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1800
On this date, Nat Turner was born a slave on a plantation in Southampton County, Virginia. He was a leader of a black slave revolt. Turner was a popular religious leader among his fellow slaves and became convinced that he had been chosen by God to lead his people to freedom. On August 21, 1831, he and five other slaves killed their master and his family and, joined by about 60 to 80 blacks from neighboring plantations, started a general revolt. By August 24 white militiamen and volunteers brought the rebellion under control, but Turner was not captured for another six weeks. More than 50 whites were slain during the uprising, and an unknown number of Blacks were lynched in reprisal by white mobs. After they were captured, tried, and convicted, Turner and 15 of his companions were hanged in Jerusalem, Virginia.

As a result of Nat Turner’s revolt, southern legislatures imposed stricter control on slaves, and the movement to abolish slavery, which had previously enjoyed some support in the South, became a northern phenomenon.



1833
The New York Anti-Slavery Society was organized.


1897
On this date, the first African-American firefighter of the Los Angeles Fire Department was hired.

George Washington Bright was appointed by the Fire Commission as a call man and assigned to Engine Co. No. 6. On November 1st of that same year, he was promoted to a full-time hose man and assigned to Engine Co. No. 3. On January 31, 1900 Bright was promoted to Driver Third Class and assigned to Chemical Engine Co. No. 1.

Bright was born in 1862. He was a teamster prior to being hired by the LAFD. The City Fire Department Report of 1905 shows Lt. Bright assigned to Chemical Company No. 1 and living next door at125 Belmont Ave. On August 1, 1902, Bright was promoted to Lieutenant. In those days chief officers made the promotions.

Before the commission would certify his promotion, Bright, being the first African-American to apply for such advancement was required to go to the Second Baptist Church and obtain an endorsement from his Minister and congregation.



1898
Otis J. René was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. With his younger brother Leon, he moveed to Los Angeles, California, and establish Exclusive and Excelsior Records in the 1930’s. By the mid-1940’s, the brothers led independent record producers whose artists included Nat King Cole, Herb Jeffries, and Johnny Otis.


1900
J.W. Benton received his patent for the invention of the derrick. He had walked from Kentucky to Washington with it because he had no money for travel expenses.


1915
The Association for the Study of African American Life and History founded in Chicago on September 9th is renamed and incorporated in Washington, DC as the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) by Carter G. Woodson and Jesse E. Moorland. In 1972, it was further named the Association for the Study of African-American Life and History.


1929
On this date, Moses Gunn was born. He was an African-American actor.

From St. Louis, Missouri he was the eldest of seven children from a family that splintered when his mother died. At that time, he left home and road the railroad at just twelve years old. He returned to St. Louis, and attended school while living at the home of Jewel Richie, his English and Diction teacher. In 1954, Gunn began a three-year service in the Army; he received his B. A. degree from Tennessee State University in 1959. After that he studied at the University of Kansas intheir graduate program for speech and drama, they belatedly awarded him an M. A. degree in 1989. An authoritative black character actor of film and TV, Gunn also enjoyed a successful career on stage, he made his NY stage debut in the original off-Broadway production of Jean Genet’s The Blacks (1962).

A co-founder of the celebrated Negro Ensemble Company, he distinguished himself in many of their productions, notably The First Breeze of Summer (1975). Gunn was also known for his Shakespearean performances with the Yale Repertory Theatre and the New York Shakespeare Festival. Gunn rarely had comparable roles to showcase his talents in films, but his large, regal features and booming yet somewhat raspy voice stood out during his 25-year film career. Gunn may be best remembered as Bumpy Jonas, the powerful Harlem gangster whose daughter is kidnapped in Gordon Parks’ Shaft (1971).

He enhanced that role in Parks’ Shafts Big Score (1972). Gunn was also memorable as Booker T. Washington in Ragtime (1981). His last major film was Clint Eastwood’s Heartbreak Ridge (1986), in which he played aging vet Sergeant Webster. Gunn also worked extensively in TV. He was nominated for an Emmy for his portrayal of African chief Kintango in the first installment of “Roots” (ABC, 1977). Gunn joined the cast of the hit CBS sitcom “Good Times” in 1977 as Carl Dixon, the appliance store owner who marries the widowed Esther Rolle and whisks her away from the projects.

