Skip to main content

This Week in People’s History, Jan 30-Feb 5

Nazis in the Woodwork (in 1964), Nixon's Crime-Control (1969), Sorry, We Forgot the Casing (1969), Slavery By Another Name (1909), Segregated Schools in NYC? Sure. (1964), E.P. Thompson at 100 (1924), Ugly Americans (1899), Justice Delayed (1994)

Cartoon depicting improper post-war cooperation between the U.S. military and Nazi soldiers

Nazis in the Post-War German Woodwork

60 YEARS AGO, on January 30, 1964, the world got a shocking reminder that the Third Reich was far from dead. Ewald Peters -- who was the chief bodyguard of West Germany's highest official -- was arrested and charged with having committed mass executions of Jews in Nazi-occupied Ukraine during World War 2. On the next day, West German cabinet member Hans Krüger -- Minister for Displaced Persons, Refugees and War Victims (!) -- resigned. He did so because he had been exposed as a former member of the Nazi Party; during the war he had served as judge in the "judicial" system the Nazis had set up in Poland. Neither man was ever tried for the crimes he was accused of. Peters committed suicide four days after his arrest. As for Krüger, the former cabinet Minister, punishment was his forced retirement.…

Nixon Plays the Preventive-Detention Card

55 YEARS AGO, on January 31, 1969, President Richard Nixon, who had taken office 11 days earlier, unveiled his 12-point "crime control" program. One of Nixon's objectives was to repeal the 1966 Bail Reform Act, which had greatly expanded the bail rights of federal criminal defendants by mandating pretrial release if the defendant's appearance at trial could be adequately assured. That 1966 law was a watershed for the bail reform movement, and Nixon's attack on it (which became law in July 1970) was similarly a watershed for the enemies of bail reform.

Sorry, We Forgot to Install the Protective Casing
on February 1, 1969, it became apparent that the ongoing 4-day-old Santa Barbara Channel oil-well blowout, off the coast of California, had been caused by Union Oil's failure to install 300 feet of protective casing -- which was required by federal law -- as the drilling commenced. The spill started when the oil, which was under self-generated pressure, began to force its way out of ground directly into the sea instead of the pipe that led to the drilling platform. The drillers attempted repeatedly to plug the leak, but more than 5 million gallons of oil escaped before they succeeded, resulting in what was then the biggest U.S. oil spill. On February 1, before any significant amount of oil had reached the nearby shore, the California Fish and Game Commission Administration optimistically reported that "injury to birds and fish had been minimal so far, and . . . no extensive damage was foreseen." As it happened, in fact, the blowout killed at least 3500 birds, as well as untold numbers of dolphins, elephant seals, sea lions, fish and mollusks. As bad as those effects were, they were later overshadowed by the devastation caused by the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska and the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Slavery By Another Name in Pittsburgh

115 YEARS AGO, on February 2, 1909, police in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, arrested more than 200 Black men who were not able to prove they were employed.  The charge was vagrancy. The next day, the men were sentenced to hard labor and imprisoned in the workhouse. Such racist enforcement of anti-vagrancy laws was not new in the U.S., but it had been much more common in the former Confederate states in the years following the Civil War. In that region, hundreds of thousands, if not millions of formerly enslaved people were arrested because they could not prove they were employed. Once they were convicted of vagrancy they were forced to labor for the government, or they were "leased" to private businesses. For much more information, visit

Segregated Schools in NYC? Sure.

60 YEARS AGO, on January 3, 1964, 464,361 students and 3537 teachers, the vast majority of them African-American or Puerto Rican, staged a 1-day boycott of New York City public schools to demand an end to de facto segregation. The numbers represented nearly half of the city's schoolchildren and about eight percent of the teaching staff. Thousands of the boycotters also picketed the city's Board of Education headquarters in downtown Brooklyn. The event, which was at the time the largest ever U.S. civil rights demonstration, was organized by the Congress of Racial Equality, the NAACP, the Parents Workshop for Equality and the Harlem Parents Committee and coordinated by the Citywide Committee for Integrated Schools.…

If you like this article, please sign up for Snapshot, Portside's daily summary.

(One summary e-mail a day, you can change anytime, and Portside is always free.)

E.P. Thompson at 100
on February 3, 1924, one of the world's foremost Marxist historians, Edward P. Thompson, was born in Oxford, England. Among his many masterful publications, The Making of the English Working Class, published in 1963, remains a monument to the power of deep research informed by materialist analysis. It is also a great read.…

The Birth of U.S. Imperialism Wasn't Pretty, of Course

125 YEARS AGO, on February 4, 1899, the President of the 2-week-old Philippine Republic, Emilio Aguinaldo, declared war on the United States after U.S. President William McKinley refused to recognize the republic's independence. The Philippines had just ceased to be a colony of Spain as a result of the Spanish-American War, but the Filipino people did not desire to be a U.S. colony any more than they had wanted to be a Spanish colony. It was the beginning of a long, drawn-out war of conquest that killed at least 210,000 Filipinos, almost all of them civilians, most of whom died as a result of starvation or disease. Some estimates of the number of Filipino fatalities are as high as a million. The higher number would represent about 13 percent of the country's population. The U.S. occupation government, which remained in power until 1942, bears total responsibility for the mystery concerning the number of people killed by U.S. troops. In 1946 the U.S. finally gave up attempting to suppress the independence of the Philippines.…

Wheels of Justice Turn, But Just Barely

30 YEARS AGO, on February 5, 1994, justice -- drastically delayed -- was finally done. The racist who murdered civil rights activist Medgar Evers in 1963, whose identity had been well-known for almost 30 years, was finally convicted for the cowardly crime. Soon after that, Byron De La Beckwith was sentenced to life in prison, where he died of natural causes seven years later.