THIS WEEK IN Black History

November 20, 2015


Thursday, November 19 After nine years of exile in Cuba, Algeria and France, Eldridge Cleaver returned to California in 1977, to face charges of attempted murder following a 1968 shootout with Oakland police. He returned to the United States and surrendered to the F.B.I. under a deal with the government by which he pleaded guilty to the assault charge stemming from the shootout. Charges of attempted murder were dropped, and he was sentenced to 1,200 hours of community service, but he was never again healthy in his mind, according to his wife, Kathleen, who was interviewed by The New York Times after his death in 1998.

Friday, November 20 The U.S. Patent Office grants a patent for the first-position traffic signal to Garrett Morgan in 1923. Though Morgan’s was not the first traffic signal (that one had been installed in London in 1868), it was an important innovation nonetheless. By having a third position besides just “Stop” and “Go,” it regulated crossing vehicles more safely than earlier signals. He eventually sold the patent to General Electric for $40,000.

Saturday, November 21 On the spur of the moment in 1934 a gangly young dancer named Ella Fitzgerald decided to sing rather than dance when her name was pulled out of a hat on Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. She won the contest and went on to become a legendary jazz singer.

Sunday, November 22 Elijah Muhammed attended his first meeting of the Nation of Islam and accepted its teachings in 1930.

Monday, November 23 John Lee Love was granted a patent for a portable pencil sharpener in 1897. The design was simple, including a hand crank and a compartment to capture the pencil shavings. It has been in continuous use since it was first produced.

Tuesday, November 24 Pianist Scott Joplin, the “Father of Ragtime”, is born in 1868.

Wednesday, November 25 The Interstate Commerce Commission banned segregation on buses and in waiting rooms used for interstate travel on this date in 1955.