On April 11, 1968, the United States took a significant step towards advancing civil rights and equality with the signing of the Civil Rights Act or Fair Housing Act. Intended to build on the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibited discrimination on the basis of race, religion, sex, or national origin in employment and voting, the Fair Housing Act addressed housing discrimination by specifically prohibiting discrimination in the sale, rental, and financing of housing on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin. The act also established penalties for those who violated its provisions, including fines and imprisonment. Additionally, the act established the Fair Housing Office within the Department of Housing and Urban Development to investigate complaints of discrimination and enforce the law (1).
The passage of the Civil Rights Act was a major victory for civil rights advocates, but it faced serious opposition. The act itself was considered by Congress several times from 1966-1968 but failed to gain a majority vote. However, on April 4, 1968, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed in Memphis, TN. His death led to riots and protests across the nation as a generation of progressive Americans grieved his loss. In the wake of this shock, President Johnson seized the opportunity to push the bill through Congress yet again, this time receiving the majority votes needed in both houses (2).
In a letter written to Speaker of the House, John W. McCormack, President Johnson wrote, “Last night, America was shocked by a senseless act of violence. A man who devoted his life to the nonviolent achievement of rights that most Americans take for granted was killed by an assassin’s bullet.” President Johnson wanted “all good men to look deeply into their hearts . . . when the nation so urgently needs the healing balm of unity, a brutal wound on our conscience forces upon us all this question: What more can I do to achieve brotherhood and equality among all Americans?” (2).
A NYT article written 55 years after the signing of the Fair Housing Act reminds us that black applicants today are twice as likely to be denied a mortgage loan. Disparity in homeownership rate between black Americans and white Americans continues to rise (3). Certainly, the Fair Housing Act opened up new opportunities for minorities and helped to break down the barriers that had long kept them out of certain neighborhoods and communities, but has housing discrimination really ended?
The go-to gift for history buffs always seems to be either a book or a t-shirt, which after a few years becomes boring. Plus, there are only so many wordy books one can plow through. But in reality, there are so many other gifts that could inspire and delight the history lover in your world.
Below are 10 stellar ideas for your history buff:
Retro Bluetooth Speakers-We all have and use Bluetooth speakers, but these retro speakers really evoke nostalgia for times gone by. I made an Amazon list of about 48 different options in various price ranges. One of my favorites is this adorable Looptone speaker which received rave reviews.
Vintage Record Players- Alongside the written word, music also holds the memories of the past. Vinyl records have made a major comeback in recent years and with that there are now a large and gorgeous selection of record players. I have earmarked 46 different options that look amazing and will take your history lover back to a simpler time.
3. Retro Keyboards and typewriters- Take your history buff on a trip to the past everyday with a historically inspired, retro keyboard or authentic typewriter. Add a note encouraging the history lover in your life to journal or record their life story to complete the gift. Click on the link to find 37 options for this gift.
Vintage Board Games-Ready for a hearty game of Battleship or Sorry or Mystery Date? I have picked out 56 different board game options that will make your history buff smile.
Retro Toasters- This collection of mostly mid-century toaster dreams will perk up the historian in your life, and let’s face it, loving history is more than loving facts and figures, it is a lifestyle that appreciates the past in all things. These 66 swoon-worthy toasters will brighten up your loved ones’ mornings!
Retro Tea Kettles- Does your history buff love tea more than coffee? No problem. I have picked out 20 adorable kettles that will brighten up your tea times.
Vintage Coca Cola Products-The 71 items in this gift idea list range from vintage Coke apparel and advertisements to vintage soda fridges, straw holders and lots of things in between.
Retro Art and Photo Prints- This has 59 prints, photographs and works of art to decorate your history buffs’ walls, which will inspire your historian everyday.
Cool Vintage Phones-And last but not least, consider a cool retro phone. I have created a list of 31 phones that can connect either to a landline or are just used for decoration. There is something entirely comforting in seeing an old style chunky landline phone. They make great decorative items for home offices.
