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1746
On this date we mark the birth of Absalom Jones, born into slavery in Sussex, Delaware. He was a black minister and abolitionist.

A house slave from Delaware, he taught himself to read out of the New Testament, and other books. At the age of sixteen, he was sold to a store owner in Philadelphia soon attending a night school for blacks, operated by Quakers. In 1766, he married another slave, and purchased her freedom with his earnings, buying his own freedom in 1784. After that, at St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church, Jones served as lay minister for its black membership.

The active evangelism of Jones and that of his friend, Richard Allen, greatly increased black membership at St. George’s. This alarmed vestry into deciding to segregate blacks into an upstairs gallery, without notifying them. During a Sunday service when ushers attempted to remove them, the Black congregation resentfully walked out as a group. In 1787, black Christians organized the Free African Society, the first organized Afro-American society, and Absalom Jones and Richard Allen were elected overseers. Members of the Society paid monthly dues for the benefit of those in need. The Society established contact with similar black groups in other cities.

Five years later, the Society began to build a church, which was dedicated on July 17, 1794. The African Church applied for membership in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania on the following conditions: 1, that they be received as an organized body; 2, that they have control over their local affairs; 3, that Absalom Jones be licensed as a lay reader, and, if qualified, be ordained as minister. In October 1794 it was admitted as St. Thomas African Episcopal Church. Bishop White ordained Jones as deacon in 1795 and as priest on September 21, 1802.

Jones was a deep preacher. He denounced slavery, and warned the oppressors to “clean their hands of slaves.” To him, God was the Father who always acted on “behalf of the oppressed and distressed.” But it was his constant visiting and mild manner that made him beloved by his own congregation and by the community. St. Thomas Church grew to over 500 members during its first year. Known as “the black Bishop of the Episcopal Church,” Jones was an example of persistent faith in God an in the Church as God’s instrument. He died in 1818.


1814
William Wells Brown was born on this date. He was a black antislavery lecturer; groundbreaking novelist, playwright, and historian.

Brown was born on a plantation outside Lexington, Kentucky, to a white father and African slave mother. Brown became free on New Year’s Day, 1834, when he was able to slip away from his owners’ steamboat while it was docked in Cincinnati, Ohio. Next, Brown moved to Buffalo, New York, and spent nine years there working simultaneously as a steam boatman on Lake Erie and as a conductor for the Underground Railroad.

In 1843 Brown began lecturing on his experiences in slavery for the Western New York Anti-Slavery Society, one of many American abolitionist groups. Brown eventually also became a lecturer on behalf of women’s rights and temperance, but it was as a fugitive slave speaking on the evils of slavery that he was best known. In 1847, Brown wrote the Narrative of William W. Brown, a Fugitive Slave, which went through four American and five British editions in its first three years after publication. Between 1849 and 1854 he gave more than a thousand speeches in Europe and America and wrote two books. Three Years in Europe; or, Places I Have Seen and People I Have Met and Clotel, or, the President’s Daughter: A Narrative of Slave Life in the United States.

In 1854 some of Brown’s friends raised enough money to purchase his freedom, allowing him to return to the United States. In 1858 his play The Escape; or, a Leap for Freedom became the first drama published by an African-American. Over the next two decades, he focused on historical works. These included two histories of the black race, another history on blacks and whites in the American South, and a rare military history of African-Americans in the American Civil War. Brown’s eventually settled in Boston and practiced medicine there until his death from cancer on November 6, 1884, his 70th birthday.



1844
Spain grants the Dominican Republic its independence.


1858
Samuel E. Cornish died on this date. He was an early Presbyterian minister and a prominent abolitionist. A conservative in religious and social views, he lost influence in the early 1840s as many black leaders became more militant, although he remained a respected figure. In addition, Cornish was an important newspaper editor, a co-founder of Freedom's Journal, the first black newspaper, and later editor of the Colored American.


1868
Jonathan Gibbs, minister and educator, is appointed Secretary of State by the governor of Florida.


1878
Called by W.E.B. Dubois, “the most prominent critic of poetry in America,” William Stanley Braithwaite was born in Boston, Mass. On May 5, 1919, Mr. Braithwaite was awarded the Spingarn medal by the N.A.A.C.P. for his literary achievements.


1884
Author and abolitionist William Wells Brown joins the ancestors in Chelsea, Massachusetts. An escaped slave, Brown’s autobiography sold 10,000 copies, a record in his day. Brown also wrote the first known travelogue by an African American and authored the 1853 work, “Clotel, or The President’s Daughter: A Narrative of Slave Life in the United States”, a melodramatic novel about President Thomas Jefferson, his slave mistress, and their daughter, the first fictional work published by an African American.


1900
James Weldon Johnson (lyrics) and J. Rosamond Johnson (music) compose “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.” It will become known as the “Negro National Anthem.”


