This Week In Black History

Week of May 21-27

May 21

1862—Mary Patterson becomes the first Black woman in U.S. History to be awarded a Masters Degree. She earned it from Oberlin College in Ohio.

2009—NFL star quarterback Michael Vick is released from federal prison after serving 19 months of a 23-month sentence for financing a dog-fighting ring. Formerly with the Atlanta Falcons, Vick is now a back-up quarterback with the Philadelphia Eagles.

2009—A Black man—James Young—is elected mayor of Philadelphia, Miss.—a town which during the 1960s had the nation’s most racist reputation. Ku Klux Klan members dominated the town and it was known for the mistreatment and unpunished killings of Blacks. One of the most brutal events in the city was the 1964 murders of three civil rights workers. In his 2009 election victory, Young captured 30 percent of the White vote.

1881—Blanche Kelso Bruce is sworn in as a Senator from Mississippi. He became the first Black man to serve a full term in the United States Senate. During his service, he advocated for the political and social rights of Blacks, Indians and Chinese immigrants.

1969—Police and National Guardsmen open fire on student demonstrators at predominantly Black North Carolina A&T University leaving one student dead. Five policemen were injured.

May 22

1863—The War Department establishes the Bureau of Colored Troops and began to aggressively recruit Blacks for the Civil War. The Black troops would play a major role in turning the tide of battle against the rebellious Southern slave states.

1959—Benjamin O. Davis Jr. becomes the first African-American general in the U.S. Air Force. His father, Benjamin O. Davis Sr., had been the first Black general in the U.S. Army.

1966—Entertainer Bill Cosby becomes the first African-American to receive an Emmy for Best Actor in a dramatic series—for his role in the 1060s television series “I Spy.”

May 23

1921—“Shuffle Along”—the first of a succession of widely popular Black musicals performed for White audiences—opened at the 63rd Street Theatre in New York City becoming the first African-American Broadway musical. The musical comedy combined the talents of the legendary team of Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle. “Shuffle Along” produced a long list of hits including “Shuffle Along,” “I’m Just Wild about Harry,” “Gypsy Blues,” and “Love Will Find A Way.”


1981—Legendary Reggae artist Bob Marley is given an official state funeral in his homeland of Jamaica. He had died of cancer on May 11 in Miami. Marley and his band “The Wailers” had made Reggae popular worldwide with such hits as “Stir It Up” and “No Woman, No Cry.” He was considered the first third world superstar and a prophet of the Rastafarian religion. He was only 36 when he died. His body now lies in a mausoleum in Jamaica.

May 24

1854—Anthony Burns, one of the most celebrated fugitive slaves in American history, is captured by deputy U.S. Marshals in Boston. But at the time anti-slavery feeling was running high in Boston and it was one of the cities which had vowed not to obey the Fugitive Slave Act—a federal law which required even those opposed to slavery to help slave owners capture run-away slaves. For fear that Boston residents would help Burns escape to Canada, the U.S. government sent 2,000 troops to Boston to assist in returning Burns to Virginia. Thousands lined the streets as Burns was marched to a ship on June 3 for a trip back South. However, a Black Boston church raised the money to purchase Burns and within a year of his capture, he was back in Boston a free man.

1856—The so-called Pottawatomie Massacre takes place. A force of men led by famed abolitionist John Brown attacks a pro-slavery settlement in Franklin County, Kansas leaving at least five men dead. The attack was part of a period known as “Bleeding Kansas” when pro and anti-slavery forces battled one another in a bid to determine whether Kansas would be a slave or free territory. The “Pottawatomie Massacre” was also one of the events which made the Civil War unavoidable.

1944—Legendary singer Patti LaBelle is born Patricia Louise Holte in Philadelphia, Pa.

May 25

1878—World renowned dancer Bill Bojangles Robinson is born in Richmond, Va. Robinson was one of the best and best-known dancers in America up until the 1940’s. He was known for his sensational footwork and speed. He once set a world record running the 75-yard-dash in backwards in 8.2 seconds. But his “Bojangles” style—designed to please White audiences—angered some Blacks. However, he became a wealthy man appearing in 15 motion pictures after the 1930’s.

1919—Wealthy cosmetics empire owner, Madame C.J. Walker, dies on this day at her estate on Irvington-on-the-Hudson in New York. Walker is generally believed to have been the first Black millionaire in American history.

1926—Famed Jazz trumpeter and composer Miles Davis was born on this day in 1926.

1943—One of the largest White riots of the 1940’s takes place in Mobile, Ala. The Whites were outraged because the owners of a local shipyard company had upgraded the status and pay of 12 Black workers.

May 26

1799—The famous Black Russian writer Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin is born in Moscow, Russia. Pushkin was of Russian and Ethiopian parentage. He was well educated and went on to become a prolific writer. Indeed, he is generally credited with being the “Father of Russian Literature.”

1949—Pamela Suzette Grier is born in Winston-Salem, N.C. Pam Grier becomes one of the premier Black actresses and one of the top sex symbols of the 1970’s playing in a host of so-called “Black exploitation movies.”

May 27

1958—Ernest Green graduates from Little Rock, Arkansas’ Central High School becoming the first Black to do so. Green was a member of the “Little Rock Nine”—the group of Black students who first integrated the high school with the aid of federal troops.

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


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