Marian Anderson becomes first African American to perform at the Met Opera


Publish date:
Year
1955
Month Day
January 07

On the evening of January 7, 1955, the curtain at the Metropolitan Opera in New York rises to reveal Marian Anderson, the first African American to perform with the Met.

By then, Anderson was in the twilight of a career that was equal parts acclaimed and hamstrung by racism. First noticed by an aunt, who convinced her to join a church choir and helped her put on her first professional shows, Anderson spent her early career in the eastern United States. She was successful but consistently thwarted from mainstream stardom by racism and segregation, and she eventually decided to continue her career in Europe. She became a sensation there, particularly in Scandinavia, and major figures such as composer Jean Sibelius and conductor Arturo Toscanini praised her as a singular vocal talent.

Upon returning to the United States, Anderson performed regularly, but continued to be denied bookings, hotel rooms, and other basic opportunities that were afforded to whites. In 1939 the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to let her perform at Constitution Hall on account of her race. A group of supporters that included President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, who resigned from the DAR in protest, helped her instead put on a concert at the Lincoln Memorial. Attended by 75,000 people, including prominent members of Roosevelt’s cabinet, and broadcast across the nation, the concert not only bolstered her fame but also thrust Anderson into the nascent struggle for civil rights.

Rudolf Bing became director of the Met in 1950 and was intent on signing Anderson to perform there from the outset. Though she had been courted by companies foreign and domestic, Anderson had shied away from opera in the past, feeling her voice was not right for it and deterred by the lack of roles for black singers. When Bing finally convinced her to sign with him, he did not tell the board of the Met until after the fact. He cast Anderson as Ulrica in Verdi’s Un ballo en maschera. The role, a witch-like figure often portrayed by white women wearing dark makeup, was not the lead, and it was freighted with racial stereotypes connecting primitive and “backwards” traditions with people of color. Nonetheless, her debut at the Met was a major moment in the history of integration of the arts, and the New York Times reported that Anderson’s performance left many audience members in tears.

The Met made Anderson a permanent member, although Un ballo en maschera was her only appearance with the company. She would go on to perform at the inaugurations of Presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy. In 1965, she retired following a farewell tour that began at Constitution Hall, where she had once been barred from performing, and ended at Carnegie Hall. She died in 1993. 

Source

12 people die in shooting at “Charlie Hebdo” offices


Publish date:
Year
2015
Month Day
January 07

Around midday on January 7, 2015, gunmen raid the offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 people. The attack, a response to the magazine’s criticism of Islam and depiction of Muhammad, demonstrated the danger of homegrown terror in Europe as well as the deep conflicts within French society.

Charlie Hebdo had a history of antagonizing and drawing threats from Islamists. In 2006, the magazine re-printed a controversial cartoon depicting Muhammad from the Dutch newspaper Jyllands-Posten, earning its staff death threats. In 2011, the Charlie Hebdo office was firebombed in response to the “Sharia Hebdo” issue, which contained numerous depictions of the prophet. The magazine’s director of publishing, cartoonist Stéphane “Charb” Charbonnie, was an outspoken critic of religion, particularly radical Islam, and was named to Al Qaeda’s most wanted list in 2013. Like many in France, the staff of Charlie Hebdo believed in a strictly secular state and was critical of both radical Islam and the Catholic Church.

Two French brothers of Algerian descent, Saïd and Chérif Kouach, carried out the attack. They forced a cartoonist, Corinne “Coco” Rey, to open the door to the office, which was unmarked due to the previous firebombing incident. The gunmen shot and killed Charb and other members of the staff, including columnist Elsa Cayat, but spared the life of another female writer, telling her they did not kill women. After a manhunt that lasted two days, the gunmen were tracked to an industrial estate outside of Paris and killed in a gunfight with police. At roughly the same time, their acquaintance Amedy Coulibaly, who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, took hostages in a kosher supermarket in Paris. He killed four people, all of them Jewish, before he was killed by police.

