An act was passed in New York that encouraged the baptism of slaves on this date. The act did not,
however, free any slaves.
On this date
we celebrate the birth of Martin F. Becker. He was a
black sailor, printer, administrator, and barber.
Becker was from Dutch Guiana (now Surinam),
South America. His father was African and his
mother East Indian, they both had come to America
from South Africa.
After working as a sailor and attending college in Europe, Becker came to the United States.
He lived for a time in Manchester,
New Hampshire, where he married a
woman who worked at the Amoskeag Mills nearby. While living there, he was one
of the few Blacks to vote in that state. Becker and his wife then settled in Fitchburg, Massachusetts
where he ran a barbershop, worked as a printer, and was active as an
It was here that he also purchased a home from Benjamin Snow, a prominent local
businessman involved with the Underground Railroad. His date of birth is
uncertain, as he claimed to be younger than he actually was when he joined the
Union armed forces during the Civil War. Becker was enlisted in the Union Navy,
serving on the vessels Cumberland and Minnesota; afterwards
(in 1863); he joined the 55th Massachusetts Regiment as a private.
He was wounded in the battle of Honey Hill. He was promoted to quartermaster in
1864 and mustered out at Charleston
a year later.
Becker remained in South Carolina, was elected
to their constitutional convention from Berkley County
in 1868, and was appointed trial justice by governors Robert K. Scott and
Daniel H. Chamberlain. He also served as election manager of James Island
in 1870. He fathered two sons, Henry, a pianist who became a music teacher, and
Charles who became the first Black teacher at the Fall River, Massachusetts
high school. Martin Becker died in 1880.
America’s first African American governor takes office as Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchback
became acting governor of Louisiana.
Robert Morris, one of the
first Blacks to practice before the courts of the United States, died on this date.
John E. Bush, former slave and teacher, joins the ancestors. He had been appointed
receiver of the United States Land Office in Little Rock, Arkansas
American soldiers are hanged for alleged participation in a Houston riot.
The Great Jazz Migration begins as Joe
Oliver leaves New Orleans
and settles in Chicago,
to be joined later by other stars.
The NAACP’s Spingarn Medal is presented to Harry T. Burleigh, composer and accomplished opera singer, for excellence in the field
Big Mama Thornton was born on
this date. She was an African-American blues singer and harmonica player.
Willie Mae Thornton was raised
in a religious setting in Montgomery,
Alabama; her father was a minister,
and her mother sang in the church. Thornton’s
musical aspirations led her to leave home in 1941 at fourteen and join the
Georgia-based Hot Harlem Revue. Her seven-year tenure with the Revue gave her
significant singing and stage experience and enabled her to tour the South,
settling in Houston, Texas, in 1948.
also a self-taught drummer and harmonica player and regularly played both
instruments on stage. She was singing on the Houston circuit when Peacock
Records signed her in 1951. She opened recording with “Partnership Blues” that
year, backed by trumpeter Joe Scott’s band. But it was her third Peacock date
with Johnny Otis’s band that proved the winner. Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton
only had one national hit in her lifetime, but it was a true monster. Hound
Dog held down the top slot on Billboard’s R&B charts for seven weeks in
1953. She also recorded the hits “Ball &
Chain,” and “Stronger than Dirt.”
Hound Dog was mimicked by Elvis Presley, much to his
success. Elvis Presley’s rocking 1956 cover was even bigger, which
concealed Thornton’s chief claim to immortality; although Thornton’s menacing
growl was something special. With Pete Lewis laying down some truly nasty
guitar behind her, Big Mama shouted Hound Dog, a song whose lyrics remain a
bone of contention to this day. Though Thornton recorded some fine follow-ups: I
Smell a Rat, Stop Hoppin’ on Me, The Fish, and Just like a
Dog through 1957, she never again reached the hit parade.
Early-‘60s 45s for record labels Irma, Bay-Tone, Kent, and Sotoplay did little,
but a series of dates for that included her first vinyl rendition of “Ball and
Chain” in 1968 and two albums for Mercury in 1969-70 put her back in motion.
Along with her imposing vocals, Thornton began to emphasize her harmonica
skills during the 1960s. Thornton was a tough woman. She dressed like a man and
took no crap from anyone, even as the pounds fell off her once large frame
during the last years of her life.
Medical personnel found her lifeless body in a rooming house; Big Mama Thornton
died July 25, 1984 in Los Angeles, California.
Lewis Howard Latimore
(or Latimer) joins the
ancestors in Flushing, New York. Employed as a chief draftsman, Latimore
created the drawings for Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone in 1870. He rapidly
developed into a widely respected scientist and inventor. After
leaving Bell’s company, Latimer joined General Electric which was begun by Thomas
Edison where he patented the incandescent electric lamp using tiny carbon
filament wires to the light bulb.
Douglass High School in Imperial
County was founded on this date. This was the first black High School in that
Southern California area.
