1940—Blacks are allowed for the first time to enter all branches of the U.S. military when President Franklin D. Roosevelt, on this day, signs the Selective Service Act.
1973—Nasir Jones, known simply as Nas, was born in Queensbridge, N.Y. Nas is well known for his 1994 debut album Illmatic, which many consider to be one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time.
1830—The First National Negro Convention takes place in Philadelphia, Pa. Top on the agenda were the better organizing of anti-slave activities and whether or not free Blacks should return to Africa.
1881—Inventor Jan E. Matzeilger is born in Dutch Guyana. He came to the United States in 1878 and by 1880 had patented a shoe lacing machine.
1889—One of Black America’s most outstanding poets, Claude McKay, is born. He would become a leading figure during the Black Cultural Revolution known as the Harlem Renaissance.
1928—Grammy Award-winning saxophonist Julian Edwin “Cannonball” Adderley born in Tampa, Fla. Adderley is remembered for his 1966 single “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy.” He performed with Miles Davis, playing on the seminal Davis records “Milestones” and “Kind of Blue” before embarking on a successful solo career.
1963—In one of the most heartless terrorist attacks of the Civil Rights Movement, the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., is bombed by White supremacists and Ku Klux Klan members. Four little Black girls are killed. But instead of scaring African Americans into backing away from their demands, the act actually inspired the Civil Rights Movement.
1848—The French abolish slavery in all their territories. It would take a Civil War and another 17 years before slavery is abolished in America.
1921—Singer Jon Hendricks born in Newark, Ohio. He is considered one of the originators of vocalese, which adds lyrics to existing instrumental songs and replaces many instruments with vocalists. He is also considered one of the best practitioners of scat singing.
1925—Blues great B.B. King is born Riley B. King on this day in Itta Benna, Miss. King was an American blues singer, songwriter and guitarist. He won a 1970 Grammy Award for the song “The Thrill Is Gone.” His version became a hit on both the pop and R&B charts. He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. King died May 14, 2015 at the age of 89.
1933—“Emperor Jones” is released on this day by United Artists. It starred social activist Paul Robeson as Brutus Jones. It was the first Hollywood film with a Black leading man and a White supporting cast.
1787—The United States Constitution is approved but it includes three clauses allowing for the continuation of slavery even though it was supposed to be a document of freedom.
1861—Hampton Institute (now university) is founded. It has now become one of the nation’s leading predominately Black educational institutions.
1970—The “Flip Wilson Show” premieres on NBC television. It is the first variety show (in prime time) to star an African American male since the “Nat King Cole Show.” During its first two seasons, its Nielsen ratings made it the nation’s second most watched show. Wilson was most famous for creating the role of Geraldine Jones, a sassy, modern woman who had a boyfriend named Killer (who, when not in prison, was at the pool hall). Wilson popularized such catchphrases as “What you see is what you get” and “The Devil made me do it!”
1973—Illinois becomes the first state to honor Civil Rights Movement icon Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with a state holiday.
1850—Congress passes the Fugitive Slave Law as part of the Compromise of 1850. The Compromise was essentially a vain attempt to reconcile differences between the slave states of the South and the free states of the North as to whether Midwest states would be slave or free. The law basically required Free states to help slave states capture escaped slaves.
1895—Booker T. Washington delivered his famous (or infamous) “Atlanta Compromise” speech in which he promotes Black economic betterment at the expense of civil and political rights. The speech endeared him to Whites opposed to the social integration of Blacks, but it angered progressive Blacks, including scholar W.E.B. DuBois, who began to portray Washington as an “Uncle Tom.”
1980—Cuban cosmonaut Arnold Tamayo becomes the first Black person to fly on a space mission. He flew on a spacecraft from the then-Soviet Union.
1865—Atlanta University is founded in Atlanta, Ga. It was one of many educational institutions established during the Reconstruction period after the Civil War to educate former slaves.
1931—Soul singer Brook Benton, born Benjamin Franklin Peay, was born this day in Lugoff, S.C. He has more than 50 billboard chart hits as an artist including “A Rainy Night in Georgia,” “It’s Just A Matter Of Time” and “Endlessly.”
1981—An estimated 400,000 people from various labor and civil rights organizations rally in Washington, D.C., to protest the domestic policies of President Ronald Reagan. His policies were viewed by the demonstrating groups as anti-Black and opposed to the best interests of working-class people.
1664—Maryland enacts the nation’s first “Anti-Amalgamation Law.” It specifically outlawed marriages between Black men and White women. Soon, several other colonies followed the Maryland example. It would not be until the 1960s that U.S. Supreme Court in the famous Loving v. Virginia case declared all such laws un-Constitutional. And even though it was not being enforced, it was not until 2000 that Alabama officially became the last state to strike from the books its law banning interracial marriages.
1830—The first National Negro Convention of Free Men meets in Philadelphia, Pa. Among a wide range of items on the agenda was a resolution encouraging free Blacks to boycott the purchase of items produced by slave labor. African Methodist Episcopal Church founder Richard Allen was elected president of the convention. Despite the fact that Allen had founded the AME Church, the name of the convention also reflected an attempt by free Blacks to reduce identification with Africa. At the time, most slaves and many free Blacks tended to refer to themselves as “Africans.”
1958—A deranged woman stabs then-rapidly emerging civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. during a book signing ceremony at a Harlem, N.Y., department store. Rumors circulated that the stabbing was part of a government conspiracy against King but no evidence was ever produced to support the theory.
1984—“The Cosby Show,” starring comedian and activist Bill Cosby, debuts on NBC Television. It becomes one of the nation’s highest rated television series and was widely praised by civil rights activists because of its generally positive portrayal of a Black middle-class family.