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February 1st

February 1st is National Freedom Day.  The day commemorates the signing of the joint resolution that would become the 13th Amendment by Abraham Lincoln on that day in 1865.  Governor Oglesby of Illinois immediately signed the resolution.  On December 6, 1865, Georgia became the 27th state to ratify the amendment.  On December 18, having been ratified by three-fourths of the states (27 of the 36 states) , Secretary of State Seward certified that the Thirteenth Amendment had become a valid part of the Constitution.



Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.


Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

February 2nd

On February 2, 1955, Representative Adam Clayton Powell Jr. of New York, the first African American to be elected to Congress (although not the first appointed), argued in favor of supporting the two proposed civil rights bills before Congress.

His speech can be read in full here and a list of his books can be viewed here.

February 3rd

On February 3, 1846, architect and bridge builder, Horace King, was emancipated from slavery.  King was born into slavery in South Carolina.  In 1830, King was sold to John Godwin.  King was taught to read at a young age and began construction projects with Godwin, who was a contractor.  The Columbus City Bridge in 1833 is the first known bridge built by King.  By 1840, he began to be acknowledged as a co-builder with Godwin.  On February 3, 1846, with his earnings, King purchased his freedom from the Godwin family.  Robert Jeminson, an Alabama State Senator, whom King had worked with previously, petitioned the state legislature  to pass an exemption allowing King to remain in Alabama.  In 1849, King was hired to construct the framework of the new Alabama State Capitol and design the spiral staircases.  King, as a free black man, purchased the future abolitionist John Sella Martin in the 1850’s, but sold him shortly after in 1852.  After finally escaping slavery in 1856, Martin eventually settled in Boston and became a minister at the First Independent Baptist Church and became an active abolitionist. Read J. Sella Martin’s poem The Hero and the Slave.


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Red Oak Creek 

Covered Bridge

Bridge House

Albany, Georgia

February 4th

On February 4, 1913, Rosa Parks, was born in Tuskegee, Alabama.  Born, Rosa Louise McCauley, she grew up in and around Montgomery, Alabama.  She went to a laboratory high school at the Alabama State Teachers’ College for Negroes, but left at 16 to care for her dying grandmother and sick mother.  In 1932, she married Raymond Parks, a barber and long-time member of the NAACP.  The NAACP were collecting money at the time to support the defense of the Scottsboro Boys, who were falsely accused of raping white women.  Raymond supported her efforts to earn her high-school diploma, which she wound up doing, but not of joining the NAACP initially for fear of her safety.  Rosa joined the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP in 1943 and became chapter secretary.  That same year, Rosa Parks boarded a city bus in the front and paid her fare, but the driver James Blake told her to get off and re-board in the rear, but pulled off without her when she got off the bus. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Park was commuting home from work by bus.  The front of the bus was reserved for white citizens.  Rosa and other black riders were seated in the front row of seats in the black section of the bus.  It was custom for bus drivers to ask black people to give up their seat for a white rider.  At the time there were contradictory laws in Montgomery on whether a person must give up their seat.  On December 1st, when a white man boarded the bus and the white section was full the driver demanded the four seats occupied in the first row of the “colored section” leave their seats, Rosa Parks refused.  

February 5th

On February 5, 1934, Georgia Teresa Gilmore was born.  Gilmore worked as a midwife in Montgomery and for the National Lunch Company.  In October 1955, Gilmore boarded a Montgomery bus in the front and paid her fare.  The driver demanded that she get off and board in the back.  She resisted at first, but then  and like James Blake had done to Rosa Parks in 1943, he drove off before she could board again.  After Rosa Parks was arrested two months later, Gilmore joined a community church meeting to talk about racial injustice.  Five thousand people attended the meeting including Martin Luther King Jr.  Gilmore, who worked as a cook, decided to help feed and fund the efforts of the Montgomery bus boycott.  She organized the Club From Nowhere to sell savory meals to help fund the effort.  The boycott lasted over a year and involved meetings, protest and organized car pools using the funds the club raised.  On November 13, 1956, the US Supreme Court struck down the laws requiring segregation on public buses.  Gilmore continued her activism throughout her life.

