Lee Elder becomes first Black golfer to play in Masters

On April 10, 1975, 41-year-old Lee Elder becomes the first Black golfer to play in the Masters, considered the most prestigious event in the sport. Elder shoots 37 on the front and back nine for a 74 at the Augusta (Georgia) National Golf Club and trails leader Bobby Nichols by seven strokes. “I didn’t have any nervousness whatsoever,” Elder says after the round.

In Round 2, Elder shot a 78 and missed the cut in the tournament, won by Jack Nicklaus. Elder had qualified for the Masters by winning the 1974 Monsanto Open.

Many considered Elder’s historic achievement long overdue for the Masters and Augusta National and for a sport that had never been known for racial tolerance. The Professional Golfers Association, the organizer of the main professional tours played by men in North America, didn’t approve participation of African Americans in events it co-sponsored until 1952.

Augusta National didn’t have a Black member until 1990 (businessman Ron Townsend) or female member until 2012 (former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice).

“[Elder] was greeted with applause 31 times during his round,” wrote New York Times columnist Dave Anderson. “But it was polite applause, not really enthusiastic, not the emotional bursts that greet Ahnuld Palma, for example. And at no time was Elder’s name on the leader board where he belonged because of his historic round.”

Elder returned to play the Masters from 1977-81. His best finish was a tie for 17th in 1979.

Twenty-two years after Elder’s groundbreaking achievement, Tiger Woods became the first Black golfer to capture the green jacket, launching one of the greatest careers in golf history.

At the 2021 Masters, Elder was given the honor of hitting the ceremonial opening tee shot alongside six-time champion Nicklaus and three-time winner Gary Player. But he was not well enough to hit a shot.

Elder died on November 28, 2021. He was 87. “The game of golf lost a hero,” Nicklaus said.

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Ernie Davis becomes first Black player to win Heisman Trophy

On December 6, 1961, Syracuse running back Ernie Davis becomes the first Black player to win the Heisman Trophy—college football’s top individual award—beating  Ohio State fullback Bob Ferguson. Earlier in day, Davis meets with President John Kennedy at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. “I never thought I’d ever be shaking the hand of the President of the United States,” he says.

As a senior in 1961, Davis rushed for 823 yards and scored 14 touchdowns. The previous season, he rushed for 877 yards. 

Davis was the first pick in the 1962 NFL draft, by Washington, which traded him to the Cleveland Browns. But he never played in the NFL. Davis was diagnosed with leukemia later in 1962, and died on May 18, 1963. He was 23.

“When I look back I can’t call myself unlucky,” Davis wrote in The Saturday Evening Post in March 1963. “My 23rd birthday was December 14. In these years I have had more than most people get in a lifetime.”

Years after Davis’ death, Syracuse coach Ben Schwartzwalder called him “the best kid I ever had anything to do with.”

“Ernie was just like a puppy dog, friendly and warm and kind,” he told Sports Illustrated. “He had that spontaneous goodness about him. He radiated enthusiasm. His enthusiasm rubbed off on the kids. Oh, he’d knock you down, but then he’d run back and pick you up. We never had a kid so thoughtful and polite.”

READ MORE: The Heisman Trophy Is Named After This Coach and Innovator

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Million Man March

An enormous crowd consisting mostly of African American men demonstrates on the National Mall on October 16, 1995, an event known as the Million Man March. Driven by their desire to see Congress act in the interests of African Americans, and to combat negative stereotypes of Black men, a disputed but undeniably high number of attendees converge for over 12 hours of speeches by leaders from many different corners of the civil rights movement.

The Million Man March was the brainchild of Louis Farrakahn, leader of the Nation of Islam, and was organized by the National African American Leadership Summit and a number of other groups. The march was largely a response to the politics of the time—with a Republican-controlled Congress and a conservative-leaning Democratic president, Bill Clinton, Washington was gripped by a desire to lower taxes and cut government spending on education, housing and social programs. Organizers also expressed a desire to change the public’s image of African American men in response to high-profile scandals like the O.J. Simpson trial and Mike Tyson’s rape conviction, arguing that Black men were often treated by the government and media as “sacrificial lambs” for the sins of all American men.

