In the wake of the Civil War, Tennessee veterans of the Confederate Army banded together to form the first Ku Klux Klan in 1865. Very quickly Klan groups spread throught the south. Their strategy was to use violence and intimidation against blacks and progressive whites to restore white supremacy. Responding to this, the federal government passed the Enforcement Acts. The first was in 1870 and the second was passed on this day in 1871. A third, called the Ku Klux Klan Act informally, was also passed in 1871. The acts reasserted the premises of the Fifteenth Amendment, making criminal codes protecting black peoples' rights to vote, hold office, receive equal protection under the laws. These acts were specifically crafted to help prosecutors fight Klan crimes: even if states did not prosecute a case, the federal government could. Many states were unwilling to strongly go after the Klan, either because their leaders were Klan sympathizers or because they were too weak. Additionally, the specter of a race war breaking out weighed heavily in many states so soon after the war. With these acts, prosecution of Klan crimes increased significantly, essentially suppressing the Klan for three years. President Grant also sent federal troops to areas where the violence was worst to enforce the law. A few hundred Klansmen were jailed in this period, while many others fled or received minor punishments, such as fines or warnings. By 1872, the Klan was almost nonexistent. As Klan activity waned however, new radical far-right groups emerged, such as the White League and the Red Shirts, which aided the political ascendancy of white Democrats in the South at the end of Reconstruction. By 1915, the second Klan was founded, espousing similar views and using similar tactics. By that time, there was no political will to use the provisions of the Enforcement acts to prosecute the Klan.
On this day in 1897 Marian Anderson, who would become a world-renowned contralto singer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The eldest of three daughters, the family attended the Union Baptist Church in South Philadelphia, taking an active role. At age six, Anderson's aunt, who was in the choir, noticed her niece's singing ability and convinced her to join the junior choir. Her aunt also booked her to sing at small functions, earning Anderson 25 or 50 cents a performance. At age 10 she joined the People's Chorus. Her father died when she was 12, after an accident, forcing the family to move in with her father's parents. She finished elementary school in 1912, but her family could not afford to send her to high school or for vocal training. Instead, she sought singing instruction wherever she could find it and welcomed any opportunity to improve her singing. After some time, the directors of the People's Chorus, along with the pastor of her church and other area leaders, came together to raise money for her to attend singing lessons and South Philadelphia High School. Graduating in 1921, she applied to an all-white music school, which rejected her because she was black. She continued private training until 1925, when she won first prize in a singing competition sponsored by the New York Philharmonic. Winning earned her a concert on stage with the orchestra backing. The concert, held August 27, 1925, was critically acclaimed and she remained in New York thereafter to train with Frank La Forge. Despite numerous concerts and appearances in subsequent years, racism in the United States prevented her career from progressing. She began touring in Europe in the 1930s, where she was quite successful. During that time, Sol Hurok became her manager, who would continue as her manager for the rest of her career. In 1935, he persuaded her to return to the U.S. to perform. She first appeared in in New York, and having received highly favorable reviews, began touring the U.S. While she eschewed performing in operas, due to lack of acting experience, many of her aria recordings became bestsellers. She became particularly popular in Scandinavia where "Marian Fever" had spread throughout towns and villages. Even as her fame grew domestically, she still had to deal with being refused food or board in restaurants and hotels. In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused to let Anderson sing in Constitution Hall to an integrated audience. Thousands of members of DAR resigned in protest, including First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Furthermore, Ms. Roosevelt, along with her husband and the NAACP, responded by planning an open air concert at the Lincoln Memorial on the Washington Mall. Occurring on April 9, more than 75,000 people listened to her, in addition to millions who heard her via the radio broadcast. She sang for the troops during World War II and the Korean War, and eventually was invited by the DAR to sing in Constitution Hall in 1943. That same year, she married Orpheus Fisher, an architect. In 1955, Anderson became the first African-American to perform with the Metropolitan Opera in New York, singing Ulrica in Verdi's Un ballo in maschera. This was the only time she played in an opera. In 1956 she released her bestselling autobiography, My Lord, What a Morning. The following year she sang for President Eisenhower's inauguration and performed in Asia as a U.S. goodwill ambassadress. She later performed at President Kennedy's inauguration as well. During the 1960s, she supported the civil rights movement, doing benefit performances as well as singing at the March on Washington. In 1963 she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1964 she began a year long farewell tour, retiring in 1965. She continued to perform occasionally. She won many awards and distinctions over the course of her life, including the UN Peace Prize, Kennedy Center Honors, George Peabody Medal, National Medal of Arts, and a Grammy Award. On April 8, 1993 she died of heart failure at age 96. The famous conductor Arturo Toscanini once said she had a voice "heard once in a hundred years," a description that has been used association with her talent ever since.
