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On this date the first school for blacks in America, the African Free School in New York, opened its doors in its official building in New York City. The African Free School was originally founded on November 1, 1787 by the Manumission Society. The African Free School commenced originally as a one-room school. After a fire destroyed the building in 1814, African School No. 2 opened in 1815, with room for five hundred pupils. After a fire destroyed the building in 1814, African School No. 2 opened in 1815 on William Street near Duane with room for five hundred pupils. By 1834 there were seven African Free Schools and, in 1835, the school was integrated into the public school system.

This date celebrates the birth of Edward Bannister. He was a black Artist.

Edward Mitchell Bannister was the first of two sons born to Edward and Hannah Alexander Bannister. His mother encouraged his love of drawing; she died when he was eighteen. He settled in Boston in 1848, laboring at menial jobs before he learned the skilled trades of barbering and women’s hair styling. He also began to study painting at the Boston Studio Building and the Lowell Institute. There he became skilled at tinting photographs and worked at this trade for a year in New York.

In 1857, Bannister married Christiana B. Carteaux, from Rhode Island. He shared a studio and participated in group exhibitions at the Boston Art Club and Museum, presenting works of biblical themes, portraits, landscapes and seascapes, and genre scenes. Most of these early works are now lost, and known only from written descriptions. In 1870 the Bannister’s moved to Providence, where they quickly and easily fit into artistic and professional circles. In 1876 Bannister’s painting Under the Oaks took the first prize medal at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition, although the judges tried to withhold the award when they discovered he was Black. The painting has since been lost, along with the sketches for it and the medal.

Among Bannister’s later works are Moon Over a Harbor, Newspaper Boy, Oak Trees, Approaching Storm, Sabin Point, and Narragansett Bay. His works are presently held at Brown University, the National Museum of American Art, the Rhode Island School of Design, and the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Bannister was one of the first blacks to receive national recognition as a painter, and was the only major Black artist of the nineteenth century who did not travel to Europe to study art.

Democrats suppressed and disenfranchised the African American vote by fraud and violence and carry Mississippi elections. “The Mississippi Plan” staged riots, political assassinations, massacres and social and economic intimidation. The plan used literacy and “understanding” tests to disenfranchise black American citizens. On record, it was alleged that (then) Governor Ames was an unfit person to hold the office he had held since 1873. Similar statutes were adopted by South Carolina (1895), Louisiana (1898), North Carolina (1900), Alabama (1901), Virginia (1901), Georgia (1908), and Oklahoma (1910). It was used later to overthrow Reconstruction governments in South Carolina and Louisiana.

Menelik II was crowned Negusa-Nagast (King of Kings) of Abysinnia, Ethiopia. By 1899 Abysinnia had extended as far as Kenya in the south, Somaliland in the East, and the Sudan in the West. During his reign, Menelik devoted much of his time to the building of railroads, schools, hospitals and industries. Menilik II is probably most known for leading his country to victory over the Italian forces who sought to colonize his country in 1896.

On this date, Daniel A. Payne died. The sixth bishop of the American Methodist Episcopal Church, Payne was the first African American ordained by the Lutheran Church in 1837. In 1856, he founded Wilberforce University, where he became the first Black president of a college in America. Payne was born February 24, 1811, in Charleston, South Carolina.

James Lesesne Wells was born on this date. He was an African-American educator, artist and photographer.

From Atlanta, Georgia, his father was a Baptist minister and his mother a teacher. At an early age, he moved to Florida with his family. His first experience as an artist was through his mother, who encouraged him to help out with art instruction in her kindergarten classes. At thirteen, he won first prize in painting and a second prize in woodworking at the Florida State Fair. Wells studied at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania before transferring to Columbia University in New York, where he majored in art.

His exposure to an exhibition of African sculpture at the Brooklyn Museum of Art inspired him. He was also greatly influenced by the woodcuts of Albrecht Durer and the German Expressionists: Ernst Kirchner, Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Otto Muller, and Emile Nolde. Unlike most of his contemporaries, he saw prints as a major art form. After graduation, Wells created block prints to illustrate articles and publications such as Willis Richardson’s Plays and Pageants of Negro Life.

In April 1929 his work was included in an exhibition of “International Modernists” at the New Art Circle Gallery. Later that year, he was invited to join the faculty at Howard University as a crafts teacher. He taught clay modeling, ceramics, sculpture, metal and block printing. After two years he convinced the school that he and linoleum cutting belonged in the College of Fine Arts. Wells was an innovator in the field of printmaking. After World War II, he spent a sabbatical year working in Stanley Hayter’s Atelier 17. During the 1950s and 1960s, he taught and won many art prizes. As an activist, Wells joined his brother-in-law, Eugene Davidson, president of the local NAACP chapter, in protesting segregation in lunch counters, stores, and the nearly all white police department and as a result, was often harassed.

