History is like a bloodstain that keeps on showing on the wall, no matter how many new owners take possession, no matter how many times we paint over it.
Today’s lesson has far too much of that bloodstain. To ignore it or to not give it a detailed explanation would be a disservice to those who were the innocent victims. I cannot and will not paint over any of it.
1873– The Colfax riot occurred on Easter Sunday in Colfax, Louisiana, the seat of Grant Parish, when approximately 150 black men were murdered by white Southern Democrats. The bloodiest single instance of racial carnage in the Reconstruction era, the Colfax riot was an example of the lengths to which some opponents of Reconstruction would go to regain their accustomed authority. Among blacks, the incident was long remembered as proof that in any large confrontation, they stood at a fatal disadvantage.
In the wake of the contested 1872 election for governor of Louisiana and local offices, a group of white Democrats armed with rifles and a small cannon, overpowered Republican freedmen and state militia (also black) occupying the Grant Parish courthouse in Colfax. Most of the freedmen were killed after they surrendered; nearly 50 were killed later that night after being held as prisoners for several hours. Three whites died but the number of black victims was difficult to determine because bodies had been thrown into the river or removed for burial.
Ninety-eight members of the white mob were indicted. One man was acquitted while a mistrial was declared in the cases of the others. In the next trial, three men were found guilty of sixteen charges. However, the presiding judge, Joseph Bradley, dismissed the convictions, ruling that the federal law they were charged under was unconstitutional. When the federal government appealed the case, it was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. That court ruled that the Enforcement Act of 1870 (which was based on the Bill of Rights and 14th Amendment) applied only to actions committed by the state and that it did not apply to actions committed by individuals or private conspiracies.
So while the Federal government could not prosecute cases such as the Colfax killings, states could. Louisiana chose not prosecute any of the perpetrators of the Colfax riot. And, as seen in the photo above, the town actually erected a monument in 1921, dedicated to to the three white militiamen, “heroes” who fell “fighting for white supremacy.”
1943– The Jefferson Memorial was officially dedicated by President Franklin Roosevelt on the 200th anniversary of Jefferson’s birthday. At that time, Evans’ statue had not yet been finished. Due to material shortages during World War II, the statue that was installed at the time was a plaster cast of sculptor Rudulph (yes, it was Rudulph, not Rudolph) Evans’ work painted to look like bronze. The finished bronze statue was installed in 1947.
1953– CIA director Allen Dulles launched the mind-control program Project MKUltra, a mind control program of experiments on human subjects. Experiments on humans – often conducted without the subjects’ knowledge or consent – were intended to identify and develop drugs and procedures to be used in interrogations in order to weaken the individual and force confessions through mind control.
Its aim was to develop mind-controlling drugs for use against the Soviet bloc in response to alleged Soviet, Chinese, and North Korean use of mind control techniques on U.S. prisoners of war during the Korean War. The CIA wanted to use similar methods on their own captives, and they were interested in being able to manipulate foreign leaders with such techniques.
The program was not officially halted until 1973.
1964– Sidney Poitier became the first African American to win the Academy Award for Best Actor, for his role as a construction worker who helped build a chapel in Lilies of the Field. With his historic Oscar win, Poitier became only the second African American to win an Academy Award. The first was Hattie McDaniel, who won in the Best Supporting Actress category in 1939 for Gone With The Wind.
1970– Disaster struck 200,000 miles from Earth when oxygen tank No. 2 blew up on Apollo 13, the third manned lunar landing mission. Astronauts James A. Lovell, John L. Swigert, and Fred W. Haise had left Earth two days before for the Fra Mauro highlands of the moon but were forced to turn their attention to simply making it home alive.
Approximately six and a half minutes after the end of a live TV broadcast from the spacecraft, Haise was in the process of closing out the LM, while Lovell was stowing the TV camera, and Houston flight controllers asked Swigert to turn on the hydrogen and oxygen tank stirring fans in the Service Module, which were designed to destratify the cryogenic contents and increase the accuracy of their quantity readings. Two minutes later, the astronauts heard a “pretty large bang,” accompanied by fluctuations in electrical power.
What supposedly happened next (“Houston, we have a problem”) has been a nice myth, but a myth nonetheless.The words actually spoken, initially by Jack Swigert, were “Okay, Houston, we’ve had a problem here.” After being prompted to repeat the transmission by CAPCOM Jack R. Lousma, Lovell responded, “Uh, Houston, we’ve had a problem.”
