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.
celebrates the birth of Edward Bannister. He was a
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
Terri is the daughter of retired Coach Andrew A. Sewell and retired librarian
Nancy Gardner Sewell, the first black City Councilwoman in Selma, Alabama.