on this day 2/7

jointsessioninCongress1795 – The 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified.

1818 – “Academician” began publication in New York City.

1877 – The first Guernsey Cattle Club was organized in New York City.

1882 – The last bareknuckle fight for the heavyweight boxing championship took place in Mississippi City.

1893 – Elisha Gray patented a machine called the telautograph. It automatically signed autographs to documents.

1913 – The Turks lost 5,000 men in a battle with the Bulgarian army in Gallipoli.

1922 – DeWitt and Lila Acheson Wallace offered 5,000 copies of “Reader’s Digest” magazine for the first time.

1931 – The American opera “Peter Ibbetson,” by Deems Taylor, premiered in New York City.

1936 – The U.S. Vice President’s flag was established by executive order.

1940 – “Pinocchio” world premiered at the Center Theatre in Manhattan.

1941 – The Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and Frank Sinatra recorded “Everything Happens to Me.”

1943 – The U.S. government announced that shoe rationing would go into effect in two days.

1944 – During World War II, the Germans launched a counteroffensive at Anzio, Italy.

1959 – The play “The Rivalry” opened in New York City.

1962 – The U.S. government banned all Cuban imports and re-export of U.S. products to Cuba from other countries.

1966 – “Crawdaddy” magazine was published by Paul Williams for the first time.

1974 – The nation of Grenada gained independence from Britain.

1976 – Darryl Sittler (Toronto Maple Leafs) set a National Hockey League (NHL) record when he scored 10 points in a game against the Boston Bruins. He scored six goals and four assists.

1977 – Russia launched Soyuz 24.

1984 – Space shuttle astronauts Bruce McCandless II and Robert L. Stewart made the first untethered space walk.

1985 – “Sports Illustrated” released its annual swimsuit edition. It was the largest regular edition in the magazine’s history at 218 pages.

1985 – “New York, New York” became the official anthem of New York City.

1986 – Haitian President-for-Life Jean-Claude Duvalier fled his country ending 28 years of family rule.

1991 – The Rev. Jean-Bertrand Aristide was sworn in as Haiti’s first democratically elected president.

1999 – NASA’s Stardust space probe was launched. The mission was to return comet dust samples from comet Wild 2. The mission was completed on January 15, 2006 when the sample return capsule returned to Earth.

2000 – California‘s legislature declared that February 13 would be “Charels M. Schulz Day.”

2008 – The Space Shuttle Atlantis launched with the mission of delivering the Columbus science laboratory to the International Space Station.

Video: Black History Month at the White House a repost

Watch our Black History Month video here.

In 1926, the great historian and author Carter G. Woodson pioneered “Negro History Week” — a time set aside to honor African Americans and their contributions to our history.

“If a race has no history, it has no worthwhile tradition,” Woodson once wrote. “It becomes a negligible factor in the thought of the world, and it stands in danger of being exterminated.”

That week would later become Black History Month — and this year, the White House hosted a number of events and activities to celebrate the contributions and the accomplishments of African Americans both past and present.

“We don’t set aside this month each year to isolate or segregate or put under a glass case black history,” the President said at last week’s Black History Month reception here at the White House. “We set it aside to illuminate those threads — those living threads that African Americans have woven into the tight tapestry of this nation — to make it stronger, and more beautiful, and more just, and more free.”

Watch our wrap-up video, and read more about how the White House — as well as other Departments and agencies — celebrated Black History Month.

NMAAHC – Nat King Cole, Flip Wilson & American Television History

NMAAHC -- National Museum of African American History and Culture

Lonnie Bunch, museum director, historian, lecturer, and author, is proud to present A Page from Our American Story, a regular on-line series for Museum supporters. It will showcase individuals and events in the African American experience, placing these stories in the context of a larger story — our American story. A Page From Our American Story

Nat King Cole publicity photo 1956
Publicity photo from the premiere of
The Nat King Cole Show, November 1956.
Flip Wilson publicity photo 1969
Flip Wilson publicity photo.
NBC Television, 1969.

Nat “King” Cole ranks among the icons of American entertainers. His rich, smooth baritone singing voice is immediately recognizable, and his music remains popular today.

Beginning in 1946 with “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire)” and “Straighten Up and Fly Right,” and continuing with “Nature Boy,” “Mona Lisa,” and “Too Young,” hit song after hit song made Cole an international star by the mid-1950s.

1950s American audiences loved variety shows, and Cole appeared on all of the big ones, including Milton Berle, Ed Sullivan, Perry Como, Red Skelton, and Dinah Shore, to name a few. He was cool, handsome, and, of course, talented. It only made sense that NBC offer him his own show. And so on November 5, 1956, The Nat “King” Cole Show, initially a 15-minute, prime time variety show, became the first nationally broadcast television show hosted by an African American.

Portrait of Nat King Cole
Portrait of Nat “King” Cole, New York, NY.
William P. Gottlieb, circa June 1947.