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February 6th

Melvin Beaunorus Tolson was born Feb 6, 1898 in Moberly, Missouri.  Tolson grew up in Missouri and Iowa, graduating from high school in Kansas City in 1919.  Tolson graduated with honors from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1923 and received a master's degree from Columbia University in 1940.  Tolson was a poet, a college professor and mayor of Langston, Oklahoma from 1954 to 1960.  Tolson published his first poetry collection, Rendevous with America, in 1944 and his final work the Harlem Gallery was published in 1965.  During his tenure at Wiley College, Tolson was the debate coach.  The debate team were pioneers in interracial college debates and won against the national champions from the University of Southern California in 1935.  The 2007 film the Great Debaters is based on his debate team, the Wiley Forensic Society.  See a list of Tolson's published works. Read Tolson's Rendezvous with America here.

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February 7th

Eubie Blake was born on February 7, 1887 in Baltimore.  Blake became interested in music as a small child, receiving lessons from a neighbor when he was just seven years old.  In 1907, boxer, Joe Gans, hired Blake to play piano at his Goldfield Hotel in Baltimore.  He continued to play there and at clubs in Atlantic City through 1914.  According to Blake, he composed the melody of the Charleston Rag (listen below) when he was just 12 years old.  Blake continued to play and record music until his death, days after his 96th birthday.  Blake also wrote the music for Shuffle Along, the first Broadway musical with an all-black cast, playwright, composer and lyricist.  

Charleston RagEubie Blake
00:00 / 03:07

February 8th

On February 8, 1850, John Stewart Rock addressed a white audience in New Jersey, entreating them to grant the right to vote to African Americans.  John Stewart Rock was an African American abolitionist, teacher, doctor, dentist and lawyer and an important civil rights leader who was known for being a gifted orator. John Stewart Rock was born on October 13, 1825 in Salem, New Jersey.  In 1844, Rock began teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in Salem.  Rock held six hour classes, conducted private tutoring lessons, all while studying medicine.  In 1848, Rock was denied admission to medical school based on his race.  He decided to become a dentist and after his apprenticeship opened a practice in Philadelphia in 1850.  Rock later was admitted to the American Medical College in Philadelphia in 1852.  Rock practiced medicine until 1859 when his health began declining.  He began studying law and in 1861 he passed the bar and opened a private practice, advocating for the rights of African Americans.  In 1862, Rock spoke at the Anti-Slavery Society in Boston.  The day after Congress approved the 13th Amendment, Rock became the first black attorney to be admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court.


View the full speech of Rock here

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February 9th

On February 9, 1953, the National Book Award was given to Ralph Waldo Ellison for his novel, Invisible Man.  This was the first time the honor was given to an African American author.  Ellison was born on March 1, 1913 in Oklahoma City.  His parents named him after Ralph Waldo Emerson.  In 1933, he attended the Tuskegee Institute on a musical scholarship.  He later studied sculpture in New York.  In New York, his friend and author, Richard Wright encouraged Ellison to write for a living.  Ellison did so, writing book reviews, short stories and articles, while his wife Fanny McConnell worked as a photographer, and while Ellison also worked on his novel.  Ellison published Invisible Man in 1952, impressing readers and critics. In 1969, Ellison was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  Ellison continued to write essays and short stories, but never published a second novel during his lifetime.  His second novel, Juneteenth, was edited by his long-time friend John F. Callahan and published posthumously, a 368-page version of his unfinished 2000-page manuscript.  Callahan and Adam Bradley also edited and published the fuller version of the manuscript as Three Days Before the Shooting… in 2010.

Request a copy of Invisible Man at the Port Jervis Library. 


February 10th

On February 10, 1964, after 12 days of debate and voting, the United States House of Representatives passed the Civil Rights Act by a vote of 290-130. After a 54-day filibuster in the Senate, it passed on June 19 and was signed into law by Johnson on July 2nd.


