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Red Summer, the forgotten nightmare

After the Union victory in the US Civil War, the next significant step in giving African-American people equal rights was when the Civil Rights Movement took on various states nearly a century later.

Often forgotten is a terrible period of less than 5 months during 1919, which became known as the Red Summer, a time when race riots took place from North to South, and East to West, leaving several dozen people dead, often by horrific means, and many more injured.

Today these events are included with the Red Scare of 1919-1920, when anti-Communist feelings ran very high, but a US Senate Committee identified at least 38 separate riots in which white communities attacked black communities during this short period.

While anti-Communism feelings did contribute in part, there were other contributing factors.  During WWI many industrial cities in the north found themselves short of labour, and it’s estimated that as many as 500,000 African-Americans emigrated from the south during this time, leading to a clash with returning soldiers, many of whom found themselves out of work and facing rising inflation.

Newspapers of the time did not help, with various headlines stoking tensions, such as this link to a headline from the New York Times.

One of the first riots was in Charleston, South Carolina, with white sailors and civilians fought against black civilians, and within hours 3 black were shot dead, with 18 more injured, with five white men injured as well.  The city imposed martial law, and a subsequent Naval investigation found 4 sailors and a civilian responsible for initiating the riots.

One of the worst was in Chicago, Illinois, which started when a white man started throwing stones at a number of black beach goers, killing Eugene Williams.  A nearby police officer refused to arrest the man, instead arresting another black man for protesting at this outrage.  Groups of white men then started looking for black people, and stoning those unfortunate to be caught, while many buildings were set ablaze.

A black man stoned to death during the riots

One of the men stoned to death during the riots

Before the Government called in 6,000 National Guard troops to restore order, 23 African-Americans and 15 white people were dead, with over 530 more people injured.  Hundreds of people were left homeless by the fires, with having been thrown on some roads to prevent fire trucks from reaching the fires.  It is not known how many black people were forced to flee Chicago, fearing for their lives.

Despite the coroner’s report of the responsibility of white people for the extensive rioting and damage, of the 17 men indicted, all were black.

Another brutal riot occurred in Omaha, Nebraska, after sensational reporting of the rape of Agnes Loebeck.  Local reports suggested this had been one of several attacks on white women by black men, so when Will Brown was arrested the next day, a mob gathered to demand his lynching, but they were turned away

Crowds outside the Court House

Crowds outside the Court House

The next day a large mob turned up at the court house after lunch, and faced up to a police force of 30 officers, but they were turned away.  Three hours later, 4,000 people turned up, charging at the officers in charge, and throwing bricks through the windows of the court house.

The officers tried turning a water hose on the crowd and even fired a number of shots to frighten off the crowds.  The chief of police arrived and tried to talk to the crowds, but he was ignored.  Any black person in the area was severely beaten, and anyone who tried to help them was also beaten.  Nearby hardware stores were broken into, and more than a thousand revolvers and shotguns were reported stolen.

As the officers barricaded themselves inside the courthouse, together with the mayor, trying to protect Will Brown, it was set alight by the rioters.  Mayor Smith came out at 11pm to appeal again to the crowd, but as the crowd started to quiet down, a shot rang out and a man screamed out that he’d been shot by Smith.  The crowd surged forward and Smith was hit on the head with a baseball bat, and a noose put around his neck.  Despite some people trying to protect Smith from the crowd, he was dragged to a traffic signal tower and hanged by the neck.  He was saved by four state agents who drove at the crowds, reached Smith and cut him down, before taking him away to Hospital.  Despite recovering, Smith died 2 years later.

A crowd poses for photgraphs with Will Brown's body

A crowd poses for photographs with Will Brown’s body

Fearing they would be burned alive inside the Court House, other prisoners inside eventually managed to grab Brown and handed him to the mob.  He was dragged out and hanged from a nearby telephone post.  Hundreds of shots were fired at his body as it dangled, and when they cut him down, they dragged his body through several streets before setting his body alight.

Members of the mob continued to haul Brown’s burned body through the streets for several hours more.

Federal troops from nearby Fort Omaha and Fort Crook arrived by 3am and took several positions in the city, some with machine guns, to stop any further mob violence.

