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1862
On this date, Fort Negley, Nashville, Tennessee was completed. This military facility was built during the American Civil War mainly with black labor supervised by the Union Army.

During the fall and winter of 1862, the Union army built the Fort to defend Nashville against Confederate army attacks. On February 25, 1862, after the Confederate Army of Tennessee retreated from the defeat at Fort Donelson, the Union army occupied Nashville. In March of 1862, President Abraham Lincoln appointed (then) Senator Andrew Johnson as military governor. Because of his nervousness about Confederate attacks, Johnson begged federal officials to strengthen the town. The post commander General James S. Negley used the post’s 6,000 soldiers and Black laborers to fortify Nashville (the capitol). Negley employed Captain James S. Morton, an army engineer, to design and build a large fort to protect the south road and railroad approaches to Nashville. The Union army recruited and forced nearly 2,000 blacks (free and slave) into Fort Negley’s labor battalions. “Known men of treason,” including Belle Meade plantation’s William G. Harding were arrested and lost money, slaves, and supplies to support the project.

The Union cavalry surrounded Nashville’s three Black churches, arrested strong black men and women, and marched them to the St. Cloud hill construction site with axes, picks, and spades in return for certificates of labor to be paid later. Before the project ended, the army owed blacks and some “loyal slave owners” over $85,958 in wages. On November 5, the Confederate cavalry attempted to invade the city. The black laborers asked for arms and were refused. Blacks were allowed to form a symbolic defensive line with picks and axes. The federal military drove the Confederates off and inflicted 68 enemy casualties. The fight took place at the site of today’s Cameron-Trimble neighborhood. Afterward more federal troops arrived to garrison the town. They rebuilt bridges, and searched the countryside for food and supplies. Black laborers cleared trees, blasted the solid rock, and dug underground storehouses. Expert slave stonemasons shaped the stone and laid thick masonry walls.

Black women washed clothes, cooked food, and hauled debris in wheelbarrows. The Union army and the black workers completed Fort Negley on December 7, 1862. Captain Morton said, “To the credit of the colored population be it said, they worked manfully and cheerfully, with hardly an exception, and yet lay out upon the works at night under armed guard, without blankets and eating only army rations. They worked in squads military-like companies, each gang choosing their own officers; one was often amused to hear the Negro captains call out: ‘You boys over there, let them picks fall easy, or they might hurt somebody.” Hundreds of black laborers died from exposure and accidents when working on such Union army projects. Fort Negley became the largest Union fort west of Washington, D. C. The topmost structure consisted of twelve-foot timbers, a stockade to hold horses and soldiers’ quarters. There were rounded wooden rifle towers on top of each corner of the stockade. The artillery rested on carriages and smooth plank flooring surrounded the outside of the stockade. Three-foot ramparts (nine-foot-thick embankments of earth walled with stone) protected the flat artillery area. Morton placed the fort’s entrance on the north side with a gentle slope overlooking the city two miles beyond.

The fort also had a sharp salient, a gateway, a timber guardhouse, and a loop-holed bomb shelter flanking the gate. Fort Negley, a multilateral copy of an old Spanish design used 62,500 cubic feet of stone and 18,000 cubic yards of dirt; occupied 600 by 300 feet and 51 acres of St. Cloud Hill; and rested some 620 feet above sea level. The Union army abandoned Fort Negley soon after 1867. The local Ku Klux Klan held secret meetings in the fort’s blockhouses until 1869. During the early 1900s, Nashville’s black Republican Party leaders unsuccessfully petitioned Republican presidents to restore the fort. In 1937, the federal Works Progress Administration restored Fort Negley. The fort, however, was allowed to fall into ruins again until the 1964 Civil War Centennial Celebration. In 1975, Fort Negley was listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1980, the Metro Historical Commission and a MHC plaque marked the entrance to the site. Years later, the Tennessee Historical Commission placed a historical plaque to note the involvement of Blacks in the Civil War and construction of Fort Negley. In 1994 the City Council approved $500,000 to begin the restoration of Fort Negley as a historical, tourist, and community resource. As late as 2000, Nashville had begun appropriating 3 million dollars for the project.



