May – This Month In Black American History

By Guest Blogger, Yahtzeebutterfly

In addition to this post, as the month continues, Yahtzeebutterfly adds historical information to the comment section.


May 1, 1930 – Little Walter in Marksville, Louisiana.

From Wikipedia:

 “Marion Walter Jacobs, known as Little Walter, was an American blues musician, singer, and songwriter, whose revolutionary approach to the harmonica and impact on succeeding generations earned him comparisons to such seminal artists as Django Reinhardt, Charlie Parker and Jimi Hendrix. His virtuosity and musical innovations fundamentally altered many listeners’ expectations of what was possible on blues harmonica.”


Video (“Little Walter R&R Hall of Fame film”) :


May 3, 1933 – Singer and songwriter James Brown was born in Bardwell, South Carolina.

Trailer video to movie biography of James Brown titled Get On Up :

May 6, 1983Gabourney Sidibe, American actress who made her acting debut in the 2009 film Precious, a role that brought her a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress.

May 9, 1897 – Radiologist and writer Rudolph Fisher was born in Washington, D.C.


Rudolph Fisher

From Wikipedia:

“Rudolph Fisher was an African-American physician, radiologist, novelist, short story writer, dramatist, musician, and orator. His parents were John Wesley Fisher, a clergyman, and Glendora Williamson. Fisher had three children.”

“His first published work, ‘City of Refuge’, appeared in the ‘Atlantic Monthly of February 1925. He went on in 1932 to write “The Conjure-Man Dies”, the first novel with a black detective as well as the first detective novel with only black characters. Fisher was also a physician, dramatist, musician and orator. He was an active participant in the Harlem Renaissance, primarily as a novelist, but also as a musician.”



May 11, 1895 – Classical Composer William Grant Still was born in Woodville, Mississippi.

From Wikipedia:

 “William Grant Still was an American composer, who in his lifetime composed more than 150 pieces of music, including 5 symphonies and 8 operas. “

“Often referred to as ‘the Dean’ of African-American composers, Still was the first American born composer of any race to have an opera produced by a major opera company. He was the first African American to conduct a major American symphony orchestra, the first to have a symphony (his first symphony) performed by a leading orchestra, the first to have an opera performed by a major opera company, and the first to have an opera performed on national television. His first symphony was also at one time the most widely performed symphony by an American composer.”


Video (“ William Grant Still – Violin Suite 2nd mvt “Mother and Child” by J. Patrick Rafferty”) :



May 13, 1950 – Stevie Wonder. Happy Birthday, Mr. Wonder!

Stevie Wonder documentary video:


May 15, 1938 – Diane Nash, one of the founding members of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), in Chicago, Illinois.

From Wikipedia:

 “Diane Judith Nash is an American civil rights activist, and a leader and strategist of the student wing of the Civil Rights Movement. Her efforts included the first successful civil rights campaign to integrate lunch counters (Nashville); the Freedom Riders, who desegregated interstate travel; and co-initiating the Alabama Voting Rights Project and working on the Selma Voting Rights Movement. This helped gain Congressional passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which authorized the federal government to oversee and enforce state practices to ensure that African Americans and other minorities were not prevented from registering and voting.” 

Interview with Diane Nash:


May 16, 1966 – Janet Damita Jo Jackson. Singer, songwriter, dancer, actress, and a family member of the Jackson 5.

May 19, 1925 – Birth of Malcolm X in Omaha, Nebraska

(Denzel Washington as Malcolm X)




May 26, 1927 – Trumpeter and jazz composer Miles Davis was born in Alton, Illinois.

Video of movie trailer for the Miles Davis Story :


May 27, 1898 – David Crosthwait

David-CrosthwaitFrom Wikipedia:

“David Crosthwait was an African-American mechanical and electrical engineer, inventor, and writer. He was born in the city of Nashville, Tennessee. In the 1920s and 1930s Crosthwait invented a vacuum pump, a boiler, and a thermostat control, all for more effective heating systems for larger buildings. Some of his greatest accomplishments were for creating the heating systems for the Rockefeller Center and New York’s Radio City Music Hall.”




