This Week In Black History May 8-14, 2024

  • MAY 8

1858—The first play by an Afri­can-American writer is published. The play was titled “The Escape” and the author was William Wells Brown.

1925—The Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters was found­ed. It would become the leading Black-led trade union organization in America. In addition to intro­ducing unionism to African Amer­icans, the ability to travel to cities throughout the country enabled the porters to become a major ve­hicle of communications for Ameri­can Blacks. They distributed every­thing from letters to Black-oriented newspapers as they traveled the nation. The chief organizer was the legendary A. Phillip Randolph.

  • MAY 9

1952—Boxer-turned-actor Can­ada Lee dies in New York City at the age of 45. Second only to the legendary Paul Robeson, Lee was the leading serious (non-comedic) Black actor of the 1940s. He gave impressive performances in Al­fred Hitchcock’s thriller “Lifeboat” (1944), the boxing classic “Body and Soul” (1947) and “Cry, The Beloved Country” (1951). Howev­er, like Robeson, Lee’s film career came to an end during the McCa­rthy Era when a host of Black and White stars, who were also social activists, were labeled commu­nists and denied jobs.

  • MAY 10

1837—P.B.S. Pinchback was born in Macon, Ga., to a White plantation owner and a free Black woman. He became one of the leading Black politicians of the Reconstruction era, especially in Louisiana. After the Civil War, he became lieutenant governor of Louisiana and actually served as governor for 43 days. He was later elected to both the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate. He would also play a significant role in the establish­ment of Southern University and a major Black newspaper known as the Louisianan.

1994—After being released from 27 years of imprisonment for his battles against the racist system of apartheid, Nelson Mandela is elected the first Black president of South Africa. His government focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid through tackling institutionalized racism and fostering racial reconciliation. Politically an African nationalist and democratic socialist, he served as president of the African National Congress (ANC) party from 1991-97.

  • MAY 11

1933—Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan is born Eugene Walcott on this day in the Bronx, N.Y. He was raised by his St. Kitts-born mother in Roxbury, Mass. Prior to joining the Nation of Islam in 1955, Walcott had achieved celebrity status in the Boston area as a Calypso singer, dancer and violinist known as “The Charmer.”

1968—Nine caravans of protest­ers arrived in Washington, D.C., for the first phase of the Poor Peoples Campaign—an anti-pov­erty effort conceived by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The campaign aimed to united Black, White and Hispanic poor people in an effort to pressure the government to do more to eliminate poverty in America. King had been assassi­nated the previous April, so the campaign was led by his lieu­tenant, Rev. Ralph Abernathy. The campaign erected Resurrection City near the Lincoln Monument and held daily demonstrations in Washington from May 14 to June 24.

  • MAY 12

1862—In a bold and heroic en­deavor, Robert Smalls led 12 oth­er slaves and stole a Confederate warship, then turning it over to Union forces. The White captain of the steamer Planter and other officers had gone ashore for a party in Charleston, S.C. Smalls, a wheelman, quickly organized the Black crew and steered the ship out of Charleston harbor right past the unsuspecting Confeder­ate forces. For his daring deed, Smalls was commissioned a 2nd lieutenant. After the Civil War, he was elected congressman from South Carolina.

1940—Jazz singer Al Jarreau was born on this day in Milwau­kee, Wisc.

  • MAY 13

1865—The last battle of the Civ­il war ends. Ironically, it appears the Confederate troops won the battle at Palmetto Ranch, Texas. However, it was the actions and bravery of the 62nd Regiment of United States Colored Troops that prevented the defeat from turning into a rout. The Confederates had actually underestimated the fight­ing prowess of the Blacks, assum­ing they would run in fear when the fighting began. Instead, what occurred was the rapid defeat of two White regiments but the Black soldiers of the 62nd held firm. The Confederates would later surrender.

1950—Singer-songwriter Ste­vie Wonder is born Steveland Hardaway Judkins in Saginaw, Mich. Wonder is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, with sales of over 100 million records worldwide. He has won 25 Grammy Awards (the most by a male solo artist) and one Academy Award (Best Original Song, for the 1984 film The Woman in Red). Wonder has been inducted into the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Songwriters Hall of Fame. Wonder is also noted for his work as an activist for political causes, including his 1980 campaign to make Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a holiday in the United States. In 2014, he was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

  • MAY 14

1885—Erskine Henderson, an African American jockey, wins the Kentucky Derby on “Joe Cotton”—a horse trained by Alex Perry—an African American train­er. Henderson was the sixth Black jockey to win the coveted race. Indeed, Black jockeys and trainers dominated the Kentucky Der­by from 1875 to 1902. However, while some of the reasons are not entirely clear, it appears that as the race became more and more prosperous, Black jockeys and trainers were forced out.

1970—A student protest on the campus of Mississippi’s Jack­son State University leads to a massive confrontation with lo­cal police authorities. When the smoke cleared, two students had been shot and killed and another 12 injured or wounded. Reasons given for the protests ranged from opposition to the War in Vietnam, racial tensions and anger over the National Guard killings of White students on the campus of Kent State University earlier in the month. The university memo­rialized the disturbance by nam­ing the area where it took place “Gibbs-Green Plaza” after the two students who were killed—Phillip Lafayette Gibbs, 21, and James Earl Green, 17.

1985—In a confrontation with the Black Nationalist back-to-na­ture group MOVE, Philadelphia police drop an incendiary device on the group’s home and head­quarters. The decision to bomb had been apparently approved by Black Mayor Wilson Goode. Eleven MOVE members, includ­ing five children, were killed. The only adult survivor was Ramona Africa. More than 60 homes in the surrounding area were burned to the ground. It was never fully clear why the decision to drop the bomb was made.

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