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This Week in People’s History, Aug. 28 – Sept. 5

Deadly weather in 2005. KKK run out of town in 1923. FBI informers mess up in 1973. The telephone industry discovers women workers in 1878. TV news is ready for prime time in 1963. Frederick Douglass frees himself in 1838. Ethnic cleansing in 1838.

Hurricane Katrina victims in New Orleans wading through waist-deep floodwater
Survivors of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.,

[This item has been revised with additional information.]
August 29, 2005 (18 years ago).
One of North America's most devastating weather-related disasters begins when the eye of Hurricane Katrina crosses the Louisiana shoreline about 50 miles southeast of downtown New Orleans. Even before the center of the storm reached land, some of the dikes, called levees, in central New Orleans had already collapsed. Soon many more New Orleans levees failed or were overtopped by the Hurricane's 9-foot storm surge. Even though the levee failures in a major hurricane had been widely predicted, necessary repairs and improvements had not been made. As a result, 80 percent of New Orleans, Louisiana's largest city, with a population of 450,000, was flooded. Katrina killed more than 1800 people, making it the deadliest North American hurricane since 1928.  Katrina's death and destruction fell disproportinally on the residents who were Black and poor, many of whom were prevented from evacuating by lack transportation. Thousands of those who could not evacuate did not have adequate food or clean water for weeks. A large proportion of the housing in poor neighborhoods was either destroyed by flooding or rendered uninhabitable for months after the storm passed. Many businesses remained closed for long periods of time, eliminating the jobs (and income) of thousands of workers. The inadequacy of the emergency response was bad enough to force the resignations of the heads of both the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the New Orleans Police Department. Today, Katrina marks a tipping point for environmental catastrophes. In the 18 years following the Katrina disaster, at least 4600 people in the U.S. and its possessions have died as a result of major weather-related disasters. During the 18 years before Katrina, the comparable number was 2530.

August 30, 1923 (100 years ago).  In Perth Amboy NJ, less than a mile from Staten Island, NY, some six thousand people attack a Ku Klux Klan meeting in the Odd Fellows Hall, totally routing the KKK, despite attempts by police and firefighters to stop them.…

[This item has been updated.]
August 31, 1973 (50 years ago). The federal prosecution of eight Florida anti-war activists who were charged with being part of a violent anti-government conspiracy comes to an end when all the defendants are acquitted. The defendants, called the Gainesville Eight, were accused of conspiring to violently disrupt the 1972 Republican National Convention. The case against them, seven of whom were members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, depended heavily on the testimony of five paid FBI informers who had infiltrated the veterans' organization. The informers' testimony was so obviously fantastic that after a month-long trial, the jury needed less than four hours to decide the prosecution was baseless.…

[This item has been updated.]
September 1, 1878 (145 years ago). In Boston, Emma Nutt starts to work as a telephone operator. It is a significant event because she is the first woman telephone operator in the U.S. Before Nutt was hired, all telephone operators were men or tall boys. (A telephone operator had to be relatively tall because a telephone switchboard was a vertical panel about six feet tall. An operator needed to be able to reach to the top of the panel to connect some calls.) The first telephone company was a little more than a year old, so there were very few telephone operators, but they were all men (or boys) because at the time almost all of the many thousands of telegraph operators were male. A telephone operator  did not experience as a telegraph operator, but the telegraph operators were an obvious labor pool for the telephone industry. It soon became apparant that men did not make good telephone operators, because the job required them to have a conversation with every telephone user. The user would signal the telephone company that he or she wanted to make a call, a telephone operator would come on the line and ask for the number to be called. It was quickly discovered that men had a tendency to be impatient or rude to the customers. Emma Nutt, who was 18 at the time, with a soothing voice and excellent manners, was an immediate success. Very soon her employer began to replace male operators with women (and tall girls). Not only were female operators more polite, but they could be paid as little as 25 percent of the hourly wage paid to male operators. Within a decade of Emma Nutt's hiring, virtually all telephone operators in the U.S. were female.

September 2, 1963 (60 years ago). CBS Evening News doubles the length of its weeknight news program, going to 30 minutes. It is the first of the networks to do so.…

September 3, 1838 (185 years ago). Frederick Douglass, who is about 21 years old,  escapes his slave master in Baltimore. Travelling by train and by boat, and carrying papers showing he is not enslaved, he manages to reach Manhattan in less than 24 hours. You can read about his remarkable life here:…

September 4, 1838 (185 years ago and a day after Frederick Douglass escaped from slavery). In what is known as the Potawatomi Trail of Death, one of many, many, similar episodes of ethnic cleansing, 859 Potawatomi Nation members are forced to begin a 660-mile trek from northern Indiana to eastern Kansas. During the journey, which requires two months to complete, more than five percent of the deportees die. The expulsion of the Potawatomi Nation was conducted under the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which resulted in forcing at least 50,000 Native Americans to relocate to the west of the Mississippi River.  

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