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Black Facts for July 13th

1863 - New York Draft Riots

On the Monday morning of July 13, 1863, the Enrollment

Act (mandatory draft) takes effect, with exemption

for the wealthy, which led to summer draft riots in

New York and other major northern cities (Newark

& Jersey City, New Jersey; Toledo, Ohio;

Evansville, Illinois and Boston, Massachusetts). In

New York City, earlier in the month the Provost

Marshal for New York, Captain Joel B. Erhardt,

orders some able-bodied men that are erecting a

building to report for the draft. They attack him with

crow bars and force him to flee. Registration and

drafting had begun peaceably earlier in the month

at the Provost Marshals Office, but on this date

thousands of workers do not report for work. Mobs

armed with clubs, knives and other weapons

converge on draft headquarters. As they converge,

they are joined by thousands of men and women

who leave work. Telegraph poles are knocked down

to disrupt communications. The police are swept

aside and the draft headquarters building is set on

fire. The mob goes wild, resulting in burning of a

Black orphanage, lynching, 3,000 Blacks

homeless, between 1,500 and 2,000 civilians dead

(many of them Black) and at least 8000 wounded or

maimed for life by a mob of at least 50,000. With

the police overwhelmed and the mayors house

under guard, Colonel Fry brings over 100,000

regular troops to New York City, including the

entire 8th Indiana Infantry Regiment from

Gettysburg, to quell the riot in New York. One mob

assaults a platoon of soldiers and forces them to

take cover in a foundry. Reinforcements rescue

them by routing the mob with fixed bayonets. The

mobs begin smashing and looting stores. They are

pursued by soldiers who fall victim to musket fire

from the rooftops. Howitzers are rushed up and

fired into the mob. Eleven of the ringleaders are

killed. Troops battle in hand-to-hand combat in

stairwells and on rooftops. One out of every five

Black New Yorkers moves away after the riot.

Following the riot, not one Black worker showed up

for work on New Yorks docks. Of the

1821 - Nathan Bedford Forrest

Nathan Bedford Forrest , (born July 13, 1821, near Chapel Hill, Tennessee, U.S.—died October 29, 1877, Memphis, Tennessee), Confederate cavalry commander in the American Civil War (1861–65) who was often described as a “born military genius.” His rule of action, “Get there first with the most men,” became one of the most often quoted statements of the war. Forrest is also one of the most controversial figures from the Civil War era. His command was responsible for the massacre of African American Union troops stationed at Fort Pillow, Tennessee, in April 1864, and he served as the first grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan in the early years of Reconstruction.

Forrest was born into a poor family and spent his formative years in rural Tennessee and Mississippi. His hardscrabble background contributed to the development of an aggressive and sometimes violent disposition. With the untimely death of his father, Forrest became his family’s sole provider while still a teenager. Despite his nearly nonexistent formal education, he was able to secure a measure of financial stability for his family, and, when his mother remarried, he embarked on his own ventures. In 1845 Forrest married Mary Ann Montgomery. The two would have two children, only one of whom would survive to adulthood. Forrest eventually became a millionaire, having made a fortune trading livestock, brokering real estate, planting cotton, and especially selling slaves. By the outbreak of the Civil War, he was one of the richest men in Tennessee, if not all of the South.

Shortly after the start of the war, Forrest enlisted as a private in the Confederate army, but soon thereafter, at the behest of Tennessee’s governor, he raised and supplied a cavalry unit, earning a commission as a lieutenant colonel. In the war’s early months he earned a reputation as a doggedly, if sometimes brutally, determined commander who exercised a natural acumen for battlefield tactics. Forrest took part in the defense of Fort Donelson, Tennessee (February 1862), from which he and

1934 - Wole Soyinka

Wole Soyinka , in full Akinwande Oluwole Soyinka (born July 13, 1934, Abeokuta, Nigeria), Nigerian playwright and political activist who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1986. He sometimes wrote of modern West Africa in a satirical style, but his serious intent and his belief in the evils inherent in the exercise of power usually was evident in his work as well.

A member of the Yoruba people, Soyinka attended Government College and University College in Ibadan before graduating in 1958 with a degree in English from the University of Leeds in England. Upon his return to Nigeria, he founded an acting company and wrote his first important play, A Dance of the Forests (produced 1960; published 1963), for the Nigerian independence celebrations. The play satirizes the fledgling nation by stripping it of romantic legend and by showing that the present is no more a golden age than was the past.

He wrote several plays in a lighter vein, making fun of pompous, Westernized schoolteachers in The Lion and the Jewel (first performed in Ibadan, 1959; published 1963) and mocking the clever preachers of upstart prayer-churches who grow fat on the credulity of their parishioners in The Trials of Brother Jero (performed 1960; published 1963) and Jero’s Metamorphosis (1973). But his more serious plays, such as The Strong Breed (1963), Kongi’s Harvest (opened the first Festival of Negro Arts in Dakar, 1966; published 1967), The Road (1965), From Zia, with Love (1992), and even the parody King Baabu (performed 2001; published 2002), reveal his disregard for African authoritarian leadership and his disillusionment with Nigerian society as a whole.

