Today in Black History

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What Gwen Ifill meant to us

The news of Gwen Ifill’s death has left a void in the world of journalism and politics. Judy Woodruff and Hari Sreenivasan speak with a few of her friends and colleagues about her legacy and what made her so beloved.

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January 15th 1929: Martin Luther King Jr. born

On this day in 1929, the future civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia. Born as Martin King, he and his father changed their names in honour of Protestant reformer Martin Luther. King entered the ministry in his twenties and first came to national attention for his leadership of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955. This event is considered by many to be the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, which saw a national struggle to end discrimination against African-Americans. King was one of many leaders, but became the face of the movement for his nonviolent tactics and powerful oratory. In 1963, during the March on Washington, King delivered the crowning speech of the movement - the ‘I have a dream’ speech. Beyond his role in combating racial inequality, King also focused on tackling poverty and advocating peace, especially during the Vietnam War. On April 4th 1968, King was shot and killed by James Earl Ray in Memphis, Tennessee. He lived to see the legislative achievements of the movement - the 1964 Civil Rights Act and 1965 Voting Rights Act - but tragically was unable to continue the push for full equality. The movement King set in motion continues to be fought today; the United States is still not a completely equal society and systemic discrimination persists. However, thanks to Martin Luther King, America is closer to fulfilling King’s dream of a truly free and equal society. Since 1986, a national Martin Luther King Day is celebrated on the third Monday in January.

Today would have been his 88th birthday

Today In History

‘Jackie Robinson, the first Black baseball player in the major leagues, was born in Cairo, GA, on this date January 31, 1919. Robinson joined the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, ending five decades of segregated baseball. At the time of his retirement in October 1972, Robinson is believed to have been the most respected of all baseball players.’

(photo: Jackie Robinson)

- CARTER Magazine

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February 11th 1990: Mandela released

On this day in 1990, the South African activist and politician Nelson Mandela was released from prison. Mandela had spent twenty-seven years in prison for his role as an anti-apartheid activist at the head of Umkhonto we Sizwe, which translates as Spear of the Nation. The controversial organisation served as the militant armed wing of the African National Congress political party, born out of a frustration among anti-apartheid activists that their non-violence was met with brutality by white authorities against black citizens. Mandela was arrested in 1962 and sentenced to life in prison, during which time he was largely condemned as a terrorist by Western nations. He served most of his twenty-seven years on Robben Island, then Victor Verster Prison near Cape Town, and during his imprisonment his reputation grew as a significant black leader both in South Africa and internationally. Mandela was finally freed after the ban on the ANC was lifted by the apartheid government. Upon his release, Mandela led the ANC in the successful negotiations with President F.W. de Klerk to end apartheid, and was overwhelmingly elected President of South Africa in the first multi-racial elections in 1994, serving until 1999. In 2013, Nelson Mandela died aged 95 and has been mourned around the world as a hero who fought for freedom in South Africa, and as a symbol of resistance for oppressed peoples everywhere.

“Our march to freedom is irreversible. We must not allow fear to stand in our way.”

Today in Black History for February 7th
  1. 1974 - Grenada achieves independence from Great Britain

  2. 1967 - Chris Rock Born
    Comedian, author, recording artist, actor, and talk show host Chris Rock was born in South Carolina. He will become a critically comedian, hosting his self titled show on HBO. He will also bring to the forefront a boycott of the flag of his birthplace. He will star in and make a few movies of his own.

  3. 1946 - Filibuster in U.S. Senate killed FEPC bill

  4. 1945 - Irwin Molison appointed to Customs Court

  5. 1926 - Black History Week
    Carter G. Woodson creates Negro History Week. In 1976 it became Black History Month.

  6. 1926 - Negro History week originated by Carter G.Woodson is observed for the first time.

  7. 1883 - Eubie Blake born
    Eubie Blake, pianist, born.

