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620 BC
The birth of Aesop around 620 BC is celebrated on this date. He was an ancient black storyteller.

He was a Black slave of Iadmon (located in the south of Greece near northern Africa). Most accounts describe Aesop as a deformed man whose name came from the Greek word Aethiops which means Ethiopia. In 1715, William Dugard translated his stories from the Greek text of Planudes’. There he also describes Aesop as one whom “Nature had gratified with an ingenious mind, but the Law had enslaved.” According to Herodotus, he lived in Samos in the 6th century BC and eventually was freed by his master receiving his liberation in Iadmon. Other accounts connect him with many wild adventures and attach him with such rulers as Solon and Croesus.

During the reign of Peisistratus Aesop visited Athens where he told the fable of The Frogs asking for a King. He spoke of this to put off the citizens from attempting to replace Peisistratus with another ruler. Aesop is known his stories called Aesop’s fables. They were preserved principally through Babrius, Phaedrus, Planudes Maximus, and La Fontaine’s verse translations. The most famous of these fables include “The Fox and the Grapes” and “The Tortoise and the Hare.” A few famous quotations by Aesop are; After all is said and done, more is said than done. Any excuse will serve a tyrant. United we stand, divided we fall. Be content with your lot; one cannot be first in everything.

Physically he also had a large head, bowed legs and a large belly. He prospered most about 550 BC, yet was killed around 560 BC. History says it was ordered probably by a decree of the Delphic oracle. It also has been said that compensation for his death was claimed by the grandson of his master.



1798
This date marks the birth of Levi Coffin. He was an American abolitionist and President of the Underground Railroad.

Levi Coffin was from New Garden, North Carolina, and the only son of seven children. The young Levi received the bulk of his education at home, which proved to be good enough for Coffin to find work as a teacher for several years. In 1821, with his cousin Vestal, Levi Coffin ran a Sunday school for Blacks. Alarmed slave owners, however, soon forced the school to close.

In 1824, Coffin decided to join his other family members who had moved to the young state of Indiana. Establishing a store in Newport, Coffin prospered, expanding his operations to include cutting pork and manufacturing linseed oil. Even with his busy life as a merchant, Coffin was “never too busy to engage in Underground Railroad affairs.” Also, his thriving business and importance in the community helped deflect opposition to his Underground Railroad activities from pro-slavery supporters and slave hunters in the area.

Questioned about why he aided slaves, Coffin said “The Bible, in bidding us to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, said nothing about color, and I should try to follow out the teachings of that good book.” In 1847 Coffin left Newport to open a wholesale warehouse in Cincinnati that handled cotton goods, sugar, and spices produced by free labor. The enterprise had been funded a year earlier by a Quaker Convention at Salem, Indiana.

Coffin and his wife continued to help slaves via the Underground Railroad. Both during and after the Civil War, Coffin served as a leading figure in the Western Freedmen’s Aid Society. Working for the freedmen’s cause in England and Europe, Coffin, in one year, raised more than $100,000 for the Society. He died in September 1877 in Cincinnati and is buried in that city’s Spring Grove Cemetery.



1861
On this date, we mark the birth of Fredrick L. McGhee. He was a Black lawyer and civil rights activist.

From Mississippi, his father could read and write passing down to him the benefits of education. As a youngster, the family moved to Knoxville, Tennessee where he attended school with help from the Freedmen’s bureau and the Presbyterian Church. Later he went to Chicago and worked as a waiter to pay for law school, graduating in 1885. McGhee was the first African-American lawyer in the state of Minnesota. With a keen sense of legal business, his most notable asset was his ability as an orator in the courtroom.

He won a clemency from President Benjamin Harrison for a client Lewis Carter, a Black soldier falsely accused of a crime. He was always mindful of the plight of Blacks and sought to be a part of a legal solution. McGhee was director of the legal bureau of the National Afro-American Council and a founder of the Niagara Movement. McGhee was also very active politically. He was chosen to be a presidential elector by the Minnesota Republican party in the spring of 1892.

After protests by White Republicans, he was replaced in the summer of 1892. He stayed with the party until the spring of 1893 when it reneged on another political promise. Later that year he was refused a seat as a delegate at the Republican National Convention. Frustrated, McGhee changed his allegiance to the Democratic Party; becoming one of the first nationally prominent Black Democrats. A Catholic he was very involved in Saint Peter Claver Church in St. Paul, Minnesota.

He helped arrange the foundation for a branch of the NAACP but died in 1912 before the plan could be completed.



1862
The First Kansas Colored Volunteers, while greatly outnumbered, repulse and drive off a rebel force at Island Mound, Missouri. This is the first engagement for African American troops in the Civil War.


1873
Patrick Healy becomes president of Georgetown University, the oldest Catholic University in the United States and becomes the first African American president of a predominantly white university in the United States.


