Black Facts for March 20th

1916 - Ota Benga, African native kept in zoo, kills self

An African native once kept in a Bronx zoo, Ota Benga, commits suicide. In 1906 the crowds thronged the monkey house exhibit at the Bronx Zoo (New York Zoological Park). Here were man"s "evolutionary ancestors" - monkeys, chimpanzees, a gorilla named Dinah, an orangutan named Dohung and a African of short stature, misnomered a "pygmy," named Ota Benga. Ota Benga was brought from the Belgian Congo in 1904 by noted African explorer Samuel Verner along with other "pygmies" and displayed in an exhibit in the 1904 St. Louis world"s Fair.

Ota Benga (or "Bi", which means "friend" in his language) was born in 1881, had a height of 4 ft. 11in. and weighted 103 lbs. Although he was referred to as a boy he had been married twice. White colonists had captured his first wife and his second wife died by snakebite. After the St.Louis exhibit, Ota found himself at the Bronx Zoo which at that time was under the direction of Dr. William T. Hornaday, who was considered a bit eccentric. Hornaday believed animals had nearly human thoughts and personalities, and he could read the thoughts of zoo animals. He "apparently saw no difference between a wild beast and the little Black man" and insisted he was only offering an "intriguing exhibit". The exhibit was immensely popular and controversial; the black community was outraged and some churchmen feared that it would convince people of Darwin"s theory of evolution. Under threat of legal action, Hornaday had Ota Benga leave his cage and circulate around the zoo in a white suit, but he returned to the monkey house to sleep.

In time Ota Benga began to hate being the object of curiosity. "There were 40,000 visitors to the park on Sunday. Nearly every man, woman and child of this crowd made for the monkey house to see the star attraction in the park - the wild man from Africa. They chased him about the grounds at day, howling, jeering, and yelling. Some of them poked him in the ribs, others tripped him up, all laughed at him." At one point, he got hold of a knife and flourished it

1934 - Brown, Willie Lewis, Jr. (1934- )

This State Legislator and Mayor was born in Mineola, Texas, to Willie L. Brown, Sr., and Minnie (Boyd) Lewis on March 20, 1934. After migrating to San Francisco, California in 1951, Brown worked as a janitor in order to subsidize his education at San Francisco State University. Upon his arrival in San Francisco, Brown immediately joined the United Methodist Church, which was committed to social action, where he became the youth leader. In his attempts to make the world and himself more “comfortable,” he also participated in the San Francisco civil rights protests in the late 1950s. He earned his bachelor’s degree from San Francisco State University in 1955. In 1958, he earned a Juris Doctorate degree from Hastings College Law School.

In the 1950s Brown’s prospects seemed bleak. Most San Francisco law firms barred black attorneys from employment. In addition, Hastings Law School alumni were not heavily recruited because of Bay Area law firms’ preference for Stanford and University of California-Berkeley graduates. In 1959 Brown began his own practice, Brown, Dearman & Smith, after working for a time with prominent San Francisco black attorney Terry Francois. Brown’s new firm specialized in criminal defense, real estate development, and personal injury cases.

While searching for a house, he and his wife, Blanche Vitero, were discriminated against. The Browns, along with some friends, protested and “brought the issue of racism in housing to the forefront of public attention.” Although, the Browns did not buy the house, they were successful on another front—placing the Brown name in the political arena.

In 1962, Brown launched his career in politics in a losing effort against state assemblyman Ed Gaffney.  Two years later, he was elected to the California State Assembly from a district that was eighty percent white. In 1974, Brown campaigned to become Speaker of the California Assembly, considered the second most powerful position in the state. Although his first bid failed, in 1980 Willie Brown, Jr., became

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