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This Week in People’s History, Dec 12–18

The Heart of Darkness (in 1903), Racism on the Bench (1893), Terror in Lancaster, Pa. (1763), Physician, Heal Thyself (1973), No Taxation Without Representation (1773), Will Sex Work Ever Be Made Safe? (2003), Cleveland Sinks in Red Ink (1978)

1906 cartoon of a Congolese worker being assaulted by a snake wearing the King of Belgium's crown
By Linley Sambourne in Punch, Nov. 28, 1906.,

The Heart of Darkness

120 YEARS AGO, on December 12, 1903, British diplomat Roger Casement completed a long, detailed report to the UK government describing what he had seen during a 2-month inspection tour of the Belgian Congo. The Casement Report was secret at first, but when its horrifying details about the genocidal methods that the King of Belgium was using to force the Congo's indigenous population to collect rubber, the reaction was tremendous.  

As Casement reported, the King's agents were using murderous terror to enslave the Congolese people and force them to harvest wild-growing rubber. As Casement put it, the local population "endured such ill-treatment at the hands of the Government officials and soldiers that nothing had remained but to be killed for failure to bring in rubber or to die in their attempts to satisfy the demands.” 

Not long after producing his official report, Casement helped to organize the Congo Reform Association, which advocated an end to the regime of terror in the Congo. As a result of the Association's work and the outcry it helped to produce, in 1908 the Belgian King (who until then had owned the Congo as a personal possession) was forced to sell the huge territory to the Belgian government, which quickly halted some of the most brutal aspects of the region's administration.  Of course, the Congolese people continued to be victimized by imperialist exploitation until winning independence in 1960. (For Bertrand Russell's insightful reflection on Belgian imperialism in the Congo, visit… and scroll down to the middle of page 450)   

Racism on the Bench

130 YEARS AGO, on December 13, 1893, in an effort to eliminate interracial relationships by terrorizing interracial couples with extreme punishment, a judge in Knoxville, Tennessee, sent all six members of a family to jail, pending trial, for felony miscegenation. All six spent more than a month in custody awaiting their date in court. At trial, two of the adults were convicted of lewdness and sentenced to 11 months in jail. The rest of the family was released.

Terror in Lancaster, Pa.

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260 YEARS AGO, on December 14, 1763, in southeastern Pennsylvania where white settlers were steadily encroaching on Native American settlements, a group of vigilantes known as the Paxton Boys attacked a Susquehannock settlement known as Conestoga Town near Lancaster, killing all six Susquehannock they found and burning the town down. In the following days, when no one had been arrested for the killings, the surviving Susquehannock sought protection of Lancaster officials, who gave them refuge in the solidly built county jail. But on December 27, a mob of Paxton Boys overwhelmed the jailors and killed all 14 Susquehannocks refugees, including women and children. Even though all 20 killings in what is called the Conestoga Massacre were clearly murder and the assailants were well-known, no one was ever charged with a crime.…

Physician, Heal Thyself

50 YEARS AGO, on December 15, 1973, in a victory for LBGTQ activists, the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders, a change that was soon reflected in the revised edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. 

No Taxation Without Representation

250 YEARS AGO, on December 16, 1773, more than a hundred Sons of Liberty activists boarded three cargo ships in Boston Harbor and dumped hundreds of chests of tea into the water. The Boston Tea Party, which was a dramatic protest against taxation without representation, helped to intensify and accelerate support for the American Revolution.…    

Will Sex Work Ever Be Made Safe?

20 YEARS AGO, on December 17, 2003, the International Day to End Violence Against Sex Workers was first observed in Seattle, Washington, to commemorate the victims of a serial killer who had murdered more than 40 young women before he was arrested in 2001.…

Cleveland Sinks in Red Ink

45 YEARS AGO, on December 18, 1978, in Cleveland, Ohio, a crisis that was both fiscal and political came to a head when liberal mayor Dennis Kuchinich and the conservative majority of the city council could not agree on a plan to prevent the city's budgetary collapse. Kuchinich, on his own authority, then announced the lay-off of two thousand municipal workers -- including 45 percent of the police force, on-third of its firefighters, one-sixth of its sanitation workers and the entire recreation department staff -- in order to save $3 million a month.  Despite Kuchinich's efforts, Cleveland became the first major U.S. city to go into default since the depression of the 1930s.…