Archive for July 2nd, 2008

02
Jul
08

On This Day, 7-2-08: Amistad

Mutiny on the Amistad slave ship

Early in the morning, Africans on the Cuban schooner Amistad rise up against their captors, killing two crewmen and seizing control of the ship, which had been transporting them to a life of slavery on a sugar plantation at Puerto Principe, Cuba.

In 1807, the U.S. Congress joined with Great Britain in abolishing the African slave trade, although the trading of slaves within the United States was not prohibited. Despite the international ban on the importation of African slaves, Cuba continued to transport captive Africans to its sugar plantations until the 1860s, and Brazil to its coffee plantations until the 1850s.

On June 28, 1839, 53 slaves recently captured in Africa left Havana, Cuba, aboard the Amistad schooner for a sugar plantation at Puerto Principe, Cuba. Three days later, Sengbe Pieh, a Membe African known as Cinque, freed himself and the other slaves and planned a mutiny. Early in the morning of July 2, in the midst of a storm, the Africans rose up against their captors and, using sugar-cane knives found in the hold, killed the captain of the vessel and a crewmen. Two other crewmen were either thrown overboard or escaped, and Jose Ruiz and Pedro Montes, the two Cubans who had purchased the slaves, were captured. Cinque ordered the Cubans to sail the Amistad east back to Africa. During the day, Ruiz and Montes complied, but at night they would turn the vessel in a northerly direction, toward U.S. waters. After almost nearly two difficult months at sea, during which time more than a dozen Africans perished, what became known as the “black schooner” was first spotted by American vessels.

On August 26, the USS Washington, a U.S. Navy brig, seized the Amistad off the coast of Long Island and escorted it to New London, Connecticut. Ruiz and Montes were freed, and the Africans were imprisoned pending an investigation of the Amistad revolt. The two Cubans demanded the return of their supposedly Cuban-born slaves, while the Spanish government called for the Africans’ extradition to Cuba to stand trial for piracy and murder. In opposition to both groups, American abolitionists advocated the return of the illegally bought slaves to Africa.

The story of the Amistad mutiny garnered widespread attention, and U.S. abolitionists succeeded in winning a trial in a U.S. court. Before a federal district court in Connecticut, Cinque, who was taught English by his new American friends, testified on his own behalf. On January 13, 1840, Judge Andrew Judson ruled that the Africans were illegally enslaved, that they would not be returned to Cuba to stand trial for piracy and murder, and that they should be granted free passage back to Africa. The Spanish authorities and U.S. President Martin Van Buren appealed the decision, but another federal district court upheld Judson’s findings. President Van Buren, in opposition to the abolitionist faction in Congress, appealed the decision again.

On February 22, 1841, the U.S. Supreme Court began hearing the Amistad case. U.S. Representative John Quincy Adams of Massachusetts, who had served as the sixth president of the United States from 1825 to 1829, joined the Africans’ defense team. In Congress, Adams had been an eloquent opponent of slavery, and before the nation’s highest court he presented a coherent argument for the release of Cinque and the 34 other survivors of the Amistad.

On March 9, 1841, the Supreme Court ruled, with only one dissent, that the Africans had been illegally enslaved and had thus exercised a natural right to fight for their freedom. In November, with the financial assistance of their abolitionist allies, the Amistad Africans departed America aboard the Gentleman on a voyage back to West Africa. Some of the Africans helped establish a Christian mission in Sierra Leone, but most, like Cinque, returned to their homelands in the African interior. One of the survivors, who was a child when taken aboard the Amistad as a slave, eventually returned to the United States. Originally named Margru, she studied at Ohio’s integrated and coeducational Oberlin College in the late 1840s before returning to Sierra Leone as evangelical missionary Sara Margru Kinson.

“Mutiny on the Amistad slave ship.” 2008. The History Channel website. 1 Jul 2008, 12:50 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=5142.

1566 – French astrologer, physician and prophet Nostradamus died.

1776 – Richard Henry Lee’s resolution that the American colonies “are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States” was adopted by the Continental Congress.

