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On this day in 1940 the United States House of Representatives passed a bill imposing fines on county or state officials who negligently failed to protect persons in their custody from seizure by a mob who injured or killed those persons – or, as it was better known, an anti-lynching bill.1
“Why is President Roosevelt so strangely silent on this bill?” asked Franklin Roosevelt’s own local Congressman, Representative Hamilton Fish, Republican of New York.2
Scarcely a soul did not know the answer to Fish’s question. The bill split the Democratic Party. Sponsored by Joseph Gavagan, a Democrat and the Congressman for Harlem, the bill had nearly universal support in the North and none in the South. The vote in the House was 252 to 131 in favor. No Southerner voted for the bill; Democrats from the North, Midwest, and West favored it by nearly five to one.
Similar bills had passed in 1937 and 1938. They met their demise in the Senate, whose filibuster rules permitted a Southern minority to kill the bills.
The NAACP campaigned vigorously for the anti-lynching bills. Its leader, Walter White, noted “the states have continued as they have in the past, to do nothing about lynching. The federal government must act.”3
Senator Robert Wagner, Democrat of New York, supported the bill. So did any number of high profile Democrats, including Eleanor Roosevelt.
Gallup polls showed Americans closely divided but favoring the measure, with 50% in favor, 41% against, and 9% with no opinion.4
Senator Pat Harrison, Democrat of Mississippi, addressed himself to the president, saying, “We see the people of the South confronted with the terrible situation of a Democratic majority betraying the trust of the Southern people.… The next thing, in all probability, will be to provide that miscegenation of the races cannot be prohibited, and when that has accomplished … to say that every colored man in every Southern State should take part in the primaries in the State!”5
That outcome remained far in the future. It was 1940; the Gavagan bill had no chance when the president viewed the fight against Nazism as his chief priority.
He had seen the world that way, really, since the moment Adolf Hitler became German chancellor in January 1933. Roosevelt then told Rexford Tugwell that Hitler’s “black sorcery appealed to the worst in men; it supported their hates and ridiculed their tolerances” and his rise was a “portent of evil for the United States.”
And so from the moment he took office, Roosevelt was racing the clock; recovery from Depression meant not only ending the crisis and restoring prosperity, but restoring the United States to a physical and moral strength sufficient to fight Nazi Germany.
But to do it, as Tugwell said, “He had to compromise with Hitlerites in our own electorate.”6
1“Anti-lynching Bill is Passed by House,” NYT 1/11/40, p. 17.
2“Quick Passage of Measure,” Chicago Defender 1/13/40, p. 1.
3Cited in Harvard Sitkoff, A New Deal for Blacks, 221.
4Gallup Poll, Jan, 1940. Retrieved Jan-10-2015 from the iPOLL Databank, The Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, University of Connecticut. http://www.ropercenter.uconn.edu/data_access/ipoll/ipoll.html
5Cited in Sitkoff, 220.
6Rexford Tugwell Papers, Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library. See also the brilliant Ira Katznelson, Fear Itself (Liveright, 2013).
[Editor’s Note: Bob Reinhardt, a PhD candidate in our department, submitted this TDIH before the late unpleasantness on our campus. He then asked if I would hold off on posting for a bit. Well, a bit has passed, and it’s time to talk about smallpox. Really, though, when isn’t it the right time to talk about smallpox? Thanksgiving dinner, I suppose. Anyway, thanks, Bob, for doing this.]
On this day in 1965, President Lyndon Johnson declared all-out war on a universally despised enemy. The announcement didn’t concern Vietnam — Johnson had escalated that police action months before — nor poverty, against which the US had allegedly been fighting an “unconditional war.” This particular declaration targeted a different enemy, older and perhaps more loathsome than any ideological or socioeconomic affliction: smallpox. As the White House Press Release explained, the US Agency for International Development and the US Public Health Service (specifically, the Communicable Disease Center, now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) had launched an ambitious campaign to eradicate smallpox (and control measles) in 18 West African countries.* That program would eventually lead to the first and only human-sponsored eradication of a disease, and would also demonstrate the possibilities — and limits — of liberal technocratic expertise.
