Theodore Sedgwick Wright becomes the first African American person to get a Theology Degree in
the United States, when he graduates from Princeton Theological Seminary.
Nat Turner, revolutionary freedom fighter and leader of a slave revolt in Southampton County, VA
was tried and found guilty for his participation in the revolt on this date.
Madison Washington led slaves aboard the slave ship Creole in a successful revolt on this
date. They forced the captain and crew to take them to Nassau, Bahamas,
where they were given asylum and gained their freedom.
Frazier A. Boutelle is commissioned as second lieutenant in the Fifth New York Calvary.
First Reconstruction constitutional
convention opens in Montgomery, Alabama.
It has eighteen African Americans and ninety whites in attendance.
Willis Richardson was born on
this date. He was an African-American playwright.
From Wilmington, North
Carolina, he and his parents, Willis Wilder and Agnes Ann Harper
Richardson, moved to Washington,
DC shortly after the Wilmington
Riots of 1898. The riots resulted in the death of sixteen Blacks and had an
impact on Richardson
as a child. Richardson’s
father, who read to him as a young boy, encouraged his interest in books and
As a child, neighbors often criticized Richardson for reading too much;
however, in his own words he states “I would forget the rest of the world and
become a part of the adventures of Frank and Dick Merriwell, the Liberty Boys
of Seventy-Six, the James Boys, and others too numerous to mention.” Richardson attended M Street School, later named Dunbar High
School. His experiences at M Street had a
positive impact on his life. Mary Burrill, his English teacher who was a
playwright, encouraged him and was influential in having Richardson’s first play read and evaluated by
Alain Locke. Angelina Grimke, also an English teacher at the school, reviewed
some of his poems; and gave him his impetus to seek a career as a dramatist.
Richardson, a pioneer in the black theatre movement, emerged as a playwright at
the dawn of the New Negro Renaissance. However, over the past decades his works
have been largely forgotten. Few people are aware of his true contributions to
the development of black drama. At the request of Carter G. Woodson, founder of
the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, Richardson compiled his first anthology in
1930. The plays in this anthology, Plays and Pageants from the Life of the
Negro, were written by Black authors, were not in dialect, and had subject
matter suitable for school age youngsters. James Lesesne Wells completed the
illustrations for this anthology.
In 1935, Richardson
co-edited with May Miller a second anthology, Negro History in Thirteen Plays.
In addition to writing, Richardson
was a regular between 1926-1936 with other writer at the “Saturday Nighters” at
Georgia Douglas Johnson’s home. Posthumously, Richardson was awarded the AUDELCO prize,
which is a testament to his excellence in black theatre. He died on November 7,
James Banning was born on this date. He was an
he was the son of Riley and Cora Banning. The family moved to Ames in 1919, where he studied electrical
engineering at Iowa State College for a little more than a year. Dreaming from
boyhood of being a pilot, James Herman Banning was repeatedly turned away from
flight schools because he was Black. He eventually learned to fly from an army
aviator at Raymond Fisher’s Flying Field in Des Moines He became the first
Black aviator to obtain a license from the U. S. Dept. of Commerce.
Banning also operated the J. H. Banning Auto Repair Shop in Ames from 1922 to 1928. He left Iowa for Los
Angeles in 1929 where he was the chief pilot for the
Bessie Coleman Aero Club. There he became a demonstration pilot flying a
biplane named “Miss Ames.” He named it as such because of his days in the Midwest. In 1932, Banning and another Black pilot, Thomas
C. Allen became the first Blacks to fly coast-to-coast from Los
Angeles to Long Island,
NY. Using a plane pieced together
from junkyard parts, they made the 3,300 mile trip in less than 42 hours in the
air. However, the trip actually required 21 days to complete because the pilots
had to raise money each time they stopped.
Sadly, James Banning was killed in a plane crash during an air show in San Diego in 1933. He was
a passenger in a biplane flown by a Navy pilot, which stalled and entered an
unrecoverable spin in front of hundreds of horrified spectators.
date, we mark the birth of Etta Moten Barnett. She was an
African-American vocalist and theatre artist.
Born in Weimar, TX, she was daughter of Freeman (a Methodist
minister) and Ida Norman Moten. During her senior year at the University of Kansas,
Moten was discovered while performing in a recital and invited to join the
prestigious Eva Jessy Choir in New
York, which she promptly did after graduation. She
was married in the 1920s, and divorced six years later.
She went on to achieve stardom in the theater, performing in legendary Broadway
productions of Sugar Hill, Lysistrata, and Porgy and Bess,
joining the ranks of African-America’s most elite talent, including Sidney
Poitier, Cab Calloway, and Maya Angelou. Moten became the first
African-American stage and screen star to sing and perform at the White House.
