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1866
Henry T. Burleigh, famed baritone and composer, was born in Erie, PA. He as the soloist at St. George’s Episcopal Church for 52 years and the soloist at Temple Emanuel for 25 years in New York. Mr. Burleigh began to compose in his forties. Some of his spirituals were: Steal Away, Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen, Everytime I Feel the Spirit, and Deep River. He is credited with some 250 songs.


1891
Dr. Charles H. Wesley, a noted African American historian, educator, writer, author, and minister, was born in Louisville, Kentucky. Wesley was the third African American to receive his doctorate from Harvard. He served as president of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History from 1950-1965 and as executive director for the next twelve years. Wesley wrote several articles and books on the African American experience including The History of Alpha Phi Alpha published in 1953. Besides serving as a pioneer in the study of African Americans, Wesley was president of Wilberforce University from 1942 to 1947 and president of Central State College of Ohio from 1947 to 1965. He died August 16, 1987 in Washington, D.C. and was buried at Lincoln Memorial Cemetery in Suitland, Maryland.


1859
John Brown, white abolitionist and martyr, who planned the failed attack on the Federal Arsenal at Harpers Ferry, is hanged at Charles Town, West Virginia.


1863
On this date, “Freedom,” the statue on top of the dome of the U.S. Capitol, was put in place permanently.

The Man responsible for this architectural feat was
Philip Reid, a Black man. Reid was a slave at the Bladensburg (Maryland) Foundry when he supervised the bronze casting of the statue. The story of the building of the nation’s capital began in 1856. At that time Thomas Crawford completed the full -size plaster model of Freedom at his studio in Rome, Italy. When cast in bronze, it was intended to stand atop the Dome of the United States Capitol.

In April, 1858, the model left Rome in six crates aboard the ship Emily Taylor. While crossing the Atlantic, the ship sprung a leak which got progressively worse. The Taylor made it to Bermuda and was condemned. Freedom was transferred to another ship for the trip to the Mills Foundry in Maryland. The federal government had awarded the Mills Foundry a contract to cast the plaster model in bronze and the work began in May, 1860. In the midst of the casting the Foundry Foreman went on strike for higher wages, believing he was the only person qualified to see the casting to its completion. Clark Mills, owner of the foundry instead turned to the slave who had been working alongside of the Foreman and put him in charge of the final casting.

This was Philip Reid. Reid supervised the remaining casting of the statue in five sections, each weighing over a ton. The tons of Freedom were moved by wagons from Bladensburg, Maryland to Washington. Reid and other slaves put the Statue of Freedom together on the grounds of the Capitol in a month during the spring of 1863. On this date in 1863 the Statue of Freedom was hoisted to the top of the Capitol Dome along with great celebration and a 35-Gun Salute.

Philip Reid was one of the last of hundreds of slaves involved in the building of the Capitol between 1790 and 1863. The slaves worked in the quarries of Virginia, digging and transporting the stone that became the beautiful building that stands today. At the building site the slaves performed the truly backbreaking work required to place the cut stones on the walls of the Capitol building. They dug trenches and ditches, hauled lumber and performed other tasks requiring great strength and stamina.

Half the workforce at the Capitol building site was such slaves. Shortly after he completed this mission, the District of Columbia issued its Emancipation Proclamation abolishing slavery within the Capital City and Philip Reid was no longer a slave.



1866
Henry T. Burleigh was born on this date in 1866. He was an African-American gospel singer and composer.

From Erie Pennsylvania, he was the grandson of slaves. It was his grandfather that passed on to him the tradition of plantation songs. Burleigh had little formal music training in his youth, but was accepted into the National Conservatory of Music at the age of 26. There he took voice and lessons in composition with Antonin Dvorek.

It was from Burleigh that Dvorek learned about Black American folk music (which later was so important in his New World Symphony.) There are various estimates of the number of songs Burleigh wrote. The numbers range from 200 to 300. They include arrangements used in Henry E. Krehbiel’s 1914 collection, Afro-American Folksongs, a Study in Racial and National Music, “By an’ By” (1917), “Go Down Moses” (1917), “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” (1917), and an Old Songs Hymnal in 1929. Over the years, he performed for such dignitaries as the King and Queen of England and President Theodore Roosevelt.

He encouraged the careers of young musicians like Marian Anderson, Paul Robeson, Carol Brice, Margaret Bonds, and William Grant Still. Burleigh was a charter member of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) when it formed in 1914 and became a member of its board of directors in 1941. He received a number of honors, including the Spingarn Medal in 1917, and honorary degrees from Atlanta University and Howard University. In 1944, members of St. George’s (of New York City) recognized him with gifts of $1,500 and a silver-banded cane. Later that year, he gave the fiftieth annual performance of Jean-Baptiste Faure’s “The Palms” at both morning and afternoon services.

Burleigh also did a special broadcast performance over a local radio station, for New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia. Illness forced his retirement as soloist in 1946. His son, Alston, placed him first in a Long Island rest home then to a nursing home in Stamford, Connecticut, in 1948. On September 12, 1949, Burleigh died of heart failure at the age of 82.

