chimney sweeps in Charleston, SC
formed the first union-like organization and demanded better wages on this
Harriet Powers was born on
this date. She was a black southern quilt maker who worked in textile
Born a slave in Athens, Georgia and living in Clarke County
for half of her life, she married Armstead Powers and her first daughter Amanda
was born when she was 18. In time eight more children were born to Harriet and
Armstead, the last, a son Marshall, born, census records suggest, in 1872. Some
historians speculate she spent her early years on a plantation owned by John
and Nancy Lester northeast of Athens near
Danielsville in Madison
County. Powers more than
likely learned the art of quilt making embroidered with appliqué work from her
plantation mistress or from other slaves.
Blacks did fancy needlework for their owners during the daylight hours and
labored to provide practical clothing and bed covers for their own families by
candlelight. Textile historians also note great similarities between Powers’
work and the technique mastered by the Fon people of Dahomey,
West Africa. Immediately following the close
of the Civil War, in April 1865, life was extremely difficult for both the
white and Black populations in Clarke
County. Armstead Powers
identified himself as a ‘farmhand’ in the 1870 census; Harriet is listed as
‘keeping house,’ and three children Amanda, Leon Joe (Alonzo) and Nancy lived at home.
That year, records show, the family owned no land in Clarke County
but claimed $300 in personal property. The Powers family lived in the Buck
Branch District of Clarke County by 1873, but alternated between Buck Branch
and Sandy Creek
districts of Clarke
County beginning in 1870.
By the 1880s, they had four acres of land of their own. In the 1890s, however,
Armstead and Harriet Powers’ short-lived prosperity dwindled. Armstead sold off
parcels of land, eventually defaulted on taxes, and, after 1894, left Harriet
and the farm.
Harriet never remarried, but remained independent in her home at Sandy Creek,
probably supporting herself as a seamstress. Harriet Powers exhibited her first
story quilt at a Cotton Fair held in Athens
in 1886. The appliqué quilt depicted scenes from Bible stories and spirituals
she committed to memory and was made of 299 separate pieces of fabric
machine-stitched to a background of watermelon color cotton. Harriet’s work
caught the eye of Oneida Virginia (‘Jennie’) Smith, then head of the
art department at the Lucy Cobb Institute. She offered to buy it, but Powers
refused to sell it at any price. After four years of unsuccessful negotiation
between the two women, in 1891 Harriet approached Jennie again and offered the
Bible quilt for sale. She took the five dollars and left for home.
Fortunately for posterity, she also left Jennie Smith a detailed oral
description of each of the quilt’s 11 panels. Smith entered Harriet Powers’
Bible Quilt at the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition in Atlanta. The faculty
ladies at Atlanta University commissioned a second narrative quilt from
Harriet Powers to be a gift in 1898 to the Reverend Charles Cuthbert Hall,
president of the Union Theological Seminary and longtime chairman of the board
of trustees of Atlanta
University. The 15 panels
of Powers’ second story quilt illustrated Biblical or verifiable astronomical
Stitched into scenes inspired by Bible stories, her recollection of events that
occurred during her lifetime and even her retelling of unusual natural events
she heard about that occurred before her birth. For example, one panel
illustrates the ‘dark day’ of May 19, 1780 (now identified as dense smoke over
North America caused by Canadian wildfires) and the November 13, 1833 ‘night of
falling stars’ that convinced many terrified Americans that Judgment Day had
come, but was later identified as the Leonid meteor storm.
Composed with a needle and scraps of fabric instead of a pen and paper, the
narrative or story quilts stitched by this self-effacing African-American woman
survived a remarkable journey from cabins on Clarke County’s
back roads to places of honor in major American museums. Powers’ first Bible
quilt is now part of the collection of the Smithsonian Institution in
Washington, D.C., while her second narrative quilt, held by the Museum of Fine
Arts in Boston, was a centerpiece of a major exhibition of American Folk Art
there in the summer of 2001. Only two of Powers’ quilts, admired for their
extensive documentation and use of appliquéd designs as a storytelling
technique, survive today. Harriet Powers died in 1911. Powers’ grave was
uncovered in 2005 at Athens’ historic black
cemetery, Gospel Pilgrim Cemetery.
The birth of
George Washington Johnson is
celebrated on this date. He was a black singer and musician, and a pioneer in
American recorded music.
Born into slavery his birthplace is unknown. Johnson moved to New York in the 1870’s and became a street
performer. His songs “The Whistling Coon” and “The Laughing Song,” both
essentially minstrel pieces, were the most popular American songs the 1890’s
record industry. Technology didn’t allow for duplicating Edison cylinders at
that point, so Johnson, with a pianist backing him, sang each of his songs
thousands and thousands of times, at about 20 cents a piece: an estimated
25,000 copies were in print by 1894 alone.
