This Week in History: February 18, 1931

Toni Morrison Born

Toni Morrison Nobel Prize

When Toni Morrison won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993, she became the first American woman to receive the award since Pearl Buck in 1938, and the first African American woman ever to be so honored. In describing her work, the Nobel Committee stated; “She delves into the language itself, a language she wants to free from the fetters of race. And she addresses us with the luster of poetry.”

Born Chloe Anthony Wofford in Lorain, Ohio, Morrison graduated from Howard University in 1953 and earned a master’s degree in English at Cornell University in 1955. After a series of university teaching jobs, she became the Robert F. Goheen Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University in 1988. Over her long career as a writer Morrison has used poetic language in an unflinching examination of gender conflicts, race relations, and other aspects of American society, winning a National Book Critics Circle Award for Song of Solomon in 1977 and a Pulitzer Prize for Beloved in 1988. As she explained it, “My work requires me to think about how free I can be as an African American woman writer in my genderized, sexualized, wholly radicalized world.” In the novels The Bluest Eye (1970), Sula (1973), Song of Solomon, (1977), Tar Baby (1981), Beloved(1987), Jazz (1992), and Paradise (1998) Morrison has demonstrated her mastery of literary technique. When asked for her reaction to winning the Nobel Prize for Literature she responded, “When I heard  I’d won you heard no “Aw, shucks’ from me. The prize didn’t change my inner assessment of what I’m capable of doing, but I welcomed it as a public, representational affirmation of my work. I was surprised at how patriotic I felt, being the first native-born American winner since John Steinbeck, I felt pride that a black and a woman had been recognized in such an international forum,” In her Nobel address in Stockholm, Morrison said, “The vitality of language lies in its ability to limn the actual, imagined and possible lives of its speakers, readers, writers. Although its poise is sometimes in displacing experience, it is not a substitute for it. It arcs toward the place where meaning may lie.” Henry Louis Gates, chairman of the African American Studies Department at Harvard University, said: “I think she got the Nobel Prize for two books, essentially, Beloved and Jazz. He called  Jazz a “truly brilliant postmodern book” and said Morrison was “as great and as innovative as Faulkner and Garcia Marquez and Woolf. That’s why she deserved the Nobel Prize.”

Paradise, Morrison’s first book after winning the Nobel Prize, was conceived as the final installment of a trilogy that examines love in all its forms. In the first installment, Beloved, she told the troubling tale of an escaped slave whose love for her daughter was so strong that she would rather kill the child than see her returned to servitude. The second volume, Jazz, looks at “elicit” love, telling the story of a married man in Harlem during the 1920s who murders his young girlfriend after she jilts him for a younger man. That story is interwoven with the related story of a wealthy white and her mulatto son during the reconstruction era. Paul Gray described the form of love treated in Paradise as “a hunger for security, the desire to create perfection in an imperfect world.” In tracing the fates of former slaves who migrated west after the Civil War, Morrison was struck by the admonition that appeared in the ads for black settlers; “Come Prepared or Not at All.” Setting her novel in an all-black town in Oklahoma, she used this aphorism to construct a tale of rejection, isolation, anger, and collective memory. While she is known for her careful dissection of race relations, Morrison deliberately refused to concentrate on race in Paradise. As she told Gray, “I wanted the readers to wonder about the race of those girls [in the local convent] until those readers understood that their race didn’t matter. I want to dissuade people from reading literature in that way.” She added: “Race is the least reliable information you can have about someone. It’s real information, but it tells you next to nothing.”

Morrison, Toni 1931-. (2001). In J. S. Baughman, V. Bondi, R. Layman, T. McConnell, & V. Tompkins (Eds.), American Decades (Vol. 10). Detroit: Gale. Retrieved from


To learn more…




This Week in History: February 6, 1993

Arthur AsheTennis Great, Arthur Ashe, Dies of AIDS

On February 6, 1993, tennis champion Arthur Ashe, the only African-American man to win Wimbledon and the U.S. and Australian Opens, dies of complications from AIDS, at age 49 in New York City. Ashe’s body later laid in state at the governor’s mansion in Richmond, Virginia, where thousands of people lined up to pay their respects to the ground-breaking athlete and social activist.

Arthur Robert Ashe, Jr., was born in Richmond on July 10, 1943. He first picked up a tennis racket as a young boy at a segregated playground near his home. Ashe attended U.C.L.A. on a full scholarship and in 1963 became the first African-American member of the U.S. Davis Cup Team. In 1965, he claimed the individual NCAA tennis championship and helped U.C.L.A. win the team championship. After graduating in 1966, Ashe served in the U.S. Army for two years. In 1968, while still an amateur player, he won the U.S. Open and became the first black man to win a Grand Slam event. Two years later, in 1970, Ashe won the Australian Open. In 1972, he was a co-founder of the Association of Tennis Professionals, the union for male players, and later served as its president. Three years later, he beat heavily favored Jimmy Connors to win the singles title at Wimbledon. Ashe also competed on the Davis Cup team for 10 years, winning three championships. His prize money and endorsements made him the first African-American millionaire in his sport. In 1980, though, heart problems forced Ashe to retire from tennis. He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1985.

