Week of November 12-18
1775—General George Washington, first president and “father of the country” issues an order barring free Blacks from serving in the army as the U.S. struggled for independence from England. Washington was also a slave owner. The slave owning aristocracy felt if free Blacks fought for America’s liberation they would demand freedom for their enslaved brothers and sisters. Despite Washington’s order, hundreds of Blacks did fight in the Revolutionary War.
1900—Henry Ossawa Tanner becomes an internationally acclaimed artist as he takes a silver medal for his art displayed at the Paris Exposition. Nearly 7,000 artists had entered their works. The Pittsburgh-born Tanner had numerous major works including his painting called “The Banjo Lesson.”
1922—Sigma Gamma Rho is founded by seven Black women in Indianapolis, Ind. The sorority grows to become one of the largest in the nation.
1977—Ernest “Dutch” Morial is elected the first Black mayor of New Orleans, La.
1994—Track and field great and Olympics star Wilma Rudolph dies in Nashville, Tenn., at the age of 54.
1839—The Liberty Party—the nation’s first anti-slavery political party—is formed in Warsaw, N.Y. Among the founders were legendary abolitionists Samuel Ringgold Ward and Henry Highland Garnet. At this point in history the two major political parties—the Whigs and the Democrats—were both pro-slavery.
1913—Pioneering Black surgeon Daniel Hale Williams becomes a member of the American College of Surgeons. Williams is generally credited with being the first American doctor to perform open heart surgery. The history-making event took place in Chicago on July 9, 1893.
1922—Many Black historians have selected this as the date which marks the beginning of the Harlem Renaissance—perhaps the greatest period of artistic achievement by African-Americans in U.S. history. From poetry to plays and from paintings to sculptures, Black art reached a pinnacle. In a broader sense, the Harlem Renaissance ran from the early 1920s to the mid 1930s.
1951—Ballerina Janet Collins becomes the first Black woman to dance with the Metropolitan Opera Co. in New York City. Prior to that achievement she performed with the world-renowned Black dance troupe directed by the legendary Katherine Dunham.
1955—Whoopi Goldberg, given name Caryn Johnson, is born in New York City. She graduates from a stand-up comedy routine to become a major Hollywood actress and is currently one of the principal hosts of the television talk show “The View.”
1956—The United States Supreme Court upholds a lower court ruling which banned segregation on public buses in Montgomery, Ala. The decision was forced in major measure by a year-long Black bus boycott sparked by the refusal of Rosa Parks to give up her seat to a White man. Leadership of the boycott also launched the civil rights career of Martin Luther King Jr. and his status as the national Black leader.
1967—Carl Stokes wins the race for mayor in Cleveland, Ohio. In doing so, he becomes the first Black mayor of a major American city.
1985—New York Met Dwight Gooden becomes the youngest pitcher ever to win the Cy Young award.
1915—Booker T. Washington dies in Tuskegee, Ala. Washington was easily one of the top five most influential Black leaders in African-American history. Some considered him too accommodating to Whites, but his influence was still significant. Among the educator’s lasting accomplishments was the founding of Tuskegee Institute. He was only 59 when he died.
1934—William Levi Dawson’s Negro Folk Symphony (Symphony Number One) is performed by the Philadelphia Orchestra. This marked the first time a classical symphony composed by an African-American was performed by a major White orchestra. Dawson also gained renown as the choral director at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. He died in 1990 at the age of 91.