July 27th 1963: Garrett Morgan dies
On this day in 1963 the prominent African-American inventor Garrett Morgan died in Cleveland aged 86. Born in Kentucky in 1877 the seventh of eleven children and with only an elementary school education, Morgan went on to develop patents for several inventions. His patents included: a new sewing machine (his first job was as a sewing-machine mechanic); an improved traffic signal (he was the first black man in Cleveland to own a car); a hair-strengthening product; and a breathing device. His model of a breathing device, initially meant to help firefighters, went on to be used as the basis for gas masks in World War One. The hair-strengthening product he invented allowed him to start a business which sold these products to African-Americans - the G.A Morgan Hair Refining Company - which had great financial success. However, Morgan faced considerable racial prejudice throughout his career. Some refused to purchase his devices, which led Morgan to hire a white actor to pose as ‘the inventor’ when showcasing some of his inventions. After his heroism during the Cleveland Tunnel Explosion, when Morgan and his brother put on breathing devices and helped save some of the trapped workers, people realised he was African-American and sales of his products dropped. However after his patent of the traffic signal, which he sold to General Electric for $40,000 and provided the basis for the modern signal, he was honoured and respected by many in the business community. Garrett Morgan, who tirelessly supported the African-American community and whose inventions and personal heroism improved countless lives, died on July 27th 1963 in Cleveland.
July 25th 1853: Joaquin Murrieta killed
On this day in 1853 the Mexican outlaw Joaquin Murrieta, sometimes known as ‘the Robin Hood of El Dorado’, was supposedly killed by California Rangers. Most sources agree that he moved to California in 1849 to seek his fortune after the Gold Rush. He and his family were subject to racial discrimination, and eventually were attacked by American miners; Murrieta was beaten, his wife raped and his brother murdered. After this he supposedly, having been rejected legal help, sought vengeance and formed a gang of outlaws. However this story appears only in a 1854 novelised version of his life, though he was undoubtedly discriminated against, and other accounts say he turned to crime in frustration at being prevented from finding work. His gang took part in cattle rustling, bank robberies and murder. Eventually the infamy of their gang led the Governor of California to form the State Rangers and place a $5,000 bounty on Murrieta’s head. On July 25th 1853, the Rangers attacked the outlaws’ camp by surprise and in the ensuing gunbattle eight bandits, supposedly including Murrieta himself, were killed. To claim the reward, the Rangers decapitated Murrieta and preserved his head, which later went on public display. To some, Joaquin Murrieta was just a violent bandit, but to others he is a Mexican hero who sought to correct the injustices faced by Mexicans in the United States. Murrieta has become a symbol of Mexican resistance to Anglo-American domination of California, and other lands ceded to the United States after their victory over Mexico in 1848. A group of his descendants continue to work to correct what they see as historical inaccuracies about his life that portray him as nothing more than a bandit. His status as a folk hero is further cemented by the debates over the veracity of stories of his death. Whilst many who knew him testified that the head the Rangers displayed was Murrieta’s, some of his relatives claimed it wasn’t, and thus theories abound that he actually survived and lived into old age.
July 21st 1969: Man walks on the Moon
On this day in 1969, American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the Moon. The Apollo 11 mission landed on the Moon on July 20th at 20:18 UTC. and Armstrong’s boot hit the surface of the Moon at 02:56 UTC the next day. Aldrin soon joined Armstrong and the pair planted the flag of the United States on the lunar surface, and they received a brief phone call from US President Richard Nixon. The moon landing was broadcast live, reaching an estimated global audience of 450 million. The astronauts returned safely to Earth on July 24th where they were met by the President and celebrated globally. The landing was a major victory for the United States in the Cold War space race with Soviet Russia and fulfilled the goal put in place by the late President John F. Kennedy in 1961 to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade.
"That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind"
On this day in 1999 John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife Carolyn Bessette Kennedy and sister-in-law Lauren Bessette died in a plane crash. JFK Jr., the son of the late President, was flying the aircraft when it crashed into the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. The crash was supposedly due to pilot error. They were reported missing on July 16th and their bodies were found on the ocean floor on July 21st. The tragic death of the assassinated President’s son at age 38, who captured the heart of the nation when he saluted his father’s coffin, fueled the idea of a ‘Kennedy curse’ on the family.
