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1777
The First African Baptist Church of Savannah, Georgia began on this date. This is one of the oldest black churches in North America.

Originally called the
First Colored Church the pastoral life of George Leile’s preaching is tied to its beginning. He began leading this congregation on the second Sunday in December that year, marking the beginning of this house of worship. The First African Baptist Church has survived the birth of America, the repressive hand of a hostile British, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Black Codes and the

Revolutionary changes of the 1960’s upon their community. For over 200 years the First African Baptist Church has served on behalf of all people and is a standing monument for black America in the eyes of God. One of the slaves baptized by Minister Leile was Andrew Bryan. He became the second pastor of the church, purchasing the fourth site on which they worshiped on West Bryan Street.

The congregation changed the name of the church in 1822 from the First Colored Church to First African Baptist Church. On July 26, 1826, their Sunday school was organized with the aid of the Independent Presbyterian Church. The members of the congregation erected the present sanctuary, in 1859. This is the first building constructed of brick in the State of Georgia owned by blacks. For years it was known as the “Brick Church.” The pipe organ was installed in 1888.

Currently the church houses a museum containing archives and memorabilia that date the church back to the 18th century. Listed in the National Register of Historic places, the First African Baptist Church continues operation at 24 Montgomery Street, Savannah, Georgia 31401.



1799
The first president of the United States of America, George Washington, technically frees his slaves. However, no slaves became free immediately. Washington’s will stipulated that the slaves be granted their freedom upon the death of his wife Martha.


1829
This date marks the birth of John Mercer Langston. He was a black politician.

Langston was born
in Louisa County, Virginia to a plantation owner and Jane Langston, a slave. When he was 4, both his parents died and he moved to Oberlin, Ohio, with a family friend. He was allowed a quality education and attended Oberlin College and earned bachelors, masters and theology degrees. After studying under an attorney, he was admitted to the Ohio bar in 1854. He was elected Virginia’s first Black congressman more than 100 years ago and served as a “first” in several other arenas. Langston helped create the Republican Party in 1854 and participated in various anti-slavery activities, including a major role in the Underground Railroad that helped slaves escape the South to freedom in the North.

He became the first black elected official in the United States in 1855 as elected clerk of a rural Ohio township. He played a major role in recruiting black soldiers for the Union army during the Civil War, recruiting troops
for the all African American 5th Ohio and 54th and 55th Massachusetts regiments. When the war ended, he was appointed inspector general for the Freedmen’s Bureau, a federal agency created to assist freed slaves. Langston moved to Washington in 1868 to organize and establish the Howard University Law School in Washington, DC. It was the first Black law school in the nation and becoming its dean and president. He also became the first Black to practice before the U. S. Supreme Court, was elected a delegate to the Republican National Convention in 1876, and a year later named U. S. minister to Haiti.

Langston returned to Virginia in 1885 to serve as the first president of what is now Virginia State University. In 1888, he ran as an independent in Virginia’s 4th Congressional District and was eventually awarded the seat in September 1890. His term ended 161 days later and he was defeated in a bid for re-election. Langston retired to Washington, where he died in 1897.
Langston, Okla., and Langston University are named in his honor. He was also the great uncle of renowned Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes.


1898
Lillian Randolph was born on this date. She was an African-American actress.

From Louisville, Kentucky, she and her older sister Amanda were very successful stage and film performers. Her guest star roles include: Here Comes the Bride and There Goes the Bride (1972); Sanford and Son as Aunt Hazel; Tenafly as Aunt Gertrude (1973); The Six Million Dollar Man as Landlady- Clark Templeton O’Flaherty (1975); The Jeffersons as Emma — Mother Jefferson’s Birthday (1976).

Other starring roles include The Bill Cosby Show (1969) — Rose Kincaid (1969-1970). Randolph’s film credits include: It’s a Wonderful Life; Once Is Not Enough; How To Seduce a Woman; Rafferty and the Gold Dust Twins; The McCullochs; Hush Hush, Sweet Charlotte and The Onion Field; Magic (1978). She died of cancer on September 12, 1980 in Los Angeles, California.



