Black Facts for January 26th

1996 - Lewis, Henry Jay (1932-1996)

Henry Jay Lewis, musician and conductor, was born October 16, 1932 in Los Angeles to automobile dealer Henry J. Lewis, and nurse Mary Josephine Lewis. Lewis started playing the piano when he was five, and in junior high he learned to play the double bass while also studying voice, clarinet, and other instruments. His talent playing the double bass earned him a scholarship to attend the University of Southern California.

Lewis married accomplished white opera singer Marilyn Horne in 1960 and they had daughter Angela in 1965. The two divorced in 1974. Lewis and Horne often appeared in magazines and newspapers in articles focusing both on their musical accomplishments and on their interracial relationship.

Lewis became the youngest and first black instrumentalist in a major American orchestra when he joined the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra in 1948 at age 16.  Lewis was drafted into the army in 1954, and he conducted the Seventh Army Symphony based out of Germany until his discharge in 1957.

Lewis broke racial barriers in the American field of conducting, becoming the first African American to serve as conductor and musical director of a major American orchestra (the New Jersey Symphony) in 1968, and the first African American to conduct the Metropolitan Opera, in 1972.

During his eight years as conductor and musical director, Lewis build the Newark-based  New Jersey Symphony Orchestra into a first-class orchestra with a 100-concert season, over $1 million budget, and appearances at prestigious venues such as Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center among others. Lewis also expanded the outreach of the Orchestra into some of New Jersey’s poorest neighborhoods, often selling seat tickets for as little as $1 to encourage a broad audience. Lewis left his position at the Orchestra on rocky terms, however, after members accused him of being tyrannical.

Lewis then spent the next two decades guest-conducting abroad, leading orchestras in Milan, Italy, London, England, Paris, France, Tokyo, Japan, and Copenhagen,

1887 - The Italo-Abyssinian War (1889–1896)

Following the Partition of Africa during the Berlin Conference of 1885, Prime Minister Francesco Crispi of Italy began his nation’s colonization in Africa. Italy focused on the Red Sea because of its trade routes to Asia and East Africa, and subsequently stationed troops in the port of Massawa in Eritrea, then part of the Ethiopian nation. Ethiopia’s King Yohannes fought back against this Italian invasion. Although initially unsuccessful, they eventually defeated the Italian troops in a battle that took place on January 26, 1887, that would be known as the Dogali Massacre. This battle left four hundred and thirty Italian troops dead and injured eighty-two. King Yohannes’s forces did not dislodge the Italians from Eritrea, but they did limit their control to that coastal province. Nonetheless, with the Dogali Massacre, Ethiopia became the first African nation to defeat a European power following the partition.

After the death of King Yohannes in 1889, the new monarch, King Menilik II, realizing the Italians would seek to conquer all of Ethiopia, began to assemble a modern arsenal for his army by opening up trade with French-controlled Djibouti, and ironically with Italian merchants at Massawa. After developing a friendly relationship with Italians partly because of this trade, Menilik in 1889 signed the Treaty of Wichale with the Italian government. While Menilik and the Ethiopians understood the treaty would give them the option to use Italian assistance to communicate with other European powers, the Italians interpreted the treaty as giving them authority over all Ethiopian trade and communications with other nations, thus effectively stripping Ethiopia of its sovereignty. This deliberate mistranslation by the Italians caused tensions between Italy and Ethiopia which led to the Italo-Abyssinian War of 1889–1896.

In preparation for the oncoming conflict, Menilik II assembled an army of one hundred and ninety-six thousand men to take on both the Italian Army of twenty-five thousand men composed of European

1926 - Kelly, Samuel Eugene (1926-2009)

Samuel Eugene Kelly, soldier and educator, was born in Greenwich, Connecticut on January 26, 1926 to James Handy Kelly, a minister, and Essie Matilda Allen-Kelly, a homemaker.  Educated at Greenwich public schools, Kelly dropped out of high school in 1943 and joined the United States Army the following year.  Although he entered the Army as an eighteen-year-old private, fifteen months later he had completed Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia, and in August 1945 was commissioned a Second Lieutenant. With World War II over in the same month, Kelly became part of the U.S. occupying forces in Japan, serving there until 1950.  

After the Korean conflict began Kelly was assigned to South Korea in 1951, where he became one of the first African American officers to command an integrated combat unit.  He fought in Korea for the next sixteen months, facing both North Korean and Chinese Army troops. In 1950, Kelly married Joyce Estella Lyle. The couple had three children, William Lyle Kelly (1952), and twins Brenda Joyce and Sharon Yvonne (1956).

