African American History Month

This Day in African American History

In celebration of Black History Month, the U.S. Consulate General has partnered with the National Mirror to showcase a daily note entitled This Day in Black History. The note will commemorate prominent black figures and recount historic events in African American History that have contributed to American progress. The theme of this year’s national black history month as announced by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History is At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality: the Emancipation Proclamation and the March on Washington. Read below to learn what historic event happened today in African American history.

Langston Hughes was among four principal writers who achieved major recognition during the Harlem Renaissance, which took place in New York City during the 1920s. The Renaissance was an outstanding phase of literary and artistic development for African Americans in the United States. Hughes wrote in every genre on a sundry of topics.

Hughes was one of the first black men of literature who strove to make a productive and profitable career out of his writing. In addition to possessing an ability to write in every genre, he composed translations of his works and annually lectured and toured. And, not only was he a major literary spokesperson, he was also a promoter of black writers and an artistic historian of the African American community, whose ways, talks, gestures, dances, clothes, dreams, thoughts, frustrations and oppression he sought to capture with his pen.

Dr. Ernest Everett Just, born in Charleston, South Carolina, was a prominent black biologist who specialized in the field of marine biology. After graduating from Dartmouth College at the top of his class with a degree in zoology, he advanced in his field through his work at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. Although he only worked at the institution during the summers, Dr. Just published numerous significant scientific papers.

In 1915, Dr. Just became the first person to receive the Spingarn Medal, the highest honor awarded by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The medal is awarded to African Americans who have made great strides in human service. Dr. Just went on to teach at Howard University in Washington D.C. for 34 years.

The Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits each government in the United States from denying a citizen the right to vote based on that citizen’s “race, color, or previous condition of servitude” (i.e., slavery). It was ratified on February 3, 1870.

In practice, of course, it would be another 100 years before African Americans were really able to vote more-or-less freely and Jim Crow laws as well as anti-Black customs, ubiquitous in both “The North” and “The South,” would prevent Black Americans from enjoying even second class citizenship for many decades to come.

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks became famous for refusing to obey bus driver James Blake’s order that she give up her seat to make room for a white passenger. This action of civil disobedience started the Montgomery Bus Boycott, which is one of the largest movements against racial segregation. In addition, this launched Martin Luther King, Jr., who was involved with the boycott, to prominence in the civil rights movement. She has had a lasting legacy worldwide.

Willis Johnson of Cincinnati, Ohio, patented an improved mechanical egg beater (U.S. pat# 292,821) on February 5, 1884. In fact, what Willis Johnson had really invented was an early mixing machine and not just an egg beater.  Johnson’s device was not intended for eggs alone. He had designed his egg beater and mixer for eggs, batter, and other baker’s ingredients. It was a double acting machine with two chambers. Batter could be beaten in one section and eggs could be beaten in another section, or one section could be cleaned while the other section could continue beating.

The Peabody Education Fund organized to establish a permanent system of public education in the South and to enlarge the number of qualified teachers in the region. The Peabody Fund allocated $2.1 million in to promote African American education and the establishment and growth of public schools for African Americans, and some whites, in the South.

Irwin C Mollison was appointed judge of the US Customs Court. With his appointment on November 3, 1945, Judge Mollison was the first African American appointed to a position in the federal judiciary that was posthumously converted into an Article III judgeship. Judge Mollison was also the first African American to serve on the United States Customs Court. He was appointed by President Truman.

Dr. Martin Delany was a remarkable figure in American history. Born a slave in Charleston, Virginia, on May 6, 1812, his mother instilled the value of education in him at a young age and illegally taught him to read; slaves were banned from reading or writing. His father purchased the family’s freedom in 1823. Delany moved to Pittsburgh when he was 19 and after graduating from Bethel Church School, he began working as an assistant to a local doctor named Andrew McDowell.