He was also a guest star on numerous series, including “The Cosby Show,” “Equal Justice” and “Homicide”. Moses Gunn costarred in South African playwright Athol Fugard’s Blood Knot and My Children, My Africa in 1993. He died on December 16 that same year in Guilford, Connecticut.



1932
Maurice Morning “Maury” Wills was born in Washington DC. He became a professional baseball player, switch-hitting batter, and shortstop prominently for the Los Angeles Dodger (1959-66, 1969-72) organization and also with the Pittsburgh Pirates (1967-68) and the Montreal Expos (1969). He was an essential component of the Dodgers’ championship teams of the mid-1960’s and deserves much credit for reviving the stolen bas as part of baseball strategy. In his full season (1960), he hit .295 and led to league with 50 stolen bases, being the first NL player to steal 50 bases since Max Carey in 1923. Wills stole 104 bases in 1962 to establish a new record in baseball, breaking the old mark of 95, set by Ty Cobb in 1915. He was the National League Most Valuable Player in 1962, beating out Willie Mays by seven points. In his 14-season career, he batted .281 with 20 home runs, 458 RBI’s, 2134 hits, 1067 runs, 177 doubles, 71 triples, and 586 stolen bases, all, in 1,942 games. After retiring, he became a baseball analyst at NBC from 1973 to 1977. From 1980 to 1981, he managed the Seattle Mariner.


1935
Robert H. Lawrence was born on this date. He was the first African-American astronaut.

From Chicago, Illinois, Lawrence graduated from Englewood High School and earned a B.S. in chemistry from Bradley University in 1956. He joined the Air Force and completed a doctorate in physical chemistry at Ohio State University. Lawrence and his wife, Barbara Cress Lawrence, have one son, Tracey. He was assigned to Furstenfeldbruck AFB near Munich where he trained pilots in the German Air Force. It was at there after a fatal accident that he recommended changing the language of instruction from English to German.

He made this suggestion because flying at incredible speeds left little time for pilots to translate information from the language in which it had been delivered to their native language. Reasoning that if they were instructed in their native language reactions would be more automatic, permitting responses that were more rapid and perhaps avoiding tragedy. Lawrence became the first black astronaut when he was selected by the Air Force for space flight training in 1966.

He died on December 8, 1967, at Edwards Air Force Base in California before the start of his space mission when his F-104 Starfighter jet, in which he was a co-pilot/passenger during a training flight, crashed. Robert H. Lawrence School in Chicago’s Jeffrey Manor neighborhood is named in his memory. However, in 1989, a memorial foundation was erected in honor of those astronauts who gave their lives for the space program. Lawrence’s name was not included, until after much advocacy by historian, James Oberg, in February of 1997.



1937
Johnnie L. Cochran, Jr. was born in Shreveport, LA. He became a noted controversial criminal defense attorney and is best known for his defense of Black Panther Party member Geronimo Pratt and the infamous trial of ex-NFL superstar O.J. Simpson for which Simpson was accused of killing wife and her friend, Ron Goldman. In that trial, he was the lead attorney in what described as the “Dream Team.” He died on March 29, 2005.


1942
On this date, Bernice Johnson Reagon was born in Albany, Georgia. She became a vocalist, composer and historian. As an historian, she founded “Sweet Honey in the Rock.”


