August 22, 1950 – Althea Gibson Becomes the First African American on the U.S. Tennis Tour

On this day in history, officials of the United States Lawn Tennis Association (USLTA) accepted Althea Gibson into their annual championship at Forest Hills, New York, making her the first African-American player to compete in a U.S. national tennis competition.

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Althea Gibson, born in 1927 in South Carolina, grew up in the Harlem section of New York City. Gibson’s athletic ability set her apart from her peers, and she drew more attention to herself when she won the Police Athletic League and Parks Department paddle tennis competitions. The recreation director and musician Buddy Walker recognized her talent, purchased rackets, and took her to the Harlem River Tennis Courts. Shortly thereafter, the noted Harlem Cosmopolitan Tennis Club took up a collection to provide Gibson with a membership and tennis lessons.

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Gibson’s big break occurred when two African American physicians offered her a home, secondary schooling, tennis instruction, and the encouragement and financial support to realize her potential. Gibson lived with the one family in Wilmington, North Carolina during the school year and spent the summer perfecting her tennis game on the other’s backyard tennis court in Lynchburg, Virginia. She went on to win the all-black American Tennis Association (ATA) women’s singles ten years in a row (1947 – 1956), establishing herself as the best black woman tennis player.

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In 1950, while in her first year as a basketball and tennis scholarship student at Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University, she reached the finals before being defeated. But she was not invited to any national tournaments on segregated facilities until tennis champion Alice Marble declared in American Lawn Tennis magazine:

[Gibson] is not being judged by the yardstick of ability but by the fact that her pigmentation is somewhat different.”

1950 - Althea Gibson and Alice Marble walking to the outer court at Forest Hills where Gibson's first match was scheduled.

1950 – Althea Gibson and Alice Marble walking to the outer court at Forest Hills where Gibson’s first match was scheduled.

Largely owing to Marble’s influence, the invitations started coming in, and she entered Wimbledon in 1951, becoming the first African American to play there. She advanced to the quarterfinals before losing. Gibson’s tennis game continued to mature. In 1956, she won sixteen of the eighteen international tournaments in which she was a participant, one of which was a Grand Slam event, the French Open. With this win, Gibson became the first black person to win a major singles tennis title.

Althea Gibson defeated Darlene Hard in 1957 to win the first of her two consecutive Wimbledon titles

Althea Gibson defeated Darlene Hard in 1957 to win the first of her two consecutive Wimbledon titles

Seven years after breaking the color barrier in 1950, she established herself as champion by winning both Wimbledon and the U.S. championship in both 1957 and 1958. In 1959 she retired from amateur tennis, played exhibition tennis, appeared in movies, recorded an album, and published her biography, I Always Wanted to Be Somebody.

In 1964 she became a professional golfer. Gibson was the first black woman to hold an LPGA player’s card, thus breaking the color barrier in two of the most socially elite sports. Often she was the first woman of color to compete for championships on private golf courses. She married in 1965.

Althea Gibson could drive over 300 yards

Althea Gibson could drive over 300 yards

In later years, Gibson served as a professional tennis teacher and coach as well as the program director for a racquet club and athletic commissioner for the state of New Jersey. In 1994, Gibson suffered a stroke that left her confined to her home. She died in 2003 in her home city of East Orange, New Jersey.

Among Althea Gibson’s many honors were the Associated Press Woman Athlete of the Year (1957 – 1958), National Tennis Hall of Fame (1971), Black Athletes Hall of Fame, International Tennis Hall of Fame (1971), and the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame (1980). Gibson served as an inspiration for others such as Zina Garrison, Venus Williams, and Serena Williams. The way was paved for black men, too. Arthur Ashe felt that Gibson set the stage for his own later triumphs on the court.

August 20, 1940 – Leon Trotsky Is Assassinated in Mexico

Leon Trotsky, born Lev Davidovich Bronstein in southern Ukraine, was a Marxist intellectual, revolutionary, and founder of the Red Army. He was also, unfortunately, in disagreement with Lenin over the direction of the Communist Party. Stalin took advantage of this rift to elevate his own position. In the early 1920’s, Lenin, his health deteriorating, was beginning to see the light about Stalin, and tried to ally with Trotsky against him. But Lenin was too sick, and too late. Lenin died in 1924, and Stalin continued to consolidate power. In 1929, Trotsky was expelled from the Communist Party and deported.

Trotsky in 1921

Trotsky in 1921

In exile, Trotsky continued his opposition to Stalin, and denounced Stalin’s “non-aggression” pact with Hitler. But on this day in history, Trotsky was attacked in his home in Mexico with an ice axe by the Stalinist agent Ramón Mercader. Trotsky died the next day.

