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Lemuel Haynes, Revolutionary War veteran and the first Black minister to serve for a White congregation, becomes the first Black person to receive an honorary degree (a Master of Arts) from a White college (Middlebury College)

On this date, Captain Nathaniel Gordon was hanged for slave trading. He is the only person in American history executed for slave-trading; Gordon captained the slave ship Erie. He was caught carrying 800 men, women, and children off the coast of West Africa.

During the early hours of that day, Gordon was found in convulsion in his cell. Physicians found that he had taken strychnine. According to an article in the New York Daily Tribune, the substance had been given to Gordon by an unidentified person at the beginning of his second trial and hidden in a small bench in his cell. A stomach pump, catheters, and brandy were used to revive him. He begged doctors to allow him to die, but every effort was made to restore him.

Threats were sent to the Marshal by Gordon sympathizers who opposed his execution. In response, Marines were placed within the walls of the prison, but no riots occurred. No attempts were made to stop the proceeding. His sentence was pronounced by the U.S. Marshal. Gordon was asked if he had any final statements, and according to newspaper accounts, he said “I did nothing wrong.”

Saint Francis Xavier Church in Baltimore, Maryland is dedicated. It is the first exclusively African American parish in the United States.

The North Carolina Legislature adjourns for the day to mark the death of Frederick Douglass.

Dr. Helen Octavia Dickens was born on this date. She was a doctor, professor of obstetrics and gynecology and former associate dean of medicine.

Born in Dayton, Ohio, to Charles and Daisy (Green) Dickens after graduating from Roosevelt High School, she attended Crane Junior College in Chicago, Illinois. She was a 1934 graduate of the University Of Illinois School Of Medicine, the only African-American woman in her graduating class. She spent two years after graduation at Provident Hospital in Chicago, and then practiced with Dr. Virginia Alexander in a birthing-home practice in North Philadelphia. Dickens in 1943 she attended the Penn Graduate School of Medicine for one year concentrating in obstetrics and gynecology.

In 1945, she became the first female African-American board-certified ob-gyn in Philadelphia. In that same year, Dickens became director of the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Mercy Douglass Hospital in Philadelphia. She joined the courtesy staff of Women’s Hospital in 1951 she joined the staff and faculty in the department of obstetrics and gynecology in the School of Medicine in 1956 when Penn acquired Women’s Hospital. At that time she was the first African-American woman to serve in this position. She was also professor of obstetrics and gynecology.

In 1967, Dickens founded the Teen Clinic at Penn for school-age mothers in the inner city. The clinic included counseling and group therapy, educational classes, family planning assistance, and prenatal care. She also initiated a project that brought temporary cancer detection facilities into Philadelphia’s inner city. Also, Dickens instigated a program funded by the NIH that encouraged doctors to perform Pap smears to test for cervical cancer. In 1969 Dickens was named associate dean for minority admissions. She helped recruit African-Americans to the medical school and was responsible for increasing minority numbers from three students to 64. Dickens was a member of the Pan American Medical Women’s Association and its president from 1968-1970.

In 1982, Dickens received an honorary degree from Penn. She was also a member of the board of directors for the American Cancer Society, the Children’s Aid Society, the Devereaux Foundation. She was also the recipient of many awards including the Gimbel Philadelphia Award for “outstanding service to humanity,” the Medical Woman of the Year, Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania; Daisy Lumpkin Award; the Mercy Douglass Hospital Award; and the Sadie Alexander Award for community service by Delta Sigma Theta. In 1991, she received the faculty/staff award at Penn’s Women of Color celebration where their most prestigious award was named for Dr. Dickens.

Known as the Dr. Helen O. Dickens Lifetime Achievement Award, it is awarded to exemplary candidates with a long history of service to Women of Color in the Penn and Delaware Valley communities. She also received the Family Planning Council of Southeastern Pennsylvania Award for her “lifelong contributions to women’s health care both as an outstanding teacher-clinician and as a pioneer in programming to assist teen-aged mothers in the region to complete their education” in 1995.

The Helen O. Dickens Center for Women’s’ Health at HUP was named for Dr. Dickens in 1999 in honor of the 50 years she “dedicated to healing, helping and guiding women of all ages.” Dr. Helen Octavia Dickens died on December 2, at the age of 92. Her daughter Jayne Brown; son, Norman S. Henderson, and three grandchildren survive her.

Thelonious Sphere Monk, jazz musician, was born in Rocky Mount, N.C. He was raised in New York.

Tadd Dameron was born on this date in Cleveland, Ohio. He was an African-American jazz pianist, arranger, composer, and bandleader, especially noted during the bop era for the melodic beauty and warmth of the songs he composed.

Dameron was initially known as an arranger and composer for big bands, in particular for Harlan Leonard and His Rockets in the early 1940s. Dizzy Gillespie introduced some of his finest songs, including “Good Bait” and “Our Delight”; Gillespie also premiered his extended orchestral work Soulphony at Carnegie Hall in 1948. The small groups Dameron led on the East Coast and in Europe from the late 1940s to the mid-1950s were the height of his achievement; they included outstanding musicians such as trumpeters Fats Navarro, who was his most sympathetic interpreter, and Clifford Brown.