On this date the Central Union High School District approved a $15,334.69
expenditure for the architectural plans, construction, and outfitting of a high
school building for Black secondary students. California’s Black population had
increased in the first decades of the twentieth century. Located in the
segregated Eastside (the Black neighborhood), the new school was fittingly
called Eastside High School. Douglass High School is located in El Centro,
California east of San Diego, about half way to Yuma, Arizona in Imperial
Discrimination was especially intense where public accommodations, employment,
education, and housing were concerned. A pattern of racism emerged with
introduction of non-White laborers recruited into the valley from the southern
United States and Mexico to build the embryonic cotton industry. The El Centro
Elementary School District instituted formal school segregation in the
1913-1914 school year, when Black parents first applied for admission of their
children to the El Centro Elementary School District.
The superintendent created a separate school, supposedly because of
overcrowding at the existing sites. Black parents registered early the
following year only to have their children again assigned to the separate
school. Black parents organized the El Centro Parents Association and retained
a Los Angeles attorney to represent them. Segregation however became
institutionalized and continued for nearly a half century. In 1923, for
example, Professor William Payne, principal of the all-Black Dunbar Elementary
School, went to El Centro High School to register his eldest daughter, Octavia.
Admission was denied.
A high school education was simply unavailable to Blacks in this valley town.
Ultimately, on August 20, 1925, the High School District voted to pay the El
Centro City School District $1,831.16 for use of buildings and grounds on the
Eastside Elementary School site. The lease was to run for 20 years, beginning
March 1, 1926. The arrangement allowed Professor Payne, the school’s principal,
who held both high school and junior college teaching credentials, to extend
instruction through the twelfth grade. This policy lasted one year. In 1927,
the Central Union High School District Board voted to organize a separate
After its founding a few years later, Eastside residents successfully
petitioned the Board of Trustees to rename the school Douglass High School.
Fifteen years elapsed before authorization was finally given to change the
inscription on the building. Douglass High School, under Professor William
Payne’s principalship, offered both high school and junior college curricula.
However, the school could not officially grant either degree. Central Union
High School issued high school diplomas, and Imperial Valley Junior College
conveyed the Associate of Arts degrees.
Instructors at both the elementary and high school were remembered as being
extraordinary teachers. Many talented young Black teachers applied to the
district, since it was one of the few systems where a Black teacher could
secure a regular teaching appointment. Common practice among districts
throughout the state was to require Black teachers to have at least one year of
experience as a regular teacher in a California district before a permanent appointment
could be considered.
This requisite experience could be gained in few places outside the Imperial
Valley. El Centro’s segregated district ironically aided a few teachers who
penetrated the color barrier after teaching for one year or more at either
Dunbar or Douglass school. Douglass High School was closed in 1954, following
the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education school desegregation decision.
After the school’s closing, the trustees sold the building to the El Centro
Soon, the El Centro School District voted to sell the structure and have it
removed by August 1, 1958. The Mason’s Eureka Lodge #28, El Centro, bid $1,000
for purchase of the Douglass Auditorium. The Masons placed the highest bid and
subsequently received title to the building in 1959. It has recently been
restored and now serves as the Masonic Hall in El Centro.
Statute of Westminster gives
complete legislative independence to South
Lev T. Mills, who will become an artist and chairman of the art department at
Spelman College, is born in Tallahassee, Florida. His prints and mixed-media
works will be collected by the Victoria & Albert and British Museums in
London and the High Museum in Atlanta and include glass mosaic murals for an
Atlanta subway station and the atrium floor of Atlanta’s City Hall.
Jermaine Jackson is born in Gary, Indiana. He will become a singer and musician with
his brothers and perform with their group, The Jackson Five.
Court reverses the conviction of sixteen sit-in students who had been arrested in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
date, Black Nativity opened on
Broadway. Langston Hughes’
self-described “gospel song play” was staged at New York Cities Lincoln Theater
that evening. The Christmas story performed in dialog, narrative, pantomime,
gospel song and folk spirituals is an expression of Hughes’ late-in-life
interest in African-American spirituality and the oral traditions of the
Hughes was one of the leading poets and writers during the explosive
period of Black artistic achievement known as the Harlem Renaissance.
Sam Cooke died on this day
after demanding entrance into the room of the night manager of the Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles, a
dollar-a-night motel where he was staying. After a brief physical struggle with
the manager, Bertha
Franklin, she fired 3 shots which mortally
wounded Cooke. Franklin claimed she
killed the singer in self-defense after he’d tried to rape a 22-year-woman and
then turned on Franklin.
George Rogers, a running back for the University of South Carolina, is awarded the Heisman
Trophy. He achieved 21 consecutive 100-yard games with the gamecocks and
led the nation in rushing.
Muhammad Ali’s boxes in his 61st & last fight, losing to Trevor Berbick.
White men convicted of the 1986 death of 23-year old Michael Griffith had their convictions reversed by a State Appeals Court in New York on
this date. The reversal was due to a judge’s misinstructions to the jury.