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1767
On this date, Henri Christophe was born. He was a West African slave and became the first black King in the Western Hemisphere (Haiti).

Christophe was born on the island of Grenada, a British colonial acquisition. His parents were slaves brought to Grenada with thousands of other West Africans to work in the sugar industry. The Africans that the English used as slaves in the sugar industry were known for their fierce and determined nature to resist the institution of slavery. The revolutionary nature of Henri Christophe has its roots deeply embedded in his African ancestry. Christophe’s obstinate, argumentative, and obdurate nature led his father to sell his services to a French ship’s Captain as a cabin boy, before had reached the age of ten.

The ship’s captain sold Henri to a French sugar planter in the French province on the island of Saint Dominique called Haiti, which was a Carob Indian name meaning “the land of the mountains.” The brutality of the French planters led to much discontent among the slaves in Haiti. These acts of brutality were witnessed by Christophe and set the stage for his role in the Haitian revolution. He participated in the American Revolutionary War in the French contingent. As a sergeant, he was among the five hundred forty-five Haitian free Negroes known as the Fontages Legion. Fighting to make men in another country free from oppression created a thirst for freedom within Christophe.

In June 1794, the Spaniards and the English who wanted to share the wealth created by the sugar industry threatened Haiti. The Spaniards constituted the greatest threat and a battle for control of Haiti ensued. The three principal figures in the Haitian revolution were Toussaint L’Overture, Jean Jacques Dessalines, and Christophe. Toussaint joined the French forces against the Spaniards, became a general of the slaves, and marched to several villages, liberating his brothers who immediately joined his forces. After having distinguished himself in battle, Christophe was made a sergeant by Toussaint and later made a General by Dessalines.

The French forces were defeated and Haiti was declared an independent republic on November 27, 1803. The republic of Haiti was divided into two states, Christophe was elected president of the Northern State in February of 1807, and Alexandre Petion was elected President of the Southern Republic of Haiti in March. The division between the republics was to last for a decade. President Christophe set out to improve all aspects of life in the Northern Province. One of his major concerns and preoccupations was the defense of his country form internal and external aggression. He had a huge fortress built on a mountain peak overlooking the Le Cap harbor, three thousand feet above the sea. The citadel was named “la Ferriere,” which means the blacksmith’s pouch.

The huge stronghold, which still exists today, was built in the shape of a ship, covering sixteen acres, with some of the walls soaring 140 feet high. The education of the Haitians was Henri Christophe’s second priority. He solicited teachers from the United States and Britain to build schools. This ultimately raised the former slaves to a literacy level unequaled in the Western Hemisphere. To continue the improvement of Haitian life, Christophe decided to create the first black kingdom in the Western Hemisphere. At a council of state on March 28, 1811, he declared Haiti a kingdom, with himself as King Henri I. Christophe offered the ruler of the south, Alexandre Petion, the opportunity to be absorbed. Petion refused and the relationship between the two men and their respective countries remained strained until Petion’s death in 1818. In August 1820, Christophe suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed.

When the news spread of his infirmities, the seeds of rebellion began to grow. On October 2, 1820, the military garrison at St. Marc led a mutiny that sparked a revolt. The mutiny coincided with a conspiracy of Christophe’s own generals. Some of his trusted aides took him to the Citadel to await the inevitable confrontation with the rebels. Christophe ordered his attendants to bathe him, dress him in his formal military uniform, place him in his favorite chair in his den, and leave him alone.

Shortly after the attendants left his side; Christophe committed suicide by shooting himself in the heart with a silver bullet on October 8, 1820.



October 6-9, 1847
National Black Convention met in Troy, NY, with more than sixty delegates from nine states. Nathan Johnson of Massachusetts was elected president. At the outset, the members of the convention resolved that the situation of the black man had to be improved. It further concluded that this “being admitted... it is clear our own efforts must mainly produce such advancement,” that is, they could not simply wait for white sympathy and hope to be successful. The convention members divided into a number of committees including the Committee on a National Press, Commerce, Agriculture, and Abolition. Evoking the power of persuasion, the Committee on a National Press essentially expressed the view that a black press was essential to the progress of any other black improvement plan. “We must command something manlier than sympathies,” they declared. The first step in this process was to establish a black press, which would disseminate information and allow leaders more easily to organize action. Eleven of the delegates were chosen to establish a permanent Committee on the National Press for the Free Colored People of the United States. The Convention chose James McCune Smith of New York as Chairman, and Amos Beman of Connecticut as Secretary. Though Frederick Douglass was not on the Press committee, he likely influenced (and was influenced by) its formal declaration of the importance of a black press. He produced the first edition of the North Star, in Rochester, NY, on December 3, 1847, less than two months later. The next committee to give its report, the Agricultural committee, thanked Smith for his donation of land. They further affirmed the value of farming as an occupation to the development of a people. Frederick Douglass was a leader of the final committee to present a report to the convention, the Abolitionist committee. The final report denounced violence as a desired path for abolitionism to take. It reflected Douglass’s commitment to moral persuasion and nonresistance. Calling on black leaders to “invoke the Press,” the report declared “Let us give the slaveholders what he most dislikes. Let’s expose his crimes and his foul abominations” to the nation.