His funeral was held at St. George’s and was attended by 2,000 people. The pallbearers included composers Hall Johnson, Noble Sissle, Eubie Blake, William C. Handy, and Cameron White. Burleigh was best known for his arrangements of the Negro spiritual “Deep River”.



1884
Granville T. Woods receives a patent for his first electric device and second invention, an improved telephone transmitter. His invention was far more superior to the invention of Alexander Graham Bell.


1891
North Carolina A&T College, Delaware State College, and West Virginia State College are established.


1891
The Fifty-second Congress convenes. Only one African American congressman has been elected - Henry P. Cheatham of North Carolina.


1891
This date marks the birthday of Charles Harris Wesley. He was an African-American historian, educator, and minister who was an early proponent of African-American studies.

Born in Louisville, Kentucky, Charles Wesley attended public schools in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky and then went on to receive a B.A. at Fisk University in 1911, an M.A. in economics at Yale University in 1913, and a Ph.D. from Harvard University in 1925. Wesley’s doctorate in history was the third awarded by Harvard to an African-American. Wesley served on the Howard University faculty from 1913 to 1942.

In 1916, Wesley began a long association with Carter G. Woodson’s Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, serving as president from 1950 to 1965 and as executive director until 1972. In 1942, Wesley became president of Wilberforce University in Ohio, a school supported by the African Methodist Episcopal (AME). As president until 1965, Wesley improved the faculty, founded new programs (such as African Studies), and integrated the student body. Wesley served as director of the Afro-American Historical and Cultural Museum in Philadelphia from its opening in 1974 to 1976.

In addition to his work as an educator, Wesley was AME Church minister and elder from 1914 to 1937. Awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1930, Wesley went to England to study slave emancipation in the British Empire. From 1931 to 1946, he was president of Alpha Phi Alpha, a Black fraternity about which he wrote in 1953. Wesley also wrote many other articles and books on African-American history, leaders and organizations, including Negro Labor in the United States, 1850-1925 (1927), Collapse of the Confederacy (1937), Neglected History, and his last book, The History of the National Association of Colored Women’s Clubs: A Legacy of Service (1984).


Wesley was also the first president of Central University. Charles Wesley died August 16, 1987, in Washington, D.C.



1895
Fifty-fourth Congress (1895-97) convened. One Black congressman: George W. Murray, South Carolina.


1902
Wilfredo Lam was born on this date. He was an Afro-Cuban twentieth century artist.

Born (Wifredo Yscar de la Concepayn Lam y Castilla) Lam was from Sagua La Grande, a small town in Cuba. His father was Chinese and his mother was African, Spanish and Native-Cuban. Young Lam had artistic talent as a young man; he went to Havana to study law, and also learned painting at the Academy of San Alejandro. In 1923, he traveled to Madrid to further his artist studies. During that time (1929) he married Eva Piriz but both she and their young son died in 1931 of Tuberculosis.

Lam lived in Madrid during the Spanish civil war in which he sided with the Republic. In 1937, he traveled to Paris and became close friends with Pablo Picasso. It was through Picasso that he met many of the leading artists in Paris at the time. With the threat of German invasion in World War II, he left Paris in 1940 and went to Marseille. There, through Varian Fry he became friends with André Breton and formed close ties with the Surrealist movement.

In 1941, he returned to Cuba and stayed there until 1946. During this time (1944) he married Helena Holzer; they were divorced in 1950. In 1960, he married Lou Laurin with whom he had three children. His masterpiece is considered to be “La Jungla” (“The Jungle”, 1943). He was predominantly a painter but he also worked with sculpture and ceramics. Wilfredo Lam died in Paris on September 11, 1982.



1903
Alfred E. Smith was born on this date. He was an African-American administrative activist.

From Hot Springs, Arkansas, he left his hometown at the age of seventeen to attend Howard University in Washington, D.C. In 1932, Smith received his master’s degree in history, and for the following year he worked as a substitute teacher in the Washington public schools. He then joined the Federal Works Progress Administration, beginning a life-long career in public service. Smith began as Assistant to the Director of the Negro Works, Federal Emergency Relief Administration.

From 1935 to 1943, he was Administrative Assistant and Staff adviser, of the Federal Works Progress Administration. In these positions, Smith acted as a member of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Black Cabinet” an unofficial group of black individuals in the upper reaches of the federal government who advised President Roosevelt on policies affecting black Americans. Smith worked in public relations, speech writing, and press advisory positions for the Public Housing Authority, the Federal Civil Defense Agency, and the Department of Labor. He also had an independent career as a successful journalist.

During the 1940s, Smith wrote two regular columns for the Chicago Defender newspaper, edited a Washington based newsletter, and contributed articles to a number of publications. Smith’s other professional activities included founding the Capitol Press Club; a group of Washington based Black journalists. He was also active in various civil rights organizations including the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Urban League, and formed a social group called the Gourmet Club.

These interests brought Smith into contact with many of the black leaders and produced friendships that included the poet Langston Hughes, Dean of the Howard University Medical School, W. Montague Cobb, psychologist Kenneth Clark, and writer Alain Locke. Alfred E. Smith retired from government service in 1974 and died May 26, 1986.