In the wake of the attacks, tributes poured in from all over the world, many using the phrase “Je suis Charlie.” The killings were perceived not only as acts of terrorism but also as an attack on free speech and the freedom of the press. “Republican marches” honoring the victims and the right to free speech were held across France on January 10th and 11th. As the phrase “Je suis Charlie” became a rallying cry the world over, some, including the surviving staff, criticized its use by those who disagreed with or were unaware of the publication’s left-wing, atheist worldview. Others asked why the killings received so much more attention than others, such American drone strikes on civilians in the Middle East. Some radical Muslim clerics blamed Charlie Hebdo itself for the attack, while future U.S. President Donald Trump called the magazine “dishonest and nasty” and claimed that it was “broke.”

Charlie Hebdo continued its normal publication schedule. Its first issue following the attack ran over 8 million copies, exponentially more than any previous issue. It featured works by those killed and depicted Muhammad on the cover, with a tear in his eye, holding a sign that read “Je suis Charlie.”

Source

Pol Pot overthrown


Updated:
Original:
Year
1979
Month Day
January 07

On January 7, 1979, Vietnamese troops seize the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, toppling the brutal regime of Pol Pot and his Khmer Rouge.

The Khmer Rouge, organized by Pol Pot in the Cambodian jungle in the 1960s, advocated a radical Communist revolution that would wipe out Western influences in Cambodia and set up a solely agrarian society. In 1970, aided by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong troops, Khmer Rouge guerrillas began a large-scale insurgency against Cambodian government forces, soon gaining control of nearly a third of the country.

By 1973, secret U.S. bombings of Cambodian territory controlled by the Vietnamese Communists forced the Vietnamese out of the country, creating a power vacuum that was soon filled by Pol Pot’s rapidly growing Khmer Rouge movement. In April 1975, the Khmer Rouge captured Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital, overthrew the pro-U.S. regime, and established a new government, the Kampuchean People’s Republic.

As the new ruler of Cambodia, Pol Pot set about transforming the country into his vision of an agrarian utopia. The cities were evacuated, factories and schools were closed, and currency and private property was abolished. Anyone believed to be an intellectual, such as someone who spoke a foreign language, was immediately killed. Skilled workers were also killed, in addition to anyone caught in possession of eyeglasses, a wristwatch, or any other modern technology. In forced marches punctuated with atrocities from the Khmer Rouge, the millions who failed to escape Cambodia were herded onto rural collective farms.

Between 1975 and 1978, an estimated two million Cambodians died by execution, forced labor, and famine. In 1978, Vietnamese troops invaded Cambodia, capturing Phnom Penh in early 1979. A moderate Communist government was established, and Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge retreated back into the jungle.

In 1985, Pol Pot officially retired but remained the effective head of the Khmer Rouge, which continued its guerrilla actions against the government in Phnom Penh. In 1997, however, he was put on trial by the organization after an internal power struggle ousted him from his leadership position. Sentenced to life imprisonment by a “people’s tribunal,” which critics derided as a show trial, Pol Pot later declared in an interview, “My conscience is clear.” Much of the international community hoped that his captors would extradite him to stand trial for his crimes against humanity, but he died of apparently natural causes while under house arrest in 1998.

Source

“Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is the #1 song on the U.S. pop charts


Updated:
Original:
Year
1950
Month Day
January 07

You know Dasher and Dancer and Prancer and Vixen because of the 1823 poem “A Visit From St. Nicholas” (aka “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”), but your knowledge of Rudolph—the most famous reindeer of all—comes courtesy of a department store copywriter named Robert L. May, May’s songwriter brother-in-law who set his words to music and the singing cowboy who made a household name of May’s creation.

The story of “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” begins in 1939 at Montgomery Ward, the Chicago-based retail and catalog giant. Seeking a cheaper holiday giveaway than the children’s coloring books they had purchased and distributed in years past, Montgomery Ward asked its own marketing department to create a new and original Christmas storybook from scratch. The task fell to May, a family man with a four-year-old daughter. The story that May wrote was given away to more than 2 million Montgomery Ward customers in 1939. It was not until May’s brother-in-law adapted the story into song almost 10 years later, however, that “Rudolph” truly entered the national consciousness.

