October 17

Jupiter Hammon (October 17, 1711 - c. 1806) published his poem, An Evening Thought. Salvation by Christ with Penitential Crienes: Composed by Jupiter Hammon, a Negro belonging to Mr. Lloyd of Queen's Village, on Long Island, the 25th of December, 1760, as a broadside in 1761, making him the first author of African descent in what would become the United States. He later published An Address to Miss Phillis Wheatley in 1789, chastising her for the worldly themes of her writing. At the inaugural meeting of the African Society on September 24, 1786, he delivered his  Address to the Negroes of the State of New York. He had spent his lifetime in slavery and said, "If we should ever get to Heaven, we shall find nobody to reproach us for being black, or for being slaves. He also said that, while he personally had no wish to be free, he did wish others, especially young people, to be free. In 2013, Julie McCown, a doctoral student from the University of Texas at Arlington, discovered a third poem by Hammon stored in the archives of Yale University which presents a different perspective on slavery, describing it not as the will of God but a manmade evil.


Samuel Ringgold Ward (October 17, 1817 – c. 1866) toured England in 1853 and 1854 speaking on behalf of the Anti-slavery Society of Canada, writing of his experiences in Autobiography of a Fugitive Negro: his anti-slavery labours in the United States, Canada and England. Ward had previously edited abolitionist newspapers in New York, Boston, and Canada, and also served as a Congregationalist pastor. He also worked for abolition through political means as a member of the Liberty Party and later the Free-Soil Party. At the Liberty Party National Convention in June 1848, he received 12 of a possible 84 votes to place second in balloting for that party's nomination as their candidate for Vice President.

Halle Tanner Dillon Johnson (October 17, 1864 - April 26, 1901) became the first female physician in Alabama when Booker T. Washington recruited her from the Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1891 to provide health care for Tuskegee Institute and the immediate area. While there, she also founded a nursing program and a dispensary at the school. She left Tuskegee three years later when she married Rev. John Quincy Johnson and later died in childbirth in Nashville where he pastored St. Paul A.M.E. Church. She was the daughter of A.M.E. Bishop Benjamin Tucker Tanner and the sister of artist Henry Ossawa Tanner.

Lerone Bennett (born October 17, 1928) began his career writing for the Atlanta Daily World after graduation from Morehouse College in 1949. His tenure with Johnson Publishing started in 1952 when he became city editor of Jet, followed by associate editor of Ebony in 1953,  senior editor in 1958, and executive editor in 1987. His history articles began in 1954 when he wrote about Sally Hemmings and Thomas Jefferson. He has published a number of books on black history, most notably Before the Mayflower: A History of the Negro in America, 1619-1966 and Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln's White Dream.

Howard Ellsworth Rollins, Jr. (October 17, 1950 - December 8, 1996) studied theater at Towson University before leaving school to play the role of "Slick" in the PBS soap opera Our Street. He appeared as George Haley in Roots (1977) and as Andrew Young in the miniseries King (1978). In 1981, he made his film debut in the film Ragtime, earning nominations for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for best supporting actor. Rollins also starred in A Soldier's Story (1981). He was best known for his portrayal of Virgil Tibbs in the TV crime drama In the Heat of the Night beginning in 1988 but was replaced after six years by Carl Weathers because of legal issues due to substance abuse.

Mae Carol Jemison (born October 17, 1956) entered Stanford at age 16, graduating with a B.S. in chemical engineering and fulfilling the requirements for a B.A. in African and Afro-American Studies. She attended medical school at Cornell while she also took lessons in modern dance at the Alvin Ailey school. She was in private practice briefly before joining the Peace Corps from 1983 to 1985 as a medical responsible for the health of Peace Corps Volunteers serving in Liberia and Sierra Leone. She applied to NASA's astronaut program after being inspired by Sally Ride to fulfill a childhood dream, and was accepted in the first class of astronauts selected after the Challenger accident.She became the first black woman to travel in space when she went into orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor on September 12, 1992. On the flight she took a poster from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Company representing the creativity of both science and dance, several small art objects from West African countries to symbolize that space belongs to all nations, and a photograph of early African American aviator Bessie Coleman. After leaving NASA in 1993 she founded her own company, the Jemison Group that researches, markets, and develops science and technology for daily life, as well as the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence, named in honor of her mother. She is a Professor-at-Large at Cornell University and was a professor of Environmental Studies at Dartmouth College from 1995 to 2002.


On October 17, 1787, Prince Hall, along with others, sent a petition to the Senate and House of Representatives of Massachusetts urging that ‘means be provided for the education of colored people.’ He wrote that blacks were taxed as whites were and that they had not been backward in paying their proportionate share of the total taxation. He declared that they were willing to pay their ‘equal part’ but that they were denied the privileges of education in many cases, that there had been oversight in ‘the education of our children'.

On October 17, 1985, Black Poetry Day was established to celebrate past and present poets like Langston Hughes, Phillis Wheatley, Frank X. Walker and Maya Angelou. This day is not officially endorsed by an American city, state, or federal government, but it has gained fame and grown because of its importance in black heritage, in literacy, and in community meaning. Schools and the general public are asked to spend this day appreciating African-American authors and spreading the word of Black poets through friends, family members, and throughout the world.

Photo Gallery

Rosalynn Carter, Marian Anderson, President Jimmy Carter October 17, 1978 The White House, Washington, D.C.


Jet Magazine, October 17, 1963

Ebony Fashion Fair Model Janet Winston of Morristown, New Jersey is the Jet Centerfold
Jet Magazine, October 17, 1963

 LIFE magazine — October 17, 1969: Naomi Sims -- Black models take center stage

The Black Panther (October 17, 1970)

People Magazine, October 17, 1977 — O.J. Simpson

 People Magazine, October 17, 1983 --  Michael Jackson

Living In, Living Out: African American Domestics in Washington, D.C., 1910-1940 by Elizabeth Clark-Lewis. $10.00.
192 pages. Author: Elizabeth Clark-Lewis. Publisher: Smithsonian Institution Press (October 17, 1994)


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