Notable Moments in Black History to Celebrate this Week, From Nelson Mandela's Release to Frederick Douglass' Birthday
Feb. 10, 1989: Ronald H. Brown Gets Elected as National Chairman of the Democratic Party
On this day in history, the then-47-year-old influential lawyer became the first black chairman of the Democratic National Committee.
”We cannot ignore the history of this moment,” Brown told committee members after his election, as reported by The New York Times. ”In choosing the first American of African descent to lead one of America’s political parties, you have made history.”
Brown went on to serve as the first black U.S. Secretary of Commerce under president Bill Clinton’s administration before he was killed in a plane crash in April 1996 along with 34 others, according to Politico.
Feb. 11, 1990: Nelson Mandela is Released from Prison
The anti-apartheid South African revolutionary is seen with his then-wife Winnie raising his fist upon his release from Victor Verster prison after being jailed for 27 years.
Four years later, he was inaugurated as South Africa’s first democratically elected president and served one term before focusing on his philanthropic work for the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, the Nelson Mandela Foundation and The Mandela Rhodes Foundation.
Mandela died in 2013 and is remembered for his relentless fight for equality, work to combat poverty, HIV and AIDs. He’s received over 200 honors, including the Nobel Peace Prize (1993), Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award (2006), Presidential Medal of Freedom (2002) and the Olympic Gold Order (1994).
Feb. 12, 1909: The NAACP was founded
The nation’s largest civil rights organization was founded to ensure political, educational, social and economic equality for all minority U.S. citizens through democratic processes.
Today, there are 2,200 chapters (according to the organization’s website) dedicated to furthering these causes. Some noteworthy achievements: helping pass the Dyer Anti-Lynching Bill, which established lynching as a federal crime, and the Voting Rights Act, which guaranteed that no one can be denied the right to vote because of his or her race.
Feb. 13, 1923: The First Black Professional Basketball Team was Organized
The Renaissance (or the New York Rens), the nation’s first black professional basketball team, was formed by Robert “Bob” Douglas (who is seen in the middle of the top row in this photo). The team was named after the famed Renaissance Ballroom and Casino in Harlem, N.Y.C. and became the first black-owned professional team before winning the inaugural World Championship of Professional Basketball in 1939.
The team’s original lineup included Clarence “Fats” Jenkins, James “Pappy” Ricks, Frank “Strangler” Forbes and Leon Monde.
Feb. 14, 1818: The Day the U.S. Observes Frederick Douglass’ Birthday
Although historically America has celebrated the activist and author’s birthday on the 14th of February, the actual month and date of Douglass’ birth are still unknown. The birth date Americans observe today was chosen based on his autobiographical writings, which revealed that he was told his birth month was February and the year was 1818.
According to the National Constitution Center, Douglass wrote about speaking with Captain Thomas Auld, one of his former slave owners, in 1877 about wanting to know his birth details. “I told him I had always been curious to know how old I was and that it had been a serious trouble to me, to not know when was my birthday,” he wrote. “He said he could not tell me that, but he thought I was born in February 1818.”
Feb. 15, 1965: Nat King Cole Dies
The legendary singer and pianist died in his sleep at St. John’s hospital in Santa Monica, California after suffering from lung cancer, according to the L.A. Times. He was 45 years old.
The star was best known for his incredible catalogue of music, including hits like “Unforgettable,” “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66” and “I Love You (For Sentimental Reasons).” He also made history in 1956 when he became the first black host of a variety series, The Nat King Cole Show.
Feb. 16, 1951: N.Y.C. Council Passes Bill that Prohibits Housing Racial Discrimination
On this day, a bill that prohibited racial discrimination in city-assisted housing developments in New York City was passed.
Today, New York state and New York City human rights laws include additional protections based on age, citizenship, lawful job or source of income, gender, gender identity, or gender expression, marriage or partnership status, current children or plans to have children in the future, sexual orientation, experience as a survivor of domestic violence, stalking, or sex offenses and military service, according to N.Y.C. Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD).