1935—Frank Robinson, the first African American to manage a major league baseball team, was born on this day in Beaumont, Texas. Robinson became player-manager of the Cleveland Indians in 1975. He kept the job for about a year. He became manager of the San Francisco Giants in 1980.
2002—Jazz great Lionel Hampton died on this day at the age of 94. Hampton gained international fame as a “big band” leader and for his amazing abilities playing the vibraphone.
1975—General Daniel “Chappie” James becomes the nation’s first Black four-star general and takes command of the North American Air Defense Command. The position made him a key player in the nation’s nuclear defense system. James was born in Pensacola, Fla., and died at the relatively young age of 57 in 1978.
1977—Legendary actress and Blues and Gospel singer Ethel Waters dies at the age of 80 in Chatsworth, Calif. Born in Chester, Pa., Waters became the second African American in history to be nominated for an Academy Award. For many Blacks, however, she was best known for her singing. The song which gained her the greatest popularity was the spiritual “His Eye is on the Sparrow…So I know He Watches Me.”
1766—Post-colonial era Black leader James Forten is born on this day in 1766. Little is known today, but during that period he was one of the most prominent Black men in America. Born free in Philadelphia, Pa., he became a fierce anti-slavery activist, an inventor and successful businessman. In fact, the sail-making company he founded made him one of the wealthiest Black men in the nation. Forten and AME Church founder Richard Allen organized the First Convention of Color in 1817. He went back and forth on the issue of “re-Africanization,” which called for the return of Blacks to Africa. He financially supported Paul Cuffee’s venture in the West African nation of Sierra Leone, but he later turned against the American Colonization Society and its efforts to return free American Blacks to the West African nation of Liberia.
1945—As World War II comes to an end, official records show 1,154,720 Blacks were inducted into the military services including 3,902 women. The highest ranking African American women during WWII were Majors Harriet M. West and Charity E. Adams.
1838—Frederick Douglass escapes from slavery on Maryland’s Eastern Shore using so-called “free papers” and disguising himself as a sailor. He would go on to become the most prominent anti-slavery activist and Black leader of his day. He is perhaps best remembered for his now famous 1857 quote: “If there is no struggle there is no progress…Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” Free papers were documents normally required to be in the possession of all free Blacks. But one freedom tactic employed during slavery was for a slave to somehow borrow the papers of a free Black who fit his or her general description and use the papers to escape from slavery.
1868—In an example of how briefly true freedom for Blacks lasted after slavery ended in 1865, the lower house of the Georgia legislature on this day in 1868 expelled 28 African Americans, employing a twisted argument that because they were Black they were not eligible to serve in the legislature even if they had been duly elected. Ten days later, the Georgia Senate followed suit and expelled three elected Blacks. But the U.S. Congress stepped in by refusing to seat the Georgia delegation if the Black representatives were not allowed to return to their seats.
1919—One of the nation’s first Black-owned movie companies—Lincoln Motion Pictures—releases its first full length feature film, “A Man’s Duty.” The company was owned by Noble Johnson and Clarence Brooks.
1781—The city of Los Angeles is founded by 44 settlers of whom 26 were Black. This little known fact of history is found in H.H. Bancroft’s authoritative “History of California,” which details the ages, races and genders of the city’s founding fathers and mothers.
1957—Nine Black students are banned from Central High School in Little Rock, Ark., by Gov. Orval Faubus. The move makes him a folk hero among White supremacists but sets in motion a major conflict with the federal government. President Dwight Eisenhower is forced to call out 1,000 federal troops in order to force the eventual integration of the school.
1981—Popular recording star Beyoncé Knowles is born on this day in Houston, Texas.
1859—The first novel written by a Black woman is published in the United States. The woman was Harriet Wilson and the novel was entitled “Our Nig: Or Sketches from the Life of a Free Black.” The novel was lost for years until reprinted with a critical essay by Black scholar Henry Louis Gates in 1982. The novel, which may have been a bit autobiographical, centers on the life of “Frada”—a Black indentured servant who was physically and emotionally abused by her owners.
1865—One of the great White heroes of Black history, Pennsylvania Congressman Thaddeus Stevens, first proposes an addition to the Freemen’s Bureau Act which would have required the confiscation of land from former slave owners and the redistribution to former slaves in “40 acre lots.” Although Stevens was at the time the most powerful person in the U.S. Congress and a friend of Blacks, he was unable to get the measure passed. The so-called “40 acres and a mule,” which promised to aid Black economic development after slavery was defeated in Congress on Feb. 5, 1866 by a 136 to 36 vote. The lopsided nature of the vote reflected lingering pro-slave owner sympathies in the Congress and a general lack of support for the freed slaves.