Thursday December10: American singer, songwriter and talent scout, Otis Redding, died in 1967 in a plane crash in Lake Monona near Madison. He and all but one other member on the plane were killed. They were due to perform at the Factory nightclub, near the University of Wisconsin. The following month his most popular cross-over hit “(Sittin on) the Dock of Bay,” was released. It eventually became Redding’s only number one hit on the Billboard Hot 100, and the first posthumous number-one single in US chart history. The single sold approximately 4 million copies worldwide and continues to receive pop music radio airplay.
Friday December11: At dawn in 1917, 13 African American members of a segregated Army unit were hanged at a military base outside of San Antonio four months after more than 100 members of the unit were provoked into a race riot. Racial tensions began the day the segregated unit was assigned to erect barracks near at a military base near Houston. These included random shootings and physical abuse. The riot began after a black corporal who had gone to the white base to inquire after a black soldier arrested for preventing white soldiers from arresting a drunk, black woman was shot. The white citizens were heavily armed, but no match for the trained troops. Fifteen whites and four blacks died before order was restored.
Saturday December12: After being denied admission to the University of Missouri Law School in 1936, Lloyd Lionel Gaines filed suit claiming that the state policy of paying out state tuition costs for black students violated due process under the 14th Amendment. He lost in state court, but the United States Supreme Court ruled in his favor in 1938. The case was a major accomplishment toward desegregation, but the mental toll on Gaines, who was initially persuaded by the NAACP to pursue the case, was severe and he vanished without a trace before he could enroll for the fall 1939 semester. His case remains one of more than 100 Civil Rights Era disappearances that are still open FBI cases.
Sunday December13: Civil rights activist Ella Baker was born in 1903. She was a highly regarded and effective organizer who worked largely behind-the-scenes. Her career spanned over five decades and she worked alongside some of the most famous civil rights leaders of the 20th century, including, W. E. B. Du Bois, Thurgood Marshall, A. Philip Randolph, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. She also mentored many emerging activists. She was a critic of ‘top down’ leadership and a promoter of grassroots organizing and radical democracy. She has been called “One of the most important African American leaders of the 20th century and perhaps the most influential woman in the civil rights movement.”
Monday December 14: Dinah Washington (born Ruth Lee Jones) died in 1963. She has been widely praised as “the most popular black female recording artist of the 1950s.”Primarily a jazz vocalist, she performed and recorded in a wide variety of styles including blues, R&B, and traditional pop music. She gave herself the title of “Queen of the Blues” and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.
Tuesday December15: African American teacher and entrepreneur Maggie Lena Walker died in 1934. She was the first female bank president of any race to found and run a U.S. bank. She also started her own newspaper. As a leader, she achieved successes with the vision to make tangible improvements in the way of life for African Americans and women. Disabled by paralysis and limited to a wheelchair later in life, she also became an example for people with disabilities.
Wednesday December16: General Colin Luther Powell was named the first African American Secretary of State in 2001.