Black History : Today In Black History

September 2, 1766 James Forten, abolitionist and businessman, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At 15, Forten served on a ship during the Revolutionary War and invented a device to handle ship sails. In 1786, he started a very successful sail-making company and became one of the wealthiest African Americans in post-colonial America. Forten, with the help of Rev. Richard Allen and Absalom Jones, enlisted 2,500 African Americans to defend Philadelphia during the War of 1812. They also worked together to establish the Convention of Color in 1817. By the 1830s, Forten was one of the most powerful voices for people of color throughout the North. In 1833, he helped William Lloyd Garrison and Robert Purvis form the American Anti-Slavery Society and provided generous financial support to the organization over the years. When Forten died March 4, 1842, he left behind an exemplary family, a sizable fortune, and a legacy of philanthropy and activism that inspired generations of Black Philadelphians. On April 24, 1990, a historical marker was dedicated in his honor in Philadelphia. His biography, “A Gentleman of Color: The Life of James Forten,” was published in 2002.
James Forten
Upon returning to Philadelphia, he was apprenticed to a white sailmaker, Robert Bridges. Bridges taught him the trade and gave him money to buy a house. By 1786 he was promoted to foreman and in 1798 he became owner of the company. He inherited Bridges customers and established a reputation as a master craftsman in his own right.

By 1832, James Forten employed about 40 workers: men both black and white to work side by side in his sail loft. He amassed a great fortune and earned respect in the business community.


Thu, 1981-11-05
On this date in 1981, Charles Fuller's "Soldier's Play" premiered in NYC. The play is murder mystery or "courtroom" drama which involves the search for the murderer of Sgt. Vernon Waters, chillingly played by Adolph Caesar on stage and in the film.

The story deals indirectly with the search for the meaning of Sgt. Waters' last words: "They still hate you!" The search for the culprit soon becomes secondary to the analysis of Black roles in white society. Knowing a bit about the history of the NAACP in the 1940s (when the play's story takes place) helps. The NAACP was then led by a man named Walter White, a white-skinned, blue-eyed, blond-haired African American man who preached the now discredited view that racial assimilation was the only approach that could assure the acceptance of Blacks in American society.

First staged and produced on November 28, 1981 at Theatre Four in New York City by the Negro Ensemble Company under the direction of Douglas Turner Ward, "Soldier's Play," had a lengthy run and won Fuller Pulitzer Prize for Drama.


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