Phyllis Wheatley sailed from Boston to England for health reasons,
but returned prematurely due to the sudden illness of her mistress Susanna Wheatley.
Her book of poetry, Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral, was
published in London.
John Brown, one of the most militant of the abolitionists,
held an antislavery convention in Chatham, Ontario, where he announced that he
was setting up an anti-slavery stronghold in the mountains of Virginia and
Maryland, from which he could launch attacks to liberate slaves. Twelve whites
and thirty-four African Americans attended.
“The Escape,” first play by an African American, was published
by William Wells Brown. Though “The Escape” was never
performed, Brown gave many readings of the play, largely to antislavery
gatherings in the North. It was not a dramatic success, marred, as was much of
Brown’s work, by his intent of instruction. Brown was passionate and
argumentative in all that he wrote, and strove to impress his audience with the
content, rather than the literary form, of his work.
Lena Mason, a Black minister and poet, was born on this date.
She was born in Quincy, Illinois of parents, Reida and Vaughn, who were stanch
Christians. Young Mason became a Christian at a very early age, attending the
Douglass High School of Hannibal, MO. She also attended Professor Knott’s
School in Chicago. She married George Mason in 1883, had six children with only
one daughter surviving to adulthood. Mason entered the ministry at the age of
23. During her first three years of ministry she preached to whites
she was a member of the Colored Conference preaching in nearly every state in
the nation. She was praised for her speaking ability and was also a poet and songwriter.
Mason’s most well known poem is called “A Negro in It.” This was written in
response to the assassination of President William McKinley in 1901.
Truganini, born circa 1812, often known as Trugernanner, and
who was a woman generally considered to be the last full blood Tasmanian
Aborigine, died in Hobart, Australia on this date at the age of 73. There are a
number of different versions of her name, including Trugannini, Trucanini
Trucaminni and Trucaninny. Truganini was also widely known by the nickname
“Lalla Rooke”. She is considered to be the last speaker of the Tasmanian
language. The Tasmanian Government does not recognize the Aboriginal heritage
of people of Aboriginal descent and claims the last Tasmanian Aboriginal person
has died. A falsehood many still believe today.
Matthew A. Cherry patented the velocipede which consisted of a metal frame
upon which were attached two or three wheels. Someone sitting on the seat of
the apparatus could propel themselves forward at considerable speeds by moving
their feet along the ground in a fast walking or running motion. He greatly
improved upon other similar devices that evolved into what are now known as the
bicycle and the tricycle. Patent #382,351.
Mount Pelée in Martinique erupted. The destruction that
resulted, now dubbed the worst volcanic disaster of the 20th century. The eruption killed about 30,121 people. Most deaths came from
the city of Saint-Pierre, at that time the largest city in Martinique,
due to its pyroclastic flows. Only one person, a prisoner, survived.
This date marks the birth of Mary Lou Williams, an African American jazz composer,
arranger, and pianist.
Mary Elfrieda Scruggs (her name at birth) was born in
Atlanta, GA, but was raised in Pittsburgh, where she learned to play piano by
ear and was performing in public by age six. Williams appeared in a number of
talent shows and by thirteen was working in carnivals and vaudeville shows. She
was married three years later to John Williams, a musician, and began to
perform as Mary Lou Williams. Together they moved to Memphis, TN, where she
made her first record with his band, the Synco Jazzers. When John joined Andy
Kirk’s band, Mary Lou hired Jimmy Lunceford and began to run the group herself.
In 1929, the band moved to Kansas City, and by 1931, she was writing
arrangements and playing as the band’s regular pianist. It was clear at this
point that her arrangements were ahead of their time; this is obvious in her
1936 arrangement, “Walking and Swinging,” which contained the seed of
Thelonious Monk’s “Rhythm-A-Ning.”
Williams remained with Kirk until 1942, working as a freelance arranger with
Benny Goodman and others on the side. After her divorce, she moved to New York
and led her own group that included Art Blakey and she also played with Duke
Ellington’s band as a staff writer.