READ MORE: The Origins of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

May’s brother-in-law was a professional songwriter named Johnny Marks, best known for works like “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” (1958) and “A Holly Jolly Christmas” (1962) in addition to “Rudolph.” In 1949, Marks’ song found its way to radio legend Gene Autry, the original Singing Cowboy, whose recording of “Rudolph” sold more than 2 million units in its first year alone on its way to becoming the second-most successful Christmas record in history (after “White Christmas”).

It is at this point in the story of “Rudolph” when those with a nose for legal issues begin to wonder who owned the rights to the beloved Christmas story and money-making juggernaut. In fact, as a paid employee of Montgomery Ward, author Robert L. May had no legal claim whatsoever to an ownership stake in “Rudolph.” Furthermore, May was a widowed single father by 1947, facing enormous debts as a result of his wife’s terminal illness. Yet in a twist that will boggle the minds and warm the hearts of those hardened to the ways of modern American capitalism, the president of Montgomery Ward, one Sewell Avery, signed over to Robert L. May 100 percent of the “Rudolph” copyright in January 1947. May lived comfortably on the royalties from “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” until his death in 1976.

Source

President Clinton’s impeachment trial begins


Updated:
Original:
Year
1999
Month Day
January 07

On January 7, 1999, the impeachment trial of President Bill Clinton, formally charged with lying under oath and obstructing justice, begins in the Senate. As instructed in Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution, Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist was sworn in to preside, and the senators were sworn in as jurors. Congress had only attempted to remove a president on one other occasion: the 1868 impeachment trial of President Andrew Johnson, who incurred the Republican Party’s wrath after he proposed a conservative Reconstruction plan.

In November 1995, Clinton began an affair with Monica Lewinsky, a 21-year-old unpaid intern. Over a year and a half, the president and Lewinsky had nearly a dozen sexual encounters in the White House. In April 1996, Lewinsky was transferred to the Pentagon. That summer, she first confided in Pentagon co-worker Linda Tripp about her sexual relationship with the president. In 1997, with the relationship over, Tripp began secretly to record conversations with Lewinsky in which she gave details about the affair.

In December, Lewinsky was subpoenaed by lawyers for Paula Jones, who was suing the president on sexual harassment charges. In January 1998, allegedly under the recommendation of the president, Lewinsky filed an affidavit in which she denied ever having had a sexual relationship with him. Five days later, Tripp contacted the office of Whitewater Independent Counsel Ken Starr to talk about Lewinsky and the tapes she made of their conversations. Tripp, wired by FBI agents working with Starr, met with Lewinsky again, and on January 16, Lewinsky was taken by FBI agents and U.S. attorneys to a hotel room where she was questioned and offered immunity if she cooperated with the prosecution. A few days later, the story broke, and Clinton publicly denied the allegations, saying, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Ms. Lewinsky.”

READ MORE: What Happens After Impeachment? 

In late July, lawyers for Lewinsky and Starr worked out a full-immunity agreement covering both Lewinsky and her parents, all of whom Starr had threatened with prosecution. On August 6, Lewinsky appeared before the grand jury to begin her testimony, and on August 17, President Clinton testified. Contrary to his testimony in the Paula Jones sexual-harassment case, President Clinton acknowledged to prosecutors from the office of the independent counsel that he had had an extramarital affair with Ms. Lewinsky.

In four hours of closed-door testimony, conducted in the Map Room of the White House, Clinton spoke live via closed-circuit television to a grand jury in a nearby federal courthouse. He was the first sitting president ever to testify before a grand jury investigating his conduct. That evening, President Clinton also gave a four-minute televised address to the nation in which he admitted he had an inappropriate relationship with Lewinsky. In the brief speech, which was wrought with legalisms, the word “sex” was never spoken, and the word “regret” was used only in reference to his admission that he misled the public and his family.

Less than a month later, on September 9, Kenneth Starr submitted his report and 18 boxes of supporting documents to the House of Representatives. Released to the public two days later, the Starr Report outlined a case for impeaching Clinton on 11 grounds, including perjury, obstruction of justice, witness-tampering, and abuse of power, and also provided explicit details of the sexual relationship between the president and Ms. Lewinsky.

