60 Years Ago: I Have a Dream

60 years ago, today, on August 28, 1963, over 250,000 people gathered near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. In search of freedom and jobs, this group marched on Washington demanding equality under the law. The impact of this march cannot be understated. It is believed that this event built the momentum needed in the Civil Rights Movement to pass the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act over the next two years.  

The March on Washington was organized by the leaders the six large civil rights groups of the time. A peaceful demonstration, the protestors involved aimed to draw attention to the discrimination of Black Americans and their inability to find jobs created by the New Deal program. In a New York Times article written a few days before the march, we read, “In conception and in planning, the March on Washington is expressive of the American tradition of peaceable assembly and petition for a redress of grievances . . . the elimination of unequal treatment is the common responsibility of all of us. . .”  

The March on Washington is perhaps best remembered for the speech given by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in which he said, “I have a dream . . . I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed, ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’ I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood . . . I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”  

Less than one year after this iconic speech was delivered, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 into law, which prohibited discrimination in public places, integrated public schools, and ended employment discrimination.  

Learn more here:  

  1. https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1963/08/25/121482282.html?pageNumber=174
  2. https://naacp.org/find-resources/history-explained/1963-march-washington

On This Day: Preserving Paradise

On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed H.R. 15522, or the National Parks Service Organic Act, into law. The bill established the National Parks Service (NPS), which would oversee national parks as well as other important historic sites. In the century since, the national parks system has grown exponentially. In 2022, the National Park Service received 312 million visits.  

Though the NPS was created in 1916, national parks existed for many years before that. In 1872, Congress passed a dedication law that created Yellowstone National Park, the first national park in the U.S. In the years that followed, they added many more national parks and monuments, including Zion National Park, Glacier National Park, and the Statue of Liberty National Monument. All these parks and monuments were under the authority of the Department of the Interior, but they were each being run by a different entity. As a result, there was little money or authority to truly preserve and protect these sites.  

In 1916, the NPS Organic Act was passed that created the National Park Service to “promote and regulate the use of Federal areas known as national parks, monuments, and reservations . . . to conserve the scenery and natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” In the first two decades of the NPS, all national parks, monuments, and other properties were brought together under one management. The NPS hired rangers and marketed the parks to the American people. Thanks to the tireless efforts of the NPS, there are now more than 400 sites preserved for the enjoyment of anyone who wants to appreciate the variation and natural beauty of the United States or dig into her history.    

Learn more here:  

  1. https://www.nps.gov/subjects/socialscience/annual-visitation-highlights.htm#:~:text=In%202022%2C%20the%20National%20Park,visits%20(5%25)%20from%202021.
  2. https://www.doi.gov/ocl/nps-organic-act
  3. https://www.nps.gov/subjects/npscelebrates/park-anniversaries.htm
  4. https://www.britannica.com/topic/National-Park-Service/Years-of-growth

On This Day: Debussy and His Rêveries

 Claude Debussy was born on August 22, 1862 in a western suburb of Paris, Saint-Germain-en-Laye. A musical prodigy, Debussy was inspired by the art and literature of his time to create emotional and inspirational compositions that are still studied and enjoyed by musicians today.  

Claude Debussy started to show promise on the piano at the young age of nine. He was enrolled in the Paris Conservatory to study piano and composition. Debussy loved art, music, and poetry and was inspired by them in his works. He drew inspiration from Richard Wagner, Dante Rosetti, Edgar Allen Poe, Claude Monet, Paul Verlaine, and Arthur Rimbaud. Much like the Impressionists and the Symbolists, Debussy’s music rejected traditional modes of composition and uses of instruments. In doing so, Debussy penned iconic works of music such as “Clair de lune,” “La fille aux cheveux de lin,” “La mer,” “Rêverie,” and “Pelléas et Mélisande.”  

In 1910, Debussy was interviewed by a New York Times reporter. In their conversation, Debussy asserted, “. . . there will always be an enormous breach between the soul of the man as he is and the soul he puts into his work. A man portrays himself in his work, it is true, but only part of himself. In real life, I cannot live up to the ideals I have in music . . . Everything about [art] is an illusion . . . it neither represents the man who produced it, nor life as it is. Art is a most wonderfully beautiful lie, but it is a lie.” The writer ended the piece by saying, “The interviewer looked at M. Debussy and had great difficulty in not shouting, ‘But M. Debussy, you are the absolute contradiction of what you have been saying!’ For as M. Debussy said that the artist and his work were entirely separated, he spoke with such warmth, he was so carried away, that one felt how the work of the French composer is exactly a reproduction of his soul—a sensitive, delicate soul, yet determined and firm. And at that moment, Debussy the man and Debussy the composer, were but one being.”   Learn more here:

  1. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Claude-Debussy/Evolution-of-his-work
  2. https://www.claudedebussy.org/2022/06/claude-debussy-biography.html
  3. https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1910/06/26/104941892.html?pageNumber=21

On This Day: Votes for Women

On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The 19th Amendment guaranteed the right to vote to women. Though it would take decades longer for states to rid themselves of local laws precluding women from voting and for women of color to be enfranchised as part of this amendment, its passage changed American politics forever.  