1899
Deford Bailey was born on this date. He was an African-American Country and Blues musician.

From Bellwood, Tennessee, Bailey overcame polio early in his life. His back was deformed and he never grew taller than four feet, ten inches. His mother died when he was a baby, and his father’s sister and her husband raised him. Stricken with infantile paralysis at the age of three, the bedridden child was given a harmonica as a means of amusement. Bailey’s skill with the harmonica and his musical talent gained him a reputation in the field of country music.

Bailey’s impressionable years were spent around the rural communities of Tennessee, near the railroad, where Bailey composed many of his tunes on the harmonica. He had to go under a train trestle on the way to school, and said he would wait for the train to go over; then “I would get under it, put my hands over my eyes, listen to the sound, and then play that sound all the way to school.” He was famous for recreating the sounds of rushing locomotives. During his teenage years, Bailey worked for a White storekeeper in Thompson’s Station and played the harmonica, to the delight of the customers and the proprietor. He remained with the storekeeper before joining his family in Nashville, where he held several jobs and continued to play the harmonica.

In 1925, Bailey won second place with his rendition of It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More in a French harp contest on radio station WDAD. Then he made his first appearance on WSM Radio, after overcoming some racial opposition from the station’s director. From that point on he was given the title “Harmonica Wizard.” Bailey played a role in the naming of the “Grand Ole Opry.” In 1926, the WSM Barn Dance followed an hour of symphonic music, and one evening its programming concluded with a selection by a young composer from Iowa reproducing the sound of a train. Bailey opened the country music program with his rendition of “Pan American Blues.” The difference in the musical genres caused the director, George D. “Judge” Hay, to observe, “For the past hour we have been listening to music taken largely from grand opera; from now on we will present ‘The Grand Ole Opry.’”

Bailey toured with other stars of the Opry, including Roy Acuff, Uncle Dave Macon, and Bill Monroe. During the 1930s, he was well received by the country music public, though racial segregation caused Bailey problems in hotels and restaurants. To get a hotel room, on some occasions he posed as a baggage boy for the White performers. In 1927, Bailey teamed with the Black Golden Echo Quartet to make his first recordings of “Pan American Express” and “Hesitation,” the Columbia recordings were never released. In 1928, he recorded Ice Water Blues/Davidson County Blues for Victor records during a Nashville session that became so popular that the Victor label released it three times. Bailey’s popularity peaked and waned within fifteen years.

During the height of his popularity, he was allowed a twenty-five-minute performance on the three-hour Opry show. By 1941, he was off the Opry and beginning a thirty-year career of shining shoes at his shop on Twelfth Avenue, South. Apparently, WSM dropped Bailey because of his limited repertoire and his failure to convert to new tunes and written music. Bailey denied this claiming that the audience and the director insisted on hearing the old tunes. During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s, Bailey’s career was remembered.

He made an appearance on a local syndicated blues television show, “Night Train,” and in 1965 he gave a concert at Vanderbilt University. He celebrated his 75th birthday by appearing in the new Grand Ole Opry House and playing several of his old tunes. Deford Bailey died at the age of 82 on July 2, 1982. On June 23, 1983, the country music industry celebrated Bailey as the first African-American star of the Grand Ole Opry.



1915
Jack Johnson—a man who could stake a serious claim on being the greatest boxer of all time—became world heavyweight boxing champion on this day. However, his tendency to speak his mind, passion for white women, and the racism of the day would combine to force his imprisonment on what are widely considered today to have been trumped up charges.


1920
Clark Terry is born in St. Louis, Missouri. He will become a trumpeteer and flugelhorn player who will be known for his association with Duke Ellington on the 1950’s, his innovative flugelhorn sound and unusual mumbling scat singing.


1925
Sam Jones was born on this date. He was an African-American baseball player.

From Stewartsville, Ohio, Jones pitched the Cleveland Buckeyes to the Negro World Series in 1947. He was known as Red, in the Negro leagues, for his reddish complexion, in the majors Jones became Sad Sam, after the original Sad Sam Jones, and Toothpick Sam for the toothpick he always chewed on the mound. He signed with the Cleveland Indians in 1950 but the rotation of Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, Early Wynn, and Mike Garcia was a tough one to get into.

Traded to the Cubs, on May 12, 1955 Jones threw a no-hitter against Pittsburgh, the first black man to do so. That year he led the NL in losses (20), strikeouts, and walks (185, while allowing only 175 hits). He repeated as strikeout and walk leader in 1956 and again in 1958 after his trade to the Cardinals. With the Giants in 1959, he was both a leading starter and most effective reliever.

