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On this date, George Henry White was born. He was a black lawyer, state legislator, schoolteacher, and administrator.

White was born a slave in Rosindale, North Carolina. After working as a farm laborer he studied at Howard University (1873-1877). This was followed by work as a schoolteacher and as a lawyer.

During the period of Reconstruction following the Civil War, numerous Blacks were elected to seats in Congress. But after the Hayes-Tilden Compromise of 1887, Blacks were driven from Congress and most other elected offices throughout the nation. As the last former slave to serve in Congress, was the last of the Reconstruction era Blacks to survive and his term in the House closed out the years of service of the first generation of black representatives. In 1896, he was the only African American member of the United States House of Representatives. During his two terms in the House of Representatives, White had many accomplishments, among them an unprecedented bill to make lynching a federal crime, carrying a punishment of death. These murders had reached epidemic numbers in the 1890’s. He also sought in vain to secure financial relief for Civil War hero and former Congressman Robert Smalls and former Louisiana Governor P.B.S. Pinchback. His term ended in 1901 and another Black would not be elected to Congress for another 28 years. During his term, White became famous for his speech to Congress in which he stated that, although Blacks had been disenfranchised and forced out of national politics, “‘phoenix-like,’ we would return because of our potential strength.”

After leaving politics White moved to Washington D.C. and embarked on a remarkable second career. In addition to starting a law practice, White developed a town for blacks on 1,700 acres of land that he and five others had purchased in Cape May County, New Jersey in 1899.
He and the others founded the town of Whitesboro, New Jersey, as a haven for African Americans escaping southern racism. He also worked with the NAACP. Declining health forced him to close his bank before his death in Philadelphia on December 28th 1918.

South Carolina declares itself an “independent commonwealth.”

This is a day that few African-Americans take note of but should probably be a Black national holiday. On this date, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, formally abolishing slavery in America. The ratification process had been completed on December 6, 1865.

On this date, Fletcher Henderson was born. He was an African-American pianist, arranger, and band leader.

From Cuthbert, Georgia, Henderson came to New York in 1920 to study chemistry but took a job to earn some extra money as a house piano player for the fist Black-owned record company, Black Swan. Chemistry soon took a back seat in 1924 when Henderson and some of his recording colleagues auditioned as a band for a new club in the Big Apple. They got the job and soon graduated to the Roseland Ballroom on Broadway. Over the next eight years they toured and recorded hundreds of records.

The Henderson band was the first to play jazz, as many know the music’s golden art form. It was an incubator for some of the greatest stars of the day, among them Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, and Benny Carter. It was not until 1933 that Fletcher himself began to write full-time for his band. Previously his arranging served as his representation of the style known as swing. His band fell on hard times and his career turned to freelance arranging. Here he showcased mightily, contributing much of the library of Benny Goodman.

He formed another band that included artistic greats such as Ben Webster and Roy Eldridge. Fletcher Henderson died on December 29th, 1952.

Benjamin Oliver Davis Jr. was born on this date. He was an African-American Army officer and military activist.

From Washington D.C., he entered the U.S. Military Academy in 1932, where in his four years at West Point no one would room with him and no one would speak to him outside the line of duty. He dealt with the bigotry and graduated 35th in a class of 276, only the fourth black graduate in the academy’s history. When he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1936, the Army had only two black line officers, Benjamin O. Davis Sr. and Benjamin O. Davis Jr. Cadet Davis applied for the Army Air Corps but was rejected because it did not accept blacks.

Instead, his first posting was with the all-black 24th Infantry Regiment at Fort Benning, Georgia. He was not allowed into the base officers’ club, a snub he would regard as one of the most insulting actions taken against him in 37 years of military life. He was later assigned to teach military tactics at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, something his father had done years before. It was the Army’s way to avoid having a Black command White soldiers. The airmen commanded by Davis compiled an outstanding record in combat against the German Luftwaffe in the European theater during World War II.

They shot down 111 planes and destroyed or damaged 273 on the ground at a cost of more than 70 pilots killed in action or missing. They never lost a U. S. bomber to enemy fighters on their escort missions. As the leader of numerous missions, Davis received the Silver Star for a strafing run into Austria and the Distinguished Flying Cross for a bomber-escort mission to Munich. In July 1948, President Harry Truman signed an executive order providing for integration of the armed forces. Davis helped draft an Air Force blueprint on integration that went into effect the following year.