1874
The Vicksburg Massacre takes place. Whites (many of them ex-Confederate soldiers) angry at the rise of Black political power after the Civil War and during Reconstruction, rose up and took control of local government in Vicksburg, MS, by massacring 75 Black and white Republicans. At the time, the Republican Party was the pro-Black party.


1885
The Forty-Ninth Congress (1885-87) is convened. Two African American congressmen, James E. O’Hara of North Carolina and Robert Smalls of South Carolina are in attendance.


1895
Sir Milton Margai, the first prime minister of Sierra Leone, is born.


1931
Comer Cottrell is born in Mobile, Alabama. In 1970, he will become founder and president of Pro-line Corporation, the largest African American-owned business in the southwest, which he will start with $ 600 and a borrowed typewriter. An entrepreneur with a wide range of interests, Cottrell will also become the first African American to own a part of a major league baseball team, the Texas Rangers, in 1989.


1941
Doris “Dorie” Miller (1919–1943), a messman on the USS Arizona who had never been instructed in firearms, heroically defended his ship from enemy attack when he shot down four planes during an attack on Pearl Harbor on this day. The drama unfolded shortly after Miller’s 6 a.m. wake-up call. He was collecting laundry when the alarm for general quarters sounded. As he headed for his battle station, an anti-aircraft battery magazine, he discovered that torpedo damage had wrecked it. Heading to the deck, Miller rescued several of his shipmates from certain death and subsequently manned a 50-caliber anti-aircraft machine gun. Miller fired the gun until it ran out of ammunition and was ordered to abandon ship. The Waco, TX, native later became the first Black awarded the Navy Cross Medal for gallantry. Miller was later assigned to the carrier Liscombe Bay, which was sunk by a Japanese submarine on November 23, 1943, with most of its crew aboard, including Miller.


1941
The Downtown Gallery in New York City presents the exhibit “American Negro Art, 19th and 20th Century.” Included in the exhibit is work by Robert Duncanson, Horace Pippin, Eldzier Cortor, Richmond Barté and others.


1941
Lester Granger is named executive director of the National Urban League.


1941
The NAACP awards its prestigious Spingarn Medal to novelist Richard Wright. Wright ranks as one of the foremost novelists in African-American history. Among his most powerful works are “Native Son” and “Uncle Tom’s Children,” which depict “the effect of proscription, segregation and denial of opportunities to the American Negro.” However, the activist writer was driven from the United States to France in the 1950s because of the anti-communist witch hunts taking place in the U.S. during the period. He died in Paris, France, in 1960.


1942
On this date, Reginald F. Lewis was born. He was an African-American business executive.

From Baltimore, Maryland Lewis received his A.B. from Virginia State College in 1965 and a law degree from Harvard Law School in 1968. He first worked as an attorney with the firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton, & Garrison until 1970. Lewis was then a partner in Murphy, Thorpe & Lewis, the first Black law firm on Wall Street. Between 1973 and 1989, Lewis was in private practice as a corporate lawyer.

In 1989, he became the first Black owner and CEO of a U.S. company with more than $1 billion in revenue when he acquired TLC Beatrice International Holdings in a leveraged buyout. TLC Beatrice had revenues of $1.54 billion in 1992. He shared his business secrets with the world in a book entitled, “Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun?”


Lewis was a member of the American and National Bar Associations and the National Conference of Black Lawyers. He was on the board of directors of the New York City Off-Track Betting Corp., the Central Park Conservance, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and WNET-Channel 13, the public television station in New York.

He was recipient of the Distinguished Service Award presented by the American Association of MESBIC (1974) and the Black Enterprise Achievement Award for the Professions. Reginald Lewis died unexpectedly of cancer on January 19, 1993 in New York.



1947
Reverend Wilton D. Gregory was born on this date. He is an African-American Bishop and the Seventh Bishop of Belleville, Illinois.

Born in Chicago, Gregory is the son of Wilton (Sr.) and Ethel Duncan Gregory. He attended St. Carthage Grammar School, Quigley Preparatory Seminary South, Niles College (now St. Joseph’s College Seminary) of Loyola University, and Saint Mary of the Lake Seminary. Three years after his ordination to the priesthood he began graduate studies at the Pontifical Liturgical Institute (Sant’ Anselmo) in Rome where he earned his doctorate in Sacred Liturgy in 1980. In 1973, Gregory was ordained a Catholic Priest for the Archdiocese of Chicago. In 1983, he was ordained a Bishop after serving as an associate pastor at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Glenview, Illinois. Bishop Gregory was installed as the Seventh Bishop of Belleville in 1994.

