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Black History Month

Today in black history: the first African-American senator goes to Congress, Cassius Clay beats Sonny Liston and much, much more

Black History Month: The Undefeated edition Feb. 25

1870 Hiram Rhodes Revels becomes the first African-American to serve in the U.S. Congress as the first African-American senator
As a young man, Hiram Rhodes Revels was an ordained minister who traveled the country educating African-Americans and, of course, preaching. During those trips, Revels would do his religious work but also maintain peace, working to prevent riots among slaves. Despite his caution, Revels was still arrested in 1854 while “preaching to the black community.”

During the Civil War, Revels worked and fought hard to represent people of color, even recruiting African-American troops in Maryland. Shortly after the war ended, Revels’ interest in politics grew. By 1870, Revels, a Republican, had worked his way up to the Mississippi State Senate, which elected him to the U.S. Senate.

1928 — “One-Man Show of Art by Negro” opens
“One-Man Show of Art by Negro, First of Kind Here Opens Today” read the headline of the front-page article in The New York Times. The opening of Archibald J. Motley Jr.’s show at the New Gallery on Madison Avenue was the first time an artist made the front page of Times and it was only the second one-person show by an African-American artist, the first being Henry O. Tanner.

1948 — Martin Luther King Jr. ordained
Before the Montgomery bus boycott, the “I Have a Dream” speech and the march from Selma, Alabama, a young Martin Luther King Jr. started humbly in the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. It is where King was baptized as a child, and also where he listened to his father, Martin Luther King Sr., preach on Sunday mornings.

After several trial runs in which King Jr. led sermons, he was ordained a minister at age 19. King Jr. and King Sr. would go on to co-pastor the church until King Jr.’s death on April 4, 1968.

1964 — Cassius Clay defeats Sonny Liston
Cassius Clay was the underdog going into his second fight with heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. Two years before, Liston had earned the heavyweight title after defeating Floyd Patterson. Leading up to the fight, Clay taunted and teased Liston but lived up to the hype. The bout, which lasted six rounds, ended in a technical knockout, and Clay, later known to the world as Muhammad Ali, being crowned the world heavyweight champion.

1975 — Death of Elijah Muhammad
Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam, died in Chicago after suffering from heart disease, bronchitis, asthma and diabetes. He was 77.

In 1931, Muhammad converted to Islam after meeting with Wallace D. Fard, a black Muslim who catered to the needs of African-American communities. After converting, Muhammad took up Fard’s torch, continuing his teachings. Although Muhammad was jailed in 1942 for evading the draft, he returned to preach of the Nation of Islam, becoming the most powerful face of Black Islam along the way.

1978 — Death of Daniel “Chappie” James Jr.
Daniel “Chappie” James Jr., retired Air Force general and the first black person to achieve the rank of four-star general, died of a heart attack three weeks after retiring from the Air Force. He was 58.

James attended Tuskegee Institute, where he became one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, a highly decorated group of black fighter pilots in a segregated unit who flew missions during World War II.

James participated in several combat missions and is credited for leading the Bolo MiG sweep of 21 Communist aircraft, which was the highest kill total of any Vietnam air mission at the time.

1989 — Mike Tyson wins heavyweight championship
Boxer Mike Tyson returned for his first fight in eight months, beating opponent Frank Bruno by knockout in the fifth round and becoming the heavyweight champion of the world.

1991 — First African-American woman to die in combat in the Persian Gulf War
Adrienne Mitchell, first African-American woman to die in combat in the Persian Gulf War, is killed in her military barracks in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.

1998 — “I Believe I Can Fly” wins Grammy awards
R. Kelly’s hit single “I Believe I Can Fly” wins three Grammys — best male R&B vocal, best song written for TV or a movie and best R&B song — at the 40th Annual Grammy Awards.

The song was written in 1996 and featured in the popular film Space Jam. It was included in R. Kelly’s R., released in 1998.

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.