His leadership of America’s only all-black air units of World War II helped speed the integration of the Air Force, and in 1954 he became its first black general. In his autobiography, “Benjamin O. Davis Jr.: American,” Davis told of the pressures that he and the Tuskegee Airmen encountered in the face of racism, he mentioned. “We would go through any ordeal that came our way, be it in garrison existence or combat, to prove our worth.” Davis served at the Pentagon and in overseas posts for the next two decades. He gained the three stars of a lieutenant general in May 1965, when he was the chief of staff for U. S. forces in South Korea.

In December 1998 President Bill Clinton awarded him a fourth star, the military’s highest peacetime rank. Davis retired in 1970 and briefly served as director of public safety in Cleveland. He then spent five years at the Department of Transportation, directing anti-hijacking efforts. Ironically Gen. Benjamin O. Davis Jr., died July 4th 2002 at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D. C. He was 89.

The Moorland-Spingarn Research Collection is celebrated on this date. This is a vast collection of scholarly materials by and about people of African descent, located at Howard University.

First donated on this date,
the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center (MSRC’s) holdings chronicle the experiences of people of African descent in Africa, the Americas, and other parts of the world from the sixteenth century through the present; It is composed of two divisions: Library and Manuscript. The Library Division houses more than 175,000 books, periodicals, and micro forms in numerous languages. Literature includes rare works by early Black writers from David Walker and Phillis Wheatley, to Richard Wright, and Alice Walker.

The Manuscript Division is a collection of primary source materials divided into four departments: manuscripts, music, oral history, and prints and photographs. The department contains the correspondences, writings, and memorabilia of more than 160 African-American people and organizations. The MSRC is named for its two benefactors, Jesse E. Moorland, and Arthur B. Spingarn. Moorland was a minister, YMCA executive, and collector of materials about African-American culture and history, with an emphasis on the history of slavery.

Arthur B. Spingarn was a Jewish lawyer, NAACP officer, and collector of books by black authors. A European American, he began collecting books by Black authors in response to White scholars’ claim that people of African descent would continue to be viewed as inferior until the day a black man could read a book by a black author. The books he accumulated explored topics in every academic field of study and were written in all major African and European languages.

The Moorland-Spingarn Research Center has become one of the most valuable resources for the study of the Black experience.

Ossie Davis was born on this date in 1917. He was an African-American actor, writer, producer, and director.

From Cogdell, Georgia,
Raiford Chatman Davis (his name at birth) was the oldest of five children born to Laura Cooper and Kince Davis. He picked up his nickname when friends and neighbors mistook his mother’s articulation of his initials, “R.C,” as “Ossie.” He attended Howard University with the tutelage of drama critic Alain Locke Davis as an influence to his theatrical talent. Davis began his career as a writer and an actor with the Rose McClendon Players in Harlem in 1939.

In 1946, Davis made his Broadway debut in Jeb, winning rave reviews. He went on to perform in many Broadway productions, including Anna Lucasta, The Wisteria Trees, Green Pastures, Jamaica, Ballad for Bimshire, The Zulu and the Zayda, and the stage version of I’m Not Rappaport. Davis is also widely acclaimed for his role in A Raisin in the Sun (1959) and its 1961-film version, as well as for The Joe Louis Story (1953). In 1961, Davis wrote and starred in the critically acclaimed Purlie Victorious. He has written and directed many films, including Cotton Comes to Harlem (1970) and Countdown at Kusini (co-produced with his wife, Ruby Dee, 1976), the first American feature film to be shot entirely in Africa by Black professionals. Other Davis credits include Do the Right Thing (1989), Jungle Fever (1991), and Malcolm X (1994).

Davis also appeared in the film, Dr. Doolittle, with Eddie Murphy; Get on the Bus for Spike Lee; I’m Not Rappaport with Walter Matthau; Angry Men for Showtime Network; and on the CBS television series, Promised Land. Davis has received many honors and citations, including the Hall of Fame Award for Outstanding Artistic Achievement in 1989; the Theater Hall of Fame in 1994; the U. S. National Medal for the Arts in 1995; the New York Urban League Frederick Douglass Award; the NAACP Image Award and more.