In 1965, Jimmie Lee Jackson died on this day after being shot by a state trooper in Alabama. Born in 1938, Jackson had tried to register to vote for four years with no success. Ordained in 1964, he was a deacon at St. James Baptist Church. Inspired by the Southern Christian Leadership Coalition (SCLC) and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee's (SNCC) campaign against Negro voting restrictions in Alabama, which was led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he began attending civil rights meetings a few times a week at Zion's Chapel Methodist Church in Marion, AL. On February 18 he was among roughly 500 people leaving a church meeting to walk to the nearby Perry County Jail where a civil rights worker was incarcerated. The marchers' plan was to walk to the jail and back to the church while singing hymns. The police later said that they believed the crowd was attempting a jailbreak. They encountered a line of police officers, sheriff's deputies and Alabama State Troopers blocking their procession. Recounting the incident later, people said the streetlights turned off abruptly and the police commenced beating the protestors. As the crowd began to scatter, Jackson, along with his mother and octagenarian grandfather, ran into a café behind the church to seek refuge. State troopers followed them and clubbed Jackson's grandfather and mother, who had attempted to pull the police off of the grandfather. Jackson tried to protect his mother, but was pushed back and then shot twice in the stomach. He attempted to flee while still being beaten and made it to the bus station where he collapsed. He died eight days later at Good Samaritan Hospital in Selma and was buried in Heard Cemetery. In response to his death, James Bevel of the SCLC, along with King and SNCC, worked to organize a march from Selma to Montgomery, the capital of Alabama. It was planned for March 7, 1965 with the premeditated goal of asking Governor George Wallace if he was complicit in the incident. Wallace denounced the march as a threat to public safety and vowed to take any measures necessary to stop it. 600 marchers gathered and began marching peacefully. When they crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge they found state and local police officers waiting for them. The officers began attacking them almost immediately with tear gas and nightsticks, as well as mounted officers charging into the crowd on horseback. Seventeen protesters were hospitalized, causing the event to be known as "Bloody Sunday." The shocking images of nonviolent protesters assaulated and brutalized from the march ran on television and in newspapers across the country, revealing the brutality of the Jim Crow era and galvanizing support for the Civil Rights movement. A second march was attempted on March 9, but a judge blocked the march until after a hearing and the protesters turned back after a prayer. The march finally occurred on March 25, when 8,000 protestors began walking the 54 mile journey with an escort of 2,000 U.S. soldiers, 1,900 Federally-commanded Alabama National Guard members and additional FBI agents and Federal Marshals. Ending on the steps of the state capitol with 25,000 marchers, King gave his famous "How Long, Not Long" speech, saying, "How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." In September of that year, a grand jury declined to indict the state trooper, James Fowler, who had shot Jackson. Additionally, he returned to his work without so much as a letter reprimanding him. 42 years later in 2007 he was charged with first and second degree murder for Jackson's death. His trial is delayed pending charges for a second murder in 1966.
