Week of January 9-15
1906—Poet and novelist Paul Lawrence Dunbardies. Born in Dayton, Ohio, Dunbar rapidly gained national recognition as a poet. Although he only lived to be 33, he was prolific—writing short stories, novels, plays and songs. In Dayton, he was a classmate of the Wright brothers of aviation fame. In fact, the Wright brothers helped Dunbar finance his newspaper—the Dayton Tattler.
1935—Black Enterprise magazine founder and publisher Earl Graves is born on this day in Brooklyn, N.Y.
1946—Poet Countee Cullen dies at age 42 in New York City. Cullen was one of Black America’s greatest poets and novelists. One of his most controversial works was “The Black Christ & Other Poems.” He was born in 1903. But some mystery surrounds exactly where he was born with both Baltimore and New York City being given as his place of birth. Cullen also taught high school. One of his best known students was the great writer James Baldwin.
1967—The Georgia legislature finally seats Representative Julian Bond. In an amazing anti-democracy display of arrogance, Georgia legislators had refused to allow Bond to take the seat he had duly won because of his opposition to the U.S. war in Vietnam. But a 1966 U.S. Supreme Court ruling declared their action unconstitutional. Bond later became chairman of the NAACP Board of Directors.
1924—Legendary Jazz drummer and composer Max Roach is born in New York City. He was perhaps the greatest drummer-composer of the Jazz era performing with some of America’s best known Jazz musicians and singers. He formed Debut Records in 1952 with bassist Charles Mingus.
1957—The Southern Christian Leadership Conference is founded in New Orleans, La., by a group of Black ministers led by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The SCLC goes on to become one of the premier leadership organizations of the Civil Rights Movement. Among the original founders were Ralph Abernathy, Joseph Lowery, Fred Shuttlesworth and C.K. Steel. Washington, D.C., Min. Walter Fauntroy was chairman of the board of directors and one of the leading women of the Civil Rights Movement, Ella Baker, became executive director. In 2009, King’s daughter Bernice was elected to head the organization.
1965—The extraordinarily talented author and dramatist Lorraine Hansberry dies. Deeply committed to the Black struggle, Hansberry’s brilliant career was cut short by cancer. She was only 35. Her primary works included “A Raisin In The Sun” and “To Be Young, Gifted and Black.” “A Raisin In The Sun” became the first play written by a young Black woman to be produced on Broadway.
1890—Educator Mordecai Wyatt Johnson is born in Paris, Texas. Johnson became the first Black president of Howard University and presided over the prestigious Black institution for more than 30 years. He died in 1976.
1920—Civil rights leader James Farmer is born on this day in Marshal, Texas. During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s he was among the top three or four most prominent civil rights leaders. He helped organize the “Freedom Rides” to help desegregate public transportation and founded the Congress of Racial Equality. He died in 1999.
1869—On this day in 1869, one of the earliest post-Civil War attempts at organizing Blacks on a national level occurs. The National Convention of Black Leaders is held in Washington, D.C. Frederick Douglass is elected president. Also, the first Black labor union convention takes place. It was called the Convention of the Colored National Labor Union.
1913—The sorority Delta Sigma Theta is organized on the campus of Howard University by 22 coeds. It develops into one of the most prestigious and influential Black Greek letter organizations in the nation.
1953—Don Barksdale becomes the first African-American to play in an NBA All-Star game.
1966—Robert C. Weaver becomes the first Black member of a presidential cabinet. Lyndon B. Johnson appoints him Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
1987—In what many considered a racist decision, Arizona Gov. Evan Mecham rescinds the gubernatorial decree, which had established the birthday of civil rights legend Martin Luther King Jr. as a state holiday. The decision sets off protests and a national Black boycott of Arizona.
1989—Poet Sterling Brown dies. Brown, a middle-class Black, born into one of Washington, D.C.’s, most prominent Black families, has probably never received full credit for the power, thought-provoking and even revolutionary nature of his poetry. He was a professor at Howard University for nearly 40 years.
1895—A group of African-Americans organized the National Steamboat Co. in Washington, D.C. The group sailed the luxury steamer “George Leary” between the nation’s capital and Norfolk, Va., during the waning years of steamboat popularity in America. The George Leary was a triumph for Black entry into business.