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1580
This date notes the birth of Saint Peter Claver. (Note that most sources state 1581 as his year of birth with no specific date and with only the African American Registry listing this specific date. Althought 1581 is most likely his correct year of birth, his birth date most likely could not have been February 29, 1581 since it would not have been a leap year. If the 1580 year is accepted, depending on what calendar is used to make this determination, the Georgian calendar [the calendar of Pope Gregory XIII], in particular, did not introduce leap year as every four years until 1582.) He was a Black patron saint.

From Verdu, Catalonia, Spain he was also known as Slave of the Blacks and Slave of the Slaves. Claver was a farmer’s son. He studied at the University of Barcelona and was a Jesuit Priest at age 20. Influenced by Saint Alphonsus Rodriguez, Claver became a missionary in America. He ministered to slaves physically and spiritually when they arrived in Cartegena, converting an estimated 300,000. He worked for humane treatment on American plantations for over 40 years.

Claver organized charitable societies among the Spanish in America similar to those organized in Europe by Saint Vincent de Paul. Claver said of the slaves, “We must speak to them with our hands by giving, before we try to speak to them with our lips.” Peter Claver died on September 8, 1654 at Cartegena, Colombia of natural causes.


1860
George Augustus Polgreen Bridgewater, composer and violinist, died in London at the age of 81. He was a violin prodigy, known throughout Europe as the “Abyssinian Prince.” At age 10, he made his first appearance in Paris. Bridgewater studied under the watchful eye of Hayden, as well as being a close friend of Beethoven, who performed with him in a Bridgewater concert. A number of manuscripts are found in the British Museum bearing his signature.


1892
Augusta Savage, was born Augusta Christine Fells in Green Cove Springs, Fl on this date. She was an American sculptor and educator who battled racism to secure a place for blacks in the art world.

Augusta Fells began modeling figures from the red-clay soil of her native Florida at an early age. Savage’s family moved to West Palm Beach about 1907, where she thrived academically, conducting art classes for a dollar a day while she was still a student herself. She married John T. Moore in 1907 and had her only child, Irene, in 1908. After failing to make a living by executing commissioned busts of Jacksonville’s well-to-do blacks, she moved to New York City to study art. In 1921 she enrolled at Cooper Union in the four-year sculpture course, but her instructors quickly waived her first two years in light of her talent.

In 1923 Savage became the focus of a racial scandal involving the French government and the American arts community. She was among some 100 young American women selected to attend a summer program at Fontainebleau, outside Paris, but her application was subsequently refused on the basis of her race. Sculptor Hermon A. MacNeil was the only member of the committee to denounce the decision, and he invited Savage to study with him in an attempt to make amends.

Following this period, Savage worked in steam laundries to earn money to care for her family and to save for studies in Europe. Her plans were derailed, however, when her family suffered a series of tragedies. In the 1920s she received a commission to sculpt a portrait bust of W.E.B. Du Bois and then another of Black Nationalist Marcus Garvey; both pieces were hailed for their power and dynamism. Though Savage was finally able, with the assistance of W.E.B. Du Bois, to study at a Paris art academy in 1929-31, the Great Depression brought art sales to a virtual standstill. She turned to teaching art, founding her own school of arts and crafts in New York City’s Harlem in the early 1930s.

In the mid-1930s she founded and became the first director of the Harlem Community Art Center, which played a crucial role in the development of many young African-American artists. During this period, too, she became the first black elected to the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors. Savage also fought successfully for the inclusion of Black artists in Works Progress Administration projects. In the late 1930s Savage opened a gallery specializing in art by blacks, but it did not long survive.

She apparently abandoned her art in the 1940s, isolating herself on a farm in Saugerties, N.Y. Many of Savage’s sculptures were never cast in permanent materials and have been lost. Among the few extant pieces is the poignant Gamin 1929, a portrait bust of a street-wise boy. Augusta Savage died March 26, 1962 in New York City.


1940
Robert Sengstacke Abbott, newspaper editor and publisher of the Chicago Defender, died Chicago, Illinois. His newspaper became a bold voice for African Americans in the North, advocating during the wave of lynchings after World War I the slogan, “if you must die, take at least one with you,” later simplified to “an eye for an eye.” Abbott passed away as his nephew, John Sengstacke, was establishing the National Newspaper Publishers Association in Washington, DC.