The Smiths’ second album released 25 years ago on Valentine’s Day. Some reflections from younger musicians here. And here’s Rusholme Ruffians.
I think the album holds up pretty well. There’s lots of good playing and the lyrics are twee but funny enough to age all right. “Scratch my name on your arm with a fountain pen– this means you really love me.” Verdict: nothing to be ashamed of!
(Would that were true of all the music I was rocking out to at the time; Martin Gore, I’m looking at you. Warning: may cause seizures.)
Today we remember the hapless epicure Adolf Frederick I, a twig from the Holstein family tree who reigned as King of Sweden from 1751 until his death in on this date in 1771. His two decades on the throne were significant only to the extent that he presided helplessly over the decline of the Swedish kingdom.
As sovereign, Frederick I was almost completely powerless and functioned more or less as an ornament while the riksdag managed the affairs of state, which included Sweden’s commitment to the Seven Years’ War — the first truly global war in human history, provoked by a poisonous mixture of European internal politics and colonialism. Sweden’s contribution to the struggle consisted mainly of throwing a series of tiny, scrofulous armies into the field against Frederick II of Prussia. The Prussian ruler was so unimpressed with the Swedish effort that when hostilities ended in 1762, he expressed mock surprise upon learning that he had been at war with Sweden in the first place. The war upended Swedish national life, resulting in the temporary collapse of the political hegemony enjoyed by the upper nobility (known as the Hats); the lower nobility (known as the Caps) assumed power over the government but faced feirce resistance from the Hats as well as constant foreign interference from Prussia, Russia and Denmark. King Adolf Frederick was irrelevant to the plot. An avid woodworking hobbyist, he spent most of his time playing with his beloved turning lathe.
Among his other passions in life, Frederick was an avid collector of biological specimens. During his years as the Swedish crown prince, he served as an important resource for Carl Linnaeus, who studied the prince’s cabinet while sorting out the details of his famous taxonomic system. On February 12, 1771, Frederick’s two decades of idle monarchy came to an end. That night, he celebrated Fettisdagen — better known to us as Fat Tuesday — by gathering his final collection of specimens for a titanic pre-Lenten feast of lobster, boiled meats, caviar, sour cabbage, smoked herring, turnips and champagne. For dessert, the king gobbled fourteen servings of semla, a traditional wheat pastry usually served in warm milk with cinnamon and raisins. He died that night — propped up on Queen Louisa Ulrica’s knees — of a massive digestive event, the details of which have sadly not been preserved in Swedish historiography.
Let’s start a tdih by turning over our pixels to the first couple paragraphs of John Milton Cooper, Jr.’s new biography Woodrow Wilson:
Each year, in the morning on December 28, a military honor guard carrying the American flag presents a wreath that bears the words “The President.” Accompanying the honor guard are members of the clergy, who carry a cross and say a prayer. The clergy are present because the wreath-laying ceremony takes place in front of a tomb in the Washington National Cathedral. Since teh day is only a week after the winter solstice, the low angle of the morning sun causes bright colors from the stained glass windows to play across the floor of the alcove where the tomb is located, over the stone sarcophagus, and on the words carved on the walls. The alcove contains two flags, the Stars and Stripes and the orange and black-shielded ensign of Princeton University. The wreath laying takes place on the birthday, and at the final resting place, of the thirteenth president of Princeton and the twenty-eighth president of the United States, Woodrow Wilson.
Read the rest of this entry »
This is a guest post by our friend andrew, over by the wayside. Many thanks!
(Image from W.H. Michael, The Declaration of Independence, Washington, 1904)
On this day in 1941, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were taken out of their exhibit cases at the Library of Congress, carefully wrapped in acid-free and neutral packing materials, and placed inside a bronze container designed especially to carry them. When the packing was complete, the “top of the container was screwed tight over a cork gasket and locked with padlocks on each side.”*
The documents remained in this state for the next few days, until the Attorney General ruled on December 26th that the Librarian of Congress could “without further authority from the Congress or the President take such action as he deems necessary for the proper protection and preservation of these documents.” At which point the library went back to work:
Under the constant surveillance of armed guards, the bronze container was removed to the Library’s carpenter shop, where it was sealed with wire and a lead seal, the seal bearing the block letters L C, and packed in rock wool in a heavy metal-bound box measuring forty by thirty-six inches, which, when loaded, weighed approximately one hundred and fifty pounds.
