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1805
The birth of Allen Light is celebrated on this date. He was a black sea mariner.

Born in Philadelphia he arrived in Santa Barbara, CA about 1830. Light hunted sea otters, gained Mexican citizenship and guarded the California coastline against American and Native American poachers. In part because of heavily depleted otter populations, the Mexican government instituted conservation laws in 1830 and prohibited foreigners from both hunting otters and participating in all coastal trade in Alta California.

George Nidever (a sea otter hunter) and Light got around these laws by hunting under the license of Captain William Goodwin Dana, a Bostonian who had migrated to Santa Barbara and acquired Mexican citizenship. In exchange for the use of his license and provisions, the otter hunters gave Captain Dana 40 percent of their catch. Hunting parties usually set out in groups of three canoes, each containing a gunman and two rowers. Once an otter was spotted, the hunter would stand at the head of the boat and shoot, aiming for the head to keep the precious pelt intact. Allen Light’s excellent marksmanship soon made him famous along the southern California coast.

Later in 1836, Light signed on as mercenary soldiers in Juan Bautista Alvarado’s revolutionary army. Unwilling to accept the Mexican government’s new centralist constitution, Alvarado marched into Los Angeles, and subdued the city without bloodshed. Alvarado appointed himself governor of California and paid Allen Light between $30 and $40 for his services. By 1839, Light had become a naturalized Mexican citizen. In January that year, Governor Alvarado ordered an investigation into reports of an unidentified ship seen hunting illegally near Santa Barbara. Light testified that he had seen the same ship, identified as the Llama, tracking otters, two years earlier. The same John Bancroft who had ordered the attack on Allen Light’s hunting party off Santa Rosa Island captained the ship.

That same year the Governor appointed Light “principal arbiter of the National Armada, assigned to the branch of Otter Fishing.” Light continued hunting sea otters for the next two years sometimes traveling to San Juan Capistrano. In 1842, he decided to settle in San Diego. Records indicate that Richard Freeman, also an African-American, bought a four-room, single story adobe house from Henry Fitch for $96 on February 10, 1847 and lived there with Allen Light. The Freeman-Light House stood on the west side of the plaza beside the Casa de Machado, and was said to have been a grog house or saloon. Light left San Diego in 1851.

In 1948, workers installing a heater in the Machado Chapel of Old Town discovered two documents buried behind two half-sized blocks of the adobe walls. Both of the papers revealed the life of Allen Light. The older of the two documents was issued by a notary public in New York on November 27, 1827 and described Light as “a Colored man aged about twenty-two years old, born in Philadelphia.” Commonly known as sailor protection papers, such a certificate could substitute for the “free papers” that states required Blacks to carry.

The Freeman-Light House became a part of Old Town State Park in 1967. Today, after over a century of being stashed in various hideaways, the Allen Light papers may be viewed at the San Diego Historical Society’s Research Archives.



1874
Arthur (also Arturo) Alfonso Schomburg was born on this date in San Juan, Puerto Rico. He was an African-American historian, writer and political activist.

Schomburg attended San Juan’s Institute of Instruction to become a teacher and also studied in the Danish West Indies, doing a great deal of research on Negro literature. Schomburg came to America in 1891 and ten years later moved to New York City and settled in the Harlem section of the city, working at a law firm as a researcher. During this time, he actively supported Cuban and Puerto Rican Independence, and served as secretary of Las dos Antillas, an organization working for this cause.

In 1924, while in Europe, he searched for and acquired valuable information on Negro history. In Seville, Spain he dug into the original, loosely collected records of the Indies and was able to shed new light on Negro history. In 1929 Schomburg retired from the Bankers Trust Company and took a position at Fisk University as curator of his vast collection of papers, which now bears his name. The collected works consist of more than 5000 volumes and thousands of pamphlets, old manuscripts, artworks, prints, rare books, slave narratives and other remnants of Black history, and bound sections of newspaper and magazine clippings, is the largest and finest of its kind in existence.

He ranks as the foremost historian and collector of books on Blacks. Arthur Schomburg died in 1938. In 1940, the New York Public Library renamed its Schomburg Center a division of Black history, literature, and prints after him. His investigative efforts led to him being dubbed the “Sherlock Holmes of Black History.”



