Today 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
The Undefeated’s Black facts for Feb. 23
1868 — Happy birthday, W.E.B. Du Bois. William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, known as W.E.B. Du Bois, was born in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, where he lived until leaving 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, becoming the first African American to do so.
1929 — Baseball catcher Elston Gene Howard is born 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 to let him join the team, Howard played with the Braves over the summer. 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.
1929 — Joe Louis knocks out Nathan Mann in three rounds to take the heavyweight boxing title.
1965 — Constance Baker Motley is elected Manhattan borough president. Motley was a civil rights lawyer who became involved with the movement after being turned away from a public beach. Motley began her studies at Fisk University, and went on to 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 when she was elected the first female president of Manhattan borough the following year.
1979 — Frank E. Petersen Jr. is named the first Black general in the Marine Corps. Petersen 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. He served as commanding general for the Marine Corps Combat Development Command and retired in 1988 as the first Black three-star lieutenant general. Petersen died on Aug. 25, 2015, of lung cancer. He was 83.