On this day in in 1870 Hiram Revels became the first African American to take the oath of office as a Senator in the United States. Born in 1827 in North Carolina, he later moved to Indiana to attend a Quaker seminary and then Illinois to attend Knox College. In 1845 he was ordained a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). During the 1850s he moved around the Midwest preaching, living in more than seven states in that period. Revels helped raise two black regiments for the Union during the Civil War and took part in the battle of Vicksburg, Mississippi. After the war he returned to preaching, and the AME gave him a permanent pastorship in Natchez, Mississippi in 1866. He took advantage of his stay to found black schools and in 1868 he was elected alderman. The next year he was elected to represent the county, giving him a seat in the Mississippi State Senate. Prior to this election, Revels had never been politically involved, however, he gave an eloquent opening prayer to the Senate in 1870 which made a profound impression on his fellow Senators. Since at that time the state legislature voted to elect U.S. Senators, Revels' prayer swayed the congressmen to elect him to finish the term for one of the vacant Senate seats that was left over from when the state seceded from the Union. When his credentials arrived at the U.S. Senate, it stirred an uproar as many of the Southern Democrat Senators did not wish to see a black man as their peer. They stated that the Constitution requires nine years of citizenship prior to serving as Senator. Citing the Dredd Scott decision as evidence that blacks had not been citizens before the war, the Senators argued that African Americans only gained citizenship with the passage of the 1866 Civil Rights Act; thusly, by 1870 Revels had only been a citizen for four years and was barred from becoming a U.S. Senator. Republican Senators countered that the Dredd Scott decision did not apply to multiracial people, so Revels' mixed ancestry (his mother was white) meant that he had been a citizen all of his life. The Republican argument prevailed and by a vote of 48 to 8, he was confirmed as the first black United States Senator. Revels believed in racial equality, however, he also spoke for compromise and moderation and was not part of the Radical Republican Reconstruction Senate bloc. While in the Senate, he worked against an amendment to keep the school system in Washington, D.C. segregated; he nominated a black youth to the U.S. Military Academy (he was ultimately denied admission); and he helped workers return to their jobs at the Washington Navy Yard after they were barred because they were black. He was often lauded for his speaking abilities, both in newspapers and by his Senate colleagues. In 1871 he finished his brief term and returned to Mississippi, becoming the first President of Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College (now Alcorn State University). He worked at the college on and off until his retirement in 1882, at which time he returned to his ministry. Revels is one of only six African Americans ever to have served in the U.S. Senate.
Born on this day in 1811, Daniel Alexander Payne became an important force in the African Methodist Episcopal Church as well as the President of Wilberforce University in Ohio. He was born to parents who were part of a small community of free blacks residing in Charleston, SC. Both of his parents died before adulthood, which meant that his great aunt took over his upbringing. He was educated by the Minors' Moralist Society and self-taught to a significant extent. At age 18 he opened his first school. Following the Nat Turner Rebellion in 1831, South Carolina passed restrictive laws limiting not only slave rights but also the rights of free blacks. In 1835 teaching literacy to either free or enslaved black people was outlawed, becoming punishable by fines and imprisonment. This forced Payne to close his school and he soon after left Charleston and moved to Philadelphia. Payne attended a Lutheran Seminary there for sometime, but dropped out due to eyesight troubles. In 1840 he founded another school and two years later joined the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), viewing black churches as a powerful force toward fighting slavery and racism. He was instrumental in shaping a program of studies for AME ministers including English grammar, geography, math, ancient and modern history, history of the church and theology. He strongly believed that ministers needed to be educated and literate in order to help lift up their parishioners and set an example. In 1852 he was elected and consecrated as a Bishop in the church. Four years later, he, along with three other African-Americans, was part of the founding board of directors for Wilberforce University, making it the first historically black college that includes blacks among the founders. Many of the students by the onset of the Civil War were the mixed-race children of white southern plantation owners and farmers, who could not receive an education in the South. Wilberforce had to close temporarily for a year during the Civil War due to budget problems. In 1863 the AME bought the school outright and that same year Payne became its president, making him the first black president of a college in the United States. In 1865 he traveled back to the South for the first time since he left, working in Charleston to establish an AME church there. A year later the congregation totalled 50,000 members. He helped spread the AME denomination throughout the South, it's numbers increasing consistently throughout Reconstruction. He remained president of Wilberforce until 1877 and passed away in 1893.
