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The First African Baptist Church, originally named the Ethiopian Church of Jesus Christ, was organized in Savannah, Georgia, with Andrew Bryan ordained as its pastor. It is the first African American Baptist church in the United States, as well as the first Baptist church, Black or white, in Savannah.

William Reuben (W.R.) Pettiford is born. He will become the pastor of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. As a leader in the community, he will also become a businessman, founding the Alabama Penny Savings Bank on October 15, 1890. The Alabama Penny Savings Bank will be Alabama’s first African American-owned bank and the first of three banks in the nation, owned and operated by African Americans in the early 1900s. (Note: The Sixteenth Street Baptist Church is also known for the bombing during the Civil Rights movement, on September 15, 1963, that killed four little girls.)

The Florida constitutional convention with eighteen African Americans and twenty-seven whites meet in Tallahassee.

The birth of Dr. Austin Maurice Curtis, Sr. celebrated on this date. He was an African-American doctor.

From Raleigh, North Carolina, he was a prominent turn of the century physician and protégé of Dr. Daniel Hale Williams. His first internship took place at Chicago’s Provident Hospital, in 1891. He was also the first Black surgeon on staff of Cook County Hospital (a non-segregated hospital) in 1896.

Curtis was a professor of Surgery, Howard University for 25 years and Chief Surgeon, Freedmen’s Hospital from 1898-1938 He died in 1939.

Hiram R. Revels was chosen by the Mississippi. Although he was challenged by the Senate, Revels took his seat one month later, he became the first African American U.S. Senator. Perhaps the greatest irony of the election was that he was chosen to fill the unexpired term of Confederate President Jefferson Davis—the man who was the nominal head of the Southern effort to perpetuate slavery. His term ended on March 3, 1871.

Eva Jessye was born on this date. She was an African-American singer, composer, choral director and actress.

She was one of the few musical
phenomenons of the twentieth century. Born Eva Alberta Jessye in Coffeyville, Kansas near Oklahoma, her father supported the family as a chicken picker. She was an avid reader who sang as a child, writing her first poem at the age of seven; winning a contest at thirteen. Jessye studied choral music and music theory at the now defunct Western University in Quindaro, Kansas, graduating in 1914.

She also received a degree from Langston University. She taught at an elementary school in Taft, Oklahoma and spent classroom time in Haskell and Muskogee as well. In 1926, Jessye moved to New York to pursue a career in music and theater, getting her first break at the Capitol Theater playing with Major Bowles. It was here that she met and became a protégé of Black Classic composer Will Marion Cook.

An expert in harmonics, Jessye’s literary and musical accomplishment spanned over 75 years. She was world renowned as a poet and composer. In 1935, she was appointed the original choral conductor of George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess and is regarded as the unofficial guardian of the musical score. Jessye’s authentic touches to the piece deepened it cultural flavor of the black experience for the fine translation by Gershwin. She was featured in the 1944 first annual I Am an American Day initiated by the (then) mayor of New York City. She also worked in King Vidor’s Hallelujah.

The Eva Jessye choir performed in concert at major universities and colleges throughout America for more than forty years. In 1963, Jessye directed the official choir for the historic March on Washington. The Afro-American Studies Department at the University of Michigan awarded her a Degree in Determination in 1976. In 1987, after receiving an honorary Doctor or Art from Eastern Michigan University at the age of ninety-two, she wrote, “You see I am still cuttin’ cane and choppin’ cotton-with might and main-with wide acclaim!”

During her lifetime she shared her wisdom and talents. Her resonant voice, twinkle in her eye, and alertness and depth of mind spoke of her greatness. Eva Jessye died on February 21st 1992.

On this date, George Henry White, Congressman of North Carolina (1897-1901), introduced into the House of Representatives the first bill designed to make lynching a federal offense. White was sparked into action by the upsurge in the lynching of Blacks after the Civil War as defeated Confederate soldiers and other whites attempted to put the recently freed Blacks “back in their place.” However, the bill died in committee. Congress never made lynching a federal crime even though most local jurisdictions throughout the South did little to stop the lynching of Blacks. The year before White introduced his bill, 87 Negroes and twelve white men had been lynched. During the decade before 1890 to 1900 1,127 mob murders by hanging, burning, shooting, or beating were recorded. In 1900 alone, 105 Blacks were lynched.