President and Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt invited Ms. Moten on January 31, 1933.
She also appeared in the movie “Flying Down to Rio”
(1933), singing and dancing the Carioca, and as a singer in “The Gold Diggers
of 1933” (1933).
In 1934 Moten married Claude Barnett, founder of the Negro Associated Press.
Together they enjoyed a special bond, traveling during the late 1950’s as
members of U.S. delegation
She also represented the U. S.
at the independent ceremonies of Nigeria,
Zambia, and Lusaka. After her husband’s death in 1967,
Moten Barnett became more active in domestic affairs including working with the
Chicago’s DuSable Museum
and Lyric Opera.
Her many distinctions include honorary degrees from Spelman College, Lincoln University,
and the University of Illinois, an award for her Contributions to American
Music by Atlanta University, and the establishment of a scholarship in her name
for minority students at the Chicago Academy for the Performing Arts. In her later years, she was active as an Advisory Board Member of The
Black Academy of Arts and Letters. She was a long time resident of Chicago and died on January
Theodore McNeal was born on this date. He was an
African-American Union organizer and politician.
From Helena, Arkansas,
after graduating from high school in his hometown, he moved to St. Louis working at a ceramics and brick
plant. A few years later, he took a temporary position working on a Pullman
car. In 1930 McNeal was one of the first
St. Louis-area Pullman-car workers to join the
International Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. Seven years later, McNeal
and other union officials succeeded in signing a hard-earned contract between
the Pullman Company and the brotherhood, a promised agreement between a large
American company and a predominantly Black union.
McNeal joined the national staff of the union as a field representative and
chief negotiator, and in 1950 he became national vice president of the union.
During World War II, he began promoting fair-employment practices for Blacks in
McNeal had earned some local recognition as a civil rights leader when he
decided, at the age of fifty-four, to enter politics. In 1960 he challenged
incumbent senator Edward J. “Jellyroll” Hogan for his Seventh District senate
seat and defeated Hogan in the Democratic Primary by a six-to-one ratio. Thus
he became the first African-American elected to the Missouri Senate.
For the next ten years McNeal served with distinction. He led the passage of
the Fair Employment Practices Act (1961); he supported the creation of the University of Missouri-St. Louis (1964); and he helped
in the passage of the state Civil Rights Code (1965). In 1970 McNeal retired
from politics and accepted an appointment from to the University of Missouri’s
governing board. McNeal resigned from the board in 1973 to become president of
the St. Louis Board of Police Commissioners.
McNeal’s numerous awards and honors included honorary degrees from the University of Missouri,
and Lindenwood University. He died on October 25, 1982,
following a lengthy illness.
Theodore M. Berry was born on
this date. He was an African-American politician.
Born in Maysville a small town on the banks of the Ohio
River, his father was a white farmer he met only once. His mother
was deaf and communicated with him only in sign language. As a child, he sold newspapers,
shined shoes, shoveled coal, delivered laundry, shelved books in local
libraries, and worked as a desk clerk at the “Black” YMCA in Cincinnati where he roomed during high
He was commencement orator and senior-class valedictorian of Woodward High in
June 1924. To enter the essay contest, he submitted his oration “The Chaos
Beyond” under the pen name Thomas Playfair. The panel of white teacher-judges
had rejected his initial entry under his own name entitled “Lincoln and the Constitution.”
The Playfair essay won. When its real author was revealed, Berry was forbidden to walk in the
commencement procession with a white female classmate. He walked alone, the
first African-American valedictorian in the school’s history. In 1926, his
mother died having never heard her son speak, but Berry grew up carefully enunciating his
words, so she could lip-read. From it, he mastered diction, a skill that drove
him throughout his career. He paid his way through the University
of Cincinnati law school by working at
mills. He was admitted to the Ohio Bar in 1932 and, six years later, was
appointed the first Black assistant prosecuting attorney for Hamilton County.
Also in 1938, he married the former Johnnie Mae Elaine Newton. Berry became a pivotal
civil-rights attorney for the National Association for the Advancement of
Colored People.” In 1942, Berry
became morale officer for the Office of War Information under Franklin D.
Roosevelt, switching his political allegiance as a result from Republican to
Democrat. After the war, he returned to the NAACP and, from 1947 to 1961,
served on the Ohio Committee for Civil Rights Legislation. He won a seat on
Cincinnati City Council in 1949 and in 1953; he was appointed chairman of the
vice mayor in 1955, he lost re-election in 1957, and then returned in ‘63. The
following year, Berry created Cincinnati’s first Community Action
Commission, which drew the attention of new Office of Economic Opportunity
(OEO) in Washington, D. C. In 1965, President Johnson appointed him as head of
OEO’s Community Action Programs (CAP), which include Head Start, Jobs Corps and
Legal Services. He returned to Cincinnati
and in December 1972 became the city’s first Black mayor.