On this day in 1868 William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born in Massachussets to parents Alfred and Mary Du Bois. W. E. B. Du Bois, as he came to be known, grew up in Great Barrington, a mostly white town. By the age of two, his father had abandoned the family and while Du Bois was still young, his mother had a stroke which left her unable to work. He became committed to his education, believing it to be a path to economic independence for him and his mother. As a result, he excelled at school. He later recalled that he rarely encountered prejudice from the community in Great Barrington, but through encounters with out-of-towners and the like, he came to understand that for some, there was a barrier between whites and blacks. After high school he attended Fisk University, a historically black college, and graduated in 1888, receiving a scholarship to Harvard University. He graduated cum laude from Harvard in 1890, winning a fellowship to attend the University of Berlin for graduate work which he finished at Harvard. During his time in Europe, he came to understand that race issues in the United States tied into larger problems manifest in political and economic development in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Europe. His dissertation, The Suppression of the African Slave Trade in America, combined his studies in history, economics and politics into an exercise in social science. He earned his Ph.D. in 1895, making him the first African American to receive a doctorate from America's oldest institution of higher learning. He taught in Ohio at Wilberforce University for two years before working on a research study for University of Pennsylvania on Philadelphia's black slums. This study, published as The Philadelphia Negro, was revolutionary in that it used a scientific approach integrating historical investigation, statistical and anthropological measurement, and sociological interpretation to examine a social phenomenon, leading some to call him the father of Social Science. He then moved to Atlanta University where he began an extensive study of morality, urbanization, education, religion, and crime in the black communities along with examining blacks in business. He also investigated the African past, putting together a narrative detailing the cultural, political and socioeconomic history of the African continent. During this time, his relationship became increasingly strained with the most prominent black person in America at the time, Booker T. Washington. Washington, head of Tuskeegee University, was a famous orator and advocated incremental progress in race relations, focusing on gaining industrial and vocational training for black people rather than political empowerment, civil rights or scholastic education. He advocated that an elite "Talented Tenth" would emerge, consisting of cultured and well-educated blacks who could gradually steer the greater black community toward progress. For this ideology, Du Bois and others perceived Washington to be a Southern accommodationist. In 1903 Du Bois published The Souls of Black Folks, where he directly responded to Washington in his chapter titled "Of Booker T. Washington and Others," addressing and arguing against Washington's approach. This and other happenings fueled antipathy between the two most prominent black intellectuals in the country. In 1906 Du Bois organized a meeting of like-minded activists, thus forming the "Niagara Movement." They espoused civil justice and an end to discrimination against minorities. In 1909 many of the same people reorganized into the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), for which Du Bois became the Director of Publications and Research. Soon after he left his position at Atlanta University to work full time for the group where he wrote many commentaries for newspapers across the country and was editor-in-chief of the NAACP's publication The Crisis. By the 1930s he had grown increasingly radical and distanced himself from the NAACP. In 1935 he published Black Reconstruction, a seminal work on the positive contributions of blacks in the Civil War and Reconstruction period. He continued to publish other books chronicling the history of Africa and the evils of imperialism in conjunction with his work with the Pan-Africanist Congress (see February 19). Later in life he became a vocal communist, taking trips to China and the USSR and also having to appear before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. He moved to Ghana, at the invitation of President Kwame Nkrumah, in 1961. He died in Accra, Ghana two years later at age 95, one day prior to Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech. A moment of silence was observed in his honor during the March on Washington.
On this day in 1832, the Salem Female Anti-Slavery Society (SFASS) was founded in Massachusetts. The abolitionist movement in the United States certainly precedes this society, however, this was the first anti-slavery society founded by and for women of color. They raised money to support abolitionist programs and publications and also gave lectures about the horrors of slavery. Whereas some abolitionists believed in a gradual approach, they staunchly supported an immediate end to slavery. In addition to campaigning against slavery, they also were concerned with issues relating to the free black population, such as being able to attend school, segregation and discrimination against blacks. They also worked helping educate and situate newly freed or runaway slaves in northern states. In 1834 they reorganized the SFASS and changed their stance to allow white women to become members. The organization continued until after the civil war, disbanding in 1866; however, many of the members continued to be active in reconstruction era organizations such as the Freedman's Bureau.
Malcolm Little was born in Omaha, Nebraska on May 19, 1925. By age 13 his father had died and his mother was in a mental institution, which meant that he spent the next few years living in a series of foster homes. In 1941 he moved to Boston to live with his half-sister, Ella Little Collins. He held various jobs for some time, but moved on to burglary as a steady source of income. In 1946 he was caught pawning a watch and was charged with larceny and breaking and entering, receiving a sentence of eight to ten years in Massachusetts State Prison. Encounters with other inmates, particularly John Elton Bembry, who was called Bimbi in the Autobiography of Malcolm X, pushed him to educate himself. He began reading voraciously. In prison, he converted to Islam--his brother was already a member of the Nation of Islam, which was enmeshed in the black nationalist movement--and changed his name to Malcolm X. Once he was released, he worked his way up through the organization becoming a minister and a national spokesperson. Malcolm became a ubiquitous figure in the media, and used radio and television to spread the Nation of Islam's message. He greatly increased their membership: in 1952 they had 500 members, by 1963 they had 25,000. In 1964 he decided to break his ties with Nation of Islam and converted to Sunni Islam. Soon after he made a pilgrimage to Mecca. He would later say that seeing Muslims of different races interacting and worshiping together as equals changed his mind and made him disavow racism. In 1965, on this day he was assassinated in New York.