The 1937 opening of the Golden Gate Bridge was a week-long affair dubbed the “Golden Gate Fiesta. “ The event started with a pedestrian only opening on May 27th and then opened to automobiles on May 28th after US President, Franklin D. Roosevelt pressed a telegraph key.
According to the Library of Congress, during the May 27th “Pedestrian Day” over 200,000 people paid a princely sum of 25 cents each to walk the bridge. Black and white films of the day show the excitement and energy.
The Blue Lake Advocate, a Northern California newspaper, reported on an in person visit to the nearly completed bridge by Eleanor Roosevelt earlier that month on May 6, 1937. The paper called her, “M Franklin D. Roosevelt, First Lady of the Land,” and said that she wanted to make a personal inspection of the bridge. She was escorted on this pilgrimage by San Francisco Mayor Angelo Rossi; James Reed, general manager of the Golden Gate Bridge and Highway District; Mrs. Arthur M. Brown Jr., chairman of the women’s division of the Fiesta; and Charles Duncan of the chief engineer’s office.
It’s interesting that the fiesta had a “women’s division.”
The First Lady’s party could not fully traverse the bridge because of construction, but when she got out to take in the view, Roosevelt was quoted as saying, “It’s one of the greatest sights I have ever seen.”
The Golden Gate Bridge was constructed over a four year span after a $35 million construction bond was approved in1930, and has become an iconic symbol of San Francisco. The 4,200 square foot suspension bridge depends on steel cables to endure the earthquakes that impact the region.
Abraham Lincoln was marked for death from the minute he was elected. Apparently, even he understood his grave fate.
But what I didn’t know was that there were several assassination attempts on his life before his death on April 14,1865 at the hands of John Wilkes Booth. I recently read The Lincoln Conspiracy by bestselling authors, Brad Meltzer and Josh Mensch which details the very first, purported attempt on his life prior to his inauguration on March 4,1861.
Meltzer and Mensch did an excellent job researching this book and included many wonderful details about Lincoln and his life including information about his temperament, inner circle and habits, which helped me gain a better understanding of who he was as a person.
They also did an excellent job of detailing the mood in the United States at the time of Lincoln’s election. They read newspaper articles from the time as well as the journals and letters of the people who surrounded Lincoln and his rivals. And for me, the balance of detail and cultural context in relation to the broader story they are telling was spot on.
I particularly loved the quote they included from the famous Black abolitionist, reformer and writer, Frederick Douglass, when he said, “The hour and the man of our redemption had somehow met in the person of Abraham Lincoln.”
Now about the conspiracy part of The Lincoln Conspiracy. According to the book summary: “The conspirators were part of a white supremacist secret society that didn’t want an abolitionist [Lincoln] in the White House. They planned an elaborate scheme to assassinate the President-elect in Baltimore as Lincoln’s inauguration train passed through, en route to the nation’s capital.”
The retelling of Lincoln’s inaugural train ride into Washington, which included many stops and appearances along the way, was an incredibly well told part of the story. I felt like I was almost experiencing the journey alongside Lincoln. The writers also provide the underlying story to Lincoln’s long-term dealings with famous American detective, Allen Pinkerton, who investigated the conspiracy, and for the women’s history lovers, the book shares interesting information about the first American female detective, Kate Warne.
The book moves quickly and is told in such a way that it is easily digestible to modern readers. I highly recommend it for all history lovers out there. Happy Reading!
May 23rd marks the birth of the woman who was to become the first female lawyer in the US, Belle Aurelia “Arabella” Babb Mansfield. Born in 1846 in the Benton Township of Des Moines County in Iowa, Arabella was influenced by her parents who valued education and her older brother, Washington Babb, who was also a lawyer.
The interesting part of her story is that she never actually went to law school. After graduating valedictorian of her class at Iowa Wesleyan College, she taught school for a year and married her college sweetheart, John Mansfield. She then went on to “read the law” in her older brother’s law practice where she worked as an apprentice.
She took the bar exam and passed on June 15,1869 despite the fact that women were legally prohibited. In Iowa, at the time only “white, male citizens” were eligible for admittance to the bar.