In 2001, Bishop Gregory was elected President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, following three years as Vice President under Bishop Joseph Fiorenza of the Diocese of Galveston-Houston. Gregory also serves on the NCCB Executive and Administrative Committees, and on the Administrative Board. He has served as Chairman of the Bishops’ Committees on Personnel, the Third Millennium/Jubilee Year 2000, and Liturgy. Other recent committee assignments include the Committee on Doctrine and the United States Catholic Conference Committee on International Policy. Bishop Gregory has written extensively on Church issues, including pastoral statements on the death penalty and euthanasia/physician-assisted suicide.

He has published many articles on the subject of liturgy, particularly in the African-American community, and currently writes a regular column, What I Have Seen and Heard, for the diocesan newspaper, The Messenger. Bishop Gregory’s responsibilities in the Diocese of Belleville and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, along with many outside requests for his presence as a speaker or retreat director, keep him extremely active. When he is not engaged in his official ministry, the Bishop enjoys travel, music, racquetball and golf.

Hoping to end a crisis they admit was of their own making in Dallas over the summer of 2002 Gregory and other bishops are trying to approve a clerical sex abuse policy within the Catholic Church. This would remove all molesters from parish life and kick most abusers out of the priesthood. During a highly dramatic opening Gregory, president of the bishops’ conference, bluntly acknowledged that bishops’ mistakes helped cause the scandal. He has frequently apologized for the bishops’ role in the crisis, yet his remarks were direct.

“We are the ones who chose not to report the criminal actions of priests to the authorities, because the law did not require this.” “We are the ones who worried more about the possibility of scandal than in bringing about the kind of openness that helps prevent abuse.”



1948
Pearl Michelle Cleage was born on this date. She is an African-American writer.

From Springfield, Massachusetts, she grew up in Detroit, Michigan. Her father, Albert Cleage, was a minister who founded the Pan African Orthodox Christian Church, and ran for governor of Michigan in 1962 on the Freedom Ticket. He later became a Black Nationalist and changed his name to
Jaramogi Abebe Agyemen. Her mother, Doris, was an elementary school teacher. An academically gifted student in high school, Cleage enrolled at Howard University in 1966 where she studied writing for theatre and had two one-act plays produced.

She left Howard in 1969 at the age of twenty to marry Michael Lomax, an Atlanta politician. The two divorced in 1979. Upon graduating in 1971 from Spelman College, Pearl Cleage worked at a number of media jobs including hosting a local, black-oriented interview program as well as being Director of Communications for the city of Atlanta and Press Secretary for Mayor Maynard Jackson. Cleage began playwriting in the 1980’s with productions of puppet play, Hospice, Good News, and Essentials. At the time she wrote essays for Essence, the New York Times Book Review, Ms., Black World and other national magazines.

In 1990 and 1991 she published them in, Mad at Miles and Deals with the Devil. Also during this time Cleage gained national attention as a playwright with her play Flyin’ West at the Alliance Theatre in Atlanta, Blues for an Alabama Sky and Bourbon at the Border. She currently is Playwright in Residence at Spelman College, the editor of Catalyst, and Artistic Director of Just Us Theater Company. She has received grants from the NEA, the City of Atlanta Bureau of Cultural Affairs, and the Georgia Council for the Arts.



1955
This date marks the incident of the “Greensboro Six.” This was a racial episode involving Blacks and Whites.

An exclusionary confrontation it took place at a golf course in Greensboro, North Carolina. On the morning of December 7th, 1955, an early winter day,
George C. Simkins Jr. awaited the arrival of five golf partners. When they wanted a change of pace, they would meet and drive to High Point or Charlotte or Durham to play one of the few courses open to people of color. On this day, though, they planned to play Gillespie Park, a city-owned course operated as a private facility by a group of White citizens who leased it for $1. Lease agreements such as this were a common practice among Southern municipalities, which sought to circumvent the Supreme Court ruling that made it unlawful for city-owned golf courses to discriminate against anyone. Play at Gillespie Park was restricted to “members” and their guests.