Judicial Decisions


May 17, 1954 – Brown v. Board of Education decision by the U.S. Supreme Court mandating the desegregation of U.S. public schools

For those of you who may wish to gain an understanding of how the case of Brown v. The Board of Education was brought before the Supreme Court, I highly recommend the movie “Separate But Equal” starring Sidney Poitier. Here is the movie trailer for it:


May 18, 1896 – Plessy v. Ferguson decision that allowed discrimination against Black passengers on trains.  This decision which used the phrase “separate but equal” in describing how segregated public facilities were to be maintained.   The result of this decision led to the passage of a myriad of Jim Crow laws all over the South and laws intended to suppress the voting rights of Black citizens.

Douglas Blackmon writes of Plessy v. Ferguson that

“On its face, the ruling sanctioned only the newly conceived concept of ‘separate but equal’ public facilities for blacks and whites.  But its actual import was vastly greater.  ‘Plessy v. Ferguson’ legitimized the contemptuous attitudes of whites [towards Blacks].” (p. 110 of Slavery By Another Name)


The Fight For Equal Rights

Prayer P leafletA200 Flyer%2C 1957 Prayer Pilgrimage LC loan-240x320

May 17, 1957 –  Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom rally held in Washington, DC on the third anniversary of Brown v. The Board of Education.  It was at this event that Martin Luther King delivered his “Give Us the Ballot” speech.  You can read his speech at King Encyclopedia.

May 21, 1968 – The Poor People’s Campaign for jobs and economic justice began in Washington, DC.

Video (“ March on Poverty | Resurrection City”) :


May 29, 1851 – Abolitionist and women’s rights advocate Sojourner Truth delivered her speech titled “Ain’t I A Woman?”

( Sojourner’s speech performed magnificently by Pat Theriault at Kansas State University):


From Wikipedia:

“Sojourner Truth; born Isabella (“Bell”) Baumfree; (c. 1797 – November 26, 1883) was an African-American abolitionist and women’s rights activist. Truth was born into slavery in Swartekill, Ulster County, New York, but escaped with her infant daughter to freedom in 1826. After going to court to recover her son, in 1828 she became the first black woman to win such a case against a white man.”


The Destruction of Black Wall Street

May 31, 1921 – Tulsa Riot of White mob that destroys “Black Wall Street”

A white mob set fire to the economically-thriving Black community in Tulsa, Oklahoma destroying 35 city blocks leaving about 10,000 African Americans homeless, destroying two Black hospitals, and killing at least 39 Black Americans. (Some estimate that number to be between 55 to 300.)


Yahtzeebutterfly invites you to contribute events, snippets, and/or information in the comment section.

Posted on 05/07/2016, in Black History Month and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 38 Comments.

  1. yahtzeebutterfly

    Happy Birthday, Clarke Peters!

    From Wikipedia:

    “Clarke Peters (born April 7, 1952) is an American actor, singer, writer and director best known for his roles as detective Lester Freamon and Albert “Big Chief” Lambreaux on the HBO dramas The Wire and Treme, respectively. More recently, Peters has portrayed Alonzo Quinn on the CBS crime drama Person of Interest and Isaiah Page on The Divide.”

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thank you for this!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. yahtzeebutterfly

    Today, on May 8, 2016, I send Mother’s Day greetings 🙂 to mothers in our community here, and I pause to reflect on a past civil rights event that occurred on Mother’s Day:

    On Mother’s Day in 1961 (May 14) Freedom Riders, who were testing the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling mandating the desegregation of interstate transportation facilities, were victims of a white mob’s vicious attack at the Trailways bus station in Birmingham, Alabama.

    CBS correspondent Howard K. Smith described the horrific beatings:

    “…toughs grabbed the passengers into alleys and corridors, pounding them with pipes with key rings, and with fists. One passenger was knocked down at my feet by twelve of the hoodlums, and his face was beaten and kicked until it was a bloody pulp.”
    ( From page 146 of John Lewis’ book Walking With the Wind )

    Even the media was attacked. A Birmingham Post-Herald photographer was assaulted with a club and his camera was smashed. A radio reporter broadcasting from his vehicle was dragged out into the street and his car windows were smashed and microphone ripped out.

