For the week of Jan. 26-31
1893—“Queen Bess,” Bessie Coleman, the nation’s first Black female aviator, was born in the small town of Atlanta, Texas. Coleman was also the first African-American (male or female) to earn an international pilot’s license. Because of the racism and sexism in America, she had to travel to France to earn the license. She traveled the U.S. encouraging other Blacks to become pilots. Queen Bess died in plane accident in 1926.
1944—Political activist Angela Davis is born in Birmingham, Ala. She was a brilliant scholar and philosopher who made the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list because of her suspected involvement in the violent Aug. 7, 1970 courthouse attempt to free jailed Black revolutionary inmate George Jackson. She was also associated with the Black Panther Party. However, shortly after the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., she joined the Communist Party. She later became a tenured professor at the University of California Santa Cruz although then governor and later U.S. President Ronald Reagan had vowed to block her from teaching.
1953—One of Black America’s most gifted novelists, Ralph Ellison, wins the prestigious National Book Award with his powerful novel “The Invisible Man.” The novel helped him achieve international fame. The main character constantly escapes one disaster after another. The disasters are brought on by a combination virulent racism and the character’s own naiveté. Ellison was born in Oklahoma City, Okla.
1961—Opera diva Leontyne Price makes her debut at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.
1972—Mahalia Jackson, generally considered the greatest gospel singer that ever lived, dies of heart failure on this day near Chicago, Ill. She was born in New Orleans, La. She settled in Chicago where she briefly studied beauty culture under the nation’s first Black millionaire, Madame C.J. Walker. Among her greatest and most frequently requested songs were “Did It Rain,” “Joshua Fought the Battle of Jericho, “ “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” and “When the Saints Go Marching In.”