1885
One of the foremost advocates of Black nationalism and separatism in American history, Martin Robison Delany, died on this day on tuberculosis in Wilberforce, Ohio. Delaney was an extraordinary man. He fought in the Civil War to end slavery, served as a physician, and was the first commissioned African American officer in the Union Army during the war. He also was a leader in the fight to end racial job discrimination and an anti-slavery activist. Also, in 1847, he, along with Frederick Douglass, published the first issue of the North Star, an antislavery paper. As a physician, he studied (and to a limited degree) practiced medicine. However, in 1850, white students at Harvard University (where he had been accepted) forced his removal from the medical school because they did not want to study alongside Delaney and two other Black students. Delaney eventually became frustrated with American racism and became deeply involved in a “back-to-Africa” movement designed to establish a “Black Israel” on the west coast of Africa. He also encouraged African Americans to seek their own identity and was considered by some historians to be the father of American Black nationalism. He is the author of “Search for a Place: Black Separatism and Africa,” and “The Condition, Elevation, Emigration, and Destiny of the Colored People in the United States.” Delany was 72.


1908
On this date, John Frederick Thomas was born. He was an African-American diplomat and administrator.

Thomas was from Minneapolis, Minnesota. His father was a Black man from New Bedford, Massachusetts, and his mother was Swedish. They met in Mankato, Minnesota and as parents had a great influence on his life. According to Thomas, his father was very much a “race man,” one who touted independence for the “colored” person, yet he felt that his son would need a white “benefactor” to succeed. Minnesota was a state that was less than one-percent African-American when Thomas was a young boy. Consequently, he found himself in a world of Jewish, Italian, and Scandinavian immigrants.

After finishing at Minneapolis North High School, Thomas graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1929. The Great Depression compounded the racial backlash of employment opportunities for him. Additionally, Whites and Blacks both viewed him as “different”. Considered a minority in White circles and accused of trying to “pass” by Blacks, Thomas experienced a restlessness that would guide him as a servant of the global human family. In the early thirties he taught college in North Carolina and other southern areas.

He worked as a waiter, played semi-pro basketball, and completed his master’s degree. It was during these years that Thomas met and befriended Gordon Parks, Oscar Pettiford, Hilda Simms, and others. In 1935, he accepted a position in the Boys athletic program at the Phyllis Wheatley Settlement House in Minneapolis. Though well educated, the settlement house atmosphere gave Thomas a forum to better understand the meaning of social welfare. Thomas became very active in helping the needy. He also met many notable Blacks who stayed at Phyllis Wheatley due to racism in Minneapolis’s rooming houses, including Langston Hughes, Paul Robeson, and Marian Anderson. It was also here that Thomas began a lifelong relationship with Hubert Humphrey.

Though commissioned and ready for active duty in Europe with the Army in 1944, he was sent to Camp Lee, Virginia. After the war, Thomas learned of the relief effort in Europe. One year later he left for England and Germany and did not return to America for twenty years. In October 1945, he began working for the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Agency. Starting in their welfare office, his team brought thousands of Polish refugees back to Poland after the fall of Nazi Germany. When the Iron Curtain fell in 1948, many Jews wishing to immigrate to Israel were detained by England. Here Thomas and was instrumental in developing and underground railroad for them (literally by truck) through France and on to Alyah, Israel.

Throughout the Russian invasion of Eastern Europe (1956), he and his UN team were at the Austrian border working twenty-hour days insuring that over 200,000 refugees crossed into safety as the Russian tanks rolled through Hungary. As director of the Cuban Refugee Program under President Kennedy, Thomas was responsible for the safe passage of over 13,000 Cuban children; avoiding intended trips to communist countries from Castro’s Cuba in 1963. During the Vietnam War between the Tet offensive (1968) and 1972, he organized settlements and living facilities for millions of Vietnamese people.

It is estimated that in his forty-year career, John Thomas saved over five million lives. Retired as of 1978, Thomas was the first African-American to head an international organization. He was a global emissary of the people who focused on the needs of individuals in times of crisis worldwide. John Thomas died on September 20, 2002 at 95 years of age. He was the father of two daughters Judith Ann and Susan.



1938
Jack & Jill of America was founded on this date. It is a nonprofit philanthropic organization headquartered in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Its founding occurred from a meeting of 20 mothers by the leadership of Marion Stubbs Thomas with the idea of bringing together children in a social and cultural environment. They primarily serve Black children from the ages of two to nineteen. It grew out of volunteer work during the Great Depression and in 1939 expanded to New York.

