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On this date, the writing of the hymn “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” is celebrated.

It was penned by
Wallace Willis, the black slave of a Choctaw Indian. Known as “Uncle Wallace,’’ his writing of this well known American hymn was inspired by his current home near Oklahoma City. Willis was also a servant at Spencer Academy, a Choctaw boarding school for boys in Choctaw County. On the day he wrote the hymn, Willis looked out over the cotton field he was tilling and gazed upon the Red River in the distance. This reminded him of the Mississippi River and the plantation his master owned before moving to Doaksville, Oklahoma Indian Territory.

With the sun bright that hot day, Wallace expressed his longing and weariness the only way he knew how. Willis and his wife, Minerva, often sang Willis’s songs for the students, teachers, and guests of Spencer Academy. A missionary took Willis’s song to the East where it was quickly picked up by university choirs. The spiritual was composed in a Capella and was an early hallmark in black Oklahoma’s contribution to popular music and culture.

On this date, Robert Brown Elliott was born. He was a black lawyer, politician, and military officer.

Elliot was born and educated in Liverpool, England. After serving in the British navy, Elliott arrived in Boston in 1867. Robert Elliott was a brilliant lawyer who was admitted to the South Carolina bar and elected to the South Carolina legislature in 1868. In March of 1869, Elliott was appointed assistant adjutant-general becoming the first black commanding general of the South Carolina National Guard.

Duties included the formation and maintenance of the state militia-often called the black militia-to protect white and black citizens from the murderous, fast growing Ku Klux Klan. He served as United States Congressman from 1871 to 1874. In 1876, Elliott was elected state attorney general, but with the withdrawal of federal troops and the subsequent end of reconstruction, he was forced out of office a year later and returned to private practice.

Robert Elliott’s partnerships eventually failed and he lapsed into poverty. Robert Brown Elliott died in New Orleans in August of 1884.

South Carolina issues one of the first set of “Black Codes” designed to “regulate the relations of people of color.” Several other Southern states immediately followed suit. Although the South had just lost the Civil War and slavery had ended, Southern whites remained obsessed with controlling Blacks. The “Black Codes” did everything from barring interracial marriages to banning Blacks from owning guns to outlawing Blacks from owning certain types of businesses. Many “Black Codes” or Jim Crow laws were still enforced until the successes of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Robert Scott Duncanson joins the ancestors in Detroit, Michigan. He suffers a severe mental breakdown and ends his life in the Michigan State Retreat. Duncanson avoided painting in an ethnic style, favoring still lifes and landscapes including “Mount Healthy,” “Ohio,” “Blue Hole,” “Little Miami River,” and “Falls of Minnehaha. The Detroit Tribune, on December 26, 1872, refers to Duncanson as “an artist of rare accomplishments”.

On this date we celebrate the founding of Saint Peter Claver Church. For over one hundred years it has served a large percentage of the African-American community in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Initiated by Archbishop John Ireland, who was an active promoter of equal rights, the church began in a rented space on Market Street across from Rice Park in 1888. In 1892 one of their founding members, Colonel Samuel Hardy helped organize Saint Peter Claver Church while becoming the first president of the Negro Catholic Conference. During that time, the Church moved to the corner of Aurora and Farrington and established the “Toussaint L’Ouverture Society,” a literary study group.

In 1950 Saint Peter Claver School (SPCC) opened. During the 1960’s SPCC grew within the community by creating a youth drop-in Center called “The Island.” This was a time of profound change in the life of both the Catholic Church and African-Americans nation-wide. These changes continue to be worked out. Throughout the 60’s many projects and programs came and went and in 1978 the church took back ownership of the school and an Urban Catholic school was added that fall.

The church had many memorable events in the later half of the twentieth century including annual picnics, community forums, and discussion groups; Dr. Alvin Poussaint hosted one of them in 1988. Though the school closed in 1989, with strong community perseverance, the Church reopened its school in 2001 and membership in both organizations has been growing in quality and quantity. The twenty-first century looks bright and promising for Saint Peter Claver Church and school.

On this date, Joshua “Josh” Gibson was born. He was an African-American professional baseball player, who was one of the leading hitters in the Negro Leagues.

Joshua Gibson was born in Buena Vista, Georgia, and moved with his family to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania as a child. He began playing semiprofessional baseball in 1927. In 1930 at age 18 he was attending a game between the Homestead Grays and the Kansas City Monarchs when the Grays’ catcher was injured. The Grays called Gibson out of the stands to catch and he was on the team. The following year he hit 75 home runs, establishing himself as a leading power hitter. In 1932 Gibson joined the Pittsburgh Crawfords and then returned to the Grays.

