Today in Black History – December 5 *
1784 – African American poet Phyllis Wheatley joins the
ancestors in Boston at the age of 31. Born in Africa
and brought to the American Colonies at the age of
eight in 1761, Wheatley was quick to learn both English
and Latin. Her first poem was published in 1770 and
she continued to write poems and eulogies. A 1773
trip to England secured her success there, where she
was introduced to English society. Her book, “Poems on
Various Subjects, Religious and Moral”, was published
late that year. Married for six years to John Peters,
Wheatley and her infant daughter died hours apart in a
Boston boarding house, where she worked.
1832 – Sarah Gorham, the first woman appointed by the African
Methodist Episcopal Church to serve as a foreign
missionary in 1881, is born.
1881 – The Forty-Seventh Congress (1881-83) convenes. Only two
African American congressmen have been elected, Robert
Smalls of South Carolina and John Roy Lynch of
1895 – Elbert Frank Cox is born in Evansville, Indiana. He will
become the first African American to earn a doctorate
degree in mathematics (Cornell University – 1925). He
will spend most of his life as a professor at Howard
University in Washington, D.C., where he will be known
as an excellent teacher. During his life, he will
overcome various difficulties which will arise because
of his race. In his honor, the National Association of
Mathematicians will establish the Cox-Talbot Address,
which will be annually delivered at the NAM’s national
meetings. The Elbert F. Cox Scholarship Fund, which will
be used to help black students pursue studies, is named
in his honor as well. He will continue teaching until
his retirement in 1966 – three years before he joins the
ancestors on November 28, 1969, at age 73 in Washington, DC.
1917 – Charity Adams (later Earley) is born in Kittrell, North
Carolina. She will become the first African American
commissioned officer in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps
in 1942. She will serve as the commanding officer and
battalion commander of the first battalion of African
American women (6888th Central Postal Direction) to serve
overseas during WWII, in England. She will serve in the
Army for four years and hold the rank of Lt. Colonel
at the time of her release from active duty. She will
join the ancestors on January 13, 2002.
1931 – James Cleveland is born in Chicago, Illinois. He will
sing his first gospel solo at the age of eight in a
choir directed by famed gospel pioneer Thomas Dorsey.
He will later sing with Mahalia Jackson, The Caravans,
and other groups before forming his own group, The
Gospel Chimes, in 1959. His recording of “Peace Be
Still” with the James Cleveland Singers and the 300-
voice Angelic Choir of Nutley, New Jersey, will earn him
the title “King of Gospel.” He will join the ancestors
on February 9, 1991.
1932 – Richard Wayne Penniman is born in Macon, Georgia. He will
become a Rhythm and Blues singer and composer. He will be
known for his flamboyant singing style, which will be
influential to many Rhythm and Blues and British artists.
His songs will include “Good Golly Miss Molly”, “Tutti
Frutti”, and “Lucille.” He will be honored by many
institutions, including inductions into the Rock and Roll
Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame. He will be
the recipient of Lifetime Achievement Awards from The
Recording Academy and the Rhythm and Blues Foundation. His
“Tutti Frutti” (1955) will be included in the Library of
Congress’ National Recording Registry in 2010, claiming
the “unique vocalizing over the irresistible beat
announced a new era in music.”
1935 – The National Council of Negro Women is established by Mary
1935 – Langston Hughes’s play, “The Mulatto”, begins a long run
1935 – Mary McLeod Bethune is awarded the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal
for her work as founder-president of Bethune Cookman
College and her national leadership.
1946 – The NAACP’s Spingarn Medal is awarded to Thurgood Marshall,
director of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund,
“for his distinguished service as a lawyer before the
1946 – President Truman created The Committee on Civil Rights by
Executive Order No. 9808. Sadie M. Alexander and Channing
H. Tobias were two African Americans who will serve as
members of the committee.
1947 – Jersey Joe Wolcott defeats Joe Louis for the heavyweight
boxing title. It is also the first time a heavyweight
championship boxing match is televised.
1949 – Ezzard Charles defeats Jersey Joe Walcott for the
heavyweight boxing title.
1955 – The Montgomery bus boycott begins as a result of Rosa
Parks’ refusal to ride in the back of a city bus four
days earlier. At a mass meeting at the Holt Street
Baptist Church, Martin Luther King Jr. is elected
president of the boycott organization. The boycott will
last a little over a year and be the initial victory in
the civil rights struggle of African Americans in the
1955 – Asa Philip Randolph and Willard S. Townsend are elected
vice-presidents of the AFL-CIO.
1955 – Carl Murphy, publisher of the Baltimore Afro-American, is
awarded the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal for his contributions
as a publisher and civil rights leader.
1957 – New York City becomes the first city to legislate against
racial or religious discrimination in housing market
(Fair Housing Practices Law).
1957 – Martin Luther King Jr. is awarded the NAACP’s Spingarn
Medal for his leadership of the Montgomery Bus Boycott.
1981 – Marcus Allen, tailback for the University of Southern
California, wins the Heisman Trophy. Six years later,
Tim Brown of the Notre Dame “Fightin’ Irish” will win
1984 – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, at age 37, is the oldest player in
the National Basketball Association. He decides to push
those weary bones one more year by signing with the Los
Angeles Lakers – for $2 million.
2013 – Nelson Mandela, a South African anti-apartheid
revolutionary who was imprisoned and then became a
politician and philanthropist who served as President of
South Africa from 1994 to 1999, joins the ancestors at
the age of 95. He was the first black South African to
hold the office, and the first elected in a fully
representative, multiracial election.
Information retrieved from the Munirah Chronicle and is edited by Rene’ A. Perry.