During the 1940s and 1950s Jack & Jill raised funds for a variety of charities. In 1964, as more groups became active, bylaws were drawn up and incorporated under the laws of Delaware. The organization was a nonprofit family organization by mothers of children between the ages of 2 and 19 holding membership. Jack & Jill celebrated its 50th Golden Anniversary in January 1988. The organization continues on, dedicating its resources to improving the quality of life, particularly African-American children. The goals, found primarily in the objectives of Jack & Jill of America, Inc. serve as constant guides.

They currently have national incentives such as the “Million Point Health Plan” and through a collaborative with organizations like the Links and Children’s Defense Foundation. Jack & Jill chapters across the nation work to make a difference in the lives of the families and those in the communities they serve.



1941
Aaron Neville is born in New Orleans Louisiana. He will become a rhythm and blues singer and will enjoy his first hit in 1967, “Tell It Like It Is.” He will win a Grammy for his 1990 single, a duet with Linda Ronstadt, “Don’t Know Much.” He will become equally well known for performing vocals and keyboards with the group The Neville Brothers, together with his three musically accomplished siblings.  Their albums, reflecting rock, R&B, soul, and jazz influences, will be compiled in “Treacherous: A History of the Neville Brothers, 1955-85” (1986).


1962
Jackie Robinson, the first African-American allowed to play Major League Baseball, is inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.


1977
J. Mason Brewer, arguably the greatest author of Black folklore, died in Commerce, TX on this date.


1977
Howard T. Ward becomes Georgia’s first African American Superior Court Judge.


1977
Tatyana Ali, the actress best known for her role as Ashley in “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” was born to Panamanian and Trinidadian heritage in Long Island, NY.


1985
Thomas Bradley, public servant, humanist, and government servant, received the 69th NAACP Spingarn Award on this date for becoming a four-term mayor of Los Angeles, CA, for overseeing the most successful Olympics in history, and “demonstrating...that the American dream not only can be pursued but realized.”


1987
A massive protest of some 20,000 marchers held in Forsyth County, GA, on this date. The group protested the attack of marchers celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday one week earlier.


1988
Forty-eight African American writers and literary critics sign a controversial statement that appears in “The New York Times Book Review” supporting author Toni Morrison and protesting her failure to win the “keystone honors of the National Book Award or the Pulitzer Prize.”


1989
Reverend Barbara Harris’ election as suffragan bishop is ratified by the Diocese of Massachusetts. Her election and consecration occur amid widespread controversy regarding the role of women bishops in the Episcopal Church.  She will be the first female bishop in the church’s 450-year history.


1990
Clarence “Big House” Gains, Winston Salem State University’s basketball couch, won his 800th game on this date. Gains has won eight CIAA conference championships and a 1967 Division II championship.


1993
Thurgood Marshall, the first Black man to serve as a justice on the United States Supreme Court, died on this day in 1993 in Washington, DC. Prior to becoming a justice, Marshall gained fame arguing civil rights cases before the Supreme Court including the historic school desegregation case—Brown v. Board of Education. While on the Supreme Court, he was widely viewed as a constitutional scholar who supported liberal and progressive causes. Marshall was born in Baltimore, MD in 1908. He was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Lyndon B. Johnson. He was one of the most well-known figures in the history of civil rights in America and served on the Supreme Court for 24 years. Thurgood Marshall was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.


2010
On this date at 6:08 PM EST in Lucus Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, ID, the Indianapolis Colt, coming from an 11 point deficit, defeated the New York Jets 30-17. With this victory, Jim Caldwell became the fourth African-American coach of an NFL team to coach a team to the Super Bowl. He is preceeded respectively by Lovie Smith of the Chicago Bears and Tony Dungy, his predecessor with the Colts, who qualified their teams on January 21, 2007 and Mike Tomlin, coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers on January 18, 2009. He also became the third African American coach to win the Lamar Hunt Trophy for the American Football Conference (AFC) Championship and the fifth rookie head coach to coach a team to the Super Bowl. He also holds the record, as a rookie coach, of having a team to go 14-0 to start a season. Of note, the Colts lost their last two games of the 2009 season to go 14-2. Caldwell would take his team to Super Bowl XLVI in Dolphin’s Stadium in Miami, FL on February 7, 2010 to face the New Orleans Saints, who later in the day defeated the Minnesota Vikings in the New Orleans Superdome by score of 31-28.


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