1868
Black State Convention at Macon, Georgia, protested expulsion of Black politicians from Georgia legislature.


1871
The original Fisk Jubilee Singers began their world-famous singing tours around America and Europe to earn money to support the university on this day. George L. White, minister and then treasurer of the school as well as professor of music, had long thought of taking his group of students with outstanding singing abilities on a concert tour of the North to raise money. The concerts paid barely enough to take the singers from one town to another. The singers were the first to publicly perform slave songs, and would often move their audiences to tears. As they toured, the fortunes of the singers took a turn for the better. They began to send sorely needed money back to their school. Funds raised by the singers were used to build Fisk’s first permanent building, Jubilee Hall. The U.S. Department of the Interior has since designated the hall a National Historic Landmark.


1895
W.D. Davis patented an improved riding saddle.


1908
On this date, Sammy Price was born. He was an African-American jazz pianist.

From Honey Grove, Texas, Samuel Blythe Price grew up in Waco, where he learned to play alto saxophone. Portia Pittman, the daughter of Booker T. Washington was his piano teacher in Dallas. His career began in 1925 when he joined the Alphone Trent Orchestra as a Charleston dancer. Soon after he was leading his own big band in Dallas, in the twenties, he performed with Benny Long, Lem Johnson, Leonard Chadwick, and in 1927, he toured with the Let’s Go Show.

Price lived in Kansas City, Chicago, and Detroit before settling in New York where he began a long relationship with Decca Records. As a recording supervisor and arranger he worked with many top artists of the time including Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Peetie Wheatstraw, and Blue Lu Baker. Price also led his own group the Texas Blusicians. In the 1940’s, Price recorded for Mezz Mezzrow’s King Label as both a solo and boogie-woogie pianist; he also sided with Sidney Bechet and organized the first black-run jazz festival in Philadelphia.

Until 1957, Price’s charm and playing brought him to Europe more than once and he acquired two nightclubs in the Dallas area. He then moved back to New York and recorded several albums, including Blues and Boogie (1955) and The Price is Right (1956). During the 1960’s, he left the music business briefly to work in community affairs and run his Down Home Meat Products Company. Upon returning to the stage and studio, Price played with a group called Two-Tenor Boogie, recording Midnight Boogie (1969), Fire (1975), Black Beauty (1979), and Play it Again Sam (1983).

His best major appearance was at the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall as part of the 1991 JVC Jazz Festival. Sammy Price died in April 1992.



1917
Fannie Lou Hamer was born on this date. She was an African-American civil rights activist.

Born Fannie Lou Townsend in Montgomery County, Mississippi, she was the last of 20 children in a family of sharecroppers. She began chopping and picking cotton as a child on a plantation in the Mississippi Delta. She lived and worked there until 1962 when she was fired because she attempted to register to vote. She and her family were also forced to move from the plantation. In 1963 Hamer did register to vote and committed herself to civil rights activism.

She began working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), organizing voter registration campaigns in the Mississippi Delta. In 1964, white members of the Democratic Party in Mississippi continued the tradition of refusing to accept Blacks in their delegation to the national party convention. Hamer and others formed the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). The MFDP sent 68 delegates to the national convention, to challenge the white Democrats right to represent Mississippi.

Hamer recounted for the convention the harassment that she and other Blacks experienced when trying to register to vote in Mississippi in a nationally televised interview about her experiences with police brutality. Democratic Party officials offered the black Mississippians two convention seats. Hamer and the MFDP, however, rejected the compromise offer and went home. The MFDP challenge resulted in a pledge from the Democratic Party not to seat delegates to the 1968 national convention who had been chosen through racially discriminatory means. It also made Hamer a national celebrity.

After 1964, Hamer continued to work for Black voting rights and black candidates for public office in Mississippi. She also founded social service organizations and initiated economic development efforts, including the Freedom Farms Corporation, established in 1969 to help poor families raise food and livestock. Hamer became a national figure in 1964 with a speech to the Democratic National Convention in which she recounted the voter discrimination and violence against Blacks in her home state of Mississippi. She became a national symbol of the participation of poor Southern Blacks in the civil rights movement. Fannie Lou Hamer died on March 14, 1977.



1921
Joseph E. Lowery, activist and President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) was born in Hunstville, AL.


