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Black History Month

On this day in black history: Debi Thomas wins singles, Marcus Garvey imprisoned and Gary Coleman is born

Black History Month: The Undefeated Edition Feb. 8

1925 Marcus Garvey enters federal prison in Atlanta

Jamaican-born political leader, entrepreneur and orator Marcus Garvey was known for his leadership within the Pan-African and Black Nationalist movements. Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), a movement that encouraged African-Americans to go back to their roots and resettle in Africa. The association grew to include 700 branches in 38 states.

As the movement grew, so did his personal troubles and groups who disapproved of his message. In 1922, Garvey, along with three other members of UNIA, were charged with mail fraud and conspiracy connected to stock in Black Star Line, Garvey’s failed business venture that was supposed to provide transportation for those ready to go back to Africa. The following year, Garvey was found guilty and sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison. The other members were acquitted.

After his appeals and efforts to be pardoned were denied, Garvey entered prison in Atlanta, where he served two years. Six days after his release, Garvey was deported to Jamaica.

1968 — Gary Coleman born

Though diminutive in stature, actor Gary Wayne Coleman (1968-2010) packed a large personality, which contributed to an acting career that spanned decades. Coleman made his entrance into the world on this day in Zion, Illinois, and was diagnosed with a congenital kidney disease that would stunt his growth. The tallest Coleman would get in his lifetime was 4-feet-8, but his height was perfect for the roles he landed as a child star, beginning with his most memorable character, Arnold Jackson, on the popular sitcom Diff’rent Strokes (1978-86). Most of the roles on Coleman’s resume were from cameo appearances on television shows, including The Ben Stiller Show, The Wayans Bros., Martin, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Waynehead and a host of family-friendly shows shortly before his death from a brain hemorrhage at age 42.

1986 — Skater Debi Thomas wins women’s singles

Figure skater Debi Thomas became the first African-American to win the women’s singles at the U.S. Figure Skating Championship. A month later, Thomas went on to defeat East Germany’s Katarina Witt, becoming the first African-American woman to win the Women’s World Figure Skating Championship. At the time, Thomas was an 18-year-old freshman at Stanford University majoring in engineering. Thomas scored another first in becoming the first African-American athlete to win bronze at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta.

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.