    For fifteen minutes the attack went on without police intervention. According to John Lewis:

    We all would learn later that word about the Freedom Riders’ arrival had been circulating around Birmingham for more than a week and this had been a planned attack. Testimony presented before the U.S. Congress years later described the local Klan leaders conferring with the Birmingham police in advance of the riders’ arrival and actually receiving a promise that their mob would be given enough time to freely attack the passengers before the police moved in.

    That day, though, when Birmingham’s chief of police—a man named Eugene “Bull” Connor—was asked why there were no police at the station when the bus arrived, he answered that it was Mother’s Day. “We try to let off as many of our policemen as possible,” he said to the reporters gathered around him, “so they can spend Mother’s Day at home with their families.”

    ( From page 147 of Walking With the Wind )


  4. yahtzeebutterfly

    On May 9, 1961 John Lewis was savagely beaten when he and other Freedom Riders attempted to enter the white waiting room at the Greyhound Bus station in Rock Hill, South Carolina.

    In 2009 Edwin Wilson, one of his attackers, apologized to Rep. John Lewis:


  5. yahtzeebutterfly

    After days of non-violent demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama where children protestors were met with police dogs and firehoses trained upon and then arrested and jailed, an agreement/truce with the city of Birmingham was signed and announced by Rev. Martin Luther King and Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth on May 10, 1963 :

    The “Birmingham Truce Agreement”
    1. Fitting rooms desegregated within 3 days of the protests ending.
    2. The removal of Jim Crow signs from washrooms, restrooms, and drinking fountains within 30 days of the establishment of the new city government.
    3. Lunch counter desegregation within 60 days of the new city government.
    4. “A Program of Upgrading Negro Employment”
    5. Creation of a committee on Racial Problems and Employment within 15 days of the cessation of demonstrations.
    6. The release of those who had been arrested

    (cited on the “Childrenofprojectc’s Weebly page)

    In his speech MLK expressed the hope that they were entering “a new day” where people no longer feared to openly speak the and “no longer cringe before the threats of misguided men” and look forward to “continued progress” toward equality in the areas of rights, job opportunities, and access to public facilities. You can see the 4-page press release on the King Center’s site:

    White supremacists including “Bull” Connor, who had directed the brutal police and firefighters’ response to the demonstrators, responded angrily to the agreement:

    While most of the city’s African Americans took a wait-and-see attitude toward the settlement, white leaders publicly fumed about it and denied that any agreement with agitators was binding on them. Connor called the agreement “the lyingest face-saving” statement ever issued…

    (from page 393 of a biography of the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth titled A Fire You Can’t Put Out )


  6. yahtzeebutterfly

    I think I will just share quotations today.


  7. yahtzeebutterfly

    On May 12, 1871 a 12-year-old African American boarded a streetcar in Louisville, Kentucky and sat down with the white passengers. At the time Blacks were protesting the segregation policy of the streetcar company.

    To find out what happened to the 12-year-old and the “ride-in” campaign, see the article at this link:


  8. yahtzeebutterfly

    Joe Louis, born on May 13, 1914 in Chambers County, Alabama, was the world heavyweight boxing champion from 1937 to 1949.


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  10. yahtzeebutterfly

    On May 14, 1961 the interstate Greyhound bus carrying Freedom Riders firebombed by a white mob in Anniston, Alabama.

    In the following video Jan Forsyth Mckinney tells what she witnessed that day as a 12-year-old:

    In his book Walking With the Wind John Lewis tells how that bus earlier had escaped the Anniston terminal where it had been met and surrounded by white men holding bricks, clubs and metal pipes. As the bus driver sped out of the station with his Freedom-Rider passengers, the rear tires of the bus were slashed. It was only six miles before the flattened tires caused the bus, which had been followed by dozens of cars, to roll to a stop. The driver opened the door and escaped before the mob arrived and surrounded the crippled bus. John Lewis learned from those Freedom Riders on the bus that:

    “Meanwhile the mob arrived, two hundred of them, circling the bus and smashing the windows. They tugged at the door, which had been pulled shut. They screamed at the riders, who were sprawled on the floor of the bus, avoiding the flying glass.