1908
John Baxter “Doc” Taylor joins the ancestors as a result of typhoid pneumonia at the age of 26. Taylor had been a record-setting quarter miler and the first African American Olympic gold medal winner in the 4 x 400-meter medley in the 1908 London games.


1912
Henry Armstrong is born in Columbus, Mississippi, Better known as “Hammering Hank,” Armstrong will become the only man to hold three boxing titles at once in the featherweight, welterweight, and lightweight divisions.


1922
On this date, Charles Diggs Jr. was born. He was an African-American politician.

From Detroit, Michigan, he was the son of an undertaker and respected father in the Motor City area. Young Diggs attended Miller High School, the University of Michigan, Fisk University, and Wayne State University; earning a degree in Mortuary Services in 1946. He joined his father in the family mortuary business, and then won his father’s seat in the Michigan senate in 1951. Early on, Diggs was a strong voice for civil rights.

He attended the Emmett Tills murder trial as an observer and was diligent in awakening the conscience of the national Democratic Party; part of this effort allowed the opening of a second Black-majority voting district in Michigan following the 1960 census. He was Michigan’s first Black congressman and was the key player in organizing the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) and the National Black Political Convention. During the Nixon Administration, he was a United Nations delegate. However early in 1978, he faced charges of diverting $60,000 in office operating funds to pay his personal expenses. Though convicted of the charges he still won re-election that year.

Diggs appealed his conviction, was eventually censured by the House, and stripped of his committee memberships; he resigned his seat in 1980 after twenty-five years in Congress. He was sentenced to five years in prison and was released after serving seven months. Afterwards, Diggs opened a funeral home in Maryland and was indirectly involved in politics; he also earned a political science degree from Howard University.

Charles Diggs Jr. died of a stroke in August 1998 and was eulogized warmly by black colleagues from across the country.



1923
Roland Hayes becomes the first African American to sing in the Symphony Hall in Boston, Massachusetts. A 1917 concert did not attract much public attention, but another in the same venue held on this day, was triumphant.


1928
On this date, Evelyn Fairbanks was born. She was an African-American writer, educator, and administrator.

Born in St. Paul, Minnesota, Fairbanks spent a year in Omaha, Nebraska with her natural mother (Eva Mae Riddle) before resettling in St. Paul with George and Willie Mae Edwards. She attended Mechanic Arts High School and became the first Black employee at Hamline University in St. Paul, as a cashier. Later Fairbanks received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota at age 40. After the University, she wrote The Days of Rondo, a memoir of growing up in the 1930s and ‘40s in the thriving Rondo community the largest Black neighborhood in St. Paul.

Published in 1990, the book is currently in its fourth printing. “Days of Rondo” was adapted into a play, as was Everlasting Arms, another piece she wrote about her childhood. During her life, she held jobs as a factory worker, maid, and director of a neighborhood arts center. Fairbanks moved to a 20-acre tree farm near a small town, Onamia, Minnesota after she retired in 1991. Pneumonia in 1993 slowed her down and her breathing was often labored because of asthma. In 1995, she received an honorary doctorate from Hamline.

About that same time, she began her research on black pioneers in rural Minnesota, hoping to compile her research into a book. When she died on March 21, 2001, she was working on a book contract; she was also learning Japanese and lecturing to school-age-children.



1940
Willie Brown, NFL defensive back for the Denver Broncos and the Oakland Raiders, is born.


1943
“Carmen Jones,” a contemporary reworking of the Bizet opera “Carmen” by Oscar Hammerstein II with an all-black cast, opens on Broadway.


1953
Dr. Rufus Clement, president of Atlanta University, is elected to the Atlanta Board of Education.


1968
Dial Press publishes Frank Yerby’s “Judas My Brother.”


1969
In 1969 Marie V. Brittan Brown designed a “Home Security System with Television Surveillance” for the homeowner to view the visitor on a television screen and the visitor also able to
view a screen. The homeowner could open the door via a manual lock mechanism. Patent # 3,482,037.



1975
Ohio State running back Archie Griffin becomes the first person ever to win the Heisman Trophy twice, when he is awarded his second trophy in New York City. He amassed a career record of 5,176 yards and 31 consecutive 100 yard plus games. He will play for the Cincinnati Bengals and be elected to the National Football Hall of Fame in 1986.


1989
Andre Ware of the University of Houston becomes the first African American quarterback to win the Heisman Trophy.


1992
Dr. Maya Angelou is asked to compose a poem for William Jefferson Clinton’s presidential inauguration.

2007
On this date, Motown legend and diva and lead singer for the Supremes, Diana Ross was prestigiously honored at the 30th Annual Kennedy Center Honors program with four other legendary contributors to the performing arts. The other honorees were actor/comedian Steve Martin, pianist Leon Fleisher, film maker/director Martin Scorsese, and singer/song writer Brian Wilson. The Kennedy Center Honor annually honors individuals for lifetime contributions and achievements in the performing arts at a star studded gala affair at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC. Some consider the height of the honor to be akin to receiving the Nobel Peace for the arts.

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1890

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