1940
In Hollywood, Hattie McDaniel received an Academy Award for best supporting actress for her role as Mammy in “Gone with the Wind.” She was the first African American to win an Oscar. Often criticized for her portrayal of maids, she noted that, “It’s much better to play a maid than to be one. The only choice permitted me is either to be a servant for $7 a week or portray one for $700 a week.” Not only was she the first African American to receive this award, but she was the only African American woman to have received it until Whoopi Goldberg received the same award for her role in the movie “Ghost.”


1948
Willi Donnell Smith was born on this date in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He was one of the most successful African-American fashion designers in history.

He was also the brother of actress and model Toukie Smith. After studying commercial art at Mastbaum Technical High School in Philadelphia, Willi Donnell Smith enrolled at the Philadelphia College of Art to study fashion illustration in 1962. It was during this time Smith decided he wanted to be a fashion designer. He earned two scholarships to the Parsons School of Design in New York in 1965. There he began doing freelance work for the designer Arnold Scaasi and the Bobbie Brooks sportswear company.

In 1967 he left school to pursue his career full-time. H
e took his first job with Arnold Scaasi in New York City.bel, Willi Wear Ltd., in 1976. By 1969 his name was on the label of clothing made by Digits, a sportswear company; Smith eventually in 1976 created his own company and line of clothes, Williwear, Ltd. At its peak, his company Williwear, Ltd. sold $25 million worth of clothing a year. He also designed the wedding dress worn by Mary Jane Watson when she married Peter Parker in the Spider-Man comic book and comic strip in 1987 and the suits for Edwin Schlossberg and his groomsmen when he married Caroline Kennedy in 1986.

Smith also designed the uniforms for the workers on Christo’s 1985 wrapping of the Pont Neuf Bridge in Paris and clothes for Spike Lee’s 1987 film School Daze (1987).
He became a Coty Award winner in 1983.

Active in the Gay community, Smith died at the relatively young age of 39 on April 17, 1987, after contracting pneumonia as a result of AIDS, still leading his company.


1956
Autherine Juanita Lucy, the first Black student at the University of Alabama, was expelled on this date following a riot that occurred three weeks earlier at the school. Whites were upset by her admittance.


1968
The National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, convened by President Lyndon B. Johnson after riots occur in major cities throughout the United States, issued its report on this date. The commission was called the “Kerner Commission” after its chairman, Governor Otto Kerner of Illinois.

The civil right struggle of the 1960’ was making inroads, integration of southern school districts was progressing; by 1967, 22% of the black students in the 17 southern and Border States were in integrated schools. After racial rioting in Newark and Detroit in 1967, the president set up the commission “to investigate the origins of the recent disorders in our cities.” The report analyzed the causes of the riots and concluded that white racism was one of the fundamental causes of riots in the United States. It also cited what was needed to avert future violence—jobs, open housing laws and the elimination of defacto school segregation. It also concluded, because of the continuing separation of blacks and whites in most areas, the United States was “headed toward two societies, one Black and one White—separate and unequal.” A 30-year update of the Kerner Commission reported “the divide between rich and poor has become greater in the United States and the challenges from within more formidable.”


1988
South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu and other religious leaders were arrested while kneeling near Parliament with a petition against government bans on anti-apartheid groups.


1996
Daniel Green was convicted in Lumberton, North Carolina, of murdering James R. Jordan, the father of basketball star Michael Jordan, during a 1993 roadside holdup. (Green was sentenced to life in prison; an accomplice who had testified against him, Larry Demery, also received a life sentence.)


2004
On this date, President Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled Haiti.

He was bowing to pressure from a rebellion at home and governments out of the country. Hundreds of angry Aristide militants armed with old rifles and pistols converged on the Haitien National Palace in Port-au-Prince. It was not immediately clear who was in charge, but Aristide’s Prime Minister Yvan Neptune called a news conference.

In Cap-Haitien, the northern port that has become a base for the rebels, crowds danced and sang in the street ready to disarm once a new government was in place. “Aristide’s gone! Aristide’s out!” rebel fighters in Cap-Haitian yelled with excitement, hugging each other.

The administration of U.S president George W. Bush said it welcomed Aristide’s departure and that it was in the best interests of Haiti.

Aristide, Haiti’s first democratically elected president in 200 years of independence left the capital. The rebels were less than 25 miles away and had threatened to attack unless he resigned. He flew to the Dominican Republic and sought asylum in Morocco, Taiwan or Panama.


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