This Week in People’s History, Sept. 5 – 11
A red Vice-President?
September 5, 1983 (40 years ago). In Nebraska, the state's largest newspaper reports that the FBI had been spying on U.S. Vice President Henry Wallace, and continued to do so when Wallace was a presidential candidate in 1948. According to the FBI files released to the Des Moines Register under the Freedom of Information Act, the "investigation" of Wallace was conducted as part of FBI's program concerning the detection and prevention of communist subversion. The files showed that despite years of effort, which included illegal telephone taps and mail openings, the feds never found anything to indicate Wallace was breaking any laws, but the surveillance continued until Wallace retired. You can see what the FBI has released from its file on Wallace here: https://vault.fbi.gov/Henry%20A%20Wallace%20
Prison farm deaths.
September 6, 1913 (110 years ago). On a Texas prison farm, twelve Black men are forced into a tiny, virtually airless basement cell as punishment for picking cotton too slowly. Eight of them die from suffocation. The Texas attorney general later determines that, because no laws had been violated, no one would be held accountable. For a more detailed (and ghastly) account, visit https://calendar.eji.org/racial-injustice/sep/6
West Bank atrocities film bombs.
September 7, 1983 (40 years ago). Casting a very cold eye on Israel's illegal and oppressive occupation of the West Bank, "Hanna K.", written and directed by Costa-Gavras and starring Jill Clayburgh opens. It's not the greatest film ever, but it is effective and shocking to anyone who knows little about life in the West Bank. I think it bombed because of its political point of view. Well worth watching here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mpOSTzdy1CA
Who's not a percussionist?
September 8, 1953 (70 years ago). In a Decca recording session, the Boston Pops Orchestra performs the premiere of Leroy Anderson's 95-second musical composition, "The Typewriter," which is probably the first and possibly the only work with a percussion solo by a typist. When the recording was released, it became a part of Anderson's unique, and largely unforgettable, catalog, which includes Bugler's Holiday, Fiddle-Faddle, Jazz Pizzicato, Sleigh Ride, The Syncopated Clock, A Trumpeter's Lullaby, and Plink, Plank, Plunk! Click here for the original recording of The Typewriter. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=akwfqjtBn7Y
Dixiecrats kneecap civil rights bill.
September 9, 1957. The Civil Rights Act of 1957 is signed into law, the first new federal civil rights law since 1875. Due to the unyielding resistance of a powerful Congressional minority, including the longest filibuster in U.S. history, the law is a shadow of the original draft. It makes almost no improvement in the effort to protect the civil rights that are routinely denied by Jim Crow laws and customs. The best that can be said for the Act is that it brings into being two institutions that eventually help to undermine the racist status quo, the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice. https://jimcrowmuseum.ferris.edu/timeline/civilrights.htm
Legal liability earthquake.
September 10, 1973 (50 years ago). Today, the ground shifts under the feet of the makers of asbestos-containing products. Up until today, the manufacturers may have been morally responsible for countless cases of death and suffering, but their legal (and financial) responsibility has been minuscule. Thousands of people (both men and women, thanks to the fact that during World War II women were recruited in droves to perform "men's" work) have died horrible deaths because they inhaled asbestos fibers and no one told them it could be deadly to do so. Thousands more have been totally disabled and can expect to never recover, because there is no cure for what ails them. None of them has been adequately compensated for their losses. Many have not been compensated at all.
Until today, the victims have not been compensated because the asbestos manufacturers had convinced the courts that, as a strictly legal matter, their hands are clean. But on September 10, 1973, a federal appeals court strips away the manufacturers' legal shield. The court's decision in Borel v. Fiberboard Paper Products Corp., is that the standard of Fiberboard's liability to asbestos-insulator Clarence Borel (or rather his widow) is much more extensive than the courts had previously acknowledged.
The appeals court finds that Fiberboard had a duty to warn Mr. Borel of the hazard. A label stating that breathing asbestos fibers was, or at least could be, deadly would have done the trick. In the absence of such an explicit warning, Fiberboard (and every other manufacturer of asbestos-containing products) was liable to pay for all the consequences.
The precedent set by the Borel case permanently shifted the ground upon which asbestos manufacturers stood. Hundreds of thousands of workers who were never told, prior to this decision, that inhaling asbestos fibers was more likely than not to kill or disable them were now able to hold the manufacturers financially responsible. For anyone who had ever been sickened because they had worked with an asbestos-containing product, it was morning in America. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asbestos_and_the_law
Chile under the gun.
September 11, 1973 (50 years ago). Chile's armed forces stage a violent coup d'etat, overthrowing the democratically elected, leftist government of Salvador Allende. By any measure, the military government that takes over and remains in power until 1990, is a disaster for workers, unions, the poor and progressive activists, many hundreds of whom are murdered or imprisoned while thousands more flee into exile. Not surprisingly, the U.S. government is deeply involved in the plotting before the coup and supporting the military government afterwards. For a vivid picture of what the coup destroyed, see https://portside.org/2023-09-03/defending-allende. For very recent news about newly declassified documentation of the heavy U.S. involvement in the coup, visit https://www.commondreams.org/news/us-declassifies-chile-documents