This Week in Black History

Week of March 26-April 1

March 26

1831—The founder of the AME Church, Richard Allen, dies at age 71 in Philadelphia, Pa. As its first bishop, Allen set the African Methodist Episcopal Church on the path to becoming the first Black religious denomination in America to be fully independent of White control. He, in effect, chartered a separate religious identity for African-Americans. He also founded schools throughout the nation to teach Blacks. This includes Allen University in Columbia, S.C.


1944—Singer/Actress Diana Ross is born in Detroit, Mich. She headed the most popular female signing group of the 1960s—The Supremes.

1950—Singer Teddy Pendergrass is born in Philadelphia, Pa. For a period, Pendergrass was the leading sex symbol in R&B music. However, an automobile accident on March 18, 1982 left him paralyzed from the chest down. Pendergrass died Jan. 13, 2010.

March 27

1924—The sensational jazz singer Sarah Vaughan was born on this day in Newark, N.J.

1970—One of the nation’s most popular pop stars, Mariah Carey, was born on this day in Long Island, N.Y. Her parents are of Irish/African-American/Venezuelan background. She lists as her favorite singers Aretha Franklin and Stevie Wonder.

March 28

1900—The British demand the Ashanti Golden Stool. Ironically, the Ashanti had been one of the tribes that had actually benefited from slavery by capturing and selling their fellow Africans. But when the slave trade ended, the British turned on the Ashanti in a bid to colonize the Gold Coast (now Ghana). In an apparent attempt to demoralize and humiliate the Ashanti, the British demanded that they turnover one of their greatest symbols—the Golden Stool. The demand led to war. The Ashanti were led by Queen Yaa Asantewa. Her fighters kept the British at bay for several months. But with superior fire power, the British eventually prevailed.

1972—The two surviving Soledad Brothers are found not guilty by an all-White jury in the alleged killing of a White guard at the California prison. The other Soledad brother, revolutionary writer George Jackson, had been killed during an August 1971 Marin County Courthouse escape attempt, which also led to charges against college professor and communist Angela Davis. Davis was also eventually acquitted.

1984—Dr. Benjamin Mays dies. The president of Atlanta’s Morehouse College had been one of the leading Black educational figures in America during the 20th century.

March 29

1981—Dr. Eric Williams, prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago, dies in Port of Spain at 79. Williams was a historian and his classic work was “Capitalism and Slavery.”

March 30

1870—The 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is ratified, giving Blacks the right to vote. Actually, it gave Black males the right to vote. It would take the Suffrage Movement and another 50 years before women (Black and White) had full voting rights. But even in the case of Black males, the “right” to vote only lasted briefly. With the end of Reconstruction, “Jim Crow” laws were passed throughout the South, which in effect took away the right of Blacks to vote despite the constitutional guarantee. African-Americans did not achieve full voting rights in this country until the mid-1960s.

March 31

1741—Black rebellion hysteria grips New York. A series of mysterious fires and reports of slaves plotting rebellion sweep New York. The hysteria lasts through April. Thirty-one alleged slave plotters and five White sympathizers were hanged.

1931—Cab Calloway recorded “Minnie the Moocher”—the first jazz album to sell more than one million copies.

1948—Labor leader A Phillip Randolph issues a threat before the Senate Armed Services Committee. He declares that unless more is done to end segregation and discrimination in the military, he would launch a campaign encouraging Black youths to employ civil disobedience to resist the draft. His threat helped to bring an end to a host of discriminatory practices in the U.S. armed forces.

1980—Olympic legend Jesse Owens dies at 66 in Tucson, Ariz. Owens won four track and field gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany embarrassing German leader Adolph Hitler and undermining his ideology of White Aryan superiority.

April 1

1868—Hampton University is founded during Reconstruction in Hampton, Va. The school is now one of the leading Black educational institutions in America.

1950—Surgeon Charles Drew dies at 45 in an automobile accident near Burlington, N.C. Drew developed the concept of a blood bank for storing large amounts of plasma. Anyone who has ever received a blood transfusion is indebted to Dr. Drew. He had dedicated his life to insuring that increased scientific knowledge actually led to the betterment of human life. One of his most frequently repeated quotes: “There must always be the continuing struggle to make the increasing knowledge of the world bear fruit in [the form of] increased understanding and the production of human happiness.”

1984— Sensational, Washington, D.C. born R&B singer Marvin Gaye is shot and killed by his father during an argument. Gaye was 38—just one day short of his 39th birthday. The senior Gaye later died of pneumonia.

(This Week in Black History is compiled by Robert Taylor. He welcomes comments and additions at or brief messages at 202-657-8872.)


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