Occupy Wall Street begins

On September 17, 2011, hundreds of activists gather around Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan for the first day of the Occupy Wall Street Movement—a weeks-long sit-in in New York City’s Financial District protesting income inequality and corporate corruption. While the movement failed to see any of its goals or policy proposals come to fruition, years later, Occupy Wall Street is still considered a blueprint for decentralized activism.

The protest was organized by members of Adbusters, a Canadian anti-consumerist publication, including founder Kalle Lasn and editor Micah White. Adbusters staff coordinated the time, place and marketing of the event. White sent out the first #OccupyWallStreet tweet which would be seen by thousands of people following the movement online. The occupy hashtag is largely responsible for the movement’s exposure and helped make it among the largest activist efforts to go viral on social media and spread around the world.

Organizers first planned to meet at Wall Street’s Charging Bull Statue and One Chase Plaza, but police erected barricades at both city-owned parks before the event on September 17. The nearby Zuccotti Park was left untouched; over the course of the next two months, thousands would come to occupy it. On November 15, 2011, members of the NYPD forcibly removed the protestors and arrested some 200 people. Later efforts to re-occupy the park were met with police resistance.  

The terms 99 and 1 percenter were born from the Occupy movement; the first refers to the majority of people living in the United States, and the second represents Wall Street and the wealthiest portion of the population. These terms—and Occupy Wall Street’s social media strategy—would be modeled by movements including #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter.

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King Charles VI of France orders all Jews expelled from the kingdom

Year
1394
Month Day
September 17

King Charles VI of France orders the expulsion of all Jews from his kingdom. The culmination of a series of anti-Semitic orders from the monarchs of France, the order outlived the monarchy and remains one of the major contributing factors to the tiny percentage of the French population that identifies as Jewish.

As with most European nations, France had been home to Jews since antiquity. Also as in the rest of Europe, the Jews of France faced frequent discrimination and persecution. French Jews had already suffered through burnings of their religious texts, discriminatory taxes and other fiscal policies targeted at Jews, being scapegoated for the Black Plague, and multiple prior attempts to expel them from France. Various cities in France independently expelled their Jews throughout the 13th and 14th centuries. They were formally expelled from the country 1306 and had their lands confiscated by the government, only to be recalled in 1315 and made to pay for the privilege of returning. Under the rules set in 1315, Jews were ordered not to discuss their religion publicly, made to wear a badge identifying themselves, and cautioned against committing usury, an accusation often leveled at Jews based on racist stereotypes.

For a time, the Crown was happier to have Jews in its lands paying taxes, but in 1394 Charles VI suddenly demanded they leave once again. France’s Jews were given a bit of time to sell to their possessions before being escorted out of French lands. There was not a major Jewish population in France again until the 1700s, when Jews fleeing violence and discrimination further East arrived in Alsace and Lorraine. By the eve of the revolution, there were roughly 40,000 Jews in France. Over the course of the turbulent years that followed 1789, the newly “enlightened” governments gradually restored Jews’ rights to live in France, but they continued to face discrimination and their numbers were further decimated during the Nazi occupation of France. Today, roughly one percent of France is Jewish.

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Cheyenne and Sioux decimate frontiersmen at Beecher’s Island

Year
1868
Month Day
September 17

Early in the morning on September 17, 1868, a large band of Cheyenne and Sioux stage a surprise attack on Major George A. Forsyth and a volunteer force of 50 frontiersmen in Colorado.

Retreating to a small sandbar in the Arikaree River that thereafter became known as Beecher’s Island, Forsyth and his men succeeded in repulsing three massed Indian charges. Thanks to the rapid fire capability of their seven-shot Spencer rifles, Forsyth’s volunteers were able to kill or wound many of the Indian attackers, including the war chief Roman Nose. But as evening came and the fighting temporarily halted, Forsyth found he had 22 men either dead or wounded, and he estimated the survivors were surrounded by a force of 600 Native Americans. The white settlers faced certain annihilation unless they could somehow bring help. Two men—Jack Stilwell and Pierre Trudeau—volunteered to attempt a daring escape and silently melted into the night.

