As we near the end of May 2023, it is important to acknowledge the ongoing struggles for emancipation and the remarkable accomplishments of numerous Black heroes who selflessly made sacrifices for the betterment of future generations. In the spirit of continuing to celebrate Black History, presented below are significant events and noteworthy achievements of Black historical figures that took place in the month of May, which you may not have been aware of.
There have been many notable events in black history that occurred in the month of May. Here are a few examples:
1. May 6, 1889 – The Eiffel Tower was officially opened to the public in Paris, France. One of the people who participated in the grand opening was Frederick Douglass, an African American abolitionist and statesman.
2. May 17, 1954 – The Supreme Court of the United States issued a landmark ruling in the case of Brown v. Board of Education, declaring segregation in public schools to be unconstitutional. The decision paved the way for the civil rights movement.
3. May 25, 1963 – The Organization of African Unity (OAU) was formed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The OAU was established to promote unity and solidarity among African countries and to work towards the eradication of colonialism and apartheid.
4. May 3, 1963 – In Birmingham, Alabama, civil rights protesters, including many children, were attacked by police dogs and sprayed with fire hoses. The shocking images broadcast around the world helped to galvanize support for the civil rights movement.
5. May 28, 1987 – Mathew Henson, an African American explorer who was part of Robert Peary’s expedition to the North Pole in 1909, was posthumously awarded the National Geographic Society’s Hubbard Medal, the highest honor for exploration.
6. May 1, 1867 – Howard University, a historically black college in Washington D.C., was established. It was named after Oliver Otis Howard, a Civil War general who helped establish the Freedmen’s Bureau to aid newly freed slaves.
7. May 13, 1862 – The crew of the Planter, a Confederate ship, turned it over to Union forces in Charleston, South Carolina. The ship’s pilot, Robert Smalls, was an enslaved African American who later became a Union hero and went on to serve in the South Carolina state legislature and the U.S. Congress.
8. May 25, 1961 – The Freedom Rides began. The rides were a series of bus trips through the South by civil rights activists who were challenging segregation in interstate travel. The Freedom Rides were met with violence and arrests, but they helped to bring attention to the issue and led to the desegregation of interstate travel.
9. May 1, 1983 – Pioneer 10, a space probe launched by NASA, became the first spacecraft to leave the solar system. The mission was led by African American astrophysicist Dr. Edward Stone, who later became the director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
10. May 1, 2010 – The National Museum of African American History and Culture was established by an act of Congress. The museum, which is part of the Smithsonian Institution, is located in Washington D.C. and showcases the history and culture of African Americans in the United States. Its establishment was a significant milestone in recognizing the contributions of African Americans to the nation’s history.
11. May 19, 1962 – Civil rights activist Malcolm X gave a speech in Los Angeles, California, in which he called for black people to take control of their own communities and to fight for their rights using any means necessary. The speech, known as “The Ballot or the Bullet,” is widely regarded as one of Malcolm X’s most influential addresses.
12. May 21, 1961 – The Freedom Riders were attacked by a white mob in Montgomery, Alabama. The attack occurred after the riders arrived at the bus station in Montgomery and attempted to enter the “whites-only” waiting room. The violence that erupted led to national attention and pressure on the Kennedy administration to intervene.
13. May 30, 1921 – The Tulsa Race Massacre began in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The massacre was a two-day attack on the city’s black community by white mobs. The violence resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people and the destruction of the black neighborhood of Greenwood, which was known as “Black Wall Street” due to its thriving businesses and affluent residents.
14. May 2, 1964 – The first African American to win an Academy Award for Best Actor was Sidney Poitier, for his role in the film “Lilies of the Field.” Poitier’s win marked a significant milestone in the representation of African Americans in the film industry.
15. May 26, 1926 – Miles Davis, one of the most influential jazz musicians of all time, was born in Alton, Illinois. Davis was known for his innovative and groundbreaking approach to jazz, and his influence can still be heard in contemporary music today.
16. May 17, 2012 – John Singleton, the first black filmmaker to be nominated for an Academy Award for Best Director, passed away at the age of 51. Singleton was known for his powerful depictions of African American life in films such as “Boyz n the Hood” and “Poetic Justice.”
17. May 5, 1985 – Michael Jordan was named the NBA’s Rookie of the Year, the first of many awards he would win over the course of his legendary career. Jordan is widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball players of all time and a cultural icon who transcended sports.
18. May 8, 1945 – World War II ended in Europe with the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany. Over one million African Americans served in the U.S. military during the war, and their contributions helped to pave the way for greater racial equality in the armed forces and in American society as a whole.
19. May 10, 1871 – The first African American senator, Hiram Revels, was sworn into the U.S. Senate. Revels served as a senator for Mississippi during the Reconstruction era following the Civil War.
20. May 18, 1896 – The U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson, upholding the constitutionality of racial segregation in public facilities under the “separate but equal” doctrine. The ruling would remain in effect until it was overturned by the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.
21. May 4, 1961 – Thirteen Freedom Riders, seven black and six white, left Washington, D.C. on a bus trip to challenge segregation in interstate travel. The bus was attacked and burned by a white mob in Anniston, Alabama, and the riders were beaten and hospitalized.
22. May 17, 1970 – The Jackson State shooting occurred in Jackson, Mississippi, when police opened fire on a group of African American students who were protesting racial injustice. Two students were killed and twelve were injured.