Other notable plays include Madmen and Specialists (performed 1970; published 1971), Death and the King’s Horseman (1975), and The Beatification of Area Boy (1995). In these and Soyinka’s other dramas, Western elements are skillfully fused with subject matter and dramatic techniques deeply rooted in Yoruba folklore and religion. Symbolism, flashback, and ingenious plotting

1853 - Slavery in Oregon: The Reuben Shipley Saga

Few Americans realize that the institution of slavery reached the Pacific Northwest in the two decades before the Civil War.  A small number of the white settlers who followed the Oregon Trail from Independence, Missouri to Oregon City brought bondservants.  Oregon historian R. Gregory Nokes, describes one enslaved person, Reuben Shipley.    

“Why don’t you write about Reuben Shipley?’’

I had just bounced several ideas for a new book off of my brother Bill over an afternoon cup of coffee. He apparently hadn’t liked any of them.

“Who was Reuben Shipley?’’ I asked, puzzled.

“He was a slave brought to Oregon by one of our ancestors.’’

I was at once both dismayed and stunned. I felt for the first time therewas shame in my family, as I hadn’t had the slightest inkling there wasany family connection to slavery. And, I was stunned because it had never occurred to me there were slaves in Oregon.

As a schoolboy, and much beyond, I had understood that Oregon had a law against slavery from the earliest days of its provisional government in 1843.This was fact; taught in schools; no reason to question.

I was soon to discover there was much more to the slavery story. Bill told me I could read about Reuben Shipley on page 359 of a 1964 family genealogy, which I had never read, but my younger brother had.

And so I now read on page 359 that Reuben Shipley was brought to Oregon as a slave in 1853 by his white owner, Robert Shipley, over the Oregon Trail from Miller County, Missouri. The white Shipley—my distant ancestor—had promised the black Shipley that if he helped him start his farm in Oregon, he would give him his freedom.

A painful choice confronted Reuben Shipley. In exchange for the prospectof being free, he faced leaving behind his wife and two sons, who belonged to other slaveholders. But if he decided to remain in Missouri near his family, he would be sold as a slave to another owner.

Two other slaves of Robert Shipley, both women, were offered the same choice, but decided to stay close to their families, remaining

2014 - Nadine Gordimer

Nadine Gordimer , (born November 20, 1923, Springs, Transvaal [now in Gauteng], South Africa—died July 13, 2014, Johannesburg), South African novelist and short-story writer whose major theme was exile and alienation. She received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991.

Gordimer was born into a privileged white middle-class family and began reading at an early age. By the age of 9 she was writing, and she published her first story in a magazine when she was 15. Her wide reading informed her about the world on the other side of apartheid—the official South African policy of racial segregation—and that discovery in time developed into strong political opposition to apartheid. Never an outstanding scholar, she attended the University of the Witwatersrand for one year. In addition to writing, she lectured and taught at various schools in the United States during the 1960s and ’70s.

Gordimer’s first book was Face to Face (1949), a collection of short stories. In 1953 a novel, The Lying Days, was published. Both exhibit the clear, controlled, and unsentimental style that became her hallmark. Her stories concern the devastating effects of apartheid on the lives of South Africans—the constant tension between personal isolation and the commitment to social justice, the numbness caused by the unwillingness to accept apartheid, the inability to change it, and the refusal of exile.

In 1974 Gordimer’s novel The Conservationist (1974) was a joint winner of the Booker Prize. Later novels included Burger’s Daughter (1979), July’s People (1981), A Sport of Nature (1987), My Son’s Story (1990), The House Gun (1998), and The Pickup (2001). Gordimer addressed environmental issues in Get a Life (2005), the story of a South African ecologist who, after receiving thyroid treatment, becomes radioactive and hence dangerous to others. Her final novel, No Time like the Present (2012), follows veterans of the battle against apartheid as they deal with the issues facing modern South Africa.

Gordimer wrote a number of short-story

1917 - Thomas, Constance Allen Pitter (1917-2006)

Constance Allen Pitter Thomas, the eldest of the Pitter Sisters, was born July 13, 1917, to Edward A. Pitter and Marjorie Allen Pitter, in the East Madison Street district of Seattle, Washington.  She grew up in a very close-knit family and community, in which she received emotional, religious, social, civic and political support that provided her with a firm foundation to succeed in life.  Mrs. Thomas attended Seattle Public Schools and entered the University of Washington immediately following graduation from Garfield High School.  

Constance Pitter attended the University during the Great Depression. This period proved very difficult economically for Constance and the Pitter family, especially with three daughters attending college during the same time span.  Nonetheless, she and her siblings managed to remain at the University, with the help of her nuclear and extended family, which included her church, sorority and community.   

Pitter was motivated to attend college at a very young age.  Her family expected it of her and her sisters for four major reasons: 1) economic independence; 2) social mobility; 3) professional service to the black community; and 4) elevation of the black community.  Highly motivated to study theater arts, she enrolled in the Speech and Drama Department as an undergraduate in 1935 and received a degree in 1941.  

Pitter went to New York where she joined the American Negro Theatre, winning the Most Promising Actress of 1941” award.  However, she decided not to pursue a theatrical career and returned to Seattle where she became a substitute teacher for the Seattle Public Schools for eleven years.  Eventually, she received a permanent contract from the school district as a speech therapist and instructor of youth with disabilities. Constance Pitter married Mr. Gordon H. Thomas in 1948.  They had one son, Kenneth.   Mrs. Thomas retired from the Seattle Public Schools District in 1970.  She died in Seattle in 2006.

Independent Historian