”I heard some people say/Here comes the dandy darkey, here he comes this way,”
are Johnson’s lyrics “The Laughing Song.” “And when I heard them say it, why
I’d laugh until I’d cry,” are others, and laugh he did. It has been noted that
listening to Johnson laugh was scary to hear considering his plight as a black
man in early America.
George W. Johnson died apparently of natural causes, while in the employ of Len
Spencer as doorman for the Lyceum Theater in Manhattan in 1914.
Josephine Bruce was born on this date. She was a
Black teacher and social activist.
From Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Josephine Beall Willson Bruce was raised in Cleveland, Ohio,
the daughter of a Dr. Joseph Willson who was a dentist and writer and Elizabeth
Harnett Willson a talented musician. After graduating from Cleveland’s
School in 1871, and completing a teachers training course,
Willson was the first black to join the faculty of an integrated Cleveland elementary
school. In 1878, she married Blanche K. Bruce, Senator from Mississippi.
The couple moved to Washington
D.C. and started a family
together. While assisting in her husband political career moves and raising
their only child, Bruce held a prominent place in the social life of Washington’s Black elite
and aided a number of ventures to promote the welfare of African-Americans. She
was a strong advocate of industrial education for the Black masses as a way of
overcoming obstacles in the path of racial progress. Following the death of her
husband, Bruce became lady principal of Booker T. Washington’s Tuskegee
Institute from 1899 to 1902. Upon leaving Tuskegee,
Bruce moved to Josephine, Mississippi to manage her family’s cotton
She returned to Washington D.C. when her (Harvard-educated) son became
assistant-superintendent in charge of the district’s Black schools. An early
leader and advocate of the club movement among Black women; she was a founder
of the Booklovers’ Club and the Colored Woman’s League and the National
Association of Colored Women (NACW). Josephine Bruce spent the last few months
of her life in Kimball, West Virginia, where her son had become a
school principal. At the age of seventy, she died on February 15, 1923.
date, The Colored School in Watsonville, California
Watsonville is south of the San
Francisco area between Santa Cruz
and Salinas, California. The Colored School
was located in a small, modest cottage set back from the street on a deep lot.
The exterior had been altered, and it has the original clapboard siding. This
small building was the Pajaro Valley School District’s
response to Robert Johnson, a black farmer from Tennessee who asked to have his children
admitted to the public school.
Rather than permitting Black children to attend the same school as their White
peers, the district in 1864 hired a woman to teach blacks in her home. However
again, on Oct. 29th in 1866, Johnson requested that his children be
admitted to the public school on the “grounds he was taxed for the support of
the school and, under the provision of the (then new) Civil Rights Bill his
children were entitled to the benefits of the School.”
In response, the school trustees raised money to build A Colored School.
Johnson contributed the site for the school; he instilled conditions to
guarantee continued use of the land for non-segregated education purposes. On
this date in 1866, Johnson passed on title to the property on East Lake Street
to the Pajaro Valley School District. He made the following stipulations: the
land was “to be used for a schoolhouse to which children shall be admitted
irrespective of color for the purpose of education, who shall have arrived at
legal school age, and demean themselves accordingly to the rules and customs of
common school... and should this school not be maintained for any year in time
of peace, then this instrument shall be void and the land and promises herein
described shall revert to said party of the first part, his heirs, executor,
administrator and assigns.” (Recorded November 5, 1866, Deed Book 8)
By 1878, the black community had moved to end the separate-but-equal education
policy, but the trustees denied their petition. Blacks then boycotted the
“Colored School.” In retaliation, the trustees closed the school, and Johnson
filed suit to bring a test case to court. In July 1879, the trustees agreed to
abolish the traditional policy of separate-but-equal education, a decision
possibly encouraged by the fact that the site of the closed school would revert
to Johnson as stipulated by the deed.
Currently, the small 1866 Colored School still stands on the Johnson lot, but
the property no longer serves its educational use. The building is now a
John Standard, inventor, patented the oil stove. His patent number is #413,689.
The Dinwiddle Quartet from Virginia is the first African
American singing group on record when they record six single sided discs,
including “Down at the Old Camp Ground,” on the Victory Talking Machine Company’s
Runnin’ Wild opens at the Colonial Theater on Broadway in New York City. This Miller and Lyles Production was the first public introduction of
the dance “The Charleston” and others to
New York and the world. The Black chorus line moved and sang James P. Johnson’s
“Charleston” and others. In the show, both dance and songs, expressive of the
reckless daring, abandon, and restlessness of the jazz-age flappers. Soon “The
Charleston” became the trend and craze throughout the United States and the
world. The show had 228 performances and closed on June 28, 1924.
Dixie to Broadway, “the first real revue by Negroes,”
opens at the Broadhurst Theater, New York City, with Florence Mills in the starring role.
The collapse of
the stock market and the beginning of the Great Depression. By 1937, 26 per cent of African
American males will be unemployed.
William Grant Still’s “Afro-American
Symphony” was first presented by the Rochester Philharmonic Ocherstra on this
date. It was the first symphony composed by a Black composer to be performed by
a major orchestra.