He also played winter baseball in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. In 1941, Gibson played for Vera Cruz of the Mexican League. In 1942 he was diagnosed as having a brain tumor. Gibson refused to have surgery and continued to play ball. Although his skills did decline, he managed to win the Negro National League batting title in 1945 and 1946. He died before the 1947 season began, the year that Jackie Robinson became the first African American player in the Major Leagues. The records that exist indicate that, during his career, Gibson hit more than 800 home runs and had a batting average well over .300, making him one of the outstanding hitters in baseball history. He has been referred to as the “Negro Babe Ruth.” Because of Negro League victories and parity in head to head competition with with Major League teams, some say that Babe Ruth should have been referred to as the “white Josh Gibson.”

He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972. Josh Gibson died on January 20th 1947 in Pittsburgh.

P.B.S. Pinchback, a major Reconstruction politician, joins at the ancestors at the age of 84.

Spingarn Medal awarded to actor Charles S. Gilpin for his performance in the title role of Emperor Jones.

Actor Samuel L. Jackson was born on this day in Washington, DC. Jackson will begin his acting career as a student at Morehouse College. He will star in over 40 movies including box office hits “The Long Kiss Goodnight”, “Pulp Fiction”, “Jackie Brown”, and “A Time to Kill”.

This date marks the birth of Delorez Florence Griffith. She was an African-American track athlete who won three gold medals and one silver medal at the 1988 Olympic Games.

She was born in Los Angeles, CA. She was the sister of Jackie Joyner-Kersee, another track and field star and married to Al Joyner, becoming
Florence Griffith-Joyner. Coming out of semi-retirement in track, she came to dominate the 1988 Summer Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea. Griffith-Joyner’s record-breaking performances there were motivated in part by a second-place finish at the 1987 World Championship Games. In the 1988 Seoul Games, she won gold medals in the 100- and 200-meter dashes and in the 4x400-meter relay. For these accomplishments, she received the Jesse Owens Award, given to the year’s top track and field athlete, and the Sullivan Award, given to the year’s most outstanding amateur athlete. With her achievements in the 1988 Olympics, she earned the title ”World’s Fastest Woman” and she became the first American woman to win four medals in one Olympic year.

Griffith-Joyner earned the nickname
“Flo-Jo” for her blazing speed. She was famous for her flashy one-legged uniforms as well as her long and extravagantly painted fingernails. She retired from track in 1989 in order to devote more time to endorsement activities, modeling, writing, and coaching her husband. President Bill Clinton appointed her to replace Arnold Schwazeneggar as chair of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness in Sports in 1993. This established her as the first woman to recieve this position.

On September 21, 1998, Florence’s husband could not awaken his wife and called 911. She was pronounced dead of an apparent heart seizure upon the arrival of the ambulance. To many, she represented the embodiment of a new ideal for American women. She seemed to possess a perfect combination of strength and beauty. She also had an exemplary record of community service for which she won the 1989 Harvard Foundation Award for outstanding contributions to society.

Citizens of Deerfield, Illinois block the building of interracial housing.

Spingarn Medal was presented to Edward Kennedy (“Duke”) Ellington, composer, pianist and jazz pioneer, for his contributions to the arts.

Motown Records established by Berry Gordy Jr.

Diana Ross makes her final television appearance as a member of the Supremes on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

Spingarn Medal awarded to Gordon B. Parks “in recognition of his unique creativity, as exemplified by his outstanding achievements as photographer, writer, film-maker and composer.”

The founding of the National Black McDonald’s Operators Association (NBMOA) in 1972 is celebrated on this date.

NBMOA is a self-help organization, established for the improvement and betterment of each and every member. On December 21, 1968, Herman Petty of Chicago opened the first black owned McDonald’s franchise. Earlier that year, McDonald’s Corporation and its management team felt that Black business leaders could better address issues and concerns in the community where they live and work. Petty is still a McDonald’s Owner/Operator today.

Roland Jones, the first African American Field Consultant with McDonald’s worked closely with Herman Petty in his store operations. By the end of 1969, there were twelve African American owned and operated McDonald’s restaurants, mostly located in the Midwest. Jones’ continued work involved a series of meetings with operators and store managers. This sharing of business ideas, problems, and concerns eventually led to the formation of NBMOA.

Horace Mann Bond, the former president of Lincoln University, died on this in Atlanta at the age of 70.

Patricia Harris was appointed the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development by President Elect Jimmy Carter. Harris was the first Black to hold a Cabinet position.

Spingarn Medal was presented to Alvin Ailey “in recognition of his international pre-eminence in the field of dance.”

Jesse Jackson, in a speech in Chicago, urges the use of the term “African American.” “Every ethnic group,” he notes, “in this country has reference to some land base, some historical cultural base. African Americans have hit that level of maturity.” Currently, “Black” and “African-American” are used interchangeably.

Hazel O’Leary, a Minnesota Power Company executive, was named Secretary of Energy by President Bill Clinton on this date.

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