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1775
A council of general officers decides to bar slaves and free African Americans from serving in the Continental Army.


1898
Clarence Williams was born on this date. He was an African-American artist and an entrepreneur.

Williams was born on the outskirts of New Orleans, in Plaquemine, Louisiana. He was of Choctaw Indian and Creole heritage. His father was a bass player who made his living as a hotel owner, and as a child, Williams began his musical education performing in the family hotel and singing in the streets. When he was twelve, he left Louisiana for Billy Kersands’s famous minstrel show as a singer, soon becoming their master of ceremonies. Returning to New Orleans, he started a suit cleaning service and began playing piano in the honky-tonks of New Orleans’s Storyville district. He also played professionally and invested much of his time in learning new material, even writing to New York for the latest songs.

During this period, he also managed his own cabaret, and wrote his first moneymaking composition, Brownskin, Who You For? Columbia Records. Around 1915, he and Armand Piron started a New Orleans-based publishing company, which was in business for several years. Two years later, he, and Williams put together a vaudeville act with Piron on the violin and Williams playing piano and singing. While touring, they became acquainted with W. C. Handy, who helped them place some of their compositions in Memphis music stores. An important concert in Atlanta was moved from a Black auditorium to a White one because so many Whites wanted to attend, Handy asked Williams and Piron to join him; the concert was a triumph and the New Orleans duo stopped the show.

About this time, Williams claimed to be the first songwriter to use the word jazz on a piece of sheet music, and his business card began touting him as “The Originator of Jazz and Boogie Woogie.” Williams moved to Chicago in 1920 where he opened a music store near the Vendome Theater that proved so lucrative that he eventually owned three in the city. Williams did not confine his energies to mere proprietorship. In 1920 when the public got their first hearing of a Black woman’s voice singing the blues, they wanted more, and his entrepreneurial skills enabled him to profit from this next phase in the entertainment business: selling recordings of Black female blues singers.

In 1921, Williams married blues singer, Eva Taylor, one of the first female singers heard on the radio. Her performances and style influenced many future vocal stars. Williams understood the potential selling-power of New Orleans music in the North, and since New York City was the center of the music publishing business, he sold his Chicago music stores in 1923 and moved there. He rented space in the Gaiety Theater Building at 1547 Broadway, which was already established as an office building for other African-American entertainers including Bert Williams, Will Vodery, Pace and Handy, and Perry Bradford. In February of that year, he and Bessie Smith went to Columbia to record her first songs. The first release featured Smith accompanied by Williams on piano Gulf Coast Blues, and was composed by Williams and published by his company.

Williams accompanied Smith on many of the songs she recorded during that highly productive year and claimed writer’s credit on such numbers as Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home and T’ain’t Nobody’s Bizness If I Do. However, Williams had a reputation for claiming credit for works he did not compose entirely on his own, and the origins of many of these songs remain in doubt. He convinced Smith that she was under contract to Columbia. In reality, she had signed a contract naming him as her manager, and he was pocketing half of her recording fee.

This episode ended when Smith and a boyfriend made a surprise trip to Williams’ office, demanding that she be released from that obligation and allowed to sign directly with Columbia. On the other hand Willie “The Lion” Smith claimed that Williams was the first New Orleans musician to influence jazz in New York and credited Williams with helping other African-American songwriters like himself, James P. Johnson, and Fats Waller.

From 1923 to 1928, Williams was the artist and repertoire director for Okeh Records, and organized numerous sessions that advanced the careers of many early jazz greats such as Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet. He also employed a number of other jazz musicians including Don Redman, King Oliver, and Coleman Hawkins. A shrewd businessman, Williams could arrange recording sessions, supply their material, publish their compositions, and manage their business affairs. Between 1923 and 1937, Williams proved to be a prolific producer, organizing at least two recording sessions a month and recording over 300 sides under his own name.

In 1927, Williams worked in musical theater. He wrote the book and music for and also produced the show Bottomland, which starred his wife, Eva Taylor. The show was not a critical success. Yet, Williams’ New York publishing company prospered, continuing to do business until 1943 when he sold its catalog of over 2,000 songs to Decca for a reputed $50,000. He lost his sight after being hit by a cab in 1956. Clarence Williams died in Queens, New York, on November 6, 1965.



1901
The establishment of the Harlem Branch of the YMCA is celebrated on this date.

The Harlem YMCA was a successor to the
“Colored Men’s Branch” of the YMCA which was located on West 53rd Street between 1901 and 1919, and the West 135th Street Branch YMCA, built in 1919 at No. 181, across the street from the later building. The Harlem Branch (officially named in 1936) of the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) was constructed on 135th Street in 1932. Black YMCAs were the result of the YMCA’s official policy of racial segregation, from the organization’s beginnings in the United States in 1851 until 1946.

Though excluded from the white YMCAs, Blacks were encouraged to form separate branches, which became autonomous community centers. The Harlem “Y” came to be one of Harlem’s most important recreational and cultural centers. Its importance actually posed one of the problems with the Y. “Harlem looks to the ‘Y’ as one of its most prominent cultural centers. The Harlem YMCA has historically acted as an educational, cultural, and religious center; it has provided a meeting place for numerous groups, including several with literary and political importance over the years. Even after official desegregation of the American YMCA after 1946, the Harlem Branch YMCA continued to serve the largest African American membership in the United States. Programs were opened to girls and women in 1955.

