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1797
On this date we recall the birth of Sojourner Truth. She was a Black abolitionist and advocate of women’s rights.

Born into slavery in Hurley, Ulster County, New York, and originally named Isabella. (She was freed when New York State emancipated slaves in 1828.) Truth was also a mystic who heard voices she believed to be God’s, she arrived in New York City in 1829, where she preached in the streets. In 1843, obeying her voices, she took the name Sojourner Truth and went preaching along the eastern seaboard. That same year she came into contact with the abolitionist movement, which she enthusiastically embraced, and for the next few years she toured the country speaking in its behalf.

Encountering the women’s rights movement in 1850, she also added its causes to hers. During the American Civil War she solicited gifts for black volunteer regiments, and President Abraham Lincoln received her in the White House in 1864; she later advocated a “Negro State” in the West. Sojourner Truth continued to stump the country on speaking tours until 1875. An illiterate all her life, she was nevertheless an effective speaker and was endowed with a charisma that often drew large crowds to her informal lectures. Sojourner Truth died in 1883.



1838
Susan Paul Vashon was born in Boston, Massachusetts on this date. She was an African-American teacher and abolitionist.

Her father Elijah W. Smith was a musical composer and cornet player, her mother, Anne Paul Smith, was a daughter of the Rev. Thomas Paul who was founder and pastor of the old Joy Street Church, Boston, where the American Anti-Slavery Society was organized. Vashon lost her mother at an early age and was reared by her maternal grandmother, Katherine Paul. At the age of sixteen she graduated from Miss O’Mears’ Seminary, Somerville, Mass., the only colored girl in her class and valedictorian. Her grandmother died and she went to live with her father in Pittsburgh, Pa., where she was appointed teacher in the one colored school of that city. Of that school Prof. George B. Vashon was principal, who she married in 1857, and had seven children.

Her earlier early years gave to her character a puritanical cast, and all through her life she held close to the stable line. She was a mother, deeply so, and directed the lives of her children with the personal guidance and watchful care of tender love and wise caution. She blended domestic excellence with an active interest in all movements for the moral and social uplift of her people. The home, the church, and the community were the workshops in which she created. The mother’s club to guide young girls, the Book Lovers’ club to develop literary taste, the Women’s Federation to accomplish a higher womanhood and the church were the fields in which she led and molded thought and proved herself to be one of the most useful and cultured women of her day.

Possibly the most far-reaching of Mrs. Vashon’s public services was the direction of several sanitary relief bazaars that netted thousands of dollars for the care of sick and wounded soldiers of the Civil War, and for the housing of colored refugees at Pittsburgh, in the years 1864-65--the aftermath of the war between the states. She was widowed October 5, 1878.

Vashon taught in the public schools of Washington, D.C., from 1872 until 1880, being principal of the Thaddeus Stevens School. 134 In the fall of 1882 Vashon moved with her family to St. Louis, Missouri, where she lived to a ripe old age and passed away on November 27, 1912.



1865
Atlanta University was founded.


1868
White Democrats attack demonstrators, who are marching from Albany to Camilla, Georgia, and kill nine African Americans. Several whites are wounded.


1881
Tuskegee University was founded on this date. Located in Tuskegee, Alabama, it is one of over 100 Historical Black Colleges and Universities in America.

The school was founded as a school for Black students by American educator Booker T. Washington. At that time it was called the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute. It was renamed Tuskegee Institute in 1937 and adopted its current name in 1985. Tuskegee University awards bachelors, masters, and professional degrees in a variety of fields.

Programs of study are offered through the College of Arts and Sciences and the schools of business, agriculture and home economics. Other areas of study are education, engineering and architecture, nursing and allied health, and veterinary medicine.

American scientist George Washington Carver taught and conducted important agricultural experiments at Tuskegee in the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century. The university houses the George Washington Carver Museum, which contains memorabilia and historical collections. Tuskegee’s Daniel “Chappie” James Memorial Hall houses the Black Wings aviation exhibit, which focuses on the Tuskegee Airmen. The Tuskegee Archives, devoted to Black history, was established in 1904.



1887
The birth of Lovie Austin is marked on this date. She was an African-American piano player and band leader.

From Chattanooga, TN, after studying music in college, she toured on the vaudeville circuit, settling in Chicago in 1923. From 1924-1926, she recorded repeatedly with her Blues Serenaders, a group that at various times had Kid Ory and Johnny Dodds playing. Austin (as house pianist for Paramount) also backed many blues singers (including Ida Cox, Ma Rainey, and Alberta Hunter). But after 1926, her recording activity largely came to a halt.

Austin worked for 20 years as the musical director for the Monogram Theatre and later as a pianist at a dancing school, only returning to record in 1961 as part of Riverside’s Living Legends series. Although mostly an ensemble pianist, Lovie Austin was a talented and skilled arranger. She died on Jul 10, 1972 in Chicago, IL.



1893
E.R. Robinson, inventor, patented the Electric Railway trolley on this date. Patent #505,370.


1929
Mel Stewart was born on this date. He was an African-American musician, teacher and actor.

From Cleveland, Ohio Milton Stewart was also an excellent jazz saxophonist. While in New York he played with the likes of John Coltrane and others. Other music-based endeavors include his voice narrating Scenes in the City on Charles Mingus’ album “New York Sketchbook.” As an actor, Broadway is where he
Cut His Teeth before starring in Langston Hughes’ Simply Heaven. From there Stewart moved to San Francisco to be in Chicago’s Second City ipmrov group “The Committee.”

