This Week in People’s History, Sept. 12–18
Deadly hurricane devastates Black communities
September 12, 1928 (95 years ago). A very large, powerful and slow-moving hurricane makes landfall for the first time in Guadeloupe in the Caribbean, where it does enormous damage to structures and crops and kills about 1200 people. Two days later it devastates Puerto Rico, but kills relatively few because the storm was the subject of the first-ever radio broadcast of a hurricane warning, produced by the U.S. Weather Service's San Juan station. From Puerto Rico, the storm moves north and travels up the middle of the Florida peninsula, inundating many places to a depth of 20 feet. It is the second-deadliest hurricane ever in the U.S., killing more than 2500, the vast majority of whom are Black farmworkers in Florida. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/the-okeechobee-hurri…
Slave-catchers stymied by outraged abolitionists
September 13, 1858 (165 years ago). In what is remembered as the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue, John Price, a self-emancipated formerly enslaved man who had escaped from Kentucky, is captured by slave-catchers in Oberlin, Ohio. Slavery is not legal in Ohio, but the federal Fugitive Slave Law makes every self-emancipated enslaved person an outlaw anywhere in the U.S.
A posse of outraged Ohio citizens, both Black and white, rides nine miles to Wellington, where the slave-catchers are holding Price and preparing to take him back to Kentucky. Hundreds of abolitionists from Oberlin, Wellington, and the surrounding area, gather outside the hotel where Price is being held and demand his release. When their demand is refused, the crowd forcefully liberates Price and take him back to Oberlin. They immediately send him on the way to Canada (where a person cannot be extradited for violating the Fugitive Slave Law) along with a small group to protect him en route.
A federal grand jury in Ohio then indicts 37 of Price's liberators. In response, an Ohio constable arrests the slave-catchers on the charge of kidnapping Price. At a meeting of state and federal officials, the state agrees to free the slave-catchers in exchange for quashing 35 of the 37 federal indictments. The two men who are tried in federal court for liberating Price are found guilty. One is sentenced to 60 days; the other to 20 days. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/oberlin-wellington-r…
War-mongers use forgeries to make their case
September 14, 1918 (105 years ago). A newly-minted and controversial wartime federal agency, the Committee on Public Information, which was created to promote U.S. military and foreign policy by any means possible, publishes and distributes 137,000 copies of a 30-page pamphlet, "The German-Bolshevik Conspiracy." The pamphlet presents a collection of what are described as Russian and German documents that "prove" that the German government was financing Russian communists in order to weaken Russia's military. The publication of the pamphlet results in an outpouring of news reports repeating the pamphlet's charges. A close reading of the documents raises suspicions about their authenticity and they are soon shown to be forgeries. Of course, the news of the pamphlet's falsity does not reach most of the population. From what is known about the affair, it appears that the Committee did not realize that the "documents" were phony. but whether the Committee knew or not, its reputation was tarnished and it acquired the nickname, in some circles, of Committee on Public Misinformation. https://cudl.colorado.edu/luna/servlet/detail/UCBOULDERCB1~58~58~462077…
Ku Klux Klan bombs a church, kills four girls
September 15, 1963 (60 years ago). In Birmingham, Alabama, a large dynamite bomb that had been put in place by four Ku Klux Klan members explodes in the 16th Street Baptist Church, killing three 14-year-old girls and one 11-year-old, who were inside the church, and injuring about 20. Within two years an official investigation identifies the bombers, but none is arrested until 1977, when one of the bombers is convicted of first-degree murder. Two more bombers are convicted of murder in 2001 and 2002. The fourth bomber died of natural causes before being prosecuted. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/16th_Street_Baptist_Church_bombing
White men speak with forked tongues
September 16, 1893 (130 years ago). In what is called the Cherokee Strip Land Run, the brutal and lawless takeover of land that is under the treaty-guaranteed control of Native Americans continues when more then 6.5 million acres that had been deeded to the Cherokee Nation in 1836 with the solomn promise that it would never "be included within the territorial limits or jurisdiction of any State or Territory" is officially opened to white settlers. An estimated 100,000 race in to stake claims. The land is made part of the State of Oklahoma in 1907. https://visitcherokeenation.com/blog/the-cost-of-free-land
Thin-skinned cops taught an expensive lesson
September 17, 1994. A Federal District Court jury finds the San Francisco Police Department liable for damages amounting to about $715,000 as a result of SFPD officers having removed thousands of copies of the Bay Times, a free weekly newspaper, from newspaper racks throughout the city. The cops' illegal suppression of the Bay Times was triggered by the strong negative reaction of SFPD Chief Richard Hongisto to a cover photo-montage of him holding a night stick in a lewd manner under the headline "Dick's Cool New Tool: Martial Law." That 1992 issue of the newspaper included detailed articles about the San Francisco cops' having made mass arrests of thousands of people who were demonstrating against the acquittals of LAPD officers who had been charged with excessive force for their videotaped beating of unresisting motorist Rodney King. https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/matier-ross/article/hongisto-s-paper-sna…
Eugene Debs speaks truth to power before going to prison
September 18, 1918 (105 years ago). Socialist leader Eugene Debs makes an eloquent address to the federal court that convicted him of sedition and sentenced him to 10 years in prison. The speech is short and well worth reading in full. Here is an excerpt, with a link to the complete text below.
"Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free. . . . I am thinking this morning of the men in the mills and the factories; of the men in the mines and on the railroads. I am thinking of the women who for a paltry wage are compelled to work out their barren lives; of the little children who in this system are robbed of their childhood and in their tender years are seized in the remorseless grasp of Mammon and forced into the industrial dungeons, there to feed the monster machines while they themselves are being starved and stunted, body and soul. I see them dwarfed and diseased and their little lives broken and blasted because in this high noon of Christian civilization money is still so much more important than the flesh and blood of childhood. In very truth gold is god today and rules with pitiless sway in the affairs of men." https://www.marxists.org/archive/debs/works/1918/court.htm