The full text of the act can be viewed here

February 11th

On February Feb 11, 1644, eleven slaves filed a petition for freedom.  Paul d’Angola, Big Manuel, Little Manuel, Manuel de Gerrit de Rens, Simon Congo, Anthony Portuguese, Garcia, Peter Santome, John Francisco, Little Anthony and John Fort Orange were the signers of the petition.  The Council of New Netherland freed the “Dutch Negroes” because they served the Dutch West India company for "seventeen or eighteen years" and were "previously promised their freedom".  They each received a parcel of land in what is now Greenwich Village. Black landowners would come to own 130 acres around what is now Washington Square Park.  According to a land deed from 1645, one of the men, Anthony Portuguese, owned what is now Washington Square Park.  Lucas Santome, the son of Peter, another of the petitioners, studied medicine in Holland and was granted permission to practice as a physician in New York in the 1660s.  Jan (or Juan) Rodriguez was the first known non-indigenous inhabitant to live on Manhattan Island.  He was born in Santo Domingo to a Portuguese father and African mother.  He was hired by captain Thijs Volckenz Mossel as a translator on a trading trip to Manhattan in 1613.  Weeks after anchoring in the Hudson River, Rodrigues refused to leave, settling there as a free man and marrying a Lenape woman. 

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February 12th

On February 12, 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was founded  in response to the Springfield Race Riot of 1908.  A white restaurant owner and member of the Illinois National Guard, Harry Loper, had two black suspects in a murder and an attempted rape, transferred to prevent them from being lynched.  The white mob intent on lynching the two suspects, in response destroyed Loper’s car and restaurant, held the mayor hostage, attempted to burn Abraham Lincoln’s former home, destroyed black-owned businesses and black homes and white businesses that served black customers.  The mob injured and killed black citizens during the two-day riot and lynched two black men, William Donnegan, an 80-year-old man and former friend of Abraham Lincoln and Scott Burton, a 65-year old barber.  The number of lynchings in the decades around the turn of the century was at an all-time high, including the lynching of Robert Lewis in Port Jervis sixteen years earlier.  In response to the lynchings and the Springfield Race Riot the previous year Mary White Ovington, William English Walling and Henry Moskowitz met in New York City in January to organize for civil rights.  They sent out solicitations for support from more than sixty prominent Americans and set a meeting for February 12th to coincide with the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.  The group was originally called the National Negro Committee, but merged with the Niagara Movement the following year to form the NAACP.  The Niagara Movement was a civil rights organization founded in 1905 and led by W.E.B. Du Bois and William Monroe Trotter.  The founding group that met on February 12th included W.E.B. Du Bois (the first African-American to earn a doctorate at Harvard), Archibald Grimke (an attorney and diplomat and the nephew of the abolitionists and suffragists, Angelina and Sarah), Mary Church Terrell (one of the first African American women to earn a master's degree), Ida B. Wells (the first African-American woman to be a paid correspondent for a white-owned newspaper) , along with activists Henry Moskowitz, Mary White Ovington, William English Walling, Florence Kelley, Oswald Garrison Villard and Charles Edward Russell.

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February 13th

In the early days of baseball, there was little integration of teams, although black and white teams sometimes played each other.  The Red Stockings and the Delawares, of Port Jervis, a black team and white team, respectively, played against white and black teams in the area.  A few teams in that era that were part of the National Association of Baseball Players did have black players.  In the 1860's, for example, Charles M. O'Fake, the son of the prominent black musician Peter P. O’Fake,  played for the Newark Actives.  In 1867 the Pennsylvania Convention of Baseball denied admission to the black Pythian Baseball Club of Philadelphia.  In 1868, the Newark Actives and other teams were then barred from the NABBP, as the association determined that “any club including one of more colored players” would be excluded.  In 1872, John W. "Bud" Fowler played for an all-white professional team in Pennsylvania when he was just 14 years old and two black brothers, Moses "Fleet" Fleetwood Walker and Welday "Weldy" Walker, played for the Toledo Blue Stockings in 1884.  Fleet’s own pitcher who later admitted he was the “best catcher I ever worked with” would intentionally throw the ball in the dirt to injure his own teammate.  On July 14, 1887, the Newark Little Giants, an integrated team, were scheduled to play the Chicago White Stockings (now the Cubs).  When Newark's black pitcher, George Stovey, took to the field, Cap Anson (Adrian Constatine Anson, captain, manager and first baseman for the White Stockings) yelled racial slurs and demanded that Stovey leave the field.  The Little Giants, needing money from the game, gave in to Anson's demands and Stovey and his catcher Fleet Walker watched the game from the dugout.  That same day the International League voted to bar future black players from playing in the league, although Stovey, Walker and Bob Higgins were allowed to continue playing.  Although the National League and American Association did not write formal bans on black players, pressure on the few professional teams that were integrated came from the league, fans and players.  In 1889, Fleet Walker was the last black player to play in the International League.  During this time a number of successful all-black teams were playing such as the New York Gorhams of Newburgh and the Cuban Giants of Trenton, the first black professional team, who the Port Jervis Delawares played in 1889.  The first Negro League was founded in 1887, which included the Pythians and the Gorhams, but folded two weeks after opening day.  In 1910, player and manager of the Chicago Giants, Andrew "Rube" Foster, discussed reviving an all-black league, insisting the member teams be owned by black men.  After World War I, on February 13, 1920, Foster and fellow team members created the Negro National League at a YMCA in Kansas City.  In 1908, Moses Fleetwood Walker wrote Our Home Colony: A Treatise on the Past, Present and Future of the Negro Race in America, which can be read online here.