1958
The Republic of Guinea gains independence under the leadership of Sekou Touré, its first president.


1965
Bishop Harold Robert Perry of Lake Charles, Louisiana, was named auxiliary bishop of New Orleans by Pope Paul IV.


1967
Thurgood Marshall, lawyer, was sworn in as the first Black associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court on this day when he was sworn in by Chief Justice Earl Warren. Appointed by President Lyndon B. Johnson, Marshall served until 1991. The great-grandson of a slave, Marshall was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1908. After being rejected from the University of Maryland Law School on account of his race, he was accepted at all-black Howard University in Washington, DC. At Howard, he studied under the tutelage of civil liberties lawyer Charles H. Houston and in 1933 graduated first in his class. In that same year, he was admitted to the Maryland bar. He practiced privately in Baltimore until 1937. In 1936, he joined the legal division of the NAACP, of which Houston was director, and two years later succeeded his mentor in the organization’s top legal post. An expert on civil rights cases, he was special counsel for the NAACP and counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. As chief counsel for the NAACP in the 1940s and ‘50s, he was the architect and executor of the legal strategy that ended the era of official racial segregation. He prevailed in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case that banned the “separate but equal” policy in public education. He also was the first Black to serve as U.S. Solicitor General. Marshall died January 24, 1993 in Bethesda, MD at the age of 82.


1967
Robert H. Lawrence, who was named the first African American astronaut, joins the ancestors after being killed in a plane crash before his first mission.


1968
Bob Gibson, of the St. Louis Cardinals, ses a World Series record of 17 strikeouts.


1980
Larry Holmes retains the WBC heavyweight boxing title defeating Muhammad Ali.


1981
Hazel Scott, renowned jazz singer and pianist, died at the age of 61.


1986
The United States Senate overrides President Ronald Reagan’s veto of legislation imposing economic sanctions against South Africa for its continued history of apartheid. The override is seen as the culmination of efforts by Trans-Africa’s Randall Robinson, Rep. Mickey Leland, and others begun almost two years earlier with Robinson’s arrest before the South African Embassy in Washington, DC. On the same day, President Reagan appointed Edward J. Perkins ambassador to South Africa.


1989
The Supreme Court affirmed a decision of the 11th Circuit of Appeals, on this date, which prohibited attorneys in civil cases from dismissing jurors because of their race.


1989
Jump Start” premiered in 40 newspapers in the United States. The comic strip was the creation of 26-year-old Robb Armstrong, the youngest African American to have a syndicated comic strip at the time. He followed in the footsteps of Morrie Turner, the creator of “Wee Pals,” the first African American syndicated comic strip and Oliver Harrington pioneer cartoonist and creator of the comic character Bootsie.


2013
On this date, NBC’s multiple Emmy Award winning Law & Order: Special Victim’s Unit (SVU), starring Mariska Hargitay (Detective Olivia Benson), as well as rapper/actor Ice T (Detective Odafin ‘Fin’ Tutuola) in addition to other regular cast members, aired episode Season 15, Episode 3 (episode# 1502) entitled “American Tragedy.” This episode was about a white TV cooking star, Jolene Castille, played by Cybill Shephard, who shot and killed an unarmed black 16-year-old as he was on his way home from a football practice. In the plot, Castille claimed self-defense after the teenage seemed to have been followed her on an isolated dark street and, to her account, was about to attack her. This shooting occurred during a series of rape incidents in a small section of Manhattan where victims, all white females, who were attacked and raped, described a 6’ black man wearing a hoodie and baseball cap and carrying a gun and noted to his victims, “I know you want it.” Through the investigation of the shooting of the teenager, Castille, the TV cooking star, is put on trial for the shooting of the teenager who was unarmed. As Castille was such a high profile individual, this incident and trial incurred much public discourse on both sides. One question came about as to why the Black teenager was in that part of town at that hour. In the end, the TV cooking star, an individual of southern roots and apparent racist who noted to a female investigator who also seemed to be of southern roots that, “she would have been a hero had this incident occurred in the south,” was found not guilty and exonerated any crime.

In what seems to be another instance of “art imitating life,” what makes this episode of African American historical significance to me is that it was originally aired 2 months and 19 days after the Florida neighborhood watch volunteer and captain George Zimmerman’s trial which ran from June 10 to July 13, 2013 in which Zimmerman was found not guilty of second-degree murder in the shooting death of unarmed Florida 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012 because he looked “suspicious.”


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