In 1843 Delany became involved with the abolitionist movement and began publishing the anti-slavery newspaper, The Mystery. Four years later, Delany joined the North Star, Frederick Douglass’ renowned anti-slavery publication. While continuing support for the abolitionist movement and the North Start, Delany attended Harvard Medical School and, after graduation in 1852, began practicing as a doctor in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

During the Civil War Delany joined the 104th Colored Unit and recruited soldiers for the Union Army. In 1865 he obtained the rank of Major, becoming the first African American to receive a regular army commission. After the war he worked for the Freemen’s Bureau. Major Delany’s extraordinary rise from slavery and commitment to social justice and public service is a testament to American military heritage.

Ralph Ellison had a unique upbringing. Ellison was born in a poor neighborhood in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. At the time, Oklahoma was a frontier state with no legacy of slavery, making it a unique space for fluid racial integration not possible even in the North. Despite his financial state, Ellison had the mobility to go to a good school and the motivation to find mentors—both black and white—from among the most accomplished people in the city.

Ralph Ellison’s literary masterpiece, Invisible Man, challenged American society to reflect on the state of contemporary race relations in 1950s America and contributed to the progress of American social values. The themes in Invisible Man were unprecedented and transcended traditional social dynamics. Ellison fashions the main character as a complex Southern black man that feels chained by social expectations forced upon him by both black and white members of society. The Invisible Man searches for identity and truth in the social normative and arrives at an interesting conclusion.

Ellison felt that the task of the writer is to “tell us about the unity of American experience beyond all considerations of class, of race, of religion.” Ellison was undoubtedly ahead of his time and out of step with the literary and political climates of both black and white America. Today, as we reflect on the implications Invisible Man has on social justice, racial equality, we remember the contributions of the prominent African American novelist Ralph Ellison.

Dr. Brimmer, son to a Louisiana sharecropper, is lauded for his extraordinary achievements and contributions to U.S. monetary policy, advancing within his field to become the assistant secretary of commerce for economic affairs and the first black member of the Federal Reserve Board.

Andrew Felton Brimmer Jr. was born on September 13, 1926, in Newellton, Louisiana. After graduating from high school, he went to Washington State and lived with one of his sisters. He joined the Army near the end of World War II and attained the rank of staff sergeant. Upon returning from the war, Dr. Brimmer went on to earn his joint-doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University.

An economist by trade, Dr. Brimmer held numerous high-ranking posts in Washington. Throughout his career his main concern was to find market-friendly solutions to the economic issues facing poor, uneducated African Americans in society. He spoke about what he called the “schism” between blacks who were educated and had marketable skills and those who did not. In later years he spoke frequently about how government policies no longer supported programs to help blacks enter the economic mainstream.

Clifford L. Alexander Jr. was born in New York City on September 21, 1933. The son of Clifford L. and Edith Alexander, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, cum laude, from Harvard University in 1955 and a Law degree from the Yale University Law School in 1958. The following year Alexander became Assistant District Attorney for New York County. In 1961 Alexander became the Executive Director of the Manhattanville Hamilton Grange Neighborhood Conservation Project.

The following year, Alexander left the law practice to work as a foreign affairs officer for the National Security Council in Washington D.C. He excelled in his newfound career and quickly ascended the ranks from Special Assistant to the President to Deputy Special Counsel to the President within four years. In 1967 Alexander was appointed chairman of the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission EEOC and was named a special representative of the president, with the rank of ambassador.

On February 11, 1977, President Jimmy Carter appointed Alexander as his Secretary of the Army—making Alexander the first African American ever to occupy this cabinet-level position. As Secretary of the Army, Alexander was chief of administration, training, operations, logistical support, and preparedness for the Department of the Army.  He had responsibility for a budget of more than $33 billion. In this role, he became a strong champion of the concept of an all-volunteer army.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was formed in 1909 in New York City by a group of black and white citizens fighting for social justice. On February 12, 1909, a “Call” was issued by a collection of 60 signatures for a meeting on the concept of creating an organization that would be an aggressive watchdog of Negro liberties. Ida Wells-Barnett, W.E.B. DuBois, Henry Moscowitz, Mary White Ovington, Oswald Garrison Villiard, William English Walling and led the “Call” to renew the struggle for civil and political liberty.