1897
The birth of Amy Ashwood Garvey is celebrated on this date. She was an African-American activist and the first wife of Marcus Garvey.

From Port Antonio, Jamaica, Ashwood spent part of her childhood years in Panama with her father who was a businessman. Returning to Jamaica, she attended Westwood High School in Trelawny. While still a teenager, her political activities began with her work in the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). She became one of the founding members of the UNIA, and played a central role in its organization. She also organized the women’s auxiliary of the UNIA.

Ashwood came to America in 1918 and played an important role in the UNIA branches there as Marcus Garvey’s chief aide and as secretary of its New York Branch. On Christmas day in 1919, she married Marcus Garvey in the presence of several thousand friends. Not long after this she was made a director of the Black Star Line. She also helped to establish the newspaper Negro World and sold it on the streets to help promote its readership. After she was divorced in 1922, she traveled extensively, but continued to take a keen interest in social welfare, politics and the cultural life in the countries in which she lived.

In 1924, Garvey worked with many prominent West Africans in founding a Nigerian Progress Union. Between 1935 and 1938 she owned a restaurant in London. She remained a strong pan-Africanist and feminist and lectured on these issues during her tours of various countries, including Trinidad and Tobago. Garvey lived in West Africa from 1946 to 1949. Amy Garvey died in 1969.



1914
Omega Psi Phi fraternity is incorporated at Howard University. Founded in 1911 by three students, Frank Coleman, Oscar J. Cooper and Edgar A. Love and their faculty adviser, Ernest Everett Just, the fraternity will grow to have over 90,000 members in chapters throughout the United States and abroad.


1921
Arturo Chico O’Farrill was born on this date. He was an Afro-Cuban composer, arranger, trumpeter, and band leader.

From Havana, Cuba, he began playing the trumpet while attending military school in Georgia. Once he returned to Cuba, O’Farrill studied composition and led his own band. In 1948, he moved to New York and began writing and arranging for Benny Goodman and Stan Kenton. He studied composition in Havana, and in the mid-1940s played with a band led by Armando Romeu and with his own group.

In 1948 he moved to New York, where he wrote music for Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie; in the early 1950s he formed his own band, which played at Birdland, toured the USA, and recorded the album Jazz (1951-2, Clef 132). Towards the end of the decade he moved to Mexico, and in 1962-3 he gave concerts in Mexico City.

After returning to the USA in 1965 he settled in New York and worked as an arranger and music director for CBS on the television program “Festival of the Lively Arts”; among the musicians who took part were Count Basie, Gillespie, Gerry Mulligan, and Stan Getz. In 1965-6 O’Farrill wrote arrangements of pop songs for albums by Basie. From the 1970s, he was less active in jazz, but he wrote pieces for Gato Barbieri and Kenton (both 1974), and a band led by Gillespie and Machito (1975). While O’Farrill worked for the jazz elite throughout his career, it wasn’t until 1995, with the release of his album Pure Emotion, featuring his son Arturo O’Farrill, that Chico’s place among them as a true pioneer of the Afro-Cuban sound was clearly established.

For the remainder of his life, O’Farrill recorded and performed regularly. He also appeared in the Latin jazz documentary, Calle 54. He died on June 27, 2001, from complications of pneumonia. He was 79.



1937
Leonard Randolph “Lenny” Wilkens is born in Brooklyn, New York. He will become a professional basketball player for the St. Louis Hawks, Cleveland Cavaliers, Portland Trail Blazers and Seattle Supersonics. He will also coach every team for which he played. In 1995, he will surpass Red Auerbach as the NBA winningest coach, with his 939th victory. On March 1, 1996, he will become the first coach to win 1,000 regular season games. He and John Wooden will become the only two persons to be elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player and coach.


1948
Telma Hopkins, singer from Tony Orlando and Dawn and actress from Family Matters, is born in Louisville, Kentucky.


1965
Earl Bostic, popular jazz alto saxophonist and winner of the 1959 Playboy Jazz poll, joins the ancestors in Rochester, New York. The Tulsa, Oklahoma native had begun his career in the Midwest and, after studying music and playing with bands in the South, landed with Lionel Hampton’s big band, among others.


1973
Elmore Smith of the Los Angeles Lakers blocks 17 shots in a game to establish a NBA record.


1981
Edward M. McIntyre is elected as the first African American mayor of Augusta, Georgia.


1992
William “Bill” Cosby, critical of the portrayal of Black images, made a bid to buy NBC.


2001
Lt. Gen. Frank E. Petersen, USMC (Ret.) was born in Topeka, Kansas on this date. On June 6, 1950, Frank Petersen enlisted in the Navy. At the age of 20, he was the first Afro-American to be named a naval aviator in the Marine Corp. He was also the first African American to command a fighter squadron, a fighter air group, an air wing, and a major base.


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