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1775
On this date, the Continental Congress of America issued the order to bar blacks from the army.

Many of the colonies had laws, ordinances, or resolutions excluding African-Americans from the local militias. George Washington, commander of the Continental Army, issued the general order barring the recruitment of Blacks. The government under the Constitution enacted legislation in 1792 banning Blacks from duty in the state militias, which for all practical purposes eliminated them from service in the Army. The Marine Corps, from its beginning, was prohibited by an act of Congress in 1798 from enlisting Blacks.

No Blacks were enrolled in the Marines until August 1942, more than six months after we entered World War II. Regarding the Revolutionary War, ironically while the First Rhode Island’s acknowledged courage in battle was central to that era’s events, the composition and origins of the regiment are of special interest. The First Rhode Island Regiment in August of 1778 was a nearly all-Black unit made up largely of recently freed slaves.

Commended for valor by commanders in its own day, and a frequent reference for abolitionists in the nineteenth century for “deeds of desperate valor,” the First Rhode Island has been largely forgotten in our own. It is important, however, when considering the Revolution to understand that men fought not only for the idea of political liberty, but also for personal liberty.



1862
Joao da Cruze e Sousa, a Black Brazilian poet, regarded as the greatest master of symbolism in his country, was born at Desterro (now Florianopolis), Brazil. His best known works are Shields, Lanterns, and Last Sonnets.


1865
Mississippi passed and enacted the so-called “Black Codes” that barred blacks from jury service, testifying against whites in trials, bearing arms and attending white schools.


1866
Rust College, one of the first institutions of higher learning for Blacks in America was founded on this date.

They are one of the over 100 Historically Black Colleges & Universities in America. Located in Holly Springs, Mississippi Rust College was organized by missionaries from the North who opened a school in Asbury Methodist Episcopal Church, where Moses Adams, a local Negro preacher was pastor. The school accepted adults of all ages, as well as children, for instruction in elementary subjects. A year later the first building on the present campus was erected.

In 1870, the school was chartered as Shaw University, honoring the Reverend S. O. Shaw, who made a gift of $10,000 to the new institution. In 1882, the name was changed to Rust University. The name is a tribute to Richard S. Rust of Cincinnati, Ohio, Secretary of the Freedman’s Aid Society. In 1915, the title was changed to a more realistic name, Rust College. Rust College is the oldest of the eleven Historically Black Colleges and Universities related to the United Methodist Church, the second oldest private college in Mississippi, and one of the remaining five historically Black Colleges in America founded before 1867.



1868
Scott Joplin is generally believed to have been born on this date (new information suggests his birth as late as 1867 and as early as 1868).  He was an African-American composer and pianist, one of the most important developers of ragtime music and was dubbed the King of Ragtime.

Born in Texarkana, Texas, Joplin taught himself piano as a child, learning classical music from a German neighbor. In his teens he became an itinerant pianist in the low-life districts that provided the chief employment for black musicians. He settled in St. Louis in 1885. In 1893 he played at the World’s Colombian Exposition in Chicago, and in 1894 he moved to Sedalia, Missouri.

There, he
started, during the Gay Nineties, a 20-year ragtime craze with the release and publishing of his compositions “Original Rags” and “Maple Leaf Rag” (1895) and opened a teaching studio. Scott Joplin moved to New York City in 1907 and four years later at his own expense, he published his ragtime opera, Treemonisha, a work intended to go beyond ragtime to create an indigenous black American opera. Staged in a concert version in 1915, it failed with the audience. Ragtime-scored piano music-at the time was considered Negro tavern and brothel music. Its tinny sound was the source of the name Tin Pan Alley, the center of ragtime in New York City. The lack of recognition of ragtime as a serious African-American musical art form left the composer’s spirit permanently broken and plagued Joplin throughout his life.