    “Then someone in the crowd hurled a firebomb, a Molotov cocktail, through the back window. As thick smoke and flames began to fill the bus, the riders rushed to the door and found they couldn’t open it. The mob was now pushing the door shut, trapping the people inside.

    “At that point a passenger in the front of the bus pulled a pistol and waved it at the crowd outside. He was a white man. His name was Eli Cowling. He was an Alabama state investigator who had been traveling undercover to keep an eye on the riders. Now it was no longer a priority for him to keep his identity secret. His life was on the line along with everyone else’s on the bus.

    “The crowd backed off. Out the emergency exit door, led by Al Bigelow, tumbled the riders, choking and coughing. One by one they fell to the grass, the last one climbing out just as the bus was rocked by a blast—the fuel tank exploding.

    “Now the mob moved in, still cautious because of Cowling’s pistol, but pecking around the edges, like birds darting at a wounded animal. Henry Thomas, whose larger size was usually a deterrent, was clubbed as he staggered away from the bus; somebody swung a baseball bat into the side of his head. Genevieve Hughes had her lip split open. Rocks and bricks were heaved from people in the crowd too afraid to come closer.

    “Finally, Alabama state troopers arrived with their weapons pulled. The crowd dispersed. No arrests were made.”

    From pages 147-8 of Walking With the Wind


  11. yahtzeebutterfly

    May 15, 1946 – Opera singer Camilla Williams appeared with the New York City Opera in the lead role of “Madame Butterfly.”

    “Uploaded on Feb 22, 2012 by Richard Glazier
    Camilla Williams passed away on Jan. 29th, 2012 at the age of 92. Camilla broke the color barrier in opera when she debuted in Madame Butterfly with the NYC Opera in May of 1946. She was one of my closest and dearest friends.”


  12. yahtzeebutterfly

    May 16, 1997 – Presidential apology to Survivor of Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment
    Excerpt from President Bill Clinton’s speech:

    ” today America does remember the hundreds of men used in research without their knowledge and consent. We remember them and their family members. Men who were poor and African American, without resources and with few alternatives, they believed they had found hope when they were offered free medical care by the United States Public Health Service. They were betrayed.

    “Medical people are supposed to help when we need care, but even once a cure was discovered, they were denied help, and they were lied to by their government. Our government is supposed to protect the rights of its citizens; their rights were trampled upon. Forty years, hundreds of men betrayed, along with their wives and children, along with the community in Macon County, Alabama, the City of Tuskegee, the fine university there, and the larger African American community.

    The United States government did something that was wrong — deeply, profoundly, morally wrong. It was an outrage to our commitment to integrity and equality for all our citizens.

    “To the survivors, to the wives and family members, the children and the grandchildren, I say what you know: No power on Earth can give you back the lives lost, the pain suffered, the years of internal torment and anguish. What was done cannot be undone. But we can end the silence. We can stop turning our heads away. We can look at you in the eye and finally say on behalf of the American people, what the United States government did was shameful, and I am sorry. (Applause.)”

    The full transcript of the Presidential Apology can be found at this link:

    Video of the event at the White House:


  13. yahtzeebutterfly

    May 17, 1988 – Dr. Patricia E. Bath patented the Laserphaco Probe device which used laser technology to remove cataracts.


  14. yahtzeebutterfly

    May 18, 1946 Happy Birthday Reggie Jackson!


  15. yahtzeebutterfly

    May 19, 1930 – Birth of writer and playwright Lorraine Hansberry

    From Wikipedia:

    ”Lorraine Vivian Hansberry (May 19, 1930 – January 12, 1965) …was the first black woman to write a play performed on Broadway. Her best known work, the play “A Raisin in the Sun,” highlights the lives of Black Americans living under racial segregation in Chicago.

