This Week In Black History

For the week of Dec. 3-9

December 3

1847—Frederick Douglas and Martin R. Delaney establish “The North Star” and it goes on to become a major anti-slavery newspaper.


1922—Ralph Gardner is born in Cleveland, Ohio. He was a pioneer chemist whose research into plastics led to the development of so-called hard plastics and aided product developments in the petrochemical and pharmaceutical industries.

1982—Thomas “The Hit Man” Hearns defeats Wilfredo Benitez for the WBC Junior Middleweight boxing title. Hearns becomes the first person to win boxing titles in five different weight classes.

December 4

1783—General George Washington gives his famous farewell address to troops at Fraunces Tavern in New York City. The tavern was owned by a prominent Black businessman of French and West Indian descent named Samuel “Black Sam” Fraunces who had aided the Americans in their bid to gain independence from England. After he became president, Washington hired Fraunces as his chief steward.

1807—Prince Hall dies. His was one of the most prominent Black names in colonial America. Hall was born (circa 1748) in Barbados in the West Indies and migrated to Boston. He became one of the leaders of the city’s Black community. He also became an abolitionist and a Mason. In fact, he is considered the “father of Black Masons.” He also fought in the American war for independence from England.

1906—Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. is founded on the campus of Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. It thus becomes the first Black Greek letter organization in America. It was established by seven Black students seeking to build stronger brotherhood ties and it began to spread to campuses around the nation.

1915—The Great Migration is said to have begun on this day as an estimated two million Southern Blacks begin moving to the North in search of jobs. The impetus was World War I (1914) which blocked Europeans from migrating to the United States. Thus, Northern industries were forced to recruit Southern Blacks to fill jobs to produce products for the war. The migration was the first major movement of Blacks out of the South since the Civil War and it changed the racial character of the nation.

Officers carry body of Fred Hampton

1969—Black Panther Party leaders Fred Hampton and Mark Clark are killed during a police raid in Chicago. The raid was part of a national campaign against the Black Panthers. Initial reports said the two were killed during a shootout but as the years passed evidence mounted that they were, in effect, assassinated. It may have even been a Black police officer who fired the shot that killed Hampton.

December 5

1775—A memorial is dedicated to Salem Poor in Cambridge, Mass. Poor was a slave who had bought his freedom and became a hero fighting in the American Revolutionary War for independence from England. He so distinguished himself in battle, including at Bunker Hill, that he won the praise of 14 officers.

1784—The amazing poet Phyllis Wheatley dies in Boston, Mass. Wheatley was kidnapped in Africa at age 7 and sold to a prosperous Boston family, which placed a high value on education. By age 12, she was reading Greek and Latin classics. In the 1770s she became a sensation in the city because of her amazing ability to write poetry. A London company published her first book of poetry. Sadly, she died in poverty before she could find a publisher for her second book. That second volume has never been found. Although some letters she wrote during this period were recently discovered and sold at auction.

1870—Legendary Black cowboy William “Bill” Pickett is born in Travis County, Texas. Standing only 5’7” and weighing 145 pounds, he is considered one of the toughest men every to be called a cowboy. He became famous in the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Wild West Shows where he performed dare devil feats and invented the rodeo sport of “bulldogging.” He is thought to have been of Black and Indian descent. He died at age 70 in Ponca City, Okla.

1870—Alexandre Dumas (pere) dies in France. Dumas, one of the most famous French writers of the 1800s, was a Black man born to a French marquis and a slave woman on the island of St. Domingue (now Haiti). Dumas wrote such noted works as The Three Musketeers and The Count De Monte Cristo.

1932—The “King of Gospel” Rev. James Cleveland is born in Chicago, Ill.

1932—Flamboyant singer-performer “Little Richard” is born and raised in Macon, Ga. He becomes one of the founding fathers of rock-and-roll. His dynamic stage performance and homosexuality often landed him in trouble. But he remained a major force in the music field. He just recently had a hip replacement operation.

1955—The historic bus boycott begins in Montgomery, Ala. The Black boycott of city buses was set in motion when civil rights heroine Rosa Parks refused to surrender her seat on the bus to a White man. The law at that time required her to give up the seat. A young minister named Martin Luther King Jr. was called upon to lead the boycott launching his career as the national civil rights leader.

1957—New York becomes the first city to pass a law banning racial or religious discrimination in housing with the Fair Housing Practices law.

December 6

1849—Harriet (Ross) Tubman escapes slavery in Maryland. But she becomes perhaps the greatest “conductor” on the Underground Rail Road returning to the South 19 times and helping an estimated 300 slaves escape. Despite a serious head injury received from an angry slave master when she refused to beat another slave, Tubman was one of Black America’s greatest examples of courage and determination. During the Civil War she also spied on the South and relayed the information to Northern generals.

1870—Joseph H. Rainey (1832-1887) is sworn in as the first Black to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives. He represented South Carolina—the state in which he was born a slave. But his father—a barber—managed to raise the money to purchase his families freedom. Earlier this year, the portrait of Rainey was finally hung in the House of Representatives.

1949—Blues legend Huddie “Leadbelly” Ledbetter dies. Ledbetter was born in 1885 near Mooringsport, La. But he had a quick temper and a violent streak. Thus, he stayed in trouble with the law. Indeed, his musical genius was discovered in jail by a visiting White folklorist. Upon release from prison, he moved north and became a sensation performing in the U.S. and Europe.

1961—Revolutionary psychiatrist and writer Frantz Fanon dies in Washington, D.C., where he had gone for medical treatment. In his writings, the Martiniq
ue-born Fanon explored the psychological aspects of racial oppression and Black liberation. His most famous works were “Black Skins, White Masks” and “Wretched of the Earth” which was considered by many “the handbook for Black revolution.”

December 7

1931—Comer Cottrell is born. Cottrell founds the Pro-Line hair care products company. He also becomes the first Black to own part of a professional baseball team when he buys into the Texas Rangers in 1989.

1941—Dorie Miller shoots down three or four Japanese war planes during the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Miller was a kitchen worker on the USS Arizona who had learned to operate the ship’s weapons. After his death he was awarded the Navy Cross.

December 8

1850—Lucy Ann Stanton graduates from Oberlin College in Ohio. She is believed to be the first Black female college graduate in America.

1936—The Gibbs v. Board of Education in Montgomery County, Md., decision is rendered. It was the first of a series of court rulings, which eliminated the practice of paying White teachers more than Black teachers.

1987—Kurt Schmoke becomes the first Black mayor of Baltimore, Md.

December 9

1872—P.B.S. Pinchback begins serving as the first Black governor of Louisiana. He served for a little more than a month. Pinchback, son of a White plantation owner and a former Macon, Ga., slave, was a major force in Louisiana politics after the civil war and during Reconstruction. He was also instrumental in the 1879 establishment of Southern University.

1875—Carter G. Woodson is born in New Canton, Va. In 1926, Woodson started the first Negro History Week which grew to become Black History Month.

1925—Comedian Red Foxx is born in St Louis, Mo.

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

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