She began working under her own name and performed her “Zodiac Suite” with the
New York Philharmonic at the Town Hall in 1945. She retired from music while living
in Europe, although she made a guest appearance with Dizzy Gillespie at the
Newport festival in 1957. Also in 1957, she formed Mary Records and became the
first woman to establish a record company. Williams then toured Europe in 1968
and 1969, which included an appearance with Cecil Taylor in 1977, the Goodman
Carnegie Hall anniversary in 1978, and Montreux festival in 1979. Her interest
in astrological titles had few follow-ups until the “Age of Aquarius” made it
Her Christian conversion and writing of religious works from the 60s set a tone
for those jazz musicians who then began performing in church. Mary Lou Williams
remained a close friend of Duke Ellington from their first meeting, and was an
artist in residence at Duke University until her death on May 21, 1981 in
Durham, North Carolina. While she is widely regarded as one of the greatest
female jazz musicians ever, her long list of accomplishments is impressive by
any measure. She was inspiration to women in jazz.
this date, Robert Leroy Johnson was born. He was an African-American
singer, guitarist, and was among the most famous of the blues musicians.
Johnson was born in Hazelhurst, MS, but it is not known how he learned music.
Like many blues singers, he moved frequently, playing on street corners and at
parties in various towns. Eventually, his style came to Chicago and New York
City. His southern roots enabled him to record 29 songs in Texas during 1936
and 1937 by Columbia Records. These recording would be the foundation for his
Johnson’s voice was high and sometimes ghostly, and he was skilled in changing
the sound of his guitar to echo the emotions of his singing. He also improvised
melodies with a talent rarely heard previously.
He often sang about loneliness, sex, and the fear of evil. One of his most
gripping songs is “Hell Hound on My Trail,” 1937. If the blues has a truly
mythic figure, one whose story hangs over the music the way a Charlie Parker
does over jazz or a Hank Williams does over country, it’s Robert Johnson,
certainly the most celebrated figure in the history of the blues. Of course,
his legend is immensely fortified by the fact that Johnson also left behind a
small legacy of recordings that are considered the emotional apex of the music
itself. These recordings, such as “Love in Vain,” “Crossroads,” “Sweet Home
Chicago,” “Terraplane Blues,” and “Stop Breaking Down,” have not only entered
the realm of blues standards and influenced the bluesmen of the 1960’s during
the revival of the blues of the 1960’s, but have been adapted by many rock
& roll artists.
Some historical critics would be more comfortable downplaying his skills and
achievements (most of whom have never made a convincing case as to the source
of his apocalyptic visions). Robert Johnson remains a potent force to be
reckoned with. As a singer, a composer, and as a guitarist of considerable
skills, he produced some of the genre’s best music and he was the ultimate
blues legend to deal with. Doomed, haunted, driven by demons, a tormented
genius dead at an early age, all of these add up to making him a character of
He died in 1938 after being poisoned by a man who thought that Johnson was
involved with his wife. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in
Author and civil rights activist Henry McNeal Turner died on this date in Windsor,
Ontario, Canada. He was an influential minister and Bishop in the African
Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church and was appointed the first African American
chaplain in the U.S. Army.
African American, Jesse Washington, was burned alive in a public square
in Waco, Texas. Fifteen thousand looked on in the incident known later as the
Asa Philip Randolph, civil rights leader, founded the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, a union for Black Pullman railroad car
attendants, on this day after failing to integrate the American Federation of
Labor. It would become the leading Black-led trade union organization in
America. In addition to introducing unionism to African-Americans, the ability
to travel to cities throughout the country enabled the porters to become a
major vehicle of communications for American Blacks. They distributed
everything from letters to Black-oriented newspapers as they traveled the
Born on April 15, 1889, in Crescent City, FL, Randolph was named valedictorian
of Jacksonville’s Cookman Institute, a college-preparatory school. Lacking
funds to go to college, he moved to New York where he honed his labor
organization skills. Forming the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters Union
proved to be a challenge because the porters, by the nature of their jobs, were
scattered across the country. But Randolph raised $10,000 and toured the entire
country to form a solid union to fight the Pullman Company, one of the most
powerful businesses in the country. With “Fight or be slaves” as its motto, the
union struggled with the company for the next 12 years. The Brotherhood wasn’t
fully recognized until 1937 when it won its first contract with the Pullman
Company. The union won representation, a reduction of hours worked, a wage
increase and job security. This victory, the first contract ever between a
company and a Black union, garnered Randolph recognition as a major Black labor
leader. He also co-founded a socialist journal, the “Messenger.” Randolph died
May 16, 1979, at age 90.
Charles “Sonny” Liston, an African-American boxer, was born
on this date.
He was born in St. Frances County, Arkansas, the tenth of eleven children born
into an impoverished family.
