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Black History Month

On this day in black history: Michael Jackson takes home 8 Grammys, ‘Porgy and Bess’ opens on Broadway and more

Black History Month: The Undefeated edition Feb. 28

1704 — Elias Neau, a Frenchman, opens school for black students
Elias Neau, a Frenchman who worked as a cabin boy and a sailor in his early life, was always willing to lend a helping hand. But Neau was especially inspired to help enslaved communities after being captured by a French privateer near Jamaica in 1692 while out to sea. After being transferred to Marseille, France, for not renouncing his faith — where he wrote letters to his wife, prayers, poems and hymns to pass time — Neau landed himself in solitary confinement, where he remained for six months. He was released from prison six years later.

Learning from his experiences, Neau returned to New York and immediately noticed that slaves had no real direction or instruction in religion. Neau began dedicating his time to teaching slaves, and by 1704, he successfully began homeschooling students several times a week. Shortly afterward, Neau’s school expanded, becoming the first school for slaves in New York City.

1879 — Blacks flee political and economic exploitation in the South
Kansas became the land of promise for African-Americans, both free and enslaved, who sought educational, political and economic opportunities in the 1860s and 1870s. Although slavery still existed in surrounding areas, Kansas seemed to be a much better option than the tumultuous climate for African-Americans in the South.

Benjamin “Pap” Singleton, a runaway slave from Tennessee who sheltered escaped slaves once he was free, noted the conditions African-Americans were subjected to in the South and eyed Kansas. Singleton enlisted the help of Columbus Johnson, who helped Singleton circulate posters across the South that explained their plans. The withdrawal of federal troops from the South in 1877 — the end of the Reconstruction Era – caused the “Great Exodus” to peak in 1879. By then, at least 50,000 blacks, known as Exodusters, sought freedom in Kansas, Missouri, Indiana and Illinois with the help of Singleton, who became known as the father of the Black Exodus.

1932 — Automatic gear shift, directional signals invented
Richard Spikes, an auto enthusiast and industry innovator, received a patent for the automatic gear shift for cars, as well as directional signals. In 1962, while losing his vision, Spikes continued to work on creating the automatic safety brake for cars. All of Spikes’ creations are still essential parts used in cars today.

1943 — Porgy and Bess opens on Broadway with Anne Brown
Porgy and Bess opened on Broadway with Anne Brown and Todd Duncan in starring roles.

1948 — First martyrs in Ghanaian independence
Sgt. Cornelius Frederick Adjetey, a member of the 81st and 82nd divisions of the West African Frontier Force, became the first martyr for national independence of Ghana while on a peaceful march.

Adjetey, along with unarmed ex-servicemen, began their journey from Accra, Ghana’s capital, to meet with the governor of the Gold Coast, Sir Gerald Creasy, to air their grievances and present a petition in regard to ending service entitlements that had not been received. Creasy dismissed the men, ordering them to leave. After the ex-servicemen refused to leave without a resolution, Creasy ordered police to open fire, instantly killing Adjetey and his cohorts. The killings were investigated, but not before causing general disorder and disturbances in Accra.

1984 — Michael Jackson wins eight Grammys
It was a night to remember for musician and entertainer Michael Jackson after taking home eight Grammy Awards for his best selling-album, Thriller. The album, which produced seven top 10 singles after its 1982 release, swept several categories, including best male R&B vocal performance for Billie Jean, best R&B song for Billie Jean, best male rock vocal performance for Beat It, best male pop vocal performance for Thriller, best video album for Thriller, best recording for children (Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson) for E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, record of the year for Beat It and album of the year for Thriller. The album broke all sales records to date, and remains one of the top-grossing albums of all time.

1990 — Philip Emeagwali wins the Nobel Prize of computing

Philip Emeagwali, known as the “Bill Gates of Africa,” was awarded the Gordon Bell Prize, which his considered the Nobel Prize of computing, for solving one of the 20 most difficult problems in the computing field.

If it were not for Emeagwali’s determination, his success may not have been guaranteed. Forced to drop out of school at age 14 because his father could no longer afford tuition, Emeagwali continued his education at home, doing his best to keep up with what his peers were learning. As part of his mental exercise routine, Emeagwali would run through 100 math problems, solving them all within one hour. At 17 years old, Emeagwali received a full scholarship to Oregon State University, where he studied mathematics before earning three other degrees from the University of Michigan and George Washington University.

In 1989, Emeagwali captured the attention of the most renowned professionals after using 65,000 processors to invent a computer that performed computations at 3.1 billion calculations per second, the world’s fastest computer at the time.

Maya Jones is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a native New Orleanian who enjoys long walks down Frenchmen Street and romantic dates to Saints games.