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Rube Foster and his Chicago Giants

February 14th

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Toledo Blue Stockings 

February 14, 1818 is the assumed birthdate of Frederick Douglass.  Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey was born into slavery in Maryland.  Based on records from his former owner, historians determined that Douglass was born in February 1818.  Douglass celebrated February 14th as his birthday as his mother called him "her Little Valentine".  While living with the Auld family in Baltimore, Sophia Auld tutored the young Douglass, but under her husband's pressure she suddenly stopped.  Douglass continued in secret to teach himself how to write and read.  On September 3, 1838, he successfully escaped from slavery boarding a train for the Delaware River and taking a steamboat to Philadelphia and then on to New York City, a journey that took him less than a day.  Douglass married Anna Murray days after his escape, a free woman he had met while in Baltimore.  Free in New Bedford, he chose a new surname after characters from the Lady of the Lake by Walter Scott.  Douglass attended an Anti-Slavery Society meeting in Nantucket where he heard William Lloyd Garrison speak.  Garrison invited Douglass to speak to the audience.  The 23-year old Douglass gave a moving and eloquent speech. Garrison convinced Douglass to write and publish his first autobiography, the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. In 1845, Douglass began publishing the first abolitionist newspaper, the North Star, in Rochester, New York.  Douglass and his wife provided lodging and resources for hundreds of escaped slaves.  In 1848, Douglass was the only African American to attend the Seneca Falls Convention and spoke out for women's suffrage.  In 1872, the delegates at the National Woman's Suffrage Association chose Victoria Woodhull and Frederick Douglass for nomination for President and vice president, respectively.  Douglass did not attend this convention or ever acknowledge the nomination.  Woodhull was ineligible for office as she would not have been 35.  Susan B. Anthony was arrested when she tried to vote in the election.  Douglass received a signal vote for nomination for president in 1888 from the Kentucky Delegation at the Republican Convention.  In 1848, in the National Liberty Party Convention he also received one vote for presidential nomination. 

Read the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave online.

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February 15th

On February 15, 1968, Henry Lewis became the first African American to lead a symphony orchestra.  Henry Jay Lewis was born October 16, 1932 in Los Angeles.  Lewis began studying the piano at age five and later learned to play the clarinet, the double bass and several other string instruments.  At the age of sixteen, he joined the Los Angeles Philharmonic orchestra becoming the first African American instrumentalist with a major orchestra.  He played with the Seventh Army Symphony in 1955 and 1956, while serving.  Returning to the United States, Lewis formed the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.  From 1961 to 1965 he was the assistant conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.  In 1968, Lewis was named the conductor and musical director of the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra in Newark, becoming the first African-American to lead a major symphony orchestra.  He greatly expanded the orchestra's performance schedule, recruited musicians to the orchestra such as Itzhak Perlman and performed with the orchestra at premier venues such as Carnegie Hall.  Lewis brought the orchestra to perform in neighborhoods that were mostly destroyed by the Newark riots, months earlier, playing at outdoor venues and local high schools.  He even offered $1 tickets for concerts at Symphony Hall.  He scheduled appearances by his wife and opera singer, Marilyn Horne. Lewis hosted the television program The Symphony Sound with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra to introduce the sounds and instruments of the symphony orchestra to school aged children.  In 1972, Lewis became the first African-American to conduct at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City, debuting Puccini's La boheme.  