He is the author of three children’s books, Escape to Freedom, which was honored by the American Library Association and the Jane Adams Children’s Book Award; Langston; and Just Like Martin. Davis along with his fellow performer, stage and screen collaborator, and political activist wife, Ruby Dee has enjoyed a long and luminous career in entertainment. They have over 50 years of collaboration on a wide range of creative, charitable, political, and social projects.

Married in 1948, they are the parents of three children, and have recently published their joint autobiography, With Ossie and Ruby: In This Life Together. He has carved out a phenomenal career from his start on the Community stage during the height of the Great Depression, through his stage and film work during the hurricane of the Civil Rights Movement; Ossie Davis has been a strong, forceful voice for human dignity and social justice.

Ossie Davis was found dead on February 4, 2005 in his hotel room in Miami Beach, Fla. He was making a film called “Retirement.”

Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson was born on this date. He was an African-American blues musician.

Vinson was born and raised in Houston, Texas. His parents, both pianists, introduced him to music at an early age. He began playing the saxophone in high school and joined Chester Boone’s band, which included T-Bone Walker on guitar, in 1935. A year later Vinson worked with Milt Larkin’s band. Here he became part of one of the greatest saxophone sections in rhythm & blues. In addition to Vinson, the section included Arnett Cobb and Illinois Jacquet, they both went on to enjoy prestigious careers in R&B and jazz.

Vinson stayed with Larkin until 1941. He then moved to New York and joined the Cootie Williams Orchestra, with which he remained through the mid-‘40s, recording such classics as “Cherry Red” and touring with the big band. Vinson began his own band in 1945 and cut some of his best pieces, among them, “Kidney Stew” and “Cleanhead Blues.” After returning to Houston in 1954, Vinson worked the Southwest R&B circuit and, for a brief period in 1957, played with the Count Basie Band.

In the early ‘60s Vinson moved to Los Angeles and began working with the Johnny Otis Revue. A 1970 appearance at the Monterey Jazz Festival with Otis spurred a bit of a comeback for Vinson. During the 1970s and early 1980s, Vinson became a popular performer in Europe, where he also recorded regularly, specializing in an appealing jazz-blues hybrid style. Vinson also performed and made records in the U. S. Recording for the Muse label, he cut an album with Roomful Of Blues (And a Roomful of Blues) and made Live at Sandy’s, a live recording that featured the accompaniment of old friend Cobb and drummer Alan Dawson.

A honking rhythm & blues alto saxophone player and a vocalist, whose style was in the mold of the classic blues shouter, Eddie Vinson made his mark in the 1940s. Nicknamed “Cleanhead” after a lye-laced straightener destroyed his hair; Vinson recorded extensively during his fifty-odd- year career and performed regularly in Europe and the U. S. Eddie Vinson died on July 2, 1988.

Stephen Bantu Biko was born on this date in 1946. He was a nonviolent anti-apartheid activist in South Africa in the 1960s.

He was a student at the University of Natal Medical School. During that time he was involved with the multiracial National Union of South African Students. He realized that Black, Indian and Colored students in South Africa needed an organization of their own. Biko helped found the South African Students’ Organization (SASO) in 1968 and was elected its first president. The SASO evolved into the Black Consciousness Movement (BCM). In 1972, Biko became honorary president of the Black People’s Convention.

He was banned (not allowed to speak to more than one person at a time, was restricted to certain areas, and could not make speeches in public) during the height of apartheid in March 1973. All organizations were also forbidden to quote anything he said, including speeches or simple conversations, or to otherwise mention him. In spite of the repression of the apartheid government, Biko and the BCM played a large role in organizing the protests which led to the Soweto riots on June 16, 1976. In the aftermath of the Soweto riots, police began to target Biko further.

On August 18, 1977, he was arrested at a police roadblock under the Terrorism Act No 83 of 1967. He suffered a major head injury while in police custody and was chained to a window grille. A month later police loaded him into the back of a car and began the 740-mile drive to Pretoria. He died shortly after the arrival in the Pretoria prison on September 12, 1977. Police claimed his death was the result of an extended hunger strike, despite the fact that he was found to have massive injuries to his head. Due to his fame, news of his death quickly spread globally, and it provided a wake-up call internationally to the extent of the brutality of the South African apartheid regime.

