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This Week in People’s History, August 8 – 14

Documenting the Vietnam War in 1969. War crime in Yemen in 2018. Face-masks protect from pandemic in 1918. Hip-hop is born in 1973. White House report doesn't see race in 1938. Blowin' In the Wind dropped in 1963. Springfield Massacre in 1908.

Advertising poster for the documentary "People's War" about the Vietnam War

August 8, 1969. After an extensive newsgathering visit to Vietnam, The Newsreel's 3-man crew arrives at JFK.  On their way through Immigration, Customs agents cite the law against importing media "advocating or urging treason or insurrection against the United States or forcible resistance to any law of the United States" and force them to surrender their work-product -- 12,000 feet of undeveloped film, 12 undeveloped rolls of still photos and 4 hours of audio tape. The journalists -- Norm Fruchter, Robert Kramer and John Douglas -- sue to recover their invaluable property. Just before the first hearing on the case, on August 15 the government does not attempt to defend its actions. Customs returns all of the material, which Fruchter, Kramer and Douglas use to produce the unforgettable and eye-opening 40-minute documentary, People's War. You can watch it yourself here:

August 9, 2018 (5 years ago). A McDonnell Douglas F-15 jet, supplied to the Royal Saudi Air Force by the U.S., drops a bomb (manufactured in the U.S. by General Dynamics) on a school bus in a civilian village in Yemen, as part of the U.S.-supported Saudi war against Yemen. At least 44 children and 10 adults, all civilians, are killed. In response to the international outcry against the apparent war crime, U.S. officials say "the U.S. is not a party to the war in Yemen." For a more detailed account, visit…

August 10, 1918 (105 years ago). The Journal of the American Medical Association publishes an article, "Measures for the Prevention and Control of Respiratory Infections in Military Camps," by Dr. Joseph Capps, who is a U.S. Army major and chief of hospital medical service at the Army's Camp Grant, an overcrowded training facility in northern Illinois. At the time of publication, no one is aware of the tsunami of pandemic influenza that is about to hit the U.S., especially the Army's massive training camps. Capps' article is just about preventing the spread of respiratory infections in overcrowded settings, like the vast camps the Army had built to train hundreds of thousands of raw recruits to fight in World War I. In the article, Dr. Capps describes an experiment he had conducted, which was to order everyone in any of Camp Grant's medical facilities to wear a gauze face-mask at all times. According to Dr. Capps, when everyone, no matter what their health status, wore a face mask, the incidence of respiratory diesease was so sharply reduced that he terminated the experiment prematurely, and made masking part of the routine in base hospitals, infirmaries and ambulances. In June 1918, at the annual meeting of the American Medical Association, Capps gave a lecture about his recent experience, and the response from his listeners was emphatic. Almost all of them whose comments were recorded said that it was obvious the routine use of gauze face-masks in crowded places was an effective way to prevent the spread of respiratory disease. By coincidence, pandemic influenza became a major crisis in the U.S. less then a month later, when Dr. Capp's discovery was fresh in the mind of many, if not most U.S. physicians. Which explains why so many of the people in crowds photographed during the winter of 1918-19 are wearing a gauze mask. Exactly when and how the usefulness of face coverings was forgotten between 1919 and 2019 is a question for the historians of medicine.

August 11, 1973 (50 years ago). DJ Kool Herc emcees a dance party in the Bronx where he makes what is later described as the first public presentation of the hip-hop sound.

[This item has been updated with additional information.]
August 12, 1938 (85 years ago) The White House releases a 60-page "Report on the Economic Conditions of the South," prepared by the White House staff, with the assistance of a 22-person "advisory committee of Southern citizens," (one of whom was a woman and not one African-American). 
The New York Times treats the report's release as the day's top story, putting it on the top right of page one with a 3-column, 3-deck head: "ORGANIZING SOUTH'S WEALTH VITAL TO SOUND PROSPERITY, REPORT TO ROOSEVELT SAYS". The Times prints the report's complete text on slightly more than two full pages inside.
The report is much more remarkable for what is not in it than what is included. Imagine, if you will, a lengthy report about the economy of the South that almost never refers to race and makes no mention the relationship between white Southerners and their African-American fellow citizens and makes zero mention of segregation and racial discrimination. Other than noting that 29 percent of the South's population is "colored," the report's only reference to race concerns the competition for jobs between white and "Negro" workers. 
In the section of the report concerning "Private and Public Income" the report does not mention race, but it does state that "the poll tax keeps the poorer citizens from voting in eight Southern States." 
Writing what has the appearance of a serious analysis of the South's economy without the slightest allusion to Jim Crow or the color line must have been difficult. The New Deal's racism in velvet gloves makes a long and sordid story, which I will return to sooner rather than later. Watch this space!

August 13, 1963 (60 years ago). Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" single, with "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" on the B-side, is released by Columbia. "Blowin' in the Wind" quickly becomes an anthem of millions of young people (and some not-so-young people) all over the world. 

[This item has been updated with additional information.]
August 14, 1908 (115 years ago). In Springfield, the capital of Illinois, a mob that is estimated to include five thousand people, about 8 percent of the city's white population, begins a 3-day attack on the city's 2700 Black residents. The number of people killed is never determined with any precision. The attackers set most of the city's Black-occupied  dwellings and businesses on fire, and force Springfield's Black population to flee. A substantial (but unknown) percentage of those who leave never return. 
    It is an event that would be utterly shocking, if it were not for the fact that it is so similar to massacres of African-Americans in Cincinnati, Ohio (1829), New York, N.Y. (1863), Memphis, Tenn. (1866),  Opelousas, La. (1868), St. Bernard Parish, La. (1868), Colfax, La. (1873), Brownsville, La. (1874), Vicksburg, Miss. (1874), Clinton, Miss. (1875), Wilmington, N.C. (1898), Little River County, Ark. (1899) and Atlanta (1906).
    The Springfield massacre also foreshadows future massacres in Slocum, Tex. (1910), Forsythe County, Ga. (1912), East St. Louis, Ill. (1917), Elaine, Ark. (1919), Ocoee, Fla. (1920), Tulsa, Okla. (1921), Rosewood, Fla. (1923) and Catcher, Ark. (1923). 
    The outburst of racist violence in Springfield becomes the catalyst for the formation of the NAACP.

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