Today in Black History (August 6th)

On August 6, 1965 the American Voting Rights Act of 1965 was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Pushed for change through the civil rights movement in the 1950s and ’60s were century old practices aimed at preventing Blacks from exercising their legal right to vote. This law provided for automatic suspension of literacy tests and other voter qualification devices because they were applied in a discriminatory way; gave federal voting examiners the authority to register voters in areas not meeting certain voter participation requirements; authorized the U. S. attorney general to investigate the validity of state poll taxes; required federal review to prevent racial discrimination by new state voting laws; and made interference with voting rights conferred by the law a criminal offense.

Addition to this law was the 24th Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, ratified in 1964, prohibiting poll taxes as a qualification for voting in federal elections. In 1970 the Voting Rights Act was extended and the voting age was lowered to 18. The Supreme Court later upheld the vote for 18-year-olds in federal elections, but ruled that Congress had acted unconstitutionally in lowering the voting age to 18 in state and local elections. This problem was solved by the 26th Amendment, ratified in 1971, providing that citizens 18 years of age or older could not be denied the franchise β€œon account of age.”

The Voting Rights Act has been amended twice, in 1975 and 1982. Among the most important provisions of the later amendments were the addition of bilingual requirements in some counties; a permanent nationwide ban on the use of literacy tests as a voting requirement; and a law allowing voters nationwide who are illiterate, blind, or disabled to be assisted in the voting booth by a person of their own choice. These amendments also made it easier for minorities to use the courts to attack discriminatory election methods.

Other laws have been passed that protect the franchise of certain groups; for example, U. S. citizens residing abroad were granted the right to vote in federal elections by absentee ballot in 1975, and voting accessibility for the elderly was guaranteed in 1984.

See for more on the Voting Rights Act.


Today in Black History (August 4th)

Barack Obama was born August 4, 1961
From Ohau, Hawaii, he is the son of economist Barack Obama, Sr. of Kenya and S. Ann Dunham of Kansas. Both his parents were students at the East-West Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa. At the age of two, his parents divorced and Obama’s mother re-married and moved the family moved to Indonesia for a couple of years. But Obama returned to Hawaii to be raised by his grandmother in downtown Honolulu. He was enrolled in the fifth grade at Punahou School, and got his first job at Baskin-Robbins in town. After graduating from Punahou School with honors, Obama went on to study at Columbia University in New York City majoring in political science.

He then moved to Chicago, Illinois and took up community organizing. He left briefly to study law at Harvard University where he became the first African-American editor of the Harvard Law Review. Obama returned to his adopted hometown of Chicago in 1992 and to organized an aggressive election effort for the Bill Clinton presidential campaign. His talents gained him a seat at a local civil rights law firm and became a lecturer of constitutional law at the University of Chicago. Obama still serves as a professor there. In 1995 he published his memoir, “Dreams from My Father.” One year later Obama was elected to the Illinois State Senate from the south side of Chicago. He served as chairman of the Public Health and Welfare Committee.

Obama is married and has two children. Regarded as a staunch liberal during his tenure in the legislature, he helped to author a state earned income tax credit providing benefits to the poor. He also pursued laws that extended health coverage to Illinois residents who could not afford insurance. Speaking up for leading gay and lesbian advocacy groups, he successfully passed bills to increase funding for AIDS prevention and care programs.

In February 2007 he announced his candidacy for President of the United States of America. On June 3, 2008 with all states counted, Obama passed the 2118 delegate mark and became the presumptive Democratic nominee. Obama is the first African American to be the presumptive nominee of a major political party.


Today in Black History (July 13th)

July 13, 1863 the New York City Draft Riots began
Massive New York City protests decrying the first-ever wartime draft lottery led to a bloody riot as a mob of 50,000 burned buildings (including the Colored Orphan Asylum on Fifth Avenue), stores and draft offices, and attacked police. Some clubbed, lynched, and shot large numbers of blacks, whom they blamed for the war.


Today in Black History (July 11th)

The Niagara Movement (precursor of the NAACP) was founded July 11, 1905. This was the first significant black organized protest movement of the twentieth century.Pic above is of Niagara Movement Leaders (l-r) John Robert (J.R.) Clifford, Wm. E.B. DuBois, L.M. Hershaw, F.H.M. Murray


Today in Black History (July 5th)

July 5, 1975 Arthur Ashe became the first black man to win the Wimbledon singles’ championship.
Ashe beat defending champion Jimmy Connors three sets to one on Centre Court.

Speaking after the game Ashe said: “I always thought I would win because I was playing so well and was so confident.”

Although Ashe won the US Open in 1968 his 6-1, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4 victory – at the age of 31- surprised many at the All England Club.

Connors, 22, admitted: “I couldn’t find an opening. Whether I served wide balls, or kicks he was there. Everything he did was good: fine returns, short and long, and hard serves and volleys.”

The older man won his first service game 40 to love and quickly broke his opponent’s serve in the first set. The pressure on Connors began to show – causing derision in the crowd – as he angrily threw his towel under the umpire’s chair and released a chain of expletives. Ashe took the first set in just 19 minutes and secured a second 6-1 rout almost as quickly. Tension mounted in the third set as Connors found his rhythm to recover a 6-5 lead – after trailing 3-1 – before winning the set.

Ashe kept his cool and broke Connors’ serve in the ninth game of what was to be the final set.

The match ended swiftly as Ashe reached 40-15 with his service game and punched home a winning volley after a weak two-handed return by Connors.


Today in Black History (June 24th)

The Apollo Theater opened June 24, 1933
Located at 253 West 125th Street in central Harlem, New York City, The Apollo Theater was the most important venue in Black show business from the 1930s through the 1970s, when waning popularity caused it financial problems. The theater itself began its life in 1913 as Hurtig and Seamon’s Music Hall, a venue frequented by white vaudeville acts that entertained predominantly white crowds until the 1930s. Sidney Cohen purchased the theater in 1933 and renamed it the Apollo, replacing the vaudeville fare with black entertainment.

The Apollo’s first show in 1934, Jazz a la Carte, featured Benny Carter’s big-band and helped to solidify the theater’s new role as the City’s primary African-American performance venue, overshadowing the Lincoln and Lafayette theaters. With live broadcasts that featured the Duke Ellington and Count Basie orchestras, the Apollo became a mecca for jazz bands in the 1930s and 1940s. By the 1950s, the Apollo Theater was the nation’s top stage for established black artists and the Apollo’s famous Amateur Night, in which unknown performers had their talent assessed by the notoriously raucous Harlem audience, had become a springboard for numerous careers.

Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, and Pearl Bailey, for example, were all early Amateur Night winners, and later acts like the Jackson 5 and Stevie Wonder also enjoyed their first major exposure at the Apollo. As musical styles changed, the theater evolved with the times, booking rhythm and blues, gospel, funk, soul and hip-hop acts, and hosting landmark performances by artists like James Brown. During the 1970s the Apollo steadily lost money, forcing its closure in 1977. Its declaration as a national historic landmark in 1983 secured the building’s survival, but efforts to make it a viable performance house throughout the 1980s failed.

The theater was taken on by a nonprofit organization in 1991, which intended to make the theater a significant part of Harlem’s 125th street renewal.


Today in Black History: Juneteenth

June 19th, 1865 Union Major General Gordon Granger read General Order #3 to the people of Galveston, TX