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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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,
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,
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.
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.
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
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.
Robert B. Elliott is elected Speaker of the lower house of the South Carolina
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.
Southern University is established in New Orleans, Louisiana.
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.
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
Black college football game was played
between Biddle University
(Johnson C. Smith) and Livingston College on this date. It was Thanksgiving Day in 1892.
marks the birth of Teddy Wilson. He was an
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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,
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.”