The YMCA was noted for its “Salute to the Stars” fund raisers, its educational counseling, veterans’, and job programs, and “Black Achievers in the Industry” awards dinners. Currently The Harlem YMCA offers great opportunities for individuals who wish to volunteer their time to give back to the community. Volunteers are very important to us.

Some of the current programs and departments seeking volunteers are: Universal Pre-K Program, After School Program, Aquatics Department, Teen Programs, Mentoring Programs, and Adult Membership Programs (Exercise instructors/trainers).



1930
On this date, Faith Ringgold was born in New York City. She is an African-American artist who has spent her artistic career breaking boundaries and clearing spaces for African-American creativity with her paintings, face masks, fabric and soft sculptures, and quilts , especially that of women.

Raised in Harlem, Ringgold earned a BA in art and education in 1955 and an MFA in 1959 at City College, New York. Dissatisfied with the traditional high art training that she received, Ringgold reeducated herself by studying African art, reading the work of Black Arts Movement authors and participating in the growing protest for a civil rights revolution in America. Paintings from this period blend an African-inspired aesthetic of geometric shapes and flat, shadow less perspective with potent political and social protest.

Ringgold has been an outspoken critic of racial and gender prejudice in the art world. In the early 1970s, Ringgold organized protests against The Whitney Museum of American Art and other major museums for excluding the works of blacks and women. In response to the museum world’s exclusionary policies, Ringgold and other black women artists formed a collective and organized an exhibit of their own whose title, Where We At, announced their visibility. Ringgold’s art focuses on black women and black women’s issues.

Since the 1970s, she has documented her local community and national events in life-size soft sculptures, representing everyone from ordinary Harlem denizens to Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the young victims of the Atlanta child murders. Ringgold’s latest chosen medium, fabric, is traditionally associated with women. Ringgold’s expression of black women’s experience is captured in a combination of quilting and narrative text. She transformed one of her quilts into a children’s book, Tar Beach, that won the 1992 Caldecott Honor Book Award and the Coretta Scott King award.

Presently she is she is currently Professor Emeritus at U.C. San Diego; and has a studio in New Jersey. She is married and has two daughters and three granddaughters.



1941
Rev. Jesse L. Jackson is born in Greenville, South Carolina. He will be a civil rights leader and founder of Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity) in 1971, an organization that will focus attention on the economic disparity between whites and African Americans. In 1988, he will be a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination.


1950
Robert “Kool” Bell is born. He will become a Rhythm and Blues singer and will become the leader of his own group, “Kool & the Gang.”


1963
The Sultan of Zanzibar cedes his mainland possessions to Kenya.


1969
Police officers and African Americans exchange sniper fire on Chicago’s West Side. One youth is killed and nine policemen are injured.


1992
On this date, the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to Derek Walcott. He is a black writer who specializes in poetry.

The Nobel committee gave Walcott the honor “for a poetic oeuvre of great luminosity, sustained by a historical vision, the outcome of a multicultural commitment.” The award was also given because of the difficulty of his own situation that provided a most fruitful source of inspiration. Three loyalties are central for him – the Caribbean where he lives, the English language, and his African origin.

In the poem A Far Cry from Africa, he says “How choose/ Between this Africa and the English tongue I love?” Another of his major works, the long poem Another Life (1973), is devoted to his development and the course of his education in this environment.



1993
The U.N. General Assembly lifted almost all its remaining economic sanctions against South Africa, begun in the 1960s and built up in subsequent years because of Pretoria’s policy of racial apartheid.


1999
Laila Ali, the 21-year-old daughter of Muhammad Ali, makes her professional boxing debut by knocking out opponent April Fowler 31 seconds after the opening bell in Verona, New York.


2003
Jarome Iginla, hockey player, was named team captain of the Calgary Flames on this day. Iginla is the first Black in the NHL to hold the position. During his NHL career, he has won at least two scoring titles as well as an Olympic gold medal with Canada at the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. A native of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, at the age of 7 he was introduced to the game of hockey by his grandfather where he quickly established himself as a major talent in junior hockey. By the time Iginla was drafted into the NHL at 17, he had scored 71 points in 72 games. Recently Iginla was awarded the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the NHL’s goal-scoring leader and the King Clancy Memorial Trophy for leadership and humanitarian contributions to his community.


2004
On this date, the first African woman won the Nobel Peace Prize. Kenyan ecologist Wangari Maathai, 64, was honored by the Nobel committee for standing at the “front of the fight to promote ecologically viable social, economic and cultural development in Kenya and in Africa.” She is an outspoken environmentalist, whose tree-planting campaign slows deforestation and aids the poor.

”We continue to appeal to the rich countries in the world to consider patterns of lifestyle that can reduce pollution of the environment,” Maathai said. “To not do that is to put the burden on the poor countries, which do not consume as much, don’t pollute as such but do suffer from that pollution.” In 1977, she founded the Green Belt Movement, the largest tree-planting project in Africa. Green Belt promotes biodiversity and at the same time creates jobs and gives women a stronger identity in society.

Maathai was also voted Time Magazine’s “Hero of the Planet” in 1998. A household name in her country, Maathai has vowed to use the cash award that comes with the award to promote her environment campaigns.


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