Joplin’s music underwent a great revival after some of his compositions, including “The Entertainer”, were used as the background music in the film The Sting and Treemonisha was staged with great success in 1975 by the Houston Grand Opera.
He died in an asylum in New York City on April 1, 1917, at the age of 49.


1868
Robert Sengstacke Abbott, founder of the Chicago Defender, the city’s first Black newspaper, was born of former slave parents, Thomas and Flora Butler Abbott at Frederica, St. Simon’s Island, GA on this date. (Note that most sources list his birth date as of this date, while others have put his year of birth at 1870 and still others had listed his date birth on November 28.) Abbott studied the trade of printing at Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) from 1892 to 1896. As a young man he worked as a printer and school teacher before attending law school at Kent College of Law in Chicago. He received a law degree in 1898, but because of race prejudice in the United States was unable to practice, despite attempts to establish law offices in Gary, IN, Topeka, KS, and Chicago, IL. Few blacks were able to pay an attorney and fewer whites were willing to hire a black lawyer.

On May 6, 1905, he founded the Defender, a weekly newspaper, with an investment of 25 cents and himself as its only staff member. The paper was laid out on his kitchen table for a press run of only 300 copies. The paper struggled during its early years, and probably only survived because Abbott's landlady, Henrietta Lee, shared his vision for the newspaper's success -- she allowed him to expand its offices into a second room, even as he fall far into arrears on the rent. After several years the paper was being widely distributed in the South, carried by black railroad porters, and after about fifteen years it became the first paper for African-Americans to surpass 100,000 in circulation. Numerous well-respected black writers wrote for the Defender, including Gwendolyn Brooks, Langston Hughes, and Walter White.

Published in Chicago but distributed nationwide, Abbott’s Defender spoke forcefully against lynching, was one of the leading voices in the fight against racism, and against segregation, and urged Southern blacks to migrate north, where racism was less blatant and job opportunities more plentiful. Largely due to the Defender, Chicago’s black population more than tripled in the 1910s and ‘20s. Its coverage eschewed terms like “negro”, “colored”, or “black”, instead simply referring to African-Americans as “the race”. During World War I the newspaper called for equal rights for “the race” in the U.S. military, a position so radical it led to an investigation of Abbott for unfounded allegations of sedition. He also cultivated a controversial, aggressive style, reporting on such issues as violence against blacks and police brutality. The Defender will raise eyebrows with its anti-lynching slogan - “If you must die, take at least one with you,” its opposition to a segregated Colored Officers Training Camp in Fort Des Moines, Iowa in 1917, and its condemnation of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA).  Under the motto “Carries more live news of racial interest than any ten weeklies”, the Defender had half a million readers at its peak.

The Defender, which was once heralded as “The World’s Greatest Weekly,” and, in becoming the most widely circulated Black newspaper in the country and made Abbott one of the first self-made millionaires of African American descent. With that, he was often dubbed “the colored William Randolph Hearst.” He purchased a new home as a gift for the landlady who had saved the paper years earlier, and according to legend, he provided a small stipend to the white family that had owned his father, but had since fallen on hard times.

In the 1920s, the Defender added a special page just for kids, called the Bud Billiken Page, which led to establishment of the Bud Billiken Parade and Picnic in 1929, a huge family-oriented progression. Still held in Chicago on the second Saturday of every August, the parade now has tens of thousand of participants every year, is viewed in person by hundreds of thousands, and is aired live on television. The Chicago Defender is now published daily, but with nowhere near the circulation and influence it once had.

Robert Sengstacke Abbot died of Bright’s disease on February 22, 1940 and was interred in the Oak Woods Cemetery, Chicago. His will left the newspaper in control of his nephew, John Henry Sengstacke. His legacy also continues through, not only through his founding of the the Bud Billilken Parade and Picnic, but also the Bud Billiken Club (est. 1923).  His home, the Robert S. Abbott House, is a National Historical Landmark.


1874
Robert B. Elliott is elected Speaker of the lower house of the South Carolina legislature.


1874
Stephen Atkins Swails, a former Black Union soldier with the 54th Massachusetts Regiment and later a lawyer and politician, was reelected president pro tem of the South Carolina senate.


1880
Southern University is established in New Orleans, Louisiana.


1880
More than 150 delegates from Baptist Churches in eleven states organized the Baptist Foreign Mission Convention of the United States at a meeting in Montgomery, Alabama. The Rev. William H. McAlphine was elected president and W.W. Colley as Corresponding Secretary. The group was anti-liquor and anti-tobacco and supported African missions abroad.


1883
Edwin Bancroft Herson is born in Washington, DC. He will become a pioneering physical education instructor, coach, and organizer of the Negro Athletic Association, and the Colored Inter-Collegiate Athletic Association. Inducted into the Black Sports Hall of Fame in 1974, he will be widely considered “the Father of Black Sports.”


1892
The first Black college football game was played between Biddle University (Johnson C. Smith) and Livingston College on this date. It was Thanksgiving Day in 1892.


1912
This date marks the birth of Teddy Wilson. He was an African-American musician.

As stride piano was fading, Wilson developed his own style that kept the contrapuntal relationship between the right and left hands, but softened the rhythm function and reduced the melodic density of the right hand. From Austin, Texas, Wilson began his career in the late 1920s in various Midwest bands. He ended up in Chicago, where he substituted for Earl Hines occasionally and made his first records with Louis Armstrong. He held his own in duets with Art Tatum in the early 1930s, and soon join Benny Carter’s band in New York.

From 1935 to 1939, Wilson played on the sessions that resulted in Billie Holiday’s greatest work. He joined Benny Goodman in 1936, breaking the color barrier by performing on an equal footing with Goodman in trios, quartets and sextets. In 1939 to form his own band and then formed a sextet, which reflected Wilson’s exacting musical. Highly in demand as a pianist and arranger, he worked prolifically into the early 1940s.

Wilson rivaled Art Tatum and Earl Hines as one of the most important pianists of the swing era. He continued to record, teach and tour in the decades to come. Wilson died July 31, 1986, in New Britain, Connecticut, after a three-year bout with cancer.



1914
On this date we mark the birth of Bessie Blount. She is an African-American inventor and forensic scientist.

From Hickory, Virginia, little is known of her family or her childhood but it is known that she had long wanted to work in the medical field. Blount left home and traveled north to New Jersey to become a physical therapist. She studied at both Panzar College of Physical Education and at Union Junior College. Then she moved on to Chicago where she finished her training. World War II had left many people severely disabled.

It was while working with amputees that inventive ideas were cultivated to assist her patients in regaining their independence. By 1951 Blount was living in Newark, New Jersey and teaching Physical Therapy at the Bronx Hospital in New York. She taught people to do the work that their feet and hands once did. Eating was a great challenge for many of the people that she was working with. To assist disabled people in gaining greater independence she invented a device that delivered food through a tube, one bite at a time, to a mouthpiece that could be used whether the patient was sitting up or lying down. When the person wanted more food they just bit down on the tube and it signaled a machine to send the next morsel.

This electric self-feeding devise eventually was donated to France. In 1951, she patented a simpler device called a “portable receptacle support” which also allowed people to feed themselves. It used a brace around the neck to support a bowl, cup or dish. Blount also appeared on the Philadelphia television show “The Big Idea” in 1953, becoming the first Black and the first woman to be given such recognition.

While her inventions had the potential to revolutionize the lives of many people, getting them patented and marketed for use by patients was not easy in the United States. Frustrated by the lack of interest by the American Veteran’s Administration, Blount signed the rights to her other inventions over to the French government with the statement that she had proven “that a Black woman can invent something for the benefit of humankind.” Around this time she became a close friend of Theodore M. Edison the son of the Thomas Alva Edison the electric light inventor.