A third degree Black Belt in Aikido, Stewart was best known for appearing on television’s “All in the Family” and “Scarecrow and Mrs. King.” He appeared from 1971 to 1973 on “All in the Family,” portraying the outspoken Henry Jefferson, a member of the Black family living next door to Archie Bunker. He also had roles in movies including “The Land Lord” (1970), “Trick Baby” and “Steelyard Blues” (1973) and “Newman’s Law” (1974). He was married to Annie Dong-Stewart and had a daughter, Alia Dong-Stewart.

He was also an acting instructor whose students included Danny Glover. Stewart taught acting workshops at San Francisco State University and founded a theater group called Bantu, for Black Actors Now Through Unity. Stewart retired after making “Made in America” with Whoopi Goldberg in 1993. Melvin Stewart died on February 24, 2002 from Alzheimer’s disease in Pacifica, California.



1931
Benjamin Franklin Peay is born in Camden, South Carolina. He will become a rhythm and blues singer better known as Brook Benton. He will amass 16 gold records and be best known for the songs “A Rainy Night in Georgia” and “It’s Just a Matter of Time.” He will join the ancestors on April 9, 1988.


1932
H. Herman Banning and his mechanic, Thomas Allen, became the first Blacks to initiate a successful flight across the United States on this date. They flew from Los Angeles to New York, taking the 20 days to complete the 22-hour flight. They arrived on October 9.


1938
Willie Kgositsile was born on this date. He is an African poet, educator, and activist.

From South Africa, Keorapetse Willie Kgositsile taught for many years at the University of Dar es Salaam, the University of Nairobi, and the University of Gaborone. He left home in 1961 as one of the first young African National Congress (ANC) members instructed to do so by the leadership of their liberation movement. He was a founding member of the ANC Department of Education as their Arts and Culture department. The recipient of many poetry awards, he has also studied and taught Literature and Creative Writing at a number of universities in the United States and in Africa.

Kgositsile’s poetry ranges from the clearly political and public to lyrical and confessional. Among his publications is a book on teaching the craft of poetry. A strong part of his work is the recognition and celebration of his influences, and friendships with other artists and his deep love of blues and jazz. His poetry scintillates and vibrates with quotations from songs, references to music and, to musicians including Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, B.B. King, Otis Redding, John Coltrane, Art Blakey, Gloria Bosman, Johnny Dyani, Hugh Masekela and Pharaoh Sanders and more.

In including jazz references Kgositsile is following a jazz practice of quoting from one song while improvising on another. Extra-textual references abound in his art and are included with some confidence that the audience is familiar with them. Kgositsile’s collection If I Could Sing offers recognizes music as the purest of art forms. The title carries a wistful sense of a yearning to be a musician. This, if true, is ironic, since one of the most notable characteristics of his verse is its own subtle musicality. A short sample from one of the poems, ‘Santamaria’ (from the collection This Way I Salute you), demonstrates this.

The recipient of many poetry awards, Kgositsile has also studied and taught Literature and Creative Writing at a number of universities in the United States and in Africa.



1941
Otis Redding born in Dawson, GA.


1945
Freda Charcelia Payne is born in Detroit, Michigan. She will become a singer whose hits will include “Band of Gold” in 1970.


1947
Lawrence “Larry” Brown is born in Clairton, Pennsylvania. He will become a Washington Redskins’ running back and the third NFL player to rush over 4,000 yards in his first four professional seasons.


1956
The first International Conference of Black Writers & Artists meets at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France.


1963
The Iota Phi Theta fraternity was founded at Morgan State University on this date.


1965
Debbye Turner is born in Honolulu, Hawaii. She will become Miss America in 1990, becoming the third African American woman to wear the crown.


1966
Soledad O’Brien was born on this date. She is an Afro-Cuban-American journalist.

From Long Island, NY, O’Brien was born to a Black Cuban mother and an Irish-Australian father. Her baptismal name was
??ri? de la Soledad O’Brien. She is a graduate of Harvard University. She attended Harvard University and worked at two local television stations, WBZ-TV in Boston, Massachusetts and KRON in San Francisco, California, before joining NBC News as a producer in 1991. She was one of the initial faces of the MSNBC cable news network, hosting The Site, one of the first news programs dedicated to computers and the internet.

She began her career as an associate producer and news writer at the then-NBC affiliate, WBZ-TV in Boston. Starting in 1999, she hosted a weekend news program on NBC, Weekend Today. O’Brien’s work has been honored several times, including a local Emmy for her work as a co-host on Discovery Channel’s The Know Zone. She has been named to People magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful” in 2001 and People en Espanol’s 50 most beautiful in 2004. O’Brien also was included in Crain’s Business Reports’ “40 under 40” and Essence Magazine’s “40 under 40,” both in 2004. O’Brien was named to Irish American Magazine’s “Top 100 Irish Americans” on two occasions.

She is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. O’Brien also serves on the board of directors for The Harlem School for the Arts. She joined CNN in 2003. O’Brien is married to Brad Raymond, an investment banker, and has one daughter.



1981
More than 300,000 demonstrators from labor and civil rights organizations protest the social policies of the Reagan administration in a Solidarity Day March in Washington, DC.


1989
“The Learning Tree,” a film by filmmaker and the first Black to direct a major motion picture studio production, Gordon Alexander Buchanan Parks, is selected among the first films to be registered by the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. The National Film Registry was formed by an act of Congress the previous year to recognize films that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”  Parks’ 1969 movie joins other classic films such as “Casablanca,” “Gone with the Wind,” and “The Wizard of Oz.”


1989
The first issue of Emerge magazine goes on sale. Emerge, founded by Wilmer C. Ames, Jr., covers domestic and international news and issues from an African American perspective.


1994
U.S. troops peacefully enter Haiti to enforce the return of exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.


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