The crippled spacecraft continued to the moon, circled it, and began a long, cold journey back to Earth. The astronauts and mission control were faced with enormous logistical problems in stabilizing the spacecraft and its air supply, and providing enough energy to the damaged fuel cells to allow successful reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. Navigation was another problem, and the spacecraft’s course was repeatedly corrected with dramatic and untested maneuvers.
On April 17, with the world anxiously watching, tragedy turned to triumph as the Apollo 13 astronauts touched down safely in the Pacific Ocean.
1990– “The Soviet side expresses deep regret over the tragedy, and assesses it as one of the worst Stalinist outrages.” With those words – after forty-seven years of denials – the Soviet government officially accepted blame for the Katyn Massacre of World War II, when nearly 22,000 victims – including 5,000 Polish military officers – were murdered and buried in the Katyn Forest in Smolensky, Russia. The admission was part of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s promise to be more forthcoming and candid concerning Soviet history.
The Background: In April 1940, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin ordered the prisoners to be taken into the Katyn Forest. The Poles were marched into the woods – the officers still wearing their uniforms – many, as seen in the photo above – with their hands tied behind their backs, and shot in the back of the neck. They were buried in several mass graves.
In 1943, German troops reported the discovery of the graves. Although Germany was initially blamed for the killings, they claimed the Soviets were responsible. Representatives from the Polish government-in-exile (situated in London) visited the site and decided that the Soviets, not the Nazis, were responsible. These representatives, however, were pressured by U.S. and British officials to keep their report secret for the time being, since they did not want to risk a diplomatic rupture with the Soviets.
In April 1943, Winston Churchill assured the Soviets, “We shall certainly oppose vigorously any ‘investigation’ by the International Red Cross or any other body in any territory under German authority. Such investigation would be a fraud and its conclusions reached by terrorism.”
In 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt assigned Navy Lieutenant Commander George Earle, to produce a report on Katyn. Earle concluded the massacre was committed by the Soviet Union. Roosevelt rejected the conclusion (officially), declared he was convinced of Nazi Germany’s responsibility, and ordered that Earle’s report be suppressed. When Earle requested permission to publish his findings, the President issued a written order to desist. Earle was reassigned and spent the rest of the war in American Samoa.
In 1945, Col. John H. Van Vliet submitted a report concluding the Soviets were responsible for the massacre. His superior, Major General Clayton Lawrence Bissell, General George Marshall’s assistant chief of staff for intelligence, destroyed the report. During the 1951–52 Congressional investigation into Katyn, Bissell defended his action before the United States Congress, arguing it was not in the U.S. interest to antagonize an ally (the USSR) whose assistance the nation needed against the Empire of Japan.
Those who died at Katyn included an admiral, two generals, 24 colonels, 79 lieutenant colonels, 258 majors, 654 captains, 17 naval captains, 3,420 NCOs, seven chaplains, three landowners, a prince, 43 officials, 85 privates, and 131 refugees. Also among the dead were 20 university professors; 300 physicians; several hundred lawyers, engineers, and teachers; and more than 100 writers and journalists as well as about 200 pilots.
In all, the NKVD Secret Police (forerunner of the KGB) eliminated almost half the Polish officer corps – part of Stalin’s long-range effort to prevent the resurgence of an independent Poland.
1999– After a Michigan jury found Dr. Jack Kevorkian guilty of second-degree homicide for administering a controlled substance (a lethal injection to Thomas Youk who was in the final stages of Lou Gehrig’s disease), Judge Jessica Cooper sentenced Kevorkian to serve 10–25 years in prison. Kevorkian had allowed the airing of a videotape he made on September 17, 1998, which depicted the voluntary euthanasia of Youk.
In her sentencing statement to Kevorkian, Judge Cooper said, “You stood before this jury and you spoke of your duty as a physician. You repeatedly speak of treating patients to relieve their pain and suffering. You don’t have a license to practice medicine. The state of Michigan told you eight years ago you may not practice medicine. You may not treat patients. You may not possess – let alone inject – drugs into another human being. And you had the audacity to go on national television, show the world what you did and dare the legal system to stop you. Well, sir, consider yourself stopped.“
Kevorkian was denied parole repeatedly until 2007. He died in 2011.
Compiled by Ray Lemire ©2018 RayLemire.com. All Rights Reserved.