African-Americans fit neither category, but the six golfers were determined to change that. When they arrived at Gillespie Park, the golf shop attendant greeted them with the warmth of day-old grits saying they couldn’t play, grabbing the registration book to keep them from signing it. One after another, Dr. Simkins,
Leon Wolfe, Joseph Sturdivant, Samuel Murray, Elijah Herring, and Phillip Cook defiantly placed their 75-cent green fee on the counter and headed for the first tee. They were on the fifth hole when head pro Ernie Edwards caught up with them. Brandishing a golf club, Edwards cursed at the six, and threatened to have them arrested if they didn’t leave. The golfers ignored Edwards’ warning, finished nine holes, and departed for home.

Later that evening, a Black police officer arrested the six dissidents and took them to the county jail. After their bail was paid the fight to desegregate public golf courses in Greensboro followed. The six golfers were eventually found guilty of trespassing and sentenced to 30 days in jail. They lost an appeal in superior court, got an active jail sentence, but continued the fight at the federal court level. There, Judge Johnson J. Hayes ruled in their favor and issued a declaratory judgment. He ordered Gillespie Park opened to everyone within two weeks. But before the order could be enforced, someone slipped into the Gillespie Park clubhouse and burned it to the ground. City officials refused to rebuild the clubhouse closed the golf course, and it was seven years before it was reopened to the public.

The “Greensboro Six” eventually appealed the original decision to the U. S. Supreme Court. They attempted to get Thurgood Marshall, chief counsel for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, to represent them but he refused to take the case. Marshall felt they should have gotten an injunction to play the course saying they would lose by one vote and that Justice Tom Clark would be the deciding vote, which was exactly what happened. Governor Luther Hodges (then) commuted their sentences but it was small consolation.



1956
On this date, Jim Parker became the first African-American college football player to win the Outland Trophy as the best linebacker in America.

Parker was a three-year starter and two-times All-American for Ohio State University. He won the Outland Trophy as a senior in 1956. During his three years as a starter, the Buckeyes won 23 of 28 games, captured the 1954 national championship, and won back-to-back Big Ten titles in 1954 and ‘55. Parker, who was born in Macon, Georgia, played his last two years of high school football in Toledo, Ohio and was the Buckeyes’ MVP in 1956.

A first round pick of the Baltimore Colts the following spring, he went on to have a great career in the NFL as a perennial all-pro pick. In addition to being a charter member of the Ohio State Athletic Hall of Fame, Parker is also a member of the College Football Hall of Fame and the Professional Football Hall of Fame.



1972
W. Sterling Cary is elected president of the Nation Council of Churches.


1978
Billy Sims is awarded the Heisman Trophy at the annual awards dinner sponsored by the Downtown Athletic Club. The running back from the University of Oklahoma is the sixth junior to win the award.


1981
John Jacobs is named president of the National Urban League.


1985
Bo Jackson of Auburn University wins the Heisman Trophy.


1985
William “Bill” Cosby, comedian, educator, and humanitarian, received the 70th NAACP Spingarn Medal on this date for his record breaking success in the field of entertainment and for his televised projection of American family qualities.


1990
House Democrats unanimously nominate politician Daniel Blue, Jr. as the first Black speaker of the General Assembly in the state of North Carolina. He was also the fourth Black to hold a state position since the post-Civil War Reconstruction era. He held the post until 1994. Born on April 18, 1949, in Lumberton, Robeson County, NC, he attended local segregated schools before he graduated from North Carolina Central University and Duke University Law School. In 1980, Blue was first elected to rep resent Wake County in the North Carolina F House of Representatives, and has since then been re-elected five times. When Democrats reclaimed power in 1999, Blue tried for his old position by forming a coalition of Democrats and Republicans, but the needed votes never materialized. However, Blue remained in the House until his failed bid for the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in 2002. Most recently Blue returned to his old position in the North Carolina House of Representatives where he replaced Bernard Allen (who died while running unopposed in the November 2006 election).


1990
Rhythm and Blues artist, Dee Clark, joins the ancestors in Smyrna, Georgia at the age of 52.


1993
The South African transitional executive council is set up.


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