1921
Reverend Joseph Echols Lowery was born on this date. He is a Civil Rights activist, and minister.

Born in Huntsville, Alabama Lowery began his education in his hometown, spending his middle school years in Chicago before returning to Huntsville to complete high school. From there, he attended Knoxville College, Payne College and Theological Seminary, and the Chicago Ecumenical Institute; where he earned his doctorate of divinity.

Lowery began his work with civil rights in the early 1950s in Mobile, Alabama, where he headed the Alabama Civic Affairs Association, an organization devoted to the desegregation of buses and public places. During this time, the state of Alabama sued Lowery, along with several other prominent ministers, on charges of libel, seizing his property. The Supreme Court sided with the ministers, and the seized property was returned.

In 1957, he helped the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. He was their vice president from 1957-1967, chairman of the board from 1967-1977 and president and chief executive officer from 1977 to 1998. In 1965, at the time that George Wallace was governor of Alabama; Lowery led the Selma to Montgomery “Bloody Sunday” march. He is a co-founder and former president of the Black Leadership Forum, a consortium that began protesting apartheid in South Africa in the mid-1970s until the election of Nelson Mandela.

As a minister, after serving his community for more than forty-five years, Lowery retired from the pulpit in 1997. He also retired in 1998 from the SCLC as president and CEO. Despite his retirement, Lowery works to encourage African Americans to vote, and recently recorded with Rap artist NATE the Great to help spread this message.

Lowery has received numerous awards, including an NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award and the Martin Luther King Center Peace Award. Essence magazine has twice named him as one of the Fifteen Greatest Black Preachers. Lowery is married to activist Evelyn Gibson Lowery.



1949
Lonnie G. Johnson was born on this date. He is an African-American inventor, businessman, and mathematician. From Mobile, Alabama, at the age of 18, he was awarded first place in a national competition for his invention of “Linex,” a remote controlled robot made from junkyard scraps. He studied at Tuskegee University on a Mathematics scholarship, and was elected to the Pi Tau Sigma National Engineering Honor Society. Johnson graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1972, and completed a Master of Science degree in Nuclear Engineering two years later.

After joining the Air Force as a Captain, Johnson was awarded the Air Force Achievement Medal once, and the Air Force Commendation Medal, twice. Through the military, he became an Advanced Space Systems Requirements Officer at the headquarters of the Strategic Air Command. After directing projects and earning a Nomination for Astronaut Training, Johnson moved on to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

There he helped develop thermodynamic and controls systems for space projects, including award-winning work for the Galileo Jupiter probe and the Mars Observer project; his crowning achievement at JPL was the Johnson Tube, a CFC-free refrigeration system with a hydraulic heat pump, which later earned Johnson his seventh patent at the time (#4,724,683; 1988).

In 1985, he founded his own company, Johnson Research and Development. During this time he had first conceived his most famous invention in 1982. When a homemade nozzle at his bathroom sink shot a spray of water across the room, he resolved to invent the world’s first high-performance, pressurized water gun. Johnson with partner Bruce D’Andrade finally created a workable prototype of the now famous SuperSoaker® in 1989. They filed for a joint patent (granted 1991). Over 40 million SuperSoakers have generated over $200 million in sales; today, dozens of websites are devoted to them.

Overall, Johnson has earned over 40 patents, and continues to invent in the areas of thermo-and fluid dynamics as well as toys. In addition to ongoing controls work for NASA, Johnson and his company are developing an improved home radon detector, a rechargeable battery, a heat pump that uses water instead of Freon, and other projects. Lonnie Johnson has won numerous honors for his success in inventing and entrepreneurship, and his constant encouragement of young people to invent.



1955
Tony Dungy was born on this date. He was an African-American football player and is a coach.

From Jackson, Michigan he grew up in a family that valued intellectual accomplishments as much as athletics. His father, Wilbur, is a retired physiology professor. His mother, Cleomae, was a high school English teacher. Dungy’s siblings include a sister who is an obstetrician, another who is a nurse, and a brother who is a dentist. Dungy was drawn to football at an early age. As a graduate student at Michigan State University, his father would watch Detroit Lions football games with the six-year-old Tony. While the elder Dungy concentrated on his studies, his son would keep him aware of the score and player statistics too.

Young Dungy starred in basketball and football at Jackson’s Parkside High School. He attended the University of Minnesota where by the end of his freshman year, had made the starting lineup. It quickly became clear that Dungy’s approach to the game was a cerebral one. Dungy spent his spare time watching game films and analyzing his opponents. As quarterback for the Golden Gophers from 1973 to 1976, Dungy finished his college career ranked fourth in total offense among all players in the history of the Big Ten conference.