Today, the NAACP is a network of more than 2,200 branches covering all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Japan and Germany. Headquartered in Baltimore, Maryland, the NAACP is divided into seven regions and are managed and governed by a National Board of Directors. Currently the total membership exceeds 500,000. The NAACP is a notable example of how an organization committed to civic responsibility and political organizing can become a powerful instrument for social justice.

Joseph Searles graduated from Kansas State University in 1963 with a Bachelor’s degree in Political Science. While working on a public policy research project, Searles met New York City Mayor John Lindsey in Washington, D.C. After completing his research, Searles joined Mayor Lindsey in New York City where he served as Director of Local Business Development in the New York City Economic Development Administration.

After serving as an aide to Mayor Lindsey, Searles left public office temporarily to pursue the world of high finance and was hired as a floor trader for the emerging brokerage firm Newburger, Loeb, and Co. He became a general partner for the firm and was elected as the first African American member of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) on this day in 1970.

Shortly after his time in Wall Street, Searles returned to public office and served two gubernatorial appointments as Chairman and Director of the State of New York Mortgage Agency where he was responsible for municipal housing issues totaling more than $600 million. Searles was the first Chairman of the 125th Street Business Improvement District in Harlem and is considered a leading expert in urban retailing.

After being confirmed as a member of the NYSE, Searles noted: “It’s a personal challenge to me as a black man to become part of the economic mainstream of this country. I think there will be more black members at the exchange. Hopefully, my presence will increase the credibility of the financial community, as far as blacks are concerned.” Searles paved the way for African Americans, and later women, to participate on Wall Street, and is a shining example of African American progress.

Morehouse College is the largest private liberal arts college in the nation for African-American men and is located three miles south of downtown Atlanta, Georgia. The college was founded as Augusta Institute by a Baptist minister and cabinetmaker, Reverend William Jefferson White in 1867. Originally housed in Springfield Baptist Church (the oldest independent African American church in the United States) in Augusta, the Institute moved to the basement of Friendship Baptist Church in Atlanta in 1879 and named Atlanta Baptist Seminary.

In 1885, the Georgia Seminary moved to the present location and twelve years later it was renamed Atlanta Baptist College. Upon the death of its founder in 1913, the college once again changed the name to Morehouse College, in reverence to the corresponding secretary of the Northern Baptist Home Mission Society Henry L. Morehouse. In 1957, Morehouse received full accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Henry Lewis was born in Los Angeles, California, and began studying piano at the age of five. He later learned to play the clarinet as well as several string instruments. At the age of 16, he joined the Los Angeles Philharmonic, becoming the first black instrumentalist in a major orchestra.

After six years as a double-bassist with the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, he played with and conducted the Seventh Army Symphony while serving in the United States Armed Forces. He gained national recognition in 1961 when he was appointed assistant conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta, a post he held until 1965.

In 1968, Lewis became the music director of the New Jersey symphony and transformed the local group into a nationally recognized orchestra that performed more than a hundred concerts every year, including outreach programs for local communities. In 1972, he debuted at the New York Metropolitan Opera, conducting Puccini’s La Boheme. From 1960 to 1979, he was married to famed opera singer Marilyn Horne, who considered him her “teacher and right hand.”

After retiring from the New Jersey Symphony in 1976, Lewis continued to tour as a guest conductor for twenty years until his death from a heart attack at the age of 63. Henry Lewis gained wide respect as a conductor, instrumentalist, and pioneer in the classical music world.

On February 16, 1951, the New York City Council passed a bill prohibiting discrimination against African Americans in city-assisted housing projects. The bill was directed mainly at the Stuyvesant Town housing project, which was a public-private partnership project owned by the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company and the City of New York. Managers of the housing development prohibited African American tenants and dispossessed residents who had been active in the campaign to end racial discrimination. As the racial discrimination continued, lawsuits were filed on the basis that the project was public- or semi-public, and thus violated anti-discrimination laws for New York City public housing, which were rarely enforced.