The event began with a Muslim call to prayer and a Christian invocation. Attendees took in speeches and performances by representatives from Africa and the Caribbean, a number of Christian ministers and other figures such as Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King III, Maya Angelou, Dr. Cornel West and many more in a program that lasted more than 12 hours. Speakers and attendees emphasized responsibility, with the crowd taking a pledge to support their families, refrain from abusive behavior toward women and children, and renounce violence except in self-defense, in addition to building up Black businesses and institutions in their communities. Some critics took issue with this aspect of the march, arguing that it amounted to a performance of responsibility by Black men that was chiefly meant to impress the media and corporate America. The march’s focus on men also received criticism from feminists, including Angela Davis. During the march, the Rev. Jesse Jackson railed against the Republican-controlled House of Representatives for cutting funding to public schools in poor areas, while other speakers condemned racial inequities in law enforcement and the closing of inner-city hospitals.

The U.S. Park Police estimated that 400,000 people had attended, angering the Million Man March’s organizers. A later estimate put the number at 870,000 with a 20 percent margin of error, just high enough to leave open the possibility that a million men had attended. Like the attendance total, the march’s long-term impact is difficult to assess, but organizers point to the fact that over 1.5 million Black men registered to vote for the first time over the course of the next year as evidence of their success.

READ MORE: Black History: Timeline of the Post-Civil Rights Era

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The National Museum of African American History and Culture opens

More than 15 years after it was first established, the National Museum of African American History and Culture opens on the National Mall on September 24, 2016. Barack Obama, the nation’s first African American president, leads the ceremony and officially opens the museum by ringing the Freedom Bell, a bell from an African American Baptist church founded in 1776.

As far back as 1915, there had been proposals for a museum recognizing the achievements of African Americans. In 1929, President Herbert Hoover approved a commission to create such an institution, but it never received funding. Various attempts were made to pass legislation establishing a museum through Congress, including multiple bills introduced by Georgia congressman and civil rights icon John Lewis, but even after the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution joined the effort in the 1990s it still took more than a decade.

Finally, in 2003, Congress approved and President George W. Bush signed legislation allocating $17 million to plan the museum and choose a site. Eventually, it was decided that the museum would sit on the National Mall, the newest addition to what is literally a long line of museums stretching from the Washington Monument to the Capitol. The final design, however, was like nothing else in the area: an inverted step pyramid, encased in a bronze screen that references historic iron grilles from African American communities in Charleston, South Carolina and New Orleans, Louisiana. In the words of David Adjaye, a British architect of Ghanaian descent who was part of the design team, the building was meant to provide a “punch” at the end of the “row of palaces” that was the rest of the Mall. The building rises five stories into the air and reaches equally deep underground.

The museum was completed with just months left in Obama’s second term. At the opening ceremony, the president shed tears as he talked about watching the museum’s construction and imagining how he would one day tour it with his grandchildren. In addition to two former presidents, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and entertainers like Will Smith and Oprah Winfrey, Obama was joined by four generations of an African American family, the Bonners. 99-year-old Ruth Bonner, whose father was born into slavery, helped him ring the Freedom Bell along with her daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter. The NMAAHC drew 2.4 million visitors in its first full year of operation and is the world’s largest museum dedicated to African American history and culture.

READ MORE: Black History: Timeline of the Post-Civil Rights Era

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The Harlem Riot of 1943 begins

Simmering racial tensions and economic frustrations boil over in New York City on the night of August 1, 1943, culminating in what is now known as the Harlem Riot of 1943. During an altercation in the lobby of the Braddock Hotel, a white police officer shoots a Black soldier, Robert Bandy, triggering a massive uprising.

Overwhelmingly white before the Great Migration, Harlem was 89 percent Black by the time the United States entered World War II. Despite the cultural innovations that accompanied these changes, known as the Harlem Renaissance, the neighborhood’s businesses remained mostly white-owned, and landlords and business owners continued to discriminate against Black residents. World War II brought not only conscription but also a higher cost of living, putting even more strain on a Black community whose economy was still controlled almost entirely by whites.

