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This day marks one of the most daring and in-your-face escapes from slavery in American history. William & Ellen Craft escape from slavery in Macon, Georgia. Light-complexioned Mrs. Craft cut her hair and impersonates a white slave holder and her husband, William, assumes the role of her servant, in one of the most dramatic of the slave escapes. They journey by train from Macon to Savannah where they board a steamship. Despite several close calls, they arrive in Pennsylvania. The couple would move to Boston and help establish a thriving Black community in that city.

David Ruggles joins the ancestors in Northampton, Massachusetts. Often called the first African American bookseller (for his bookstore established in 1834), Ruggles was an early abolitionist, speaker, and writer as well as a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad. He published the first African American magazine, the “Mirror of Liberty in August of 1838. He was a noted hydropathist, erecting the first building constructed for hydropathic treatments in the United States and was known as the “water cure doctor.”

Nathaniel Jean Toomer was born on this date. He was an African-American writer.

Born in Washington, D.C., t
he grandson of P.B.S. Pinchback, Toomer wanted a bonded argument that would resolve the conflicts of his bi-racial identity. Born Nathan Pinchback Toomer, his father deserted his mother when he was a year old and his mother died in 1909. He was raised in the home of his grandparents.

As a writer, Greenwich Village progressive aesthetes nurtured Toomer in the 1910s and 1920s. His book, Cane was inspired by his two-month stint as a substitute principal at the Black Sparta Agricultural and Industrial Institute in Georgia in 1921. Entranced by Georgia’s rural geography and its Black folk traditions, he saw in Southern life the harmony that escaped him, although he believed the culture to be disappearing through migration to the North and its encounter with modernity. Cane is a series of vignettes whose narrative structure moves from the South to the North and back to the South, forming a troubled synthesis of the two regions.

Members of the Harlem Renaissance and the Black Arts Movement, as well as later African-American women writers have cited its influence and acclaimed the author’s sensitive treatment of black folk life, his formal elegance, and his progressive, uninhibited approach to sexuality and gender. Cane was Toomer’s only work that explicitly treated the lives of African-Americans; after its publication he disappeared from literary circles. In 1924 the restless author made the first of several pilgrimages to Fontainebleau, France, to study at the Institute for the Harmonious Development of Man.

He taught philosophy in Harlem and Chicago until the mid-1930s. Toomer wrote voluminously until his death, and although much of his writing received occasional praise for its experimentation, African-Americans largely dismissed it. In 1930 Toomer declined to be included in James Weldon Johnson’s Book of American Negro Poetry, on the grounds that he wasn’t a Negro. Toomer continued to strive for a sense of wholeness, however, and for a definition of what Henry Louis Gates Jr. has described as a “remarkably fluid notion of race.”

He found this potential of an “American” race, described in the 1936 long poem Blue Meridian, the last work published while he was alive.

On this dates Registry we celebrate the founding of Mary Holmes College. It is one of over 100 Historical Black Colleges and University in America.

Originally the Mary Holmes Seminary it was the creation of the Board of Missions for Freedmen of the Presbyterian Church, (USA). Located in Jackson, Mississippi, the school was dedicated to the Christian education of “Colored” girls, largely in the domestic arts. When fire destroyed the original school, it was rebuilt in West Point, Mississippi, where it is now located, and where, in spite of two more destructive fires, it continues to seek to educate youth for worthy, purposeful lives.

Conceived and initiated through the efforts of the Reverend Mead Holmes and his daughter, Miss Mary Holmes, the school was named for Mrs. Mary Holmes, wife and mother, who had long been a tireless and devoted missionary for the Freedmen’s Mission. In 1932, the school became coeducational and also added the college department, with the primary purpose of training elementary teachers. At this time private schools like Mary Holmes were the main sources for Black teachers in the south, and the preparation of Mary Holmes graduates had them in great demand.

By 1959, the State of Mississippi was assuming a greater responsibility for elementary and secondary education so the high school department of Mary Holmes was dropped, leaving it free to concentrate on being a Junior College. The Board of Missions of the United Presbyterian Church, USA still operates the school but its stance has always been non-sectarian.

In June 1969, the State of Mississippi granted a charter making the institution a legal entity under the name of Mary Holmes College, Inc. Since that date it has operated under its own Board of Trustees.

Jack Johnson, one of the greatest and most controversial Black boxers ever, became the first Black heavyweight champion of the world on this day. In one of his most sensational victories, he defeated Canadian Tommy Burns in the 14th round for the title in Sydney, Australia. Riots broke out in Australia and the United States because many whites felt it was impossible for a Black man to beat a white man. Johnson had boxed for several years before he had the opportunity to contend for a title bout. White boxers had refused to fight him. Finally, in 1908, Johnson fought reigning champion, Tommy Burns. After avoiding fighting Johnson for over a year, embodying white hatred of Johnson for his defiance of the “Jim Crow” racial practices of early 20th-century America, Burns will say of his loss, “Race prejudice was rampant in my mind. The idea of a black man challenging me was beyond enduring. Hatred made me tense.” Johnson held the title until 1915. He was born on March 31, 1878, in Galveston, TX. During his professional boxing career, which spanned more than 30 years, Johnson had 113 fights with 78 wins-- 44 knockouts and 34 by decision. He died June 10, 1946, in a car accident.

On this date, Una Mae Carlisle was born. She was an African-American pianist and singer.

Born the day after Christmas in Xenia, Ohio, her parents were American Indian and black. Carlisle started singing at the age of three and by the age of seventeen (1932), she was working at a local radio station. It was at this time that Fats Waller heard her play and asked that she join his band, where she stayed until 1934. It is her voice with Waller on the recording I Can’t Give You Anything but Love.

Carlisle auditioned for the Cotton Club, performed solo, and recorded in Europe. When the Second World War broke out, she returned to America and recorded for Blue Bird Records, Walkin’ By The River (1940) and I See A Million People (1941). In 1954, she became ill and retired from performing; Una Carlisle died two years later in November 1956 in New York City.

DeFord Bailey, Sr., a harmonica player, becomes the first African American to perform on the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee.

Lonnie Elder is born in Americus, Georgia. He will be known as an author, playwright (“Ceremonies in Dark Old Men”), and screenwriter (“Sounder,” “A Woman Called Moses”).

La Julia Rhea becomes the first African American to sing with the Chicago Civic Opera Company during the regular season.  She opens in the title role of Verdi’s “Aida.”

African Americans in Birmingham, Alabama begin mass defiance of Jim Crow bus laws.

Kwanzaa, originated by Black California professor Dr. Maulana Ron Karenga, is first celebrated by a small number of African American families in Los Angeles, California, as an Afrocentric alternative to Christmas to “restore and reaffirm our African heritage and culture.”  Kwanzaa, a Kiswahili word meaning first or first fruit, will celebrate over the next seven days the Nguzo Saba, or seven principles, of Umoja (Unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), and Imani (Faith).

Prolific singer, songwriter & producer Curtis Mayfield joins the ancestors at the age of 57 in North Fulton Regional Hospital near Atlanta, Georgia.  Mayfield introduced social conscienceness into African American music and continued to record for a decade after an accident left him paralyzed. His many hits included “People Get Ready,” “I’m So Proud,” and “Keep On Pushing.” His soundtrack for the 1972 movie “Superfly” sold over 4 million copies and produced two classic hit singles, the title track and “Freddie’s Dead.” In addition to his wife, he leaves behind his mother, 10 children, a brother, two sisters and seven grandchildren to celebrate his life.

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