July 2, 1822 – Denmark Vesey Was Hanged in South Carolina

On this day in history, Denmark Vesey, a former slave who bought his own freedom and who had planned a slave insurrection, was hanged along with 34 other alleged conspirators.

Vesey had been a slave in both the Caribbean and South Carolina, and knew its horrors firsthand. After buying his own freedom, he tried to purchase his wife and children, but his wife’s master refused to sell. Vesey co-founded a branch of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, but whites shut it down. And of course he was well aware that the Charleston harbor was home to the nightmarish Sullivan’s Island, where some 40 percent of slaves were sold into the United States.

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By early 1822, Vesey allegedly began to plan a large slave rebellion. Unfortunately, some slaves fearful of repercussions exposed the plot. Charleston authorities charged 131 men with conspiracy, claiming that Vesey’s “diabolical plot” would have instigated “blood, outrage, rapine, and conflagration.”

While it is almost 200 years later, many South Carolinians have not changed their views. After a life-sized statute of Vesey was unveiled in Charleston on February 14, 2014, the media decried the tribute. A columnist for the Charleston City Paper, for example, wrote:

Those serious about fighting a “war on terror” might want to start in Charleston, where plans have been made to erect a statue honoring terrorist Denmark Vesey.”

Others said it was like honoring Osama bin Laden.

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Two historians at California State University in Fresno who are writing a book about slavery and public memory in Charleston, South Carolina, noted that resistance to the monument has been formidable:

Local whites have offered the standard litany of excuses about the marginal role, and benign nature, of slavery.  Ground on the memorial was finally broken in February 2010, but only after opponents had prevented the statue’s placement in Marion Square.  The Denmark Vesey Memorial will stand in Hampton Park, far from the Calhoun Monument, far from the city’s historic district, far from the eyes of millions of tourists.”

Douglas R. Egerton, a professor of history at Le Moyne College and the author of “He Shall Go Out Free: The Lives of Denmark Vesey,” recalled in an editorial for The New York Times:

More than a decade ago, while I was giving a talk on Vesey in Charleston, a member of the audience challenged my view that what Vesey wished to accomplish — the freedom for his friends and family — could be a good thing, on the grounds that he went about it the wrong way. ‘Why not work within the system for liberation,’ the man asked, or even ‘stage a protest march?’

Although well intentioned, such questions reveal how far American society still has to travel before we reach a sophisticated understanding of the past. There was no “system” for Vesey to work within; his state had flatly banned private manumissions, or the freeing of slaves, in 1820. The only path to freedom was to sharpen a sword. Americans today can admire the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his 1963 nonviolent March on Washington, but his world was not Vesey’s, and we must understand that.”

These monuments, in York County, South Carolina, memorialize the “Faithful Slaves” of the the Civil War, and have been deemed more acceptable than the one to Vesey.

The monuments read in part:

Dedicated to the faithful slaves who loyal to a sacred trust toiled for the support of the army with matchless devotion and sterling fidelity guarded our defenceless homes, women and children during the struggle for the principles of our Confederate States of America.”

This is the “memory” the South wishes to preserve.

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June 30, 1918 – What Americans Were Drinking Before Prohibition

In December, 1917, the U.S. Senate proposed the Eighteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which effectively established the prohibition of alcoholic beverages in the United States by declaring illegal the production, transport and sale of (though not the consumption or private possession of) alcohol. Upon being approved by the 36th state on January 16, 1919, the amendment was ratified, and by its terms, the country went dry one year later, on Jan. 17, 1920.

Disposal of Liquor After the Enactment of Prohibition

Disposal of Liquor After the Enactment of Prohibition

The Eighteenth Amendment did not define “intoxicating liquors,” nor did it specify penalties. It granted both the federal government and the states the power to enforce the ban by “appropriate legislation.” The National Prohibition Act, known informally as the Volstead Act, was introduced in the House as H.R. 6810 by Andrew Volstead (R–MN) in June, 1919 to remedy these omissions.

The bill was vetoed by President Woodrow Wilson, largely on technical grounds because it also covered wartime prohibition, but his veto was overridden by the House on the same day, October 28, 1919, and by the Senate one day later.

In spite of this legislation, enforcement was lax for want of resources. (Banning the sale of alcohol with its lucrative taxes cut deeply into the national treasury.) By 1925, in New York City alone, there were anywhere from 30,000 to 100,000 ”speakeasy” clubs where liquor could be purchased. Needless to say, criminal activity increased dramatically.

On December 5, 1933, ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment repealed the Eighteenth Amendment. However, United States federal law still prohibits the manufacture of distilled spirits without meeting numerous licensing requirements that make it impractical to produce spirits for personal beverage use.

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The chart shown below dated June 30, 1918 from Bonfort’s Wine & Spirit Circular (which ceased publication in 1919) provides a glimpse of the spirits industry just prior to the time when Prohibition went into effect. It provides, for each type of alcohol, in which state or states it was produced, as well as the number of taxable gallons. 