On October 7, 2003, South African Justice Ministry officials announced that the five policemen who were accused of killing Biko would not be prosecuted because of insufficient evidence. They said a murder charge could not be supported partly because there were no witnesses to the killing. Charges of culpable homicide and assault were also considered, but because the killing occurred in 1977, the time frame for prosecution had expired. In 2004, he was voted 13th in the top 100 great South Africans list.

Niger gains autonomy within the French Community of Nations.

Wilt Chamberlain of the NBA Philadelphia Warriors scores 78 points vs the Los Angeles Lakers.

Lori McNeil is born in San Diego, California. She will win 42 professional tennis titles.

Funeral services are held in Chicago for Sam Cooke. Hundreds of fans will cause damage to the A.R. Leak Funeral Home, where Cooke’s body is on display.

On this day, Rev. Jesse Jackson founded People United to Save Humanity (PUSH), a new African American political and economic development organization. Jackson, who resigned from Operation Breadbasket, the economic arm of the SCLC, said, “The problems of the 1970’s are economic so the solution and goal must be economic.” The founding established PUSH as one of the nation’s leading civil rights organizations and cemented Jackson’s position for years to follow as the nation’s most influential civil rights leader. PUSH was founded in Chicago, Ill.

The NAACP’s Spingarn Medal is presented to Rev. Leon H. Sullivan, founder of Opportunities Industrialization Centers of America (OIC) for his leadership.

Elder Hawkins Garnet, the first Black moderator of the United Presbyterian Church, died on this date.

Ernest Dickerson wins the New York Film Critics Circle Award for best cinematography for the movie “Do the Right Thing.”

Clara “Mother” Hale, humanitarian and founder of the Hale House, a sanctuary for drug-addicted and HIV/AIDS-infected babies in Harlem, NY, died in New York on this date.

The Oakland, California School Board becomes the first in the nation to recognize Black English, a.k.a. Ebonics, as a separate language, NOT a dialect or slang.

Koffi Atta Annan became the first Black Secretary General of the United Nations on this date.

On this date, a federal judge threw out the death sentence imposed nearly two decades ago on Mumia Abu-Jamal.

He is respected by supporters worldwide as a crusader against racial injustice but reviled by others as an unrepentant cop-killer. U.S. District Judge William Yohn cited problems with the jury charge and verdict form in the trial that ended with the former journalist and Black Panther’s first-degree murder conviction in the 1981 death of a Philadelphia police officer. The judge denied all of Abu-Jamal’s other claims and refused his request for a new trial.

The judge said jurors should have been able to consider mitigating circumstances during sentencing even if they did not unanimously agree those circumstances existed. Yohn ordered the state to either conduct a new sentencing hearing within 180 days or sentence Abu-Jamal to life imprisonment. The ruling could be appealed to the 3rd U. S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Abu-Jamal, perhaps America’s most famous death-row inmate, was convicted of shooting Faulkner, 25, during the early-morning hours of December 9, 1981, after the officer pulled over Abu-Jamal’s brother who was driving the wrong way down a one-way street. A scuffle ensued and Abu-Jamal, who was sitting in his taxicab across the street, ran over. Prosecutors said Abu-Jamal drew his.38-caliber revolver and fired, hitting the officer in the back. They said Faulkner turned and fired; hitting Abu-Jamal in the chest and Abu-Jamal then shot Faulkner in the face.

Abu-Jamal has said he was shot by police as he ran to the scene and then beaten. Both sides marked the 20th anniversary of the shooting earlier that month.

On this date, Jacob Zuma was elected leader of the governing African National Congress (ANC).

Zuma a populist whose political career survived rape and corruption charges received 2,329 votes, ahead of incumbent Thabo Mbeki’s 1,505 votes, following one of the most divisive campaigns the party has seen. The win put Zuma into position to become South Africa’s president in 2009. Chaos erupted in the hall as the results were announced, then Mbeki and Zuma both 65-year-old veterans of the ANC in exile mounted the stage together and embraced.

Zuma had rallied ANC members who wanted a change from Mbeki, who guided post-apartheid South Africa to sustained economic growth over the past few years, but has been accused of moving too slowly to lift millions of black African’s out of poverty. Much had been made of the personality and class differences between Mbeki and Zuma. Mbeki is a foreign-educated academic who sprinkled his speeches with Shakespeare. Zuma had no formal schooling, was a leader of the exiled ANC’s military wing, and, like Mandela, served time at the Robben Island prison.

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