This Week In Black History April 20-26

April 20

1871—The Third Enforcement Act is enacted. The Act was designed to give the president greater powers to suppress the actions of terrorist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan, as they attempted to stop Blacks from voting. In some instances, the racist groups used armed force to drive out integrated governments in several Southern cities. Under the Act, the president could declare such activities “rebellion against the government” and employ federal troops to restore order.

1899—Jazz great Edward “Duke” Ellington is born in Washington, D.C. Ellington was perhaps the greatest of the Jazz pioneers, popularizing Jazz with his performances, composing and his role as a bandleader. Ellington died in 1974.

1909—Jazz great Lionel Hampton is born in Louisville, Ky. Hampton was another of the great band leaders of the Jazz era. He was also known for his skills on the vibraphone. He died in 2002.

1971—The United States Supreme Court rules unanimously that the busing of students from schools of predominantly one race to schools populated most by students of another race was a constitutionally accepted method for integrating the nation’s public schools.


April 21

1898—An official state of war is said to exist between Spain and the U.S. over Cuba. This Spanish American War was fought with major representation of Black soldiers from Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, Illinois and Kansas. For imperialistic reasons of its own, the U.S. aided Cuban independence from Spain. Cuba became independent in 1902. However, when the Black troops returned to America, their greetings ranged from parades and speeches in some cities to assaults and lynching in other cities.

2003—African-American song stylist Nina Simone, born Eunice Kathleen Waymon, dies in Paris. She was was an American singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger and civil rights activist. Over the length of her career Simone recorded more than 40 albums, mostly between 1958, when she made her debut with “Little Girl Blue,” and 1974. She was 70 years old.


April 22

1692—The notorious “Salem Witch Trials” of Salem, Mass., claim their first Black victim. Mary Black, a slave, is accused of sorcery and jailed. The hysteria created by the trials would lead to the arrests of 141 people (mostly women) and result in 19 of them being put to death. Ironically, there is reason to believe that the witch trials were indirectly set in motion by the voodoo stories of a Black slave. It seems that a minister brought to Salem a slave from Barbados named Tituba. He fascinated the minister’s daughters with stories about witchcraft in Africa and the Caribbean. The two daughters shared the stories with other young girls in the area and soon imagination took the place of reality. The girls started acting strangely and claimed they were victims of witchcraft. Superstitious adults began pressuring them to name names and soon dozens of women were being jailed for practicing witchcraft. The trials, which were not limited to Massachusetts, but spread throughout New England, are perhaps one of the greatest testimonies to how minds can be twisted to believe in the ridiculous and hurt others of as result of false belief.

1922—Jazz great Charles Mingus is born. The virtuoso bass player was born on a military base in Nogales, Ariz.


April 23

1856—One of the greatest inventors in American history, Granville T. Woods, is born in Columbus, Ohio. During his life he received 65 patents for electrical, mechanical and communications devices. Among his inventions was an advanced telephone transmitter. The transmitter was so advanced that the Alexander Graham Bell Company purchased the rights to it from Woods, both because it was superior to what Bell had invented and for fear that Woods might become a major rival to the Bell Company. At his height, the Cincinnati, Ohio Catholic Tribune (Jan. 14, 1886) wrote of Woods: “…the greatest colored inventor in the history of the race and equal, if not superior, to any inventor in the country…”

1872—Charlotte E. Ray becomes the first Black female lawyer in American history. Born in New York City to a journalist father and a politically active mother, Ray was a brilliant student who was teaching at Howard University in Washington, D.C., by the time she was 19. By age 22 she had her law degree and was admitted to the D.C. bar. However, sexual and racial discrimination forced her to abandon her law practice and return to New York to teach. She died Jan. 4, 1911.

1971—Liberian President William Tubman dies. Tubman and his strong-man rule had kept the West African nation founded by freed American slaves relatively stable but not necessarily democratic. His death laid the foundation for the anarchy and civil wars which would grip the nation for the next 30 years. Tubman also headed a class of so-called Americo-Liberians who often discriminated against the native African population.


April 24

1867—The first national meeting of the Ku Klux Klan is held at the Maxwell House in Nashville, Tenn. The White supremacist organization and its various offshoots would go on to launch a wave of terror, which would result in death and injury to thousands of African-Americans over the years. The Klan would remain the nation’s most powerful anti-Black terrorist organization for the next 70 years. The first chapter, however, was actually formed a year earlier in Pulaski, Tenn. Most of the early Klan members were former soldiers of the defeated Confederate Army from the Civil War. The group’s initial aim was to spread fear among Blacks and prevent them from voting. But as the organization grew, it expanded into anti-Jewish, anti-Catholic and anti-foreigner activities. The first grand wizard was Nathan Bedford Forest.

1944—The United Negro College Fund is incorporated. Over the years, the fundraising activities of the UNCF would result in thousands of college educations for African-Americans.

1944—Whites only political primaries are declared unconstitutional. In a case known as Smith v. Allwright, the United States Supreme Court ruled that a “Whites only” primary law, which excluded Blacks from voting, was a violation of the 15th Amendment and was thus unconstitutional. Such laws had been common throughout the South.


April 25

1918—Jazz singing legend Ella Fitzgerald is born in Newport News, Va. Orphaned at an early age, Fitzgerald was literally living in the streets when she was discovered in Harlem, N.Y., by bandleader Chick Webb. Despite never having received formal vocal training, musical experts often compared her techniques and vocal range to that of a conservatory trained singer. One of the ultimate compliments to her abilities was given by the great song writer Ira Gershwin who said, “I didn’t realize our songs were so good until I heard Ella sing them.” Fitzgerald died at the age of 79 on June 15, 1997.

1943—Tuskegee Institute President Frederick Patterson writes his famous letter (published in the Pittsburgh Courier) urging the presidents of the nation’s predominantly Black colleges and universities to “pool their small resources and make an appeal to the national conscience” in order to produce more scholarship funds for the education of Black students. One year later the United Negro College Fund is incorporated with 27 member colleges.


April 26

1886—The “mother of the Blues” Gertrude “Ma” Rainey is born Gertrude Pridgett in Columbus, Ga. She began her career touring with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels. She was the first person to sing the Blues in minstrel shows. Rainey also coached, then young Blues singer Bessie Smith who would become more famous and celebrated than Rainey. Rainey died Dec. 22, 1939.

1994—The first all race elections take place in then White ruled South Africa. The elections would bring an end to 300 years of White minority rule, known as apartheid, in the African nation as well as bring about the election of Nelson Mandela as the country’s first Black and democratically elected president. Mandela had spent 27 years in prison because of his leadership of the African National Congress which had led the struggle against apartheid.


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