Along with other important documents like the Magna Carta and the Articles of Confederation, the Declaration and the Constitution were then taken to Union Station in an “armed and escorted truck,” where they were loaded into a compartment in a Pullman car on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad. Accompanying the documents were Chief Assistant Librarian Verner W. Clapp and some number of armed Secret Service agents.
The documents left D.C. in the evening and arrived in Louisville the next morning, where they were “met by four more Secret Service agents and a troop of the Thirteenth Armored Division, who preceded by a scout car and followed by a car carrying the agents and Mr. Clapp, convoyed the Army truck containing the materials” to the depository at Fort Knox. The documents were to be kept there until it was determined that they could once again be considered safe in Washington, D.C.
It was not the first time the Declaration and the Constitution had been moved because of war.
On this day in 1918, Susan Owen (center in picture) received word that her son, Wilfred, had been killed the previous week while fighting with his unit in the Battle of the Sambre. She thus might have read the words of his death while listening to the bells of the town church peal the news of the Armistice that ended World War I. Peace had come for Britain, if not perhaps for her.
She likely feared such a telegram. Wilfred’s letters to her rarely tried to conceal the situation at the front. One, from 1917, said that:
I can see no excuse for deceiving you about these last 4 days. I have suffered seventh hell. I have not been at the front.
I have been in front of it.
I held an advanced post, that is, a ‘dug-out’ in the middle of No Man’s Land.
Those fifty hours were the agony of my happy life.
Every ten minutes on Sunday afternoon seemed an hour.
I nearly broke down and let myself drown in the water that was now slowly rising over my knees.
No death is preordained, of course, but those of a frontline soldier in World War I came closer than most. One of Wilfred’s poems may have suggested to Susan that her son was at rest, of a sort, while all around people loudly celebrated. At a Calvary Near Ancre:
The scribes on all the people shove
And bawl allegiance to the state,
But they who love the greater love
Lay down their life; they do not hate.
Or perhaps not.
Happy Birthday Sesame Street! And many more! For a wonderful series of posts marking the occasion, see here, here, here, and here. Also, if you’d like to share your favorite Sesame Street moment(s) in the comments, with or without links, that would be lovely. And finally, yes, I know the above clip isn’t exactly celebratory (and that we’ve talked about it here before), but for me it represents the essence of the show. Put another way: it’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to.
On this day in 1989, once everyone stopped patting themselves on the back for bringing down the Berlin Wall, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney lamented what East German freedom would do to defense contractors in the pages of the Wall Street Journal:
On this day in 1933, about 350 farm workers gathered in the small central California town of Pixley to listen to Pat Chambers, a 33-year-old Irish-American Communist union organizer. Chambers’s union, the Cannery and Agricultural Workers International Union, was coordinating the largest farmworker strike in U.S. history up to that point: a walkout by 20,000 mostly Mexican cotton pickers up and down the Central Valley to protest wages as low as ten cents an hour.
The young organizer, who was still recovering from a broken jaw he suffered from a vigilante attack in a recent strike, stood on a truck bed, urging the workers to remain non-violent, but to protect themselves if they were attacked. As Chambers spoke, a caravan of cars and trucks filled with forty growers roared into town and pulled up behind them. The men spilled out of the cars, brandishing pistols, rifles, and shotguns. Chambers told the men, women, and children to move into the union headquarters across the street.
As the workers and their families rushed to the safety of the building, the growers pursued them. When one grower fired his weapon into the air, a striker angrily approached him and shoved his rifle barrel to the ground. Another grower began beating the striker, and then shot him dead. The vigilantes emptied their weapons into the fleeing crowd, killing two workers and wounding eight. Mobs killed another striker in the town of Arvin that same day.
The violence that day was not unusual for the California fields. Infuriated by the increasing militancy of workers during the Great Depression, California growers and their allies responded with mob violence and official repression. Up and down the state, vigilantes beat pickets with axe handles and clubs, raked them with fire hoses, and smothered them with tear gas. Police arrested strikers for vagrancy or loitering, federal officials cut off their relief payments, and landlords evicted their families. Carey McWilliams used the term “farm fascism” to describe the response of corporate growers to the unionization of their workers. In this dangerous atmosphere, only the Communists were willing to organize California’s field workers. As one AFL organizer said, “only fanatics are willing to live in shacks or tents and get their heads broken in the interests of migratory laborers.”
Although federal mediators forced the cotton growers to raise wages, there was still no justice on California’s factory farms. After a local jury quickly acquitted the men charged with the Pixley killings, California officials then proceeded to decapitate the union, charging Chambers and 16 other union leaders with violating the state’s criminal syndicalism law. Chambers went to San Quentin for his sins, but an appeals court set him free in 1937. California farm workers were not so lucky: they would have to labor under miserable conditions until the 1960s, when Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers helped them win some protections and the right to unionize.
On this day in 1974, Gerald Ford granted Richard Nixon an unconditional pardon for all federal crimes that he had “committed or may have committed or taken part in” while serving as president. Ford justified his decision, as you can see above, in several ways: Nixon and his family had already suffered enough; Nixon’s trial wouldn’t begin for months or years, and might not be fair even then; the country would remain bitterly divided throughout the intervening period; Ford had the power to act, his conscience told him that he should, and so he did.
Nixon greeted the news by noting that he was “wrong in not acting more decisively and more forthrightly in dealing with Watergate.” Ford, meanwhile, having announced the defining act of his presidency, traveled to Bethesda, Maryland, where he played a round of golf at the Burning Tree Country Club.
In the wake of George Wallace’s June 1963 “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door” — when the recalcitrant governor made good on his campaign pledge to “Stand Up for Alabama” by attempting to block two black students from enrolling at the state’s flagship university — Wallace began entertaining dreams of greater glory. Unlike certain young, recently-elected, revanchist governors in our own historical moment, George Wallace believed he would be better positioned for a run at the presidency if he were actually sitting in office at the time of the campaign; with 1968 in mind, he asked the Alabama legislature to amend the state constitution so that he might win a second term in 1966. While he waited — fruitlessly, as it would happen — Wallace began considering an intra-party challenge to John Kennedy. (He would eventually announce his intentions in Dallas in November 1963, not far from where Kennedy would die less a week later.)
Urged on in this illusion by telegrams and letters he received from whites outside the South, Wallace seems to have attached a kind of Lost Cause mythology to his encounter with the Kennedy boys. Though overrun by a power-mad federal government bent upon the destruction of the south’s racial folkways, Wallace could imagine himself as a noble hero who — by keeping the segregationist faith — would soon enough be redeemed. One of the keys to Wallace’s perception of himself was, oddly enough, the belief that he was acting in a non-violent and dignified fashion, that his June encounter demonstrated strength rather than weakness before the law; in standing alone, he simultaneously embodied the spirit of all “true Alabamans” while demonstrating that he could keep their bloodiest impulses at bay. Styling himself a man of law and order, Wallace contrasted his own conduct with the actions of civil rights protesters around the country, the degenerate berserkers whom the governor believed were aiming to destroy the nation. His governorship was a blessing to the White Citizens’ Councils, who also believed in their own “respectability” and rewarded Wallace with enduring and unflinching loyalty. Read the rest of this entry »
On this day in 1939, the German Army invaded Poland. Operation Fall Weiß (Case White), as it was code-named, sent more than 60 German divisions storming into Poland. It came a day after the Gleiwitz incident, one part of Operation Himmler. The latter had German troops dressed in Polish uniforms attacking German emplacements along the border in order to give a casus belli. At Gleiwitz, for example, an SS unit so dressed attacked a German radio transmitter and then retreated, leaving behind dead bodies also dressed in Polish uniforms. The bodies–those of concentration camp inmates–were called Konserve, or “Canned Goods.”