The battle raged for five more days. Forsyth’s effective fighting force was reduced to ten men before the Native American forces finally withdrew. Miles from help and lacking wagons and horses, Forsyth knew that many of his wounded would soon be dead if they didn’t get help. Fortunately, on September 25, the 10th Cavalry—one of the Army’s two African American units nicknamed the “Buffalo Soldiers”—came riding to their rescue with a field ambulance and medical supplies. Miraculously, Stilwell and Trudeau had managed to make it through the Sioux and Cheyenne and bring help. Thanks to the timely arrival of the Buffalo Soldiers, the lives of many men were saved.

READ MORE: Native American History Timeline 

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Oprah launches influential book club

Year
1996
Month Day
September 17

On September 17, 1996, daytime talk show host Oprah Winfrey launches a television book club and announces “The Deep End of the Ocean” by Jacquelyn Mitchard as her first selection. Oprah’s Book Club quickly became a hugely influential force in the publishing world, with the popular TV host’s endorsement capable of catapulting a previously little-known book onto best-seller lists.

When Oprah’s Book Club first launched, some in the publishing world were skeptical about its chances for success. As The New York Times noted: “Winfrey’s project—recommending books, even challenging literary novels, for viewers to read in advance of discussions on her talk show—initially provoked considerable skepticism in the literary world, where many associated daytime television with lowbrow entertainments like soap operas and game shows.” However, the club proved to be a hit with Winfrey’s legions of fans, and many of her picks sold over 1 million copies. (She earned no money from book sales.) Winfrey’s ability to turn not just books but almost any product or person she recommended into a phenomenon came to be known as the “Oprah Effect.”

Winfrey gave her stamp of approval to books by first-time novelists, including Mitchard, Wally Lamb (“She’s Come Undone”) and David Wroblewski (“The Story of Edgar Sawtelle”), as well as established authors, such as Maeve Binchy (“Tara Road”), Cormac McCarthy (“The Road”) and Jeffrey Eugenides (“Middlesex”). Toni Morrison had four works selected for the club—”The Bluest Eye,” “Paradise,” “The Song of Solomon, and “Sula”—more than any other author.

In 2001, after Winfrey chose novelist Jonathan Franzen’s “The Corrections,” he famously offended her by publicly suggesting that some of her selections were “schmaltzy” and that being picked for the club might alienate a book’s potential male readership. Franzen’s invitation to appear on Winfrey’s TV show to discuss his work was rescinded; however, he got a second chance nine years later, when his best-selling novel “Freedom” was selected for Oprah’s Book Club. In December 2010, he went on her show to talk about his novel, which Winfrey called “a masterpiece.”

In 2003, Winfrey switched her recommendations from contemporary titles to classic tomes, including “The Good Earth” by Pearl S. Buck, “East of Eden” by John Steinbeck and “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” by Carson McCullers. In 2004, when Winfrey chose “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy, the novel’s publisher printed an additional 800,000 copies.

In 2005, Winfrey reversed her nothing-but-the-classics policy, in part so she could have in-person discussions with the authors whose work she endorsed. Her first contemporary title was James Frey’s “A Million Little Pieces,” a 2003 memoir about addiction and recovery. After appearing on Winfrey’s show to promote the book, Frey was later forced to admit that parts of the story were fiction. He appeared on the show again in early 2006 and faced tough questioning from Winfrey. Frey’s fabrications sparked a national debate over the definition of memoir.

By the final season of Winfrey’s TV show,” in 2011, more than 60 titles had been chosen for Oprah’s Book Club.

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U.S. Constitution signed

Year
1787
Month Day
September 17

The Constitution of the United States of America is signed by 38 of 41 delegates present at the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. Supporters of the document waged a hard-won battle to win ratification by the necessary nine out of 13 U.S. states.

The Articles of Confederation, ratified several months before the British surrender at Yorktown in 1781, provided for a loose confederation of U.S. states, which were sovereign in most of their affairs. On paper, Congress–the central authority–had the power to govern foreign affairs, conduct war, and regulate currency, but in practice these powers were sharply limited because Congress was given no authority to enforce its requests to the states for money or troops. By 1786, it was apparent that the Union would soon break up if the Articles of Confederation were not amended or replaced. Five states met in Annapolis, Maryland, to discuss the issue, and all the states were invited to send delegates to a new constitutional convention to be held in Philadelphia.