He signed as a free agent with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where he was converted into a defensive back. Dungy made the team on the strength of his astute understanding of the defense the Steelers were running, and his ability to anticipate the moves of opposing receivers based on long hours of study. In one 1977 game, he performed a rare feat by both making and throwing interceptions in the same game. In 1978, his second season with the Steelers, Dungy led the team with six interceptions and helped lead the Steelers to a Super Bowl championship. The Steelers traded Dungy to the San Francisco 49ers in 1979, and after a year there he was shipped to the New York Giants. The Giants cut Dungy toward the end of the 1980 pre-season. Seeing that he had no future as an active player, Dungy retired, with a career total of nine interceptions over three seasons.

At 25, Dungy became the NFL’s youngest assistant coach when hired by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1981. Coach Dungy and his wife Lauren have five children. In 1982, he was promoted from defensive assistant to defensive backs coach, before becoming the league’s youngest defensive coordinator in 1984 at age 28. He served as defensive backs coach at Kansas City (1989-1991) and as defensive coordinator at Minnesota (1992-95). Dungy held a 54-42 record as head coach with Tampa Bay from 1996-2001, qualifying for the playoffs four times in six seasons. Dungy produced some of the NFL’s stingiest defenses during his years at Tampa Bay. His units ranked no lower than 11th in his six seasons. Still at the end of the 2001 season, composed perseverance was not enough to save Dungy’s job. The season closed with a 31-9 playoff loss to Philadelphia, and two days later, he was fired.

Dungy began exploring his options, seriously considering a new career in prison ministry. But when Indianapolis Colts offered him a coaching position, he accepted. He has directed seven of his nine Colts and Buccaneers teams to the playoffs, twice being a conference finalist. Dungy has six career double-digit victory seasons and stands as the only NFL head coach to defeat all 32 NFL teams.

2005 marked Dungy’s 10th as an NFL head coach. He is the NFL’s most successful head coach from 1999-2004 with a mark of 64-32 (30-18 with Tampa Bay, 34-14 with Colts). In December 2005 while leading Indianapolis to the best record in NFL, tragedy struck him and his family. His oldest son James died of an apparent suicide in Tamp Bay, FL.



1965
Patricia Roberts Harris takes the post as U.S. Ambassador to Belgium, becoming the first African American U.S. ambassador.


1971
John A. Wilkinson’s marriage to Lorraine Mary Turner was the first legalized interracial marriage in North Carolina. Wilkinson was black and Turner was white. North Carolina was one of over 15 states in 1967 whose laws were eventually changed to accept interracial marriage legally.


1983
Wilma Rudolph, the first American woman to win three Olympic Gold Medals in track and field in one year, was inducted into the Olympic Hall of Fame.


1981
Anwar Sadat, president of Egypt, is assassinated by extremists while reviewing a military parade.


1986
Abram Hill joins the ancestors in New York City. He was the founder of the city’s American Negro Theatre in 1940, where the careers of Harry Belafonte, Ruby Dee, and Sidney Poitier were launched. Hill’s adaptation of the play “Anna Lucasta” premiered on Broadway in 1944 and ran successfully for 900 performances.


1991
The Scott Joplin House opened as a Missouri State Historic site on this date. Joplin was an African-American composer of Ragtime jazz in the early twentieth century.

This National Historic Landmark was home to him and his bride Belle Haden. Joplin was listed in the St. Louis directory at this address (2658A Delmar Blvd). Eight of his compositions, including “The Entertainer,” were published that year. The restored structure houses exhibits of material on Joplin’s life and work, and a music room with a player piano and piano rolls. Joplin’s apartment has been restored to its turn-of-the century appearance. Joplin’s Morgan Street home had been designated a National Historic landmark in 1976.

The home’s turn-of-the-century appearance has been restored including a room for musical performances, with displays centering on Joplin’s life and music, and a gallery of displays related to African-American history and culture. Guided tours are available for a small fee; children under six are admitted free, Monday — Saturday 10-4 PM Sunday 12-5 PM.



1991
Williams College’s exhibit of African American photography “Black Photographers Bear Witness: 100 Years of Social Protest” opens. The exhibit includes photography by C.M. Battey, James Van Der Zee, Marvin and Morgan Smith, Moneta Sleet, Carrie Mae Weems, and others.


1991
Anita Hill, a former personal assistant to Supreme Court justice nominee Clarence Thomas, accuses Thomas of sexual harassment (from 1981-83) during his confirmation hearings.


1993
Dr. Mae Carol Jemison, the first Black woman to travel in space, was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.


1994
South African President, Nelson Mandela, addresses a joint session of Congress. He will warn against the lure of isolationism, saying the U.S. post-Cold War focus should be on eliminating “tyranny, instability and poverty” across the globe.


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