This was while she worked caring for Mrs. Edison’s mother in East Orange, New Jersey. Blount held many in depth scientifically and otherwise mid-night conversations with Theodore Edison. The two shared development of ideas for his company as well. Blount is also the inventor of the DISPOSABLE cardboard emesis basin. She designed this from old newspaper, cake flour and water, shaping it and baking it her own oven. Again the American Veteran’s Administration Hospital wasn’t willing to use her invention and it was never patented in America. These (now slightly modified in design) basins are currently in use all over the country of Belgium. American hospitals still use the old standard kidney shaped basins of 1913.

Many of Blount’s trail blazing efforts and inventions made the lives of everyone safer from disease and have been influential to the independence of the lives of soldiers disabled since World War II. In 1969 Blount began a career in forensic science with law enforcement. This included serving the departments in Vineland, New Jersey, Norfolk and Portsmouth, Virginia. By 1972 she had advanced to become the chief document examiner of their laboratories. In 1977 Blount became the first Black woman to train and work at Scotland Yard.

This experience occurred after J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI turned down her application. A religious woman motivated by personal drive and the inspiration of inventor Louis Latimer and others, Blount ran her own business at the age of 83. She has used much of her forensic training to examine and research the authenticity of African-American slave “papers” and pre-civil war documents. Blount has worked with material from Native-American treaties made with the United States too. She also serves as a consultant in “special investigations” for many law enforcement agencies while being a member of the South Jersey Chapter.

In 2007, Blount was inducted into New Jersey’s Cumberland County Black Hall of Fame. She was also honored with the states Joint Legislative Commendation.



1920
Percy Sutton was born on this date. He is an African-American lawyer and entrepreneur.

From San Antonio, TX Percy Ellis Sutton was the youngest of 15 children, all of whom became distinguished citizens in their respective professions (including a New York State Supreme Court judge and a member of the Texas House of Representatives). At the age of twelve young Sutton ran away from home by stowing away on a passenger train for four days to New York City. He called home to San Antonio and immediately one of his brothers-in-law was sent to bring me home. When he got home, his family had earned their respect as an adventurer. Supporting himself, he attended Prairie View A and M, Tuskegee Institute, and Hampton Institute. He also learned to fly, and earned money as a stunt pilot at county fairs. Since he was already a flyer during World War II, he moved to New York, enlisted in the Army Air Corps and served with the Tuskegee Airmen. Sutton won combat stars as an intelligence officer with the 332nd Fighter Group’s Black 99th Pursuit Squadron in the Italian and Mediterranean Theater.

After receiving an honorable discharge with the rank of Captain, Sutton enrolled in the Brooklyn College Law School, and received his law degree in 1950. As a lawyer Sutton seized his place in American by fighting for civil rights with the NAACP and as the council for Malcolm X. In 1966, Sutton ran for Manhattan Borough President, which he won with 80 percent of the vote. In 1971, he co-founded the Inner City Broadcasting Corporation, which purchased WLIB-AM, making it the first Black-owned station in New York City. Currently Inner City Broadcasting also owns leading radio station WBLS radio.

In 1995, Sutton became a member of the delegation of leading American business people selected by U.S. Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown to represent the United States at the G-7 round table meeting on Telecommunications and High Technology. As the responsible party for the refurbishing and reopening the historic Apollo Theater in Harlem, Sutton is a legend, mentor and pioneer in the areas of business, government and law. He has been the recipient of many awards including the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal. Though retired, Sutton continues to give to the community in politics, business and communication.



1931
On this date, Dr. Jean Harris was born. She was an African-American politician, physician, and administrator.

Harris was raised in a second-floor apartment above a drugstore in a segregated neighborhood of Richmond, Virginia. Her family was considered something of a first family within the city’s East End, where Jean’s father was the neighborhood doctor. Douglas Wilder, the former Virginia governor who was the first Black elected to lead any state, used to ride each day to a segregated preschool in Richmond with Harris. “They were more affluent than other families in the ghetto, and Jean’s parents were determined that she had the best,” Wilder said.

