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1770
The birth of York is celebrated on this date. He was a black slave and explorer.

York was born in Caroline County, Virginia. He lived near the county’s York River where as a child he ran basically naked and barefoot most of the year. His diet would have been high in starch and low in protein. He lived in a cabin surrounded by a dirt yard. York’s life conditions improved when he became Clark’s slave. This occurred when both were around fifteen. Clark inherited York, along with a couple believed to have been York’s parents (Old York and Rose). They accompanied the Clark family when they moved to Kentucky in the late 1780s.

There York grew up in an environment where race relations were more humane than in Virginia. Some slaves handled guns; others were able to buy goods on credit. Some worked in mines with whites. The forest environment there might have encouraged York to hone the wilderness skills that would later become invaluable on the Lewis and Clark expedition. Clark recruited nine Kentuckians and began training in October 1803. The group included York and left a few weeks later; it was called the Corps of Discovery. Historians say York quickly earned Clark’s respect as a scout and hunter, even carrying a gun.

Clark eventually freed York sometime after 1815 and gave him a wagon and horses for a freight-hauling venture. But the business failed, and York eventually died of cholera, probably between 1822 and 1832.



1775
General George Washington issues an order forbidding recruiting officers from enlisting African Americans.


1779
Twenty slaves petition New Hampshire’s legislature to abolish slavery. They argue that “the god of nature gave them life and freedom upon the terms of most perfect equality with other men; that freedom is an inherent right of the human species, not to be surrendered but by consent.”


1863
On this date we recall the birth of William Edmondson. He was a black sculptor and the first Black artist to achieve a one-man museum exhibition in America.

A child of slaves he was born in the Hillsboro section of Davidson County, next to Nashville, Tennessee. His father died while he, four brothers and a sister were young. His education was minimal and his early job resume consisted of labor on farms and as an orderly in the Baptist Hospital in Nashville, everywhere he worked he was known for his independence and wit. It was in 1931 that he began working as a stonemason’s helper. It was here where the sculptor in him emerged.

He forged and ground his own chisels from old railroad spikes and the steady ring of his hammer became a neighborhood sound. Through the depression this slow, lonely work crated many animal forms, ‘critters” as he called them; if anyone remarked about them he‘d say it was “the Lord’s gift.” In about 1934, Sidney Hirsch from Vanderbilt University came upon Edmondson and his work. Amazed at the beauty, the pieces came to the attention of Alfred and Elizabeth Starr who knew members of the board of the Museum of Modern Art.

From October to December in 1937, his exhibit was shown. Unfortunately racism kept a damper on the success of the show. The editor of Harper’s Bazaar attempting to write an article on Edmondson was stopped by it publisher, William Randolph Hearst who had a terrible prejudice about Black people being shown as anything but servants in his magazine. Also his hometown remained racially entrenched to his success as well.

He did not get his first showing in Nashville until 1941 and it was not until 1951 that the Nashville Artist Guild presented a large exhibit of his work, the year he died.



1882
Lane College is founded in Jackson, Tennessee.


1896
Moses Williams is awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery in the Battle of Cuchillo Negro Mountains, in New Mexico.


1900
African-American painter Henry O. Tanner was one of the 6,916 American exhibitors at the Paris Exposition which closed its gates on this day. Tanner won a silver medal for his entry.


1911
On this date, Buck Clayton was born. He was an African-American jazz musician.

One of the yeoman trumpeters of the swing era, Buck Clayton’s career extended into the early-‘90s as an arranger and band leader. Clayton was born in Parsons, Kansas, and began piano lessons at age 6 and switched to trumpet at 16. The early days of his career were spent in California, where he organized a band to play in Shanghai in ‘34. After returning to California he continued to lead his own groups. During a tour to the Midwest he met Count Basie, who hired him to replace Hot Lips Page as soloist and arranger.

Clayton’s trumpet style — a full, clear tone, warm lyricism, with swinging improvisations derived from Louis Armstrong and the often overlooked Joe Smith can be heard on Basie’s early recordings such as Swingin’ The Blues, Jumpin’ At The Woodside and Good Morning Blues. He also played sessions with Billie Holiday and jams produced by John Hammond and later with Jazz at the Philharmonic. After leaving Basie he led his own groups, toured Europe and worked with Jimmy Rushing. Clayton appeared in the film The Benny Goodman Story and played with Sidney Bechet at the World’s Fair in Brussels.