    “Hansberry’s family had struggled against segregation, challenging a restrictive covenant and eventually provoking the Supreme Court case Hansberry v. Lee. The title of the play was taken from the poem “Harlem” by Langston Hughes: “What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?”

    “After she moved to New York City, Hansberry worked at the Pan-Africanist newspaper Freedom, where she dealt with intellectuals such as Paul Robeson and W. E. B. Du Bois. Much of her work during this time concerned the African struggle for liberation and their impact on the world. Hansberry has been identified as a lesbian, and sexual freedom is an important topic in several of her works. She died of cancer at the age of 34. Hansberry inspired Nina Simone’s song “To Be Young, Gifted and Black”.


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  17. yahtzeebutterfly

    It is May 20, 2016. Past and present history is coming together today.

    Congressman John Lewis, who as a civil rights Freedom Rider was beaten at the Montgomery bus terminal 55 years ago on May 20, 1961, is giving the 155th commencement speech today at St. Louis Washington University, where a walkout by its students occurred August 25, 2014 “to take a stand in the Michael Brown case and the underlying systemic injustices people of color face.”

    It is as if this momentous coming together of history was heralded by the heavens just a week ago when a double rainbow appeared above the Brookings Quadrangle where commencement will be taking place today:

    Commencement ceremonies which begin at 8:30 am CT will be live streamed at this link:


  18. yahtzeebutterfly

    May 21, 1959 Happy Birthday Loretta Lynch!


  19. yahtzeebutterfly

    May 22, 1923 – Birth of singer Faye Adams in Newark, New Jersey

    From Wikipedia:

    Faye Adams (born Fanny Tuell ) is an American singer who recorded rhythm and blues in the 1950s before retiring from the music business.

    She was born in Newark, New Jersey to David Tuell, a gospel singer and a key figure in the Church of God in Christ. At the age of five she joined her sisters to sing spirituals, regularly appearing on Newark radio shows.

    Under her married name, Faye Scruggs, she became a regular performer in New York nightclubs in the late 1940s and early 1950s. While performing in Atlanta, Georgia, she was discovered by singer Ruth Brown, who won her an audition with bandleader Joe Morris of Atlantic Records. Having changed Scruggs’s name to Faye Adams, Morris recruited her as a singer in 1952, and signed her to Herald Records. Her first release was Morris’s song “Shake a Hand”, which topped the US Billboard R&B chart for ten weeks in 1953, and made number 22 on the US pop chart.


  20. yahtzeebutterfly

    Happy Birthday Nat Adderley Jr. !

    From Wikipedia:

    Nat Adderley Jr. (born May 23, 1955) is an American pop and rhythm and blues music arranger and pianist who spent much of his music career arranging as music director for Luther Vandross tours and contributed as co-songwriter on most of Vandross’s albums.

    Published on Sep 4, 2015
    Paulette McWilliams and Nat Adderley Jr.. part of Luther Vandross’s band and Nat was the Music Director for over 20 years.. Here performing live with Vincent Herring, Belden Bullock and Vince Ector on drums… With a sold out audience in New York City.. May, 2015!! “


  21. yahtzeebutterfly


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  24. yahtzeebutterfly

    May 26, 1883 – Birth of vaudeville singer and dancer Mamie Smith in Cincinnati, Ohio.


  25. yahtzeebutterfly

    On May 27, 1942 Doris Miller was presented with the Navy Cross by Admiral Nimitz. the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet.

    The certificate that accompanied the medal noted:

    “For distinguished devotion to duty, extraordinary courage and disregard for his own personal safety during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, by Japanese forces on December 7, 1941. While at the side of his Captain on the bridge, Miller, despite enemy strafing and bombing and in the face of a serious fire, assisted in moving his Captain, who had been mortally wounded, to a place of greater safety, and later manned and operated a machine gun directed at enemy Japanese attacking aircraft until ordered to leave the bridge.”


  26. yahtzeebutterfly

    May 28, 1944 – Happy Birthday Gladys Knight!