The only way out of the ghetto was via the back seat of a streetcar headed downtown. “There were drinking fountains for Whites and drinking fountains for Blacks, and my mother made us drink from the white fountains,” Harris remembered. “She’d stand by us and just glare at anyone who stared at us as we drank.” Harris’ mother also took her children to the sandy public beach used by Whites, spurning the designated Black beach, the one paved with jagged rocks and broken glass. And when her children were given used books with tattered bindings and scribbles in the margins, Jean’s mother would castigate the school board and demand new books.

After graduating from Virginia Union University, Harris applied to the Medical College of Virginia, knowing that no Black student had ever been accepted there. For years she was driven by haunting words, words that she never heard directly but saw daily in the eyes of those who knew her as the only Black student at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Medical College of Virginia. “’You’re not good enough,’” Harris remembered recently. “Nobody ever said it to me, but I know they were all thinking it.” In 1951 she became the first Black student admitted to an all-white school in Virginia. “Many of the students had never associated with a Black person before,” she recalled. “And those who had were the ones who had maids, gardeners and chauffeurs. I always felt I had to prove I was good enough.”

Eventually she earned the highest grade ever on a neuro-anatomy exam at that time. Harris became an internist, married and had three daughters. But she never stopped trying to help others who hadn’t escaped. She became chief of the Bureau of Resources of Development in Washington, D. C., which was responsible for implementing the Medicaid and welfare programs. Under President Lyndon Johnson’s administration, she was a consultant to the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, the U. S. Agency on International Development and to Congress. She later became executive director of the National Medical Association Foundation, dedicated to providing health-care access to inner-city residents. Feeling the need to spend more time with her family, Harris returned to the Medical College of Virginia, becoming the first Black faculty member. “You can imagine the pressure she was under, but she’s never had a bitter word about anyone,” said Dr. John Witherspoon, professor of medicine at the college.

Harris loved the medical world, but politics seemed a better match for her need to reach large numbers of people. She accepted positions as co chairwoman of President Jimmy Carter’s Task Force on Alcoholism and Alcoholic Disorders and his Task Force on Private Sector Initiatives. Harris was married in 19xx and had three daughters. She continued to serve under President Ronald Reagan and met William Norris, the former CEO of Control Data Corp., who offered her a job as the company’s vice president for state government affairs in Minnesota.

He left Control Data and established the Ramsey Foundation, and was elected to the Eden Prairie City Council. In 1995 she became the cities mayor, a job that she called the most satisfying she ever had. Jean Harris died on December 14, 2001 at age 70.



1935
Ron Vernie Dellums was born on this date. He was an African-American politician and is an administrator and activist.

Born in Oakland, CA, he served in the United States Marine Corps from 1954 to 1956. Dellums received his A.A. from the Oakland City College in 1958, and his B.A. from the San Francisco State University in 1960. He became a psychiatric social worker and political activist in the African American community after graduation, and received his M.S.W. from the University of California, Berkeley in 1962. He also taught at San Francisco State University and the University of California, Berkeley.

In 1967, he was elected to the Berkeley, California City council, serving until 1970, where he was a vocal champion for minority and disadvantaged communities. In 1970, he staged a successful campaign for the 9th district seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. He served as chairman of the Committee on District of Columbia and House Armed Services Committee. Dellums was a proponent of reducing military spending, and an advocate of peace and social justice during his time in Congress.

His fight against apartheid in South Africa was the subject of a Disney Channel made-for-TV movie, “The Color of Friendship” released in 2000. He retired from Congress in 1999 to focus on his personal life, and has continued to be an activist in the peace movement. Dellums is currently the mayor of Oakland, California.



