October 26, 1921 – President Harding Exhorts White Alabamians To Allow Blacks to Vote

On October 26, 1921 President Warren G. Harding visited Birmingham, Alabama, which, founded in 1871, was celebrating fifty years of being a city in the New South. While the Fifteenth Amendment passed in 1869 stated that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” the reality was different. “Black Codes”, or state laws that restricted the freedoms of African Americans, managed to obstruct black voting by enforced literacy tests, poll taxes, hiding the locations of the polls, economic pressures, and threats of physical violence.

President Harding arrived at the Birmingham Terminal Station early in the morning to occupy the lead car in a grand parade. He delivered an official address to the city at 11:30 a.m. to a large crowd. Historians report that Harding’s plan was to use this speech to make his first public show of support for the Republican National Committee’s plans to reorganize the party in the South. He argued that race was becoming an issue and could no longer remain a solely regional concern. He spoke of the great migrations of black laborers to the North during World War I, and took note of the service given by black soldiers during the war. Then he audaciously referred to political equality as a guarantee of the U.S. Constitution: “Let the black man vote when he is fit to vote; prohibit the white man voting when he is unfit to vote.” While white listeners fell largely silent, African Americans cheered from their segregated section of the park. Calling for “an end of prejudice” Harding went further than any president since Abraham Lincoln.

Warren G. Harding, 29th President of the United States

Warren G. Harding, 29th President of the United States

October 18, 1912 – Boxing Champion Jack Johnson Arrested For Violating the Mann Act

On this day in history, John Arthur (“Jack”) Johnson (“The Galveston Giant”), the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion, was arrested on the grounds that his relationship with Lucille Cameron (who later became his second wife) violated the White Slave Traffic Act (also known as the Mann Act).

Jack Johnson

Jack Johnson

As originally passed in 1910, The Mann Act made it a felony to engage in interstate or foreign commerce transport of “any woman or girl for the purpose of prostitution or debauchery, or for any other immoral purpose”. Its primary stated intent was to address prostitution, “immorality”, and human trafficking particularly where it was trafficking for the purposes of prostitution.

Ms. Cameron refused to testify against Johnson. The Assistant U.S. District Attorney asked the Justice Department’s Bureau of Investigation (forerunner of the FBI) to mount an all-out effort to find any evidence at all that Johnson had violated the Mann Act. They soon found a prostitute named Belle Gifford a.k.a. Belle Schrebier willing to testify against Johnson, and within days, a grand jury issued seven Mann Act indictments.

In the courtroom of Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the future Commissioner of Baseball who perpetuated the baseball color line until his death, Johnson was convicted by an all-white jury in June 1913. It took them less than two hours to find Johnson guilty on all counts. Despite the fact that the incidents used to convict Johnson took place before passage of the Mann Act, he was sentenced to a year and a day in prison.

Jack Johnson on his wedding day to Lucille Cameron

Jack Johnson on his wedding day to Lucille Cameron

On June 24, while out on bail pending appeal, Johnson fled the country, returning to the U.S. seven years later. He surrendered to Federal agents at the Mexican border and was sent to the United States Penitentiary at Leavenworth to serve his sentence.

On June 10, 1946, Johnson died in a car crash on U.S. Highway 1 in North Carolina, after racing angrily from a diner that refused to serve him. He was 68 years old at the time of his death.

1705 – Virginia Enacts Slave Codes

In October of 1705, the Virginia General Assembly passed acts “Concerning Servants and Slaves” that included specific guidelines on treatment and punishment of slaves versus white indentured servants, including the critical proviso that:

Be it enacted, by the governor, council and burgesses of this present general assembly, and it is hereby enacted by the authority of the same, That from and after the passing of this act, all negro, mulatto, and Indian slaves, in all courts of judicature, and other places, within this dominion, shall be held, taken, and adjudged, to be reat estate (and not chattels;) and shall descend unto the heirs and widows of persons departing this life, according to the manner and custom of land of inheritance, held in fee simple.”

In addition, a number of laws about the possibility of miscegenation were passed:

And for a further prevention of that abominable mixture and spurious issue, which hereafter may increase in this her majesty’s colony and dominion, as well as by English, and other white men and women intermarrying with negros and mulattos, as by their unlawful coition with them, Be it enacted … That whatsoever English, or other white man or woman, being free, shall intermarry with a negro or mulatto man or woman, bond or free, shall, by judgment of the county court, be committed to prison, and there remain, without bail; and shall forfeit and pay ten pounds current money of Virginia, to the use of the parish, as aforesaid.”

You can read the text of all of these acts here.

