Today in history, artist Frida Kahlo passed away, The Northwest Ordinance was signed laying the groundwork for the Westward expansion of the United States, and the New York Draft Riots broke out.
Transcript of this day in history included below.
This is Marc Steiner, and today is July 13th. Welcome to This Day In History.
“Marat we’re poor and the poor stay poor,” sung by Judy Collins from the great Peter Weiss movie and play Marat/Sade, a musical that detailed the power and the pain of the 1792 French Revolution. Jean Paul Marat was a leading revolutionary who wrote a powerful early treatise on slavery called “Chattel of Slavery,” which tied the trading and enslavement of Africans to the royal suppression of the masses. He suffered a horrible skin ailment, which made him dwell in a medicinal bath, where he was murdered in 1793, stabbed to death in his bathtub by Charlotte Corday.
Last Friday, we lost one of the world’s great actors, who was the first Arab actor to break the line of stereotype and roles. He was born Michel Demitri Chalhoub to an Egyptian Christian family but wanted a more Arab-sounding name, so he took the name under which he became internationally famous. Omar Sharif. Rest in peace.
After the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, one of the least talked about or understood of the original American documents is The Northwest Ordinance, which was signed today in 1789. After the Revolutionary War, the Americans set claim to all of the lands of the Northwest we now call Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin as part of America. Before that, other states were claiming parts of that territory, but The Northwest Ordinance took that power away and gave it to the federal government. It banned slavery from the new territories, but allowed for runaway slaves to be re-enslaved, which laid the seeds of the confrontation between free and slave states over the future of the United States of America. It set the stage for Westward expansion, the supremacy of the federal government, and the Civil War to come.
The New York Draft Riots, which took place today in 1863, ostensibly erupted because of a draconian draft that drafted white men up to 45 years of age into the Union Army. The wealthy could buy their way out of it. Violence erupted, but there is a backstory we do not always pay attention to. New York City Democrats had been riling up German and Irish communities with the idea that the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of slavery meant that freed Blacks would come to New York and take their jobs. So when the riots broke out, the first attacks were on the draft boards, but that soon shifted. Thousands in the white mob attacked an African-American orphanage, looting and burning it. And after five days of mayhem, 11 Blacks, many on the docks, were lynched. Homes of abolitionists were attacked, the Confederacy cheered, and Blacks fled New York, leaving that state with the lowest black population since 1820 … but things soon turned and the abolitionists took control.
And the lights went out in New York in 1977 in the midst of an intense heat wave when the city was facing an economic crisis. This was also the time that the serial killer Son of Sam was stalking the streets. Lightening hit three transformers, the entire city went dark, the subways stopped, stranding thousands beneath the city, over a thousand stores were looted, and 3,800 people were arrested. It was chaos and total mayhem until the power went back on the next morning. Consolidated Edison, the New York power company, was cited because they did not prevent the blackout. New York City Mayor Abe Beame lost the election because he could not keep the lights on or keep the town calm in the midst of disaster.
The first game of the World Cup was played today in 1930 in Montevideo, Uruguay. France won that first game …
And today in 1984, the last all-white parliament was elected in South Africa. Two years later, South African Olympic Champions Zola Budd and Annette Cowley were banned from the Commonwealth (which is the Olympics for Britain and all its former colonies) when all the African and Caribbean teams threatened to boycott the games unless South Africa was banned, which happened … but was opposed by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
And there were some important births and deaths today that we must remember:
Born today in 1821 was the Confederate General who founded the Ku Klux Klan, Nathan Bedford Forrest.
And the great writer, playwright, Nobel Prize winner, political and human rights activists, and one of the world’s leading intellectuals and artists, Nigeria’s Wole Soyinka, was born today in 1934.
And today in 1954, we lost Mexican revolutionary and artist Frida Kahlo. Daughter of an indigenous woman and Jewish father, she fought for political revolution, befriended Leon Trotsky and broke ground as an artist, despite a body physically broken in an accident.
And Vernon Joseph Baker passed away today in 2014 … Born in Cheyenne, Wyoming, he joined the army in 1941 and was a Lieutenant in the 92nd Infantry regiment. In 1995, he led an assault on a German stronghold, destroying three machine gun nests, two observation posts, two bunkers, telephone lines and took out a platoon. He was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross … no African Americans won the Congressional Medal of Honor in World War II until President Bill Clinton awarded Baker and six others that award. And Vernon Baker was the only man still alive to walk up and claim it.
Here’s a song for your July the 13th. On this day in 1979, a rock DJ in Chicago named Steve Dahl organized an anti-disco night during a White Sox game at Comiskey Park. It was at the height of disco’s popularity, and the music was facing a backlash among rock fans, who thought it was too gay and too black. A crate of disco records was blown up in the middle of the field, leaving a large hole in the outfield grass. Then thousands of people rushed the field, climbing foul poles, setting records on fire, and ripping up bases and grass, chanting disco sucks. Disco had the last laugh, though, as electronic, black, and gay music has continued to dominate the airwaves ever since. We’re hearing “Bad Girls” by Donna Summer.
(Bad Girls by Donna Summer)
To continue your exploration of this day in history, take a look at some of our favorite sources: Charles H. Wright Museum: Today in Black History; African American Registry; BlackPast; NYTimes on this Day; EyewitnessToHistory.com; The Civil War Trust; Voices in Labor: Today in Labor History; Union Communication Services at The Worker Institute: Today in Labor History; BBC On This Day; The Holocaust History Project; PBS African American World; PBS; Today in Women’s History; South African History Online; This Day In North American Indian History; Jewish Virtual Library; The People History; Wikipedia List of Historical Anniversaries; Yenoba; and This Day in Music