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1763
Black chimney sweeps in Charleston, SC formed the first union-like organization and demanded better wages on this date.


1837
Harriet Powers was born on this date. She was a black southern quilt maker who worked in textile needlework.

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 events.

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.



1846
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.



1853
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 Central High 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 plantations.

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.



1866
On this date, The Colored School in Watsonville, California was established.

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 private home.



1889
John Standard, inventor, patented the oil stove. His patent number is #413,689.


1902
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 Monarch label.


1923
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.


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.


1929
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.


1931
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.


1934
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.



1945
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.


1947
The President’s Committee on Civil Rights condemns racial injustices in America in a formal report, “To Secure These Rights.”


1947
Texas Southern University is established.


1947
The NAACP Spingarn Medal is awarded to Dr. Percy L. Julian for his achievements as a scientist.


1949
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.


1960
Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali) boxes in his first professional fight, beating Tunney Hunsaker in 6 rounds.


1961
Randy Jackson is born in Gary, Indiana. He will become a member of the famed family group, “The Jackson Five.”


1969
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.


1969
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.”


1974
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 debut.


1981
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.


1987
Thomas Hearns wins an unprecedented 4th boxing title in different weight classes.


1989
South African activist, Walter Sisulu, was freed after 25 years of imprisonment on this date. Sisulu, like Nelson Mandela, was a political prisoner.


1994
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.


1997
William E, 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.


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