April – This Month In Black American History
By Guest Blogger Yahtzeebutterfly
April 1, 1949 – Spoken-word, jazz/blues poet Gil Scott-Heron was born in Chicago, Illinois
See Xena’s excellent article, The Gift of Gil Scott Heron – Seeing the Present In The Past.
April 2, 1939 – Birth of singer and songwriter Marvin Gaye in Washington, D.C.
April 4, 1928 – Poet and author Maya Angelou was born in St. Louis, Missouri.
In case you missed her moving tribute to Nelson Mandela, here it is:
April 4, 1968 – Martin Luther King was assassinated.
Every time another anniversary of Martin Luther King’s untimely death comes around, there is an echo in my mind of him speaking about how he might not get to the “promised land” of brotherhood, equality, and social justice but that he had seen “the promised land” with all of its beauty from the mountaintop overlooking it. Today, we are still not there. It is a land that my heart yearns for. It is a land that requires all of our fellow citizens’ hearts to yearn for before our arrival there is possible. Hearts need to change and feel the qualities of that “promised land.” It is actually a promise that we must give to each other before arrival is ever possible.
April 4, 1967 – Exactly one year before his death, Martin Luther King delivered his “Beyond Vietnam” speech.
April 5, 1856 – Educator and author Booker T. Washington was born in Virginia as a slave.
He became a leader in the African American community, the first president of the Tuskegee Industrial Institute in Alabama, and a advisor to many U.S. presidents.
April 7, 1965 saw the beginning of many civil rights marches (which continued through the summer months) in Bogalusa, Louisiana for voting rights, for inclusion on political committees, for equal police protection, for an end to racial segregation and an end to exclusion from public accommodations including restaurants, for equal job opportunity, and for an end to discriminatory hiring practices at the Crown-Zellerbach paper mill which was the major employer in town.
At one of these marches an ugly-hearted white woman held this sign:
This Bogalusa Movement, which took place in a town with such a high concentration of KKK members that some have labeled it “Klantown USA,” was met with white violence including beatings by mobs as well as by police, shootings, cross burnings, spraying with fire hoses, setting of fires, and other forms of intimidation. Because of the dangerous violence against the Black protest community, a chapter of the self-defense group of Blacks called “The Deacons for Defense” was formed in Bogalusa. For an understanding of this self-defense organization see this three minute video:
See Seth Hague’s paper for an in-depth history the Bogalusa Movement.
April 7, 1915 – Birth of Billie Holiday, the talented blues & jazz singer and songwriter well known for the songs ”GOD Bless The Child” and “Strange Fruit.”
Ms. Holiday captures the horror of lynching as she sings “Strange Fruit” with such heartbreaking emotion that there is no escape for me. The chilling atrocities committed by the beastly mobs is related in her every pause, emphasis, change of volume and the tone of her voice. Listening to it sears my being as I consider the many modern-day killings and beatings of innocent, unarmed Black victims. The lyrics of the poem, written and published by teacher Abel Mere in 1937, were first sung and recorded by Billie Holiday in 1939. The song has been sung by many artists, but for me, her version here leaves me haunted and deeply shaken more than I can even express through words:
People, from Ida B. Wells beginning in the 1890s to civil rights organizations in the 1900s to Albert Einstein in the 1940s marched, spoke out, wrote letters and petitioned the Federal Government to enact anti-lynching legislation. Despite the lobbying of Congress by seven presidents for anti-lynching legislation and despite three anti-lynching bills passing the House of Representatives, the bills were always crushed by the U.S. Senate.
Finally, in 2005, with the support of 75% or 80% (noting sadly that it was not 100%) of the U.S. Senate, an anti-lynching apology resolution was passed. Writing for the Washington Post, Avis Thomas-Lester informed readers that “In passing the measure, the senators in essence admitted that their predecessors’ failures to act had helped perpetuate a horror that took the lives of more than 4,700 people from 1882 to 1968, most of them black men.”
After the Anti-Lynching Apology Resolution was passed, senators Mary Landrieu, John Kerry, George Allen, and others who were part of the moving force to bring about and pass the resolution held this press conference where also present were many family members of lynching victims as well as an elderly man who had escaped being lynched the day his two brothers were lynched. Here is the video of that press conference:
In 2005, then a Senator, Barack Obama delivered a speech supporting the Anti-Lynching Apology Resolution:
April 9, 1866 – The Civil Rights Act of 1866 was passed by Congress over President Andrew Johnson’s veto.