Though he wrote an occasional pensive ballad, such as “If You Could See Me Now” (for Sarah Vaughan), Dameron’s songs in general featured optimistic melodies (“Hot House,” “Lady Bird,” “Casbah”) and provocative harmonies, typically based on standard chord sequences. A pianist with a light style and percussive attack, he rarely chose to solo himself; one of his most acclaimed works, the extended composition Fontainebleau, includes no improvisation at all.

Beginning in 1961 he composed scores for recordings by soloists with large ensembles. Tadd Dameron died on March 8th 1965 in New York City.

Nina Simone was born on this date. She was an African-American jazz vocalist.

Her birth name was
Eunice Kathleen Waymon and she is one of eight children from Tryon, North Carolina. Her musical ability, early on, was demonstrated in the local Tryon church where she played the piano and sang with her sisters in a choir. In 1943 she gave her first piano recital and experienced her first bout with racism as her parents were forced to move out of the front row so that several whites could be “properly” seated.

This event planted the seed that would blossom into Nina’s deeply rooted commitment to fight prejudice and pioneer, through her music, the civil rights movement. A young Waymon left North Carolina in 1950 for New York City. She studied at the Julliard School of Music and supported her family financially working as an accompanist. In the summer of 1954 she took a job in an Irish bar in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Without having time to realize what was happening this trained classical pianist, stepped into show business. She soon changed her name to Nina (“little one”) Simone (“from the French actress Simone Signoret”). In the late 50’s Nina Simone recorded her first tracks for the Bethlehem label.

These are still remarkable displays of her talents as a pianist, singer, arranger, and composer. Songs such as Plain Gold Ring, Don’t Smoke In Bed, and Little Girl Blue soon became standards in her repertoire. I Loves You, Porgy, from the opera “Porgy and Bess”, became a hit and Simone became a star, performing at Town Hall, Carnegie Hall and the Newport Jazz Festival. From the beginning of her career on, her combining Bach-styled counterpoint, the improvisational approach of jazz, and the modulations of the blues, her talent could no longer be ignored. Other characteristics of the Simone art are: her original timing, the way she uses silence as a musical element, and her often understated live act, sitting at the piano and advancing the mood and climate of her songs by a few chords.

When four Black children were killed in the bombing of a church in Birmingham in 1963, Nina wrote Mississippi Goddam, a bitter and furious accusation of the situation of her people in the USA. The strong emotional approach of this song and the others on her first Philips record (“Nina Simone In Concert”) would become another characteristic in her art.

Although Simone was called “High Priestess of Soul” she was often misunderstood. When she wrote Four Women in 1966, a bitter lament of four Black women whose circumstances and outlook are related to subtle gradations in skin color, the song was banned on Philadelphia and New York radio stations because “it was insulting to Black people…” Her repertoire includes more Civil Rights songs: Why? The King of Love is Dead, capturing the tragedy of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Brown Baby, Images (based on a Waring Cuney poem) and Go Limp, Old Jim Crow.

One song, To be Young, Gifted and Black, inspired by Lorraine Hansberry’s play with the same title, became the Black national anthem in the USA. She surprised many with “Nina Simone and Piano!” an introspective collection of songs about reincarnation, death, loneliness and love; a highlight in her recording career. Her gift to give new and deeper dimensions to songs resulted in remarkable versions of Ain’t Got No / I Got Life (from the musical “Hair”), Leonard Colhen’s Suzanne, Bee Gees songs as To Love Somebody, the classic My Way done in a tempo doubled on bongos, Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues and four other Bob Dylan songs. Disgusted with record companies, show business and racism, she left the USA in 1974 for Barbados.

During the following years she lived in Liberia, Switzerland, Paris, The Netherlands and finally the South of France. In 1978 a long awaited new record was released, “Baltimore”, followed by “Fodder on My Wings”. More than ever determined to make her own music, Nina wrote, adapted and arranged the songs, played piano and harpsichord and sang in English and French. The 1988 CD re-release of this album included some bonus tracks, e.g. her extraordinary version of Alone Again Naturally, reminiscing her father’s death.

In 1989 she contributed to Pete Townsend’s musical “The Iron Man”. In 1990 she recorded with Maria Bethania; in 1991 with Miriam Makeba. That same year, her autobiography, “I Put A Spell On You” was published. In 1993 Simone released a career comeback album “A Single Woman”. Her music continues to excite new and young listeners and she still excites audiences all over the world. In 1998, she blamed racism in the United States for her decision to live abroad, saying that as a Black person she has “paid a heavy price for fighting the establishment.” She did not elaborate but said racial inequality in the United States was now “worse than ever.”

At the Guinness Blues Festival in Dublin, Ireland in 1999 her daughter, Lisa Celeste, performing as “Simone”, sang a few duets with her mother. Simone has toured the world, sung with Latin superstar Rafael, participated in two Disney theatre workshops, playing the title role in Aida and Nala in The Lion King. In 2000 she received Honorary Citizenship to Atlanta, the Diamond Award for Excellence in Music from the Association of African American Music in Philadelphia and the Honorable Musketeer Award from the Compagnie des Mousquetaires d’Armagnac in France.