He moved to St. Louis with his mother in 1945. Unable to read or write, Liston
became a juvenile delinquent, serving 19 months in prison in 1950 for robbing a
gas station. A priest in prison directed him to boxing and, in 1953, after serving
his sentence, he won the national Golden Gloves championship. Liston turned
professional, went 14 and 1, but assaulted a police officer and returned to
prison in 1956. After his release, he won 16 bouts in a row, became the number
one heavyweight contender in 1960, and took the championship on September 25,
1962, from Floyd Patterson with a first-round knockout.
Because of his underworld connections, the New York State Boxing Commission
refused to license him, though he won his rematch with Patterson again with a
first-round knockout in 1963. Liston had a remarkable physical presence as a
boxer; a crushing left hook and a great ability to take punches. He lost his
title to Cassius Clay in 1964 on a TKO (unable to answer the bell in the
seventh round), losing again in a rematch by a first-round knockout to Clay
(who had changed his name to Muhammad Ali).
His career record was 54-4 (with 39 knockouts). Sonny Liston died of natural
causes on December 30, 1970, six months after his last fight. He was inducted
into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991.
Duke Ellington & His Orchestra charted with “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” reaching #1 R&B and #8 pop. The
often-recorded hit was originally titled “Never No Lament,” and was first recorded by
Ellington in 1940 as a big band instrumental, with song lyricist Bob Russell’s
lyrics and the new title added in 1942. Two different recordings of “Don’t Get
Around Much Anymore”, one by The Ink Spots and the other by Ellington’s own
band, reached #1 on the R&B charts in 1943.
this date, one day after the formal end of World War II in Europe, an uprising
in Algeria against the occupying French forces in Sétif and the nearby towns Guelma and Kherrata resulted in the deaths of 104
pied-noirs (French nationals, including those of European descent, Sephardic
Jews and settlers from other European countries such as Spain, Italy and Malta,
who were born in Algeria). The uprising was suppressed through what is now
known as the Sétif massacre. Estimates of Algerian casualties vary widely from
2,000 to 45,000. Ironically, on this day, both France and Algeria were
celebrating the armistice marking the surrender of Nazi Germany, as many
Algerians had given their lives for the liberation of France.
Willie McGee was executed in Mississippi for allegedly raping a
white woman, even though he and the woman had had a long-standing sexual
relationship. Bella Abzug, his defender and future three-term Representative
from Manhattan, President Jimmy Carter’s head of the National Advisory
Committee on Women, founder of Women USA, major player at the UN International
Women’s Conferences in 1986, and co-founder of the Women’s Environment and
Development Organization (WEDO), an international activist and advocacy network,
having unsuccessfully challenged the conditions of his trial twice before the
Supreme Court, argued before the state Mississippi Governor for six hours.
However, despite extensive publicity and protests organized by the Civil Rights
Congress, the execution went on.
Philip Bailey was born in Denver, Colorado. He became a Rhythm
and Blues singer and enjoyed his first fame with the group Earth, Wind and Fire,
which he joined in 1972. He developed his unique four-octave voice into a
trademark sound and was the hallmark of the group’s hits such as “Reasons,”
“Shining Star,” “All ‘N’ All,” and “After The Love Has Gone.” In 1983, he started
his solo career and enjoyed success in both Rhythm and Blues and Gospel venues.
On March 6, 2000 he appeared with Earth, Wind and Fire when they were inducted
into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower ordered the National Guard out of Little Rock, Arkansas as Ernest Green, the oldest of the “Little Rock Nine,” graduated from Central High School, becoming the
first black person to graduate from an Arkansas public school. Among other
accomplishments, from 1977 to 1981, Green went on to serve as an Assistant
Secretary of Labor during Jimmy Carter’s administration.
Lovie Lee Smith was born on this date. He is an African-American
professional football coach.
Born in Gladewater, TX, he was named after his great-aunt, Lavana. Raised in
Big Sandy, TX, he earned all-state honors for three years as a defensive end
and linebacker. His team won three state championships as well. He played at
University of Tulsa and was a two-time All-American.
Smith began coaching at his hometown high school in 1980. In 1983, he began
coaching at his alma mater, Tulsa (1983–86), then the University of Wisconsin
(1987), Arizona State University (1988–91), the University of Kentucky (1992),
the University of Tennessee (1993–94), and Ohio State University (1995).
In 1996, Smith began his professional coaching career as a linebacker coach for
the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, under the guidance of Tony Dungy. After spending four
years with Buccaneers, Smith was hired as the defensive coordinator of the St.
Louis Rams. The Chicago Bears hired Smith as their head coach in January, 2004.