  8. 1872 - Alcorn A&M College opened.
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March 21st 1960: Sharpeville massacre

On this day in 1960, police opened fire on peaceful anti-apartheid protestors in the South African township of Sharpeville, killing 69. The over 5,000 strong crowd gathered at Sharpeville police station to protest the discriminatory pass laws, which they claimed were designed to limit their movement in designated white only areas. The laws required all black men and women to carry reference books with their name, tax code and employer details; those found without their book could be arrested and detained. The protest encouraged black South Africans to deliberately leave their pass books at home and present themselves at police stations for arrest, which would crowd prisons and lead to a labour shortage. Despite the protestors’ peaceful and non-violent intentions, police opened fire on the crowd. By the day’s end, 69 people were dead and 180 were wounded. A further 77 were arrested and questioned, though no police officer involved in the massacre was ever convicted as the government relieved all officials of any responsibility. The apartheid government responded to the massacre by banning public meetings, outlawing the African National Congress (ANC) and declaring a state of emergency. The incident convinced anti-apartheid leader and ANC member Nelson Mandela to abandon non-violence and organise paramilitary groups to fight the racist system of apartheid. In 1996, 36 years later, then President Mandela chose Sharpeville as the site at which he signed into law the country’s new post-apartheid constitution.

“People were running in all directions, some couldn’t believe that people had been shot, they thought they had heard firecrackers. Only when they saw the blood and dead people, did they see that the police meant business”
- Tom Petrus, eyewitness to the Sharpeville massacre

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Born on January 26, 1892, Bessie Coleman became the first African-American woman to hold a pilot liscence. Fighting both gender and racial discrimination Coleman was denied entrance into American flight schools and after much determination earned her license in France. Upon returning to the states Coleman would gain great fame as a stunt pilot. Tragically Bessie Coleman died on April, 30, 1926 in Jacksonville, FL while preparing for an air show.

HERStory Matters: Anthropologist, chemist, author, actor and civil rights activist Eslanda Goode Robeson was born on December 15, 1895.

Eslanda Cardozo Goode was born in Washington, DC. Her paternal great-grandfather was a Sephardic Jew whose family was expelled from Spain in the 17th century.Her grandfather was Francis Lewis Cardozo, the first Black treasurer of South Carolina. Her father, John Goode, was a law clerk in the War Department who later finished his law degree at Howard University. Eslanda had two older brothers, John Jr. and Francis. She attended the University of Illinois and later graduated from Columbia University in New York with a B. S. degree in chemistry. When then she started to work at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, she soon became the head histological chemist of Surgical Pathology, the first Black to hold such a position.

In 1920, Paul Robeson and Eslanda attended summer school at Columbia. One year later they married. Eslanda gave up her intentions to study medicine and supported her husband as his business manager. Eslanda worked at the hospital until 1925, when the career of her husband took more and more of her time. She spent time between Harlem, London and France in the following years.

The only child of the Robesons, Paul Jr, “Pauli” was born on November 2, 1927; Robeson was on a tour in Europe at that time. The marriage was strained and Eslanda suffered under the affairs of her husband. Robeson’s long-term liaison with Yolanda Jackson almost broke up the marriage, and Eslanda even agreed to a divorce at a time. Yet, despite all the setbacks and separations, the marriage endured as each of the two had needs that only the other could fill. Eslanda chose to “rise above Paul’s affairs,” but to stay married to him and pursue her own career.

In 1930, Eslanda published her first book, a biography of her husband: “Paul Robeson, Negro.” In 1931, the couple were living in London and became more estranged. Eslanda resumed her own career, taking acting parts in three movies over the next couple of years. She enrolled at the London School of Economics for anthropology and graduated in 1937. In England, she learned more about Africa. She made the first of three journeys to the continent, touring South and East Africa with her son in 1936.

With the signs of war imminent in Europe, the Robesons moved back to Harlem in 1938. Three years later, they moved to Enfield, Connecticut, to their estate, “The Beeches.” Eslanda earned her Ph.D. at the Hartford Seminary in 1946. Using her diary notes of her Africa trip, she completed her second book, “African Journey,” the same year. The book was unusual, as few books in those days dealt with Africa in the first place, and her perspective, as an African American woman, on women in black Africa was unique. The book’s publication was endorsed by Pearl Buck, whose husband was the head of the John Day publishing house. The book argued that Blacks should take pride in their African heritage.

