Week of March 18-24
1933—The first Black woman elected mayor of a Mississippi town, Unita Blackwell, was born on this day in Lula, Miss. The former field worker with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee became mayor of Mayersville, Miss., in 1977.
1963—Singer-actress and the first Black woman to win the Miss America Pageant, Vanessa Williams, was born on this day in Millwood, N.Y.
1970—Actress and rapper Queen Latifah was born on this day in 1970.
1620—The first Black child born in America, William Tucker, was probably born on this date in Jamestown, Va. However, some controversy surrounds the exact date. What we know for sure is that he was the son of two of the first Africans brought to America as indentured servants in August 1619—Anthony (Antonio) and Isabella. We also know he was baptized on Jan. 3, 1624. Further, there is debate as to whether his last name was actually “Tucker.” It seems that many historians simply assumed that the child was given the last name of the man on whose plantation his parents worked. While this would later become the practice on many plantations, there is no documentation that Anthony and Isabella actually gave their son the last name of Tucker.
1919—Singer Nat King Cole is born in Montgomery, Ala. In addition to his considerable talents as a singer, Cole—the father of Natalie Cole—was the first Black American performer with his own syndicated radio program and later a network television variety show. The TV started at 15 minutes, expanded to half-an-hour, but was then dropped due to lack of White advertiser support.
1852—The leading Black nationalist of the 1800s Martin R. Delany publishes his manifesto entitled “The Condition, Elevation, Emigration and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States.” Delany, who fought in the Civil War to end slavery, became frustrated with American racism and argued that Blacks were “a nation within a nation” who should consider returning to their Africa homeland. Delany, who became a doctor, would later advance an argument for reparations saying, “They [Whites] had been our oppressors and injurers. They obstructed our progress to the high positions of civilization. And now it is their bounden duty to make full amends for the injuries thus inflicted upon an unoffending people.” Delany died in Wilberforce, Ohio, in 1885.
1852—“Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” a novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe, is published in Boston and becomes a national bestseller. The novel was based in part on a real life Maryland slave named Josiah Henson. Many considered Henson the arch type “Uncle Tom” who was over accommodating to Whites and accepting of his condition as a slave. Revisionist historians have treated Henson more kindly suggesting he was simply being pragmatic and actually helped other slaves.
1883—Jan Matzeliger receives a patent for the “shoe lasting” machine, which would revolutionize the shoe industry, significantly reduce the cost of shoes and make Lynn, Mass., the shoe-making capital of the world. Matzeliger was born in Dutch Guiana (today’s Surinam) and arrived in America at 18 or 19 speaking very little English. His invention would eventually enable an entire shoe to be produced in 60 seconds by one machine. The patent was purchased by the United Shoe Company. Unfortunately, Matzeliger died at 37 before he was able to realize any of the enormous profits produced by his invention.
1957—Filmmaker Spike Lee is born in Brooklyn, N.Y.
1955—Walter White dies. As head of the NAACP, White was perhaps the most prominent and powerful civil rights leader of the first half of the 20th century. The light complexioned, blue eyed White became somewhat of a legend in 1919 when he “passed for White” in order to investigate the notorious Elaine, Ark., race riot when marauding bands of Whites killed over 200 Blacks. He barely escaped with his life when news of his true identity leaked out.
1960—The Sharpsville Massacre occurs, in then White-ruled South Africa, when police fired on Blacks protesting the country’s “pass laws,” which greatly restricted the movement of the majority African population. At least 67 demonstrators were killed and 186 injured or wounded.
1965—The historic Selma to Montgomery March calling for full voting rights for African-Americans begins under federal protection. The original march had actually started on March 7. But the more than 600 demonstrators were attacked with clubs and tear gas by state and local police at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Organizers, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., then went to court to get confirmation of their Constitutional right to demonstrate. The court battle was won and the march resumed under federal protection on March 21. Five months later President Lyndon Johnson signed the historic 1965 Voting Rights Act.
2010—The U.S. House of Representatives passes President Obama’s signature legislation—Health Care Reform by a 219 to 212 vote. No Republican voted for the measure.
1492—Alonzo Pietro sets sail with Christopher Columbus as he begins his famous journey to find a new trade route to China, but accidentally “discovers” the Americas. Pietro was one of Columbus’ navigators. He was known as “il Negro”—The Black.
1916—Marcus Garvey arrives in the United States from Jamaica. He would go on to build the largest Black nationalist and self-help organization in world history—the Universal Negro Improvement Association. The UNIA owned everything from bakeries to a shipping line. It would develop chapters throughout major cities in the U.S., Europe, Africa and the Caribbean. “Garveyism” emphasized racial pride, economic empowerment, Blacks doing for self and the establishment of a powerful Black nation in Africa to give protection to Blacks throughout the world.
1942—Scholar and political activist Walter Rodney is born in Georgetown, Guyana. Rodney would become one of the leading intellectual forces behind the worldwide Black Nationalist and Pan-Africanist movements of the 1960s and ‘70s. He was a brilliant scholar who traveled widely and among his major writings was the book “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.” He died in a car bombing in Guyana in 1980.
1837—Blacks in Canada are granted the right to vote. Most of these Blacks had escaped from slavery in America.
2002—Halle Berry becomes the first Black woman to win an Oscar for Best Actress. She won for her role in the movie “Monster’s Ball.” She won a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a TV Movie/Mini-Series for “Introducing Dorothy Dandridge” in 1999. Berry was born on Aug. 14, 1966 in Cleveland, Ohio, to an African-American father and a Caucasian mother.
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