Off the court, Ashe was known for his commitment to charitable causes and humanitarian work. He established tennis programs for inner-city children and campaigned against apartheid in South Africa. Following his retirement, Ashe was a TV sports commentator and columnist and wrote a 3-volume book, “A Hard Road to Glory,” about black athletes. In 1988, Ashe learned he had AIDS. It was believed he contracted the HIV virus from a tainted blood transfusion following a 1983 heart operation. Ashe kept his medical condition private until April 1992, when a newspaper informed him of its intention to run an article about his illness. Ashe decided to pre-empt the article and held a news conference to announce he had AIDS. He spent the remainder of his life working to raise awareness about the disease. In 1997, the U.S. Tennis Association announced it would name the new center court stadium at the USTA National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, New York, the Arthur Ashe Stadium., “Tennis Great Arthur Ashe Dies of AIDS”,

To learn more…

This Week in History: February 1, 1960

Greensboro, NC Sit-in


Despite the gains made in civil rights in the late 1950s, the Jim Crow system of legally imposed racial separation, or  segregation , remained a fact of life in the southern states. One of many types of discrimination blacks faced was the widespread policy of variety stores prohibiting blacks from sitting down and being served at the stores’ lunch counters with other customers.

In 1960 Greensboro, North Carolina , was a rapidly growing city of 120,000 that prided itself on the progressive nature of its  race relations. Even so Greensboro had made only token steps toward integrating its schools. Lunch counters in Greensboro served blacks only if they stood in a designated area.

On February 1, 1960, Ezell Blair Jr., Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, and David Richmond—freshmen students from the all-black North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College —entered the Woolworth store in downtown Greensboro. As planned, they first bought toothpaste and school supplies as proof that the store would sell them merchandise. They then took seats at the lunch counter, to the amazement of store employees and other patrons. They were refused service and told that black people had to stand at another counter to eat. The young men asked why Woolworth would sell them toothpaste but not coffee, and remained in their seats until the store closed. There was no confrontation with the police, although a reporter did arrive and news of the sit-in was reported by the local press.

The “Greensboro Four,” as they came to be known, had decided the night before to challenge the Jim Crow system of segregation at lunch counters. No civil rights organization had been involved. They were motivated simply by a sense of justice.

News of the act of protest spread rapidly over the A & T campus and throughout the city. The next day twenty-three additional students accompanied the Greensboro Four to Woolworth to sit at the lunch counter. Soon the demonstrators were working in shifts, and the sit-in  spread to Kress, the other downtown variety store. The demonstrators were well dressed and emphasized their commitment to nonviolence. The stores refused to serve them but did not ask the local police to arrest them.

By the end of the week the sit-ins had gained participants from Bennett College, a black women’s college in town, and from Greensboro’s white colleges. Support came in from Greensboro’s black community and from the national civil rights organization Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), which began to organize boycotts of Woolworth and Kress. On February 8 sit-ins began in the neighboring city of Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

The city of Greensboro tried to mediate between the protesting students and the stores. For a month during negotiations the students ceased their sit-ins. Sit-ins resumed on April 1, though, because the stores had not desegregated the lunch counters. On April 2 the two stores closed their lunch counters. Greensboro’s black community boycotted the stores and participated in street demonstrations. The picketing soon attracted a counterdemonstration organized by the Ku Klux Klan , a secret society of white supremacists known for their use of intimidation and terrorist methods against minority groups. The mostly peaceful confrontations between the two groups became a feature of life in downtown Greensboro.

Kress reopened its lunch counter later in the month but roped it off to allow store personnel to control access. When students peacefully moved into the restricted area, some forty-five of them were arrested, including three of the Greensboro Four. This was the only mass arrest during the sit-in campaign. The students were released without bail.

Soon the downtown stores found that their business was falling off; Woolworth’s sales fell by 20 percent, partly due to the boycott but also because many whites were staying away to avoid trouble. Pressure for a settlement mounted. Finally on July 25, 1960, the stores desegregated their lunch counters.

Benson, S., Brannen, D. E., Jr., & Valentine, R. (2009). Sit-in Movement of the 1960s. In UXL Encyclopedia of U.S. History (Vol. 7, pp. 1409-1412). Detroit: UXL. Retrieved from

To learn more…


This Week in History: Insulin Injection Aids Diabetic Patient-January 23, 1922


At Toronto General Hospital, 14-year-old Canadian Leonard Thompson becomes the first person to receive an insulin injection as treatment for diabetes. Diabetes has been recognized as a distinct medical condition for more than 3,000 years, but its exact cause was a mystery until the 20th century. By the early 1920s, many researchers strongly suspected that diabetes was caused by a malfunction in the digestive system related to the pancreas gland, a small organ that sits on top of the liver. At that time, the only way to treat the fatal disease was through a diet low in carbohydrates and sugar and high in fat and protein. Instead of dying shortly after diagnosis, this diet allowed diabetics to live–for about a year.