This persecution probably accounted for some of the religious themes in his work. Wells retired from Howard University in 1968, painting and make prints into his eighties. Color linoleum prints became his specialty. In 1986, the Washington Project for the Arts assembled a major exhibition of his work, and in 1973, Fisk University mounted another one-man show. His work Flight Into Egypt was exhibited in 1990 in the Harmon’s “Against the Odds” exhibition and still looked as modern as it had when it was created. James Lesesne Wells was a leading graphic artist and art teacher, whose work reflected the vitality of the Harlem Renaissance. Wells died on January 20, 1993 at the age of ninety.

Business and civic leader, Maggie Lena Walker, opened the St. Luke Penny Savings Bank in Richmond, Virginia, as one of the first Black owned banks in America, becoming the first female bank president in the United States. The Saint Luke Penny Savings Bank, as its name suggests, was established as an institution whose interest was the small investors, literally the pennies of the African-American washerwomen—ultimately proving that even with pennies, the African-American community had economic power. Saint Luke Penny Savings Bank merged with two other banks to become Consolidated Bank and Trust, the oldest existing African-American owned and operated bank in the U. S., with several branches today in Richmond and Hampton, Virginia.

Beryl McBurnie was born on this date. She was a Trinidadian dancer, instructor and administrator.

From Woodbrook, Trinidad her life was one of total dedication to the folk dance of Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean. She attended Tranquility and after finishing high school she went to teacher’s training college and then left for Columbia University in 1938. Trinidad at that time could not provide McBurnie with opportunities for growth in her art. This led her to New York where she studied with Martha Graham. As La Belle Rosette (her theatrical name), she became an enormously successful dancer.

She had many performances in New York and her dancing was so passionate and colorful that one observer described her as “legend fire.” The famous dancer Katherine Dunham, who was known for her African and Caribbean dance rhythms, was greatly influenced by her work with McBurnie. She returned in 1940 and put on her first official dance concert called ‘A Trip Through the Tropics” which was so successful that it ran for several days. From 1942 to 1945 she worked with a highly talented group of dancers called the Beryl McBurnie Dance Troupe. She continued to work abroad demonstrating Caribbean dance at many colleges in the U. S. and did research in South America and Trinidad on the origins of Caribbean dance.

She was known as the Mother of Caribbean Dance. She has received many awards and accolades throughout her life, among them the Golden Arrow Crown from Guyana in 1966 and the Humming Bird Gold Medal of Honor from Trinidad and Tobago in 1969. She was honored by the Alvin Ailey Dance Company in New York in 1978 with Katherine Dunham and Pearl Primus and was among the six artists in the Caribbean honored at Carifesta in Barbados in 1981. McBurnie’s life cannot be fully appreciated unless one understands the state of the arts at the time in Trinidad.

The community in which she lived was bent on being very English. What happened at funerals and at wakes of Black people and the dances of the Hispanic Creoles was to be kept as far away from the community as possible. This was an association with slavery, a step back, not a step forward. And yet, Beryl was fascinated with these folk cultures. What she did in the 1930’s and 40’s was seen by many as negative to the Black race in Trinidad and in other areas of colonization who were trying to mimic the Whites.

It was in this environment that she wanted to legitimize folk dance in Trinidad. McBurnie died on March 30, 2000 after a long day’s work. (Sculpture by Luise Kimme).

Upon the death of Ethiopian Empress Zawditu, Ras Tafari Makonnen was crowned Negus (Emperor) of Ethiopia, Africa’s oldest independent country, taking the name Haile Selassie I. His coronation signified, to thousands of Jamaicans and Garveyites in the United States, the fulfillment of the prophecy of their leader, Marcus Garvey.

The 82-year-old ruler was deposed by a military coup, September 12, 1974. The bloodless revolution removed a man of intense courage and serious conviction. Selassie came from the royal Ethiopian Line stretching back through the Solomonic Dynasty of 255 monarchs of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba. The ruler worked hard to give his country a leading role in Africa. In 1958, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital was chosen as the headquarters of the Economic Commission for Africa. In June 1960, it was host to the second conference of Independent African States. In May 1963, Haile Selassie convoked the first conference of African Heads of State, at which the charter for the Organization for African Unity was devised.

Charles C. Diggs becomes the first African American representative to Congress from Michigan. He, along with William Dawson of Illinois and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. of New York, comprise the largest number of African Americans to date in Congress in the 20th century. Diggs will leave Congress in 1980 after being convicted of mail fraud and being censured by Congress.

NAACP’s Spingarn Medal is presented to Dr. Theodore K. Lawles for his research on skin-related diseases.

