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Black History Month

On this day in black history: W.E.B. Du Bois is born, a black woman is elected Manhattan borough president and Gen. Frank Petersen is put in charge

Black History Month: The Undefeated edition Feb. 23

1868 — Happy birthday, W.E.B. Du Bois
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, whom the world would come to know as W.E.B. Du Bois, was born in Barrington, Massachusetts, where he lived until heading off to attend college at Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee.

Du Bois’ experiences in college opened his eyes to the severity of racial discrimination in the South. After graduating from Fisk, he returned north to attend Harvard University, where he earned a doctorate in 1895, the first African-American to do so.

In one of his first published essays in a 1903 book, The Negro Problem, Du Bois wrote about the Talented Tenth, elite African-Americans who would provide leadership for other African-American communities. Du Bois would go on to write a slew of books and essays. On Aug. 27, 1963, at the age of 95, he died in Accra, Ghana, one day before Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech at the March on Washington.

1925 — Politician Louis Stokes is born
Louis Stokes was born to Charles and Louise Stokes in Cleveland. After the death of her husband, Louise Stokes spent her time cleaning houses to make ends meet while raising Louis and his younger brother, Carl, with her mother’s help.

In 1943, Stokes began a three-year stint in the U.S. Army, which ended with an honorable discharge. Stokes returned home, where he attended Cleveland College of Western Reserve University and earned his law degree from the Cleveland Marshall School of Law. In 1968, Stokes made his first run for office, which began a decades-long political career as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

1929 — Baseball catcher Elston Gene Howard born
Baseball catcher Elston Gene Howard was born to Emmaline Webb and Travis Howard in St. Louis.

Howard led an active life as a child, but it wasn’t until his teenage years that he was taken seriously as an athlete. While playing baseball, Howard was approached by Frank Tetnus Edwards, a former Negro Leaguer and St. Louis Braves staff member. After persuading his mother, Howard played with the Braves over the summer.

It was the beginning of many tryouts and roster spots with various teams. In 1965, Howard signed a $70,000 contract with the New York Yankees and became the highest-paid player in the history of baseball at the time.

1965 — Constance Baker Motley elected Manhattan borough president
Constance Baker Motley was a civil rights lawyer who became involved with the movement after being discriminated against while attempting to enter a public library.

Motley began her studies at Fisk University, then New York University, before earning her law degree from Columbia Law School in 1946. In 1964, Motley became the first black woman elected to the New York Senate. Motley broke barriers once more after being elected the first female president of Manhattan borough the following year.

1979 — Frank E. Petersen Jr. named the first black general in the Marine Corps

Frank E. Petersen Jr. was determined to serve his country despite racial discrimination.

Petersen attended school in Topeka, Kansas, before attempting to join the U.S. Navy. In his first attempt, Petersen was asked to take the entrance exam over again because administrators believed he’d cheated. In 1950, two years after the desegregation of the armed forces, Petersen enlisted in the Navy. Two years later, Petersen, now a Marine, completed flight school and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. Petersen also became the Marines’ first black aviator.

From there, the sky was the limit for Petersen. In 1979, he became the first black Marine general officer, served as commanding general for the Marine Corps Combat Development Command and in 1988 retired as the first black three-star lieutenant general. Petersen died on Aug. 25, 2015, of lung cancer. He was 83.

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.