Listen below to fifty year old recording of Lewis conducting the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra at Carnegie Hall for a condensed production of Berlioz's Les Troyens (one of my favorite operas!) featuring his wife Marilyn Horne as Cassandra.

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Berlioz - Les Troyens

February 16th

On February 16, 1923, blues singer Bessie Smith made her first recording with Clarence Williams on the piano.  She recorded the song Downhearted Blues, composed by Alberta Hunter and Lovie Austin.  Bessie Smith was born on April 15, 1894 in Chattanooga, Tennessee.  Her parents died when she was young and she and her siblings survived by performing on the street.  She began performing in chorus lines and later in her own act in clubs along the East Coast.  Smith was signed to Columbia Records in 1923 by a talent agent who saw her perform.   She became the highest-paid black performer of the time.  She made 160 recordings with Columbia, but her career was cut short, first by the Great Depression and then by a car accident that killed her in 1937. 

Bessie Smith (Down Hearted Blues, 1923) Bessie Smith
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February 17th

On February 17, 1857, Garnett Russell “G.R.” Waller was born in Eastville, Virginia.  In 1872, his mother, then a widow and her eight children moved to Baltimore.  Waller worked for three years as a shoemaker before attending school at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, graduating in 1884.  He graduated from Newton Theological Institution three years later. He grew the Trinity Baptist Church in Baltimore from a sunday school of fourteen members to a congregation of seven hundred.  He opened orphanages throughout Maryland and founded the “Colored Men’s Branch” of the YMCA. In July of 1905, Waller joined activists W.E.B. Du Bois, William Monroe Trotter and twenty-six others at the Erie Beach Hotel in Ontario to found the Niagara Movement, demanding equal rights, economic and educational opportunity and black suffrage.  This meeting formed the framework of the civil right movement.  In 1912, Waller was appointed the national vice president of the NAACP and served as the president of the nation’s second branch in Baltimore, which he chartered. 

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February 18th

On February 18, 1688, brothers Derick and Abraham op den Graeff and Gerhard Hendrichs (De Wees) and Francis Daniel Pastorius, a young German attorney and founder of Germantown (shown below), drafted the first petition against slavery in the United States.  Derick or Abraham (mentioned by surname only) is shown stoking a fire in John Greenleaf Whittier's poem The Pennsylvania Pilgrim (1872).  The document written by the four men appeals for a system of fairness and equality, citing the Golden Rule several times.  The petition was written at the house of Thones Dennis Kunders in Germantown and presented at a local meeting in Dublin (Abington), a few miles to the north of Germantown.  The petition was sent to the Philadelphia Quarterly Meeting to decide and then to the Philadelphia Yearly meeting in Burlington, New Jersey.  The document was eventually set aside and forgotten until 1844 when the abolitionist Nathan Kite published it in The Friend.  After disappearing once again, the document was rediscovered and is currently housed with the Haverford College Quaker and Special Collections.  In 1696, Caldwalader Morgan, a Quaker from Merion, Pennsylvania wrote another anti-slavery document.  This document caused the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting to issue a warning against slave holding and not to encourage the importing of slaves.  


You can read the full text of the 1688 document here

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February 19th

On February 19, 1919, the first Pan-African Congress was organized by W.E.B. Du Bois and Ida Gibbs Hunt in Paris.   Fifty-seven delegates from fifteen countries attended the meeting. The delegates from the United States included Richard Robert Wright, Sr, the civil rights advocate who founded National Freedom Day and William Henry Jernagin, African-American pastor and civil rights activist. The Congress presented several demands including the eventual self-administration of African colonies, freedom of expression, education and the right to own land. 

