Today in Black History


An African Abbot in Anglo-Saxon England

To commemorate Black History Month in the United Kingdom, today we remember one of the first Africans to live in Anglo-Saxon England. The man in question was Hadrian (d. 709), the abbot of St Peter’s and St Paul’s at Canterbury, who played a pivotal role in the development of the early Anglo-Saxon Church.

Read More at the British Library Medieval Manuscripts Blog!


March 7th 1965: Bloody Sunday in Selma

On this day in 1965, a civil rights march took place from Selma to Birmingham, Alabama; it became known as ‘Bloody Sunday’. At this stage, the Civil Rights Movement had been in motion for over a decade and already achieved legislative success with the Civil Rights Act. However the focus of the movement now became making the promise of equal franchise guaranteed in the Fifteenth Amendment a reality. While African-Americans exercised the right to vote in the years after the amendment’s passage in 1870, discriminatory measures like literacy tests, poll taxes, and grandfather clauses were soon implemented across the country to deprive them of the vote. Thus in 1965 civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. made voter registration the core of their efforts, centering the campaign on the particularly discriminatory Selma, AL. On March 7th - 'Bloody Sunday’ - as the six hundred unarmed marchers were crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge, they were descended upon by state troopers who viciously beat the protestors. The violence encountered by these peaceful marchers, which was captured on television and broadcast around the world, led to national outcry and caused President Johnson to publicly call for the passage of his administration’s proposed voting rights bill. After securing the support of federal troops, another march was held on March 21st, and with the protection of soldiers the marchers managed to arrive in Montgomery after three days. The marchers were met in Montgomery - the epicentre of the movement and the site of the 1954 bus boycott - by 50,000 supporters, who were addressed by King. Their efforts were rewarded when, in August of that year, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act that ensured all Americans could vote. This was one of the crowning achievements of the Civil Rights Movement, and the Selma to Montgomery march is commemorated as one of the most important moments of the struggle.

“We are on the move and no wave of racism can stop us. The burning of our churches will not deter us. The bombing of our homes will not dissuade us. We are on the move now…not even the marching of mighty armies can halt us. We are moving to the land of freedom
- King’s 'Address at the Conclusion of the Selma to Montgomery March’ - 25th March, 1965

50 years ago today

“Madame C.J. Walker…with her niece Anjetta Breedlove, Alice Kelby and Lucy Flint, forewoman and secretary at the Madame C.J. Company.”

Madame C.J. Walker was born 146 years ago today on December 23, 1867. In 1906, Walker and her husband moved from Louisiana to Colorado, where she started making and marketing hair products for African-American women. Walker’s products included the “Wonderful Hair Grower” and the hot comb.  

Walker broke many new grounds during her lifetime. She became the first woman to sell products via mail order; the first woman to have her own beauty school, and the first to have chain of beauty parlors throughout the United States, South America, and the Caribbean. In 1914, Walker’s company grossed more than a million dollars. Not only was she the first African-American millionaire, Walker also became the first self-made female millionaire. For more information on Madame C.J. Walker and her legacy, visit Digital Schomburg.

Photo Credit: NYPL Digital Collection 

HERStory Matters: Civil rights activist Patricia Stephens Due was born on December 9, 1939.

Patricia Gloria Stephens was born in Quincy, Fla., and grew up primarily in Belle Glade, Fla. She began her life of activism at 13, when she refused to go to the “colored” section of an ice cream stand. In 1959, she and her sister learned about nonviolent forms of protest at a meeting of the Congress of Racial Equality in Miami. The sisters established a chapter of CORE at Florida A&M and became two of the leading women on the front lines of civil rights demonstrations in the South.

Mrs. Due was a 20-year-old student at Florida A&M University when she and her older sister Priscilla joined a series of sit-ins at a Woolworth’s store in Tallahassee. They hoped to end the store’s policy of serving only white customers at its lunch counter.
On Feb. 20, 1960, the two sisters and nine other demonstrators were met by a phalanx of police officers at the Woolworth’s and arrested. They were convicted of disorderly conduct and sentenced to either a $300 fine or 60 days in jail. The sisters and several others chose to go to jail. They drew attention to their cause by staging what came to be known as a “jail-in” and refusing to pay any bail or fines. They remained in Leon County Jail for 49 days.