April 9, 1898 – Singer and actor Paul Robeson was born in Princeton, New Jersey.
April 10, 1947 – Jackie Robinson signs with the Brooklyn Dodgers becoming the first African American to play Major League Baseball.
April 11, 1899 – Birth of Chemist Percy Lavon Julian in Montgomery, Alabama.
According to Wikipedia:
“ Percy Lavon Julian was an African American research chemist and a pioneer in the chemical synthesis of medicinal drugs from plants. He was the first to synthesize the natural product physostigmine, and a pioneer in the industrial large-scale chemical synthesis of the human hormones progesterone and testosterone from plant sterols such as stigmasterol and sitosterol. His work laid the foundation for the steroid drug industry’s production of cortisone, other corticosteroids, and birth control pills.”
April 11 1968 – President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act of 1968, prohibiting discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing. According to Wikipedia,
“The law is passed following a series of Open Housing campaigns throughout the urban North, the most significant being the 1966 Chicago Open Housing Movement and the organized events in Milwaukee during 1967–68. In both cities, angry white mobs had attacked nonviolent protesters.”
April 13, 1946 – R&B singer Al Green was born this day in Forrest City, Arkansas.
April 15, 1889 – Birth of A. Philip Randolph, labor leader, president of the Sleeping Car Porters union, and civil rights advocate who helped organize the 1963 March on Washington.
(Two minute documentary video,“A Philip Randolph: For Jobs and Freedom”)
April 18 – Birth of James McCune Smith, who the first African American to receive a medical degree. He was very active in the abolition of slavery movement.
(Video “Danny Glover as James McCune Smith”)
April 21, 1924 – Gospel singer Clara Ward was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
April 22, 1964 – Civil Rights protest by members of CORE takes place at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York:
Civil Rights demonstrators picketed in front of the entrance to the fair as well as at the entrances to the pavilions. During President Lyndon B. Johnson’s opening address, protestors shouted, “Jim Crow Must Go!” and “Freedom Now!” The Congress for Racial Equality planned the demonstration knowing that the media would be present and hoped their message would be carried nationally to the American public.
At the World’s Fair, CORE leader James Farmer proclaimed:
“For every new car that is shown at the World’s Fair, we will submit a cattle prod. For every piece of bright chrome that is on display, we will show the charred remains of an Alabama church. And for the grand and great steel Unisphere, we’ll submit our bodies from all over the country as witnesses against the Northern ghetto and Southern brutality.” James Farmer with others blocked the door to the New York City pavilion, saying it was a “symbolic act, in the same way…that Negroes have been blocked from good jobs, houses and schools in the city.”
April 23, 1956 – The U.S. Supreme Court affirms the ruling of a federal appellate court which struck down the law of segregated seating on buses.
April 23, 1856 – Inventor, Granville T. Woods was born in Columbus, Ohio.
Mr. Woods had more than 50 patents in his name. Wikipedia informs that “In 1885, Woods patented an apparatus which was a combination of a telephone and a telegraph. The device, which he called ‘telegraphony’, would allow a telegraph station to send voice and telegraph messages over a single wire. He sold the rights to this device to the American Bell Telephone Company. In 1887, he patented the Synchronous Multiplex Railway Telegraph which allowed communications between train stations from moving trains, a technology pioneered by Lucius Phelps in 1884.”
(”GTW-Granville T. Woods Mini-Documentary”)
April 26, 1886 – Legendary blues singer Gertrude “Ma” Raney was born in Columbus, Ohio.
April 26, 1948 – Electrical engineer and inventor Jesse Russell was born and grew up in Nashville, Tennessee.
According to Wikipedia:
“Jesse Eugene Russell is an American inventor. Trained as an electrical engineer at Tennessee State University and Stanford University… [his] innovations in wireless communication systems, architectures and technology related to radio access networks, end-user devices and in-building wireless communication systems have fundamentally changed the wireless communication industry. Known for his patented invention of the digital cellular base station, that enabled new digital services for cellular mobile users, Russell continues to innovate in the emerging next generation broadband wireless communication technologies, products, networks, and services as well as “Mobile Cloud Computing” which are shaping the forefront of the 4G Communication Industry.”