This Week In Black History March 20-26, 2024

  • MARCH 20

1852—The leading Black nationalist of the 1800s Martin R. Delany publish­es his manifesto entitled “The Condi­tion, Elevation, Emigration and Destiny of the Colored People of the United States.” Delany, who fought in the Civil War to end slavery, became frustrated with American racism and argued that Blacks were “a nation within a nation” who should consider returning to their Africa homeland. Delany, who became a doctor, would later advance an ar­gument for reparations saying, “They [Whites] had been our oppressors and injurers. They obstructed our progress to the high positions of civilization. And now it is their bounden duty to make full amends for the injuries thus inflict­ed upon an unoffending people.” Del­aney died in Wilberforce, Ohio, in 1885.

1852“Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” a novel by Harriet Beecher Stowe, is published in Boston and becomes a national best­seller. The novel was based in part on a real life Maryland slave named Josiah Henson. Many considered Henson the arch type “Uncle Tom” who was over accommodating to Whites and accept­ing of his condition as a slave. Revi­sionist historians have treated Henson more kindly suggesting he was simply being pragmatic and actually helped other slaves.

1883Jan Matzeliger receives a patent for the “shoe lasting” machine, which would revolutionize the shoe industry, significantly reduce the cost of shoes and make Lynn, Mass., the shoe-making capital of the world. Mat­zeliger was born in Dutch Guiana (to­day’s Surinam) and arrived in America at 18 or 19 speaking very little English. His invention would eventually enable an entire shoe to be produced in 60 seconds by one machine. The patent was purchased by the United Shoe Company. Unfortunately, Matzeliger died at 37 before he was able to realize any of the enormous profits produced by his invention.

1957—Filmmaker Spike Lee is born in Brooklyn, N.Y.

  • MARCH 21

1955— Walter White dies. As head of the NAACP, White was perhaps the most prominent and powerful civ­il rights leader of the first half of the 20th century. The light complexioned, blue-eyed White became somewhat of a legend in 1919 when he “passed for White” in order to investigate the notorious Elaine, Ark., race riot when marauding bands of Whites killed more than 200 Blacks. He barely escaped with his life when news of his true iden­tity leaked out.

1960—The Sharpsville Massacre oc­curs, in then White-ruled South Africa, when police fired on Blacks protesting the country’s “pass laws,” which greatly restricted the movement of the majori­ty African population. At least 67 dem­onstrators were killed and 186 injured or wounded.

1965—The historic Selma to Mont­gomery March calling for full voting rights for African-Americans begins under federal protection. The original march had actually started on March 7. But the more than 600 demonstrators were attacked with clubs and tear gas by state and local police at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Organizers, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., then went to court to get confirmation of their Con­stitutional right to demonstrate. The court battle was won and the march resumed under federal protection on March 21. Five months later President Lyndon Johnson signed the historic 1965 Voting Rights Act.

2010—The U.S. House of Represen­tatives passes President Obama’s signature legislation—Health Care Re­form by a 219 to 212 vote. No Republi­can voted for the measure.

  • MARCH 22

1492—Alonzo Pietro sets sail with Christopher Columbus as he begins his famous journey to find a new trade route to China, but accidental­ly “discovers” the Americas. Pietro was one of Columbus’ navigators. He was known as “il Negro”—The Black.

1942—Scholar and political activist Walter Rodney is born in George­town, Guyana. Rodney would become one of the leading intellec­tual forces behind the worldwide Black Nationalist and Pan-Africanist movements of the 1960s and ‘70s. He was a brilliant scholar who trav­eled widely and among his major writings was the book “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.” He died in a car bombing in Guyana in 1980.

  • MARCH 23

1916—Marcus Garvey arrives in the United States from Jamaica. He would go on to build the largest Black nationalist and self-help orga­nization in world history—the Uni­versal Negro Improvement Associ­ation. The UNIA owned everything from bakeries to a shipping line. It would develop chapters throughout major cities in the U.S., Europe, Afri­ca and the Caribbean. “Garveyism” emphasized racial pride, economic empowerment, Blacks doing for self and the establishment of a pow­erful Black nation in Africa to give protection to Blacks throughout the world.

  • MARCH 24

1837—Blacks in Canada are granted the right to vote. Most of these Blacks had escaped from slavery in America.


2002—Halle Berry becomes the first Black woman to win an Oscar for Best Actress. She won for her role in the movie “Monster’s Ball.” She won a Golden Globe for Best Actress in a TV Movie/Mini-Series for “Introducing Dorothy Dan­dridge” in 1999. Berry was born on Aug. 14, 1966 in Cleveland, Ohio, to an African-American father and a Caucasian mother.

  • MARCH 25

1931—Ida B. Wells Barnett dies. Barnett was one of the leading Black female activists in America for over 30 years. Born in Holly Springs, Miss., she became a cru­sading journalist against racism and injustice with her Memphis, Tennes­see-based newspaper—“The Free Speech and Headlight.” When a prominent Memphis Black man (and friend or hers) was lynched in 1892, she launched a national campaign against lynching. In 1909, she be­came a member of the Committee of 40 which laid the foundation for the organization which would be­come the NAACP. But she later sid­ed with scholar W.E.B. DuBois when he accused the NAACP of not being militant enough. Barnett would also later join with White suffragettes in demanding that women be given the right to vote.

1931—The “Scottsboro Boys” are arrested and accused of raping two young White women—a crime which evidence suggests (then and now) never occurred. However, the saga of the nine Scottsboro Boys (young Black men aged 12 to 20) would stretch out over a period of nearly 20 years in a series of trials, con­victions, reversals and retrials. The racism of the period was so thick that even when one of the young White women recanted and admit­ted that no rape had occurred, an all-White Alabama jury still found members of the group guilty and sentenced them to death. The convictions were overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court and more retrials and new convictions fol­lowed. Eventually, either by paroles or escapes, all the Scottsboro Boys would leave Alabama prisons. The last one died in 1989.

1942—Aretha Franklin, the “Queen of Soul” music, is born in Detroit, Mich.

  • MARCH 26

1831—The founder of the Afri­can Methodist Episcopal Church Church, Richard Allen, dies at age 71 in Philadelphia, Pa. As its first bishop, Allen set the AME Church on the path to becoming the first Black religious denomination in America to be fully independent of White control. He, in effect, char­tered a separate religious identity for African-Americans. He also founded schools throughout the na­tion to teach Blacks. This includes Allen University in Columbia, S.C.

1944—Singer/Actress Diana Ross is born in Detroit, Mich. She headed the most popular female signing group of the 1960s—The Supremes.

1950—Singer Teddy Pendergrass is born in Philadelphia, Pa. For a pe­riod, Pendergrass was the leading sex symbol in R&B music. However, an automobile accident on March 18, 1982 left him paralyzed from the chest down. Pendergrass died Jan. 13, 2010.

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