Mansfield argued that women should be allowed to practice law to the Iowa Bar Association and was admitted. Apparently, she impressed the committee as they wrote:
Your committee takes unusual pleasure in recommending the admission of Mrs. Mansfield, not only because she is the first lady who has applied for this authority in the state, but because in her examination she has given the very best rebuke possible to the imputation that ladies cannot qualify for the practice of law.
Iowa Bar Association
Although admitted to the bar, Mansfield earned a living teaching first at Iowa Wesleyan College and later at DePauw University where she served as the Dean of the school of Art and then later as the Dean of the school of Music.
She was also, notably, active in the suffragette movement and knew famous activist, Susan B. Anthony as they worked to pass the Nineteenth Amendment giving women the right to vote.
To learn more about Arabella Mansfied, visit these sources:
In fairness to Franklin D. Roosevelt, he didn’t want to do it. But, Sewell Avery, the CEO of Montgomery Ward, was refusing to work with labor unions, and the US was a country at war.
At the time, Chicago-based Montgomery Ward was equivalent to Amazon today. According to Matthew Waxman, a law professor at Columbia University, “By 1943, Montgomery Ward served 30 million customers not only through mail-order deliveries but also via 600 stores and 78,000 employees in 47 states. Two-fifths of U.S. mail-order business went through Montgomery Ward, as did one-fifth of all manufactured products purchased by American farmers.”
Avery had capitulated to Roosevelt once in 1942, but by the beginning months of 1944, he was not having it. Roosevelt’s fear was that a labor strike would interfere with the war effort, and according to the War Labor Disputes Act of 1943, the National War Labor Board could get in the middle of anything that might lead to a “substantial interference with the war effort.”
According to Waxman, Montgomery Ward’s attorneys maintained that Roosevelt was overstepping in the matter. On April 25, 1944, Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9438, where he proclaimed “that there are existing and threatened interruptions of the operations of the plants and facilities of Montgomery Ward and Company, located in Chicago, Illinois, as a result of labor disturbances arising from the failure of Montgomery Ward and Company to comply with directive orders of the National War Labor Board.”
Roosevelt ordered his then Secretary of Commerce, Jesse H. Jones, who hailed from my hometown of Houston, Texas, to seize control of Montgomery Ward’s headquarters, retail store, mail order house and warehouse in Chicago and to operate them for the “successful prosecution of the war.”
When a federal dispatch consisting of US Marshalls, deputies and soldiers visited Avery at the headquarters they were not only met with verbal resistance, but Avery refused to leave his office chair leading to the amusing photo that headlined throughout the country at time showing him being literally carried out of his office.
Waxman, who made the extraordinary effort to read and summarize for us the very best part of Attorney General Francis Biddle’s memories on the incident who noted that Secretary of War Henry Stimson had pleaded unsuccessfully with Roosevelt that “[E]very man was needed in the war effort; it is a great army, Mr. President, it must not be sent to act as clerks to sell women’s panties over the counter of a store.”
As a woman, I take exception to the fact that Stimson found our under-clothing the furthest possible thing from a successful prosecution of the war, but I get his point, rude as it may be.
Avery fired back in several ways including a statement released to the Associated Press on May 10, 1944 and reprinted in the New York Times where he called the seizure illegal and demanded that the matter be resolved in court. “Ward’s has been deprived of its property by force and bayonets,” he wrote.
According to Waxman, due to public disapproval, the government released Montgomery Ward back to Avery two weeks later, but then seized the company again, and this time they seized control in nine cities including Chicago after a labor strike broke out at the end of 1944. Litigation ensued and it looked like the government would win, but the end of the war brought an end to the matter.
To learn more about the Montgomery Ward Seizures, visit these resources:
It’s hard to even fathom what thoughts go through a person’s head in the final moments of a crisis where they must choose between their own life or the lives of others.
Such a crisis came to Captain Gary L. Herod on Wednesday, March 15, 1961. A pilot for the Texas Air National Guard, Herod was barely in the air over Houston, Texas when his plane began to falter. With the plane’s engine failing, he tried first to return to Ellington Field Airport, and radioed the control tower that he planned to eject himself from the plane.
Somewhere in those seconds, though, he realized that doing so would leave the plane to crash into a suburban neighborhood filled with young families in a popular Houston suburb known as Meyerland.
This excruciating choice included the fact that Herod had a wife and two children of his own. As the tower asked for confirmation of his intent to eject, Herod’s last words were “not yet.”
He went down with his plane into a vacant field on the north bank of Brays Bayou, the lone casualty of this tragedy. Maybe he hoped that he might be able to safely land the plane, or maybe he fully knew the sacrifice he was making.
A couple of months later, a “Hero” tree was planted with a plaque commemorating his sacrifice at the site of the popular Meyerland Plaza Shopping Center, and in 1965, a local elementary school was named for him. Nearly 57 years later, with the tree failing in health, his plaque and memorial were moved to the nearby elementary school bearing his name. Herod was also posthumously awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross from the United States Air Force.
In April of 1961, a month after the accident, a memorial fund dispersed $2,600 in donations to Herod’s wife. She wrote a thank you letter, which was published in the Bellaire Texan, a local newspaper.
“I cannot help but consider, in wonder,” she wrote, “the circumstance which could make it possible for my husband to gain for himself in a few short tragic minutes, more friends than many men gain in a lifetime.”
She went on to say that she planned to dedicate these funds to her childrens’ education. “I feel this is fitting, for I am conscious of the fact that these funds represent to a large degree the gratitude of parents for the well being of their own children and concern for our children who must face life without their father.”
She signed the letter, “Mrs. Gary L. Herod.”
To learn more about Gary L. Herod, visit these resources:
February marks the anniversary of a peace treaty that literally changed the American landscape. It was a treaty that ruined the career of its US negotiator, Nicholas Trist, but nevertheless, cements his name in history as fundamentally changing the shape of the United States as we know it.
On February 2, 1848, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was inked and ceded nearly 55% of what was then Mexico and are now parts of Arizona, California, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Nevada and Utah, to the US for $15 million and an end to the fighting in the Mexican-American War.
After three years of battles and numerous attempts to renegotiate the border with Mexican dictator, Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, by September 1847, US troops finally defeated Santa Anna and the Mexican army and were occupying Mexico City.
Let’s think about that for a second. At one point, the US occupied Mexico City!! That is pretty phenomenal to consider. I personally live in the Houston, Texas area and Mexico City is 936 miles away, which is a 17 hour car ride without stopping, in case you were wondering.
It’s an interesting part of our history that we don’t often think about. That in a time before cars and airplanes, our troops, many of whom were likely from the northern states, had to go all the way down to Mexico City to fight a war.
Now at the time, US President Polk and other members of Congress, wanted not only the parts of Mexico delineated on the map shown above, but also wanted Baja California, and were willing to pay up to $30 million for the entirety of it. In Polk’s eyes, his negotiator, Nicholas Trist, who was the chief clerk of the US State Department at the time, betrayed his wishes and acted in defiance of the president when he sat down with the new Mexican government (sans Santa Anna) and negotiated a smaller amount of land for $15 million. Polk had sent a message telling Trist to come back to Washington and abort the negotiations, but Trist carried on.
In a letter to his wife in December 1847, Trist said, “Knowing it to be the very last chance and impressed with the dreadful consequences to our country which cannot fail to attend the loss of that chance, I decided today at noon to attempt to make a treaty; the decision is altogether my own.”
In fairness to Polk, it doesn’t make sense even today that Baja California is still a part of Mexico but is attached geographically to the US. However in fairness to Trist, he probably had a better idea of what it would take to get the deal done with the newly formed Mexican government. As his quote above suggests, there were real consequences to delaying and real lives on the line.
In the end, Trist was fired by Polk, yet Polk and Congress also ultimately decided to ratify the peace treaty to move it forward rather than reopen the matter. The US ratified the treaty in March 1848; Mexico in May 1848 and US troops were pulled out of Mexico City by August 1848.