On May 25, 1787, delegates representing every state except Rhode Island convened at Philadelphia’s Pennsylvania State House for the Constitutional Convention. The building, which is now known as Independence Hall, had earlier seen the drafting of the Declaration of Independence and the signing of the Articles of Confederation. The assembly immediately discarded the idea of amending the Articles of Confederation and set about drawing up a new scheme of government. Revolutionary War hero George Washington, a delegate from Virginia, was elected convention president.

During an intensive debate, the delegates devised a brilliant federal organization characterized by an intricate system of checks and balances. The convention was divided over the issue of state representation in Congress, as more-populated states sought proportional legislation, and smaller states wanted equal representation. The problem was resolved by the Connecticut Compromise, which proposed a bicameral legislature with proportional representation in the lower house (House of Representatives) and equal representation of the states in the upper house (Senate).

On September 17, 1787, the Constitution was signed. As dictated by Article VII, the document would not become binding until it was ratified by nine of the 13 states. Beginning on December 7, five states—Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Georgia and Connecticut—ratified it in quick succession. However, other states, especially Massachusetts, opposed the document, as it failed to reserve un-delegated powers to the states and lacked constitutional protection of basic political rights, such as freedom of speech, religion, and the press. In February 1788, a compromise was reached under which Massachusetts and other states would agree to ratify the document with the assurance that amendments would be immediately proposed. The Constitution was thus narrowly ratified in Massachusetts, followed by Maryland and South Carolina. On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify the document, and it was subsequently agreed that government under the U.S. Constitution would begin on March 4, 1789. In June, Virginia ratified the Constitution, followed by New York in July.

On September 25, 1789, the first Congress of the United States adopted 12 amendments to the U.S. Constitution–the Bill of Rights–and sent them to the states for ratification. Ten of these amendments were ratified in 1791. In November 1789, North Carolina became the 12th state to ratify the U.S. Constitution. Rhode Island, which opposed federal control of currency and was critical of compromise on the issue of slavery, resisted ratifying the Constitution until the U.S. government threatened to sever commercial relations with the state. On May 29, 1790, Rhode Island voted by two votes to ratify the document, and the last of the original 13 colonies joined the United States. Today, the U.S. Constitution is the oldest written constitution in operation in the world.

READ MORE: U.S. Constitution: Articles, Ratifying & Summary

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NASA unveils its first space shuttle, the Enterprise

Year
1976
Month Day
September 17

On September 17, 1976, NASA publicly unveils its first space shuttle, the Enterprise, during a ceremony in Palmdale, California. Development of the aircraft-like spacecraft cost almost $10 billion and took nearly a decade. In 1977, the Enterprise became the first space shuttle to fly freely when it was lifted to a height of 25,000 feet by a Boeing 747 airplane and then released, gliding back to Edwards Air Force Base on its own accord.

Regular flights of the space shuttle began on April 12, 1981, with the launching of Columbia from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Launched by two solid-rocket boosters and an external tank, only the aircraft-like shuttle entered into orbit around Earth. When the two-day mission was completed, the shuttle fired engines to reduce speed and, after descending through the atmosphere, landed like a glider at California’s Edwards Air Force Base.

Early shuttles took satellite equipment into space and carried out various scientific experiments. On January 28, 1986, NASA and the space shuttle program suffered a major setback when the Challenger exploded 74 seconds after takeoff and all seven people aboard were killed.

In September 1988, space shuttle flights resumed with the successful launching of the Discovery. Since then, the space shuttle has carried out numerous important missions, such as the repair and maintenance of the Hubble Space Telescope and the construction and manning of the International Space Station.A tragedy in space again rocked the nation on February 1, 2003, when Columbia, on its 28th mission, disintegrated during re-entry of the earth’s atmosphere. All seven astronauts aboard were killed. In the aftermath, the space-shuttle program was grounded until Discovery returned to space in July 2005, amid concerns that the problems that had downed Columbia had not yet been fully solved. NASA’s final space shuttle mission came to an end in July, 2011.

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Camp David Accords signed

Year
1978
Month Day
September 17

At the White House in Washington, D.C., Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin sign the Camp David Accords, laying the groundwork for a permanent peace agreement between Egypt and Israel after three decades of hostilities. The accords were negotiated during 12 days of intensive talks at President Jimmy Carter’s Camp David retreat in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland. The final peace agreement—the first between Israel and one of its Arab neighbors—was signed in March 1979. Sadat and Begin were jointly awarded the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts.