Mercader served 20 years in Mexican prison for the murder. Stalin presented him with an Order of Lenin in absentia, and Mercader was awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union after his release in 1961.

August 16, 1819 – The Peterloo Massacre

On this day in history in Manchester, England, cavalry from the British Army charged into a crowd of some 60-80,000 people assembled to demand the reform of parliamentary representation.

The army’s attack managed to disperse the crowd, but some 11-15 were killed and between 400 and 700 people were wounded. The true number of wounded is unclear because many of the wounded hid their injuries for fear of retribution by the authorities. It is known, however, that at least 168 of the casualties were women, four of whom died either at St Peter’s Field or later as a result of their wounds.

1819 depiction of the charge of the Manchester Yeomanry on the unarmed populace in St. Peter's Fields, Manchester.

1819 depiction of the charge of the Manchester Yeomanry on the unarmed populace in St. Peter’s Fields, Manchester.

Peterloo’s immediate effect was to cause the government to crack down on reform, with the passing of what became known as the Six Acts. (You can read the text of these Acts here.)

This new legislation labelled any meeting for radical reform as “an overt act of treasonable conspiracy.” The legislation was passed on December 30, despite the opposition of the Whigs. (Apparently the fight over passage of the acts fills almost sixteen hundred pages in Hansard’s Register!)

[N.B.: Hansard is the traditional name of the verbatim transcripts of Parliamentary Debates in Britain and many Commonwealth countries. It is named after Thomas Curson Hansard (1776-1833), a London printer and publisher, who was the first official printer to the parliament at Westminster. ]

The acts were aimed at gagging radical newspapers, preventing large meetings, and reducing what the government saw as the possibility of armed insurrection.

Because of Whig opposition, as well as calmer conditions in Europe, the Six Acts were eventually dropped.

August 13, 1784 – The India Act Extends Britain’s Control Over India

On this day in history, an Act of Parliament in Great Britain provided for more government control over the affairs of India, which previously had been mainly in the hands of the East India Company.

The East India Company was founded in 1600, when Elizabeth I granted a company of 218 merchants a monopoly of trade to the east of the Cape of Good Hope, although it ended up trading mainly with the Indian subcontinent. The Company began to establish factories in India and eventually accounted for half of the world’s trade with India. Faced with the “opportunities” afforded by weak and dispersed rule in India, the Company became increasingly ambitious and powerful, eventually coming to be the de facto ruler of large areas of India by distributing bribes, negotiating treaties with local rulers, assuming administrative functions, and using its own private armies to exercise military power. Company men themselves became “princes” of India.

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A significant increase in the Company’s influence followed a military action in 1757 (The Battle of Plassey), which established Company rule in Bengal, producing a guaranteed income from Bengal’s taxpayers. The Company used this revenue to expand their military might and push the other European colonial powers such as the Dutch and the French out of South Asia. However, it also dragged the Company even deeper into the business of government, with revenue replacing commerce as the Company’s first concern.

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By 1772, however, the Company was seeking loans from the British Government to stay afloat. A famine in 1770 had wiped out a third of the population of Bengal, reducing local productivity and depressing the Company’s business. Government inquiries revealed corruption and mismanagement. In 1773, Parliament passed the Regulating Act, which established regulations “for the better Management of the Affairs of the East India Company, as well in India as in Europe”. As The Economist observed: “The government subjected the Company to ever-tighter supervision, partly because it resented bailing it out, partly because it was troubled by the argument that a company had no business in running a continent.”

The Regulating Act —although implying the ultimate sovereignty of the British Crown over these new territories — asserted that the Company could act as a sovereign power on behalf of the Crown. However, the imprecise wording of the Act left a number of problems unresolved.

William Pitt’s India Act of 1784 established a Board of Control in England both to supervise the East India Company’s affairs and to prevent the Company’s shareholders from interfering in the governance of India.

A governing board was created with six members, two of whom were members of the British Cabinet and the remaining from the Privy Council. The Board also had a president, who soon effectively became the minister for the affairs of the East India Company. The constitution set up by Pitt’s India Act did not undergo any major changes until the end of the company’s rule in India in 1858.

You can read the text of the India Act of 1784 here.