On June 30 of that season, at Los Angeles, an error by Giant shortstop Andre Rodgers was scored a single, keeping Jones from a second no-hitter, He got it instead on September 26, though it was a rain-shortened, seven-inning one against St. Louis. His 21 wins in 1959 led the NL, as did his 2.83 ERA and 109 walks. That year he was the only NL pitcher to receive a MVP vote. After an 18-14 1960 season, Jones was hindered by arm problems, winning only 12 more over the next four seasons.

Hobie Landrith, who caught Jones with the Cubs, Cards, and Giants said, “You’ve never seen a curve ball until you’ve seen Sam Jones’s curve ball. If you were a right-handed hitter that ball was a good four feet behind you.” It took a little courage to stay in there because he was wild and he could throw a fastball very hard. Sam Jones died on November 5, 1971 in Morgantown, West Virginia.



1929
On this date, Raymond R. Patterson was born. He was an African-American poet, writer, and professor.

From Harlem, NY he was a graduate of the New York City Public School System. Patterson received his BA in Political Science from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, where he was class poet, and won the Boretone Mountain Poetry Award for best poem written by an undergraduate. He received his MA in English from NYU. A prolific poet whose work was widely anthologized, Patterson was author of 26 Ways of Looking at a Black Man and Other Poems 1969, and Elemental Blues (1983).

He also wrote an unpublished book length poem on the life of Phillis Wheatley and two opera librettos. Patterson read his works widely, from local venues to the Library of Congress in Washington DC and at the 60th Birthday Celebration of Chinua Achebe at the University of Nigeria. He collaborated with his wife in the creation of Black Poets Reading, a non-profit speakers’ bureau; represented the US at the Struga Festival in Macedonia. He was an Umbra Poet who served on the executive boards of the Poetry Society of America, the PEN American Center, and the Walt Whitman Birthplace.

Patterson was also a well-known figure on the Long Island poetry landscape, a dignified voice for poetry who served for many years as a mentor to many individual writers regionally. His poetry also appeared in publications like Transatlantic Review, Ohio Review and Beloit Poetry Journal, as well as in many anthologies including “The Poetry of the Negro,” “New Black Voices,” “The Norton Introduction to Literature” and “The Best American Poetry of 1996.”

Patterson joined the New York City College faculty in 1968 and was founder of its Langston Hughes Festival, which he directed from 1973 to 1993. Ray Patterson died on April 5th 2001 at the age of 71. He is survived by a daughter, Ama Patterson, a sister, Carol Patterson Lewis of Plainfield, New Jersey, and two grandchildren.



1939
Ernest “Ernie” Davis was born in New Salem, Pennsylvania. Out of Syracuse University, in 1961, he became the first African American to win the Heisman Trophy. He was drafted by the Washington Redskins, but traded to the Cleveland Browns. He died the following year on May 18, 1963, succumbing to acute monotypic leukemia before he was able to play in the National Football League.


1945
Stanley Crouch was born on this date in 1945. He is an African-American music critic, syndicated columnist, and novelist.

From Los Angeles, CA Crouch began writing at the age of eight through the encouragement of his mother. He also became active in the civil rights movement while in junior high school. After graduating from high school, he attended two junior colleges in the Los Angeles area. While studying at the East Los Angeles Junior College, Crouch worked for a poverty program in East Los Angeles, teaching a literacy class.

Witnessing the 1965 Watts Riot radicalized Crouch and he became a Black Nationalist. From 1965 to 1967, Crouch was an actor-playwright in the Studio Watts Company. While there, the writings of Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray became major influences in Crouch’s thinking. He thus turned away from the Black Nationalist movement, finding it too reactionary. Crouch taught at Claremont College in California from 1968 to 1975 before moving to New York City.

There, he lived along with tenor saxophonist David Murray in a loft above an East Village club called the Tin Palace. While working as a drummer, Crouch conducted the booking for an avant-garde jazz series at the club, as well as organizing occasional concert events at the Ladies’ Fort. Since the early 1980s Crouch has become critical of the more progressive forms of jazz and has been an ardent proselytizer for the music of Wynton Marsalis.