The quest for the vote for women started in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Convention, organized by Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott. At this meeting, often referred to as the birthplace of American feminism, Stanton presented a Declaration of Sentiments that declared “all men and women are created equal,” and demanded the vote for women as proof of that statement. From this convention, suffrage groups were created. Some believed that pursuing suffrage state by state would be the best strategy, while others thought national suffrage would serve women best.  

By 1918, 70 years after the Seneca Falls Convention, 15 states had individually granted women the right to vote. In Montana, the first female member of Congress was elected, Jeanette Rankin. She stood before the House of Representatives in the midst of a World War and said, “How shall we explain to them the meaning of democracy if the same Congress that voted for war to make the world safe for democracy refuses to give this small measure of democracy to the women of our country?” The bill passed in the House and failed in the Senate. The amendment came up again and, in the summer of 1919, the House and Senate passed it.  

Once the amendment had been passed through Congress, it was up to a majority of states to ratify it. This process took over one year as state congresses met and voted on the subject. On August 18, 1920, the Tennessee House of Representatives met for a vote to ratify the amendment. Harry Burn cast the tie-breaking vote in favor of the amendment with a letter from his mother in his pocket that read: “Hurray and vote for suffrage and don’t keep them in doubt . . .  Don’t forget to be a good boy.”

Learn more here:  

  1. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/19th-amendment-ratified-tennessee-thanks-to-one-vote
  2. https://www.nps.gov/subjects/womenshistory/womens-suffrage-timeline.htm
  3. https://constitutioncenter.org/blog/on-this-day-the-19th-amendment-joins-the-constitution
  4. https://www.archives.gov/milestone-documents/19th-amendment#:~:text=Passed%20by%20Congress%20June%204,decades%20of%20agitation%20and%20protest.

On This Day: “Three Days of Peace and Music”

On August 15, 1969, the music festival that would come to be known as Woodstock began. The festival was headlined by some of the most famous musicians of the time as well as several fledgling artists who would go on to claim rock and roll fame. The festival’s legacy, however, has little to do with who played there and more to do with who attended. Woodstock has become synonymous with the counterculture of the sixties—young people who faced the tumultuous and violent realities of the Vietnam War, the Stonewall Riots, and the Civil Rights Movement and believed that love and music could change the world.  

Woodstock was held on tract of land owned by dairy farmer Max Yasgur. When festival organizers John Roberts, Joel Rosenman Artie Kornfeld, and Michael Lang set up a stage on this land they didn’t realize that the festival would see more than 400,000 attendees. Performers at Woodstock included Jimi Hendrix, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Santana, The Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, the Who, Jefferson Airplane, and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. Despite the rain, the vibe remained peaceful among the throng of concert-goers. Yasgur, addressing the crowd, is recorded to have said, “You’ve proven to the world . . . a half a million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music and have nothing but fun and music and God bless you for it!”  

The legacy of Woodstock lives under two perspectives. Some believe it symbolized the worst of that generation—self-indulgence, addiction, and declarations without action behind them. Some believe it was a revolution—young people declaring to the world a desire to change the society they live in and their belief in the power of togetherness and music to do so.

Learn more here:

  1. https://www.britannica.com/event/Woodstock
  2. https://www.history.com/topics/1960s/woodstock
  3. https://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/woodstock
  4. https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1969/08/18/78391993.html?pageNumber=25
  5. https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1970/04/19/354839062.html?pageNumber=99

On This Day: Douglass Speaks

On August 11, 1841, Frederick Douglass stood at a meeting of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society and told his story. It was this speech that would launch his career as a prominent abolitionist. After this appearance, the Anti-Slavery Society invited him to work with them and planned for him to travel and tell his story to as many people as would listen. Within a few years, Douglass became an internationally famous orator, writer, and advocate for social justice.  

Douglass was born a slave around the year 1818 in the state of Maryland. As a child, he was given some lessons in reading despite the fact that it was illegal to teach a slave to read. He continued his lessons in secret. Like all slaves, Douglass was abused physically and emotionally until he escaped to New York City in 1838. As he lived, married, worked, and attempted to avoid slave catchers, Douglass continued to read. He was inspired by the writings of abolitionists. This, combined with the urging of a Quaker friend, was what inspired him to attend the Anti-Slavery Society’s meeting.  

Though Douglass had not anticipated speaking that night and had not prepared remarks, it was reported that “. . .  cold [hearts] melted by his eloquence.” He was immediately invited to be an agent for the society. They sent him all over the country to tell his story and urge nonviolent resistance of slavery. In 1845, Douglass published Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself. The book was a success in the US as well as Europe. This success put him in the public eye and made it dangerous for him to remain in the US. He traveled to the UK, speaking and promoting the ideals of abolition, until his English supporters raised enough money to buy his freedom.  