On the evening of August 1, a Black woman named Marjorie Polite checked into the Braddock, a historic hotel that had fallen into disrepair. Unsatisfied with her room, she asked for a refund at the front desk. The ensuing altercation led a white policeman, James Collins, to arrest her for disorderly conduct, during which time Bandy, a military policeman based in New Jersey, arrived to meet his visiting mother for dinner. The New York Police Department’s official report recorded that Bandy attacked Collins, but Bandy and his mother claimed that they merely tried to stop him from pushing Polite and prevented him from hitting her with his nightstick. Collins shot Bandy, who was taken to a hospital and treated for superficial wounds.

As a rumor spread that Collins had killed Bandy, crowds assembled near the Braddock and soon began to riot. They turned their rage on local white-owned businesses, leading Black business owners to hurriedly post signs announcing that their stores were Black-owned. Six Black residents were killed and nearly 500 were injured as the NYPD and, at the behest of Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, the Army moved into the streets of Harlem. La Guardia did his best to downplay the riot, but the unrest did draw the attention of the federal Office of Price Administration and of La Guardia’s government, which pressured local landlords to comply with price restrictions and stop gouging residents. The riot also affected Harlem residents like James Baldwin, Malcolm X (then Malcolm Little) and the poet Langston Hughes, whose poem “Beaumont to Detroit: 1943” ends with a reference to the sad irony of African Americans fighting for a country that did not see them as equals: “I ask you this question/ Cause I want to know/ How long I got to fight/ BOTH HITLER–AND JIM CROW.”

READ MORE: How the Police Shooting of a Black Soldier Triggered the 1943 Harlem Riots

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Sojourner Truth delivers powerful speech on African American women’s rights

At the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention, on May 29, 1851, the formerly enslaved woman, Sojourner Truth, rises to speak and assert her right to equality as a woman, as well as a Black American. The exact wording of her speech, which becomes famous for the refrain, “Ain’t I a Woman?” has been lost to history. In fact, historians have since challenged whether Truth ever used the famous refrain as she spoke. Nonetheless, her speech becomes widely regarded as one of the most powerful moments of the early women’s liberation movement.

Born into slavery in Ulster County, New York, Isabella Baumfree escaped with her infant daughter in 1826 and chose the name Sojourner Truth. She later successfully sued a slaveowner for custody of her son, becoming the first Black woman to take a white man to court and win. She remained an antislavery activist and, after the Civil War, a crusader for the rights of African Americans for the rest of her life. Her speech at the Ohio Women’s Rights Convention formed much of the foundation of her legacy.

LISTEN: Sojourner’s Truth on HISTORY This Week Podcast

There are two conflicting versions of the speech, neither of which was transcribed at the time Truth actually gave it. An account reported in the Anti-Slavery Bugle was the first to be published and does not actually include the titular phrase. On May 2, 1863, Frances Gage, a white abolitionist and president of the Convention, published an account of Truth’s words in the National Anti-Slavery Standard. In her account, Gage wrote that Truth used the rhetorical question, “Ar’n’t I a Woman?” to point out the discrimination Truth experienced as a Black woman.

Various details in Gage’s account, however, including that Truth said she had 13 children (she had five) and that she spoke in dialect have since cast doubt on its accuracy. Contemporaneous reports of Truth’s speech did not include this slogan, and quoted Truth in standard English. In later years, this slogan was further distorted to “Ain’t I a Woman?”, reflecting the false belief that as a formerly enslaved woman, Truth would have had a Southern accent. Truth was, in fact, a New Yorker.

Regardless, there is little doubt that Truth’s speech—and many others she gave throughout her adult life—moved audiences. Truth straightforwardly described of the predicament of Black women, who were not even afforded the paternalistic treatment their white counterparts received. 