The future president tries to get his runaway slave back in 1769

The future president tries to get his runaway slave back in 1769

America’s Racial Divide

Recently the New York Times published a series of charts demonstrating the persistence of America’s racial divide across a range of economic and demographic indicators. One of the most provocative charts is shown here:

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 10.52.45 AM

Needless to say, however, the most striking aspect of this divide is the wealth gap:

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 10.51.52 AM

You can see the entire set of charts here.

October 5, 1988 – Brazil Redefines Itself as a Federal Republic

Brazil had been ruled by a military dictatorship from 1964-1985. In the 1980s, as other military regimes in Latin America fell, and with the government unable to help the floundering economy, a pro-democracy movement gained momentum. Presidential elections were held in 1984 with civilian candidates. Deliberations were begun for a new constitution, which was ratified on this date in history.

The Federative Republic of Brazil is the largest country in both South America and the Latin American region; the fifth largest country in the world (both in terms of area and population); and the largest Lusophone country in the world. (Lusophonic means not only Portuguese-speaking, but refers to people who are culturally and linguistically linked to Portugal. It comes from “Lusitania,” which is the old name for the area encompassing all of modern Portugal and part of modern Spain.)


Interestingly, according to the New York Times, Brazil is also home to 62 percent of Japanese living outside of Japan. Japanese immigrated to Brazil in large numbers in the late 1880’s to work on coffee plantations. Only seven percent returned to Japan. Now, forty percent of the descendants of Japanese immigrants are mixed-race.

Ironically, one hundred years later, during the 1980’s, Japan was seeking foreign workers for its car industry, and recruited from among the Japanese-speaking citizens of Brazil. Thousands returned. In 2009, with too many people in the country competing for a smaller number of jobs, Japan offered to pay these people airfare to go back to Brazil. The Japanese are caught between two worlds: the Brazilians consider them Japanese, and the Japanese consider them Brazilian. But some 200,000 have chosen to remain in Japan because they consider it a safer place to raise their families, with more public services, better schools, and a working pension system.

A ceremony of Umbanda, a religious practice originating in Brazil that blends African faiths and Catholicism, held in Japan by Japanese-Brazilians

A ceremony of Umbanda, a religious practice originating in Brazil that blends African faiths and Catholicism, held in Japan by Japanese-Brazilians

September 28, 1850 – U.S. Congress Abolishes Flogging as a Disciplinary Action on U.S. Navy Ships

In the early days of the U.S. Navy, flogging was the most common means of enforcing discipline. A cat-o-nine-tails – a whip composed of nine knotted ropes – was applied to the bare back. Most naval officers believed that flogging was the only practical means of enforcing discipline aboard ship.



Although there had been a number of campaigns to get flogging outlawed over the years, two significant publications exposing the cruelties of flogging had a galvanizing effect on public opinion: Two Years Before the Mast by Richard Henry Dana, Jr. (1840), and White-Jacket, by Herman Melville (1850). Between December 1849 and June 1850 the Senate received 271 petitions from the citizens of various states urging the end of flogging. Democratic Senator John P. Hale of New Hampshire had previously tried to get flogging in the Navy abolished, but now the moment was at hand.

On this day in history, Congress abolished flogging in the Navy but did not suggest alternative means of discipline. According to the U.S. Naval Institute:

Naval officers searched for alternative forms of punishment for malefactors, including tattooing, branding, wearing signs of disgrace, confinement in sweatboxes, lashing with thumbs behind the back, tricing up by the wrists, continuous dousing with sea water, straight jackets, and confinement in irons on bread and water. Officers objected to long confinement as a punishment because it removed the sailor from the work force and increased the workload of the innocent.”

Officers sought guidance from the Department of the Navy as to better punishments. In 1853 President Millard Fillmore issued a “System of Orders and Instructions” but the attorney general determined it was an unconstitutional infringement on the power of Congress to make rules for the Navy. Finally in 1855 Congress provided a new system of discipline based on rewards and punishments. But branding with a hot iron or tattooing was still permitted until Congress forbade the practice in 1872.

Banned Books Week September 21-27, 2014 Summary

Banned Books Week is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read. Typically held during the last week of September, it highlights the value of free and open access to information. Sponsored by the American Library Association, Banned Books Week draws national attention to the harms of censorship by focusing on efforts across the country to remove or restrict access to books.

On the Banned Books Week website, you can learn about the books most frequently banned over the years, including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, The Call of The Wild, Fahrenheit 451, and For Whom The Bell Tolls, inter alia.

This map shows book challenges by state since 2013.

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 6.32.01 AM

Here you can see the reasons most often given for challenging books.

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 6.32.12 AM

Finally, here is an article about one person’s attempt to obviate the need for books that represent a threat. “Grace Ann” – a self-proclaimed Conservative Christian, is re-writing Harry Potter, so her children won’t be “turning into witches.” You can read about her project to make Harry Potter more “family friendly” here.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 74 other followers