Upon returning to the US, he spent the rest of his life as an advocate. He was an advisor to President Lincoln, a strong proponent of the Fourteenth Amendment, a supporter of women’s rights, a US Marshal, and a newspaper owner. As long as Frederick Douglass drew breath, he never stopped pushing for the enfranchisement of every American under the US Constitution.

Learn more here:  

  1. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Frederick-Douglass
  2. https://time.com/6148114/frederick-douglasss-abolitionist-book/
  3. https://www.massmoments.org/moment-details/frederick-douglass-first-addresses-white-audience.html

  Buy Frederick Douglass’ books from an independent bookstore here: https://bookshop.org/search?keywords=frederick+douglass

On This Day: Nixon Resigns

On August 8, 1974, President Richard M. Nixon announced that he would be the first president in American history to resign the presidency. He addressed the public in a televised speech from the Oval Office in which he said, “I hope that I have hastened the start of the process of healing which is so desperately needed in America.” This statement of resignation came after the president realized he would likely be impeached for his role in the Watergate scandal.  

In June 1972, five men broke into the Democratic National Committee offices at the Watergate complex and installed illegal wiretaps. These five, who included the security chief of Nixon’s reelection campaign, were arrested. Shortly after, two White House staff members were also implicated in the crime. Immediately, Americans began to speculate about the president’s involvement in the conspiracy.  

During the latter part of 1972, two Washington Post reporters, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, released leaks from an anonymous source, Deep Throat, later revealed to be FBI deputy director, Mark Felt. Their articles accused President Nixon of knowledge of and involvement in the Watergate wiretapping and that it was a small part of a major conspiracy by the Nixon campaign to spy on and sabotage the campaigns of the democratic candidates for president. Though their source and evidence were compelling, they didn’t stop Nixon from winning the election in a landslide.  

At the beginning of 1973, Congress established a committee to investigate the 1972 presidential campaign for any signs of malfeasance. These televised hearings, much like the January 6 hearings, drew the attention of the entire country. A major break in the case came when White House legal aide, John Dean, testified that President Nixon had been aware of the Watergate cover-up. It was at this point that the prosecutor and his team uncovered many instances of political espionage by the Nixon campaign. They also became aware of recordings of conversations between Nixon and his staff that contained sensitive information. When they requested the tapes be turned over to them, Nixon offered to send summaries, but the prosecutor was not having that.  

Following this, Nixon ordered the Attorney General to fire the special prosecutor assigned to the Watergate case. The Attorney General and his deputy refused to do so, choosing to resign instead. The act, later ruled illegal, was eventually carried out. This is referred to as the Saturday Night Massacre, and it caused the public’s confidence in the president to plummet. By 1974, three articles of impeachment were adopted against the president, including hindrance of the impeachment process, abuse of presidential powers, and obstruction of justice. At the beginning of August 1974, the Watergate tapes were finally released. A few days later, Nixon announced his resignation.

Vice President Gerald Ford became president and pardoned Richard Nixon of all his crimes. Though he was pardoned, the Watergate Scandal has gone down in history. Nixon remains the only president to have resigned his office.

Learn more here:

  1. https://www.archivesfoundation.org/documents/richard-nixon-resignation-letter-gerald-ford-pardon/
  2. https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/nixon-resigns
  3. https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/longterm/watergate/articles/080974-3.htm
  4. https://www.britannica.com/event/Watergate-Scandal/Watergate-trial-and-aftermath
  5. https://www.fbi.gov/history/famous-cases/watergate

On This Day: 44

Barack Obama was born on August 4, 1961 in Hawaii. He would go on to become a Columbia University graduate, a community organizer, president of the Harvard Law Review, an Illinois Senator, and the 44th President of the United States.  

Barack Obama was raised in Indonesia and Hawaii, where he graduated from high school. He attended Occidental College and Columbia University, earning a degree in political science. After graduating, Obama moved to Chicago to work as a community organizer on the city’s South Side. He later attended Harvard Law School where he became the first African American to be president of the Harvard Law Review. It was while he was working as an associate during law school that he met Michelle Robinson, a fellow lawyer, who he would marry in 1992. They have two daughters.  

In 1996, Obama became a member of the state senate of Illinois. Four years later, he put in a bid for a seat in the US House of Representatives, which he lost. In 2004, he succeeded in securing a seat in the US Senate representing the state of Illinois. In 2007, Barack Obama announced that he would run for President of the United States. The first African-American president, he was elected to two terms.  

Perhaps his most lasting success as president came with the passage of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, which provided health coverage for millions of uninsured and lowered costs for others. The act also prohibited insurance companies from denying care due to preexisting conditions. Obama also won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 for his “extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”

  Learn more here:

  1. https://www.whitehouse.gov/about-the-white-house/presidents/barack-obama/
  2. https://www.obamalibrary.gov/obamas/president-barack-obama
  3. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Barack-Obama/Taking-heat-and-taking-the-lead
  4. https://www.julesbuono.com/obamas-reading-list/

Buy President Obama’s most recent memoir from an independent bookstore here: https://bookshop.org/search?keywords=barack+obama