Week of November 14-20
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.
1884—The Berlin Conference begins. This stands as one of the most significant events in all of African and Black history. Basically, seven European powers sat down and divided Africa for their benefit. They created countries which divided tribes and were often unworkable economically. The divisions and exploitations, resulting from the Berlin Conference, plague Africa to this day. The conference was completed in Berlin, Germany, in February 1885.
1897—John Mercer Langston dies. Today, Langston is an unsung hero, but in the 1800s he was one of the nation’s most dedicated fighters for Black freedom and betterment. Born to a White slave owner and an emancipated Black woman, Langston became an accomplished lawyer. He helped organize the National Black Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1848; organized Blacks to fight in the Civil War; worked in the Freedman’s Bureau; organized Howard University’s law department; became president of the Virginia Normal & Collegiate Institute; and became the first Black elected to Congress from Virginia. The town of Langston, Okla.—home of Langston University—is named after him.
1780—Paul Cuffee organizes a demonstration by free Blacks protesting the fact that they were being taxed but were not allowed to vote. Cuffee was a prominent whaling captain and businessman who organized the first integrated school in Massachusetts. In his later years he became frustrated with American racism and advocated the establishment of a free Black colony in the West African nation of Sierra Leone which was then controlled by the British.
1873—W.C. Handy is born in Florence, Ala. The prolific composer and publisher would become known as “The Father of The Blues.” Handy helped move the blues from just a musical genre among low income Blacks to national status. His works became so popular that his 84th birthday was celebrated at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City and drew a crowd of more than 800 blues enthusiasts. Handy’s full name was William Christopher Handy.
1963—Zina Garrison is born in Houston, Texas. She would go on to win 37 professional tennis titles, an Olympic gold medal and finish runner-up at Wimbledon in 1990.
1967—Lisa Bonet is born to a Jewish mother and a Black father in San Francisco, Calif. She becomes a major actress but is perhaps best known for her role in the 1980s television series “The Cosby Show.” Her given name was Liliquois Moon.
2001—Agbani Darego is crowned Miss World becoming the first Black African to win the coveted beauty pageant. She was from the oil-rich West African nation of Nigeria.
1842—Fugitive slave George Latimer is arrested in Boston, setting in motion a legal battle between North and South over the degree to which free states were required to aid slave states in capturing escaped slaves. The Latimer incident was resolved when at least 100 Black men surrounded the jail where Latimer was being held. Fearing for his safety if he tried to take Latimer back South, the slave owner decided to “sell” Latimer and left with a small amount of money and no slave.
1911—The Omega Psi Phi fraternity is founded on the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C. It goes on to become one of the largest and most influential Black Greek-letter organizations.
1972—Despite massive Black voter support for the Democrat George McGovern, Republican Richard M. Nixon is elected president carrying all states except Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. The Black view of Nixon would later be vindicated when he is forced from office because of the Watergate scandal. Nixon was referred to as “tricky dick.”
1797—Abolitionist and orator Sojourner Truth is born Isabella Baumfree in Ulster County, N.Y. She struggled for an end to slavery and for a woman’s right to vote. She became so well known that she even consulted with President Abraham Lincoln.
1977—White supremacist and terrorist Robert Edward Chambliss is convicted of first degree murder in connection with the 1963 bombing of Birmingham, Alabama’s 16th Street Baptist Church. The bombing killed four little Black girls, shocked the nation and helped mobilize the civil rights movement.
1993—Black majority rule comes to South Africa as Black and White leaders reach agreement on a democratic constitution that gave Blacks the right to vote and ended Apartheid—the system of laws and regulations which had maintained White minority rule.
1985—Stepin Fetchit, the first major Black movie star, dies of pneumonia in Woodlawn Hills, Calif., at the age of 83. Fetchit (real name Lincoln Perry) was harshly criticized by most major Black organizations because he made his money playing a lazy, shiftless, easily frightened Black character during the 1940s and 1950s. However, the role, which appealed to many Whites and some Blacks, made him a millionaire.
1867—Howard University is founded in Washington, D.C., as a result of a Congressional order. The school goes on to become an incubator of African Americans who play major roles in civil rights as well as Black intellectual and cultural development. It has approximately 12,000 students and is thus one of the largest predominantly Black universities in the nation.
1923—Prolific Black inventor Garrett T. Morgan is awarded a patent for his t-shaped traffic signal—the basis of modern traffic lights. Morgan later sold the rights to the General Electric Corporation for $40,000. Shortly before his death in 1963, the U.S. government awarded Morgan a citation for his invention. He also invented the gas mask.
1939—The state of Maryland purchases Morgan State College in Baltimore. The predominantly Black educational institution was originally founded in 1867 by the Methodist Episcopal Church as the Centenary Bible Institute. It was renamed Morgan College in 1890. It currently has 6,000 students and is one of the leading Black universities in the nation.
1962—President John F. Kennedy issues an executive order barring racial discrimination in all federally financed housing. It was one of several acts which led to the Kennedy name being highly revered by many Black voters.
1976—Gold medal winning Olympic gymnast Dominique Dawes is born in Silver Spring, Md.
1977—Chicago Bear great Walter Payton sets an NFL record by running for 275 yards in one game.
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