1822—This was the rumored start date of the Denmark Vesey-led slave revolt in the Charleston, S.C., area. Vesey, a former slave who had bought his freedom, had organized what is still believed to be the largest and most comprehensive slave revolt in American history. Aware of how “house slaves” tended to be loyal to their slave masters, Vesey had given strict orders that none were to be included in the plot. But so many Blacks (both slave and free) were involved that word eventually leaked out and just as Vesey feared, a house slave told the authorities. Military forces were moved into the city and scores were arrested. Thirty-five Blacks, including Vesey, were hanged. [There is some historical debate as to whether June 16 was the actual start date for the rebellion. There is some authority that July 14 was to be the start date. But what is clear is that military forces moved into the city on June 16 to put down the planned revolt.]
1969—The United States Supreme Court rules that the suspension of Harlem Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr. from the U.S. House of Representatives on alleged corruption charges was unconstitutional. Powell, who had first won election to Congress in 1945, was returned to the House but without his seniority. Powell had been one of the most powerful men in Congress. He had fought civil rights battles in New York and had followed his father as pastor of the city’s influential Abyssinian Baptist Church. He often told Blacks “Mass action is the most powerful force on earth.” He also frequently reminded his supporters to “Keep the faith, baby.”
1775—Blacks fight in two of the major battles of America’s war of independence from England—the battles of Bunker Hill and Breeds Hill. Two of the most outstanding soldiers were Peter Salem and Salem Poor.
1871—James Weldon Johnson is born in Jacksonville, Fla. Johnson is clearly one of the most multi-talented men in Black American history. He was a poet, writer, lawyer, diplomat and civil rights activist. Johnson was one of the leading figures in the Black cultural revolution of the 1920s known as the Harlem Renaissance. He was the first African-American admitted to the Florida bar to practice law. He was the first Black executive of the NAACP. He served as one of the first Black diplomats to Latin America and he is co-author of the “Black” National Anthem—“Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.” He died in an automobile accident in 1938.
1928—The “Godfather of Soul” James Brown was born on this day in Pulaski, Tenn. He was also referred to as “Soul Brother Number One” and “Mr. Dynamic” for his sensational dancing. Brown died in December of 2006.
1948—Actress Phylicia Rashad is born on this day in Houston, Texas. Rashad is best known for her role as Bill Cosby’s wife in the once highly popular NBC television series, “The Cosby Show.”
1980—Tennis great Venus Williams is born in Lynwood, Calif. Venus is the older sister of fellow tennis great Serena Williams.