1901
On this date, Juanita Hall was born. She was an African-American singer and actress.

From Keyport, New Jersey, she was educated in the public school system there and she developed her voice while singing in the local Catholic church choir. Hall attended Juilliard School of Music in New York City. As a teenager she was married to Clement Hall who died in 1920. Her first successful performance was Julie in the Ziegfield production of Show Boat in 1928. Hall appeared in Green Pastures in 1930 with the Hall Johnson Choir and eventually became the assistant choir director.

She extended her director abilities to included the Works Progress Administration Chorus from 1935 to 1944, The Westchester Chorale and Dramatics Association 1941 to 1942 and her own choir, The Juanita Hall Choir in 1942. Hall’s voice could be heard on radio too, with Rudy Vallee and Kate Smith. She sang on Broadway from 1943 to 1947 in The Pirate, Sing Out Sweet Land, Saint Louis Woman, Deep Are the Roots, and Street Scene. Hall sang on the nightclub circuit and was discovered by Richard Rogers. He cast her in the roll of Bloody Mary in South Pacific, which opened at the Majestic Theater in New York City on April 7, 1949 where, in her supporting role, she virtually stole show from its stars Mary Martin and Enzio Pinza. For this, she won the Donaldson Award and, in 1850, received the Tony Award for her portrayal of the character. In 1958, she appeared in the motion picture version of the musical on the same role.

After making the movie South Pacific, in 1958 she performed in her one-woman show, A Woman and the Blues and was also cast as the Chinese lady Madam Liang in Flower Drum Song. All of the characters Hall played were done convincingly. She continued with the road show and the motion picture version until she became ill. Complications of diabetes caused the death of Juanita Hall on February 29, 1968 in Bayshore, Long Island.



1906
President Theodore Roosevelt ordered discharge of three companies, B, C, and D, of 25th Regiment of Fort Brown for alleged involvement in the Brownsville Raid.

The Brownsville Raid (or Affair as it sometimes called) was incident that arose out of racial tensions between Black and White residents of Brownsville, TX, a community, then, of 6,000 and the all Black infantrymen of the regiment at nearby Fort Brown. Since arriving at Fort Brown on July 8th from recent duty in the Philippines and Fort Niobrara, Nebraska, the Black soldiers were immediately subject to intense racial discrimination and hatred from White citizens of Brownsville, particularly from some businesses and suffered several instances of physical abuse from federal customs collectors. As a result of these racial tensions, a fight broke out between a Black soldier and a local Brownsville merchant. The city of Brownsville barred members of the 25th U.S. Regiment from setting foot in the city again. A reported attack on a White woman during the night of August 12 so incensed many townspeople that Maj. Charles W. Penrose, after consultation with Mayor Frederick Combe, declared an early curfew the following day to avoid trouble. On the night of August 13th, shots rang out on a street near Brownsville, killing a White bartender, Frank Natus, and wounding a White police officer, Lieutenant M. Y. Dominguez. Immediately, the citizens of Brownsville cast the blame on the Black soldiers of the 25th. With the soldiers of the 25th being accused of the shootings, all of the White commanders at Fort Brown confirmed that. In fact, all of the soldiers were in their barracks at the time of the shootings. However, this was not enough to deter local Whites, including Brownsville’s mayor, from claiming that some of the Black soldiers participated in the shootings.

When soldiers of the 25th were pressured to name who fired the shots, they insisted that they had no idea who had committed the crime. The soldiers were not given any type of hearing, trial, or an opportunity to confront their accusers (rights guaranteed to any U.S. citizen in the Constitution). As a result, President Roosevelt ordered the 167 members of the regiment to be dishonorably discharged because of their “conspiracy of silence.” It was the largest summary dismissals in the annals of the U.S. Army. The discharge prevented the men from ever working in a military or civilian service capacity. Some of the Black soldiers had been the serve for over twenty years, while others were extremely close to retirement with pensions. In addition, six of the accused soldiers were recipients of the Medal of Honor. All of this was taken from them without a shred of evidence or proof of guilt. Even Booker T. Washington got involved, asking Roosevelt to reconsider his decision in the affair. Roosevelt instead dismissed Washington’s plea and allowed his decision to stand.

From 1907–1908, a United States Senate committee investigated the Brownsville Affair and reached the same decision as Roosevelt. Blacks, and many Whites, across the country were outraged at the president and the Congress. The Black community, which had largely supported Roosevelt before (due to Roosevelt’s hosting of Booker T. Washington at a White House dinner and Roosevelt’s occasional condemnation of lynchings), began to turn against him. Even worse, news of the discharged soldiers was withheld until after the 1906 Congressional elections, so that the pro-Republican Black vote would be affected.

In 1972, convinced by recent research critical of the government’s handling of the affair, Representative Augustus Hawkins (D-California) urged justice for the debarred soldiers. Concurring, the administration of President Richard M. Nixon overturned the discharges of all soldiers, but the administration refused to grant their families the back pay in pensions. Still maintaining the regiment’s innocence, Dorsie Willis, the last surviving veteran, received a meager $25,000 pension.