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June 29, 1949 – South Africa Bans Mixed-Race Marriages

On this day in history, the South African government passed The Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act (to go into effect as of July 8, 1949), making marriages between whites and non-whites illegal. Even though between 1946 and the enactment of this law, only 75 mixed marriages had been recorded, compared with some 28,000 white marriages, the government felt the possibility was a sufficient threat and affront to legislate against it. In 1950 the law was amended to ban even sexual relations between white and black South Africans.

To facilitate enforcement the Population Registration Act of 1950 required South Africans to register as members of one of four racial groups as set out in the Population Registration Act of 1950. The four groups were White, Coloured, Indian and Black. Subsequent to the passing of this legislation, a number of people were arrested and charged for breaking its provisions.

The law also nullified interracial marriages of South Africans that occurred outside of the country.   

Although many members of the official United Party (South Africa’s ruling political party between 1934 and 1948) were against the law, none of them opposed the bill. Sam Kahn, a South African Communist Party member, strongly objected, describing the bill as “the immoral offspring of an illicit union between racial superstition and biological ignorance”. He was ignored, and moreover expelled from parliament in 1952 upon suspicion of operating with illegal Communist organizations.

The police raided homes of couples suspected of having mixed relationships, and couples found guilty were jailed. Although the blacks involved were given harsh sentences, the government was more lenient toward the whites. For example, one of the first people convicted of the immorality act was a Cape Dutch reformed minister who was caught having sex with a domestic worker in his garage. He was given a suspended sentence.

The law was eventually repealed in 1985 by the Immorality and Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Amendment Act that allowed inter-racial marriages and relationships.

When Nelson Mandela was inaugurated as President of South Africa in 1994, he said in his address:

Never, never and never again shall it be that this beautiful land will again experience the oppression of one by another and suffer the indignity of being the skunk of the world.”

Nelson Mandela at his inauguration, May 10, 1994

Nelson Mandela at his inauguration, May 10, 1994

 

June 27, 1954 – World’s First Nuclear Generator Begins Production in Obninsk, USSR

On this day in history, the first nuclear power plant to be connected to an external grid went operational in Obninsk, outside of Moscow.

Obninsk APS-1 was the first nuclear power plant in the world.

Obninsk APS-1 was the first nuclear power plant in the world.

It generated five megawatts, enough power to support two thousand homes, and established Obninsk as a center for Russian research in nuclear physics similar to Oak Ridge, Tennessee. In 2000, Obninsk was awarded the status of the First Science City of Russia. Today, the city is still home to twelve scientific research institutes.

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The original plant in Obninsk had a single water-cooled uranium-graphite channel-type reaction. It operated for forty-eight years, until it was decommissioned in 2002.

In 2000, Obninsk was awarded the status of the First Science City of Russia. Today, the city is still home to twelve scientific research institutes, and has a bandy club called Atom. (Bandy is a team winter sport played on ice, in which skaters use sticks to direct a ball into the opposing team’s goal.)

Bandy in Action

Bandy in Action

June 25, 1788 – Virginia Joins the Union as the 10th State

In 1583, Queen Elizabeth I of England granted Walter Raleigh a charter to establish a colony north of Spanish Florida and the next year, Raleigh sent an expedition to the Atlantic coast of North America. The area was called “Virginia,” most commonly thought to be in honor of Elizabeth’s status as “the Virgin Queen.”

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In 1606, The London Company (also known as the Virginia Company) was incorporated as a joint stock company (it also included the Plymouth Company) by King James I of England (who succeeded Elizabeth in 1603) as part of the Charter of 1606. The purpose of the Company was to assign land rights to colonists for the express purpose of propagating the Christian religion. The land itself would remain the property of the King, with the London Company and the Plymouth Company as the King’s tenants, and the settlers as subtenants. The Company financed the first permanent English settlement in the “New World” in Jamestown, Virginia in 1607.

Jamestown was actually founded for the purpose of silk cultivation. After blight fungus destroyed the mulberry trees (silkworm food), the colonists tried tobacco.

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With the bankruptcy of the London Company in 1624, the settlement was taken into royal authority as an English crown colony.

In 1619, colonists took greater control with an elected legislature called the House of Burgesses. A council chosen by the Virginia Company as advisers to the governor served as the “upper house.” Together, the House of Burgesses and the Council were known as the Virginia General Assembly. On July 30, 1619, the first legislative assembly in the Americas convened for a six-day meeting at the church on Jamestown Island, Virginia, but the meeting was cut short because of an outbreak of malaria. Nevertheless, the Virginia General Assembly stayed in existence, and is now the oldest continuous law-making body in the New World.

As colonization continued, Tidewater Virginia became a new home for many of the English upper class. These colonists were staunch royalists, Anglicans, and had a strong belief in their own elitism. For them, liberty meant the freedom to pursue their rich lifestyles. These colonists were predominantly from the south and west of England, from whence came the “southern drawl.”

