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1815
Henry Highland Garnet was one of the principal Black leaders in the abolition movement of the 1800s. This powerful noted clergyman, abolitionist, orator, and organizer was born on this day in New Market, MD in Kent County. He was the son of William Spenser and the grandson of an African warrior prince who was captured and brought to America as a slave. Together with his parents, he escaped slavery in 1824, moving to New Hope, Pennsylvania. Garnet eventually graduated from Oneida Institute (an abolitionist school near Utica, New York) in 1840. His education in theology led to his work at churches in New York City and Washington D.C. He later served as president of Avery College in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. In 1843, while attending the National Convention of Colored Citizens in Buffalo, New York. Garnet issued his celebrated “Address to the Slaves of the United States,” calling for a slave revolt and general slave strike.

This speech galvanized a whole nation of Negroes. With the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, he and other emigrationists began to consider Africa, Haiti, South America, and Central America as possible countries for black expatriation. Garnet’s calling slavery the “highest crime against God and man” and his pronouncement of the “moral obligation” of blacks to destroy slavery, underscored the role of religion-Christian or non-Christian in the “freedom striving tradition” of the black church in America. He was also the first Black minister to preach before the U.S. House of Representatives.


Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. later embraced these views. Henry H. Garnet was named minister to Liberia in June 1881. He died in Monrovia on February 13, 1882.



1863
Robert Blake, powder boy aboard the USS Marblehead, is the first African American to be awarded the Naval Medal of Honor “for conspicuous gallantry, extraordinary heroism, and intrepidity at the risk of his own life.” The heroic action occurred during a victorious battle off the coast of South Carolina.


1867
Sarah Breedlove was born in Delta, LA. She became better known as Madame C.J. Walker, she was an African-American businesswoman and philanthropist generally acknowledged as one of the first black female millionaire in the United States whose hair-care, toiletry, and cosmetics products revolutionized the standard of beauty for African American women.

Married at the age of 14 to a Mr. McWilliams, Sarah Breedlove was a widow by the age of 20 with a daughter, A’Lelia, to support. They moved to St. Louis, where she worked as a washerwoman until 1905, when she developed a method for straightening curly hair. She organized agents to sell her hair treatment door-to-door. At its peak, her company employed some 3,000 people, many of them “Walker agents”; saleswomen dressed in long black skirts and white blouses who became familiar figures in the black communities of the United States and the Caribbean.


She was married in 1906 to Charles J. Walker, a newspaperman. Walker also established Walker Schools of Beauty Culture across the country and initiated hygienic regulations for her staff that anticipated later state cosmetology laws.


In 1910, transferred her business, by then called the Madame C.J. Walker Manufacturing Co., to Indianapolis, Indiana, adding a complete line of toiletries and cosmetics to her products.


She did not invent the straightening comb but she modified the curling iron invented by the French to make it more suitable to the hair texture of most Black women. She once described herself in the following manner: “I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. From there I was promoted to the washtub. From there I was promoted to the cook kitchen. And from there I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations...I built my own factory on my own ground.”

Her fortune was augmented by shrewd real estate investments. Generous with her money, she included in her extensive philanthropies educational scholarships, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, homes for the aged, the National Conference on Lynching, the YMCA, and other charitable organizations. She left her estate to various charitable and educational institutions and to her daughter, A’Lelia Walker Kennedy, who was later known for supporting an intellectual salon known as The Dark Tower that helped to stimulate the cultural Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. Madame Walker was well-known for her philanthropic activities, make her a popular figure in the early 1900’s.

Madame Walker died May 25, 1919 in Irvington, New York.



1903
On this date, Fredi Washington was born. She was an African-American actress, writer, dancer, and singer.

From Savannah, Georgia, Fredericka Carolyn Washington’s education began at St. Elizabeth Convent in Cornwells Heights, Pennsylvania. She then attended the Egri School of Dramatic Writing and the Christopher School of Languages, where her attractions included casting, writing, dancing, singing, and civil rights. Washington’s career began dancing in nightclubs. From 1922 to 1926, she toured with Sissle and Blake’s Shuffle Along.

