On this date, James Durham was born. (Note that
some source date his birth as May 1st, while many, if not most, do
not list a specific day at all, only a year.) He was the first recognized Black
physician in the United States.
Born a slave in Philadelphia, his early masters taught him the fundamentals of
reading and writing. Durham was owned by a number of doctors, ending up in New
Orleans with a Scottish physician, who hired him in 1783 to perform medical
services. When he was 21, he bought his freedom and went to New Orleans where
he set up his own medical practice. He was a popular and distinguished doctor
in New Orleans, at least in part for his knowledge of English, French, and
He was invited to Philadelphia in 1788 to meet Dr. Benjamin Rush, one of the
signers of the Declaration of Independence. Rush was so impressed with Dunham’s
success in treating diphtheria patients, that he read Durham’s paper on the subject
before the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.
In 1789, Durham returned to New Orleans, where he saved more yellow fever
victims than any other physician in colonial Philadelphia. During an epidemic
that killed thousands, he lost only 11 of 64 patients. He moved back to New
Orleans and was lauded by prominent local doctors.
Despite his skill, his ability to save so many lives, and his flourishing
practice, his practice was restricted in 1801 by new city regulations because
he did not have a formal medical degree.
He disappeared after 1802. The idea that Black people were incapable of understanding
medicine remained widespread for decades.
Toussaint L’Ouverture forced
British troops to agree to evacuate the port of Santo Domingo. After five years
of fighting, over 60% of 20,000 British troops were buried on Santo Domingo.
Albion Winegar Tourgee was born on
this date in 1838. He was an American activist, judge, and author.
From Williamsfield, OH, he was the son of Valentine Tourgee and Louisa Emma
Winegar, both farmers. His mother died when he was five. He grew up in
Kingsville, OH, the Western Reserve, a center of antislavery sentiment; and in
Lee, MA, where he spent two years with an uncle. Tourgee attended the
University of Rochester in 1859, and was active in campus Republican politics.
During this time he wrote an essay critical of prosecutions of distributors of
Hinton Helper’s antislavery book (“The Impending Crisis of the South”).
Tourgee was a private in the Union army, yet received his degree in 1862 in
recognition of his military service from the University of Rochester. He fought
at the battle of Bull Run (First Manassas), where he received a serious spinal
injury, which caused him temporary paralysis and a permanent back problem that
plagued him for the rest of his life. In January 1863, he was captured near
Murfreesboro, TN, sent to a Confederate prison, and later exchanged and
returned to Ohio. Later that year he married Emma Doiska Kilbourne, with whom
he had one child. He returned to the service and participated in major
engagements at Chattanooga and Chickamauga, TN. After the war, he and his wife
moved to Greensboro, N.C., partly on the advice of a doctor that he seek a
warmer climate for his health.
Tourgee’s commitment to racial equality, broader democracy, and protection of
the economic underdog, white and black, collided with the values of most of the
southern elite. From 1866 to 1867, he edited a Republican newspaper, the “Union
Register,” in Greensboro. Tourgee was also elected superior court judge and
served from 1868 to 1874. He roused the ire of conservative opponents of Reconstruction
by insisting that blacks be included on jury lists and that the jail be heated
in winter, a concern for inmates that conservative critics believed would
During Tourgee’s tenure as judge, the Ku Klux Klan engaged in a systematic
campaign of terror and political intimidation designed to drive blacks and
their Republican allies from power. He faced threats to his personal safety
with extraordinary courage. The terror had an effect, however, and eventually
self-styled conservatives regained power in the state. Still, an 1871 investigation
by Tourgee led to the indictments of 63 members, including many from leading
families, for Klan atrocities. As Republican political power faded, so did
Tourgee’s hope for reelection as a judge. He did not run for reelection, and
his law practice did not prosper. Tourgee wrote an autobiographical novel, “A
Fool’s Errand” (1879), based on his Reconstruction experiences, and he
published several highly regarded legal treatises on North Carolina law.
He left North Carolina in 1880, eventually moving to Chautauqua County, N.Y.,
in 1881. His book was a huge success, selling over 200,000 copies and
attracting laudatory reviews. Tourgee earned substantial profits from the book
and from another popular Reconstruction novel, “Bricks without Straw”(1880),
but he invested heavily in a magazine venture that failed. Faced with large
debts and struggling with physical pain and depression, he earned an
increasingly precarious living by lecturing, writing novels that were less
financially successful, and engaging in journalism, which included some
mean-spirited and personal attacks on Grover Cleveland.
In 1891, Tourgee founded the National Citizens’ Rights Association, an
organization devoted to equality for African-American citizens. Tourgee also
served without pay as counsel in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896), an unsuccessful
challenge to Louisiana’s law requiring segregated railroad cars. “Justice,” he
wrote in his brief, “is pictured as blind and her daughter the Law, ought at
least to be color-blind.” He insisted that the requirement for “separate but
equal” railroad cars established a constitutionally impermissible caste system.
He apparently inspired Justice John Marshall Harlan’s dissenting dictum: “There
is no caste here. Our Constitution is color blind.”
In 1897, President William McKinley appointed him U.S. consul in Bordeaux,
France, a post he held until his death in Bordeaux. Albion Tourgee died on May
J. McCoy was born on this date. (Note that the year of his birth is in
dispute.) He was a master African-American inventor.
Born in Colchester, Canada, Elijah McCoy was one of 12 children of a family of
runaway slaves who had used the Underground Railroad to escape from Kentucky for a free life in Canada. His parents became successful and, when he was 15 or 16, his parents sent him to study mechanical engineering in Edinburgh, Scotland, because that training was impossible for Blacks to get in the United States. After finishing his schooling, McCoy returned to the United States with the hope of obtaining an engineering job.
After the end of U.S. slavery, he settled in
Ypsilanti, MI and began his remarkable career. He was
forced to accept a job as a locomotive fireman with the Michigan Central
Railroad, a position that required that he shovel coal into the engine and
apply oil in the moving parts of the machine. McCoy found the work did not
challenge him and sought other more productive forms of occupation. It had long
been considered a problem that railroad engines were unable to lubricate
themselves. In his free time, McCoy began to consider solutions to this
problem, and after two years, he developed the “lubricating cup” (also known as
the “McCoy lubrication systems”) for steam engines. The cup allowed for the
continuous flow of oil on the gears, doing away with the necessity of shutting
down the machine. McCoy received a patent for his lubricating device in 1872.
The lubricating cup was essential to industries throughout the world. Machinery
buyers insisted on the “McCoy lubrication systems” when buying new machines and
took nothing less. Those in possession of the valuable cup and the superiority of his inventions led to the
phrase “the real McCoy” coming to mean the mark of excellent and authenticity. The
inventor’s automatic oiling devices became so universal that no heavy-duty
machinery was considered adequate without it, and the expression becomes part
of America culture.
Though most of his inventions were mechanical
devices that greatly improved engines, locomotives and steamships, Elijah
McCoy also obtained patents for an automatic sprinkler and an ironing table,
eventually acquiring 58 patents in his lifetime in the U.S. and abroad.
William J. Seymour, one of the most unsung African-American
ministers and religious leaders in American
history, was born on this date.
He was raised in Centerville, LA, in the Baptist Church. As a child, he had
dreams and visions. At the age of 25, he contracted smallpox and lost his sight
in his left eye.
In 1903, Seymour moved to Houston, looking for relatives who had been lost
during slavery. It was there that he accepted an interim post as a pastor of a
small Holiness Church led by Pastor Lucy F. Farrow, a Black woman who had gone
Farrow was an adviser to Seymour. She described her Pentecostal experience and
encouraged Seymour to attend Charles Parham’s school in Houston. Segregation
laws in Texas prevented Seymour from sitting in the classroom with whites.
Seymour stood in the hallway, listening through the doorway.
Seymour moved to Southern California and developed a belief in glossolalia (“speaking
in tongues”) as a confirmation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. His teaching
was offensive and heretical to the Los Angeles parish where he ministered, and
he was removed. Then he found a run-down building on Azusa Street in downtown
Los Angeles, the Azusa Street Mission, where
he preached his doctrinal beliefs. The result was the Azusa Street Revival.
Seymour not only rejected the existing racial barriers in favor of “Unity in
Christ,” he also rejected the, then, almost-universal barriers to women in any
form of church leadership. This revival meeting lasted from 1906 until 1909,
and became the subject of intense investigation by more mainstream Protestants.
Some of the investigators left feeling that Seymour’s views were heresy, while
others accepted his teachings. The resulting movement became widely known as “Pentecostalism,”
similar to the manifestations of the Holy Spirit recorded in Acts as occurring
in the ten days prior to the Feast of Pentecost. Most of the current Pentecostal
groups can claim some linkage to the Azusa Street Revival and William Seymour.
While the movement was to fracture along racial lines within a decade, the
divisions were perhaps less deep than the vast divide that separates many white
religious denominations from their Black counterparts. Probably the deepest split
in the Pentecostal movement today is not racial, but rather between Trinitarian
and “Jesus Only” theologies. While there had been similar manifestations in the
past, the current worldwide Pentecostal and charismatic movements are generally
agreed to have been outgrowths of Seymour’s ministry and the Azusa Street
A play commemorating Seymour and the revival, “Miracle on Azusa Street,” is
sometimes produced by Pentecostal churches, both to teach their own members
about their religious origins and as an outreach to those outside. William
Seymour died in 1922.
this date, Nannie Helen Burroughs, an
African-American educator, spiritual
leader, and civil rights activist from Orange, Virginia, was
Burroughs’ father attended Richmond Institute and became a preacher. Her mother
took Nannie and her sister and moved to Washington, D.C. Nannie attended the
Colored High School there (now Dunbar High School), where she was deeply interested
in domestic science. Here she came in contact with Mary Church Terrell and Anna
Julia Cooper, two women who became her role models and mentors.
In 1900, at the annual meeting of the National Baptist Convention in Virginia,
Burroughs gave a speech, “How the Sisters Are Hindered from Helping.” This
oration gained her national recognition and served as a lightning rod for the
formation of the largest Black women’s organization in the United States, the
Woman’s Convention (WC), an auxiliary to the National Baptist Convention (NBC).
Because of her hard work, leadership, and dedication, the membership of the WC
grew dramatically, reaching one million members in 1903 and 1.5 million in
Her work did not stop there. In 1896, she joined other women to form the
National Association of Colored Women (NACW) to promote political mobilization
of Black women. As her political partisanship ripened, she became a much
sought- after participant in that arena, particularly by the Republican Party.
When Herbert Hoover was elected president in 1928, he chose Burroughs to head a
fact-finding commission on housing. In 1909, she founded the National Training
School for Women and Girls, which was renamed the Nannie Helen Burroughs School
Through her religious and educational efforts, she hoped to instill black women
with moral values, such as thrift and hard work, and prepare them to become
self-sufficient wage earners. Nannie Helen Burroughs died in Washington D.C. on
May 20, 1961, at the age of 82.
The Congo Free State was
established by King Leopold II
of Belgium. The Congo Free State was a
government privately controlled by Leopold II, King of the Belgians through a
dummy non-governmental organization, the Association Internationale Africaine.
Leopold was the sole shareholder and chairman, who increasingly used it for
rubber, copper and other minerals in the upper Lualaba River basin (though it
had been set up on the understanding that its purpose was to uplift the local
people and develop the area). The state included the entire area of the present
Democratic Republic of the Congo and existed from 1885 to 1908. The Congo Free
State eventually earned infamy due to the increasingly brutal mistreatment of
the local peoples and plunder of natural resources, leading to its abolition
and annexation by the government of Belgium in 1908.
Under Leopold II’s administration, the Congo Free State became the site of one
of the worst international scandals of the early twentieth century. The report
of the British Consul Roger Casement led to the arrest and punishment of white
officials who had been responsible for killings during a rubber-collecting
expedition in 1903 (including one Belgian national for causing the shooting of
at least 122 Congolese people). In the absence of a census (the first was made
in 1924), it is difficult to quantify the population loss of the period.
According to Roger Casement’s report, depopulation was caused mainly by four
causes: “indiscriminate war”, starvation, reduction of births and tropical
European and U.S. reformers exposed the conditions in the Congo Free State to
the public in 1900 through the Congo Reform Association. Also active in
exposing the activities of the Congo Free State was the author Arthur Conan
Doyle, whose book The Crime of the Congo was widely read in the early 1900s. By
1908, public pressure and diplomatic maneuvers led to the end of Leopold II’s
rule and to the annexation of the Congo as a colony of Belgium, known as the
King Menelik II of Shewa, later the
Emperor of Ethiopia with Count Pietro Antonelli of Italy in the
town of Wuchale, Ethiopia signed the Treaty
of Wuchale. The treaty ceded territories
previously part of Ethiopia, namely the provinces of Bogos, Hamasien, Akkele
Guzay, Serae, and parts of Tigray and is the origin of the Italian colony and
modern state of Eritrea. In return, Italy promised financial assistance and
Disputes over Article 17 led to the First Italo–Ethiopian War. The Italian
version of the passage stated that Ethiopia was obliged to conduct all foreign
affairs through the Italian authorities, in effect making Ethiopia an Italian
protectorate, while the Amharic version merely gave Ethiopia the option of
communicating with third powers through the Italians.
John Brooks Dendy’s birth is
celebrated on this date. He was an Ethiopian-American golfer.
Early on, he was influenced by a creative process Black elders have referred to
as “Ethiopian ingenuity.” In a literal sense, it speaks to the art of making something
out of nothing or making the best use of what you have. As a 12-year-old in the
roaring ‘20s, obsessed with a game considered a pursuit for the privileged,
Dendy had to use every bit of his imagination to fashion a set of golf clubs.
He collected several metal club heads but had no shafts with which to connect
head and grip—a situation akin to having a car with no motor.
So he took some discarded broom handles and a case knife and whittled them down
to a more flexible thickness. He would fit one end in the club head and shaved
the other in the manner of a grip. Dendy played with those homemade relics for
several years. He would eventually become a three-time Negro National Open
champion. With broom-handle golf clubs, Dendy developed a swing less refined
than the members at Asheville Country Club for whom he caddied, but just as
effective. By his early teens, he had built a reputation among the other
caddies as a determined competitor.
Some of the members began to take note. The summer between his graduation from Stephens
Lee High School and his freshman year at Paine College, he got financial
backing from several members to travel to Atlanta to play in the Southern Open.
Though he was only 18 years old, Dendy conquered high winds and difficult sand greens
to defeat the best the South had to offer. He won the Southern Open again in
1934 and 1936. Dendywon no less than 52 tournaments, three of them national
championships in the 1930s at a time when Blacks did not have easy access to
One of the greatest stories regarding Dendy’s talent happened at a 1933
exhibition in Jacksonville, Florida. After arriving late because of problems
with his bus, Dendy went straight to the first tee. Without warming up, he
laced a drive over the dogleg and down the hill toward the green, 342 yards
away. When he got to the green, the ball was in the cup. He played the next
three holes 2-3-4 (all of them birdies), and finished the round with a score of
By 1940, Dendy had found little money in competitive professional golf, so he
took a full-time job as a locker-room attendant at Asheville Country Club.
Shortly afterward, he moved on to nearby Biltmore Forest Country Club, where he
supervised the grill room and locker room until his retirement in 1980. During
that period, Dendy’s interest in golf was limited to the occasional casual
round with his sons and an annual pilgrimage to the Masters at Augusta National
Golf Club as a spectator. He died in March of 1985 from dementia and kidney
The first game of the National Negro Baseball League (NNL) was played
in Indianapolis, Indiana at Washington Park on this
date between the Indianapolis ABC’s and the Chicago American Giants. The NNL was formed earlier in the
year by Andrew “Rube” Foster and a
group of African American baseball club owners to combat prejudice and further the
enjoyment of the game. On this date, the ABCs
beat the Giants 4-2. However, because of the Chicago Race Riot of 1919, the
National Guard had continually occupied the Giants’ home field, Schorling’s
Park (formerly South Side Park). This forced Foster to cancel all of the Giants’
home games for almost a month and threatened to become a huge embarrassment for
In December 1934, there was an incident seemingly provoked by Benito Mussolini’s Italian forces which involved an Ethiopian escort to the Welwel wells used by desert nomads. The League of Nations exonerated both parties in the battle in September 1935, and it seemed to Mussolini that he would not be condemned for his future hostilities. Italy invaded Ethiopia one month later without declaring war; the League of Nations condemned Italy as the aggressor, but no actions were taken. The fighting persisted for seven months, and Ethiopia was pushed back quite forcefully.Abyssinian Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia found his forces unmatched militarily and was shocked at the use of
chemical weapons by Italy, and the lack of action taken by the League of
Nations. On this date, he, with his family, fled Addis Ababa and was forced to exile, just before it was captured by the Italians, a move which raised harsh criticism from many who were used to a warrior
emperor of Ethiopia. On June 30, Selassie went to Geneva to seek help from
the League of Nations. He made a powerful speech in which he addressed
the lack of enforcement of the Italian arms embargo, and quite effectively
illustrated the consequences of the League’s stifled actions: either there
would exist collective security or international lawlessness. His speech
was taken quite emotionally by audiences around the world, especially in
America, where he achieved much sympathy. Selassie succeeded in raising
the support of the United States and Russia, at least verbally, but Britain
and France still recognized the Italian possession of Ethiopia by Italy.
Librarian Henrietta Mays Smith was born on this date in Harlem, New York. Working at Florida Atlantic
for ten years, she became the first African American faculty member at the
University of South Florida’s School of Library and Information Science. She
retired in 1993 but remains on the faculty as a Professor Emerita.
The Rev. Joseph A. Johnson, Jr. of Jackson, TN became the first Black student
at Vanderbilt University when the Board of Trustees voted to admit him to the
Divinity School, noting that “Christianity is not the exclusive possession of
any one nation or race.”
On this date, 19-year-old
hitch-hikers, Charles Moore and Henry Dee were kidnapped by the local Ku Klux Klan, who believed mistakenly that
Moore, who was returning home after being expelled from his university
for taking part in a student protest, and Dee, who worked in a local timber
yard, were Black Muslims plotting an armed uprising. According an FBI informant,
the two were bound with duct tape to trees in a nearby forest, beaten with
beanpoles and interrogated at gunpoint before being thrown into the Mississippi,
lashed to a Jeep engine block and iron weights. Their decomposed bodies
were found by a fisherman two months later during the search for three
murdered civil rights activists in the notorious killings portrayed in
the 1988 Alan Parker film “Mississippi Burning.”
Arrested for the crime were James Ford Seale, 72, a former crop duster and deputy sheriff in his Mississippi home
town of Roxie, then 28, and Charles Edwards, then 31, were
arrested but quickly released. Seale was eventually sentenced to three life
sentences for the kidnapping and conspiracy in June, 2007 on the basis of the
testimony of Edwards, a confessed Klansman, who received immunity from
prosecution for his admitted role in the abductions. A federal appeals court
overturned Seale’s conviction on September 9, 2008 because the 1972 law that
abolished the death penalty for kidnapping also set a five-year time limit for
prosecutions. “The more than 40-year delay clearly exceeded the limitations
period,” Judge Harold R. DeMoss, Jr wrote for the three-judge panel.
People’s March, led by Ralph D.
Abernathy, began as caravans from all over the country left for
Washington, DC, to protest poverty and racial discrimination.
Famous wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was born in
Hayward, CA. He became the most electrifying man in sports-entertainment and was
referred to as the People’s Champ.
Daniel Robert Bankhead, the first Black pitcher in Major League Baseball with the Brooklyn
Dodgers, died on this date.
The government of South Africa and the African
National Congress opened their first formal talks aimed at paving the way for more substantive
negotiations on dismantling apartheid.
Angeles began a massive cleanup and rebuilding effort after three days
of widespread civil unrest. The April 29 acquittal of four police officers in
the 1991 beating of motorist Rodney G. King fueled perceptions of unequal justice
for African Americans and sparked multiracial violence that resulted in
unprecedented figures of 58 deaths, over 2,000 injuries, over 600 fires, $1
billion in property damage and spread to San Francisco, Las Vegas, Seattle,
Atlanta, Madison (Wisconsin), and Toronto.
On this date, Nelson Mandela claimed victory in the wake of South
Africa’s first democratic elections where all South Africans could vote. President F.W. de Klerk acknowledged
defeat. In a three-day voting period, 19,726,579 votes were cast with 193,081
rejections. April 27th is now a public holiday in South Africa called Freedom Day.
Jackson assumed chairmanship of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, becoming
the first woman and first African-American to hold that position.
Reverend Jesse Jackson, who led a group of religious leaders to the country of
Serbia, obtained the release of three American Army prisoners of war, Staff Sgt. Andrew A. Ramirez, 24, of Los Angeles; Spc. Steven M. Gonzales, 21, of
Huntsville, Texas; and Staff Sgt. Christopher
J. Stone, 25, of Smiths Creek, Mich. at 4:45 EST.
On this date, Mike Cameron of the
Seattle Mariners hit four home runs in four consecutive at-bats in against the
Chicago White Sox in Comiskey Park in Chicago before a crowd on 12,891. With
this, he joined “an elite group of 12 other Major Leaguers that doesn’t include
Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Barry Bonds - or Ken Griffey Jr. The ‘names on that list’
did include the likes of Lou Gehrig, Mike Schmidt, and Willie Mays…” Below is a
brief description of each home run:
1st Home Run, 1st Inning:
empty, count 1-2, pitch from Jon Rauch hit approximately 405 feet over the wall
in center field.
2nd Home Run, 1st Inning:
empty, count full, pitch from Jim Parque blasted approximately 425 feet over
the wall in center field.
3rd Home Run, 3rd Innning:
nobody on base, count 1-2, pitch from Parque launched approximately 412 feet
home run over the wall in left field.
4th Home Run, 5th Inning:
Two outs, nobody on base, count 2-1, pitch from Parque hurled approximately
412 feet over the wall in center field.
At the end
of the game, Cameron’s teammates gave him a cape, a crown, and a silver bat.
Cameron responded, “I’ve had an asterisk by my name as the guy traded for Ken
Griffey Jr. Now maybe I’ll have another asterisk.”
Interestingly, almost 36 years passed
between the day Ed Delahanty of the Philadelphia Phillies hit 4 home runs in a
game on July 13, 1896, and when Lou Gehrig of New York Yankee did it on June 3,
1932, but only 21 days separated Mike Cameron’s accomplishment on this date and
Shawn Green’s of the Los Angeles Dodgers who would do same on May 23, 2002.