Mrs. Due and her fellow prisoners in Tallahassee received encouragement from former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, baseball star Jackie Robinson, and civil rights and cultural figures James Baldwin and Harry Belafonte. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. sent a telegram, in which he wrote: “As you suffer the inconvenience of remaining in jail, please remember that unearned suffering is redemptive. I assure you that your valiant witness is one of the glowing epics of our time and you are bringing all of America nearer to the threshold of the world’s bright tomorrows.” Once they were released, Mrs. Due and her sister went on a nationwide speaking tour.

Soon after the lunch-counter demonstration, Mrs. Due led a march of 1,000 Florida A&M students toward the downtown business district of Tallahassee, only to have a police officer throw a canister of tear gas in her face. Temporarily blinded, she suffered permanent damage to her eyes and would wear dark glasses, indoors and out, for the rest of her life.

She was later sentenced to six months in jail for attempting to integrate a Tallahassee movie theater in 1963. She watched as her sister was kicked in the stomach by a police officer while leading a “wade-in” at a public swimming pool reserved for white residents. As a result, local officials closed the pools for four years rather than allow them to be integrated.

In 1964, Due was selected by CORE to serve as Field Secretary for the organization’s first voter education and registration project in North Florida. Due’s North Florida CORE Project registered more Blacks than any other region of the South. She continued to be involved with protest marches and boycotts after her successful voting rights work. Although, she was suspended several times from FAMU for her activism, her speaking and fund-raising tours also interfered with her studies. Due did not receive her degree until 1967.

Mrs. Due continued her crusade for civil rights after settling in Miami with her husband, civil rights lawyer John D. Due Jr. Over the years, Due she gave lectures, presentations, enactments and workshops on civil rights history to thousands of high school and college students, parents, teachers and to church and civic groups across the country.

Due co-authored with her daughter Tananarive Due (who is an award-winning author in her own right), “Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights,” published in 2003 - The book is both a detailed history of the 1960’s civil rights activism in Tallahassee and across Florida and a personal, intimate and painful look at the sacrifices and consequences to one family who gave their lives to the Civil Rights Movement and progress. (Mrs. Due had a total of three daughters, two of which followed in their father’s footsteps and became attorneys.)

Patricia Stephens Due passed away on February 7, 2012.

Photo: Patricia Stephens (later Due) being arrested by Tallahassee Police (May 30, 1963).

On this day, 52 years ago, Frantz Fanon passed away. A psychiatrist, Pan-Africanist, writer, and revolutionary, he was born in Martinique in 1925. In 1952 he published “Black Skin, White Masks,” which exposed the negative effects of colonization on the mental state of subjugated people. As a psychiatrist in Algeria, he joined the FLN (National Liberation Front), which waged a war of independence against France. In 1961, Fanon published The Wretched of the Earth, a book on decolonization that has remained a classic and has influenced revolutionaries the world over, including Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, Che Guevara, and Steve Biko, founder of the Black Consciousness movement. Fanon died in Maryland, where he had sought treatment for leukemia, and was buried in Algeria.

Photo Credit: NYPL


December 1st 1955: Rosa Parks on the bus

On this day in 1955, Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old black seamstress from Alabama, refused to give up her seat on a bus for a white man. A member of the NAACP, Parks was returning home from a long day at work when the bus driver ordered her to give up her seat on the full bus for a white man. No stranger to civil rights activism, she was subsequently arrested for civil disobedience in defying the state’s Jim Crow racial segregation laws. Through this act of defiance, Parks sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, during which time African-Americans - under the leadership of a young, charismatic reverend called Martin Luther King Jr. - refused to use the city buses, arguing that they should be integrated per the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. The boycott was successful in forcing Montgomery to end its discriminatory segregation laws, and marked the beginning of the main phase of what is now known as the Civil Rights Movement. From Montgomery, African-Americans across the United States went on to lead sit-ins, freedom rides, and political marches, in an attempt to bring an end to segregation laws which had oppressed their community for so long. These activists were all indebted to Rosa Parks - known as the ‘mother of the Civil Rights Movement’ - for her simple act of defiance, firmly asserting her humanity and her rights as an American citizen. As the movement grew, Parks remained an influential symbol and leader of the movement, which ultimately brought an end to legal segregation and forced Congress to pass the 1964 Civil Rights and 1965 Voting Rights Acts. As for Parks herself, the affair of her arrest and the subsequent boycott caused her to lose her job and made her a victim of harassment and threats. She moved to Detriot and in 1965 began to work in the office of Congressman John Conyers. In 1999, Rosa Parks was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for her role in transforming American race relations, and upon her death in 2005 she lay in state at the U.S. Capitol. Today, 60 years on, we remember Rosa Parks’s personal bravery, the successes of the movement she inspired, and the steps yet to be taken as the struggle against systemic racism continues.