Nina Simone arguably was the ultimate songstress and storyteller of the times. She died in Carry-le-Rouet (South of France) on April 21, 2003 in her home. As she wished, her ashes were spread in different African countries.

Barbara Charlene Jordan was born on this date in Houston, TX. She was an African-American politician, educator and member of the United States House of Representatives.

She earned a bachelor’s degree from Texas Southern University and a law degree from Boston University. In 1966, she became the first Black woman to win a seat in the Texas Senate. She authored the state’s first successful minimum wage bill and pushed for civil rights legislation.
She made history November 17, 1972, when she became the first Black and first woman to be elected to Congress from Texas when she was elected to the House of Representatives. She took a seat on the Judiciary Committee, where she earned national attention for her eloquent speech in favor of impeaching President Richard M. Nixon during the Watergate hearings.

was known as an eloquent speaker and, at the 1976 Democratic Convention, was the first Black woman to give a keynote address. In 1978, Barbara Jordan left the House to teach public policy at the University of Texas at Austin. Between then and 1996, the year of her death, she continued to devote herself to public service, acting as keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention in 1992, and subsequently, as chair of the U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform.

She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1994 and also the Eleanor Roosevelt Humanities Award and more than 20 honorary doctorates from leading U.S. universities.

She died in Austin, TX, on January 17, 1996 of leukemia.

John Lewis was born on this date. He is an African-American lawyer, congressman and an active member in the Civil Rights Movement.

Lewis is from Troy, Alabama and the son of a family of sharecroppers. He grew up on his family’s farm and attended segregated public schools in Pike County, Alabama. At an early age, Lewis developed an unwavering commitment to the Civil Rights Movement. He holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Religion and Philosophy from Fisk University; and he is a graduate of the American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville, Tennessee.

For more than forty years, he has been in the front line of progressive social movements and the human rights struggles in the United States. As a student, John Lewis organized sit-in demonstrations at segregated lunch counters in Nashville, Tennessee. He became founder and chairman of the Studen Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), organizer of the Selma-to-Montgomery March in 1965, was executive director of the Voter Education Project, and congressman from Georgia’s 5th District.  Lewis’ power continued to be felt when he is named Democratic deputy whip by Speaker of the House Thomas S. Foley in 1991.

Described as “One of the most courageous persons the Civil Rights Movement ever produced,” John Lewis has dedicated his life to protecting human rights, securing personal dignity and building what he calls “The Beloved Community.”

His opinion on ethics and morality has won him the respect of many of his colleagues in the United States Congress. Lewis has also been awarded many honorary degrees from colleges and universities throughout the United States, including Clark Atlanta University, Brandeis University, Columbia University, Fisk University, Morehouse College, Princeton University and Williams College. John Lewis is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Martin Luther King, Jr. Non-Violent Peace Prize.

Otis Boykin, electronic scientist inventor, and designer, patented the electrical resistor (Patent #2,972,726) on this day. The electrical resistor is used in many computers, radios, television sets and other electronically controlled devices. Products made from his discoveries are manufactured in Paris and throughout Western Europe. With 26 patents to his name, Boykin was best known for the invention of the heart pacemaker, a device inserted into the body that delivers small regular shocks to stimulate the heart to beat in a normal rhythm. Born in Dallas in 1920, he graduated from Fisk University and went to the Illinois Institute of Technology for two years before he dropped out due to lack of money. Boykin died in 1982 in Chicago.

Ranking Roger was born Roger Charlery in Birmingham, England on this date. He was a vocalist in the 1980s band The Beat (known in the U.S. as The English Beat) and one of its successor bands, General Public. He currently leads a re-formed Beat line-up.

El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X), the militant leader who promoted Black Nationalism and founder of the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU), was assassinated before a rally of his followers at Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom in New York by three Black Muslims. At 39 years of age, Malcolm pronounced dead at the arrival at New York’s Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. The assassination came 11 months after his split from Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam. He was best known for his doctrine of self-determination for African American people, including their right to fight for their rights and protect themselves in a hostile America by “whatever means necessary." He was born in 1925.

Florence Ballard, one of the original Supremes, joins the ancestors in Detroit, Michigan, at the age of 32. Ballard had said that she never received a royalty check prior to 1967 for any of her work with the Supremes, who featured Diana Ross and included Mary Wilson.

African Americans in Tampa, Florida rioted after an African American man was killed by a white police officer while in custody.

Singer, actor Corbin Bleu born in Brooklyn, New York City to a Jamaican American father and Italian-American mother. He is perhaps best known for his roles in the film Catch That Kid, the Disney Channel original movies High School Musical, High School Musical 2, Jump In!, and the 2008 Disney theatrically released High School Musical 2.

Eva Jessye, choral director for the first Broadway production of Porgy and Bess, died in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Julian Bond, civil rights leader from the 1960’s, former Georgia state legislator, and college professor, became the new chairperson of the NAACP Board of Directors.

Harriet M. Waddy, military officer, who would become the first Black woman major in the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) died on this day in Las Vegas, NV.

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