1938
Oscar Robertson was born on this date. He was an African-American basketball player and administrator.

Born on a farm in Charlotte, Tennessee when he was four years old, his family moved to Indianapolis, Indiana. Nicknamed
“The Big O,” Robertson began playing basketball as a child using a tin can in place of a ball. Later, when he had a regular basketball, he would dribble it constantly. In high school, he led his basketball team to two Indiana state titles. Following high school, Robertson attended the University of Cincinnati. While on the UC team from 1957 to 1960, he led the nation in scoring and was a two-time NCAA Player of the Year and three-time All-American. He was a member of the U.S. Olympic Basketball Team in his senior year, which won a gold medal in Rome.

After leaving UC in 1960, he joined the NBA’s Cincinnati Royals. For the 1961-1962 seasons Robertson achieved a “triple-double” average for points, assists and rebounds in double figures each game. This accomplishment has never been matched. Robertson continued to play with the Royals for ten years before being traded to the Milwaukee Bucks. In his 14-year career, he earned
All-NBA honors 11 times and led the Royals and the Bucks to ten playoff berths. Robinson, along with Lew Alcinder (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), led the Bucks to their only NBA Championship. Robertson concluded his career with 26,710 points (25.7 per game), 9,887 assists (9.5 per game) and 7,804 rebounds (7.5 per game).

Also, in the late 1960s, he served as president of the NBA Players Association. In Milwaukee, he helped lead the Bucks to an NBA championship in 1971. Robertson retired from the Bucks in 1974.

Robertson remains one of the most significant names in basketball history and has received many honors. He is a member of the National Basketball Hall of Fame, voted in, in 1979,
following his retirement in 1974 and has been named one of ESPN’s 50 Greatest Athletes of the Century. Robertson currently resides with his family in Cincinnati.


1943
Doris “Dorie” Miller, a messman on the USS Arizona, who manned a machine-gun and shot down four planes during the Pearl Harbor attack, died on this date. Miller was on the carrier Liscone Bay as it sank after being hit by a torpedo.


1971
A prison prison rebellionrebellion occurred at Rahway State Prison, New Jersey on this date. Inmates had seized four guards and the warden as hostages. “Throughout the fearful day, New Jersey officials and inmates alike gradually abandoned hard line demands in favor of safety and compromise. Shortly after the rebellion started, New Jersey Governor William Cahill appeared to direct negotions from a nearby command post. The prisoners were now as well organized as the Attica inmates; they were also less militant and inflexible in their demands. Both sided, it seems, remembered Attica ." 24 hours after the inmates had seized the guards and the warden, the rebellion ended peacefully.

A week later, six of the ringleaders were transferred secretly to the New Jersey State Prison at Trenton. Several months earlier, an investigation committee, the Hahn investigation, that had been investigating “the running of the reformatory, noted that (according to the New York Times article), several months prior, “the boys say they had been given to understand by someone connected with the committee that, if they made a ‘big kick,’ and answered as the committee wanted, they would get their freedom.” The article further notes that, “for two months…, the institution has been in a state of insurrection daily. Punishment after punishment has been meted out, and the dungeons have been full of boys to break the spirit of rebellion which the committee incited.

The revolt reached a climax… and the six leaders were seized and sent here [the State Prison]. It has been alleged that great cruelty had been practiced toward the inmates, the ‘solitary’ treatment, bread and water diet, and beatings and tying the boys up by the wrists until they became unconscious, being among methods of punishment alleged to have bee followed.

The boys sent [to the State Prision) were Harry Good of Middlesex County, 23…, in for fourteen years for burglary; Thomas Giblon of Hudson, 19…, twenty-one years sentence for burglary; Tony Caruse of Essex, 18…, twenty-four years for burglary; William C. Denise of Burlington, 19…, fourteen years for burglary; Raymond Welsh of Camden, 20…, seven years for larceny; Joseph De Balbi of Passaic, 23…, twenty-four years for breaking, entering, and larceny.”


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1890

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