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This Week in People’s History, July 11 – 17

' No accommodation to racism' in 1905. Smoking causes lung cancer in 1957. Nixon on tape, really? in 1973. FBI admits to burglaries in 1975. CIA admits to more bad behavior in 1977. Forgetting about the Civil War 1917. One last nuke test in 1962.

The founders of the Niagara Movement in 1905

July 11, 1905. Thirty-three African-American militants -- including W.E.B. DuBois, William Monroe Trotter, Fredrick McGhee and Charles Edwin Bentley -- gather near Niagara Falls to form a new organization that will challenge the accommodationist program advocated by Booker T. Washington and the National Afro-American Council. The new organization's founders reject Washington's toleration of racial segregation and the denial of voting and other civil rights for most African-Americans in the U.S.  They call the new organization the Niagara Movement, for the "mighty current" of change they advocate. The Niagara Movement did not meet with enormous success and lasted only five years. Perhaps its most significant legacy was that when the NAACP was founded in 1910, most members of the Niagara Movement joined, many of them in leadership positions.…

July 12, 1957. U.S. Surgeon-General Leroy Burney publishes a short but detailed document stating "it is clear . . . that excessive cigarette smoking is one of the causative factors in lung cancer." Never before has a federal official said that smoking is not only associated with lung cancer, but causes it. On the same day the tobacco industries Scientific Advisory Board declares that the Surgeon-General's conclusion is not accurate. Most U.S. media give the two statements equal treatment. And so it went for too many years.

July 13, 1973 (50 years ago). The 13-month-old Watergate scandal takes unexpected and dramatic turn when White House staff member Alexander Butterfield tells a Senate investigator that there is a voice-activated system that automatically records everything said in Oval Office, the Cabinet Room, and Nixon's private office. Up until then, the existence of the White House tapes had been a very closely held secret. After the White House loses a long legal fight about disclosing the tapes, wide dissemination of Nixon's own words leave him no choice but to resign.…

July 14, 1975. The ongoing litany of official misbehavior that is part of the fall-out of the Watergate scandal gets a bit longer when the Director of the FBI tells a press conference that the FBI had been in the practice of committing "surreptitious entries" to collect "information relative to the security of the nation." He says "I do not note in these activities any gross abuse of authority. I do not feel that it was a corruption of the trust that was placed in us."…

[This item has been updated to include significant details]
July 15, 1977. The CIA gives U.S. Senate investigators alarming and disturbing information about illegal CIA activities. The new information was particularly disturbing because it concerned a subject that had already been the focus of a Senate investigation that ended in 1975, when the CIA claimed to have given the Senate all the information it had.
    The new disclosure concerns the CIA's illegal program of conducting drug-related medical experiments on people who were not aware they were being used as guinea pigs. For at least 25 years, the CIA had been searching for drugs that could affect the brain. The program had been a very closely-held secret that was never (until the early 1970s) disclosed to Congress, even though such disclosure was unambiguously required by law. 
    During the headline-grabbing 1975 Senate investigation, top CIA officials claimed to have limited information about the program's history, because much of it had occurred more than 20 years earlier. They also claimed to have limited documentary information, because in 1973 the CIA director had ordered the destruction of the CIA's records on the subject. The records had been destroyed in order to prevent Congress and anyone else from ever learning details about it. As a result, the 1975 Senate investigation had produced a history that was only fragmentary.
    But then, in 1977, the CIA admitted to having discovered a large cache of forgotten records. The newly disclosed records were full of information that had until then been known only within the CIA and possibly the White House, such as the existence of a 14-year search for ways to control human behavior using of chemical, biological and radiological material;  and experiments on prison inmates to find a drug that would cause the "loss of speech in man," "loss of sensitivity to pain -- loss of memory, loss of will power;" and the search for a drug that would kill but "leave no characteristic pathological findings." For much more information, follow this link:…

July 16, 1917. Fewer than 60 years after the end of the Civil War, which killed 620,000 soldiers and at least 50,000 civilians, the U.S. Army's Chief of Staff signs a memo directing that all the many new Army bases located in the states of the former Confederacy will be named for Confederate commanders. Sixteen were so named --

  • Fort Lee in Virginia, named for Confederate General Robert E. Lee
  • Fort A.P. Hill in Virginia, named for Confederate General A. P. Hill
  • Fort Hood in Texas, named for Confederate General John Bell Hood
  • Fort Polk in Louisiana, named for Confederate General Leonidas Polk
  • Fort Pickett in Virginia, named for Confederate General George Pickett
  • Camp Maxey in Texas, named for Confederate General Samuel Maxey
  • Fort Benning in Georgia, named for Confederate General Henry Benning
  • Fort Rucker in Alabama, named for Confederate Colonel Edmund Rucker
  • Camp Wheeler in Georgia, named for Confederate General Joseph Wheeler
  • Fort Bragg in North Carolina, named for Confederate General Braxton Bragg
  • Fort Gordon in Georgia,  named for Confederate General John Brown Gordon
  • Camp Van Dorn in Mississippi, named for Confederate General Earl Van Dorn
  • Camp Pendleton in Virginia, named for Confederate General William N. Pendleton
  • Camp Breckinridge in Kentucky, named for Confederate General John Breckinridge
  • Camp Forrest in Tennessee, named for Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest
  • Camp Beauregard in Louisiana, named for Confederate General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard

Quite an honor for people who helped to spill so much of their fellow citizens' blood. 

July 17, 1962.  After years of growing controversy about the hazard to public health and other environmental dangers caused by testing nuclear weapons, the U.S. government sets off an atomic bomb above the Nevada desert.  The bomb test is the last atmospheric detonation of a nuclear weapon by the U.S. On July 15, 1963 (60 years ago), the U.S. and the Soviet Union informally agreed to permanently refrain from testing nuclear weapons about ground. On October 10, 1963, the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty went into effect.…  

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