In ‘59 he joined Eddie Condon’s band, touring Japan and Australia with the group in ‘64. He made annual tours of Europe in the ‘60s, appearing at major jazz festivals both there and in the States. Medical and dental woes ended that career in the late ‘60s, though he got some of his chops back and continued to play into the ‘70s, touring Africa for the State Department in ‘77, and Europe with the Countsmen in ‘83.

Clayton taught at Hunter College in the early ‘80s and formed a big band featuring Howard Alden and Dan Barrett to play his arrangements in ‘87. Buck Clayton died on December 8, 1991.



1912
On this date we remember the birth of Daisy Bates. She was an African-American civil rights activist who coordinated the integration of Little Rock, Arkansas’s Central High School.

Born in Huttig, Ark., Daisy Lee Gatson Bates never knew her parents; her mother was killed by three white men after she resisted their sexual advances; her father left town, fearing reprisals if he sought to prosecute those responsible. Orlee and Susie Smith, friends of her parents, adopted her. In 1941, she married L. C. Bates, a journalist. They moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, and established a newspaper, the Arkansas State Press; it became the leading African American newspaper in the state and a powerful voice in the Civil Rights Movement.

It was as president of the Arkansas state conference of the NAACP that Bates coordinated the efforts to integrate Little Rock’s public schools after the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision outlawed segregated public schools in 1954. Nine African-American students, the “Little Rock Nine,” were admitted to Little Rock’s Central High School for the 1957-1958 school year. Violent white reaction against integration forced President Dwight D. Eisenhower to order 1000 army paratroopers to Little Rock to restore order and protect the children.

Bates was the students’ leading advocate, escorting them safely to school until the crisis was resolved. She continued to serve the children, intervening with school officials during conflicts, and accompanying parents to school meetings. In 1962, Bates published her memoir of the Little Rock crisis, The Long Shadow of Little Rock.



1922
The founding of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. occurred on this date. This was the first African-American sorority founded at a predominantly white college.

Sigma Gamma Rho was organized at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana by seven school teachers:
Mary Lou Allison (Gardner) Little, Dorothy Hanley Whiteside, Vivian White Marbury, Nannie Mae Gahn Johnson, Hattie Mae Annette Dulin Redford, Bessie Mae Downey Martin, and Cubena McClure. The group became an incorporated national collegiate sorority on December 30, 1929, when a charter was granted to Alpha chapter at Butler. The sorority is based on a desire to raise the standards of teachers in normal and other schools.

Their first three years were devoted to organizing and Sigma Gamma Rho continues to grow through Sisterhood, Scholarship and Service. The sorority has supports the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, National Council of Negro Women, National Pan Hellenic Council, Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, National Urban League, March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation, National Mental Health Association, United Negro College Fund, Martin Luther King Center for Non-Violent Social Change, Black Women’s Agenda and American Association of University Women.

Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Inc. has over 400 chapters in the United States, Bermuda, the Virgin Islands, Bahamas and Germany.
Founder Vivian White Marbury is still witnessing the progress of the sisterhood she helped create.


1941
Opera instructor Mary Cardwell Dawson and internationally famed opera coloratura Madam Lillian Evanti establish the National Negro Opera Company in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to provide more opportunities for African Americans to sing and study opera. The company’s first opera, Verdi’s “Aida”, will be staged the following August at the annual meeting of the National Association of Negro Musicians. In its 21-year history, its performers will include Evanti, Minto Cato, and Robert McFerrin. The Opera Company remained in the steel city until 1960 and lasted outright until 1962.


1968
Sammy Sosa was born in San Pedro de Macoris, Dominican Republic.


1974
South Africa is suspended from the U.N. General Assembly over its racial policies.


1977
Ernest Nathan (Dutch) Morial, a lawyer, was elected the first Black mayor of New Orleans in this day. His election made news throughout the nation. Morial served two terms from 1978 to 1986, He created the first Office of Economic Development to coordinate the city’s efforts to retain and attract business and the first minority business enterprise counselor to assist small and minority owned businesses. A New Orleans native, born on October 9, 1929, he entered Xavier University in New Orleans and graduated in 1951 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration. Morial took an interest in the Louisiana political arena and began his law career in 1954. From 1965 to 1967, hew was Louisiana’s first Black assistant U.S. attorney. In 1967, he was the first Black since the Reconstruction to be elected to the Louisiana legislature. Morial died December 24, 1989.


1977
The NAACP’s Spingarn Medal is awarded to Alexander P. Haley “for his unsurpassed effectiveness in portraying the legendary story of an American of African descent.”


1994
Wilma Glodean Rudolph died at the age of 54 in her home in Nashville, Tennessee.


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1890

D. McCree is granted a patent for the portable fire escape. Patent #440,322.