In 1986, Berry helped revive preference voting
That year he was invited by the Hamilton County Rainbow Coalition to debate the
merits of preference voting and district elections. After the debate the
Coalition decided to lead an initiative campaign to return preference voting to
That effort brought preference voting to the ballot in November 1988 the first Cincinnati preference
voting referendum since 1957.
In 1990, Berry
spoke to members of the Cincinnati Bar Association, an organization that had
rejected him decades earlier because of the color of his skin. “He told them
about being rejected and said I forgive you,” In 1992, Berry gave the keynote speech at the
founding national conference of the Center for Voting and Democracy (then Citizens
for Proportional Representation).
In March 1995, Berry once again testified on
behalf of preference voting before a Cincinnati
charter commission. Theodore Berry died on October 15, 2000.
Chauncey Spencer was born on
this date. He was an African-American pilot and educator.
From Lynchburg, Virginia, he was one of three children of
Edward Spencer and noted Harlem Renaissance poet Anne Spencer. One of the most
respected families in Lynchburg,
visitors to the Spencer home included George Washington Carver, Paul Robeson,
James Weldon Johnson, Walter White, Clarence Muse, Dean Pickens, Adam Clayton
Powell, Langston Hughes, Thurgood Marshall, and W.E.B. Dubois.
At the age of eleven, he fell in love with flying yet after graduating from
college, no aviation school in Virginia
would admit him because of his color. Spencer moved to Chicago in 1934 and joined with a group of
African American aviators in organizing the National Airmen Association of
America (NAAA). Working for $16-a-week as a kitchen helper he paid $11 an hour
for flying lessons.
In May 1939, he and fellow aviator Dale Lawrence White, also an NAAA member,
flew a rented Lincoln-Paige biplane with only two flight instruments on a ten
city tour that started in Chicago and ended in Washington, DC.
Realizing that war in Europe was eminent; they
demonstrated the aviation abilities of “Negroes” and lobbied Congress to
include of people of color in the Civilian Pilot Training Program for the Army
Air Corps. Their flight drew national attention and proved that African
Americans could fly an airplane contrary to the beliefs and opinions of most
Army Air Corps and government leaders.
They met with Harry Truman and others in Congress, convincing them to support
their cause. Later, while employed by the Army, Spencer worked with Judge
William H. Hastie for fair treatment of African American air cadets being
trained at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama
and other air bases during World War II. He encountered considerable resistance
from whites as well as blacks as the Civilian Personnel Employee Relations
Officer at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio. Despite this, he persisted and made
steady progress towards integration of the Air Force. In 1948, Spencer received
the Exceptional Civilian Service Award for service during World War II, the
highest honor the Air Force could bestow upon a civilian.
In 1953, the United States Air Force referred to his role in the integration of
the military as “unique though strangely unsung.” However, his refusal to drag
his feet on integration created resentment among highly-placed officials who
wished to see integration fail. Consequently, in 1953 Spencer was charged with
disloyalty and accused of being a Communist. He was relieved of his position
and his family suffered great humiliation and economic deprivation. In June
1954 the Air Force cleared him of all charges. Spencer and his family would
never fully recover from this ordeal.
Despite ill-treatment, he continued to maintain his belief in the goodness and
strength of mankind and America
until his death on August 21, 2002.
The Supreme Court (Buchanan vs Warley) rules that a Louisville, Kentucky, ordinance mandating blacks and whites live in separate areas, is
Emmett J. Scott, former secretary to Booker T. Washington, was appointed special
assistant to the Secretary of War. His role was to advise in “Negro” matters.
Negro History Week is initiated by Carter
Ike Turner is born in Clarksdale,
Mississippi. He will become a
singer, songwriter/pianist and will join forces in 1960 with his wife, Tina
date, the Maryland Supreme Court ruled
against segregation at the University of
Maryland Law School. The case, Murray vs. Pearson had been attacking
the school legally since that summer and successfully sued the University of Maryland to admit a young African
American Amherst University graduate named Donald Gaines Murray. Represented by Charles Houston of the Baltimore branch of the NAACP, his colleague and protégé, Thurgood Marshall won his major first civil rights case in this ruling. In winning the rights
of Murray to enter the
University of Maryland Law School, Marshall
argued eloquently in the case, “What’s at stake here is more than the rights of
my client. It’s the moral commitment stated in our country’s creed.” Marshall’s
achievement led him to being by 1950 one of the county’s leading civil rights
lawyers, spear heading the movement for Black rights in the south.