Despite 120 people indicted on charges of murder, arson and other charges, few were successfully prosecuted, and none of them served any time in prison.

In the 30 years prior to 1919, it is estimated that some 2,500 black people had been lynched in the US, but in the summer of 1919 many more were injured and forced to flee their homes because of full scale riots that took place from as far north as New York, to as far south as Texas, and from as far west as Arizona, to as far east as Maryland and Washington DC.

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Posted by on Saturday 1st December 2012 in History, People

 

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Bringing home the bacon

If you ever find yourself travelling through the south of Illinois, passing by the village of Cobden, you may want to make a quick stop to pay your respect for an individual who raised millions of dollars to help the US navy during World War II.

Born in early 1942 at the Sherman Boner farm, a young pig called Parker Neptune was soon adopted by the farmer’s young daughter to raise as part of a youth project.  With the war effort under way, Neptune was donated in December 1942 to be served at a fundraising event to raise money and seemed destined for the chop.

A local navy recruiter, Don C. Lingle, spotted Neptune’s potential and took him on a trip throughout the south of Illinois, renaming him King Neptune, and auctioning parts of the pig off for war bonds.  These bonds were raised in order to build a brand new battleship, to be named USS Illinois.  At each auction the pig was returned unharmed to be auctioned elsewhere.  Among the “parts” to be auctioned, even his squeal managed to raise $25 in one of the auctions.

King Neptune was now a celebrity and was given a blue navy jacket, a small crown and silver earrings.  He made a number of appearances around the rest of Illinois, raising further funds, and being sold over and over again.  At one auction the Governor of Illinois, Dwight H. Green, bought King Neptune for $1m before returning him to Lingle.

Aside from his auctions, King Neptune’s appearances led to his life membership of a number of clubs across Illinois, and his efforts led to Lingle’s promotion to Chief Petty Officer.

During his career as fund raiser, King Neptune collected an incredible $19m, which in today’s terms is close to a quarter of a billion US Dollars, an achievement few could match.

After the war King Neptune retired, living in a farm and enjoying himself.  He died just two days prior to his 8th birthday from pneumonia.

After his original grave suffered from neglect, and was later vandalised, the state of Illinois created a new memorial for him, just outside the village of Cobden:

The memorial for King Neptune, a pig like no other.

Unfortunately, the USS Illinois was not completed before the end of WWII, and her construction was halted.  Her incomplete hulk was finally broken up and scrapped in 1958.  The only surviving piece is the ship’s bell, which is now displayed at the Memorial Stadium, at the University of Illinois and is traditionally rung when their football team scores a touchdown or a goal.

 

 
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Posted by on Monday 16th July 2012 in Animals, History, Wars

 

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Good boys and women’s suffrage

In the fight for women’s suffrage, there are many leading women who are remembered for their heroic efforts, but spare a thought for one Harry T Burn, who simply did what his mother asked because he was a good boy.

By 1920 most European countries had given women the vote, as did a few other countries (Canada gave them the vote in 1917), but the US still resisted the temptation.

In order to get the 19th amendment into law, it needed to be ratified by 36 states, but only 35 states did so, and it seemed the issue may drag for some time.  In August 1920, the state of Tennessee was to vote on the amendment, with both sides campaigning hard.  Those who supported women’s suffrage wore a yellow rose as a symbol of their vote, while those who opposed it wore a red rose.

Harry T Burn, he listened to his mother and changed history

The speaker of the house, Seth Walker, wore his red rose proudly and expected to win the No vote, but a couple of late defections left the house tied 48-48.  A second vote was taken, and once again it was tied at 48-48.  Supporters of the amendment were disappointed, and this turned to dismay when a local newspaper ran a cartoon depicting an old woman chasing the letters RAT with a broom, trying to united them with the letters IFICATION.

This cartoon spurred one woman to write to her son, who happened to be a young representative in the Tennessee house, asking him to help Mrs Catt (a prominent Suffragist) with her “Rats”.

As the house voted for a third time, Harry was still wearing the red rose which symbolised his previous votes against the amendment, but he now stood up and voted for women’s suffrage.  The vote was now 49-47 in support of the amendment, and the uproar was so high that the governor suggested Harry wait until state troopers could be brought to provide a bodyguard.