August 10, 1821 – Missouri Joins the Union as the 24th State

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In 1818, the Missouri territorial legislature petitioned Congress to be admitted to the Union as a slave state. This would, however, upset the balance of power in Congress, and antislavery members objected. The famous Missouri Compromise was enacted to allow Missouri’s admission to the Union but also stipulating that the remaining portion of the Louisiana Territory above the 36°30′ line was to be free from slavery. In addition, Maine was to be admitted simultaneously as a free state. (In 1854, the Missouri Compromise was repealed by the Kansas-Nebraska Act, which allowed white male settlers in those territories to determine through popular sovereignty whether they would allow slavery within each territory.)

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While Congress argued, Missouri was taking steps to expand in other ways, by adopting, in December, 1820, a “bachelor tax” which applied to all unmarried white males between the ages of twenty-one and fifty. Because men far outnumbered women in early Missouri, its legislators believed this measure would encourage the men to go out and find women and bring them back. But bachelor taxes were employed by other states as well, with a more ideological agenda of support for the institution of marriage. The New York Times, for example, wrote in 1921 in “Topics of the Times”:

It would be interesting to know why a proposal to tax bachelors is invariably greeted as a joke. … The tax on bachelors certainly is warranted by every claim of economics and sociology. No service to the State is half so vital as that rendered by the father of a family, yet he has not only to support his wife and children but is taxed directly on his income and indirectly on every item of food and clothing bought for those dependent on him.”

Or maybe, as it sounds like in the article cited above, married men were jealous because they viewed bachelors as not only unencumbered but paying less to be more free and perhaps have more fun….

In any event, Missouri repealed its bachelor tax in 1822, replacing it with a poll tax on all free white males.

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Missouri is named for the Missouri River, which was in turn named after the indigenous Missouri Indians, a Siouan-language tribe. Residents have never agreed on the correct pronunciation, however, and to this day the name of the state is pronounced as either “Missour-ee” or “Missour-uh.”

Missouri has an official dessert as of 2008, which, appropriately enough, is the ice cream cone. This dessert was popularized at the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.

Scene from the 1904 World's Fair

Scene from the 1904 World’s Fair

August 9, 1961 – President Kennedy Nominates First Black For Federal Judgeship in the Continental United States

On this day in history, President John Kennedy nominated James Benton Parsons as United States District Court Judge for Northern Illinois. At the time, Judge Parsons, a native of Missouri and the great-grandson of enslaved people, was serving as a judge on the Superior Court of Cook County, Illinois. The Senate confirmed the nomination on August 30, 1961, making Parsons the first African American federal judge in the continental United States and the first African American federal judge with life tenure. Prior to his appointment, African Americans had been appointed solely to fixed judicial terms on the United States District Court for the Virgin Islands.

In 1992, after 30 years of service, Judge Parsons retired from active trial duty. He died in Chicago, Illinois, the following year, at 81.

Judge James Benton Parsons

Judge James Benton Parsons

August 8, 2009 – The First Hispanic Joins the Supreme Court

On this date, Sonia Sotomayor became the first Hispanic to take the oath of office to the Supreme Court. It was also the first time an oath-taking ceremony at the Court was open to broadcast coverage. Previously, oath-taking ceremonies held at the Court, other than formal investiture ceremonies, were private events and not open to the media.

Sotomayor, of Puerto Rican descent, is also the Court’s 111th justice and its third female justice.

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Sotomayor was nominated to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York by President George H. W. Bush in 1991, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit by President Bill Clinton, and to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Barack Obama, to replace retired Justice David Souter.

August 5, 1943 – General George S. Patton Calls For “Tough Love”

On this day in history, General Patton issued an order to all commanders in the Seventh Army, then stationed in Italy:

It has come to my attention that a very small number of soldiers are going to the hospital on the pretext that they are nervously incapable of combat. Such men are cowards, and bring discredit on the Army and disgrace to their comrades who they heartlessly leave to endure the danger of a battle which they themselves use the hospital as a means of escaping.

You will take measures to see that such cases are not sent to the hospital, but are dealt with in their units.

Those who are not willing to fight will be tried by Court-Martial for cowardice in the face of the enemy.”

The order was precipitated by a visit Patton made two days earlier to a military hospital in Sicily. A 24-year-old solder was weeping, and told Patton it was because of his nerves. Patton, reportedly enraged, called the soldier a coward and ordered him back to the front. He yelled at him, “Why don’t you act like a man instead of damn sniveling baby?” He then slapped him.

Medical officers were so appalled they reported Patton’s actions to Eisenhower, who wrote to Patton that “conduct such as described in the accompanying report will not be tolerated in this theater no matter who the offender may be.”