Operation Himmler served as the official German pretext for the invasion of Poland. Needless to say, the invasion was actually long-planned, and came at the end of a whole series of aggressive moves by the Nazi government, including the remilitarization of the Rhine, the forced reunification of Austria–the Anschluss–and the absorption of Czechoslovakia (with the connivance of Britain and France). The British and French had finally drawn a line in the sand when Hitler turned to Poland, but it was a line drawn next to the Baltic Sea, where those western powers were essentially helpless.
|Molotov signing, with Stalin behind him|
The only power that might have intervened to back Germany down was the Soviet Union but on 1 September they were Hitler’s allies, not enemies. Perhaps Hitler’s greatest diplomatic triumph, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 23 August 1939, had rewritten the balance of power in Eastern Europe. Its public clauses were expressions of friendship and mutual defense against third party attacks. Its secret clauses handed the Baltic States to the USSR and split Poland between the two countries. Even though they were secret, the clauses danced around the issue in an oddly passive voice: “In the event of a territorial and political rearrangement in the areas belonging to the Baltic States (Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania), the northern boundary of Lithuania shall represent the boundary of the spheres of influence of Germany and U.S.S.R. In this connection the interest of Lithuania in the Vilna area is recognized by each party,” read the first secret clause. “In the event of a territorial and political rearrangement of the areas belonging to the Polish state, the spheres of influence of Germany and the U.S.S.R. shall be bounded approximately by the line of the rivers Narev, Vistula and San. The question of whether the interests of both parties make desirable the maintenance of an independent Polish States and how such a state should be bounded can only be definitely determined in the course of further political developments. In any event both Governments will resolve this question by means of a friendly agreement,” read the second. “In the event of”? What, was Poland going to slip in the shower and accidentally rearrange itself territorially? In any case, the Pact set up the invasion nicely for the Germans. It meant that they need not worry about Soviet intervention against them.
The invasion represented two experiments on the part of the Nazis. First, Hitler (as he had been for so long) continued pushing the western powers to see how much he could expand in Central Europe without them pushing back. He had taken Austria and Czechoslovakia with either little protest or active cooperation. Poland was obviously a much larger gamble as a full-scale military invasion. The second experiment was with something of a new form of warfare. The German Army had spent much of the interwar years arguing furiously about how to deal with the static mess that had been the Western Front. Unlike the French, who essentially decided on the pre-built trench system of the Maginot line, the Germans looked to mobility to break the stalemate. This was not universally loved within the German high command, but there was enough support that the Germans began creating divisions of tanks and mechanized infantry, supported by mobile artillery and ground attack aircraft. When the war started in September 1939, the number of those divisions was still relatively low but they served as the spearheads as the German Army launched itself into the Polish defenses. This operational method was not fully developed in Poland, nor was it truly a break from the past German practices. It was, in many ways, a great trial run of a German way of war that had existed since Frederick the Great and before, reinvented for mass industrial war.
In any case, at 4:45 am on that day, the ancient German battleship Schleswig-Holstein opened fire on the Polish fortifications in Westerplatte and German units surged across the border from Prussia, northern Germany, and southern Germany. Twenty years earlier, the negotiators in Paris had been writing a treaty that they hoped would avert another catastrophe like the Great War. The sound of the guns on September 1 was a sign of their most signal failure.
Map from United States Military Academy Department of History.
On September 1, 1967, Siegfried Sassoon died, aged 80. He had a long and productive career as poet, novelist and memoirist, but he is remembered chiefly as one of the fine group of English poets of the First World War (along with Rupert Brooke, Israel Isaac Rosenberg, Wilfred Owen, and above all Edward Thomas). For a sample of his wartime work, take “Remorse”:
Lost in the swamp and welter of the pit,
He flounders off the duck-boards; only he knows
Each flash and spouting crash,–each instant lit
When gloom reveals the streaming rain. He goes
Heavily, blindly on. And, while he blunders,
‘Could anything be worse than this?’–he wonders,
Remembering how he saw those Germans run,
Screaming for mercy among the stumps of trees:
Green-faced, they dodged and darted: there was one
Livid with terror, clutching at his knees…
Our chaps were sticking ’em like pigs … ‘O hell!’
He thought–‘there’s things in war one dare not tell
Poor father sitting safe at home, who reads
Of dying heroes and their deathless deeds.’