On October 8, the House authorized a wide-ranging impeachment inquiry, and on December 11, the House Judiciary Committee approved three articles of impeachment. On December 19, after nearly 14 hours of debate, the House approved two articles of impeachment, charging President Clinton with lying under oath to a federal grand jury and obstructing justice.

Clinton, the second president in American history to be impeached, vowed to finish his term. On January 7, 1999, the impeachment trial began. Five weeks later, on February 12, the Senate voted on whether to remove Clinton from office. Clinton was acquitted on both articles of impeachment. The prosecution needed a two-thirds majority to convict but failed to achieve even a bare majority. Rejecting the first charge of perjury, 45 Democrats and 10 Republicans voted “not guilty,” and on the charge of obstruction of justice the Senate was split 50-50. After the trial concluded, President Clinton said he was “profoundly sorry” for the burden he imposed on Congress and the American people.

READ MORE: How Many Presidents Have Faced Impeachment? 

Source

Two explorers cross the English Channel in a balloon


Updated:
Original:
Year
1785
Month Day
January 07

Frenchman Jean-Pierre Blanchard and American John Jeffries travel from Dover, England, to Calais, France, in a gas balloon, becoming the first to cross the English Channel by air. The two men nearly crashed into the Channel along the way, however, as their balloon was weighed down by extraneous supplies such as anchors, a nonfunctional hand-operated propeller, and silk-covered oars with which they hoped they could row their way through the air. Just before reaching the French coast, the two balloonists were forced to throw nearly everything out of the balloon, and Blanchard even threw his trousers over the side in a desperate, but apparently successful, attempt to lighten the ship.

Fourteen months earlier, French inventor Jean Francois Pilatre de Rozier and French army officer Francois Laurent had made the first manned hot air balloon flight when they flew over Paris for approximately 25 minutes. In January 1785, Rozier was among those racing to become the first balloonist to cross the English Channel, but just a few days before Blanchard and Jeffries’ flight, he and his co-pilot were killed when their balloon caught fire during an attempted crossing.

Source

First U.S. presidential election


Updated:
Original:
Year
1789
Month Day
January 07

Congress sets January 7, 1789 as the date by which states are required to choose electors for the country’s first-ever presidential election. A month later, on February 4, George Washington was elected president by state electors and sworn into office on April 30, 1789.

As it did in 1789, the United States still uses the Electoral College system, established by the U.S. Constitution, which today gives all American citizens over the age of 18 the right to vote for electors, who in turn vote for the president. The president and vice president are the only elected federal officials chosen by the Electoral College instead of by direct popular vote.

Today political parties usually nominate their slate of electors at their state conventions or by a vote of the party’s central state committee, with party loyalists often being picked for the job. Members of the U.S. Congress, though, can’t be electors. Each state is allowed to choose as many electors as it has senators and representatives in Congress. During a presidential election year, on Election Day (the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November), the electors from the party that gets the most popular votes are elected in a winner-take-all-system, with the exception of Maine and Nebraska, which allocate electors proportionally. In order to win the presidency, a candidate needs a majority of 270 electoral votes out of a possible 538.

READ MORE: Why Was the Electoral College Created?

On the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December of a presidential election year, each state’s electors meet, usually in their state capitol, and simultaneously cast their ballots nationwide. This is largely ceremonial: Because electors nearly always vote with their party, presidential elections are essentially decided on Election Day. Although electors aren’t constitutionally mandated to vote for the winner of the popular vote in their state, it is demanded by tradition and required by law in 26 states and the District of Columbia (in some states, violating this rule is punishable by $1,000 fine). Historically, over 99 percent of all electors have cast their ballots in line with the voters. On January 6, as a formality, the electoral votes are counted before Congress and on January 20, the commander in chief is sworn into office.

Critics of the Electoral College argue that the winner-take-all system makes it possible for a candidate to be elected president even if he gets fewer popular votes than his opponent. This happened in the elections of 1824, 1876, 1888, 2000 and 2016. However, supporters contend that if the Electoral College were done away with, heavily populated states such as California and Texas might decide every election and issues important to voters in smaller states would be ignored.