READ MORE: How Jimmy Carter Brokered a Hard-Won Peace Deal Between Israel and Egypt

A state of war had existed between Egypt and the State of Israel since the establishment of Israel in 1948. In the first three Arab-Israeli wars, Israel decisively defeated Egypt. As a result of the 1967 war, Israel occupied Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, the 23,500-square-mile peninsula that links Africa with Asia. When Anwar el-Sadat became Egyptian president in 1970, he found himself leader of an economically troubled nation that could ill afford to continue its endless crusade against Israel. He wanted to make peace and thereby achieve stability and recovery of the Sinai, but after Israel’s stunning victory in the 1967 war it was unlikely that Israel’s peace terms would be favorable to Egypt. So Sadat conceived of a daring plan to attack Israel again, which, even if unsuccessful, might convince the Israelis that peace with Egypt was necessary.

In 1972, Sadat expelled 20,000 Soviet advisers from Egypt and opened new diplomatic channels with Washington, which, as Israel’s key ally, would be an essential mediator in any future peace talks. Then, on October 6, 1973, Egyptian and Syrian forces launched a joint attack against Israel. It was Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year for Jews, and Israeli forces were taken entirely by surprise. It took more than a week for Israel to beat back the impressive Arab advances. A U.S. airlift of arms aided Israel’s cause, but President Richard Nixon delayed the emergency military aid for seven days as a tacit signal of U.S. sympathy for Egypt. In November, an Egyptian-Israeli cease-fire was secured by the United States.

Although Egypt had again suffered military defeat against its Jewish neighbor, the initial Egyptian successes greatly enhanced Sadat’s prestige in the Middle East and provided him with an opportunity to seek peace. In 1974, the first of two Egyptian-Israeli disengagement agreements providing for the return of portions of the Sinai to Egypt were signed, and in 1975 Sadat traveled to the United States to discuss his peace efforts and seek American aid and investment.

When talks with Israel stalled, Sadat made a dramatic journey to Jerusalem in November 1977 and spoke before the Israeli Knesset (Parliament). In September 1978, President Jimmy Carter invited Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Begin to the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, where dual peace accords were hammered out under the direction of Carter. Signed on September 17, the historic agreements provided for complete Israeli evacuation from the Sinai, laid the groundwork for the signing of a final peace agreement, and outlined a broader framework for achieving peace in the Middle East.

Sadat and Begin received the Nobel Peace Prize, and on March 29, 1979, a permanent peace agreement was signed that closely resembled the Camp David Accords. The treaty ended the state of war between the two countries and provided for the establishment of full diplomatic and commercial relations.

Although Sadat was greatly praised in the West, he was widely condemned in the Arab world. In 1979, Egypt was expelled from the Arab League, and internal opposition to his policies led to domestic crises. On October 6, 1981, Sadat was assassinated by Muslim extremists in Cairo while viewing a military parade commemorating the Yom Kippur War. Despite Sadat’s death, the peace process continued under Egypt’s new president, Hosni Mubarak. In 1982, Israel fulfilled the 1979 peace treaty by returning the last segment of the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. 

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Battle of Antietam breaks out

Year
1862
Month Day
September 17

Beginning early on the morning of September 17, 1862, Confederate and Union troops in the Civil War clash near Maryland’s Antietam Creek in the bloodiest single day in American military history.

The Battle of Antietam marked the culmination of Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s first invasion of the Northern states. Guiding his Army of Northern Virginia across the Potomac River in early September 1862, the great general daringly divided his men, sending half of them, under the command of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, to capture the Union garrison at Harper’s Ferry.

President Abraham Lincoln put Major General George B. McClellan in charge of the Union troops responsible for defending Washington, D.C., against Lee’s invasion. Over the course of September 15 and 16, the Confederate and Union armies gathered on opposite sides of Antietam Creek.

Fighting began in the foggy dawn hours of September 17. As savage and bloody combat continued for eight hours across the region, the Confederates were pushed back but not beaten, despite sustaining some 15,000 casualties.

By the time the sun went down, both armies still held their ground, despite staggering combined casualties–nearly 23,000 of the 100,000 soldiers engaged, including more than 3,600 dead. McClellan’s center never moved forward, leaving a large number of Union troops that did not participate in the battle.

On the morning of September 18, both sides gathered their wounded and buried their dead. That night, Lee turned his forces back to Virginia.