According to the Bugle version, she also facetiously described the predicament of white men, who were “surely between a hawk and a buzzard” with both women and African Americans demanding equality. As Truth deftly criticized not only sexism and racism, but also the racism of her fellow feminists, her speech is now regarded not only as one of the earliest entries in the canon of American feminism but also an early example of intersectionality, more than a century and a half before the term came to prominence.

READ MORE: Early Women’s Rights Activists Wanted Much More than Suffrage

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Texas passes a bill becoming the first state in the nation to make Juneteenth an official state holiday

A celebration that has persisted for over a century receives its first official recognition on June 7, 1979, as the Texas Legislature passes a bill declaring Juneteenth a state holiday. The annual June 19 celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation—not the announcement itself, but the arrival of the news of the proclamation in Texas—is now officially observed in almost all 50 states.

President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation officially freed the enslaved peoples of the rebellious Southern states on New Year’s Day of 1863, but the order only applied to territories currently held by the Confederacy. Southerners did not recognize Lincoln’s authority, and in many cases slaveowners and whites simply withheld the news from enslaved people. The wait was especially long in Texas, where news of slavery’s demise did not arrive until two months after Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox ended the Civil War. On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas and proclaimed the news to the enslaved people there.

READ MORE: What Is Juneteenth?

The day instantly became an important one to the African American citizens of Texas, who held annual celebrations and even made pilgrimages to Galveston each Juneteenth. In 1872, a group of Black ministers and businessmen purchased ten acres of land in Houston for the occasion, naming it Emancipation Park. Black communities across the nation continued to celebrate Juneteenth for the next century. The holiday received renewed interest with the rise of the civil rights Movement in the 1960s, particularly when Rev. Ralph Abernathy of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference proclaimed Juneteenth “Solidarity Day” as part of his 1968 Poor People’s Campaign. Another civil rights leader, the recently-elected State Representative Al Edwards of Houston, introduced the bill making Juneteenth a paid holiday in the state of Texas. In the following decades, most of the country either made Juneteenth a holiday or declared it would officially observe the occasion, and parades and public celebrations have attracted larger and larger crowds.

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Martin Luther King, Jr. is jailed; writes “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

On April 3, 1963, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., his Southern Christian Leadership Conference and their partners in the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights led a campaign of protests, marches and sit-ins against segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. By April 12, King was in prison along with many of his fellow activists. While imprisoned, King penned an open letter now known as his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” a full-throated defense of the Birmingham protest campaign that is now regarded as one of the greatest texts of the civil rights movement.

On April 12, Good Friday, King and dozens of his fellow protestors were arrested for continuing to demonstrate in the face of an injunction obtained by Commissioner of Public Safety Theophilus Eugene “Bull” Connor. Connor, who had just lost the mayoral election, remains one of the most notorious pro-segregationists in American history thanks to the brutal methods his forces employed against the Birmingham protestors that summer. The man who had won the election, Albert Boutwell, was also a segregationist, and he was one of many who accused “outsiders”—he clearly meant King—of stirring up trouble in Birmingham. As he sat in a solitary jail cell without even a mattress to sleep on, King began to pen a response to his critics on some scraps of paper.

The resulting letter was addressed to “Fellow Clergymen” who had criticized the protest campaign. King first dispensed with the idea that a preacher from Atlanta was too much of an “outsider” to confront bigotry in Birmingham, saying, “I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” While stressing the importance of non-violence, he rejected the idea that his movement was acting too fast or too dramatically: “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was ‘well timed’ in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation.” King also advocated for violating unjust laws and urged that believers in organized religion “[break] loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity.” All told, the lengthy letter constituted a defense of nonviolent protest, a call to push the issue of civil rights, and a rallying cry for fence-sitters to join the fight, even if it meant that they, too, might end up in jail.

The worst of Connor’s brutalities came after the letter was written, but the Birmingham campaign succeeded in drawing national attention to the horrors of segregation. The United Auto Workers paid King’s $160,000 bail, and he was released from jail on April 20. Four months later, King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, regarded by many as the high-water mark of his movement. The following year, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which guaranteed voting rights to minorities and outlawed segregation and racial discrimination in all places of public accommodation. 

