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711 AD
On this date, General Tarik al Gibral, a Nafza Berber after whom the famed “Rock of Gibraltar” is named, crossed to Andalus (Spain under the Visigoths) with a force of seven thousand troops. After several battles in which the Visigoths were completely routed, the Moorish-Berber-Arab force marched from city to city until the entire peninsula was under their control by 715AD. It should be noted that many modern historians tend to refer to Tarik’s garrison as consisting only of Caucasoid Berbers and Arabs. Primary sources, such as Ibn Husayn of the 10th Century recorded however that many of his troops were “Sudanese,” a synonym at the time for Blacks. Contemporary accounts of Europeans state of the Moorish invaders, “Their faces were as black as pitch; the handsomest amongst them was as black as a cooking pot.” It should be pointed out that the term “Berber,” erroneously identified as a racial category, is in actuality a linguistic-ethnic group. There are both Semitic and African Berbers. Tarik, tracing his ethnic roots, may have been one of them. He was described by contemporary witnesses as having a short stature, brown skin, a hooked nose, and woolly hair. He was said to be a native of Sudan. Thus would begin the Moorish occupation of Spain, to which Europe owes greatly the benefits of the Renaissance, which would last well into the 15th Century.


1619
African slavery in North America begins when 20 Black indentured servants arrived in Jamestown, VA on board a Dutch ship.


1789
Following George Washington’s inauguration as president, he employs Black Samuel Fraunces to become his steward and to manage culinary affairs at the presidential mansion.


1828
On this date, Shaka, the great Zulu King was killed. In 1815, he became the clan chief of the Zulu, the largest ethnic group in South Africa, with a population of approximately 6 million.

Soon after his reign began, the Zulu began their campaign of conquest and expansion known as the mfecane, which led to the incorporation of many other peoples. The Zulu nation grew to at least 250,000. A brilliant military leader, Shaka put together an army of more than 40,000 rigorously trained soldiers. Shaka also introduced several important military innovations, such as the short stabbing spear, which gave Zulu troops a distinct advantage over their adversaries. His innovative military strategies kept European imperialism at bay for years as he established Zulu dominance in large parts of southern Africa. In a period of only ten years, Shaka had built a kingdom—Zululand—that encompassed most of the area now known as Natal Province.

Shaka claimed absolute authority over his kingdom. His hierarchical leadership style was retained by subsequent Zulu rulers and later adopted by Inkatha, a 20th Century Zulu political organization. In conquered territories, Shaka appointed his own officials; any subjects who refused Shaka’s overrule could be killed immediately. In addition, conquered peoples were expected to serve in the Zulu army, herd the king’s cattle, and hunt elephants for ivory. Shaka consolidated his authority by conducting frequent cattle raids on neighboring groups, such as the Mpondo.

A portion of the cattle was distributed to Shaka’s chiefs and army officers to encourage their loyalty.

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.

Despite these tactics, however, and Shaka’s increasing dictatorship, Shaka faced internal opposition. Opposition to his dictatorship combined with jealousy led his two half brothers, one of them Dingane to assassinate him on this day.


1834
The Philadelphia Anti-Slavery Society adopts its constitution.


1839
Fugitive slave Lunsford Lane made an abolitionist speech to Southern Whites.


1839
Theodore Dwight Weld published “American Slavery as It Is: Testimony of a Thousand Witnesses,” considered by many to be the greatest abolitionist pamphlet ever written.


1862
This date celebrates the first Black newspaper in the South, L’Union in New Orleans.

During these early days of journalism working along with other groups and institutions, the free Black press strove to give voice to and unite the desires of Louisiana African Americans. L’Union was founded and circulated as a biweekly and tri-weekly. Published primarily in French, the paper ran a few issues in English beginning in 1863.
Dr. Louis Charles Roudanez was L’Union’s primary financier and Paul Trévigne its editor.

Both men were prominent leaders in Louisiana’s civil rights movement, and under their direction, the paper primarily spoke for the states established community of free people of color, although also for slaves and newly freed Blacks. The paper suspended publication on July 19, 1864.


1863
Sarah Thompson Garnet became the first African American female principal in the New York City public school system.


1864
A regiment captured a rebel battery after fighting rearguard action. Six infantry regiments checked rebel troops at Jenkins’ Ferry, Saline River, Arkansas. The troops were so enraged by atrocities committed at Poison Spring two weeks earlier, that the Second Kansas Colored Volunteers went into battle shouting, “Remember Poison Spring!”


1864
Blues and gospel singer and guitarist who was also proficient on the banjo and harmonica, Reverend Gary Davis, also known as Blind Gary Davis, was born on this date in Laurens, South Carolina, and was the only one of eight children his mother bore who survived to adulthood. He became blind as an infant. Davis reported that his father was killed in Birmingham, Alabama when Davis was ten, and Davis later said that he had been told that his father had been shot by the Birmingham High Sheriff. He recalled being poorly treated by his mother and that before his death, his father had given him into the care of his paternal grandmother.

