On this day in Black history…
1. 1990 – Nelson Mandela is released
Nelson Mandela’s greatest pleasure, his most private moment, is watching the sun set with the music of Handel or Tchaikovsky playing. Locked up in his cell during daylight hours, deprived of music, both these simple pleasures were denied him for decades. With his fellow prisoners, concerts were organized when possible, particularly at Christmas time, where they would sing. Nelson Mandela finds music very uplifting, and takes a keen interest not only in European classical music but also in African choral music and the many talents in South African music.
2. 1989 – Penn’s 1996 Baccalaureate Speaker is The Right Reverend Barbara Clementine Harris, a Philadelphian who was the first woman ever to become a bishop in the Anglican Communion. Bishop Harris entered the priesthood after a long and successful career in public and community relations in Philadelphia between 1949 and 1977. On graduation from the Charles Morris Price School she joined Joseph V. Baker Associates Inc and rose to president. She also held senior posts with the Sun Company from 1968 until 1977, when she began her theological studies at Villanova University. Studying later at the Urban Theology Unit in Sheffield, England, she then graduated from the Pennsylvania Foundation for Pastoral Counseling, and was ordained a deacon in 1979 and a priest in 1980. Before she was consecrated a bishop in 1989, she had been Priest-in-Charge of St. Augustine of Hippo in Norristown, serving also as as a prison chaplain and as counsel to industrial corporations for public policy issues and social concerns. Named executive director of the Episcopal Church Publishing Company in 1984, she was also publisher of The Witness, and she held the additional post of interim rector of Philadelphia’s Church of the Advocate in 1988. Bishop Harris is a member of the Union of Black Episcopalians, and among other activities she represents the national Episcopal Church on the board of the Prisoner Visitation and Support Committee, and is vice president of Episcopal City Mission of the Diocese of Massachusetts.
3. 1976 – Clifford Alexander, Jr. is confirmed as the first African American Secretary of the Army. He will hold the position until the end of President Jimmy Carter’s term.
4. 1971 – Whitney M. Young, Jr. was Executive Director of the National Urban League from 1961 until his tragic, untimely death in 1971. He worked tireless to bring the races together, and joined the tenets of social work, of which he was an outstanding practitioner, to the social activism that brought the Urban League into the forefront of the civil rights arena. Whitney was constantly in search of solutions to the racism that plagued Americans and caused black Americans to be regulated to second-class citizenship in the land they fought and died for. A relentless advocate for the poor, he visited rural and urban communities and advocated their cause to the nation. He was a close advisor to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, and conferred with President Nixon; helping to shape the policies of three administrations and playing a major role in the development of the War on Poverty. He was a key figure in bringing the now-legendary 1963 March on Washington to fruition; and was a major force in bringing black leadership together in a united front for progress. Whitney’s eloquent testimony before Congressional committees and his powerful appeals to business, professional and civic leaders helped create an environment in which African Americans forged ahead to win new opportunities.
5. 1961 – February 11, Robert Weaver sworn in as administrator of the Housing and Home Finance Agency, highest federal post to date by a Black American.
6. 1898 – Owen L. W. Smith of North Carolina, AME Zion minister and educator, named minister to Liberia.
7. 1783 – Jarena Lee was born
The daughter of former slaves, born in Cape May, New Jersey. Jarena Lee is the considered the first female preacher in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. In 1836, she published her autobiography, The Life and Religious Experiences, of Jarena Lee, a Colored Lady, Giving an Account of Her Call to Preach the Gospel. Her maiden name is unknown and the year of her death is uncertain. She married Joseph Lee, a minister of a Black church in Snow Hill (Lawnside – about 6 miles from Philadelphia) in 1811.
8. 1644 – First Black legal protest in America pressed by eleven Blacks who petitioned for freedom in New Netherlands (New York). Council of New Netherlands freed the eleven petitioners because they had “served the Company seventeen or eighteen years” and had been “long since promised their freedom on the same footing as other as other free people in New Netherlands.”