This Week In Black History

Thurgood Marshall

June 9
1948—Oliver W. Hill becomes the first African American elected to the Richmond, Va., city council. He is best known for his work as a civil rights attorney helping bring down the segregationist doctrine of “separate but equal.”

June 10
1760—Several sources list this at the birthday of Richard Allen—founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Other sources give his birth date as Feb. 14, 1760. Regardless, the AME church was the first African-American organized and incorporated church in America. Allen, Absalom Jones and a group of free Blacks in Philadelphia founded the church in 1794. Allen and his group were initially members of the city’s predominantly White St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church. But when several Blacks were ejected from the church for attempting to pray alongside Whites, Allen led a walkout, which resulted in the forming of the AME church.

1898—Hattie McDaniel, the first African-American to win an Oscar, is born on this day in Wichita, Kan. She won her Academy Award in 1940 for Best Supporting Actress for the role of Mammy in the classic film “Gone With The Wind.” Once criticized for playing stereotypical and sometimes demeaning “Black roles,” she responded, “I’d rather play a maid than be one.” McDaniel died in 1952.

1941—The “Black Moses,” Marcus Garvey dies in London, England. Starting around 1916, Garvey built his United Negro Improvement Association into the largest mass organization of Blacks in history, with the slogan “Up You Mighty Race.” The UNIA owned businesses ranging from bakeries to shipping companies. Garvey preached Black pride and self-reliance, while steering away from the more integrationist thrust of most prominent Black leaders of his day. He was eventually jailed on what are now viewed as trumped up mail fraud charges. Presidential intervention got Garvey freed. But in exchange for his early release from prison, the Jamaican native had to agree to leave the United States and not return. Separated from his U.S. base, Garvey was never able to rebuild the UNIA.

June 11
1963—President John F. Kennedy declares during a nationwide radio and television address that segregation was “morally wrong” and told the U.S. Congress it was “time to act” (pass legislation) to end all segregation of the races. That statement and similar ones endeared Kennedy to millions of African-Americans. However, a few months after making the declaration, Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. But most of his legislative ideas would be implemented by his successor, President Lyndon B. Johnson.

June 12
1840—The world’s first anti-slavery convention took place in London, England. The aim of the gathering was to unite abolitionists worldwide. However, the effectiveness of the convention was harmed by a decision to exclude female delegates.

1886—The Georgia Supreme Court upholds the will of former slave owner David Dickson who had left more than $300,000 to a child he fathered by raping a 12-year-old Black girl. The ruling made Amanda America Eubanks the wealthiest Black person in America. She would later marry one of her White first cousins.

1963—Medgar Evers, Mississippi field secretary for the NAACP, was assassinated in front of his home by White supremacist Byron de la Beckwith. All-White juries twice refused to find De la Beckwith guilty although the evidence was overwhelming. Finally, in 1995, Beckwith was convicted of killing the civil rights activist. Beckwith died in prison in 2001.

1967—The United States Supreme Court ruled in Loving v. Virginia that Virginia’s law banning interracial marriages was unconstitutional. The decision was a death blow to similar laws throughout the South. However, Alabama did not officially remove its “anti-miscegenation” law from the books until 2000.

June 13
1967—President Lyndon B. Johnson nominates former NAACP Chief Counsel Thurgood Marshall to be the first Black justice on the United States Supreme Court. He said of his decision, it “was the right thing to do, the right time to do it.” Marshall had been a towering figure in the legal battles against segregation including lead counsel in the historic Brown v. Board of Education case. The Senate would confirm the nomination Aug. 30. An aside: Marshall’s original name was Thoroughgood but he shortened it to Thurgood.

June 14
1811—White anti-slavery activist Harriet Beecher Stowe is born. Stowe was the author of one of the best-selling books of 1852—“Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” The book addressed the brutality of slavery and featured the character of “Uncle Tom”—a slave who, perhaps unfairly, came to symbolize the accommodating Black person who showed complete deference to Whites. The book was such an indictment of slavery that when President Abraham Lincoln met Stowe he remarked, “You’re the little woman who wrote the book that started this great [civil] war.”

1970—Cheryl Adrienne Brown wins the Miss Iowa pageant and becomes the first African-American to compete in the Miss America beauty pageant.

June 15
1864—Gen. Ulysses S. Grant outfoxed Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee by switching an attack strategy from Cold Harbor to Petersburg, Va. The assault, spearheaded by Gen. Charles Paine, knocked a mile-wide hole in Lee’s defenses and resulted in the capture of hundreds of rebel soldiers and helped speed up the end of the Civil War. Several Black regiments were involved in the assault and siege. Grant would later become the 18th president of the United States and use his office to deal a series of crushing blows to the rapidly growing forces of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1870s.

1877—Henry O. Flippea becomes the first Black graduate of the U.S. military academy at West Point.

1921—Bessie Coleman becomes the first woman of any race to obtain an international pilot’s license. But she had to leave the United States and study in France in order to accomplish her goal. She was barred from U.S. flight schools because of her race and her sex. Born in a small town called Atlanta, Texas, Coleman would move to Chicago where she was influenced by several prominent Blacks including Robert S. Abbott, publisher of the Chicago Defender. When she returned to the U.S. from France, Hollywood wanted to do a movie about her amazing feat. She walked off the set because she felt the film actually degraded Blacks. Coleman died in a plane accident April 30, 1926.

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