1850 – B.J. Lane patented the gas mask.

1858 – Czar Alexander II freed the serfs working on imperial lands.

1881 – Charles J. Guiteau fatally wounded U.S. President James A. Garfield in Washington, DC.

1890 – The U.S. Congress passed the Sherman Antitrust Act.

1926 – The U.S. Congress established the Army Air Corps.

1937 – American aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart disappeared in the Central Pacific during an attempt to fly around the world at the equator.

1944 – American bombers, as part of Operation Gardening, dropped land mines, leaflets and bombs on German-occupied Budapest.

1947 – An object crashed near Roswell, NM. The U.S. Army Air Force insisted it was a weather balloon, but eyewitness accounts led to speculation that it might have been an alien spacecraft.

1961 – Ernest Hemingway shot himself to death at his home in Ketchum, ID.

1976 – North Vietnam and South Vietnam were reunited.

1980 – U.S. President Jimmy Carter reinstated draft registration for males 18 years of age.

 

Johnson signs Civil Rights Act

On this day in 1964, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signs into law the historic Civil Rights Act in a nationally televised ceremony at the White House.

In the landmark 1954 case Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that racial segregation in schools was unconstitutional. The 10 years that followed saw great strides for the African-American civil rights movement, as non-violent demonstrations won thousands of supporters to the cause. Memorable landmarks in the struggle included the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955–sparked by the refusal of Alabama resident Rosa Parks to give up her seat on a city bus to a white woman–and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous “I have a dream” speech at a rally of hundreds of thousands in Washington, D.C., in 1963.

As the strength of the civil rights movement grew, John F. Kennedy made passage of a new civil rights bill one of the platforms of his successful 1960 presidential campaign. As Kennedy’s vice president, Johnson served as chairman of the President’s Committee on Equal Employment Opportunities. After Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, Johnson vowed to carry out his proposals for civil rights reform.

The Civil Rights Act fought tough opposition in the House and a lengthy, heated debate in the Senate before being approved in July 1964. For the signing of the historic legislation, Johnson invited hundreds of guests to a televised ceremony in the White House’s East Room. After using more than 75 pens to sign the bill, he gave them away as mementoes of the historic occasion, according to tradition. One of the first pens went to King, leader of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), who called it one of his most cherished possessions. Johnson gave two more to Senators Hubert Humphrey and Everett McKinley Dirksen, the Democratic and Republican managers of the bill in the Senate.

The most sweeping civil rights legislation passed by Congress since the post-Civil War Reconstruction era, the Civil Rights Act prohibited racial discrimination in employment and education and outlawed racial segregation in public places such as schools, buses, parks and swimming pools. In addition, the bill laid important groundwork for a number of other pieces of legislation–including the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which set strict rules for protecting the right of African Americans to vote–that have since been used to enforce equal rights for women as well as all minorities.

“Johnson signs Civil Rights Act.” 2008. The History Channel website. 1 Jul 2008, 12:41 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=5145.

Stephen Hawkings breaks British bestseller records

Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawkings breaks British publishing records on this day in 1992. His book, A Brief History of Time, has been on the nonfiction bestseller list for three and a half years, selling more than 3 million copies in 22 languages.

A Brief History of Time explained the latest theories on the origins of the universe in language accessible to educated lay people. The book was made into an acclaimed documentary in 1992, which focused largely on Hawkings’ own story.

Diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease in his 20s, Hawkings was told he had only two years to live. Despite the sobering prognosis, Hawkings pursued his studies in theoretical physics, married, and had a son. Eventually, his disease left him paralyzed except for his left hand. He was able to speak, although his speech was difficult to understand, until he underwent a tracheotomy in 1985 during a bout with pneumonia. Afterward, he relied on a mouse-controlled voice synthesizer, which improved the clarity of his speech.

His familiar, synthesized voice can be heard in the Brief History of Time documentary, a popular Pink Floyd song, and an episode of The Simpsons.

“Stephen Hawkings breaks British bestseller records.” 2008. The History Channel website. 1 Jul 2008, 12:51 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=4020.




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