On this date,
Eddie Harris was born.
He was an African-American jazz saxophonist and vocalist.
Born in Chicago, Harris studied piano at home and attended the famous Du Sable
High School, under the direction of Capt. Walter Dyett, where he learned to
play vibes. He made his professional debut as a pianist, with Gene Ammons.
Throughout his career, Harris was a tireless experimenter, playing saxophones
with brass mouthpieces and vice versa. He wrote several books, including The
Intervalistic Concept For All Single Line Instruments, an elaboration for
saxophone of a piano style based on intervals.
Eddie Harris was a one-of-a-kind, nonconformist multi-instrumentalist whose
first recording, a saxophone rendition of the theme from the movie Exodus
(1961), was a pop instrumental hit. Harris went to become one of the first jazz
musicians to “plug in,” playing his horn through a Varitone attachment, which
netted him another hit, 1966’s “The Tender Storm.” Later, he sang through a
synthesized saxophone, and employed a guitarist on a customized instrument that
was made to sound like a Hammond B-3 organ.
Harris’ composition “Freedom Jazz Dance” became a jazz standard after Miles
Davis recorded it. Harris enjoyed renewed popularity with Les McCann’s
funk/jazz group, beginning in 1969, when they performed at the Montreux Jazz
Festival; together they also recorded “Compared To What” and “Swiss Movement.”
Harris recorded a jazz/rock album with “Steve Winwood, Jeff Beck, and Eddie
Harris in The UK.”
In the latter half of his career, Harris incorporated vocals into his act, as
well as stand-up comedy. His recorded output was huge, and uneven. He died in
Los Angeles on November 5, 1996.
Beatrice Moore is born in New York, New York. She
will become an actress and singer better known as Melba Moore. Her big break will come when she joins the cast of the Broadway
musical “Hair.” She will eventually win the lead role. It will be the first
time that an African American actress replaces a white actress (Diane Keaton) for
a lead role on Broadway. That engagement will be followed with another Broadway
hit, “Purlie,” which earns her a Tony Award and rave reviews. This success will
be followed by appearances in film and television. In addition to her success
in acting, she will have a fruitful recording career.
The President’s Committee on Civil Rights condemns racial injustices
in America in a formal report, “To Secure These Rights.”
Texas Southern University is established.
The NAACP Spingarn
Medal is awarded to Dr. Percy L. Julian for his
achievements as a scientist.
Alonzo G. Moron, from the Virgin Islands, becomes
the first person of African descent to become president of Hampton Institute
(now University) in Hampton, Virginia.
Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) boxes in his first professional fight,
beating Tunney Hunsaker in 6 rounds.
Randy Jackson is born in Gary, Indiana. He will
become a member of the famed family group, “The Jackson Five.”
Johnson Products Company of Chicago, Illinois, the largest
African American hair-care products manufacturer, is incorporated. Founded by George Johnson in 1954, in 1971, it will become the
first African American owned company listed on the American Stock Exchange.
The U.S. Supreme Court states that school systems must end segregation
“at once” and “operate now and hereafter only unitary schools.” In the
Mississippi case, Alexander v. Holmes, the Court
abandons the principle of “all deliberate speed.”
Muhammad Ali defeats George Foreman in Zaire to
regain his heavyweight crown in a fight billed as “The Rumble in the Jungle.”
In addition to the fight being the first heavyweight title fight held in
Africa, it is the 14th Anniversary of Ali’s professional boxing
William Otis Walker, publisher of the “Cleveland Call
& Post,” joins the ancestors at the age of 85. He was the first African
American to hold a post in the Ohio Cabinet in 1963, and was national chairman
for “Black Republicans for Reagan and Bush” in 1980.
Thomas Hearns wins an unprecedented 4th
boxing title in different weight classes.
South African activist, Walter Sisulu, was freed after 25 years of
imprisonment on this date. Sisulu, like Nelson Mandela, was a political
Pearl Primus died on this date. She founded her own dance company in 1946 and was
best known for her “primitive” dances. She was famed for her energy and her
physical daring, which were characterized by leaps up to five feet in the air.
Dance critics praised her movements as forceful and dramatic, yet graceful and
deliberately controlled. During this time Primus often based her dances on the
work of black writers and on racial issues.
Kennard was confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the first Black chairman of
the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on this date. The FCC regulates the
nation’s radio, wire, satellite, and cable communications. Kennard, who began
working at the FCC in in 1993 as general counsel, was named a member of the
five-member panel by President Bill Clinton in 1997 before becoming chairman. Kennard
served as chairman from November 1997 to January 2001, helping shape FCC
policies fostering expansion of wireless phones and the Internet. A native of Los Angeles, he graduated from Stanforddd
University and Yale Law School. Kennard currently serves as
managing director of the Carlyle Group, a Washington,
DC based global telecommunications
and media group.