Trist never recovered politically even though he was married to Thomas Jefferson’s granddaughter and had served as his personal secretary. He later supported Abraham Lincoln’s election, but had no role in his administration. Despite his connections, he ended up back in his home state of Virginia, but was later appointed Postmaster General in Virginia during the presidency of Ulysses S. Grant.
In December 1848 in an address to Congress, President Polk said of US/Mexican relations, “The amicable relations between the two countries, which had been suspended, have been happily restored, and are destined, I trust, to be long preserved.”
It’s interesting to think about what the US would look like today if Baja California had been procured and also interesting to think about Trist’s reasoning for taking the smaller portion. Either way, the peace treaty made all of the difference in how the US would ultimately take shape.
For more resources on the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo and it’s players, visit these resources:
The last day of January each year marks the birth of one of the most influential athletes of all time, Jackie Robinson. Though his life was short– he died at the age of 53– his contributions to sports and his courage in being the first to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball in particular are enormous. Robinson’s talents and work ethic go well beyond sports, however, he was also one of the first African American vice presidents in a major corporation.
Born in Georgia into a family of sharecroppers, Jackie was the youngest of five children and just about a year after his birth, his father left the family and Jackie moved with his mother to Pasadena, California. Jackie’s older brothers were also incredibly accomplished and athletic and in fact, his older brother, Mack (Matthew), was a silver medalist at the 1936 Summer Olympics. Mack broke the Olympic record for the 200 meter run in 1936, but still came in second to famed runner, Jesse Owens.
Jackie was a star athlete at UCLA where ironically according to Wikipedia, baseball was his “worst” sport. While in college, he won varsity letters in baseball, football, basketball and track. After spending time in the military during World War II and playing for various other leagues including the Negro baseball leagues and an international league, Jackie was signed by Ricky Branch, club president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers to first play for the Montreal Royals with the hope that he would be called up to play for the Dodgers after his first season.
He ended up playing one season in 1946 with the Montreal Royals before playing his first official major league game with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947. It is interesting to note that while Jackie Robinson is a household name, over in the American League at the exact same time, African American player, Larry Doby was also breaking the color barrier by playing for the Cleveland Indians. Doby started about eleven weeks after Robinson and thus was the second African American to play major league baseball and somehow has been forgotten by history. But Doby and Robinson helped each other and reportedly talked on the phone often about how to endure the criticism and harassment they each received.
Speaking about Ricky Branch on April 15, 1947, New York Times sportswriter, Arthur Daly said at the time, “he…has a ball club whose new first baseman is making a bit of history. That young man is Jackie Robinson, the first Negro in modern times to get a chance to become a big-leaguer.”
Later in the article, Daly mentions the “deft manner” that Ricky slid Jackie into the line up without trying to draw attention to him.
“It is merely an attempt to lighten the pressure on Robinson’s shoulders. In like fashion the Mahatma [Ricky Branch] waited until the Montreal Royals were in Panama before he ordered that Jackie be switched to first base. Yet nothing actually can lighten that pressure, and Robbie realizes it full well. There is no way of disguising the fact that he is not an ordinary rookie and no amount of pretense can make it otherwise.”
The pressure on Jackie to endure the taunting and protesting was immense, and that is in addition to the extraordinary pressure to play the game well.
And of course there were supporters and opposers, and as pioneers always do, Jackie’s presence in the league not only challenged the game itself, but helped to bring change to all of the businesses associated with the league like the segregated hotels, training facilities and restaurants that baseball teams used. It was an immensely large burden to bear, but Jackie persisted and changed so many things.
He famously said, “I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me… all I ask is that you respect me as a human being.”
An interesting fact that is often left out of historical discussions of this event is that Jackie brought in the crowds, and he also brought in a more integrated audience to baseball. According to Wikipedia, when “Robinson made his major league debut at the relatively advanced age of 28 at Ebbets Field before a crowd of 26,623 spectators, more than 14,000 of whom were black.”
And Jackie continued to draw in the crowds throughout his spectacular sports career.
