Week of July 9-15
1863—Eight Black regiments play a major role as Union troops capture Port Hudson in Louisiana. They 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 the end of 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 performed the first successful open heart surgery in American history. He repaired a knife wound to the heart of 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.
2009—Reports first emerged suggesting that Haiti was beginning to conquer its HIV/AIDS epidemic. According to UNAIDS, the official AIDS infection rate on the poverty-ridden Caribbean island for people 15-to-49 was 2.2 percent—down from a high of nearly 8 percent in the 1980s. The decline was attributed to the closing of blood banks where the poor sold their blood for money, the work of the Boston-based Partners in Health and Haiti’s own GHESKIO clinic.
1775—Shortly after taking command of the troops fighting for American independence from Britain, Gen. George Washington (the nation’s first president) had 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 received a contaminated blood transfusion and died of 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.
1905—The Niagara Movement (forerunner of the NAACP) was founded during a meeting near Niagara Falls, N.Y. Among the most prominent Blacks at the meeting were intellectual and activist W.E.B. DuBois and newspaper publishers William Monroe Trotter and Ida B. Wells Barnett.
1915—Mifflin Wistar Gibbs dies. Gibbs worked on the Underground Railroad helping Blacks escape from slavery along with Frederick Douglass. He would later become publisher of Mirror of the Times—the first Black newspaper in California. He was also the first African-American elected to a municipal judgeship in the state.
1887—Mound Bayou, Miss., perhaps the nation’s best known historically all-Black town, was founded by ex-slave Isaiah Montgomery and his cousin Benjamin T. Green. It was built as a sanctuary for former slaves during a period when Jim Crow racism and terrorism by groups such as the Ku Klux Klan were on the rise. It is considered the oldest surviving all-Black town in America. According to the 2000 Census, the town had 2,100 residents.
1937—Actor, comedian and political activist William “Bill” Cosby is born on this day in Philadelphia, Pa. Cosby would rise from nightclub comedian to actor in several of the so-called Black exploitation movies of the 1970s to star of the hit NBC television series “The Cosby Show” from 1984 to 1992. The show won numerous awards and praise for its portrayal of a middle class African-American family. Cosby has also been active in a wide range of civil rights and social causes.
1949—Although he is seldom mentioned today, Frederick M. Jones was one of Black America’s most productive inventors. There are at least 60 patents to his credit. However, Jones is best known for the invention of an air conditioning unit. Specifically, he designed an automatic refrigeration system for long-haul trucks and trains, which he patented on this day in 1949. Jones was born in 1893 in Covington, Ky., near Cincinnati. He died in 1961.
1863—One of the bloodiest race (or perhaps more appropriately “racist”) riots in America history began. The event known historically as the New York City Draft Riots was sparked by angry opposition to the congressionally passed Enrollment Act—a mandatory draft requiring White men to fight in the Civil War. Many Whites went on a rampage out of opposition to the draft and fear of freed Blacks competing with them for jobs. The rioting lasted from July 13 to July 16 before it was finally put down with the aid of federal troops. But before it was over an estimated 100 people had been killed and 300 wounded—most of them Blacks. The mandatory draft also reflected a fact commonly omitted from standard American history texts: the class nature of much legislation. In this instance, the draft only applied to poor and working class Whites. Wealthy Whites were officially exempted from the draft by paying a fee.
1868—Oscar J. Dunn, a former slave, was installed as Louisiana’s lieutenant governor. At the time, it was the highest elective state position ever achieved by any African-American. Another Black, Antoine Dubuclet, was installed as state treasurer. However, virtually all the Black political gains after the Civil War would be wiped out by the Hayes-Tilden Compromise of 1872 and the subsequent anti-Black Jim Crow laws. It would take nearly 100 years (during the 1960s) before Blacks would once again begin to match the political gains they had made during the post-Civil War period.
1891—Renowned Black inventor John Standard received a patent for inventing what became the foundation for the modern refrigerator. Contrary to some history, Standard did not actually invent the first refrigerator. That appears to have been done in 1805 by American Oliver Evans. Standard once described his accomplishment this way: “This invention relates to improvements in refrigerators and consists of novel arrangements and combination of p
arts.” However, Standards “improvements” are generally credited with laying the foundation for the modern or “standard” refrigerator.
1941—The originator of the African-American holiday period known as Kwanzaa, Maulana Ron Karenga, is born Ron Everett in Parsonsburg, Md. Karenga also has the distinction of emerging from a prison sentence in the 1970s and earning two Ph.D.s. He founded Kwanzaa in 1967. He had been imprisoned for the alleged abuse of two women who had been members of his United Slaves (US) organization.
1779—Noted Black spy Pompey Lamb supplied the American revolutionary forces with information that enabled them to win the Battle of Stony Point—the last major battle of the Revolutionary War in New York state. Lamb worked as a fruit and vegetable deliveryman for the British Army.
1822—Philadelphia becomes one of the first major cities to open its public schools to Blacks. The first school was a segregated one just for Black boys. One for girls was opened four years later in 1826. The city’s public schools would remain segregated until the 1930s.
(This Week in Black History is compiled by Robert Taylor. His next Black History Club meeting in Washington, D.C., is July 17 at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library at 3 p.m. Call 202-657-8872 to register.)