Anthony Benezet published “An Account of African Civilization and Culture.”
Ornithologist, naturalist, and painter John James Audubon was born in
Les Cayes, Santo Domingo (now Haiti) to an African Caribbean mother and a
French father. He displayed an early affinity for bird specimens and drawing in
France, later emigrating to the United States, where he married a plantation
owner’s daughter and painted his seminal work and the ground-breaking
collection, completed in 1839, “The Birds of America,” a catalogue of 435
On this day, James Pierson Beckwourth discovered a
path through the Sierra Nevada Mountains that now bears his name. Beckwourth
Pass on U.S. Alt 40 between Reno, Nevada and Sacramento, California made
overland travel to the gold fields of California possible.
The New England
Emigrant Aid Society, originally the Massachusetts
Emigrant Aid Company, was organized to encourage opponents of
slavery to settle Kansas.
Dawson was born on this date in Albany, Georgia. He was the first African American to chair a standing Congressional Committee and the first Black Chairman of the Democratic NationalCommittee.
Dawson became one of Chicago’s most influential politicians,
serving as an elected representative and a political power broker in that city.
In this way, he parallels the rising significance of African Americans in
Democratic politics of the twentieth century. In World War I, he served in the
He attended the Kent College of Law in Chicago, Illinois,
graduated from Albany Normal School in 1905 and Fisk University in Tennessee
magna cum laude in 1909. He, then, moved to Illinois in 1912 to study at
Northwestern University Law School in Evanston.
After the entry of the U.S. into World War I, Dawson served
overseas as a first lieutenant with the Three Hundred and Sixty-fifth Infantry
of the United States Army from 1917 until 1919. After returning home, he was
admitted to the bar in 1920 and commenced private practice in Chicago. He began
his political career as a member of the Republican Party in 1930 as a state
central committeeman for the First Congressional District of Illinois. He held
this position until 1932. He then served as alderman for the second ward of
Chicago from 1933 until 1939 and as a Democratic Party committeeman after 1939.
In 1942, after serving as alderman on the Chicago City Council, Dawson
successfully ran for Congress, holding his seat until retiring in 1970. William
Dawson spoke out about the poll tax and was credited with defeating the
Winstead Amendment, which would have allowed military personnel to choose
whether or not they would serve in integrated units. In 1949, Dawson became
chair of the House Committee on Expenditures in Executive Departments (later
renamed the Committee on Government Operations), making him the first African
American to chair a regular Congressional Committee.
In Chicago, where his constituents knew him as simply “The Man,” Dawson developed a considerable power base by awarding political appointments to his allies. Similarly, President John F. Kennedy acknowledged Dawson’s work in the 1960 campaign by offering him the Postmaster General’s position. Dawson, however, turned the position down, preferring to remain in the House where he felt he could do the most good. For all of the power he amassed, Dawson remained connected to his constituency. He returned to his district often and spent part of each day in his district office, visiting with constituents and working to solve their problems. He died in 1970.
The “Mother of the Blues”
Gertrude “Ma” Rainey was born Gertrude Malissa Nix Rainey Pridgitt in
Columbus, GA on this date. She was the first great Black professional blues
She began her career touring with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels as a
vaudeville performer. She was the first person to sing the blues in minstrel
shows. She married William “Pa” Rainey, a minstrel comic, and became the “Ma”
half of “Rainey and Rainey: The Assassinators of the Blues.” From 1904, she
toured southern American tent shows, levee camps, and cabarets in a
song-and-dance team with her husband. She performed in the theatrical circuits
of the South and Midwest through the 1920s, leading her own troupes, including
at times, Bessie Smith and Thomas A. (“Georgia Tom”) Dorsey.
Between 1923 and 1928, she recorded 93 songs with country blues
musicians and Black jazz players, many of which were her own compositions. She
performed nationwide and had a loyal fan base, even after her recording
contract with Paramount was terminated. She had a great impact on performers
who followed her and has been immortalized by being included in August Wilson’s
play, “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” and the poem of Sterling Brown, “Ma Rainey.”
She recorded with Fletcher Henderson and Louis Armstrong. Rainey also coached
young blues singer Bessie Smith who would become more famous and celebrated
An outstanding, earthy stage presence, she retired in 1933, to own and operate two Georgia theaters and to join the Friendship Baptist Church. She died on December 22, 1939 in Rome, GA and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.
Sarah Boone received a
patent on this date for an appliance
that would help to neatly iron clothing.
This device, the forerunner to our modern ironing board was made
of a narrow wooden board, with collapsible legs and a padded cover and was
specifically designed for the fitted clothing worn during that time period.
Prior to her inventions, people were forced to resort to simply
using a table or being creative in laying a plank of wood across two chairs or
small tables. The registration filing was U.S. Patent #473,653 on December 30,
J.A. Joyce patented
the ore bucket on this
date. Patent No. 603,143.
Johnny Shines was born on
this date. He was an African-American blues musician.
Shines was from Frayser, Tennessee, one of the last of the
original Delta blues-men who had traveled and performed with Robert Johnson and
whose style, in large part, remained untouched by more modern blues sounds.