(Written at Craiglockhart Hydropathic, familiar to readers of Pat Barker.)
A few days ago, Ari noted that William Calley had offered a surprising apology for the massacre at My Lai. Gary Farber digs deeper in a recent, probing post — just in case you thought the massacre might have been a matter of a few bad apples, or might not have had bearing on questions in the air today.
(Also on Sept. 1, 1967, Ilse Koch, “die Hexe von Buchenwald”, hanged herself in prison, whether with remorse or not I do not know.)
On this day in 1975, Bruce Springsteen released Born to Run. The greatest rock and roll album ever produced by an American artist? Maybe not. But it certainly makes my top ten (though I like Nebraska even more). Anyway, let’s not fight about such things. The rendition above is from 1975, when Bruce was still a kid.
You’ll find a couple of more recent performances below the fold.
On this day in 1857, the New York branch of the Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company (OLITC) failed, an event often (dis)credited with starting the Panic of 1857. But of course the Panic didn’t really begin there; as with all major financial catastrophes the story is more complicated than it initially appears.
I’m trying to think of an appropriate program, ceremony, or activity.
It is with great pride that our Nation commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of Statehood for Hawaii. On August 21, 1959, we welcomed Hawaii into the United States ohana, or family. Unified under the rule of King Kamehameha the Great, it was Queen Lili’uokalani who witnessed the transition to a Provisional Government controlled by the United States. As a Nation, we honor the extensive and rich contributions of Native Hawaiian culture to our national character.
Borne out of volcanic activity in the Pacific Ocean, a chain of islands emerged that would bear witness to some of the most extraordinary events in world history. From Pu’ukohola Heiau and the royal residence at the `Iolani Palace, to the USS ARIZONA Memorial and luaus that pay tribute to Hawaiian traditions, Americans honor the islands’ collective legacy and admire their natural beauty. Home to unique and endangered species, active volcanoes, and abundant reefs, the Hawaiian islands actively conserve their distinctive ecosystems with responsible development and a deep-rooted appreciation for the land and surrounding ocean.
The Aloha Spirit of Hawaii offers hope and opportunity for all Americans. Growing up in Hawaii, I learned from its diversity how different cultures blend together into one population — proud of their personal heritage and made stronger by their shared sense of community. Our youngest State, Hawaii faces many of the same challenges other States face throughout our country, and it represents the opportunity we all have to grow and learn from each other.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by the virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim August 21, 2009, as the Fiftieth Anniversary of Hawaii Statehood. I call upon the people of the United States to observe this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.
On this day in 1940, an actual Communist leader, Leon Trotsky, was stabbed in the head with an ice pick by Ramón Mercader, who was himself not only an actual Communist, but an agent of Stalin, who awarded Mercader’s mother an Order of Lenin for her part in the plot. Upon his release from prison in 1960, Mercader moved to an actual Communist country, Cuba, and then to another, the Soviet Union, whereupon his arrival he was awarded a Hero of the Soviet medal from the head of the KGB, Alexander Shelepin.
On this day in 1944, an actual Communist country, the Soviet Union, launched an offensive against a real Nazi country, Hitler’s Germany, over the fate of Romania, which would end the day either a real Nazi or actual Communist coutry, but not both, because real Nazism and actual Communism are such different beasts that Hitler’s Germany went to war against Stalin’s Soviet Union over whose distinct sytem of oppression the Romanian people will be compelled to live under. The actual Communists won the day, routing the real Nazis and installing an actual Communist government that would survive until 1989.
On this day in 1991, actual Communist tanks pulled in front of the actual Communist parliament building, the White House, in preparation for Operation Grom, a KGB-orchestrated coup against an actual Communist government led by Mikhail Gorbachev. Within two days, Gorbachev would resign his position as General Secretary of the the actual Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and by Christmas of that year, the hammer and sickle—the actual Communist flag of the Soviet Union—would be lowered from the Kremlin for the last time.
For the latest breaking news about mock communists and ersatz Nazis, keep it turned to FOXNews throughout the day.
So said the New York Times about the big news on this day in 1934: that Adolph Hitler had consolidated his control over Germany.