Harry managed to sneak out on his own by climbing out of the window of a clerk’s office, crawling along a very narrow ledge, and then climbing in through a window of another office which had access to the lobby, and freedom.

Harry would later explain his actions by saying that it was his mother who asked him to change his vote in her letter, and that a good boy always does what his mother asks him to do.

The speaker of the house, Seth Walker, also changed his vote so that he could introduce a motion to reconsider, but this motion was rejected and the 19th Amendment was ratified by one vote.

 
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Posted by on Monday 11th June 2012 in History, People

 

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USA, home of the 49 states?

For some time now it has been accepted that the USA has 50 states (though some are technically commonwealths), but it seems North Dakota may have only been a territory all this time.

North Dakota, a somewhat square shaped state, was part of the Dakota Territory, which was broken up in 1889 and allowed North Dakota and South Dakota to be declared the 39th and 40th states of the union.

Shuffle along to little over a century later and John Rolczynski, a citizen of North Dakota, happened to be perusing the constitution of his state (as you do) and notices the following section:

Article XI, Section 4 of the North Dakota state Constitution:

“Members of the legislative assembly and judicial department, except such inferior officers as may be by law exempted shall, before they enter on the duties of their respective offices, take and subscribe the following oath or affirmation: ‘I do solemnly swear (or affirm as the case may be) that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of North Dakota, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of ____ according to the best of my ability, so help me God’ (if an oath), (under pains and penalties of perjury) if an affirmation, and no other oath, declaration, or test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust.”

Like everyone else, John was aware of clause three of the US constitution that reads:

Article VI, Clause 3 of the U.S. Constitution:

“The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution, but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or Trust under the United States.”

He spotted that the state constitution had missed out the word “executive” and therefore breached the Enabling Act of 1889, which could mean that North Dakota may not have been a legitimate state all this time.

Apart from all the legal ramifactions, there was also the very important matter that if North Dakota was not a legitimate state, would this mean that the Coen Bros film “Fargo” should be withdrawn???

It may have taken John several years to convince the politicians that the constitution needed amending, but early in 2011, after nearly 16 years of campaigning, a bill to amend section 4 of the state constitution was introduced, and was voted through in July 2011.  All it now needs is for the public to approve it in the 2012 election.

 
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Posted by on Thursday 14th July 2011 in History

 

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Why the Americans didn’t salute Hitler

Look at this picture taken in 1942 and what do you see?

It may look like these kids are saluting Hitler or Mussolini, but they’re actually American kids reciting their Pledge of Allegiance.

The pledge was originally written in 1892 by Francis Bellamy, a Baptist minister, and published in a children’s magazine called “The Youth’s Companion”.  The pledge was written as part of a campaign to sell flags to schools and was timed to coincide with the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus reaching the Americas.

The magazine decided to try and create a national Columbian Public School Celebration and Bellamy chaired a committee tasked with spreading the word.  The pledge was only part of a ceremony Bellamy devised for children to salute the flag, he also devised what became known as the “Bellamy Salute” which he described thusly:

“At a signal from the Principal the pupils, in ordered ranks, hands to the side, face the Flag. Another signal is given; every pupil gives the flag the military salute — right hand lifted, palm downward, to a line with the forehead and close to it. Standing thus, all repeat together, slowly, “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands; one Nation indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for all.” At the words, “to my Flag,” the right hand is extended gracefully, palm upward, toward the Flag, and remains in this gesture till the end of the affirmation; whereupon all hands immediately drop to the side.”

It was not until three decades later that the Italian Fascists and the German Nazis adopted a similar salute based on the Roman style, which caused confusion during the outbreak of WWII as anti-interventionist Americans saw pictures of them doing the Bellamy Salute used as propaganda to show they supported the Nazis (Charles Lindbergh among the more high profile victims).

In June 1942 the USA officially adopted the Pledge of Allegiance, and in December that year they changed the salute to the one we recognise today (hand over heart).

 
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Posted by on Friday 8th July 2011 in History

 

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