A breakthrough came at the University of Toronto in the summer of 1921, when Canadians Frederick Banting and Charles Best successfully isolated insulin from canine test subjects, produced diabetic symptoms in the animals, and then began a program of insulin injections that returned the dogs to normalcy. On November 14, the discovery was announced to the world.

Two months later, with the support of J.J.R. MacLeod of the University of Toronto, the two scientists began preparations for an insulin treatment of a human subject. Enlisting the aid of biochemist J.B. Collip, they were able to extract a reasonably pure formula of insulin from the pancreas of cattle from slaughterhouses and used it to treat Leonard Thompson. The diabetic teenager improved dramatically, and the University of Toronto immediately gave pharmaceutical companies license to produce insulin, free of royalties. By 1923, insulin had become widely available, saving countless lives around the world, and Banting and Macleod were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine., “Insulin injection aids diabetic patient”,


To learn more…


This Week in History: Packers Face Chiefs in First Super Bowl – January 15, 1967


On January 15, 1967, at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the Green Bay Packers beat the Kansas City Chiefs in the first-ever world championship game of American football.

In the mid-1960s, the intense competition for players and fans between the National Football League (NFL) and the upstart American Football League (AFL) led to talks of a possible merger. It was decided that the winners of each league’s championship would meet each year in a single game to determine the “world champion of football.”

In that historic first game–played before a non-sell-out crowd of 61,946 people–Green Bay scored three touchdowns in the second half to defeat Kansas City 35-10. Led by MVP quarterback Bart Starr, the Packers benefited from Max McGee’s stellar receiving and a key interception by safety Willie Wood. For their win, each member of the Packers collected $15,000: the largest single-game share in the history of team sports.

Postseason college games were known as “bowl” games, and AFL founder Lamar Hunt suggested that the new pro championship be called the “Super Bowl.” The term was officially introduced in 1969, along with roman numerals to designate the individual games. In 1970, the NFL and AFL merged into one league with two conferences, each with 13 teams. Since then, the Super Bowl has been a face-off between the winners of the American Football Conference (AFC) and the National Football Conference (NFC) for the NFL championship and the coveted Vince Lombardi Trophy, named for the legendary Packers coach who guided his team to victory in the first two Super Bowls.

Super Bowl Sunday has become an unofficial American holiday, complete with parties, betting pools and excessive consumption of food and drink. On average, 80 to 90 million people are tuned into the game on TV at any given moment, while some 130-140 million watch at least some part of the game. The commercials shown during the game have become an attraction in themselves, with TV networks charging as much as $2.5 million for a 30-second spot and companies making more expensive, high-concept ads each year. The game itself has more than once been upstaged by its elaborate pre-game or halftime entertainment, most recently in 2004 when Janet Jackson’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction” resulted in a $225,000 fine for the TV network airing the game, CBS, and tighter controls on televised indecency.

History. Com, “Packers face Chiefs in first Super Bowl”

To learn more…

This Week in History : Grand Canyon Made a National Monument


January 11, 1908

On January 11, 1908, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt declares the massive Grand Canyon in northwestern Arizona a national monument.


Though Native Americans lived in the area as early as the 13th century, the first European sighting of the canyon wasn’t until 1540, by members of an expedition headed by the Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado. Because of its remote and inaccessible location, several centuries passed before North American settlers really explored the canyon. In 1869, geologist John Wesley Powell led a group of 10 men in the first difficult journey down the rapids of the Colorado River and along the length of the 277-mile gorge in four rowboats.

By the end of the 19th century, the Grand Canyon was attracting thousands of tourists each year. One famous visitor was President Theodore Roosevelt, a New Yorker with a particular affection for the American West. After becoming president in 1901 after the assassination of President William McKinley, Roosevelt made environmental conservation a major part of his presidency. After establishing the National Wildlife Refuge to protect the country’s animals, fish and birds, Roosevelt turned his attention to federal regulation of public lands. Though a region could be given national park status–indicating that all private development on that land was illegal–only by an act of Congress, Roosevelt cut down on red tape by beginning a new presidential practice of granting a similar “national monument” designation to some of the West’s greatest treasures.

In January 1908, Roosevelt exercised this right to make more than 800,000 acres of the Grand Canyon area into a national monument. “Let this great wonder of nature remain as it now is,” he declared. “You cannot improve on it. But what you can do is keep it for your children, your children’s children, and all who come after you, as the one great sight which every American should see.”

Congress did not officially outlaw private development in the Grand Canyon until 1919, when President Woodrow Wilson signed the Grand Canyon National Park Act. Today, more than 5 million people visit the canyon each year. The canyon floor is accessible by foot, mule or boat, and whitewater rafting, hiking and running in the area are especially popular. Many choose to conserve their energies and simply take in the breathtaking view from the canyon’s South Rim–some 7,000 feet above sea level–and marvel at a vista virtually unchanged for over 400 years., “Theodore Roosevelt makes Grand Canyon a national monument”,

To learn more…