Willie McGee, baseball player (St. Louis Cardinals and 1985 National League MVP), is born.

Seventeen Black congressmen were reelected.

Black activist Joanne Chesimard escapes from a New Jersey prison, where she was serving a life sentence for the 1973 slaying of a New Jersey state trooper. Chesimard, who takes the name Assata Shakur, successfully flees the United States to Cuba.

Katie B. Hall is elected the first African American congressional representative from Indiana.

On this date, the legislative bill establishing Martin Luther King Day as a national holiday was signed.

The official holiday, on the third Monday of January, began in 1986. It was the first new American holiday since 1948, when Memorial Day was created as a “prayer for peace” day. Also it was only the second national holiday in the twentieth century (the other was Veterans Day, created as Armistice Day in 1926 to honor those who died in World War I). King is the only American besides George Washington to have a national holiday designated for his birthday (those of Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Robert E. Lee and others are celebrated in some states but not nationwide).

Internationally, King was one of the few social leaders of any country to be honored with a holiday (Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday is observed in India). Such standing by a member of a country’s racial minority is almost unheard of. Usually, the honor is reserved for military or religious figures. When President Ronald Reagan signed legislation creating the holiday, it marked the end of a persistent, highly organized lobbying effort across the nation that lasted 15 years. “We worked hard to put together a national effort and make a powerful network,” said Cedric Hendricks, legislative aide to Rep. John Conyers, Michigan Democrat.

It was Conyers who, four days after King was assassinated in Memphis, submitted the first legislation to commemorate his birthday. Petitions carrying more than 6 million signatures said to be the largest petition drive in history were submitted to Congress in 1970. With help from New York Democratic Rep. Shirley Chisholm, Conyers resubmitted the legislation during each congressional session. The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, which coordinated the petition campaign, also kept continuous pressure on Congress for the holiday. Mass marches in 1982 for voting rights and 1983 to mark the 20th anniversary of King’s speech in Washington, D.C., also were a factor.

It took bipartisan support to overcome the opposition of Sen. Jesse Helms, R-North Carolina, who called King a Communist, and President Reagan’s lukewarm feelings toward the legislation. In the final analysis, what may have sealed approval of the holiday was a compromise offered by Rep. Katie Hall, Indiana Democrat who marshaled support in the House for the legislation.

Hall, responding to criticism that the holiday would be too close to the Christmas/New Year’s week, moved its observance to the third Monday of the month. The notion of a three-day weekend, plus the fact that the third Monday (at the time) followed Super Bowl Sunday, helped push the measure through.

Sharon Sayles Belton is elected 1st Black mayor of Minneapolis.

Venus Williams was named Sports Woman of the Year by Sports Illustrated on this date.

On this date, receiving 72% of the vote Terri A. Sewell was elected to as the U.S. Representative for the 7th District of Alabama, which includes parts of the cities of Birmingham and Tuscaloosa, as well as the counties of Alabama’s Black Belt – the heart of which is Sewell’s hometown of Selma. With this election, Sewell became, not only one of the first women elected to Congress from Alabama in her own right, but also the first black woman to ever serve in the Alabama Congressional delegation. Though, at this time, there have been a great number of African Americans elected to both the Senate and the House of Representative, this is an important Black History note because of the past staunch segregationist and racial history of the state of Alabama.

As of this Black History note, Congresswoman Sewell sits on the House Committee on Agriculture as well as the House Committee on Science, Space & Technology. She is also serves as the Democratic freshman class president and as a both a regional and senior Whip.

The first black valedictorian of Selma High School, Terri attended Princeton University, graduating cum laude in 1986. Terri was awarded a Marshall/Commonwealth Scholarship and received a Masters degree with first class Honors from Oxford University in 1988.

She is a 1992 graduate of Harvard Law School where she served as an editor of the Civil Rights Civil Liberties Law Review.

After graduation, Terri served as a judicial law clerk to the Honorable Chief Judge U.W. Clemon, U.S. District Court, Northern District of Alabama, in Birmingham. Terri began her legal career at the prestigious law firm of Davis, Polk & Wardwell in New York City, where she was a successful securities lawyer for more than a decade. Upon returning home to Alabama in 2004, she has made a significant impact both professionally and through her community activities.

Prior to her election to Congress, Terri was a partner in the Birmingham law office of Maynard, Cooper & Gale, P.C. where she distinguished herself as one of the only black public finance lawyers in the State of Alabama. Her clients included, among others, City of Selma, Dallas County Water Authority, Alabama State University, Stillman College, Jefferson State and Wallace State-Hanceville.

Terri is the daughter of retired Coach Andrew A. Sewell and retired librarian Nancy Gardner Sewell, the first black City Councilwoman in Selma, Alabama.

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