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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 abolitionist.

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 in 1898.

13 African 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 of music.

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.

Thornton was 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 County.

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 secondary school.

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 School District.

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.

The British Statute of Westminster gives complete legislative independence to South Africa.

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.

U.S. Supreme Court reverses the conviction of sixteen sit-in students who had been arrested in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

On this 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 African-American church.

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.

The three 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.

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