The popular Black Greek letter sorority Zeta Phi Beta was founded on this day in 1920 on the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C.

The Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, originally founded in 1913, was incorporated on this date.

Hall of Famer, Josh Gibson, perhaps the greatest player to ever play the game of baseball, died on this day. The bulk of his career was spent in the old Negro Baseball Leagues and he was never allowed to play in then-segregated Major League Baseball. Baseball historians consider Gibson the best catcher and power hitter in baseball history. He recorded an astounding 800 homeruns during his 17-year career.

The National Negro Network is formed by W. Leonard Evans. Some 40 radio stations are charter members of the network.

Guinea-Bissau nationalist leader Amilcar Cabral joins the ancestors after being assassinated in Conakry, Guinea, by Portuguese agents. He had founded the PAIGC (African Party for the Independence of Guinea and Cape Verde), the organization that fought Portuguese colonial rule and eventually led to the independence of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde. Cabral is considered one of Africa’s most important independentist leaders.

Clifford Alexander, Jr. is sworn in as the first African American Secretary of the Army.

The inaugural issue of “American Visions” magazine hit the newsstands nationwide. The magazine was dedicated to exposing its readers to African American contributions to history, literature, music, and the arts.

The United States observed the first federal holiday in honor of slain civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was signed into law as a federal holiday in 1983. King was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta. King attended Morehouse College and was so influenced by Morehouse President D. Benjamin Mays, he decided to study for the ministry and graduated in 1948. King later graduated from Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, PA, and earned a doctor of philosophy degree from Boston University in 1955. Through his advocacy of non-violence, beginning with the Montgomery bus boycott and world renowned civil rights leader led a group of Atlanta ministers to form the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). His life’s work made an indelible mark in world history. In 1964 Dr. King became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. On April 4, 1968, while supporting a strike of Black garbage men in Memphis, TN, King was assassinated. Buried in the Martin Luther King, Jr. historic site in Atlanta, King, in 1983, became the first Black American honored by a national holiday–the third Monday on January.

Ronald E. McNair, a PhD from Massachusetts Institute of Technology was the first black astronaut killed during a space mission, when the space shuttle “Challenger” met with disaster.

South African Bishop, Desmond Tutu, won the Martin Luther King, Jr. Non-Violent Peace Prize on this date.

Maya Angelou, esteemed poet and activist, read her poem, “On the Pulse of Morning,” during the inauguration ceremony of President Bill Clinton on this date.

On this day, former major league outfielder, Curt Flood, who challenged baseball’s reserve system and made possible today’s megasalaries, dies at age 59.

Cheryl Mills, White House deputy counsel, became the first Black person to argue an impeachment case before the United States Senate. Mills defended President Bill Clinton against a highly politicized Republican attempt to oust him.

General Colin Luther Powell was sworn in by President George W. Bush as the first Black Secretary of State. Powell had a distinguished military career but saw his reputation sullied by his support of President Bush’s unpopular war in Iraq.

The United States Senate confirmed Rod Paige as the Secretary of Education on this date.

The first African-American secretary of education is from Monticello, Mississippi and is the son of public school educators. He served for a decade as Dean of the College of Education at Texas Southern University.

He also established the university’s Center for Excellence in Urban Education, a research facility that concentrates on issues related to instruction and management in urban school systems.

On this date, at 12:05 PM on the West Front of the Capitol in Washington, DC, Barack Hussein Obama, II took the oath of office for the President of the United Stated of America. In duing so, he became the 44th President of the United States. He also became the first non-White and first African American to become the President of the United States.

On this date, the day that Barack Hussein Obama was inaugurated as the 44th and first African American President of the United States, the name of Eric Himpton Holder, Jr. was formally nominated for the Office Attorney General. In taking office Holder would become the first African American to serve in that office.

On this date legendary R&B Singer, Etta James, died at a hospital in Riverside, California at the age of 73 after suffering from leukemia. The Grammy-winning wedding favorite “At Last” singer had been declared terminally ill two weeks before her death; in 2009, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and had been hospitalized in 2010 because of a dangerous staph infection and hospitalized again in May with a blood infection. Her assertive, earthy voice also lit up such hits as “The Wallflower,” “Something’s Got a Hold on Me.”

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