Assuming the stage name
Edith Warren, she was cast as the lead in Black Boy with Paul Robeson in 1926. With work hard to find in America she toured Europe, some of her engagements included Gaumount Palace and Chateau Madrid (Paris), Casino Nice, Green Park Hotel (London), Trocadero and Floria Palast (Berlin). Washington was cast in Sweet Chariot (1930) in New York, Singin’ the Blues (1931), and Run, Little Chillun (1933).

Her film career began concurrently with performances in Black and Tan Fantasy (1929), The Old Man and the Mountain, and The Emperor Jones (1933); she married Lawrence Brown of the Duke Ellington Band later that year. One of Washington’s primary concerns was the relationship between black and white women. She brought to the medium a new conception of African-American women in general and no where was this better displayed than her role in the film Imitation of Life (1934). So convincing was Washington’s portrayal of the tragic Mulatto, that many felt she was (in real life) anti-black.

Friends like Bobby Short and her sister’s husband, Congressman Adam Clayton Powell said that she never hid behind the lightness of her complexion. Washington’s commitment to civil rights was just as strong as her professionalism in the theater and cinema arts. She was one of the founders of the Negro Actors Guild and from 1937 to 1938 was the organization’s secretary. She was administrative secretary for the Joint Actors Equity-Theater League Committee on Hotel Accommodations for Negro Actors throughout the United States.

Washington was on radio in the Jewish immigrant comedy The Goldbergs, and performed specials for the National Urban League on CBS radio. Other films include Drums of the Jungle (1935) and One Mile From Heaven (1937). She also appeared in the stage production of Lysistra (1946), A Long Way From Home (1948) and How Long Till Summer (1949). In 1952, she married Anthony Bell, a dentist, and was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in 1975. Fredi Washington died on June 28, 1994.



1908
Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. was born on this day.


1919
Alice H. Parker patents the gas heating furnace.


1923
Cheikh Anta Diop, Egyptologist and author of Civilization or Barbarism and the General History of Africa, was born on this date. Diop proved Egyptians were Black and their culture predated and directly influenced Greek and Roman culture.


1935
Esther Phillips was born on this date. She was an African-American singer.

Born
Esther Mae Jones in Galveston, Texas, she began singing in church as a young child. When her parents divorced, she divided time between her father in Houston and her mother in the Watts area of Los Angeles. It was in Los Angeles, in 1949, that her sister entered her in a talent show at a nightclub belonging to blues man Johnny Otis. So impressed was Otis with the 13-year-old that he brought her into the studio for a recording session with Modern Records and added her to his live revue. Billed as Little Esther, taking her name from a billboard for a gasoline company, she scored her first success when she was teamed with the vocal quartet the Robins (who later evolved into the Coasters) on the hit single “Double Crossin’ Blues.”

It topped the R&B charts in early 1950 and paved the way for “Mistrustin’ Blues,” “Misery,” “Cupid Boogie,” and “Deceivin’ Blues.” In 1951, Little Esther and Otis had a falling out, reportedly over money, which led to her departure from his show, In 1954, she returned to Houston to live with her father, having experimented with hard drugs developing a definite addiction to heroin. Short on money, Little Esther worked in small nightclubs around the South, punctuated by periodic hospital stays in Lexington, Kentucky, stemming from her addiction.

In 1962, Kenny Rogers got her signed to his brother’s Lenox label rediscovering her while singing at a Houston club. She re-christened herself Esther Phillips, choosing her last name from a nearby Phillips gas station. Phillips recorded a country-soul rendition of the soon-to-be standard “Release Me,” which was a smash, topping the R&B charts and hitting the Top Ten on both the pop and country charts. Back in the public eye, Phillips recorded a country-soul album of the same name, but Lenox went bankrupt in 1963. Thanks to her recent success, Phillips was able to catch on with R&B giant Atlantic.