1920
The NAACP’s Spingarn Medal is awarded to W.E.B. Du Bois for “the founding and calling of the Pan African Congress.”


1920
James Weldon Johnson becomes the first African American executive secretary of the NAACP.


1928
Oscar DePriest is elected to the Seventy-First Congress from Illinois’ First Congressional District (Chicago) by a plurality of nearly 4,000 votes over his White Democratic opponent. Before becoming a U.S. Representative, DePriest was the first African American to serve on the Chicago City Council, having been elected alderman of the Second Ward in 1915. He is the first African American to win a seat in the United States House of Representatives in the twentieth century and in nearly 27 years since the departure of George H. White in 1901 and the first Black from the North.


1928
The Atlanta “Daily World” is founded by W.A. Scott Jr. The newspaper will become a daily in 1933.


1928
The NAACP’s Spingarn Medal is presented to Charles W. Chestnutt, the first African American to receive widespread critical recognition as a novelist. He was cited for his “pioneer work as a literary artist depicting the life and struggle of Americans of Negro descent.”


1937
Eugene Pitt is born in Brooklyn, New York. He will become a rhythm and blues singer with The Genies - “Who’s that Knockin’” and lead singer for The Jive Five - “Never Never,” “What Time is It?,” “I’m a Happy Man” and “My True Story”.


1962
Edward Williams Brooke, III is elected Attorney General of Massachusetts, Gerald Lamb is elected Treasurer of Connecticut, and 5 African Americans are elected to the House of Representatives, including newcomer Augustus “Gus” F. Hawkins from Los Angeles who became the first African American congressman from the West. Also, Otis M. Smith elected to a full term on the Michigan Supreme Court.


1962
The U.N. General Assembly adopts a resolution condemning South Africa for its apartheid policies and recommends member states apply economic sanctions.


1973
Coleman Young is elected as the first African American mayor of Detroit, Michigan and the first of two Black mayors of city with over a million citizens.


1973
The Symbionese Liberation Army ambush and kill Marcus A. Foster, a Black superintendent of public schools in Oakland, California, after a Board of Education meeting. Shot eight times, five of the bullets were tipped with cyanide. Two members of the domestic radical terrorist group, were convicted of the slaying, but one of the men has his conviction overturned, based on a legal technicality. The SLA was angry with Foster for following a school directive to issue identification cards to students to protect them from drug dealers and gang members wandering the campus.


1973
The NAACP’s Spingarn Medal is presented to Wilson C. Riles, the superintendent of public instruction in California, “in recognition of the stature he has attained as a national leader in the field of education.”


1973
Thomas Bradley is elected as the first African American mayor of Los Angeles, California. His political success was due to his masterful use of multi-racial coalition. African Americans at this time were not a large segment of the Los Angeles population. Blacks represented only 15% of the LA electorate. Bradley became one of the first of two Black mayors of city with over a million citizens.


1976
FCC Commissioner Benjamin Lawson Hooks is elected NAACP executive director by the organization’s board of directors, succeeding Roy Wilkins. He will serve the organization in that position for 16 years, retiring in 1992. Of his tenure he says, “We have maintained the integrity of this organization and kept our name out front and on the minds of those who would turn back the clock.”


1983
Sgt. Farley Simon, a native of Grenada, becomes the first Marine to win the Marine Corps Marathon.


1989
Renowned attorney, Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander, dies in Philadelphia.


1990
Sharon Pratt Dixon (now Kelly) was elected mayor of Washington, D.C., making her a first for a woman of any race. Dixon was sworn in to the position on January 2, 1991.


1990
Harvey Gantt, former mayor of Charlotte, NC, loses his Senate race to incumbent Jesse Helms and the opportunity to become the first African American senator from the South since Reconstruction.  Barbara-Rose Collins and Maxine Waters are elected to Congress from their home districts in Michigan and California, respectively, while Eleanor Holmes Norton is elected as a non-voting delegate from the District of Columbia.


1990
Comedian and former late night talk host, Arsenio Hall, gets a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.


1992
Vernon E. Jordan, Jr., former Executive Director of the United Negro College Fund and National Urban League, along with Warren Christopher, is asked to lead the White House transition team, by President-elect William Jefferson Clinton.


2007
After winning a landslide victory over Republican Elbert R. Henderson, Sheila A. Dixon, a 53-year-old former president of the Baltimore City Council, the first female to serve in that position, became the first female elected as mayor of Baltimore, MD. On January 17, 2007, she became the 48th mayor of Baltimore and the first female to serve in that position after taking over to finish out the term of former mayor Martin O’Malley who was sworn in as Governor of the state of Maryland.


2012
On this date, at approximately 10:15 PM ET, NBC became the first news outlet to declare President Barack H. Obama the winner of the 2012 Presidential Election. The first African American President of the United States, he also became the first to be reelected. It was confirmed at 11:12 PM ET as he clinched Ohio. At 12:55 AM, former Massachusetts Governor, Mitt Romney conceded.


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