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George Washington prepares final draft of farewell address

Year
1796
Month Day
September 17

George Washington prepares a final draft of his presidential farewell address on September 17, 1796. Two days later, the carefully crafted words appeared in Claypoole’s American Daily Advertiser, published in Philadelphia, officially notifying the American public that Washington would voluntarily step down as the nation’s first president. The decision was extraordinary: rarely, if ever, in the history of western civilization had a national leader voluntarily relinquished his title. The action set a model for successive U.S. administrations and future democracies.

READ MORE: How Washington’s Farewell Address Inspired Future Presidents

Historians have since discovered that Washington dated the draft of the address to coincide with the nine-year anniversary of the adoption of the first draft of the U.S. Constitution in 1787. Scholars agree that Alexander Hamilton, former aide to Washington during the Revolutionary War and the first U.S. secretary of the treasury, wrote much of the address. Washington was greatly influenced by his federalist cohort Hamilton throughout their professional relationship, much to the frustration of the Republican members of his government, particularly Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. It was Madison who had helped pen a farewell draft for Washington at the end of his first term, which Hamilton had initially used as a template for the final farewell address. That version was ultimately tossed aside, however, in favor of one drafted from scratch by Hamilton. He and Washington spent the summer of 1796 finalizing the speech, which was delivered for printing in September.

Many Americans had hoped or assumed that Washington would serve another term or even until his death. As Washington’s second term came to a close in early 1797, he was in poor health, exhausted from years of internal squabbling amongst members of his cabinet and ready to retire to his beloved plantation in Virginia. According to biographer Ron Chernow, although Hamilton wrote much of the speech, it was faithful to Washington’s style and tone. In addition to laying out his hopes for America’s future, the address called for an end to partisan politics and maintained that Washington’s decision not to run for a third term was in the best interests of the country. “I have…contributed towards the organization and administration of the government the best exertions of which a very fallible judgment was capable,” he humbly admitted. Desiring the “shade of retirement,” Washington reminded the people that his position as president was designed to be temporary. He believed it was his patriotic duty to uphold the Constitution and pass on his role as the nation’s top public servant to someone else.

READ MORE: George Washington’s Final Years—And Sudden, Agonizing Death

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The Who literally spark an explosion on national television

Year
1967
Month Day
September 17

In introducing them at the Monterey Pop Festival three months earlier, Eric Burdon of the Animals had offered high praise for the up-and-coming British rock band the Who, promising the crowd “A group that will destroy you in more ways than one.” A substandard audio setup that day prevented the Who from unleashing the full sonic assault for which they were already becoming famous, but their high-energy, instrument-destroying antics inspired the next act, Jimi Hendrix, to burn his guitar and announced to the tens of thousands of Festival-goers the arrival of a powerful new force in rock and roll. The rest of America would get its introduction on September 17, 1967, when the Who ended an already explosive, nationally televised performance of “My Generation” with a literal bang that singed Pete Townshend’s hair, left shrapnel in Keith Moon’s arm and momentarily knocked The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour off the air.

As buttoned-down as its hosts appeared to be, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour came as close as any network program could in 1967 to being culturally and politically subversive. Tommy and Dick Smothers fought a running battle with CBS during their show’s three-year run over scripts that subtly tweaked “the Establishment” and guests whose off-air politics were deemed controversial by network censors. Though there was nothing overtly political about the Who, it was more than just lyrics like “Hope I die before I get old” that marked the group as happy warriors in the generational battle being waged in the late 1960s. It was also, among other things, the sheer volume at which they preferred to play and their penchant for leaving every stage they played on looking as if a bomb had just gone off. On this day in 1967, one actually did.

Keith Moon was already in the habit of placing an explosive charge in one his two bass drums to detonate during Pete Townshend’s guitar-smashing at the end of each Who performance. But for their Smothers Brothers appearance, Moon packed several times the normal amount of explosives into his drum kit, and when he set it off, a gigantic explosion rocked the set as a cloud of white smoke engulfed Townshend and singer Roger Daltrey. Though bassist John Entwistle never lost his cool, Daltrey practically flew downstage and when Townshend emerged from the smoke, his hair was almost literally blown to one side of his head. Though the incredible explosion has been rumored to have caused Pete Townshend’s eventual near-deafness, credit for that should probably go instead to the Who’s pioneering use of stacked Marshall amplifiers as a means of achieving maximum volume during their live performances.

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