This Week In Black History

Week of Dec. 25-31, 2009

December 25

1760—The first poem written by a Black person and published in America was published on Christmas day 1760. It was written by Jupiter Hammon—a slave in Long Island, N.Y., who was allowed to attend school. The poem was entitled “An Evening Thought: Salvation by Christ with Penitential Cries.”


Hammon also wrote a poem to Phyllis Wheatley—another early and great African-American poet. Hammon is thought to have lived until he was 95 (1711-1806?). He was devoutly religious.

1838—At the Battle of Okeechobee on Christmas Day 1838, a force of Seminole Indians soundly defeated U.S. government troops who were trying to force them off their lands. The Seminoles were led by a Black chief named John Horse. The Seminoles were perhaps the most racially integrated of all the Indian tribes. During the early 1800s, Blacks escaping slavery in Florida and Georgia were frequently granted safe haven by the Seminoles. Significant intermarriage resulted. Their aid for escaped slaves was one of the reasons the government wanted so desperately to relocate the Seminoles from Florida to the Midwest. But the Seminoles put up a more fierce resistance than any of the other Indian tribes. However in 1849, the government declared that the Black Seminoles were still slaves. Finally, in 1850, faced with overwhelming military force, large numbers of Seminoles, under the leadership of John Horse and a full-blooded Seminole known as Wild Cat, left the U.S. for Mexico.

1951—Mr. and Mrs. Harry T. Moore are murdered when a bomb explodes under their home in Mims, Fla. Both were teachers and courageous civil rights activists. It is believed the bomb was planted by a White terrorist organization such as the Ku Klux Klan.

2006—James Brown dies. “Soul Brother No. 1”—one of the most influential figures in soul or R&B music of the 20th century died at 73 while preparing for a performance. Born in Barnwell, S.C., Brown began his amazing career in 1953 and rose to fame to in the late 1950s. He remained highly popular through the 1960s and 1970s. While less popular, he continued to perform until the day of his death. Brown was also known for his soulful dancing style. His full name was James Joseph Brown Jr.

December 26

1848—In one of the most daring escapes from slavery in U.S. history, on this day in 1848, William and Ellen Craft began a 1,000 mile journey from a plantation in Macon, Ga., to freedom in Boston, Mass. The light-complexioned Ellen disguised herself as an infirmed White man and the dark-complexioned William pretended to be the faithful slave. The escape, though harrowing, was successful. But in 1850 when Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act, the Crafts found themselves being hunted down by both slave catchers from Georgia and U.S. Marshals. Then members of Boston’s powerful abolitionist and Underground Railroad communities stepped in. They helped the Crafts flee to Canada and then to Liverpool, England, where the couple stayed until after the Civil War.

1966—The first Kwanzaa holiday celebrations take place. The alternative seven-day holiday period for African-Americans was originated by California’s Black nationalist, Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga. Kwanzaa and its principles, however, may be more widely respected than actually celebrated among American Blacks.

December 27

1873—William A. Harper, one of the most gifted Black artists of the 20th century, is born in Cayuga, Canada. He was a student at the Henry O. Tanner Art Institute in Chicago. Unfortunately, his brilliance was cut short by tuberculosis. He died in Mexico at the age of 36 in 1910.

1956—Segregation is outlawed on public buses in Tallahassee, Fla. The decision followed a six-month long boycott by the city’s African-American population. The boycott was patterned after the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott sparked by Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat to a White man.

December 28

1816—The American Colonization Society is organized by Robert Finley with the aim of returning Blacks to Africa. Ironically, it received support from two groups with opposing interests. Some abolitionists and philanthropists who wanted to end slavery supported the ACS with the hope of giving slaves a chance to start new, free lives in Africa. Meanwhile, some slave owners supported the ACS because they saw it as a way of ridding the country of free Blacks who they saw as stirring up trouble among Blacks who were still enslaved. It is estimated that at this time, there were 2 million enslaved Blacks and 200,000 free Blacks in America. In 10 years, the ACS returned nearly 3,000 Blacks to Africa. They helped to form what are today the West African nations of Liberia and Sierra Leone. Indeed, the first president of Liberia was an American Black who had returned to Africa.

1905—Legendary jazz great and pianist Earl “Fatha” Hines is born on this day in Duquesne, Pa, near Pittsburgh. He was in a class by himself and a major influence not only in jazz but also upon the swing and bebop eras of American popular music. He collaborated with such greats as Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Sarah Vaughan and Dizzy Gillespie. He died in 1983. Among his best known hits were “Stormy Monday Blues” and “Second Balcony Jump.”

1954—Movie star Denzel Washington is born on this day in Mt. Vernon, N.Y.

December 29

1939—One of the most outstanding educators of the 20th century, Kelly Miller, dies in Washington, D.C. He was a champion of education for Blacks and was among that group of more radical Blacks who opposed the accommodating policies of Booker T. Washington. In 1887, Miller became the first African-American admitted to Johns Hopkins University. He became a long-time professor and dean at Howard University while also being a prolific writer, essayist, and newspaper columnist.

December 30

1928—R&B music legend Bo Diddley is born Ellas Bates on this day in McComb, Miss.

1929—Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority is officially incorporated. The international Black sorority was actually organized Nov. 22, 1922 by seven teachers in Indianapolis, Ind. It is currently headquartered in Cary, N.C., with the theme: “Sisterhood, Scholarship, and Service.”

1929—A Black boycott of unfair store hiring practices begins during the Great Depression. The “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” campaign began in Chicago with the picketing of a chain of stores. It soon spread to New York, Los Angeles, Cleveland and several other major cities.

December 31

1862—This day has become known as “Watch Night”—the eve of the Emancipation Proclamation going into effect and nominally freeing slaves in the Confederacy. Thousands of free Blacks gathered in various locations throughout the nation to “watch” for midnight when the emancipation of slaves became the law of the land. A focal point for celebration was the home of abolitionist Frederick Douglass in Rochester, N.Y.

(This Week in Black History is compiled by Robert Taylor. In early 2010, Taylor will launch a Black History Club in this area. Indicate your interest in becoming a member by e-mailing him at or by leaving a brief message brief message at 202-657-8872.)

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