For the week of July 30-August 5
1863—President Abraham Lincoln issues his famous “eye-for-an-eye” order. The order was basically a threat aimed at stopping the Confederate practice of killing captured Black soldiers instead of imprisoning them. Lincoln threatened to kill one captured rebel soldier for every Black soldier killed by the Confederates. In addition, he pledged to condemn one captured rebel soldier to life in prison at hard labor for every captured Black soldier sold into slavery by the rebelling Southerners. The order did not stop the Confederate practice of killing captured Black soldiers, but it did have a restraining effect.
1945—Activist minister Adam Clayton Powell Jr. is elected to Congress from Harlem, N.Y., becoming one of only two Blacks in Congress. The other was William Dawson of Chicago. Powell, however, would become the first truly powerful Black political figure on Capitol Hill. By 1961, he headed the influential Education and Labor Committee in the House of Representatives. Powell would steer over 50 pieces of legislation through Congress. He also passed legislation making lynching a federal crime and bills to desegregate public schools and the military. In addition, he almost single handedly stopped Southern Congressmen from using the word “Nigger” during sessions of Congress. Despite his political influence, Powell constantly maintained that “Mass action is the most powerful force on earth.” He died on April 4, 1972.
1874—Father Patrick Francis Healy becomes the first Black president of a major White university when he is inaugurated on this day as president of Georgetown University. Healy was also the first African-American to earn a PhD. However, racial prejudice forced him to earn his degree in Europe not the United States. Healy was born in Macon, Ga., in 1834 to a Black slave woman and a White plantation owner who decided to acknowledge his five bi-racial children. They were all sent north to be educated. Although some felt he could have passed for White, Healy openly acknowledged his African ancestry. Healy died in 1910.
1960—Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad calls for an all-Black state in America during a speech in New York City. Muhammad was a fearless critic of American discrimination against and the mistreatment of Blacks and he also advocated independent, Black owned businesses, institutions and religion.
1961—Actor Lawrence Fishburn Jr. is born on this day in Augusta, Ga. He began his acting career at the age of 10.