· September 20, 1758 Jean-Jacques Dessalines, the first ruler of independent Haiti, was born enslaved in Saint-Domingue, Haiti. Dessalines worked in the sugar cane fields as a laborer until he was 30 years old when he was bought by a free black man. He worked for the black man for three years until the slave uprisings of 1791. Dessalines joined the rebellion and quickly rose to the rank of lieutenant. He then joined the forces of Toussaint Louverture and by 1799 was serving as brigadier general. After the capture of Louverture, Dessalines became the leader of the revolution. He defeated the French troops at the Battle of Vertieres in 1803 and declared Haiti an independent nation in 1804 with himself as Governor-General for life. Dessalines declared Haiti an all-black nation and forbade whites from owning land or property. Dessalines was assassinated on October 17, 1806. Today, he is considered one of the founding fathers of Haiti and a monument at the northern entrance to Port-au-Prince marks the place where he was killed. Also, the national anthem of Haiti, “La Dessalinienne,” is named in his honor, as is the city of Dessalines.
· September 20, 1835 Richard Potter, the first successful black magician in the United States, died. Potter was born in 1783 in Boston, Massachusetts. He was the son of an English baronet and an African American serving woman. As a result, he was educated in Europe and traveled widely before becoming an entertainer. Potter was known for his skills in ventriloquism, hypnosis, and magic and performed throughout New England and Canada. He became a wealthy man and in 1813 bought a 175 acre farm in Andover, New Hampshire in a village now known as Potter Place.
· September 20, 1885 Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe (Jelly Roll Morton), ragtime and jazz pianist, bandleader and composer, was born in New Orleans, Lousiana. The date of his birth is not confirmed because no birth certificate has ever been found, but it is generally believed to be this date. At the age of 14, Morton began playing piano in a brothel and around 1904 he was wandering the south, working with minstrel shows and composing. By 1914, Morton started writing down his compositions and his “Jelly Roll Blues” (1915) was the first jazz composition ever published. Other compositions by Morton include “Black Bottom Stomp” (1925) and “Wolverine Blues” (1927). In 1926, Morton got a contract to record for Victor Records and these recordings by Jelly Roll Morton & His Red Hot Peppers are regarded as classics of 1920s jazz. In 1938, Morton recorded music and interviews for the Library of Congress which was released in 2005 as “The Complete Library of Congress Recordings.” The collection won Grammy Awards for Best Historical Album and Best Album Notes. Morton died on July 10, 1941 and in 1963 was posthumously inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame. In 1998, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and in 2005 he was honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Two Broadway shows have featured his music, “Jelly Roll” and “Jelly’s Last Jam.” Several biographies have been written about Morton, including “Mister Jelly Roll” (1950) and “Jelly’s Blues: The Life, Music, and Redemption of Jelly Roll Morton” (2003).
· September 20, 1921 Foreststorn “Chico” Hamilton, jazz drummer and band leader, was born in Los Angeles, California. Hamilton began playing drums early with jazz greats such as Charles Mingus, Illinois Jacquet, and Dexter Gordon. After six years playing with Lena Horne, he established his own band in 1955 and recorded his debut album, “Chico Hamilton Trio.” Other albums by Hamilton include “Drumfusion” (1962), “Reunion” (1991), “Thoughts Of…” (2002), and “Revelation” (2011). In 1965, Hamilton formed a commercial and film production company which has scored music for a number of feature films, television shows, and hundreds of commercials for television and radio. In 2004, he was designated a NEA Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts. He currently teaches at The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music.
· September 20, 1958 Ursula M. Burns, the first African American woman Chief Executive Officer of an S&P 100 company, was born in a city housing project in New York City. Burns earned her Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from Polytechnic Institute of New York University in 1980 and her Master of Science degree in mechanical engineering from Columbia University in 1981. She initially worked for the Xerox Corporation as a summer intern and joined the company as a permanent employee after receiving her master’s degree. She steadily rose through the ranks, eventually becoming vice president for global manufacturing in 1999. In April, 2007, Burns was named president and in July, 2009 she was named Chief Executive Officer of the company. Burns serves on numerous corporate, professional, and community boards, including American Express, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the United States Olympic Committee. She also serves as vice president of the President’s Export Council.
· September 20, 1984 “The Cosby Show” television comedy starring Bill Cosby premiered on the NBC network. The show focused on the Huxtable family, an upper-middle class African American family living in Brooklyn, New York. The show ran for eight seasons with 197 episodes until April 30, 1992. It was the third longest running comedy with a predominantly African American cast, after “The Jeffersons” and “Family Matters.” It was also one of only three television programs that have been number one in the Nielson ratings for five consecutive seasons. The show won Emmy Awards in 1984 for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series and in 1985 for Outstanding Comedy Series.
· September 20, 1994 Abioseh Davidson Nicol, academic, diplomat and writer, died. Nicol was born September 14, 1924 in Freetown, Sierra Leone. He graduated from Christ’s College, Cambridge University in 1946 and earned his Ph. D. in 1958. From 1960 to 1966, Nicol was the first native principal of Fourah Bay College in Freetown. He served as chairman and vice chancellor at the University of Sierra Leone from 1966 to 1969. Nicol left academia in 1969 to become Permanent Representative of Sierra Leone to the United Nations where he served until 1971. From 1972 to 1982, he served as Under-Secretary General of the United Nations. Nicol returned to academia and served as a visiting professor of international studies at the University of California from 1987 to 1988 and University of South Carolina from 1990 to his retirement in 1991. Nicol was a published author of short stories, poetry, music, academic literature, and a biography of Africanus Horton, an early Sierra Leonean author and one of the founders of African Nationalism. His last published work was “Creative Women” in 1982.