February 20th

On February 20, 1845 Sambo Anderson died.  Anderson was one of George Washington’s slaves, who was born and captured in Africa.  He worked as a carpenter on George Washington’s plantation in Virginia.  He was emancipated in 1801, by the terms of Washington’s will.  To earn a living as a free man, he hunted wild game, selling it to hotels and local landowners.  Anderson used his earnings to purchase and free enslaved family members, including his daughter and grandchildren. 

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John Trumbull's1780 painting depicting George Washington and his slave William Lee.

February 21st

On February 21, 1940, civil rights leader and US Congressman from Georgia, John Robert Lewis was born in Alabama.  The late Lewis is known for leading the march in Selma in 1965.  Lewis earned a B.A. in religion and philosophy at Fisk University in 1967.  He became involved in sit-ins and protests there.  In 1963, he was elected chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.  Lewis led efforts to register African American voters and organize communities in Mississippi in 1964.  After the March at Selma and the violence they faced at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, demonstrations in support of the marchers took place across the country.  This led to the passage of the landmark Voting Rights Act, which was signed into law in August 1965.   On the day of his funeral, upon his request, the New York Times printed this essay he wrote shortly before his death.

February 22nd

On February 22, 1841, the cartographer, lithographer and landscape painter Grafton Tyler Brown was born in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.  His father Thomas Brown was an abolitionist.  Brown went to Sacramento in 1858, where he worked as a hotel steward, while learning art on his own.  In 1860, he worked as an illustrator for lithographer Charles Kuchel.  Brown's bird’s eye view drawing of Virginia City in 1861 was the first depiction of the Nevada boomtown.  His large colorful landscapes of the West, along with other artists of the time, helped promote western movement.  Brown, however, was the first African American to paint the American West.  In 1882, Brown focused exclusively on plein air landscapes.  Brown painted landscapes of Mount Rainier, Mount Hood and Yellowstone and British Columbia, which are on display today at a number of museums across the country.

February 23rd

On February 23, 1868 William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.  Watch the short video biography of W.E.B. du Bois below.  You can request one of his books from the Port Jervis library here

February 24th

On February 24, 1864 Rebecca Lee Crumpler became the first African American woman to earn an M.D.  Crumpler was born on February 8, 1831 in Christiana, Delaware as Rebecca Davis and raised by her aunt, who cared for the sick.  In 1852, she moved to Charlestown, Massachusetts where she worked as a nurse and applied to the New England Female Medical College, where she graduated in 1864.  She gave her final oral examinations in February 1864 and was named a Doctor of Medicine by the board of trustees.  She practiced medicine in Boston and Richmond.  Her former house at 67 Joy Street in Boston is part of the Boston Women's Heritage Trail.  There are no known photographs of Crumpler.  You can read her Book on Medical Discourses online.

February 25th

Hiram Rhodes Revels became the first African American to serve in Congress when he was appointed to the United States Senate on February 25, 1870.  Rhodes was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina on September 27, 1827.  He was taught by a free black woman and worked initially as a barber.  In 1844, he moved north to complete his education.  He was ordained in the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1845.  He attended Knox College in Illinois on a scholarship in 1855.  In 1861, Revels helped to recruit black regiments from Maryland and served as a chaplain for a black regiment during the war.  In 1869, Revels won a seat in the Mississippi state senate.  African American's made up nearly a quarter of the states legislators in the Reconstruction government in Mississippi.  On January 20, 1870, the Mississippi state legislature voted 85 to 15 to seat Hiram Revels in Albert Brown's vacant seat.  Mississippi was not readmitted to the United States until February 23, but even then Senate Democrats wanted to block Revels from being sworn in.  While in office, Revels supported and worked for racial equality and integration. He served on the Committee of Education and Labor. In 1871, Revels accepted the position of the first president of Alcorn Agricultural and Mechanical College in Mississippi and he taught philosophy there. 

