Former South African presidents Nelson Mandela, left, and FW de Klerk, right, with Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, center, at de Klerk’s 70th birthday party in Cape Town, South Africa. (AP Photo/Obed Zilwa-File)
1886—The “Mother of the Blues” Gertrude “Ma” Rainey is born Gertrude Pridgett in Columbus, Ga. She began her career touring with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels. She was the first person to sing the Blues in minstrel shows. Rainey also coached, then young Blues singer Bessie Smith who would become more famous and celebrated than Rainer. Rainey died Dec. 22, 1939.
1994—The first all race elections take place in then White ruled South Africa. The elections would bring an end to 300 years of White minority rule, known as apartheid, in the African nation as well as bring about the election of Nelson Mandela as the country’s first Black and democratically elected president. Mandela had spent 27 years in prison because of his leadership of the African National Congress which had led the struggle against apartheid.
1903—W.E.B. DuBois’ “The Soul of Black Folks” is published. The book did much to outline and summarize progressive African-American thought and opposition to the accommodation policies of Booker T. Washington—then the nation’s foremost Black leader. DuBois argued that “the problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line” and labeled Washington’s program as one of “industrial education, conciliation of the South, and submission and silence as to civil and political rights.” A collection of DuBois’ papers are currently being placed online by the University of Massachusetts.
1903—Maggie Lena Walker becomes the first Black woman to head a bank in America. In fact, she was the first woman of any color to head a bank when she was named president of the St. Luke Bank and Trust Company in Richmond, Va. Walker was an outstanding businesswoman who took over Richmond’s Order of St. Luke when it was nearly broke and rapidly losing membership. Within a few years the Order owned a bank, a newspaper, a printing press and a three-story department store despite the active opposition of Richmond’s White business community. Walker also helped found the Lilly Black Party in part as a slap at the segregated “Lilly White” political parties of the day. One of her mottos was “Don’t get angry, get busy.” She died Dec. 15, 1934.
1967—The World Boxing Association and the New York State Athletic Commission withdraw recognition of Muhammad Ali as world heavyweight boxing champion because of his opposition to the war in Vietnam and his resulting refusal to serve in the U.S. military. One of his famous phrases during the controversial period was, “I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong.” In addition to being stripped of his title and license to box, Ali was sentenced to five years in prison for refusing to be inducted into the military. However, four years later the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the conviction and Ali was allowed to box again.
1992—This was the first day of the Los Angeles riots which were sparked when a nearly all White jury acquitted four White cops in the brutal beating of Black motorist Rodney King even though the beating had been caught on tape. Two of the cops were later convicted on federal civil rights charges. The riots left at least 50 people dead, nearly 1,000 injuries and an estimated $1 billion in property damage.
711 AD—Tarik the Moor invades Spain with force of 7,000 troops, routs the Visigoths and establishes Moor domination of Spain. While there remains some dispute over Tarik’s race, the weight of the evidence is strong that he was a Black man. He was described in accounts of the time as having “brown skin and wooly hair.” His full name was Tarik al Gibral. The famed Rock of Gibraltar is named in his honor.
1828—Shaka, the great Zulu king and military leader, is killed. His innovative military strategies kept European imperialism at bay for years as he established Zulu dominance in large parts of Southern Africa. The Zulu nation grew to at least 250,000 with an army of over 40,000. But Shaka became increasingly dictatorial. Opposition to his dictatorship combined with jealousy led his two half-brothers to assassinate him on this day in 1828.
1866—The two-day Memphis, Tenn., race riots, one of the most savage events immediately following the civil war, begins. When it was over, former Confederate soldiers, angered by the loss of the Civil War and the new status for Blacks, had killed 46 Blacks and two of their White supporters, as well as raped five Black women and torched over 90 homes, schools and churches. In support of the rebel soldiers, local police arrested hundreds of Blacks and not the Whites who were rioting. However, the savage nature of the rioting in Memphis (and a similar disturbance in New Orleans) prompted Congress to pass radical Reconstruction to aid Blacks, a Civil Rights bill, and the 14th Amendment to the Constitution guaranteeing citizenship and equal protection to former slaves.
1950—Brilliant poet Gwendolyn Brooks, the first African-American to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1950 for her second collection, “Annie Allen,” is born on this day in Topeka, Kan. At 17, she started submitting her work to “Lights and Shadows,” the poetry column of the Chicago Defender, an African American newspaper. Brooks published her first book of poetry, “A Street in Bronzeville” (1945) with Harper and Row, after strong show of support to the publisher from author Richard Wright. Brooks died on Dec. 3, 2000 in Chicago, Ill.
1967—The “Long Hot Summer” begins. The period between May 1 and Oct. 1, 1967 witnessed the most dramatic and destructive series of Black urban disturbances in American history. Major riots took place in 40 American cities. There were also lesser disturbances in 100 smaller towns and cities. Many felt the riots were sparked by a collective sense of frustrated hopes and a new urban generation less willing to adopt peaceful means for change.
1844—Master inventor Elijah McCoy is born in Colchester, Ontario, Canada. He would become the holder of over 50 patents—most were mechanical devices, which greatly improved engines, locomotives and steamships. The superiority of his inventions led to the phrase “the real McCoy” coming to mean the mark of excellent and authenticity. McCoy was born to slaves who escaped America for a free life in Canada. His parents became successful and sent him to study engineering in Scotland when he was only 16. After the end of U.S. slavery, he settled in Ypsilanti, Mich., and began his remarkable career.
1870—One of the most unsung religious leaders in American history, William Seymour, was born on this day in Centerville, La. Seymour became pastor of the Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles and the catalyst for the worldwide Pentecostal movement. He not only rejected racial barriers in the church in favor of “Unity in Christ,” but he is also credited with eliminating many of the restrictions placed on women in the church. He died of a heart attack in 1922.
1845—Macon B. Allen passes the Massachusetts bar thus becoming the first African-American lawyer to pass a state bar and the first Black person permitted to practice law in the United States. Allen was born in Indiana but after the Civil War he moved to South Carolina where he was elected a judge in 1873.
1933—Singer James Brown, known as “The Godfather of Soul” for his game-changing style in funk, soul and R&B throughout his career, was born on May, 3, 1933, in Barnwell, S.C. Brown charted on the Billboard Pop Charts close to 100 times and on the R&B charts at least 110 times. In a career that spanned six decades, Brown influenced the development of several music genres. Brown died on Dec. 25, 2006.
1949—The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of J.D. Shelley on Shelley v. Kraemer, a landmark housing and civil rights case. After years of living with relatives or in rental properties, Shelley, who’d migrated from the South to St. Louis, Mo., with his family to escape racial oppression, decided to buy a house. He learned, however that many owners had agreed to a real estate contract clause that banned them from selling their homes to people of “Negro or Mongolian” descent. After Shelley finally bought a house, White homeowner Louis Kraemer hired an attorney to invalidate the contract and took the case to court. After Kraemer successfully appealed, which reversed the first court’s decision, the Shelley family took the case to the U.S. Supreme Court and won.