Today In Black History February 19

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Today In Black History February 19

1919 – W.E.B. Dubois organized first Pan African Congress in Africa

Racist treatment reinforced a sense of solidarity within the Diaspora. This found expression in a series of Pan-African meetings. In 1909 the first Pan African Conference was held. In 1919 the first of five Pan-African Congresses was held. This was organised by the African American thinker and journalist, W.E.B. DuBois. Fifty seven delegates attended representing fifteen countries. Its principal task was petitioning the Versailles Peace Conference, then meeting in Paris. Among its demands were:

a) The Allies administer the former German territories in Africa as a condominium on behalf of the Africans who lived there.

b) Africans should take part in governing their countries “as fast as their development permits” until, at some unspecified time in the future, Africa is granted home rule. (Source:

1940 – William “Smokey” Robinson is born

Singer, songwriter, and record producer William “Smokey” Robinson was born on February 19, 1940 in Detroit, Michigan. Best known for his association with Motown Records, Robinson served as vice president of the legendary label from 1961 until 1988.  During that period Robinson, either with his group the Miracles or as a solo performer, had 37 Top 40 hits and was, next to founder Berry Gordy, the primary figure associated with Motown Records.

Robinson’s most famous songs are icons of popular music. Those songs include the 1965 hits, “My Girl,” performed by the Temptations, and “The Tracks of My Tears,” recorded by his group, the Miracles, as well as his solo hits “Cruisin” (1979) and “One Heartbeat” (1987).  During the course of his 50 year career in music, Robinson has written or co-written more than 4,000 songs. Greatly admired by other groups, including the Beatles who first recorded a Robinson song “You Really Got A Hold On Me” in 1963, he was honored by a George Harrison recording, “Pure Smokey” in 1976.  Fellow singer-songwriter Bob Dylan described Robinson as “America’s greatest living poet.” (Source:

1992 – John Singleton becomes first African American director to receive an Academy Award

John Singleton, the 24-year-old director of “Boyz N the Hood,” became both the first African-American and the youngest nominee for best director. Diane Ladd and Laura Dern were the first mother and daughter to be nominated–Dern for best actress and Ladd for best supporting actress in “Rambling Rose.”

Singleton was also nominated for his original screenplay for “Boyz N the Hood,” which is set in the South-Central Los Angeles neighborhood where he grew up. Singleton, who was 23 at the time “Boyz” was released last July, replaced Orson Welles, who formerly held the distinction, having been nominated at age 26 for 1941’s “Citizen Kane.”

“I’m the first person in my neighborhood to get an Oscar nomination,” Singleton joked. “I’m just in awe,” he said, speaking by phone from Las Vegas, where on Tuesday he had been honored as “debut director of the year” at a convention of the nation’s theater owners. (Souce: LA Times)

1993 – Kenya Moore becomes second African American to win Miss USA title

For the second time in pageant history, black women hold the Miss USA and Miss America titles simultaneously: Kenya Moore, Miss USA 1993, and Kimberly Aiken, Miss America 1994 (selected in September 1993). (source: Pageant Center)

1996 – Soprano Dorothy Maynor dies at the age of 85

Dorothy Maynor, a highly regarded soprano recitalist who founded the Harlem School of the Arts, died on Monday at the Chester County Hospital in West Chester, Pa. She was 85 and lived in Kennett Square, Pa.

Miss Maynor, whose career helped open the way for black artists like Marian Anderson and Leontyne Price, possessed a voice that the New Grove Dictionary of American Music describes as “a soaring, belllike soprano capable of exquisite musical effects, supported by a sincere and ardent temperament.” She took New York by storm in a sold-out recital at Town Hall in 1939 and pursued a successful recital career.

Although she committed more than 100 operatic roles to memory, she never appeared on an opera stage; there were no such opportunities for a black artist in the late 1930’s and the 1940’s, when she was in her prime. (Miss Anderson, the first black singer to appear at the Metropolitan Opera, did not make her debut there until 1955.) (Source: NY Times)

2002 – Vonetta Flowers becomes first African American to receive a gold medal during the Winter Olympics

On February 19, 2002, people in Alabama were glued to their TV’s, curious to see how the state’s only bobsledder would perform against the rest of the world. In less than 1 minute 48 seconds, tears of joy began to flow, because the young woman from Birmingham, Alabamawho dared to try an untraditional sport had left her permanent foot prints in the snow by becoming the 1st person of African descent to win a Gold Medal in the Winter Olympics.People from all over the world soon became familiar with the story of how a little girl’s dream of competing in the Summer Olympics led her to tryout for the U.S. Women’s Olympic Bobsled Team. In only 18 months after answering a help wanted ad, she would win the inaugural bobsled event and shatter the racial barrier in the process. Many were shocked to discover the struggles she encountered, others were encouraged by the sacrifices she made and all were inspired by her determination to pursue a life long dream of becoming an Olympian. (source:

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