This Week In Black History February 8 – 14, 2023

In this August 1922 file photo, Marcus Garvey is shown in a military uniform as the “Provisional President of Africa” during a parade on the opening day of the annual Convention of the Negro Peoples of the World along Lenox Avenue in Harlem borough of New York. 

  • February 8

1894—Congress repeals the Enforcement Act and thus made it easier for states, especially in the South, to take away Black voting rights. Originally passed in 1870, the Act had established criminal penalties for interfering with a person’s right to vote. After its repeal, Southern states passed a host of measures including poll taxes, literacy tests and so-called vouchers of “good character”—all designed to block or limit the number of Blacks who could vote.

1925—Marcus Mosiah Garvey, the “Black Moses,” enters federal prison in Atlanta, Ga., after being convicted of what many Blacks felt were trumped up mail fraud charges. Garvey, a master of grandeur and showmanship, had built the largest Black mass movement in African American history by emphasizing racial pride, economic empowerment and the building of a Black empire in Africa. Born in Jamaica and having traveled throughout South America, Garvey had become distressed with the plights of Blacks throughout the world and organized the Universal Negro Improvement Association—UNIA—in 1914. He brought the UNIA to America in 1915 and its growth exploded. At its height, the UNIA had several hundred thousand members and owned businesses ranging from bakeries to shipping lines. Garvey’s rapid growth and increasing power on masses of Blacks are what attracted negative attention from the federal government. After his imprisonment, the organization never recovered. He died in London, England in 1940.

1968—In what became known as “The Orangeburg Massacre” police opened fire on protesting Black students on the campus of South Carolina State University. The officers responded to rock-throwing with a volley of shots, which left three students dead and 27 wounded. The students were protesting a segregated bowling alley near the school’s campus in Orangeburg, S.C. The students killed were Samuel Hammond, Delano Middleton and Henry Smith.

1978—Leon Spinks defeats Muhammad Ali and captures the heavyweight boxing championship. Ali regains the title in September of the same year becoming the first person to win the title three times.

 

  • February 9

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1944—Award winning novelist Alice Walker is born in Eatonton, Ga. She is known for “telling the Black woman’s story.” Perhaps her most famous novel was “The Color Purple.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1995—Dr. Bernard Harris becomes the first African American to walk in space as part of a joint Russian and American mission. However, Harris was far from being the first Black person in space. That honor goes to Cuban cosmonaut Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez, who flew to orbit onboard a Soviet Soyuz 41-years-ago on September 18, 1980.

 

  • February 10

1854—Educator Joseph Charles Price is born on this day in Elizabeth City, N.C. Largely unknown today, Price was a world-renowned scholar who founded North Carolina’s Livingstone University. He was also a powerful preacher and orator who raised funds to advance African American education throughout the nation. His basic educational theory was “educate the whole person”—hands, head and heart.

1927—Opera singer Leontyne Price is born Mary Violet Leontyne Price in Laurel, Miss. She first achieved international fame when she was selected to play “Bess” during the European tour of the George Gershwin Broadway production of “Porgy and Bess.” She became a sensation in Europe, signing contracts to sing in just about every European language. She made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City in 1961.

1989—Ron Brown was elected chairman of the Democratic Party, becoming the first African American to head one of the two major political parties.

1992—Renowned author Alex Haley dies. He was also a biographer and scriptwriter. Haley is perhaps best known for the novel “Roots,” which became a major television series, and for the “Autobiography of Malcolm X.” Haley was born Aug. 11, 1921, in Ithaca, N.Y.

1992—Heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson was convicted in Indianapolis of the rape of beauty pageant contestant Desiree Washington.

 

  • February 11

1644—Eleven Blacks confront the ruling Council of New Netherlands (later New York) with a petition demanding their freedom. This was probably the first legal protest action by Blacks in American history. The petition is granted and the Blacks are freed because they had worked off the terms of their indentured servant contracts which were usually for seven years. But these Blacks had worked for up to 18 years. Shortly after this victory, however, no more Blacks were allowed such contracts but were instead treated as slaves for life.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1990—Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is released from prison on Robben Island after 27 years. He had been jailed for his militant activities against the then White-ruled South African government and its system of rule known as Apartheid. Mandela would go on to become the first Black and first democratically elected president of South Africa (1994-1999). He enabled a peaceful transition to Black majority rule. Mandela was one of the most respected and admired men in the world. In South Africa, he was known as “Madiba”—an honorary title given to elders in his tribe.

 

  • February 12

1793—Congress passes the first Fugitive Slave Law. The law made it easier for a slave owner to re-take control of a slave who had escaped to freedom. Blacks and their supporters were outraged because the 1793 law only required the “word” of a White man before a magistrate to declare any Black person a runaway slave and have him or her arrested and placed in bondage. Under the law, even Blacks who had earned their freedom or had never been slaves were placed in danger.

1900—Legendary poet James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) writes the lyrics to the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as part of a birthday tribute to Abraham Lincoln. In time, the song would become the Black National Anthem.

1909—The NAACP is formally founded by a group of 60 progressive Blacks and Whites in New York City. The organization, originally called the National Negro Committee, was the outgrowth of the Niagara Movement, which met in Niagara, N.Y., in 1905. The NAACP would go on to become, and remains, the nation’s largest civil rights organization.

1930—The infamous Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment is funded. More than 400 Black men from rural parts of Georgia and Alabama are lured into the program with the promise that they would be treated for syphilis. But the program was actually designed to study the effects of untreated syphilis on the body. Thus, the men were given fake anti-syphilis medicines as their diseases advanced. The unethical “experiment” went on for 40 years as most of the men gradually died. A reporter exposed the study in 1972. Several government agencies, including the U.S. Public Health Service and Centers for Disease Control, were involved. On behalf of the nation, in 1997 President Bill Clinton apologized to Charlie Pollard and other surviving members of the racist experiment.

 

  • February 13

1635—The nation’s first public school is established in Boston, Mass. It was called the Boston Latin School. Blacks could not attend.

1907—Wendell P. Dabney establishes the groundbreaking Black newspaper known as The Union, in Cincinnati, Ohio. The paper’s motto was “For no people can become great without being united, for in union there is strength.”

 

  • February 14

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1760—The great religious leader Richard Allen is born in slavery in Philadelphia. After being required to sit in the back of a White church, Allen would go on to help found and become the first active bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Today, the church, one of the largest predominantly Black denominations in America, has more than 1 million members in the U.S., Canada, the Caribbean and Africa. Allen died in 1831.

1817—This is the most likely birthdate of abolitionist and orator Frederick Douglass. Douglass purchased his freedom in 1845 and went on to become the most influential Black leader of his day. He did most of his work while living in Rochester, N.Y. But after the Civil War, he moved to Washington, D.C.

1867—One of the nation’s most distinguished institutions of higher learning, Morehouse College, was founded on this day in Augusta, Ga., as the Augusta Institute. It moved to Atlanta in 1879 and became the Atlanta Baptist Seminary. It became “Morehouse” in 1913. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. graduated from Morehouse.

1936—The National Negro Congress is organized on this day at a meeting in Chicago, Ill., attended by more than 800 delegates representing nearly 500 Black organizations. A. Phillip Randolph, head of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, is elected president. One of the Congress’ chief aims was to generate national support for the “New Deal” legislation of President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Chicago Defender described the Congress as “the most ambitious effort for bringing together members of the Race on any single issue.” Up until this time, most Black voters were Republicans. But the National Negro Congress and Roosevelt’s social betterment programs led to a massive African American switch to the Democratic Party.

 

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