What I really found interesting about Jackie was his dedication to the game and to improving his performance. He worked tirelessly with Hall of Famer “Gorgeous George” Sisler in 1949 to improve his batting.
Jackie’s baseball accolades are nearly too long to list, he earned the Rookie of Year Award for his performance in 1947 (awarded in 1948), was named Most Valuable Player in 1949 and to the All Star Team among many other awards both before and after these years including in 1955 when the Dodgers won the World Series and his induction as the first African American Player in the baseball Hall of Fame.
All in all, his major league career spanned 10 years, and when he retired in 1956, he took an executive position with Chock full ‘o Nuts as the vice president of personnel where he worked until 1964. He pursued many business and political interests and was also the first African American to serve as a news analyst for the major networks commenting on baseball.
Jackie, along with his brothers, suffered from diabetes at a time when the medications and treatments were not sufficient to extend his life. He died early, in 1972, from complications of diabetes and heart disease.
The greatest quote about Jackie’s life in my opinion came from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. when he described Jackie as, “… a pilgrim that walked in the lonesome byways toward the high road of Freedom. He was a sit-inner before sit-ins, a freedom rider before freedom rides.”
Cheers to you Jackie Robinson on your 102nd birthday, thank you for all that you contributed to our world.
Here are some resources to help you learn more about Jackie Robinson:
It might seem perfectly perfunctory that the United States Coast Guard was formed on January 28, 1915 from the merger of the United States Revenue Cutter Services and the United States Lifesaving Service by then US President Woodrow Wilson’s signature on US Bill S2337 of the 63rd Congress, but if you dig a little deeper, you will find that this was necessary to keep some kind of coastal defense and life saving service afloat (pun intended).
In a very interesting and long article in the New York Times, dated January 31, 1915, we find that the Lifesaving Service was struggling to pay and maintain its officers and enlisted men, and the subsequent merger offered not only streamlined leadership, but also key services including longevity pay for re-enlistments, a pension, a clothing allowance (for uniforms, rubber boots and oilskins) and health services. It also provided dependent pay for Coast Guard members killed in the line of duty and created a naval reserve.
In a letter, shared with the New York Times by the wife of former US Representative, Martin W. Littlefield (he represented New York in the House from 1911 to 1913), the wife of a life saver Captain from Maine, complains that they are seeking “ready money” on a claim for what looks like an injury. “It seems hard,” she writes, “after the Captain has given his health and strength to the service for 30 years, that he should now be turned away like an old horse.”
Apparently, according to the article, previous to the creation of the modern Coast Guard, the life savers were only paid $65 dollars a month and were not paid at all when the stations were closed. Just so you know, the Internet is amazing, and I was able to find out that in today’s dollars, $65 per month would be worth just $1,670.33 per month. (To see where I did my calculations, click here.) That is not a livable wage for skilled work, then or now.
The bill creating the Coast Guard, which was apparently originally championed by Mrs. Littlefield, designated the Coast Guard as a part of the “military forces.” The Coast Guard would operate under the auspices of the US Treasury Department in times of peace and could be co-opted into the US Navy during times of war when directed so by the President.
The newly merged organization brought together approximately 255 officers, 3,900 warrant officers and enlisted men, 17 regional commands, four depots, one academy, 25 cruising cutters, 20 harbor cutters and 280 lifeboat stations, according to Wikepedia.
Of course the Coast Guard did join the Navy very shortly thereafter to assist with World War I. The Coast Guard also assisted in every major conflict to come including World War II, and has performed critical life saving missions for countless domestic emergencies including the 1927 Mississippi River Flood, the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill clean up, the Great of Flood of ‘93 (1993 that is) and Hurricane Katrina to name a few.
The Coast Guard embodies a very rich history of nautical expertise, critical life saving services and national defense. Hat’s off to Mrs. Littlefield and all of the others who worked together to create an enduring and important institution. I could probably write 500 more blogs on the Coast Guard and all of the roles it has played in history, and maybe one day, I will.
To learn more about the creation of the United States Coast Guard, visit these resources: