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1762
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 Spanish.

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.


1798
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.


1838
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 encourage crime.

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 21, 1905.


1844
Elijah 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.


1870
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 to Kansas.

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 Revival.

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.


1879
On this date, Nannie Helen Burroughs, an African-American educator, spiritual leader, and civil rights activist from Orange, Virginia, was born.

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 1907.

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 in 1964.

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.

1885
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 diseases.

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 Belgian Congo.


1889
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 military supplies.

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.


1913
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 golf tournaments.

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 59.

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 failure.


1920
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 the league.


1936
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.


1922
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.


1953
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.”


1964
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.


1968
The Poor 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.


1972
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.


1976
Daniel Robert Bankhead, the first Black pitcher in Major League Baseball with the Brooklyn Dodgers, died on this date.


1990
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.


1992
Los 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.


1994
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.


1995
Shirley Ann Jackson assumed chairmanship of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, becoming the first woman and first African-American to hold that position.


1999
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.


1999
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:
Bases empty, count 1-2, pitch from Jon Rauch hit approximately 405 feet over the wall in center field.
2nd Home Run, 1st Inning:
Bases empty, count full, pitch from Jim Parque blasted approximately 425 feet over the wall in center field.
3rd Home Run, 3rd Innning:
Two outs, 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.


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