One month later, the Brown-Issacs Bill became law in New York City, making racial discrimination in public housing developments a misdemeanor offense punishable by a fine and prison term for the owner of any housing development constructed with public assistance to discriminate on account of race, color, or nationality. Thus, Stuyvesant Town, long a symbol of discrimination, was barred from using race as criterion in tenant selection.

In the aftermath of the American Civil War, the nation was presented with the challenge of reconstruction. Congress passed the Reconstruction Act of 1867, which divided the American south into five military districts, disenfranchising many whites on the losing side of the bitter struggle while creating black voting majorities in Mississippi and four other states. To end martial law and be readmitted into Congress, southern states were forced to overturn any pro-slavery legislation in their state constitutions. Although some states initially refused to comply, all eventually accepted the conditions and were slowly readmitted into Congress.

Soon after Mississippi gained readmission into Congress on February 17, 1870, Sen. Hiram R. Revels, a former slave and minister from Natchez, became the first African-American to be elected to the Senate. As a Republican, Revels filled the seat vacated a decade earlier by Confederate President Jefferson Davis. He served through March 4, 1871, when Davis’ long interrupted term expired. The period of post-war reconstruction brought about an era of progress and positive change for race relations in American History.

The first organized protest against slavery in the Americas was organized in 1688 by four Pennsylvania Quakers from Germantown Meeting under the care of Abington (often called Dublin) Monthly Meeting. Gerret Hendericks, Derick up de Graeff, Francis Daniell Pastorius, and Abraham up den Graef organized the protest and presented their opposition to slavery and the trafficking of human beings at a Monthly Meeting at Dublin in Philadelphia.

In the document the Quakers use the golden rule to argue against such inhumane treatment of their fellow man regardless of the color of their skin, “we shall doe to all men licke as we will be done ourselves; macking no difference of what generation, descent or Colour they are.” Seeing the injustices of the slave trade they courageously took a stand against slavery based on their religious and moral beliefs.

On this day, the first Pan-African Congress, organized by W.E.B. Du Bois, was held in Paris, France in 1919. The Congress was a series of meetings held from 1919-1994 to address issues facing Africa as a result of European colonization. One of the demands of the group was to end colonial rule and racial discrimination. Fifty-seven delegates from 15 countries attended the first meeting.

White representatives from France, Belgium, and Portugal defended their countries’ colonial policies, while the U.S. representative William Walling (an NAACP cofounder) argued that changes to American racial policies were on the horizon. The resolution adopted at the congress tended more toward moderation and gradual reform than anything approximating a demand for immediate independence.

The purpose of the meeting was to unite black leaders worldwide to secure the internationalization of former German colonies in Africa. The Congress adopted resolutions affirming the right of Africans to participate in their own government and charging the League of Nations to protect this right. These resolutions were presented at the Peace Conference.

Frederick Douglass was an American social reformer, orator, writer and statesman. After escaping from slavery, he became a leader of the abolitionist movement, gaining note for his dazzling oratory and incisive antislavery writing. He stood as a living counter-example to slaveholders’ arguments that slaves did not have the intellectual capacity to function as independent American citizens. Many Northerners also found it hard to believe that such a great orator had been a slave.

Douglass wrote several autobiographies, eloquently describing his experiences in slavery in his 1845 autobiography, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, which became influential in its support for abolition. He wrote two more autobiographies, with his last, Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, published in 1881 and covering events through and after the Civil War. After the Civil War, Douglass remained active in the United States’ struggle to reach its potential as a “land of the free”. Douglass actively supported women’s suffrage. Without his approval, he became the first African American nominated for Vice President of the United States as the running mate of Victoria Woodhull on the impracticable and small Equal Rights Party ticket. Douglass held multiple public offices.

