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
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
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.
William Wells Brown was born on
this date. He was a black antislavery lecturer; groundbreaking novelist, playwright,
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.
Spain grants the Dominican
Republic its independence.
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.
Jonathan Gibbs, minister
and educator, is appointed Secretary of State by the governor of Florida.
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.
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.
James Weldon Johnson (lyrics)
and J. Rosamond Johnson (music)
compose “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.” It will become known as the “Negro
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.
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.
NAACP’s Spingarn Medal is awarded to W.E.B.
Du Bois for “the founding and calling of the Pan African Congress.”
James Weldon Johnson becomes the
first African American executive secretary of the NAACP.
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.
“Daily World” is founded by W.A.
Scott Jr. The newspaper will become a daily in 1933.
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.”
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”.
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
U.N. General Assembly adopts a resolution condemning South Africa for its
apartheid policies and recommends member states apply economic sanctions.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
Sgt. Farley Simon, a native
becomes the first Marine to win the Marine Corps Marathon.
Renowned attorney, Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander, dies in Philadelphia.
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.
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
and former late night talk host, Arsenio Hall, gets a
star on Hollywood’s
Walk of Fame.
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
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
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.