Buck and Eslanda continued to work together. As a result, “American Argument” was published in 1949, a book of dialogues and comments, edited by Buck, in which Eslanda spoke on society, politics, gender roles, and race relations.

With the development of the cold war, the life of the Robesons changed dramatically. The couple had first visited the Soviet Union in 1934, were impressed by the apparent absence of racism, and agreed with the stance of communism against racism, colonization, and imperialism.With their pro-Soviet views, both became targets during the McCarthy days. Robeson’s career came to a standstill, their income dropped dramatically, and the Connecticut estate had to be sold.

On July 17, 1953. Eslanda, like her husband, was called to testify before the US Senate. Asked if she was a communist, she took the Fifth Amendment and challenged the legitimacy of the proceedings. Her passport was revoked until the decision was overturned in 1958. Fighting for the decolonization of Africa and Asia she continued to work for the Council on African Affairs and to write as the UN correspondent for the New World Review, a pro-Soviet magazine.

Once their passports had been returned, they flew to London and the Soviet Union. Eslanda made her third and final trip to Africa, attending the first postcolonial All-African Peoples’ Conference in Ghana in 1958. In 1963, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She returned from Russia to the US and died in New York in December 1965.

A book about her life, “Eslanda,” was published in 2012. Get your copy at http://amzn.to/1T0CMne.

Today in Black Music History for December 17th

1939 - Eddie Kendricks, co-founder of the Temptations and one of the lead singers from 1960-1971 is born in Union Springs, Alabama. Kendricks had a successful solo career with his hit “Keep on Truckin”

1993 - Janet Jackson’s “Again” from the “janet.” Album is certified 2x platinum with sales of over two million units.

1993 - Janet Jackson’s “janet.” Album is certified 5x platinum with sales of over five million units.

1994 - Ini Kamoze’s “Here Comes the Hotstepper” would break up Boyz II Men’s 20 week reign at the top of Billboard’s Hot 100 at the end of 1994

2002 - Ashanti’s self-titled debut album is certified triple platinum with sales of over 3 million units

25th of December 1914, along the western front both sides climb over their trenches and walk out into no mans land.

Instead of being met with machine gun fire, both sides exchange gifts and play football. For one day the horror of the Great War was forgotten.

This would not happen again, the next Christmas both sides remained in their trenches, bitter over their fallen comrades.

Merry Christmas 🎄

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January 7th 1923: Rosewood massacre ends

On this day in 1923, the Rosewood massacre ended in the Florida town after raging for a week. The violence began on January 1st, the day after a Ku Klux Klan rally was held in the area. It started when a white mob descended on the predominantly black town in response to a rumour that a black Rosewood man had sexually assaulted a white woman. The group of over 400 whites attacked African-Americans who they believed were involved, torturing people for information and targetting a family home. They then rampaged throughout the town burning buildings to the ground, including houses and churches. The black residents were forced to hide in the nearby swamps until they were evacuated to other towns, leaving Rosewood completely deserted in the wake of the violence. The carnage ended on January 7th when the mob burned the last structures and there were no black residents in Rosewood remaining. The final death toll was officially six blacks and two whites killed, but according to witnesses closer to thirty African-Americans died. A white jury decided there was insufficient evidence and none of those involved were ever charged for their role in what was erroneously portrayed as a ‘race riot’. In 1994, almost seventy years after the event, the Florida legislature passed a bill that gave each of the nine remaining survivors of the massacre $150,000 in compensation. While it is not enough to provide justice for the Rosewood victims and survivors, the 1994 law ended decades of refusal to come to terms with the horrors committed at Rosewood.

“It has been a struggle telling this story over the years, because a lot of people don’t want to hear about this kind of history … It’s a sad story, but it’s one I think everyone needs to hear”
- Lizzie Jenkins, descendant of a Rosewood survivor