Douglass was a firm believer in the equality of all people, whether black, female, Native American, or recent immigrant. He is famously quoted as saying, “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”

During the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, Malcolm X gained national and international prominence. Often distancing himself from the movement’s leaders, he was perhaps the most controversial leader of the period. Malcolm X’s separatism and militancy contrasted with the desegregation efforts and nonviolent tactics of Martin Luther King, Jr. Historians credit Malcolm X as the spiritual father of the Black Power movement of the late 1960s.

At the time of Malcolm X’s murder in 1965, his views and commitments were undergoing a great change. He was demanding unity and self-determination for black people, whose struggle he viewed in the context of oppressed peoples all over the world. He was also abandoning the hard-line anti–white prejudice of his early years.

Retired Marine Corps Lieutenant General Frank Emmanuel Petersen, Jr. was born in Topeka, Kansas, the second of four children to Frank Petersen, Sr., a radio repairman, and Edythe Southard Petersen. He grew up in South Topeka, ten miles away from the Topeka Army Airfield where he watched the aircrafts take off and land as a child. He attended Monroe Elementary School, went on to join the honors program of Boswell Junior High School, and graduated from Topeka High School in 1949. After graduation, Petersen wanted to join the military, but agreeing with his parents’ wishes he attended Washburn University. After a year, he left college and applied to enlist in the U.S. Navy. He did so well on the exam, that the recruiter made him take the test again. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in June 1950 where he trained to be an electronics technician.

While in basic training, he learned about Jesse Brown, the first black Navy pilot who was shot down and killed in North Korea on December 4, 1950. This motivated him to apply to the Naval Aviation Cadet Corps. He entered the Naval Aviation Cadet Program in 1951. Petersen and another person were the only African Americans in the program. In October 1952, Petersen completed flight training and was designated as a Naval Aviator. He accepted a commission officer role as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps becoming the first black aviator in Marine Corps history.

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born on February 23, 1868 in Great Barrington, Massachusetts. He was a prominent American sociologist, historian, novelist, cultural critic, and the most important black protest leader in the United States during the first half of the 20th century. He shared in the creation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909 and edited The Crisis, a leading civil rights magazine started by Frederick Douglas, from 1910 to 1934.

W. E. B. Du Bois committed his life to a relentless opposition to racial and social injustice. Without ever seeking a mass following, he was a peerless organizer who helped to found both the Niagara Movement and the NAACP, and who fostered several Pan African Congresses. As editor of The Crisis and other progressive journals, he became an international spokesperson for peace, advocating for the rights of oppressed minorities. A son of Massachusetts, Du Bois articulated the strivings of African Americans and demonstrated the significance of African American culture before a world audience.

Bishop Daniel A. Payne was born in Charleston, South Carolina to free black parents, London and Martha Payne. He attended a private school in Charleston, South Carolina and later continued his studies at Gettysburg Seminary in Pennsylvania. Bishop Payne was the first Bishop to have formal theological seminary training, and did a great deal of studying on his own. Payne was ordained an elder in the Lutheran Church in 1837; he was admitted to the Philadelphia Annual Conference in 1842.

Payne later became the first African American president of a black college in the western world, serving as president of Wilberforce University for sixteen years. In this role, he advised that the school be purchased by the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church. He was elected the Historiographer of the AME Church in 1848, and later as Bishop at the General Conference in New York City on May 7, 1852. Payne was also a notable author, and his books, History of the A.M.E. Church and Recollections of Seventy Years, were his greatest works and have become an authoritative source of history of the first 75 years of the church.

Payne went on to build churches in Washington D.C., New York and Baltimore. Bishop Payne’s commitment to education and self-improvement had a profound impact on A.M.E. church’s interest in trained ministry.

Hiram R. Revels comes from a mixed-race heritage—Revels’s father was mixed-race and his mother was Caucasian. Born free in Fayetteville, North Carolina in 1827, Revels was both well-traveled and well-educated.  He attended schools in Indiana, Ohio, and Illinois, was ordained a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Maryland, and conducted religious work in Indiana, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri.  Revels also served as a chaplain during the Civil War.