Over the years Shines was repeatedly asked to tell Johnson stories, play
Johnson songs, and work out on guitar what only Johnson himself was capable of
playing. Somewhat reluctantly, Johnny became one of the carriers of the Johnson
legacy, often having his own contributions to country blues overlooked in the
Shines was forced to cut down on his touring after he suffered a
stroke in 1980 and reduced dexterity of his fingers caused him to concentrate
more on slide guitar. Johnny Shines died on April 20, 1992, the same year he
was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame.
On this date, Blues guitarist Joseph
Benjamin “J.B.” Hutto was born.
One of the most extraordinarily durable figures in the history
of classic rhythm-and-blues and rock’n roll, Maurice
Williams, was born in Lancaster, SC. “Stay,” became one of the classic
singles in the history of rock ‘n roll and R&B-a No. 1 mega-hit upon its
release in 1960 on Al Silver’s Herald label, and a popular favorite for decades
since, revived in 1987 with its prominent use in the movie Dirty Dancing.
Williams has remained active as a performer and, periodically, as a recording
artist and songwriter, ever since.
Williams had his first experience with music in the church,
where his mother and sister both performed. By the time he was six, Williams was
performing regularly there. With his childhood friend Earl Gainey, Williams
formed the gospel group ‘The Junior Harmonizers’, but as rock and roll and
doo-wop became their primary interest, the Junior Harmonizers changed their
name to ‘The Royal Charms’.
In addition to Williams and Gainey, The Royal Charms were made
up of Willie Jones (baritone), William Massey (tenor, baritone, trumpet), and
Norman Wade (bass). In the winter of 1956, while still in high school, Williams
and his band traveled to Nashville, Tennessee to record for the Excello record
label. At the time they were going by the name ‘The Royal Charms,’ but the
founder of Excello Records, Ernie Young, convinced them to change their name to
‘The Gladiolas.’ At the time, there were at least two other bands using the
The song “Little Darlin’” was a #11 hit on the R&B chart in 1957, but did
not break the Billboard Hot 100’s Top 40. However, when the song was covered by
the Canadian group The Diamonds, it moved up to #2.
Williams finished high school and while on the road with the
band (after their station wagon broke down in Bluefield, West Virginia), the
band came across a small car known as “The Zodiac” and the band changed their
name. Shortly thereafter, Henry Gatson replaced Earl Gainey.
In the spring of 1959, Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs performed at the
University of South Carolina in Columbia, South Carolina. Around that time, the
group split and reformed. The members were Williams, Gatson, Wiley Bennett, and
Charles Thomas. Later, Little Willie Morrow and Albert Hill were added. One
month later, in the early summer of 1959, the band recorded in a Quonset Hut on
Shakespeare Road in Columbia. The recording engineer, Homer Fesperman, recorded
several tracks that the band had hoped would fetch them a hit. One of the last
tracks that they recorded that day was “Stay,” a song that Williams had written
a couple of weeks before.
After taking the demo of “Stay” to Al Silver at Herald Records in New York
City, the song was pressed and released in early 1960. “Stay” is the shortest
recording ever to reach number one on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in the United
States (1:39, though the label read 1:50). Later versions of “Stay” by The Four
Seasons (1964) and Jackson Browne (1978) also reached the Top 20, each selling
over one million copies in the United States alone. The inclusion of “Stay” on
the soundtrack to the film Dirty Dancing in 1987 led to the song selling more
records than it had during its original release.
A 1961 recording by the group, “May I”, also released by Herald Records became,
over the years, another million selling record.
Williams continued recording, touring, and releasing music through the 1970s,
1980s, and 1990s. He is still active on the music industry, residing in
Charlotte, North Carolina.
On this date, R&B musician, Claudine
Clark, was born. She is best known as the singer and composer of the
1962 hit “Party Lights,” which reached #5 on the Billboard pop chart.
Clark grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and began recording in 1958 for
the Herald record label then moved to New York. She finally had a hit with her
second single for Chancellor Records, the self-penned “Party Lights,” but her
follow-up, “Walkin’ Through a Cemetery,” was a commercial failure. She
continued to record and compose, including under the alias Joy Dawn for the
Swan Records label.
Father Divine, a
spiritual leader who claimed to be God, married the 21-year old Edna Rose Ritchings.
Subsequently, the marriage date became a celebrated anniversary in the
International Peace Mission movement, which he founded.
Harry Belafonte signed for
the then-unheard-of sum of $1 million with RCA Records. Known as the King of
Calypso, Belafonte was actually from the Bronx.
After the Zanzibar Revolution in 1963 overthrew the Arab dynasty
in neighboring island country of Zanzibar, which had
become independent in 1963, the island merged with mainland Tanganyika to form the nation of Tanzania on this date. The union of the two,
hitherto separate, regions was controversial among many Zanzibaris (even those
sympathetic to the revolution) but was accepted by both the government of
Tanganyikan Prime Minister Julius Nyerere and the Revolutionary Government of
Zanzibar owing to shared political values and goals.