Slavery first appears in Virginia statutes in 1661 and 1662, when a law made it hereditary based on the mother’s status. Virginians, instrumental in contributing to the United States Constitution, were the largest beneficiaries of the “three-fifths” rule of counting slaves for state representation in Congress, which ensured that Virginia initially had the largest bloc in the House of Representatives.

Notice posted in the Virginia Gazette in 1769 by Virginian Thomas Jefferson, allegedly dedicated to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness....

Notice posted in the Virginia Gazette in 1769 by Virginian Thomas Jefferson, allegedly dedicated to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness….

Virginia voted to secede from the United States on April 17, 1861, and joined the Confederate States of America one week later. Richmond, Virginia was chosen as the capital of the CSA. During the Civil War, more battles were fought in Virginia than any other state. Virginia was formally restored to the United States in 1870.

Eight U.S. Presidents were born in Virginia, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, William Harrison, John Tyler, Zachary Taylor, and Woodrow Wilson. In addition, six presidents’ wives came from the state: Martha Washington, Martha Jefferson, Rachel Jackson, Letitia Tyler, Ellen Arthur, Edith Wilson.

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Virginia is also home to the largest low-rise office building in the world, The Pentagon. Built in just 16 months, it boasts nearly 17 and one half miles of corridor, yet due to it’s unique design, movement between any two opposite points takes as little as seven minutes.

The Pentagon has approximately 23,000 employees, both military and civilian, sixteen parking lots, 131 stairways, 19 escalators, 691 water fountains, 284 rest rooms, 1 dining room, 2 cafeterias, 6 indoor snack bars, and one outdoor snack bar.

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June 23, 1969 – Warren Burger Begins His Term as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court

On this day in history, Warren Burger took the oath as the 15th Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Burger was appointed by President Richard Nixon to replace retiring Chief Justice Earl Warren. Warren had served as an assistant attorney general for President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who in 1956 appointed him to the District of Columbia Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals.

President Nixon with former Chief Justice Earl Warren and newly appointed Chief Justice Warren E. Burger

President Nixon with former Chief Justice Earl Warren and newly appointed Chief Justice Warren E. Burger

Earl Warren announced he was retiring while Lyndon Johnson was still President, but Nixon sent word to Congressional Republications to block any candidate named by Johnson so that Nixon could appoint the justice. Thus, Republicans successfully filibustered the nomination of Supreme Court Associate Justice Abe Fortas.

Nixon initially approached two other candidates, former Eisenhower attorney general Herbert Brownell and former GOP presidential candidate Thomas Dewey, but both of them turned down the job.

Widely-known as a conservative, Burger was a strong advocate of “strict construction” to the interpretation of the Constitution. He often tried to dampen some of the Warren Court’s more liberal decisions during his 17 year tenure on the court. But he authored the Court’s opinion upholding the right of trial judges to order busing as a remedy for school segregation, and he spoke for a unanimous Court upholding a subpeona for the Watergate tapes which resulted in President Nixon’s resignation. By the time he retired in 1986, he had become the longest serving chief justice of the 20th century. Burger died on June 25, 1995, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

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June 21, 1940 – Alabaman Black Man Lynched for Failing to Address White Cop as “Mr.”

On this day in history, Jesse Thornton, a 26-year-old black man, was attacked by a mob in Luverne, Alabama as he was being led to the city jail. Thornton and a few friends had been standing in front of the barbershop talking. As an officer came along, Thornton said, “There comes Doris Rhodes, boys.” Officer Rhodes overheard the remark, turned to Thornton and said, “What did you say?” Thornton tried to recover by claiming he said “Mr. Doris Rhodes.” The officer said, “No you didn’t Nigger.” He then struck Jesse with his black jack, knocked him to the ground, and arrested him.

A mob quickly gathered and Thornton tried to flee. The mob fired gunshots and threw bricks, bats, and stones. Thornton was felled by a bullet and the mob drove him off to a nearby swamp where he was shot again. Seven days later, a local fisherman found Thornton’s body eaten by vultures and buzzards in the Patsaliga River near Tuskegee Institute.

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Meanwhile, after the killing, the mob kidnapped Thornton’s wife from her home during the night. They told her that she would face the same fate as her husband if she told anyone about the kidnapping. Following the kidnapping, she was so intimidated that she refused to speak to anyone in town, including black residents.

Thurgood Marshall, then an attorney with the NAACP, was contacted by the Birmingham branch of the NAACP. Marshall requested that the Department of Justice investigate. The Assistant Attorney General sent a memo to J. Edgar Hoover, then Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, requesting that the FBI investigate any officials that were complicit in Thornton’s lynching. Hoover’s FBI was not much interested in pursuing complaints about Civil Rights, however. It is uncertain if the FBI or Department of Justice ever took formal steps to prosecute anyone in connection to Thornton’s case.

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