An amendment aimed at barring Black voters
was ratified in Alabama. It demanded that
registered voters “understand and explain” any part of the U.S. Constitution to
the satisfaction of the county registrars.
Art Tatum joins the ancestors at age 46 in Los
Despite impaired vision, he received formal training in music and developed a
unique improvisational style. He was an accomplished jazz pianist who impressed
even classicist Vladimir Horowitz. Perhaps the most gifted technician of all
jazzmen, Tatum had other assets as well, among them an harmonic sense so acute
as to make him an almost infallible improviser. This aspect of his style, as
well as his great rhythmic freedom, influenced the young players who became the
founders of a new style called bebop.
The Nat King Cole Show premiers. The 15-minute show starring the popular singer will run
until June 1957 and reappear in July in a half-hour format. The first network
variety series hosted by an African American star, it was canceled due to lack
of support by advertisers.
A record number Eight African American males and the first
African American female, Shirley Chisholm of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, NY,
to the U.S. Congress. Including previously elected Massachusetts senator Edward W. Brooke, it
is the largest number of African American representatives to serve in Congress
since the 44th Congress of 1875-1877, which was previously a high of
eight. The first Black woman representative, Shirley Chisholm of the
Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, defeated former CORE director James
Farmer in New York’s
Twelfth Congressional district. Also reelected was Adam Clayton Powell Jr. In addition to Powell, the following incumbents were reelected: William L. Dawson (IL), Charles
C. Diggs (MI), Augustus Hawkins (CA), Robert
N.C. Nix (PA) and John Conyers (MI) Additionally
elected to Congress for the first time were Louis Stokes (OH) and William L. Clay (MO).
George Brown of Colorado and Mervyn
Dymally of California are the first African
American Lieutenant Governors elected in the 20th Century, while Walter
Washington becomes the first African American to be elected mayor of the District of Columbia, and Harold Ford is elected to Congress from Tennessee, the first African American from
The Spingarn Medal is awarded to Damon J. Keith “in tribute
to his steadfast defense of constitutional principles as revealed in a series
of memorable decisions he handed down as a United States District Court judge.”
On this date,
Charles Fuller’s “Soldier’s Play,” premiered
in NYC. The play is murder mystery or “courtroom” drama which involves the
search for the murderer of Sgt. Vernon Waters, chillingly played by Adolph
Caesar on stage and in the film.
The story deals indirectly with the search for the meaning Sgt. Waters’ last
words, “They still hate you!” The search for the culprit soon becomes secondary
to the analysis of Black roles in white society. Knowing a bit about the
history of the NAACP in the 1940’s (when the play’s story takes place) helps:
for the most part because the NAACP was then led by a man named Walter White, a
white-skinned, blue-eyed, blond-haired African American man who preached the
now discredited view that racial assimilation was the only approach that could
assure the acceptance of Blacks in American society.
First staged and produced on November 28, 1981 at Theatre Four, New York City by the
Negro Ensemble Company under the direction of Douglas Turner Ward. “Soldier’s
Play,” had a lengthy run and won Fuller Pulitzer prize for Drama.
State Senator Lawrence Douglass Wilder was elected Lieutenant Governor of Virginia on this date. He was the
first Black to hold this position in a Southern state since Reconstruction. Douglass
was elected Governor of Virginia in 1989.
Arizona governor Evan Mecham rescinds MLK Day as his first act in office, setting
off a boycott of the state.
Lieutenant General Colin Powell was named White House National Security Advisor on this date.
memorial to the Civil
Rights Movement in the U.S.
was dedicated at a ceremony in Montgomery,
AL, on this day. Commissioned by
Poverty Law Center, the $700,000, 9-foot granite
memorial, which sits in front of the center, is composed of the same material
as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington,
D.C. A thin sheet of water flows
over the memorial to reflect the face of the viewer. Inscribed with the words
of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. “... Until Justice Rolls Down Like Waters
And Righteousness Like A Mighty Stream,” the memorial includes a black granite
table with the names of those who died during the Civil Rights Movement as well
as key events of the period.
The Freedom National Bank of Harlem, NY closed on this date. The bank, a major depository for wealthy Blacks
and many Black groups, might well have fallen victim to a double standard by
George Foreman, 45, becomes boxing’s oldest heavyweight champion by knocking out Michael Moorer in the 10th round of their WBA fight in Las Vegas, Nevada.