In the mid-1920s, Davis migrated to Durham, North Carolina, a major center for black culture at the time. There, he collaborated with a number of other artists in the Piedmont blues scene including Blind Boy Fuller and Bull City Red. In 1935, J. B. Long, a store manager with a reputation for supporting local artists, introduced Davis, Fuller and Red to the American Record Company. The subsequent recording sessions marked the real beginning of Davis’ career. During his time in Durham, Davis converted to Christianity; he would later become ordained as a Baptist minister. Following his conversion and especially his ordination, Davis began to express a preference for inspirational gospel music.

In the 1940s, the blues scene in Durham began to decline and Davis migrated to New York. In 1951, well before his ‘rediscovery’, Davis’s oral history was recorded by Elizabeth Lyttleton Harold (the wife of Alan Lomax) who transcribed their conversations into a 300+ page typescript.

The folk revival of the 1960s re-invigorated Davis’ career, culminating in a performance at the Newport Folk Festival and the recording by Peter, Paul and Mary of “Samson and Delilah”, also known as “If I Had My Way”, originally a Blind Willie Johnson recording that Davis had popularized.

He took to the guitar and assumed a unique multi-voice style produced solely with his thumb and index finger, playing not only ragtime and blues tunes, but also traditional and original tunes in four-part harmony. His finger-picking guitar style influenced many other artists and his students in New York included Stefan Grossman, David Bromberg, Roy Book Binder, Larry Johnson, Woody Mann, Nick Katzman, Dave Van Ronk, Tom Winslow, and Ernie Hawkins. He has influenced the Grateful Dead, Bob Dylan, Jackson Browne, Townes van Zandt, Wizz Jones, Jorma Kaukonen, Keb’ Mo’, Ollabelle and Resurrection Band.

Davis died in May 1972, from a heart attack in Hammonton, New Jersey.


1900
On this date, one of America’s classic folk songs, The Ballad of Casey Jones, was written.

Wallace Saunders a Black railroad labored wrote it; one of three songs written by him. Very little is known about Wallace Saunders. He performed odd jobs for the railroad all his life.

At the time of Jones’ accident, Saunders was an engine wiper for the railroad shop in Canton, Mississippi. Saunders wrote The Ballad of Casey Jones the day after his fatal accident.


1926
Bessie Colman, the first licensed Black aviator, was killed in an airplane crash in Jacksonville, Florida. Not being able to acquire a plane by any means in Florida, Coleman had her mechanic, William Wills of Dallas, Texas, fly a plane to her. During a test flight, Wills was at the controls when a wrench got caught in the gearbox. Coleman was not wearing a seat belt at the time and plummeted to her death. She was 34.


1931
William Lacy Clay, author of “Just Permanent Interests”, is born in St. Louis, Missouri. He will become a congressman from Missouri and chairman of the Post Office and Civil Service Committee.


1940
Jesse E. Moorland died in Washington, DC on this date. He was a clergyman, key force in fund-raising for African American YMCAs, alumnus and trustee of Howard University. The donation of his substantial private library to Howard forms the basis of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center on the university’s campus.


1941
This date celebrates the birth of Shirley Witherspoon. She was an African-American singer.

From Minneapolis, MN Shirley Witherspoon was 28 when she played her first gig with Duke Ellington’s band. This was at the presidential inauguration ball for Richard Nixon in 1969. In her mind, though, she still had a lot to learn. “I was a fool; I didn’t know what I had [then],” she told the Minneapolis Star Tribune in 1989. With one daughter, Teal, and seven grandchildren living in Minneapolis, Witherspoon grew up in north Minneapolis with eight other siblings who all sang. Her cousin was blues legend Jimmy Witherspoon.

After graduating from North High School, Witherspoon got her start singing in local jazz clubs such as the Blue Note. That led to gigs where Duke Ellington spotted her. After her one-year stint with Ellington, she moved to California and withdrew from music. Moving back to Minneapolis in 1979, she sang with local bands (the Wolverines), in solo shows and in theatrical productions. She was similar in style to Etta James and Ruth Brown, Witherspoon was authentic musically and as a person. After living in Baltimore for several years, she returned to Minneapolis in 1989 and had a successful run in the theater.

She starred in tributes to Billie Holliday and her own revues at the Cricket and Mixed Blood theaters of Minneapolis. Witherspoon had her own problems with alcohol and drugs and when her daughter struggled with drugs, she fought for the adoptive rights of grandparents and discussed the issue on CBS’ 60 Minutes in 1992. Her recordings include 1994’s Where Do I Sign? and 1999’s Magic & Love. Witherspoon’s last performances were in Theatre Latte Da’s 2001 production of The Death of Bessie Smith. Witherspoon died on June 12, 2003 of heart and kidney failure.


1952
Cancer researcher Dr. Louis T. Wright is honored by the American Cancer Society for his publications on chemotherapy in the treatment of cancer.