  27. yahtzeebutterfly

    May 27, 1958 – Ernest Green, one of nine Black students who were the first to attend Little Rock High School received his high school diploma in an White-citizen atmosphere that still dripped of hostility and resistance toward the idea of Black students attending the high school.

    In her 1994 book Warriors Don’t Cry Melba Pattillo Beals, one of the Little Rock Nine, tells of all the vicious pressure put on Ernest Green by White students weeks before graduation:
    From page 299:

    ”LET’S KEEP THE NIGGER FROM GRADUATING.” That was the rallying cry in the halls of Central High that unleashed unimaginable terror upon us. Pressure was exerted on all eight of us; the goal was to get us out by any means possible. In case that plan failed, our antagonists worked at convincing us that even if Ernie had the grades to graduate, he should not march with the other seniors. “We ain’t gonna let no nigger wear our cap and gown,” one boy shouted at me as I walked the hallway to English class.

    From pages 295 and 296:

    One frightening development was a series of accusations that Ernie had a roving eye and was flirting with a particular white girl. That mortified us because we all knew it was an explosive lie that could get him killed and maybe us along with him. The rumor was spreading around the school and being used to fuel the protests by the Mothers’ League and the Citizens’ Council.

    It was apparent this was a desperate plan to entrap and get rid of him only days before his graduation. However, if they had known Ernie as I did, they would have thought of another way. Cool-headed and very much in command of himself, he wasn’t about to be caught in that trap. At every turn, he watched himself so that there could never be the slightest opportunity for confirming such accusations.

    Melba Pattillo Beals (on page 298) tells that security was beefed up on the day of Ernest Green’s graduation:

    Word also came that the FBI would be present at graduation because of threats of bombs and Ku Klux Klan activity planned to disrupt the ceremony. Little Rock police and armed federalized Arkansas Guardsmen would also be on hand to keep the peace.

    In this short video clip Ernest Green describes the atmosphere when he was presented with his high school diploma:


  28. yahtzeebutterfly

    On May 29, 1973 Tom Bradley was elected mayor of Los Angeles.

    Earlier in 1969 he ran for mayor. From Wikipedia:

    In 1969, Bradley first challenged incumbent Mayor Sam Yorty, a conservative Democrat (later Republican) though the election was nonpartisan. Armed with key endorsements (including the Los Angeles Times), Bradley held a substantial lead over Yorty in the primary, but was a few percentage points shy of winning the race outright. However, in the runoff, to the dismay of supporters such as Abigail Folger and Los Angeles area Congressman Alphonzo Bell, Yorty pulled an amazing come from behind victory to win reelection primarily because he played racial politics.

    Video (“Tom Bradley runs for mayor of LA-supported by the first coalition of black and white voters-1969”) :

    Finally in 1973 Tom Bradley unseated Yorty and became the 38th mayor of Los Angeles, serving for twenty years:


  29. yahtzeebutterfly

    May 30, 1903 – Birth of poet Countee Cullen

    Video of 3-year-old reciting Countee Cullen’s poem “Hey Black Child” :


  30. yahtzeebutterfly

    May 31, 1924 – Birth of Patricia Roberts Harris in Mattoon, Illinois. She was Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Jimmy Carter.


  31. yahtzeebutterfly

    May 31,1939 – Happy Birthday Al Young!

    From Wikipedia:

    Al Young… is an American poet, novelist, essayist, screenwriter, and professor. On May 15, 2005 he was named Poet Laureate of California by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. In appointing Young as Poet Laureate, the Governor praised him: “He is an educator and a man with a passion for the Arts. His remarkable talent and sense of mission to bring poetry into the lives of Californians is an inspiration.”

    Muriel Johnson, Director of the California Arts Council declared: “Like jazz, Al Young is an original American voice.” Young’s many books include novels, collections of poetry, essays, and memoirs. His work has appeared in literary journals and magazines including Paris Review, Ploughshares, Essence, The New York Times, Chicago Review, Seattle Review, Brilliant Corners: A Journal of Jazz & Literature, Chelsea, Rolling Stone, Gathering of the Tribes, and in anthologies including the Norton Anthology of African American Literature, and the Oxford Anthology of African American Literature.


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