In 1869, after the war, Revels was elected to represent Adams County in the Mississippi State Senate. In January 1870, Revels gave the opening prayer in the state legislature. The prayer was powerful and left a lasting impression on those who heard it, leading to Revels being elected by the legislature to the U.S. Senate the next month by a vote of 81 to 15.

Revels’s path to the U.S. Senate was not without its hurdles, however. Citing the infamous Dred Scott v. Sandford decision, conservative Southern Democrats officially challenged Revels’s credentials on the grounds that he was not a U.S. citizen for the requisite period of time (nine years), and therefore was not eligible to hold office. Although the Fourteenth Amendment granted citizenship to all African Americans, the amendment was only adopted two years prior in 1868.  Revels, his opponents claimed, had only been a U.S. citizen for two years, when election to the Senate required nine years prior citizenship; therefore, Revels was ineligible to hold such office.

Revels’s supporters successfully argued that he had been a citizen for his entire life since Revels was not of pure African ancestry, the Dred Scott decision did not apply to him.  The state legislature voted to approve Revels’s admission 48 to 8.

Carter Godwin Woodson was born on 1875 in New Canton, Virginia, to Anna Eliza and James Woodson. The first son of nine children, the young Woodson worked as a sharecropper and a miner to help his family. He began high school in his late teens and proved to be an excellent student, completing a four-year course of study in less than two years.

After attending Berea College in Kentucky, Woodson worked for the U.S. government as an education superintendent in the Philippines and traveled extensively before returning to the U.S. Woodson then earned his bachelor’s and master’s from the University of Chicago and went on to receive a doctorate from Harvard University in 1912—becoming the second African American to earn a Ph.D. from the prestigious institution, after W.E.B. Du Bois.

After finishing his education, Woodson dedicated himself to the field of African-American history, working to make sure that the subject was taught in schools and studied by scholars. For his efforts, Woodson is often known as the “Father of Black History.”

Charlotte E. Ray graduated from Howard Law School on February 27, 1872, becoming not only the first female African-American lawyer in the United States but also the first practicing female lawyer in Washington, D.C.

Ray was born in 1850 in New York City, where her father worked as a minister and was a prominent abolitionist. She attended the Institution for the Education of Colored Youth in Washington, D.C., one of the few educational institutions in the country that educated African-American girls.

In 1869, Ray began teaching at Howard University, which was established in 1867 to educate emancipated slaves and their decedents. During her first year of teaching, Ray was accepted into the Howard School of Law, where she applied under the name “C.E. Ray” because the university was reluctant to admit women to its law program.

Upon graduating in 1872, Ray opened a law practice, specializing in commercial law. However, Ray was unable to maintain her practice due to race and gender discrimination. She returned to New York in 1879 where she worked as a teacher in Brooklyn. She was active in the women’s suffrage movement until her death at age 60.

A pioneering African-American poet, Phillis Wheatley was born in Senegal around1753. At the age of 8, she was kidnapped and brought to Boston on a slave ship. Upon her arrival, John Wheatley purchased the young girl as a servant for his wife, Susanna.

Under the family’s direction, Wheatley (who, as was the custom at the time, adopted her master’s last name) was taken under Susanna’s wing. While Wheatley suffered from poor health, her quick intelligence was hard to miss, and as a result, Susanna did not train her to be her servant.

Instead, Wheatley received lessons in theology, English, Latin and Greek. Ancient history was soon folded into the teachings, as were lessons in mythology and literature. Additionally, Wheatley, while still a slave, enjoyed limited restrictions on her life and became a part of the family. At a time when African Americans were discouraged and intimidated from learning how to read and write, Wheatley’s life was an anomaly.

Wheatley wrote her first published poem at age 12. The work, a story about two men who nearly drown at sea, was printed in the Newport Mercury. Other published poems followed, with several also being published, further increasing Wheatley’s fame.