1961
On this date, in a game in which the San Francisco Giants scored fourteen runs against the Milwaukee Braves, Willie Mays hit four home runs in the first, third, sixth, and eighth innings, scoring eight RBIs. The score was Giants 14–Braves 4.


1961
Isiah Lord Thomas was born in Chicago, Illinois. One of nine children raised by a single mother, Thomas became a basketball star, first for Indiana University and later for the Detroit Pistons, where he led the team to 1989 and 1990 NBA championships.


1970
On this date, Chicago Cubs’ Billy Leo Williams became the first National Leaguer to play in 1,000 consecutive games. Ultimately, Williams set the National League record for consecutive games played with 1,117 between 1962-1971 (eclipsed by Steve Garvey 1975-1983 with 1,207). As his consecutive games streak began to accumulate, he was dubbed “Iron Man” by some writers. Cleo James replaced him in the lineup at the end of his streak.


1976
On this date, at the Capitol Center in Landover, MD, short of conditioning, at his heaviest ever, 230 lbs. (partly because of his inability to refuse bowls of ice cream), and noted by ringsiders as the worst performance of his boxing career, Muhammad Ali beat Jimmy Young in 15 rounds for heavyweight boxing title. It was noted that Young seemed to lack ambition in the bout, as several times during the fight, he put his head through the ropes as Ali advanced on him, forcing the referee to halt the action.

When the final bell came, it was considered a merciful release for all involved. The fight turned out to be a real stinker that went to the scorecards. Ali got the verdict and retained his crown, although many felt Young did enough to win. I disagree with that. It was a close but utterly boring tussle. Young had his moments. It was noted that Young seemed to lack ambition in the bout, as several times during the fight, he ducked through the ropes to avoid punishment as Ali advanced on him, forcing the referee to halt the action. This did not endear him to the fans or the judges.


1983
Blues singer/guitarist generally considered “the Father of Chicago blues,” McKinley Morganfield, better known as Muddy Waters, died in his sleep, at his home in the Chicago suburb of Westmont, Illinois, on this date. A major inspiration for the British blues explosion in the 1960s, Muddy was ranked #17 in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.


1983
A son of Senegalese percussionist Mor Thiam, Senegalese-American hip hop and R&B singer/songwriter, rapper, and record producer Akon was born on this date. Born Aliuane Badara Akon Thiam in St. Louis, MO, the son of famed Senegalese jazz percussionist Mor Thiam, he rose to fame in 2004 following the release of his single, “Locked Up,” from his debut album “Trouble.” His second CD, “Konvicted Mizik,” earned him a Grammy Award nomination for the single, “Smack That.” He is founder of Konvict Muzik and Kon Live Distribution. He is well known for singing hooks and his over 145 guest appearances and 21 Billboard Hot 100 songs to his credit. He is the only artist to ever accomplish this feat of holding both the number one and two spots simultaneously on the Billboard Hot 100 charts twice.


1983
After becoming its editor in 1979, Robert Clyve Maynard became the first African American to gain a controlling interest in a major metropolitan newspaper when he bought the Oakland Tribune for $17 million from the Gannett media conglomerate.


1988
On this date, NY Yankees’ Dave Winfield drove in his 28th and 29th runs of the season in New York's 15-3 rout of Texas Rangers setting an American League AL and tying a Major League record for April.


1992
Bill Cosby’s successful show of upper middle class black family life, “The Cosby Show,” ran its 208th and final original episode after an eight season run. It was frequently the highest rated television show in America.


1994
The counting of ballots begins in South Africa’s first all-race elections.


1994
Some 100,000 men, women and children fleeing ethnic slaughter in Rwanda crossed into neighboring Tanzania.


1994
Soccer great Pelé (53) married psychologist Assiria Seixas Lemos (36).


2003
Domitien Ndayizeye, a Hutu, took over from Pierre Buyoya as president of Burundi under terms of a three-year, power-sharing transitional government inaugurated in 2001. The Hutus held a rather tenuous position due to continued violence and Tutsi fears that a Hutu-dominated government could result in the large-scale genocide that occurred in neighboring Rwanda.


2009
Former offensive lineman for the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos and Neo-Mannerist artist Ernie Barnes, best known for his unique figurative style of painting and whose work was immortalized on classic television and album covers, died on this date after a brief illness. He was 70 years old.

According to his official biography, Barnes was born July 15, 1938 to Ernest Sr. and Fannie Mae Geer Barnes during the Jim Crow era in Durham, North Carolina. As a child, young Ernest would accompany her to work and was allowed to peruse the extensive collection of art books. One day in junior high school, a teacher found the self-admitted fat, introverted young Barnes drawing in a notebook while hiding from the bullies who taunted him daily.

For over 40 years, his art has been admired and collected internationally. His national traveling “Beauty of the Ghetto” exhibition in the 1970s featured some of his timeless works as “Storyteller,” “High Aspirations” and “The Graduate.” His famous 1971 “Sugar Shack” dance scene appeared on the “Good Times” television show and on the Marvin Gaye album, “I Want You.”

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