From the late 1970s, Tanzania's economy took a turn for the worse. Tanzania
also aligned with China, seeking Chinese aid. The Chinese were quick to comply,
but with the condition that all projects to be completed by imported Chinese
From the mid 1980s, the regime financed itself by borrowing from the
International Monetary Fund and underwent some reforms. From the mid 1980s
Tanzania's GDP per capita has grown and poverty has been reduced.
The country’s name is derived from the first syllable of each
merging country’s name.
Freedom Democratic Party was founded on this date by black and white
Mississippians, with assistance from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating
Committee, to win seats at the 1964 Democratic National Convention for a slate
of delegates elected by disenfranchised black Mississippians and white
sympathizers. It ultimately failed, but was said to succeed in dramatizing the
violence and injustice by which they claimed the white power structure governed
Mississippi. It was also said to have helped the passing of the Voting Rights
Act of 1965.
Students seize the
administration building at Ohio State.
Dorothy Morrison and the Edwin Hawkins Singers hit the pop
charts with the pure gospel song “Oh Happy Day,” which broke all barriers on
its way to #4 pop and million-selling status.
James Forman issued The Black Manifesto, a demand
that white churches pay $500 million to blacks as reparations for past
exploitation, at the National Black Economic Development Conference held in
& the Pips’ “The Way We Were” charted, becoming their thirty-third
of forty-two Top 100 singles. The same day, the quintessential disco hit “The Hustle,” the massive international hit, which
is still played on dance floors and radio today, nearly 30 years after his
death, by late, great Van McCoy, entered
the hit list, rising to #1 pop and R&B.
Ben E. King peaked at
#5 pop (#1 R&B) with “Supernatural
Thing,” his first Top 5 solo pop hit in almost fourteen years. Ben had
been without a label when Atlantic Records President Ahmet Ertegun saw him
performing at a Miami nightclub and asked him to re-sign with the organization.
All of the ex-Drifters hits had been with Atlantic’s subsidiary Atco Records
from 1961 through 1969.
Jazz musician great William “Count”
Basie, died in Hollywood, Florida on this date at the age of 77. He
helped popularize the big band movement and was one of the first two Blacks to
win Grammy Awards. NOTE: Many sources will have 1904 for Count Basie’s birth
year. Our source for his birth and death is the Kennedy Center Archives
documenting “The Honors” bestowed on him in 1981.
Douglass Patterson, educator, Doctor of Veterinary Medicine, humanitarian,
and founder of the United Negro College Fund, died on this date.
Mike Tyson was ticketed for driving 71 MPH in 30 mile zone in Albany, NY.
Aretha Franklin, who failed
to appear in the show Sing Mahalia, Sing was ordered by a New York judge to pay
restitution in the amount of $209,364.
Temptations lead singers (Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin, and Dennis
Edwards) banded together to go on tour in England, performing tonight
at the Newport Center, Newport, Gwent, Wales.
Coffey is named the first woman and the first African American
co-chair of the National Conference of Christians and Jews.
Jam” opened at Virginia Theater on Broadway for 569 performances. Gregory Hines portrayed the great jazz composer Jelly Roll Morton and received
a Tony award as best actor in a musical in that role.
On this date, St. Louis Cardinals’ second baseman, Ozzie Smith stole his 500th base.
Alex Haley’s “Roots,” won the
1992 Ellis Island Award, posthumously.
Bobby Brown and
a young dancer were fined $850 for public lewdness while simulating a
sex act at Augusta-Richmond’s County Civic Center on January 13.
R. Kelly and Salt-N-Pepa performed at the James L. Knight Center in Miami, FL
Africa held its first all-race election on this day. The elections
would bring an end to 300 years of white minority rule, known as apartheid, in
the African nation. The historic moment effectively dissolved the last remnants
of apartheid in the region. An estimated 22.7 million eligible voters lined up
for miles and participated in the four days of polling, getting their chance to
help shape their nation’s government for the first time. Many of the first-time
voters stood in line for over 12 hours to cast their ballots. Dr. Nomaza Paintin was the
first black South African to vote.
At one-minute after midnight on this date in 1994 a new South
African Flag was raised replacing the one introduced in 1928. This was
accompanied by the taking effect of the countries new constitution and bill of
rights. The Black homelands, formerly a symbol of the racist government, were
dissolved and nine new all-race provinces came into being. ANC leader Nelson Mandela, who had spent 27 years in a South African prison because of his leadership
of the African National Congress, which had led the struggle against apartheid
before he was released in 1990, claimed a landslide victory on May 2nd
as South Africa’s first Black democratically elected president. In the
wake of the historic vote, the country’s new constitution and bill of rights
took effect. The Black homelands were dissolved, and nine new all-race
provinces came into being.
Ending the Sierra Leone
Civil War, which began in 1991, rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) leader
Foday Sankoh offered the
government a cease-fire. Tens of thousands died and more than 2 million people
(well over one-third of the population) were displaced because of the 11-year
conflict. Neighboring countries became host to significant numbers of refugees
attempting to escape the civil war. It was officially declared over on 18
Rosemary Brown, the first
black woman to be elected to public office in Canada, died of a heart attack on
this date in Vancouver, British Columbia.