Skip to main content

This Week in People’s History, July 18 – 24

Jelly Roll Morton's hit single in 1923. Women's Rights Convention in 1848. Disability rights a winner in 1968. Prepaid comprehensive healthcare in 1945. Investigation smoke and mirrors in 2004. Prisoner abuse in 2006. Civil disobedience in 1846.

Composer Jelly Roll Morton at the piano keyboard

July 18, 1923 (100 years ago). "Wolverine Blues," one of the first big jazz hits, with its brilliant piano solo, is recorded by Jelly Roll Morton and later released on Gennett Records. Morton was justly famous as a performer, but he was also one of the first people to produce notated jazz arrangements. He didn't invent jazz (as he sometimes claimed) but his stunning performances and his path-breaking work as an arranger earned him an unquestioned place in the musical pantheon. Follow the link to listen to that 1923 recording, and just try to prevent your toe from tapping for three minutes.

July 19, 1848 (175 years ago). The Women's Rights Convention, the first-ever meeting of its kind, begins in Seneca Falls, New York. The 2-day meeting, which was attended by about 300 people, is generally considered to mark the beginning of the feminist movement's agitation for an end to political discrimination against women.    
    Women’s rights activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, one of the meeting's organizers, started the proceedings off with this eloquent introduction: "We are assembled to protest against a form of government, existing without the consent of the governed--to declare our right to be free as man is free, to be represented in the government which we are taxed to support, to have such disgraceful laws as give man the power to chastise and imprison his wife, to take the wages which she earns, the property which she inherits, and in case of separation, the children of her love; laws which make her the mere dependent on his bounty.... 
    "And, strange as it may seem to many, we now demand our right to vote according to the declaration of the government under which we live... To have drunkards, idiots, horse-racing, rumselling rowdies, ignorant foreigners, and silly boys fully recognized, while we ourselves are thrust out from all the rights that belong to citizens, it is too grossly insulting to the dignity of woman to be longer quietly submitted to...."

July 20, 1968 (55 years ago). The first International Special Olympic Summer Games are held in Chicago, with the participation of about one thousand athletes with intellectual disabilities. The event is a watershed moment in the disability rights movement's effort to encourage and empower people with intellectual disabilities to lead productive lives and create a more welcoming and inclusive society for all. 
    Having learned many lessons from the successes of the civil rights movement, in the late 1960s the disability rights movement began to advocate powerfully and effectively for an end to the inactivity, injustice, intolerance and social isolation of disabled people in the U.S. The inauguration of the Special Olympics in 1968 played a major role in bringing about legal protections for the disabled and a dramatic shift in public opinion in favor of a new inclusivity.…;

July 21, 1945. Prepaid comprehensive healthcare for the U.S. public is unveiled when Kaiser Industries -- a major West Coast shipbuilding, steelmaking and construction company -- allows anyone to become a member of the company's medical-care system that was started for Kaiser employees only. The new healthcare system is run by Kaiser Permanente, a non-profit subsidiary of Kaiser Industries. From its original location in California, Kaiser Permanente health maintenance organization expands to Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Maryland, Virginia, Georgia and the District of Columbia. It now operates 39 hospitals and 700 medical offices that employ 87,000 doctors and nurses to provide high-quality healthcare services to nearly 13 millon members.

July 22, 2004. The Commission appointed by George Bush to investigate the 9/11 terrorist attacks publishes its final (and only) report. The 585-page document goes into mind-numbing detail about "institutional failings" at the FBI, CIA, State Department, and Immigration and Naturalization Service, which prevented federal officials from detecting the attackers (who all had valid visas and were legally inside the United States) and preventing them from carrying out the hijackings that resulted in the deadliest-ever terrorist attack in the U.S.  
    The commission's report proposes numerous procedural  reforms, but it carefully avoids identifying specific examples of the boneheaded decisions by FBI, CIA, and White House officials that made it impossible to stop the attacks in advance. The commission report is an elaborate presentation in the "mistakes-were-made-but-not-by-any-individual" method of making sure that no person is blamed for incompetence or dereliction of duty.
    The report's position that no one is responsible has been widely attributed to the influence of the Commission's executive director, Philip Zelikow, who had an "obvious" conflict of interest, because he had worked closely in and with the Bush White House before the attacks. At the same time he was managing the Commission's investigation, he was also spending hours on the telephone with White House staff members, and having at least four face-to-face meetings with White House political director Karl Rove. A Commission report that laid any blame for 9/11 on the Bush Administration could have jeopardized Bush's reelection, and Zelikow was in a perfect position to produce a report that found every failure to have been an innocent one.
    Even the co-chairs of the Commission, Thomas Kean and Lee Hamilton, concluded that the Bush Administration set the Commission up in a way that ensured that it would fail, as the argued in their 2006 book, Without Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission. For more information see "Running from the Truth" by James Ridgeway here:…

July 23, 2006. Amnesty International publishes a detailed report on its investigation of the abuse of Iraqi prisoners by the U.S. military, titled "No Blood, No Foul: Soldiers’ Accounts of Detainee Abuse in Iraq," which exposes and condemns widespread human rights abuses by U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. reporting that prisoners at Abu Ghraib had been exposed to extreme heat, not provided clothing, and forced to use open trenches for toilets. They had also been tortured, with the methods including denial of sleep for extended periods, exposure to bright lights and loud music, and being restrained in uncomfortable positions

July 24, 1846. Massachusetts naturalist, philosopher and essayist Henry David Thoreau is jailed overnight for his refusal to pay poll taxes, because paying them would, according to Thoreau, make him complicit in a regime that does nothing to bring an end to slavery and is making an unjust war against Mexico. After he is released because an anonymous person pays the tax he owes, Thoreau begins to write one of his most renowned works, the essay that is generally titled Civil Disobedience, which was published in 1849. 
    In Civil Disobedience Thoreau makes his case: "Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison.... where the State places those who are not with her, but against her,—the only house in a slave State in which a free man can abide with honor.... Cast your whole vote, not a strip of paper merely, but your whole influence."          
    More than a century later, Martin Luther King, Jr. reflected on Thoreau's work: " . . .  in this courageous New Englander's refusal to pay his taxes and his choice of jail rather than support a war that would spread slavery's territory into Mexico, I made my first contact with the theory of nonviolent resistance. . . . I became convinced that noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good. No other person has been more eloquent and passionate in getting this idea across than Henry David Thoreau. As a result of his writings and personal witness, we are the heirs of a legacy of creative protest. The teachings of Thoreau came alive in our civil rights movement; indeed, they are more alive than ever before. Whether expressed in a sit-in at lunch counters, a freedom ride into Mississippi, a peaceful protest in Albany, Georgia, a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, these are outgrowths of Thoreau's insistence that evil must be resisted and that no moral man can patiently adjust to injustice."…

If you like this article, please sign up for Snapshot, Portside's daily summary.

(One summary e-mail a day, you can change anytime, and Portside is always free.)