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This Week in People’s History, Mar. 12–18

Who Wrecked the Trains? (in 1949), Forward Ever, Backward Never! (1979), Take Your Blacklist and Shove It! (1954), Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round (1964), Paris Commune and Marx (1884), Terror in Nicaragua (1984), Terror in Arkansas (1899)

Huge pile of abandoned streetcars on the scrap-heap

Who Wrecked the Trains?

75 YEARS AGO, on March 12, 1949, five giant corporations, including General Motors and Standard Oil of California, were convicted of the federal charge they had conspired to monopolize the sale of transportation-related products and services. They corporations were acquitted of having done so in order to destroy the public transportation industry, despite a mountain of evidence that had been their prime objectives.  A federal district Court in Chicago determined that GM and SoCal, starting in 1938, had joined forces with Firestone Tire, Mack [Truck] Manufacturing and Federal Engineering to take over streetcar systems in more than two dozen cities -- including  St. Louis, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Oakland and northeastern New Jersey -- in order to replace them with much less efficient, gas-guzzling and tire-consuming buses. The penalty imposed by the court was less than a slap on the wrist: a $5001 fine.…  

"Forward Ever, Backward Never!"

45 YEARS AGO, on March 13, 1979, a bloodless coup led by the leftist New Jewel Movement toppled the government of the Caribbean-island nation Grenada and established the People's Revolutionary Government. The successful radicals immediately began a bold experiment in building popular power in a nation with a population of 110,000. The U.S. government did not look kindly on the creation of a second leftist regime (after Cuba) in the Caribbean, and the State Department was quick to tell the new Grenadan government it would oppose any move to establish a close connection with Cuba, to which Grenada's Prime Minister responded: "no country has the right to tell us what to do or how to run our country or who to be friendly with... We are not in anybody’s backyard, and we are definitely not for sale." For much more information, visit

Take Your Hollywood Blacklist and Shove It!

70 YEARS AGO, on March 14, 1954, a film that was both memorable and very unusual was released. "Salt of the Earth," a riveting dramatization of a long, bitter, and successful strike by Arizona copper miners, was unusual for its subject matter, for the fact that its cast and crew included many Hollywood pros who could not work in Hollywood because their names were on a McCarthyite blacklist, and because its production was bankrolled by the International Union of Mine, Mill and Smelter Workers. The film was an artistic and critical triumph, but the blacklist made its distribution almost impossible for many years after it was released. Read more about Salt of the Earth here:…. You can watch the complete film here:

Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me 'Round

60 YEARS AGO, on March 15, 1964, in Jackson, Mississippi, the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) -- a coalition of Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) -- unveiled plans for Mississippi Freedom Summer. COFO would hire some 2000 civil rights workers, half of them college students, and set up Freedom Schools throughout the state (to offer a wide curriculum ranging from remedial reading to political science), Community Centers (to provide job training, classes in arts and crafts, athletics, as well as health-related instruction such as prenatal care and nutrition), Freedom Voter Registration (to place the names of Black Mississippians on mock voter lists and challenge their exclusion from voter registration), a Freedom Election on the same day as the Democratic primary (for those who were not allowed to register), set up a rival Freedom Democratic Party (to campaign for Congressional candidates whose names would be excluded from the official ballot), and to engineer challenges on the floor of House of Representatives to the legitimacy of the Mississippi delegation on the ground that 94 percent of Black Mississippians were denied the franchise. Over the next six months, This Week in People's History will include regular Freedom Summer 60th anniversary updates; for more information see


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Karl Marx and the Paris Commune

140 YEARS AGO, on March 16, 1884, a large contingent of London police barred the gates of Highgate Cemetery to prevent some 5000 Social Democrats and Communists from gathering at the grave of Karl Marx after marching four miles from central London. The police were blocking a public meeting that was a double commemoration. It was the first anniversary of the death of Marx, who had played a central role in the development of the workers' movement in Britain over the three decades he had lived there. It was also the 13th anniversary of the beginning of the Paris Commune, which had been by far the world's largest proletarian uprising, the destruction of which remained a sore point for all radicals. With Marx' gravesite inaccessible, the radical throng assembled in a nearby park, where they listened to speeches and heard messages from leading socialists throughout Europe. According to a report of the event by communist organizer and Marx' daughter Eleanor, "English Socialists will work the better . . . for the feeling of their solidarity with the working men of all countries. It is not only in memory of the 35,000 martyrs of the horrible 'semaine sanglante' [the bloody reprisals that occurred when the Paris Commune was defeated] — but because it contains a promise and a hope for the future that we cry, Vive la Commune!"…

Yankee Terror in Nicaragua

40 YEARS AGO, on March 17, 1984, a contingent of terrorists (so-called Contras), who were bent on overthrowing the elected leftist government of Nicaragua, stormed into the farming town of San Ramon, Matagalpa, in Nicaragua's mountainous north-central highlands. Before they left, they tortured and beheaded the head of the local Sandinista association, the director of the local school, a school teacher and five farmworkers. According to a report by the Washington Office on Latin America and the International Human Rights Law Group, "serious Contra abuses against non-combatants occur far too often to justify any American [that is, U.S. government] support -- public or private".  During their 11-year terror campaign, which was carried out with the financial and training support of U.S. taxpayers, Contras killed at least 13,000 Nicaraguan civilians.…

Racist Terror in Arkansas

125 YEARS AGO, on March 18, 1899, a deadly reign of terror against Blacks in southwestern Arkansas' Little River County was set in motion when a white farmer was allegedly murdered by a Black man. After the murder, a rumor spread among whites that a Black "insurrection" was about to begin. According to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas, at the time "accusations of 'insurrection' were commonly laid upon African Americans who were politically active and/or had committed a crime against a white person." Three days after the murder, the accused man was captured by the county sheriff. Then a mob of some 200 vigilantes seized the sheriff's prisoner and lynched him before he could be delivered to the county jail, After the lynching, the vigilantes began to scour the surrounding area and lynch every Black person accused of involvement in the rumored insurrection. As a result, over the course of less than a week, at least 23 African-Americans were murdered without the slightest justification. It was, according to an editorial in the New York Sun, "clearly evident that the white men of the section were murdering many defenseless negroes to avenge the death of one white man.”…