“People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day…No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in”

60 years ago today

On August 30, 1983, Dr. Guion Stewart “Guy” Bluford, Jr. became the first African American in space.

Bluford, pictured, had earned his M.S. and PhD in aerospace engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology. He flew the space shuttle, performed various experiments and aided in the launch of a $45 million weather and communications satellite for India. During this first mission with more to come, launched from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, Bluford received a call from Ronald Reagan in which he said, “You will serve as a role model for so many others and be so inspirational.”

Today In Black Music History for October 21st

1917 - Jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie who, along with Charlie Parker, was a major figure in the development of bebop and modern jazz, is born John Birks Gillespie in Cheraw, South Carolina

1941 - Steve “The Colonel” Cropper, a guitarist and producer for Stax Records and a member of Booker T & the MG’s is born in Willow Springs, Missouri. Steve co-wrote “Knock On Wood” with Eddie Floyd, “In the Midnight Hour” with Wilson Pickett and “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” with Otis Redding. Cropper is the Steve referenced in the line “Play it Steve” in Sam & Dave’s “Soul Man”

1944 - The Mills Brothers’ “You Always Hurt the One You Love” returns to the top of Billboard’s “Best Seller in Stores” chart, staying there for two weeks.

1972 - “Super Fly”, The soundtrack album from themovie of the same name, reaches the top spot on Billboard’s Hot 200 Album chart.


February 21st 1965: Malcolm X assassinated

On this day in 1965, African-American civil rights leader Malcolm X was assassinated aged 39. Born as Malcolm Little in Nebraska in 1925, his family were forced to relocate when the Ku Klux Klan threatened his father, who was active in the black nationalist movement. Malcolm’s father was ultimately murdered by white supremacists - but the white police insisted it was suicide - and the family disintegrated. The young Malcolm dropped out of school and became involved in crime, eventually going to prison for burglary in 1946. While imprisoned, he was exposed to the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam, who argued that the white man is the devil and cannot live peaceably with blacks, who should establish a separate black nation. Malcolm was powerfully affected by this ideology, and changed his last name to reject the ‘slave’ name he had been given. After his release from prison, Malcolm X became a preacher in New York, calling for black self-defence against white aggression. His eloquent advocacy of black nationalism and the neccessity of securing civil rights “by any means necessary”, including violence, made him a respected, but also feared, figure. Malcolm X was feared by white and black Americans, as some civil rights activists worried that his more radical message threatened the strategy of non-violence espoused by Martin Luther King Jr.. While his fame contributed to the Nation of Islam’s growing popularity, Malcolm began to split from the organisation, disillusioned by Elijah Muhammad’s hypocrisy and alleged corruption. He formally left the organisation in 1964, and visited Mecca, an experience which tempered his rhetoric and led him to abandon the argument that whites are devils. At this point, Malcolm changed his name to El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, returning to America influenced by socialism and pan-Africanism and more hopeful for a peaceful resolution to America’s race problems. As he was preparing to speak at a rally for his recently-founded Organisation of Afro-American Unity at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City, Malcolm X was shot 15 times by three members of the Nation of Islam. In death, his legacy loomed large over the civil rights movement, and African-American activists increasingly urged black power for black people. Malcolm X remains one of the most famous and respected figures of the civil rights movement, and his seminal autobiography is considered one of the most important books of the twentieth century.

“We declare our right on this earth to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.”

“We prefer poverty in liberty than riches in slavery.”

- Ahmed Sekou Toure

On October 2, 1958, the Republic of Guinea, under Ahmed Sekou Toure, gained independence from France. Toure, pictured, became the Republic of Guinea’s first president. 

Read more about the Guinea independence here.

Image Source: Photographs and Prints Division, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, The New York Public Library