Good News in History, January 16

150 years ago today, Jefferson Franklin Long was sworn in as the second African American man elected to the U.S. Congress. A Republican from the state of Georgia, he was the first Black member to speak on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Born a slave in Knoxville, Georgia, Long learned to read and write, defying the law of the day. Trained as a tailor, he opened a successful business in Macon, after his emancipation following the end of the Civil War. He raised seven children with his wife, making sure they all were educated. He was a fine orator and organizer in the Republican party, traveling around the state urging freedmen to register to vote.

According to the U.S. House historians, the majority-White GOP leaders in Long’s state denied him the chance to run for reelection to Congress—and their anti-Black sentiment eventually pushed Long, and many others, to retreat from the party. In fact, it was not until a century later, 1972, that another Black was elected in Georgia to Congress—Andrew Young.

Jefferson Long lived out the last 20 years of his life self-employed, operating several businesses, including the first dry-cleaning establishment in Macon. (1871)

MORE Good News on this Date:

  • Book One of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes was published in Madrid telling the story of an insane nobleman that sets out to revive chivalry, undo wrongs, and bring justice to the world under the name Don Quixote, with farmer Sancho Panza, as his squire (1605)
  • Superman was first published as a daily newspaper comic strip (1939)
  • The Cavern Club opened in Liverpool, and later became home to the Beatles who appeared at the club 292 times (1957)
  • Two manned Soviet Soyuz spaceships became the first vehicles to dock in space and transfer personnel (1969)
  • Buckminster Fuller was awarded the Gold Medal from the American Institute of Architects (1970)
  • El Salvador signed a pact with rebel leaders ending 12 years of civil war that had killed at 75,000 people (1992)
  • Romanian university lecturer and novelist Adriana Iliescu gave birth at age 66, the oldest woman ever to do so (2005)
  • Nepal declared January 16 to be a public holiday to celebrate the country overcoming a decade of conflict with Maoist rebels, who now work together with women and working-class representatives within an elected parliament (2007)
  • Sen. Barack Obama, from the state house in Illinois, launched his successful bid for the White House (2007)

And on this day in 2006, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was sworn in as Liberia’s new president, becoming Africa’s first female elected head of state.

Ellen_Johnson_Sirleaf_February_2015-official portrait

The election of Africa’s “Iron Lady” marked the beginning of the nation’s success story, in the wake of fourteen years of brutal civil conflict. Sirleaf was awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize jointly with two other African women recognized “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.” Her autobiography, This Child Will Be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa’s First Woman President, tells the tale of her childhood, her experiences with abuse, imprisonment, and exile, and later, her rise to power. She studied in the United States and worked as an international bank executive, but became a social reformer in her homeland who fought the oppression of dictators.

Photo by Thilo Parg, CC license

And, Happy 62nd Birthday to singer–songwriter Helen Folasade Adu, also known as Sade, who released one of the best debut albums of all time. Born in Nigeria and raised in Essex, England, she and her band secured a recording deal with Epic Records, releasing Diamond Life in 1984 (Smooth Operator, Your Love Is King). One of the best selling LPs of the era, her sultry voice and lyrics garnered intense critical acclaim.

The next year, Sade released Promise, another resounding success, which won her a Grammy for Best New Artist. The next two releases, 1988’s Stronger Than Pride and 1992’s Love Deluxe, were also hits. She has also contributed to soundtracks, like Disney’s A Wrinkle In Time, and Widows. Her last studio album in 2010, Soldier of Love, topped the Billboard charts for 3 weeks and earned the band a Grammy.

Like many of us, she spent 2020 in lockdown with her family (in England) rediscovering the joys of cooking—but also writing a lot of music. WATCH a rare interview… (1959)


And, Happy 41st Birthday to composer, playwright, singer, actor, producer, and rap artist Lin-Manuel Miranda. He went to a “school for gifted kids” in New York City—and soon was directing a high school production of West Side Story.

Photo by Gage Skidmore, in 2019; Photo of Hamilton in 2016 by Steve Jurvetson; CC licenses

After winning a MacArthur ‘Genius’ Fellowship in 2015, he launched the biggest musical in the last 20 years—Hamilton—which he created, wrote, composed, and starred in. Telling the story of founding father Alexander Hamilton, the show was massively influential and earned the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, the Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album, and was nominated for a record-setting 16 Tony Awards, of which it won 11.

Additionally, The Hamilton Mixtape, an LP of song covers from the musical, developed by and featuring Miranda, reached No.1 on the Billboard chart. He starred last year in the HBO show based on a book series called His Dark Materials. Miranda also wrote a ‘Good Morning’ inspirational book.

WATCH him answer the Google auto-fill questions about himself, including how he got his name… (1980)

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