"We dared to think, in that other Irish phrase, that this John Kennedy would live to comb gray hair, with his beloved Carolyn by his side.But, like his father, he had every gift but length of years”
- John’s uncle Senator Edward Kennedy at his memorial service
July 13th 1985: Live Aid
On this day in 1985, the Live Aid benefit concerts took place at Wembley Stadium in London and John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia. Bob Geldof and Midge Ure organised the concerts to raise money to provide aid for victims of the famine in Ethiopia. Notable artists such as Queen, Phil Collins, David Bowie, U2, The Who, Bob Dylan and Paul McCartney performed. The London concert drew 72,000 and the Philadelphia concert was attended by 100,000. The global audience watching the live broadcast is estimated to have been at around 1.9 billion. The event was a great success, ultimately raising around £150m.
July 10th 1925: Scopes Monkey Trial begins
On this day in 1925 the trial of John Scopes, who stood accused of teaching evolution and thus violating Tennessee’s Butler Act, began. The trial drew the attention of the nation, as to many it seemed as if Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution itself was on trial, especially its compatibility with religion (namely Christian Creationism). The most famous lawyers of the day argued the case, with former Democratic nominee for President William Jennings Bryan prosecuting and Clarence Darrow defending. Scopes was ultimately found guilty of teaching evolution, but was let free on a technicality. The trial was one of the most dramatic and famous in history and has since become synonymous with religious backlash against scientific progress.
July 4th 1776: American independence
On this day in 1776, the Declaration of Independence was approved and adopted by the Continental Congress. Thus, independence of the United States from the United Kingdom was secured. The Declaration was written mainly by Thomas Jefferson and it explained how Britain’s actions had led to American desire for independence. Congress had voted on July 2nd to declare independence but approved the wording of the official Declaration on July 4th, thus this day is celebrated as Independence Day. The date of its signing by the 56 delegates to Congress has been disputed, but it is generally held to be on August 2nd.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
July 2nd 1964: Civil Rights Act signed
On this day in 1964, US President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act. The 1954 Supreme Court ruling Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, which outlawed school segregation, had sparked a new and more direct phase of the struggle for racial equality in the United States. The Civil Rights Movement that followed involved defiance of discrimination in the United States, especially Jim Crow segregation in the South and restriction of black voting rights. The movement initially had little support from the federal government, who instead focused mainly on foreign Cold War policy. It was in 1963 that the violent resistance encountered by peaceful black protestors, including children, by whites in Birmingham, Alabama, led President John F. Kennedy to call for a civil rights bill. After his assassination Kennedy’s successor Johnson, who was a vocal supporter of civil rights, took charge of the fight for the bill. Facing opposition from conservative Democrats and Republicans, Johnson utilised his personal forceful nature (known as ‘The Johnson Treatment’), the power of the executive to provide incentives for congressional support, and the legacy of Kennedy to push the bill through Congress. The Civil Rights Act passed the House in February 1964 and the Senate in June, before it was signed into law in July by Johnson. Those present at the signing ceremony on July 2nd included prominent African-American leaders of the Civil Rights Movement such as Martin Luther King Jr. The Act focused on racial discrimination, banning segregation and unequal voter requirements. However it also included a prohibition on sex-based discrimination which fuelled the burgeoning feminist movement; though some claim it was added by a Virginia Democrat in an attempt to derail the passage of the act. The Civil Rights Act, along with the Voting Rights Act a year later, were the primary legislative achievements of the Civil Rights Movement, and remain the cornerstone of American civil rights legislation. 50 years on, it is a time for reflection on how far America has come since the days of Jim Crow segregation and black disenfranchisement, but also how much further is still left to go in the struggle for racial equality.
50 years ago today
July 26th 1948: Desegregation of US military
On this day in 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981 to abolish racial discrimination in the military. The order established the President’s Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services, which committed the United States government to the desegregation of the military and equality within the ranks. This came in the aftermath of the Second World War, where thousands of African-American men and women joined the armed forces. The discrimination faced by African-American soldiers while fighting for their country led to a ‘Double V’ campaign against fascism abroad and racism at home. Activists like A. Philip Randolph had pushed for integration of the armed forces for a long time before Truman’s action. President Truman aimed to implement limited civil rights legislation to protect African-Americans but was thwarted by the threat of Southern filibuster in Congress; he therefore resorted to executive action and by the end of the Korean War the US military was almost completely integrated. Full civil desegregation in the United States did not begin until after the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka which ruled school segregation unconstitutional.
July 23rd 1885: Ulysses S. Grant dies
On this day in 1885, former Civil War general and 18th President of the United States Ulysses S. Grant died. He became a national icon after he led the Union to victory over Robert E. Lee’s Confederate forces in the Civil War and secured Lee’s surrender at Appomattox in 1865. He became President in 1869, and enforced Reconstruction and civil rights laws. However, his presidency was marred by stories of his alcoholism and corruption in his administration. He left the office in 1877, and launched an unsuccessful bid for a third term in 1880. In 1885 he died of throat cancer at the age of 63 and his body lay in state.