23. May 25, 1977 – The original “Star Wars” movie was released in theaters. The film featured African American actor Billy Dee Williams in the role of Lando Calrissian, one of the first major black characters in a major Hollywood blockbuster.
24. May 1, 1992 – The 1992 Los Angeles riots began after the acquittal of police officers who had been videotaped beating Rodney King, a black man, during a traffic stop. The riots lasted for several days and resulted in widespread violence, looting, and arson.
25. May 21, 2001 – The first black president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, received an honorary doctorate from Harvard University. Mandela was recognized for his lifelong commitment to social justice and his leadership in the fight against apartheid in South Africa.
26. May 27, 1936 – Tennis player Althea Gibson was born in Silver, South Carolina. Gibson would go on to become the first African American to win a Grand Slam tournament, the French Open, in 1956.
27. May 25, 1939 – African American opera singer Marian Anderson performed at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. after being denied the opportunity to sing at Constitution Hall due to her race. Anderson’s performance before a crowd of 75,000 people helped to bring attention to racial inequality in the United States.
28. May 6, 1960 – Civil rights activist and student leader Ella Baker helped to organize a conference at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, that led to the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). The SNCC played a key role in the civil rights movement and was instrumental in organizing sit-ins, voter registration drives and other forms of nonviolent resistance.
29. May 21, 1927 – Jazz saxophonist and composer John Coltrane was born in Hamlet, North Carolina. Coltrane is considered one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century and his innovative approach to jazz continues to inspire musicians today.
30. May 10, 1963 – The Birmingham campaign, a series of nonviolent protests against segregation in Birmingham, Alabama, led by civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., culminated in the signing of an agreement between protest leaders and city officials. The agreement paved the way for the desegregation of public facilities in the city.
31. May 13, 1985 – The Philadelphia police department dropped a bomb on the home of members of the black liberation group MOVE, killing 11 people, including five children, and destroying 65 homes. The bombing was one of the deadliest incidents of police violence in U.S. history and led to widespread outrage and criticism of the city’s police department.
32. May 3, 1963 – In Birmingham, Alabama, civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was arrested and jailed for leading a nonviolent protest against segregation. While in jail, King wrote his famous “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in which he defended the use of nonviolent resistance and called for an end to racial injustice.
33. May 16, 1929 – African American pilot Bessie Coleman became the first woman to earn an international pilot’s license. Coleman overcame racism and sexism to become one of the first black female pilots in the world and an inspiration to many.
34. May 15, 1970 – Mississippi civil rights activist James Meredith was shot and wounded while leading a march against fear. Meredith had been the first African American to enroll at the University of Mississippi in 1962 and his courageous efforts helped to break down racial barriers in the state.
35. May 19, 1969 – Black Panther Party leader Huey P. Newton was released from prison after serving two years for manslaughter. Newton was a key figure in the Black Power movement and his ideas on self-defense and community empowerment continue to influence activists and organizers today.
36. May 28, 1959 – The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) named Thurgood Marshall as its first African American director-counsel. Marshall had been a key figure in the fight against segregation and would go on to become the first African AmericanSupreme Court Justice in 1967.
37. May 25, 1963 – Civil rights leader Medgar Evers was assassinated in the driveway of his home in Jackson, Mississippi. Evers had been working to desegregate schools and public facilities in Mississippi and his death was a major blow to the civil rights movement.
38. May 17, 2018 – The first black woman to be appointed to lead an Ivy League university, Ruth Simmons, was named president of Prairie View A&M University in Texas. Simmons had previously served as president of Brown University and was a trailblazer in higher education.
39. May 31, 1921 – The Tulsa Race Massacre ended after two days of violence that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of black residents and the destruction of the thriving black neighborhood of Greenwood. The massacre was one of the worst incidents of racial violence in U.S. history and its legacy continues to be felt in Tulsa and beyond.
40. May 19, 1925 – Malcolm X was born in Omaha, Nebraska. Malcolm X became a prominent civil rights leader and advocate for black nationalism before his assassination in 1965.
41. May 24, 1774 – Phillis Wheatley, an enslaved African American woman, published her first book of poetry, “Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral.” Wheatley was the first African American woman to publish a book of poetry and her work was celebrated by many of the leading figures of the American Revolution.
42. May 10, 1877 – Reconstruction officially ended in the United States when federal troops were withdrawn from the South, leaving African Americans vulnerable to white supremacist violence and oppression.
43. May 18, 1896 – The U.S. Supreme Court issued its infamous ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson,upholding racial segregation in public facilities under the “separate but equal” doctrine. The decision would remain in effect until it was overturned by the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.
44. May 8, 1906 – African American sociologist and civil rights activist W.E.B. Du Bois delivered his famous speech on the “Negro Problem” at the annual meeting of the American Negro Academy in Washington D.C. The speech called for an end to racial discrimination and advocated for full political and social equality for African Americans.
45. May 15, 1963 – The Birmingham campaign reached a turning point when Commissioner of Public Safety Eugene “Bull” Connor ordered the use of fire hoses and police dogs to disperse peaceful protesters, many of them children. The images of the violence shocked the nation and helped to galvanize support for the civil rights movement.
46. May 9, 1887 – John Hope, the first African American president of Morehouse College, was born in Augusta, Georgia. Hope was a prominent educator and civil rights leader who worked to improve educational opportunities for African Americans.