NBC spared no expense, bringing in top-flight orchestra leaders Nelson Riddle and Gordon Jenkins to direct the music. Cole’s guests were the best in the business as well. Mel Torme, Pearl Bailey, Mahalia Jackson, Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee and Tony Bennett, among many others, performed on Cole’s show. Eventually, NBC expanded the show to 30 minutes.

What the show did not have was a major national sponsor. Big companies who backed white entertainers’ shows — “See the USA in a Chevrolet,” Dinah Shore would sing — feared their products would be boycotted, particularly in the South, if they backed The Nat “King” Cole Show.

Oddly, advertisers believed Cole’s urbane sophistication was problematic, as well. White American viewers were more accustomed to blacks being portrayed as racially stereotyped slapstick comics. Black television shows like Amos & Andy, and characters like Rochester, Jack Benny’s wisecracking valet were too often the rule, and, sadly, what made many white television viewers comfortable.

Cole wanted none of that. He knew how important it was for an African American to demonstrate to the nation how insulting and racist these stereotypes were. More than anything else, Cole wanted a show produced on par with the Comos, Berles and Shores. To his and NBC’s credit, the show — which ran for 64 episodes — received excellent reviews.

Still, national advertisers ignored Cole’s show. “Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark,” Cole is reported to have said. When Max Factor Cosmetics told NBC executives that a “negro couldn’t sell lipstick,” Cole responded angrily: “What do they think we use? Chalk? Congo paint?”

Various episodes were sponsored on NBC affiliates by local companies, and a handful of regional sponsors appeared late in the show’s run. But for the most part, The Nat “King” Cole Show was paid for by NBC and, to some degree, Cole himself, who “plowed back part” of his salary, he told Ebony Magazine. Absent a major sponsor, it was Cole, not NBC, who pulled the plug on the historic effort in December, 1957.

Of course, Cole could not have known what lay ahead for America in the next decade — the powerful civil rights movement, the tragic assassinations, the massive changes coming to our society. In 1970, a glimpse of that change was reflected in the success of black comedian Flip Wilson.

Flip Wilson as "Geraldine"
Publicity photo of Flip Wilson as Geraldine Jones from
the television program The Flip Wilson Show.
Geraldine is interviewing Dr. David Rueben.
NBC Television, November 1971.

Wilson started out in hotels and clubs in California as a young stand-up comic. By the end of the decade, he was one of only a handful of African American comedians to achieve national recognition, along with Redd Foxx, Nipsey Russell, Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, and Dick Gregory. In 1965, after a recommendation from Foxx, Johnny Carson invited Wilson to perform on the Tonight Show. His career skyrocketed and soon Wilson became a regular guest host for Carson.

Wilson’s one-hour comedy special on NBC in 1969 received good ratings, and the network quickly offered him an hour-long, prime-time show of his own. Launched in 1970, The Flip Wilson Show was an immediate hit, soaring to number two in the ratings throughout its first two seasons, and winning an Emmy Award in 1971 for Best Comedy Writing.

The ratings afforded Wilson unprecedented creative development. His “Reverend Leroy,” the somewhat shady minister of the “Church of What’s Happenin’ Now,” drew fire from black groups who said it stereotyped African Americans. “Sonny, the White House janitor,” routinely made politicians look like fools — a potentially hazardous sketch with white audiences. Wilson’s most popular creation, the cross-dressing “Geraldine,” however, was almost universally beloved. Geraldine’s catch phrases, “What you see is what you get,” and “The Devil made me do it,” underscored the character’s confidence and wit.

Flip Wilson with Joe Namath
Flip Wilson as “Herbie” (his “bad” ice
cream man character) and guest star
Joe Namath from the television program
The Flip Wilson Show.
NBC Television, April 1972.

Wilson’s ratings also gave him the clout to feature the entertainment giants of the time, including John Wayne, Lucille Ball, Bing Crosby, and Carson. But Wilson also made his show a platform for black entertainers. The Jackson Five, James Brown, Isaac Hayes, Ray Charles and the Temptations, to name only a few, were Wilson regulars.

Thirteen years after The Nat “King” Cole Show struggled financially, The Flip Wilson Show was not only able to secure national advertisers, it was able to charge top dollar for its highly-coveted prime-time slot. Advertisers’ fears that their products would somehow be tainted by association with black artists apparently had diminished as a result of America’s changing views on race.

Nat “King” Cole and Flip Wilson were very different types of entertainers. Yet both faced the challenge of overcoming racial stereotypes and both hold significant spots in our American story: Cole as the first African American star to have his own television variety show in 1956; Wilson for the heights his variety show reached in the early 1970s. And each man demonstrated to America the depths, talent and sophistication that black entertainers brought to the stage.

Lonnie Bunch, Director All the best,
Lonnie Bunch
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