On this day in 1895, Frederick Douglass--writer, abolitionist, women's suffragist, statesman--passed away in his home in Washington, D.C. He was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey circa 1818 in Maryland as a slave. Separated from his family members repeatedly, he eventually ended up in Baltimore, Maryland in the household of Hugh Auld. Although teaching a slave to read was illegal at the time, Auld's wife Sophia began teaching him the alphabet at age 12. He persisted and learned to read and began devouring all the written material he could, including newspapers, books and political tracts. Hired out to another owner, he began teaching other slaves to read at that plantation, often having more than 40 slaves in attendance to learn. After neighbours stormed his teaching sessions, he was returned to his original owner Thomas Auld, brother of Hugh. Thomas sent him to a farmer, Edward Covey, whose harsh treatment of his slaves had labeled him a "slave-breaker." Having been mistreated by Covey for some time, Douglass, now 16, fought back against Covey, beating him to the point that he never tried to assault Douglass again. In 1838, on his second attempt to escape, he succeeded, taking a train while disguised as a sailor. He traveled straight up to New York City, and later, describing his feelings upon arrival, said "A new world had opened upon me...I lived more in one day than in a year of my slave life. It was a time of joyous excitement which words can but tamely describe." He moved up to Massachusetts and immediately became involved in the abolitionist movement. By 1843 he was on a six-month tour of the country lecturing against slavery on behalf of the American Anti-Slavery Society. In 1845 he published his most famous work, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave. In 1848 he attended the women's rights oriented Seneca Falls Convention, powerfully speaking about how women deserved political rights and winning the convention over to adopt a resolution calling for women's suffrage. By the outbreak of the Civil War, Douglass was the most famous black man in America. He rallied around the North's side, working in recruitment. During Reconstruction he was president of the failed Freedman's savings Bank, and after that worked for the state department as a diplomat to Haiti and Dominican Republic. On February 20, 1895, shortly before he died, Douglass attended a meeting of the National Council of Women during which he came on stage and received a full standing ovation. Throughout his life, he was fond of saying, "I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong."
On this day in 1919 the first Pan-African Congress was held in Paris, France. By the turn of the 19th century, most of the African continent was under colonial rule by European powers. Henry Sylvester-Williams, a barrister from the West Indies, saw the need to organize a group that could provide some representation and channels for discussion between Africans across the colonies and in the Diaspora. In 1897 he formed the African Association in London to facilitate Pan-Africanism, with particular emphasis on the British colonies. In 1900 he setup a Pan-African meeting, coordinating with black leaders from multiple countries. This first meeting, held in London, attracted 30 delegates, many of whom were from the West Indies and England. W. E. B. Du Bois, an African-American intellectual, was in attendance, and later became a leading force of the Pan-African movement. In 1919 after World War I, the first actual Pan-African Congress was held with 57 attendees from 15 different countries, expanding upon Sylvester-Williams' original conference. Scheduled to coincide with the Versailles Peace Conference and located in Paris, the Congress attempted to draw the gathered world delegates' attention to issues surrounding economic and political empowerment as well as basic human rights in the colonies. Subsequent conferences were held in 1921, 1923, 1927 and 1945. Calling for decolonization and an end to racial discrimination, these meetings were important to addressing the systems of oppression and exploitation that black people faced throughout the world.
Arthur Ashe Learning Center
Inspired by Arthur Ashe’s proactive life as a conscious leader, humanitarian, educator and athlete, the Arthur Ashe Learning Center promotes his legacy to educate and motivate —with an emphasis toward inspiring youth. By vividly focusing upon the areas of education, health and wellness, citizenship and self-reliance, the AALC fosters empowerment and leadership in the individual and the community, elevating