. The Civil War would drag on for another two years but the Confederate troops fighting to maintain slavery were never able to recover from the loss of Port Hudson.
1893—Dr. Daniel Hale Williams performs the first successful open-heart surgery in American history. He repaired a knife wound to the heart of one James Cornish. Cornish would go on to live for another 20 years. Williams established himself as one of the foremost African-American surgeons in the history of this nation. In addition to the surgery, his achievements were many. Born in 1856 in Hollidaysburg, Pa., he was appointed surgeon general of Freedman’s (now Howard University) Hospital in Washington, D.C. He taught at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tenn. He was a surgeon at Cook County Hospital in Chicago and he founded Provident Hospital in Chicago where he trained many of the nation’s early Black doctors and nurses. Williams also co-founded the predominantly Black National Medical Association.
1775—Shortly after taking command of the troops fighting for American independence from Britain, Gen. George Washington (the nation’s first president) has his adjutant general issue an order barring any further Blacks from joining the Continental Army. The decision would be confirmed by the Continental Congress in November of 1775. The fear was that Blacks who fought for America’s independence would be justified in demanding an end to slavery. And slave owners, including Washington, did not want that.
1927—David Dinkins, the first Black man elected mayor of New York City, is born on this day in 1927. He was born in Trenton, N.J., and served as New York City mayor from 1989 to 1993.
1943—Tennis sensation Arthur Ashe was born on this day in Richmond, Va. He would become the first Black male to win the Wimbledon men’s singles championship by defeating Jimmy Connors in 1975. Ashe would receive a contaminated blood transfusion and die of complications from AIDS in February 1993.
1972—The Democratic Party holds its presidential convention in Miami, Fla. New York Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, the first Black person to actively seek the party’s presidential nomination, received 151.95 votes on the first ballot. Senator George McGovern would eventually be nominated. Chisholm had been the first Black woman elected to the United States Congress, achieving the distinction in 1968. She was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., to a Barbadian mother and a Guyanese father. Chisholm’s signature phrase was “Un-bought and un-bossed.” She died in January 2005.
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