"I hope that nobody will be distressed on my account."
- Grant’s last words
July 18th 1969: Chappaquiddick incident
On this day in 1969, after a party on Chappaquiddick island, Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) drove his car off a bridge, killing his passenger Mary Jo Kopechne. Kennedy, brother of late President John F. Kennedy, pleaded guilty to leaving the scene and admitted he failed to report the incident to the authorities until fishermen found the car and Kopechne’s body. He denied that he was under the influence of alcohol, but whilst negligent driving was considered the cause of Kopechne’s death Kennedy was not prosecuted. Chappaquiddick continued to haunt Kennedy’s political career, and weakened his hopes of a run for the office of President of the United States. Some have taken the incident as another indication of a ‘Kennedy curse’.
July 15th 1979: Carter’s ‘Crisis of Confidence’ speech
On this day in 1979, the US President Jimmy Carter made a televised address that has become known as the ‘crisis of confidence’ or ‘malaise’ speech. The address came during an energy crisis which had its roots in the 1973 oil embargo, which led Carter to conclude that America needed a focus on conserving energy and the use of alternative energy sources such as wind and solar. Carter also encouraged people to be more responsible in their use of gas and electric. It was in this environment that the President made his July 15th speech, which he had spent many weeks preparing at Camp David. He identified a ‘crisis of confidence’ throughout the nation in the wake of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal. The reception to the speech was initially favourable, but came to be seen as a scolding lecture where Carter was blaming the American people for the crisis in his emphasis on over consumption and consumerism. The address has since become identified with the general period of ‘malaise’ that characterised America in the 1970s, with a flagging economy, uninspiring politicians, heightened racial tensions and seemingly endless war; however Carter never actually used the word in his speech. Jimmy Carter lost his re-election bid the year after this speech in 1980 against charismatic Republican challenger Ronald Reagan.
July 11th 1960: To Kill a Mockingbird published
On this day in 1960, the novel ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee was published by J.B Lippincott & Co. The novel tells the story of the trial of a young African-American man in Alabama in the 1930s, and is told from the perspective of the daughter of the defendant’s lawyer, Scout Finch. Lee was partly inspired by events she recalled from her own childhood growing up in Alabama in the days of Jim Crow segregation. ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ was released during a turbulent time for American race relations, as the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement was beginning to get underway with sit-ins and Freedom Rides in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling Brown v. Board of Education (1954). The novel was originally going to be called ‘Atticus’ for Scout’s father and the moral centre of the story, but was renamed for one of Atticus’s iconic lines. The novel was an immediate success, and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1961. In 1962 it was adapted into an Oscar-winning film starring Gregory Peck and featuring the film debut of Robert Duvall as the elusive Boo Radley. Harper Lee never published another novel and remains reclusive from the press, though she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2007. The influence of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ has never faded in the 54 years since its release, and is a favourite of many for its warmth and humour while tackling some of the most troubling issues of its day.
"Shoot all the blue jays you want, if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird"
July 8th 1839: John D. Rockefeller born
On this day in 1839 the American industrialist John D. Rockefeller was born in Richford, New York. Even in his youth, Rockefeller displayed an aptitude for numbers and an entrepreneurial spirit, as he began selling food and other items to his neighbours. Rockefeller went on to establish the Standard Oil Company and became the richest man in the world, perhaps even the richest in history. Rockefeller used much of his wealth for philanthropy, creating many foundations which researched medicine, science and education and founding universities. He is often held as a notable success story of the capitalistic American Dream as Rockefeller rose from humble beginnings to become the first American to own a fortune of over one billion dollars. Rockefeller died in 1937 aged 97. His success established the Rockefeller family as one of the wealthiest and most influential in America, perhaps best known for their control of Chase Manhattan Bank. Even after his death his legacy continued in his relatives and descendants and his name became imbedded in American culture with the building of Rockefeller Centre in New York City in the 1930s.
July 3rd 1863: Battle of Gettysburg ends
On this day in 1863 during the American Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg ended. The battle was a key turning point in the war with its decisive Union victory under George Meade which turned the tide in the Union’s favour. The Confederacy, whose forces were led by Robert E. Lee, were defeated and thus Lee’s invasion of the North was ended. The last day of the battle also saw Pickett’s Charge, a Confederate cavalry charge which was repulsed by Union fire and thus led to many Confederate deaths. The battle was the bloodiest of the war, and President Lincoln famously honoured the fallen with his Gettysburg Address.