If you ever had a notion that the American Civil War was not about slavery, you should read the Cornerstone Speech by Alexander Stephens, vice president of the Confederate States of America, given on this date in 1861. He makes it pretty clear that the states who seceded did it to preserve slavery based on their belief in the natural inferiority of slaves based on skin color. Of course, all the seceding states’ declarations had all previously made the argument.
There were plusses and minuses for people of color on this date. In 1946 the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams signed Kenny Washington as the first African American player. In 1986 Debi Thomas became the first African American to win the World Championship of Figure Skating. And Namibia became independent after 75 years of rule by the Apartheid regime of South Africa.
But then in 1960, the Sharpesville massacre occurred in South Africa, with police firing on peaceful protestors, killing 69 and injuring 180 more. This preceded the police attacks on MLK and company marching in Selma, and this date brought finally a successful march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama
The first Earth Day was proclaimed by SF Mayor Joseph Alioto in 1970 and almost three decades later (1999) Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones became the first to circumnavigate the Earth in a hot air balloon. San Diego Comic-Con held its inaugural event in 1970 and then in 2006 Twitter was founded to talk about all these events and what you had for breakfast.
Two great composers were born on this date; German master Johann Sebastian Bach (1685) and Russian genius Modest Mussorgsky (1839) with the finale of his signature Pictures at an Exhibition being the Great Gate of (then) Kiev. The date heralded the arrival of Mexican liberator Benito Juarez (1806) and American candy maker Forrest Mars Sr, who brought us M&Ms and Mars bars.
Tragically the date also brought us the martyrdom of Archbishop Thomas Cramer (1556), one of the first victims of England’s Bloody Mary I, and the way too early death of the misused for myth’s sake native princess Pocahontas (despite the sanitizing by Disney). It also marked the death of Irish archbishop Jame Ussher – he of biblical dating fame (or infamy)in 1656 and the passing of the first President of Mexico Guadalupe Victoria (1843).
Today is marked as the International Day for the elimination of racial discrimination. And International Day of Forests – so go out and hug a tree.