Kelly returned to the United States in 1952, and two years later joined the 188th Airborne Regimental Combat Team at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.  He also took other assignments that led to his promotion through the ranks to Colonel in 1966.  His last post before retirement was Fort Lewis, Washington.  

Kelly continued to pursue educational credentials while in the Army.  In 1948 he completed high school and in 1959 he received a B.A. in history from West Virginia State. One year later he received an M.A. in history from Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia.

Upon retiring from the U.S. Army in 1966, Kelly became an educator. At the age of 40 he became the first African American hired in the Washington State Community College System when he began teaching at Everett Junior College.  By 1967 Kelly had begun teaching history at Shoreline Community College in Shoreline, Washington, where he developed one of the first Black Studies programs in the United

2011 - Kato, David (c1964-2011)

David Kato was founding father of Uganda’s emergent gay rights movement, the first openly gay man in the country, and an international gay rights activist. He was brutally murdered in January 2011.

Born around 1964, Kato joined his twin brother John Wassawa Mulamba and family in their ancestral village of Nakawala. He reported being raised in a religiously conservative home where homosexuality was not accepted. Kato attended King’s College Budo and Kyambogo University in Uganda and then taught at the Nile Vocational Institute in Njeru. The school dismissed him in 1991 without benefits because of his sexual orientation. He relocated to Johannesburg, South Africa in the mid-1990s to continue teaching and witnessed that nation’s transformation from apartheid to a multicultural democracy. He first went public as a gay man while there.

Kato returned to Uganda in 1998 and soon afterwards held Uganda’s first gay rights news conference in the nation’s capital, Kampala. By doing so, he became the first person in his home country to openly admit his homosexuality. In apparent retaliation, police officers arrested and beat him and detained him for a week. This would be the first of his three arrests for being gay.  

Kato started teaching again in 2002 when he joined the faculty at St. Herman Nkoni Primary School in the Masaka district of Kampala. In 2004, Kato co-founded the gay rights group, Sexual Minorities Uganda (SMUG), in Kampala and then worked for the organization as a litigation/advocacy officer.

In October 2010, a Ugandan newspaper, Rolling Stone (no association to the U.S. magazine), published a piece entitled “Hang Them,” listing photos and addresses for the most prominent 100 gay men and lesbians in Uganda, including Kato. In response, he and two other activists sued the paper. In January 2011, Uganda’s High Court ordered the newspaper to pay damages to the three litigants and to stop printing information about LGBTI (Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgendered Intersexual) persons.

On January 26, 2011, Kato was

1892 - Bessie Coleman, African American Woman Pilot

Known for: pioneer in aviation; first African American woman with a pilots license, first African American woman to fly a plane; first American with an international pilots license.

Occupation: aviator: stunt pilot

Dates: January 26, 1892 (some sources give 1893) - April 30, 1926

Also known as: Queen Bess, Brave Bessie

Bessie Coleman was born in Atlanta, Texas, in 1892.

The family soon moved to a farm near Dallas. Her father, George Coleman, moved to Indian Territory, Oklahoma, in 1901, where he had rights, based on having three Indian grandparents. His wife, Susan, with five of their children still at home, refused to go with him. She supported the children by picking cotton and taking in laundry and ironing.

Susan, Bessie Colemans mother, encouraged her daughters education, though she was herself illiterate, and though Bessie had to miss school often to help in the cotton fields or to watch her younger siblings. After Bessie graduated from eighth grade with high marks, she was able to pay, with her own savings and some from her mother, for a semesters tuition at an industrial college in Oklahoma.

When she dropped out of school after a semester, she returned home, working as a laundress. In 1915 she moved to Chicago to stay with her two brothers who had already moved there.

She went to beauty school, and became a manicurist, where she met many of the black elite of Chicago.

Bessie Coleman had read about the new field of aviation, and her interest was heightened when her brothers regaled her with tales of French women flying planes in World War I. She tried to enroll in aviation school, but was turned down.

It was the same story with other schools where she applied.

One of her contacts through her job as a manicurist was Robert S. Abbott, publisher of the Chicago Defender. He encouraged her to go to France to study flying there. She got a new position managing a chili restaurant while studying French at the Berlitz school. She followed Abbotts advice, and, with funds from several sponsors including