Crouch has written articles for the New York Daily News and for magazines such as New Yorker, The New Republic and Esquire. He is the author of three collections of essays, Notes of a Hanging Judge (1990), The All-American Skin Game; or, The Decoy of Race: The Long and Short of It, 1990-1994 (1995), and Always in Pursuit: Fresh American Perspectives, 1995-1997 (1998). He has also written, Don’t the Moon Look Lonesome: A Novel in Blues and Swing (2000).

In recent years, Crouch has also been a fierce critic of rap and hip hop music, citing their lack of musical qualities, and their promotion of criminal lifestyles and degrading attitudes toward women. With this viewpoint, he has defended Bill Cosby’s 2004 remarks and praised a women’s group at Spelman College for speaking out against those same qualities. Several of his syndicated columns have been dedicated to these subjects.



1945
Carolyn Rodgers was born on this date. She is an African-American writer, poet, and educator.

From Chicago, Illinois, Carolyn Marie Rodgers attended the University of Illinois in 1960, but transferred to Chicago’s Roosevelt University one year later and received her BA in 1965. She began writing as a college freshman. In 1980, she earned a master’s degree in English from the University of Chicago. She achieved a national reputation as a writer whose works largely relate to her concern with feminist issues, and a particular concern for Black women.

Her poems include Paper Soul (1968) and Songs of a Blackbird (1969) which hold a strong thematic connection to the ideologies of Black revolutionary thought. Her works also include comments on the roles of women, female identity, and the relationships between mother and daughter. Following the publication and success of Paper Soul, Rodgers was awarded the first Conrad Kent Rivers Memorial Fund Award (1968). After the publication of Songs of a Blackbird, Rodgers received the Poet Laureate Award from the Society of Midland Authors in 1970. Rodgers also received an award from the National Endowment of the Arts. Two other volumes of her poetry, The Heart As Ever Green (1978) and how I got ovah (1975) also shed light on these and other feminist issues.

Rodgers met one of her mentors, Hoyt Fuller, while working as a social worker at the YMCA (1963-1966). Rodgers exhibits clarity of expression and a respect for well-crafted language in her work, how I got ovah: New and Selected Poems (1975). Her work, The Heart As Ever Green (1978), incorporates themes of human dignity, feminism, love, black consciousness, and Christianity. Rodgers has also published short stories such as, “Blackbird in a Cage” (1967), “A Statistic, Trying to Make It Home” (1969) and “One Time” (1975). In her short stories, as in her poetry, the dominating theme is survival, though she interweaves the idea of adaptability and conveys the concomitant message of life’s ever-changing avenues for black people whom she sees as her special audience.

During her career she has taught at: Columbia College (1968-1969); University of Washington (1970); Malcolm X Community College (1972); Albany State College (1972); and Indiana University (1973). She has also been a book critic for the Chicago Daily News, and a columnist for the Milwaukee Courier. In 1967, along with Haki R. Madhubuti, Johari Amini, and Roschell Rich, Rodgers helped found Third World Press, an outlet for African-American literature. Rodgers is also a member of the Organization of Black American Culture, a group that promotes a city-wide impact on cultural activity in the arts.



1963
Singer Dinah Washington joins the ancestors after a sleeping pill overdose at the age of 39 in Detroit, Michigan. Washington is generally considered one of the most influential vocalists of the 20th century. She had an amazingly strong and emotionally voice and influenced such singers as Aretha Franklin. She popularized many, many great songs, including “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes”, “Unforgettable” and several hits with Brook Benton, including “Baby (You’ve Got What it Takes)” and “A Rockin’ Good Way (To Mess Around and Fall in Love)”. She was born in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and raised in Chicago, Ill.


1968
Sammy Davis Jr. is awarded the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal for his “superb and many-faceted talent,” and his contributions to the civil rights movement.


1968
Classes of San Francisco State University are suspended after demonstrations by the Black Student Union and Third World Liberation Front.


1972
Johnny Rodgers, a running back with the University of Nebraska, is awarded the Heisman Trophy. Rodgers gained a total of 5,586 yards for the Cornhuskers in three years.


1980
Elston Howard, a New York Yankee catcher for many years, joins the ancestors. He was an outstanding catcher during the 1950s and 1960s and a nine-time All Star. He was also the first Black player for the Yankees.


1991
Desmond Howard, of the University of Michigan wins the Heisman trophy.


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