READ MORE ABOUT MLK:

10 Things You May Not Know About Martin Luther King, Jr
For Martin Luther King, Jr., Nonviolent Protest Never Meant ‘Wait and See’
The Fight for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

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Michael Brown is killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri

Year
2014
Month Day
August 09

On August 9, 2014, police officer Darren Wilson shoots and kills Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teenager, in the street of Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. Protests and riots ensue in Ferguson and soon spread across the country.

There are many different accounts of the incident, including the testimonies of Wilson and of Brown’s friend, Dorian Johnson, who was with Brown at the time. Many details differ, but most accounts agree that Wilson saw Brown and Johnson walking in the street, demanded they get on the sidewalk, then stopped his police SUV in front of them in order to confront them. He and Brown had an altercation through the open window of the car, during which Wilson fired twice. Brown and Johnson tried to leave, Wilson exited his car to pursue them, and at some point Brown turned back around to face Wilson, who then fired 12 shots, six of which hit Brown. Wilson claimed he fired in self-defense as Brown charged him, which Johnson denied. Many have claimed that Wilson warned Brown he would open fire, and that Brown responded with “Don’t shoot!” before he was killed.

The community immediately reacted with rage at the news of 18-year-old Brown’s death. The shooting ignited long-simmering tensions between the majority-Black population of Ferguson and the local police, who were mostly white. Though public opinion was sharply divided, the protests and riots and the response by Ferguson’s heavily militarized police demonstrated the extent to which the relationship between racial minorities in America and the police had frayed. 

Brown’s name, the phrase “Hands up, don’t shoot” and the very mention of Ferguson quickly entered the lexicon of the growing Black Lives Matter movement. 

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President Truman ends discrimination in the military

Year
1948
Month Day
July 26

President Harry S. Truman signs Executive Order 9981—ending discrimination in the military—on July 26, 1948. Truman’s order ended a long-standing practice of segregating Black soldiers and relegating them to more menial jobs.

African Americans had been serving in the United States military since the Revolutionary War, but were deployed in their largest numbers during World War II. By December 31, 1945, more than 2.5 million African Americans had registered for the military draft, and with African American women volunteering in large numbers throughout the war the U.S. Armed Forces had become the number one employer of Black people. By the time WWII ended, some 900,000 African Americans had served in the Army, Army Air Forces, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Army Nurse Corps.

Black WWII veterans were eligible for a free college education under the Servicemen Readjustment Act of 1944—the GI Bill—as well as other benefits, but most faced discrimination when trying to access their benefits. This led many veterans to re-examine their poor treatment while they were in service.

READ MORE: How the GI Bill’s Promise Was Denied to a Million Black WWII Veterans

After witnessing racism in the service, Grant Reynolds resigned from his commission as a WWII chaplain and joined with the activist A. Philip Randolph to co-chair the Committee Against Jim Crow in Military Service and Training. By composing letters and telegrams, holding protest rallies and hearings, and threatening to conduct a nationwide draft resistance campaign, the Committee worked with groups like the Committee to End Segregation in the Armed Forces and the League for Non-Violent Civil Disobedience Against Military Segregation to demand equal treatment for Black people in the United States Armed Forces.

READ MORE: When Black Nurses Were Relegated to Care for German POWs

The pressure from these groups pushed President Truman to establish a Commission on Civil Rights which, in October 1947, issued a report calling for a permanent Fair Employment Practices Commission, federal anti-lynching and anti-poll tax laws, and a bolstering of the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division. Truman urged the U.S. Congress to move forward with the Commission’s recommendations. When Congress rejected his pleas, Truman pushed for many of the proposals on his own. One of his most significant actions was the signing of Executive Order 9981, which states: “It is hereby declared to be the policy of the President that there shall be equality of treatment and opportunity for all persons in the armed services without regard to race, color, religion or national origin.”

READ MORE: Black History Milestones: A Timeline

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