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February 26th

On February 26, 1869, the proposed Fifteenth Amendment was sent to the states for ratification.  The first state to ratify the amendment was Nevada on March 1, 1869.  By the end of January, the following year, Ohio became the twenty-sixth state to ratify the amendment. New York, however, rescinded its ratification in 1870 when Senator William “Boss” Tweed took advantage of the Democratic majority in Albany to reduce Republican power by not allowing the black vote.  The resolution to rescind the ratification, meant four additional states were needed to reach the three quarter majority.  By February 18, Georgia, Iowa, Nebraska and Texas joined in ratifying the amendment and on March 30, 1870, Secretary of State, Hamilton Fish certified the amendment. The following day, Thomas Mundy Peterson became the first African American to vote in an election in Perth Amboy, New Jersey in a local election over the city’s charter.  He was later appointed to the committee to amend the city's charter.  Peterson was given a gold Medallion on Decoration Day in 1884 (now Memorial Day) by the citizens of Perth Amboy who raised the equivalent of $1,800. Peterson was honored by the medal and said he never felt fully dressed without the medal.  Peterson (wearing his medal) and the historic Perth Amboy City Hall where he voted are pictured below.

Amendment XV

Section 1 

 The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

Section 2

The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

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February 27th

On February 27, 1880, Angelina Weld Grimké was born in Boston. Grimké was the daughter of Archibald Henry Grimké, the national vice president of the NAACP and the president of the Washington D.C. branch. Angelina attended the Boston Normal School of Gymnastics, moving to Washington, D.C. with her father after graduating.  In 1902, she began teaching English at the Armstrong Manual Training School.  In 1916, she taught at Dunbar High School.  During the summer, Grimké took classes at Harvard University.  Grimke wrote essays, short stories and poems for the Crisis, the NAACP newspaper.  Grimké wrote Rachel, one of the first plays to protest racial violence.  It was performed in D.C. and New York City by an all-black cast.  She was one of the first female black playwright to have a play publicly performed. Grimké also wrote a second anti-lynching play, Mara.

Read Angelina Weld Grimke's play Rachel online.


Angelina’s aunt and namesake was Angelina Emily Grimké Weld, a teacher, abolitionist and women’s suffragist. Angelina and her sister Sarah were white southerners, whose parents and siblings were slave owners.  Archibald Henry Grimké was the son of their brother and his slave.  In 1838, Angelina Grimké was giving a speech at the newly built abolitionist venue Pennsylvania Hall, while rioters threw rocks at the building outside. She contiuned speaking saying, "What would the breaking of every window be? Any evidence that we are wrong, or that slavery is a good and wholesome institution? What if the mob should burst in upon us, break up our meeting and commit violence upon our persons -- would this be anything compared to what the slaves endure?". The anti-abolitionist mob destroyed the building the following day, just days after it opened. Angelina and Sarah were teachers at Eagleswood in Perth Amboy.  The school at Eagleswood was founded in the 1850's was integrated and co-ed and had visiting lecturers such as Amos Bronson Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau.   It was there where Angelina, her sister Sarah and her husband Theodore Dwight Weld published American Slavery as It Is, one of the most important pieces of abolitionist literature.

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Angelina Weld Grimké

February 28th

On February 28, 1704, Elias Neau opened a catechist school for African Americans boys and girls in New York, likely the first in America.  Neau taught slaves and freemen, as well as Native Americans numbering in the hundreds in his own house at night.  He continued the school until his death in 1722.  Neau had begun instructing students by going house to house first and then teaching in the belfry of Trinity Church before moving the instruction to the third floor of his house.  It became the first integrated school in the country as white and Native American students of all ages began attending.  Neau was born Élie Neau in Moëze, France in 1661.  In 1685, he was a Huguenot refugee in New York where he became a successful merchant.  In 1692, his ship was seized by French privateers and he became a galley slave. Shortly after his freedom, he was imprisoned for four years at the Citadel of Marseille and the Château d’If for not renouncing his French Reformed faith. He was freed in 1698.  He returned to New York and became part of the L’Eglise du Saint-Esprit and later joined Trinity Church, where he served as a catechist.  He also worked to convince Parliament to pass laws demanding Christian instruction for slaves and Native Americans.  He believed that would be the way to a free and equal society.  He faced more pressure to close his school after the New York City slave riot of 1712, as some believed the education of slaves fueled the uprising.  Naud continued to teach and write poems and 156 French hymns.  He is buried at Trinity Churchyard in Lower Manhattan.


You can view some of the songs of Elias Neau here.  

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