Her remake of the Beatles song “And I Love Him” (naturally, with the gender changed) nearly made the R&B Top Ten in 1965 and the Beatles flew her to the U. K. for her first overseas performances. Encouraged, Atlantic pushed her into even jazzier territory for her next album, but none of the resulting singles really caught on and the label dropped her in late 1967. With her addiction worsening, Phillips checked into a rehab facility; while undergoing treatment, she cut some sides for Roulette in 1969 and upon her release, she moved to Los Angeles and re-signed with Atlantic.

In 1971, she signed with producer Creed Taylor’s Kudu label, a subsidiary of his hugely successful jazz-fusion imprint CTI. Her label debut, “From a Whisper to a Scream”, was released in 1972 to strong sales and highly positive reviews, particularly for her performance of Gil Scott-Heron’s wrenching heroin-addiction tale “Home Is Where the Hatred Is.” Phillips recorded several more albums for Kudu over the next few years and enjoyed some of the most prolonged popularity of her career, performing in high-profile venues and numerous international jazz festivals.

In 1975, she scored her biggest hit single since “Release Me” with “What a Difference a Day Makes” (Top Ten R&B, Top 20 pop), and the accompanying album of the same name became her biggest seller yet. In 1977, Phillips left Kudu for Mercury, but none matched the commercial success of her Kudu output and after 1981’s “A Good Black Is Hard to Crack”, she found herself without a record deal.

Esther Phillips was perhaps too versatile for her own good; her voice had an idiosyncratic, nasal quality that often earned comparisons to Nina Simone, although she herself counted Dinah Washington as a chief inspiration. Phillips died in Los Angeles on August 7, 1984, of liver and kidney failure.



1946
The University of Tennessee refuses to play Duquesne University, because they may use an African American player in their basketball game.


1990
Wendell Scott joins the ancestors in Danville, Virginia. He was a prominent African American in early stock car racing, finishing among the top five drivers in 20 Grand National events and winning 128 races in the sportsman division. His story will be told in the movie “Greased Lightning,” that starred Richard Pryor as Scott.


1999
President Clinton pardons Freddie Meeks, an African American sailor court-martialed for mutiny during World War II when he and other sailors refused to load live ammunition following a deadly explosion at the Port Chicago Naval Magazine near San Francisco that had claimed more than 300 lives.


2003
On this date, a Virginia jury in the Washington-area sniper case sentenced Lee Boyd Malvo (a young African-American) to life in prison.

This spared him from the death penalty, the fate awaiting his mentor John Allen Muhammad. Malvo’s lawyers had portrayed him as an impressionable boy who had fallen under Muhammad’s murderous spell. The two were convicted of a series of capital murders in a 2002 killing spree.

Malvo was convicted of two counts of capital murder for the October 14, 2002, killing of FBI analyst Linda Franklin, one of 10 people killed during a three-week span in the nation’s capital region.



2007
This date marks the death of jazz legend Oscar Peterson of kidney failure at his home in Mississauga, Canada, a suburb of Toronto, Canada. He was 82. Peterson had a dazzling keyboard technique, commanding sense of swing and mastery of different piano styles that could leave his most accomplished peers awestruck. During his illustrious career, Peterson played with some of he biggest names in jazz including Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie. He is also remembered for the trio he led with bassist Ray Brown and guitarist Herb Ellis in the 1950s. His impressive collection of awards include all of Canada’s highest honors, such as the Order of Canada, as well as seven Grammys and a Grammy for Lifetime Achievements in 1997.

Peterson was often invited to perform for heads of state including Queen Elizabeth II and President Richard M. Nixon. He wrote “A Royal Wedding Suite” fot the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer.

Born in a poor neighborhood in Monteal, he got his passion for music from his father, Daniel Peterson, a railway porter and self-taught pianist.Peterson became a teen sensation in his native Canada, playing in dance bands and recording in the late 1930s and 1940s.

He quickly mad a name for himself as a jazz virtuoso, often earning him comparisons to jazz piano great Art Tatum, his childhood idol, for his speed and technical skills. He was also influenced by Nat King Cole, whose piano trio recordings he considered “a complete musical thesaurus for any aspiring jazz pianist.”

In 2005, he became the first living person other than a reigning monarch to be honored with a commerative stamp in Canada. Streets, concert halls, and schools have also been named after him in Canada.


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