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This Week in People’s History, August 1 – 7

Pinochet's men accused of Letelier murder in 1978. Dick Cheney's hypocrisy in 2000. Reagan's racist dog-whistle in 1980. Dixiecrats defend the poll tax in 1948. Chicago Freedom Movement in 1966. Birth of a hero in 1848. Toxic-waste emergency in 1978.

Monument for murder victims Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffit

August 1, 1978 (45 years ago). The former head of Chile's National Directorate of Intelligence and two of his deputies are indicted by a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., for the 1976 murder of Orlando Letelier and Ronni Moffit. Letelier, who had been Chile's Foreign Minister during the presidency of Salvador Allende, was killed by the Pinochet regime because it considered him to be their enemy. Living in exile, Letelier had played a major role in organizing opposition to Pinochet; just a week before Letelier and Moffit were killed by a bomb hidden in Letelier's car, Chile had revoked Letelier's Chilean citizenship. Pinochet would not allow the extradition of the three indicted Chileans, but two of them were eventually convicted in Chile in 1993 and sentenced to prison.…

August 2, 2000. In the midst of the presidential campaigning by George W. Bush and Al Gore, the Center for Public Integrity releases a detailed, eye-opening report, "Cheney Led Halliburton to Feast at Federal Trough" concerning Bush's running mate Dick Cheney. The report lays bare the hypocritical way that Cheney, who had spent a lifetime attacking "Big Government" for "wasteful inefficiency," had just spent five years as CEO and Chairman of Halliburton Company, making sure that Hallibuton racked up huge profits selling goods and services to the federal government for at least $2.3 billion, proving that one person's waste and inefficiency are another person's profits.…

August 3, 1980. Two weeks after being nominated for the presidency, Republican candidate Ronald Reagan delivers his first post-convention speech, choosing language and a location that makes crystal clear his intention to win the votes of "George Wallace-inclined voters." He speaks to a nearly all-white crowd near Philadelphia, Miss., at the Neshoba County Fair, located within walking distance of the location of the infamous 1964 murders of three civil rights workers by the Ku Klux Klan. In his speech Reagan doesn't refer to the murders or the Klan, but he does say "I believe in states’ rights. … And I believe that we’ve distorted the balance of our government today by giving powers that were never intended in the Constitution to that federal establishment. …" Visit the Zinn Education Project site at for much more.

August 4, 1948 (75 years ago). Southern Democrats in the U.S. Senate use the filibuster to kill a bill that would have banned the requirement to pay a poll tax in order to vote in a federal election. At the time, poll taxes are one of the main hurdles for Black voters in seven southern states -- Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia --  and they will remain so until 1964, when poll taxes in federal elections are outlawed by the 24th Amendment. Two years later the Supreme Court rules that demanding money for the right to vote in any election is unconstitutional.

August 5, 1966. Even though it is illegal in 1966 for Chicago landlords and real-estate brokers to discriminate on the basis of race, almost all of the city's residential areas are very close to being entirely white or entirely Black. A coalition of civil rights organizations called the Chicago Freedom Movement is determined to change that by pressuring the city's racist politial leadership to enforce the laws and by pressuring the residents of lily-white neighborhoods to accept the result. Mayor Richard Daley denounces the movement, insisting the city is already doing everything possible; thousands of white Chicagoans take the Mayor's side; the police department is amazingly ineffective when asked to protect legal, non-violent, civil rights demonstrations. Tensions explode when a thousand  Chicago Freedom Movement activists rally is the lily-white Marquette Park neighborhood and are confronted by a 4-thousand-person mob shouting "White Power!" The police make no attempt to prevent to the mob from bombarding the demonstrators with rocks, bottles and cherry bombs. Martin Luther King Jr. falls to his knees when a rock hits him on the head, but he gets to his feet. When the Chicago Freedom Movement demonstrators, many of them bloodied, retreat to the protection of a church, King says, "I had expected some hostility, but not of this enormity. I have never in my life seen such hate. Not in Mississippi or Alabama."…

August 6, 1848 (175 years ago). Susan Ann Baker is born on a plantation on Georgia's Atlantic Coast, about 20 miles southwest of Savannah. Her mother is an enslaved person, so under the law Sister Baker is enslaved from the moment of her birth.  Even though  it is against the law in Georgia to teach an enslaved person to read, she learns to read and write.
    When she is 13 years old, Union forces attack a major Confederate fort on the coast near where she lives. One of her uncles leads his family, including Sister Baker, through the fighting and across the Union lines, where they present themselves to the soldiers as self-emancipated refugees. 
    Before long a Union officer asks Sister Baker if she can read and write, and makes a note of her reply. Days later the same officer asks Sister Baker if she would organize a makeshift school for the numerous formerly enslaved children who have taken shelter with the Union troops. Suddenly, without any formal training as a teacher, she becomes a teenage schoolmistress.
    Sister Baker has a long and extraordinary life, including becoming an Army nurse. She is married twice (and is better known by her married name, Susie King Taylor). After the Civil War she spends years working as an educator for the newly liberated citizens of Georgia. Before she dies at age 64, she publishes a memoir,  Reminiscences of My Life in Camp with the 33d United States Colored Troops, Late 1st S.C. Volunteers. For much more about Susie King Taylor's heroic life, visit

August 7, 1978 (45 years ago). President Jimmy Carter declares that a toxic waste dump in a residential neighborhood near Buffalo, N.Y., is causing a health emergency and directs the federal government to protect the affected residents and remediate the hazard.  The clean-up of the waste dump, which is known as Love Canal, is the first time that federal emergency funds are used for anything other than a natural disaster.  It took 21 years to clean the site up at a cost of about $400 million.

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