READ MORE: How the First 10 U.S. Presidents Helped Shape the Role of the Nation’s Top Office

Source

Harlem Globetrotters play their first game


Updated:
Original:
Year
1927
Month Day
January 07

On January 7, 1927, the Harlem Globetrotters basketball team travels 48 miles west from Chicago to play their first game in Hinckley, Illinois.

The Globetrotters were the creation of Abe Saperstein of Chicago, who took over coaching duties for a team of African-American players originally known as the Savoy Big Five (after the famous Chicago ballroom where they played their early games). At a time when only whites were allowed to play on professional basketball teams, Saperstein decided to promote his new team’s racial makeup by naming them after Harlem, the famous African-American neighborhood of New York City. The son of a tailor, Saperstein sewed their red, white and blue uniforms (emblazoned with the words “New York”) himself. The lineup in that first game, for which the Globetrotters were paid $75, was Walter “Toots” Wright, Byron “Fat” Long, Willis “Kid” Oliver, Andy Washington and Al “Runt” Pullins.

The Globetrotters won 101 out of 117 games that first season and introduced many Midwestern audiences to a game they had not seen played before. As owner, coach, manager, publicist and sometimes even substitute player, Saperstein worked overtime to book games for his team. By 1936, they had played more than 1,000 games and appeared in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, Montana, Washington and North and South Dakota. (The Globetrotters didn’t actually play a game in Harlem until the late 1960s.) Their first national championship appearance came in 1939, when the Globetrotters lost to the New York Renaissance. That same year, the team began to add the silly antics they later became known for, including ball handling tricks and on-court comedic routines. The crowds loved it, and Saperstein told his team to keep up the clowning around, but only when they had achieved a solid lead.

In 1948, the Globetrotters earned a new measure of respect by beating the Minneapolis Lakers of the newly established National Basketball Association (NBA). Two years later, the NBA lifted its “whites only” ban and began to draft black players, forcing Saperstein to compete for his talent. By this time, the Globetrotters were actively touring on the international circuit, playing to audiences in post-war Berlin, Eastern Europe and Russia, among other places; they even performed once for Pope Pius XII in Rome. Some of the Globetrotters who went on to become NBA stars include Wilt Chamberlain, Connie Hawkins and Nat Clifton.

After Saperstein’s death in 1966, the team was sold to a group of Chicago businessmen for $3.7 million; they later sold it to Metro Media for $11 million. Reaching the height of their fame in the 1970s, the Globetrotters began to lose fans during the next decade, after the departure of such longtime stars as Meadowlark Lemmon. In 1985, Olympic gold medalist Lynette Woodard became the first female Globetrotter.

Over the years, the Harlem Globetrotters have played in more than 115 countries in front of 120 million fans. They have been the subject of two feature films and numerous television shows, including two animated series in the 1970s. In honor of their entertainment value, the team was awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and made the subject of a permanent exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute. Their pioneering history and considerable athletic skill over the years was honored in 2002, when they were inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Source

“Colorado Cannibal” Alferd Packer is paroled


Updated:
Original:
Year
1901
Month Day
January 07

The confessed Colorado cannibal Alferd Packer is released from prison on parole after serving 18 years.

One of the ragged legions of gold and silver prospectors who combed the Rocky Mountains searching for fortune in the 1860s, Alferd Packer also supplemented his meager income from mining by serving as a guide in the Utah and Colorado wilderness. In early November 1873, Packer left Bingham Canyon, Utah, to lead a party of 21 men bound for the gold fields near Breckenridge, Colorado. The winter of 1873-74 was unusually harsh. After three months of difficult travel, the party staggered into the camp of the Ute Indian Chief Ouray, near present-day Montrose, Colorado. The Utes graciously provided the hungry and exhausted men with food and shelter. Chief Ouray advised the men to stay in the camp until a break came in the severe winter weather, but with their strength rekindled by food and rest, Packer and five other men decided to continue the journey.

