Week of September 19-25
1865—Atlanta University is founded in Atlanta, Ga. It was one of many educational institutions established during the Reconstruction period after the Civil War to educate former slaves.
1931—Soul singer Brook Benton, born Benjamin Franklin Peay, was born this day in Lugoff, S.C. He has more than 50 billboard chart hits as an artist including “A Rainy Night in Georgia,” “It’s Just A Matter Of Time” and “Endlessly.”
1981—An estimated 400,000 people from various labor and civil rights organizations rally in Washington, D.C., to protest the domestic policies of President Ronald Reagan. His policies were viewed by the demonstrating groups as anti-Black and opposed to the best interests of working-class people.
1664—Maryland enacts the nation’s first “Anti-Amalgamation Law.” It specifically outlawed marriages between Black men and White women. Soon, several other colonies followed the Maryland example. It would not be until the 1960s that U.S. Supreme Court in the famous Loving v. Virginia case declared all such laws un-Constitutional. And even though it was not being enforced, it was not until 2000 that Alabama officially became the last state to strike from the books its law banning interracial marriages.
1830—The first National Negro Convention of Free Men meets in Philadelphia, Pa. Among a wide range of items on the agenda was a resolution encouraging free Blacks to boycott the purchase of items produced by slave labor. African Methodist Episcopal Church founder Richard Allen was elected president of the convention. Despite the fact that Allen had founded the AME Church, the name of the convention also reflected an attempt by free Blacks to reduce identification with Africa. At the time, most slaves and many free Blacks tended to refer to themselves as “Africans.”
1958—A deranged woman stabs then-rapidly emerging civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. during a book signing ceremony at a Harlem, N.Y., department store. Rumors circulated that the stabbing was part of a government conspiracy against King but no evidence was ever produced to support the theory.
1984—“The Cosby Show,” starring comedian and activist Bill Cosby, debuts on NBC Television. It becomes one of the nation’s highest rated television series and was widely praised by civil rights activists because of its generally positive portrayal of a Black middle-class family.
1872—John Henry Conyers becomes the first Black student at the U.S. Naval Academy. However, racism and often violent harassment forced him to leave the academy before he was able to graduate.
1905—The Atlanta Life Insurance Co. is established in Atlanta, Ga., and becomes one of the largest insurance companies in America serving a predominantly African-American clientele.
1984—Gen. Colin Powell becomes the first African-American named as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As the nation’s top military leader, Powell was praised by some Blacks as a role model while he was criticized for supporting what critics considered the government’s war-mongering policies. His generally positive reputation was damaged by his speaking before the United Nations and providing misinformation in 2003 in support of the Bush administration’s war in Iraq.
1863—Mary Church Terrell is born on this day in 1863. She became one of the nation’s leading activists advocating greater education for Blacks and women. She was the first Black person to sit on the Washington, D.C., school board and played a major role in desegregating that city’s restaurants.
1961—The Interstate Commerce Commission officially prohibits segregation in buses traveling in interstate commerce. It also banned segregated terminal facilities even though the ruling was largely ignored in many Southern states. But during the mid-1960s civil rights activists would frequently cite the ruling as they integrated facilities throughout the South.
1926—Legendary jazz great John Coltrane is born on this day in Hamlet, N.C. He is generally credited with reshaping modern Jazz and setting a pattern which would be followed by generations of Jazz saxophonists.
1930—Singer-performer Ray Charles is born on this day in Albany, Ga. Charles pioneered the soul music genre during the 1950s by combining blues, R&B and gospel styles into the music he recorded for Atlantic Records. He also contributed to the integration of country music, R&B and pop music during the 1960s with his crossover success on ABC Records, most notably with his two Modern Sounds albums. While he was with ABC, Charles became one of the first Black musicians to be granted artistic control by a mainstream record company.
1957—President Dwight Eisenhower orders federal troops into Little Rock, Ark., to prevent angry Whites from interfering with the integration of the city’s Central High School by nine Black students. The confrontation was one of the most dramatic during the early days of the Civil Rights Movement. Governor Orval Faubus had vowed to go to jail to block the court ordered desegregation of the school claiming that Whites would be destroyed if they integrated with Blacks. But the confrontation settled the issue of whether states had to obey orders issued by federal courts.
1965—President Lyndon Johnson issues what is generally considered the nation’s first affirmative action order—Executive Order #11246. It required companies receiving federal construction contracts to ensure equality in the hiring of minorities. Despite a disastrous war in Vietnam that would eventually force his resignation, the Southern-born Johnson generally supported a host of legislative and executive efforts beneficial to Blacks.
1861—The Secretary of the Navy authorizes the enlistment of free Blacks and slaves as Union sailors in a bid to help the North win the Civil War against pro-slavery Southern Whites who had proven more difficult in battle than the North had originally expected.
1962—In another one of those instances demonstrating the tenacity of racism among Southern Whites, Mississippi Gov. Ross Barnett defies a federal court order and personally stands in the door to block the admittance of a Black student—James Meredith—to the University of Mississippi. Meredith would eventually be admitted and graduate. Historians now generally believe Ross’ “show” was primarily designed to curry favor among White voters not actually to stop desegregation of the then-all-White university.
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