As coach of the Bears, he is historically best known as the first
African-American to coach an NFL team that qualified for the Super Bowl when
the Chicago Bears defeated the New Orleans Saints 39–14 on January 21, 2007. On
February 4, 2007, in Super Bowl XLI, Smith’s Bears lost to Dungy’s Indianapolis
Colts (the second African American NFL head coach to qualify an NFL team to a
Super Bowl) in Dolphin’s Stadium in Miami, FL by a score of 29–17.
Smith is an active supporter of the American Diabetes Association. In addition
to participating in various events for the ADA, Smith also donates tickets to every
Bears’ game to children suffering from diabetes. He and his wife are also the
founders of the Lovie and MaryAnne Smith Foundation, a program which donates
college tuition funds towards impoverished children.
Smith and his wife MaryAnne have three children; Mikal, Matthew, and Miles.
They also have twin grandsons named Malachi and Noah.
On this date, NFL defensive back (SF 49er) Ronnie Lott was born in Albuquerque, NM.
Darlene Love & the Blossoms—who were the premier vocal back-up
singers for everyone from Elvis to Dionne Warwick—finally earned some attention
with a single of their own when “Son-n-Law” charted, reaching #79 pop. It was
their only Top 100 single and the answer record to Ernie K. Doe’s
Darlene Love made a rare TV appearance when she preformed on
Dick Clark’s American Bandstand singing her current hit, “(Today I Met) The Boy I’m Gonna Marry.”
Little Richard performed on the British TV show, Ready, Steady,
Go! along with Carl Perkins and the Swinging Blue Jeans.
The Association for the Advancement of Creative
is founded by Muhal Richard Abrams.
Muhammad Ali is indicted for refusing induction in the U.S.
James Brown attended a dinner at the White House, at the
invitation of President & Mrs. Johnson.
Joe Frazier beat Muhammad Ali at Madison Square Garden
Ernie Banks filled in for Cubs manager Whitey Lockman who was
ejected during the game, thus technically making him baseball’s 1st black
The Black Archives of Mid-America (BAMA), Inc. was founded on this date.
BAMA is a Kansas City African-American history resource center that focuses on
America’s Midwest. Horace M. Peterson, III initially created it, and located it
the city’s old Paseo YMCA building. In 1976, the BAMA moved to 2033 Vine, old
Firehouse No.11. The firehouse, in Kansas City’s Historic 18th and Vine
District, itself is representative of African-American history in this region,
as it was home to the first Black fire company in Kansas City, built in 1931 as
part of the Work’s Progress Administration period under President Franklin D.
The BAMA is a non-profit organization that serves the community by offering
itself as an educational resource as well as a repository of every facet of
African-American culture: music, art, theater, education, the military,
medicine, sports, religion, and community affairs. The BAMA was expressly
created to collect and preserve the history of African Americans in the
Midwest. Beyond their original emphasis of research and critical examination,
the Archives’ traveling exhibits shows the roles of African Americans and their
efforts to dispel negative images.
BAMA’s interpretive and educational programs, research services, and special
projects have received overwhelming community support. Other projects
envisioned by Peterson include the Kansas City Jazz Museum, the Negro Leagues
Baseball Museum, and the newly renovated Gem Theater; all landmarks in the 18th
and Vine District of Kansas City.
Minnesota Twins’ Kirby Puckett debuted with 4 singles. He went 4 for 5 against
the California Angels and ended the year hitting .296. Puckett was fourth in
singles in the American League.
Mike Tyson crashed his $183,000 Bently on Varick Street in
A monument was
dedicated to “Muddy Waters, master of the blues,” in Rolling
Fork, MS, by local officials.
The Dixie Cups of “Chapel of Love” fame reunited and performed at
Radio City Music Hall in New York for WCBS-FM’s twentieth anniversary concert.
The eighth annual World Music Awards in Monte Carlo, Monaco, bestowed honors upon Michael Jackson, including awards for World’s Best-Selling Album
of All-Time (for Thriller), World’s Best-Selling Male Pop Artist, American Male
Recording Artist, and World’s Best-Selling R&B Artist. Also honored with a
Lifetime Achievement Award was Diana Ross. Best Pop Group and Best R&B
group kudos went to TLC.
New York Yankee Dwight Gooden won his 1st American
League game beating the Detroit Tigers 10-3.
South Africa approved the first version of a constitution
enshrining equal rights for all races. Zulu nationalists and white extremists
boycotted the vote in parliament and the entire process.
Sam Lacy died at the age of 99, after succumbing to
esophageal disorder. He had been one of the nation’s first African American
sportswriters and was a chronicler of sports integration.