Two months later, Packer arrived alone at the Los Pinos Indian Agency, looking surprisingly fit for a man who had just completed an arduous winter trek through the Rockies. Packer first claimed he had become separated from his five companions during a blizzard and survived on rabbits and rosebuds. Suspicions grew, though, when it was discovered that Packer had an unusual amount of money and many items belonging to the missing men. Under questioning, Packer confessed that the real story was far more gruesome: four of the men, he claimed, had died naturally from the extreme winter conditions and the starving survivors ate them. When only Packer and one other man, Shannon Bell, remained alive, Bell went insane and threatened to kill Packer. Packer said he shot Bell in self-defense and eventually ate his corpse.

Though shocking, Packer’s grisly story would probably have been accepted as an unfortunate tragedy had not searchers later found the remains of the five men at a single campsite-not strung out along the trail as Packer had claimed. Packer was arrested and charged with murder, but he escaped from jail and remained at large for nine years. Recaptured in 1883 near Fort Fetterman, Wyoming, Packer once again changed his story. He claimed that all six men had made camp alive, but lost and starving, they were too weak to go on. One day Packer went in search of the trail. Upon returning several hours later, he discovered to his horror that Bell had gone mad, killed the other four with a hatchet, and was boiling the flesh of one of them for his meal. When Bell spotted Packer, he charged with his hatchet raised, and Packer shot him twice in the belly. Lost and trapped alone in a camp of dead men, Packer said he only resorted to cannibalism after several more days, when it was his only means of survival.

Having twice changed his story, Packer’s credibility was undermined, and a jury convicted him of manslaughter. He remained imprisoned in the Canon City penitentiary until 1901 when the Denver Post published a series of articles and editorials questioning his guilt. Eventually, the state was freed Packer on parole. Packer went to work as a guard for the Post and lived quietly in and around Littleton, Colorado, maintaining his innocence until the day he died in 1907.

Though we will never know exactly what happened on the so-called “Cannibal Plateau” near present-day Lake City, Colorado, recent forensic studies of the remains of the men who died have tended to support the details of Packer’s second confession.

Source

Zora Neale Hurston is born


Updated:
Original:
Year
1891
Month Day
January 07

On January 7, 1891, Zora Neale Hurston, novelist and folklorist, is born in Notasulga, Alabama. Although at the time of her death in 1960, Hurston had published more books than any other black woman in America, she was unable to capture a mainstream audience in her lifetime, and she died poor and alone in a welfare hotel. Today, she is seen as one of the most important black writers in American history.

Eatonville, Fla., was an all-black town when Hurston was born. The daughter of a Baptist preacher, Hurston had little contact with white people until her mother’s death, when Hurston was 11. Until her teens, Hurston was largely sheltered from racism. A talented, energetic young women with a powerful desire to learn, she didn’t finish high school but prepared herself for college and excelled at Howard University. In 1925, she moved to New York, where she became a central figure in the Harlem Renaissance. High-spirited, outgoing, and witty, she became famous for her storytelling talents. She studied anthropology with a prominent professor at Barnard and received a fellowship to collect oral histories and folklore in her home state. She also studied voodoo in Haiti.

In 1931, she collaborated with Langston Hughes on the play Mule Bone. Her first novel, Jonah’s Gourd Vine, featuring a central character based on her father, was published in 1934. Mules and Men, a collection of material from her research in oral folklore, was published in 1935 and became her bestselling work during her lifetime-but even so, it earned her only $943.75. In 1937, she published Their Eyes Were Watching God, the story of a black woman looking for love and happiness in the South. The book was criticized at the time, especially by black male writers, who condemned Hurston for not taking a political stand and demonstrating the ill effects of racism. Instead, the novel, now considered her masterwork, celebrated the rich tradition of the rural black South. Hurston’s work remained uplifting and joyful despite her financial struggles. 

She published a memoir, Dust Tracks on a Road, in 1942. Hurston worked on and off as a maid near the end of her life, and she died in poverty in 1960. In the 1970s, her work, almost forgotten, was revived by feminist and black-studies scholars, and an anthology, I Love Myself When I Am Laughing…And Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive, was published in 1979.

Source