Patton ceased with the slapping, but not with his feelings about the matter. On June 5, 1944, he gave a motivational speech to the troops again addressing the issue of cowardice:

You are not all going to die. Only two percent of you right here today would be killed in a major battle. Every man is scared in his first action. If he says he’s not, he’s a goddamn liar. But the real hero is the man who fights even though he’s scared. Some men will get over their fright in a minute under fire, some take an hour, and for some it takes days. But the real man never lets his fear of death overpower his honor, his sense of duty to his country, and his innate manhood.”

George S. Patton

George S. Patton

August 4, 1914 – Germany Declares War on Neutral Belgium

On this date in history, Germany declared war on Belgium so it could invade that country on its way to conquer France, in accordance with a plan drawn up by its military years before.


“The Schlieffen Plan” was created by General Count Alfred von Schlieffen in December 1905, and modified by von Schlieffen’s successor as army chief of staff, Helmuth von Moltke the Younger. It envisaged delivering a knockout punch in the West by advancing through Belgium and northern France and capturing Paris. The German Army actually asked for “permission” to ravage Belgium on August 2, but the Belgians refused.

The Schlieffen Plan

The Schlieffen Plan

As a result of Germany’s invasion, Britain declared war on Germany. (Under the 1839 Treaty of London, the European powers recognized and guaranteed the independence and neutrality of Belgium , inter alia. It should be noted that the German Confederation also signed the treaty.) Nevertheless, Germany’s Chancellor professed surprise that Great Britain would make war “for a scrap of paper.”

Unfortunately for Germany, rather than delivering a knockout punch in the West, the French were able to distract the French Army in Alsace-Lorraine, and the British and French together were able to bring a halt to the German onslaught at the Battle of the Marne. However, prior to that time, there were huge losses on both sides, including the horrendous day of August 22, 1914 in The Battle of the Ardennes, in which 27,000 Frenchmen were killed, and many more wounded.

As for the Belgians, it was here Germany got in practice for its later atrocities in World War II. Some 6,000 Belgians were killed (including civilians, women and children), and 25,000 homes and other buildings in 837 communities destroyed. There was widespread looting. Women and children were confined, marched for long distances, mutilated, and publicly raped. You can read the testimony of eyewitnesses to the atrocities here.

Adolf Hitler, while denying there were more than “three or four” acts of violence in Belgium, reputedly stated that: “The old Reich knew already how to act with firmness in the occupied areas.”

A Belgian sentry in front of destroyed property in Antwerp, Belgium in September 1914.

A Belgian sentry in front of destroyed property in Antwerp, Belgium in September 1914.

August 1, 1876: Colorado Joins the Union as the 38th State

The United States acquired the eastern part of Colorado in 1803 through the Louisiana Purchase and the western portion in 1848 through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. In 1850, the federal government also purchased a Texas claim in Colorado. This combined property eventually became the Colorado Territory in 1861.

In 1857, the U.S. suffered one of the most severe economic crises in its history. The contraction of the economy that followed the panic of 1857 was profound. Thus many were enticed westward by the discovery of gold flakes near the confluence of Cherry Creek and the South Platte River in 1858. Rumors of gold in the Rocky Mountains brought so many that by 1860 Denver – “the instant city” – had 5,000 people! The census of 1860 counted over 34,000 in the Pike’s Peak district.

Travel Circular from 1860

Travel Circular from 1860

This growing population, eager for government services, petitioned Congress for recognition as a territory. Congress considered the names of Jefferson, Osage, Yampa (mountain bear), Idahoe (mountain gem), Lula (mountain fairy), Arapahoe (mountain Indian), and Tahosa (mountain dweller), finally opting for the Territory of Colorado. (The word Colorado is Spanish for the “color red,” and refers to the muddy Colorado River.)

Pike's Peak District:  Panning for gold

Pike's Peak District: Panning for gold

As it generally happened in America’s westward expansion, the Indians were considered to be in the way, and years of Indian warfare disrupted the growth of the territory. Moreover, the easily mined surface gold was depleted and there were many “go-backers” who returned to the East. But in 1870, the Denver Pacific Railroad was completed, and a second wave of settlers arrived. Factories along the railroad sprang up, including the Coors Brewery in 1873. The Republican Congress resisted statehood for the territory, however. As William McDougall explains in Throes of Democracy, “ …Congressional Radicals were in no mood to fight for greedy frontiersmen who massacred Indians and denied Negroes the vote.”

By 1876, however, Republicans needed to increase their electoral count, and the Colorado constitution, ready and waiting, was approved by Congress. Colorado became a state just three days before the nation’s centennial, and so is known as The Centennial State.

Today, Colorado is the 8th largest state in area, and the 24th largest state in population.

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