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  History from the grass roots . . .

This Week in History is a collection designed to help us appreciate the fact that we are part of a rich history advocating peace and social justice. While the entries often focus on large and dramatic events there are so many smaller things done everyday to promote peace and justice.

To the real peace advocates - YOU!

Publisher, Carl Bunin • Editor, Al FrankDetroit, Michigan
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This week at a glance.

July 14

•Bastille Day
•"Sedition" outlawed
•Congress acknowledges air pollution

July 15
•U.S. identifies draft dodgers
•The Longest Walk

July 16
•Rail workers stop the trains
•1st atomic bomb
•Nuclear waste spill
•Human chain for peace

July 17
•A new Lincoln hospital
•Olympians walk out over apartheid
•Nicaraguan dictator falls

July 18
•U.S. bombs civilians
•A new Lincoln hospital
•Olympians walk out over apartheid
•Nicaraguan dictator falls
July 19
•Women's Rights Convention
•1st anti-segregation sit-in
•Vietnam War tax protest
•Don't Ask,
Don't Tell

July 20
•Black Power
•1st Government Contract

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July 14, 1789

Bastille Day in France: Parisian revolutionaries and mutinous troops stormed and dismantled the Bastille, a former royal fortress converted to a state prison, that had come to symbolize the tyranny of the Bourbon monarchy. This dramatic action was proof that power no longer resided in the King as God's representative, but in the people, and signaled the beginning of the French Revolution and the First Republic.

Bastille Day

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Declaration of Independence

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July 14, 1798

A mere 22 years after the Declaration of Independence, Congress passed the Sedition Act, making it a federal crime to ". . . unlawfully combine or conspire together, with intent to oppose any measure or measures of the government of the United States . . . or to excite any unlawful combinations therein, for opposing or resisting any law of the United States, or any act of the President of the United States . . . ."
The Declaration:
“...whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends [life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness], it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government....”

“An act for the punishment of certain crimes against the United States”

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July 14, 1955

The Air Pollution Control Act of 1955 became law, the first in a series of laws that ultimately became the Clean Air Act in 1963.
This first law simply provided funding to the Public Health Service to conduct research.

History of the Clean Air Act: a guide to clean air legislation
past and present

It's time for renewable

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July 15, 1919

Following World War I, the U.S. War Department announced that it had classified more than 337,000 American men as "draft dodgers."
Read a brief history of Conscientious Objection in America

Peaceful dissent is the sound of freedom and justice.

July 15, 1978

The Longest Walk, a peaceful transcontinental trek for Native American justice, which had begun with a few hundred departing Alcatraz Island, California, ended this day when they arrived in Washington, D.C. accompanied by 30,000 marchers.
They were calling attention to the ongoing problems plaguing Indian communities throughout the Americas: lack of jobs, housing, health care, as well as dozens of pieces of legislation before Congress canceling treaty obligations of the U.S. government toward various Indian tribes.
They submitted petitions signed by one-and-a-half million Americans
to President Jimmy Carter.
Alcatraz is not an island

Peace quote

"What we did in the 1960s and early 1970s was raise the consciousness of white America that this government has a responsibility to Indian people. That there are treaties; that textbooks in every school in America have a responsibility to tell the truth..."
- Dennis Banks


July 16, 1877

Firemen and brakemen for the Pennsylvania and Baltimore & Ohio Railroads refused to work, and refused to let replacements take their jobs. They managed to halt all railroad traffic at the Camden Junction just outside of Baltimore. The railroad companies had cut wages and shortened the workweek.
A contemporary artist’s rendering of the clash in Baltimore between workers
and the Maryland Sixth Regiment during the Great Railroad Strike of 1877.
The governor had called out the troops on behalf of the railroad company.
After a second pay cut in June, Pennsylvania RR announced that the same number of workers would be expected to service twice as many trains. The work stoppage spread west and eventually became the first nationwide strike
Background and growth of the Strike

Peace quote

“While there is a lower class I am in it; while there is a criminal element I am of it; while there is a soul in prison, I am not free”
- Eugene V. Debs

Eugene Debs
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July 16, 1945

The U.S. Army’s Manhattan Project succeeded as its first hand-made experimental atomic bomb, known as the “Gadget,” was successfully detonated at the top of a 30m (100 ft.) tower in the desert near Alamogordo, New Mexico (at the Trinity test site now part of the White Sands Missile Range). The original $6,000 budget for the intensive and secret weapons development program during World War II eventually ballooned to a total cost of nearly $2 billion (more than $25 billion in current dollars).

"Gadget" explodes
Assembled in the McDonald Ranch house nearby, the orange-sized plutonium core, weighing 6.1 kg (13.5 lbs.), yielded an explosive force of more than 20 kilotons (equivalent of 20,000 tons of TNT).
The "Gadget" just before the Trinity test July 16, 1945.
Trinity Atomic Bomb website What it’s like there today: “My Radioactive Vacation”

Albert Einstein
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July 16, 1979

The largest release of radioactive material in the U.S. occurred in the Navajo Nation. More than 1200 metric tons (1,100 tons) of uranium tailings (mining waste) and 378 million liters (100 million gallons) of radioactive water burst through a packed-mud dam near Church Rock, New Mexico. The river contaminated by the spill, the Rio Puerco, showed 7,000 times the allowable standard of radioactivity for drinking water downstream from the broken dam shortly after the breach was repaired.
A month later, only 5% of the tailings had been cleaned out. Warnings not to drink the contaminated water were issued by officials, but non-English-speaking Navajo never heard them, having no electrical power for TV or radio. Humans and livestock continued to drink the water.

No Nuclear
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July 16, 1983

During a time of increasing tension between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics), and an escalating nuclear arms race, 10,000 peace activists formed a human chain linking the two superpowers’ embassies in London, England.
The same day, members of the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp painted the U.S. spy plane, Blackbird, and composed this song for their activities:
[to the tune of Count Basie’s “Bye, Bye, Blackbird”]

"Here I stand paint in hand
Speaking low, here I go
Bye bye blackbird
Just a dab of paint or two
Here I stand paint in hand
Speaking low, here I go
Bye bye blackbird
Just a dab of paint or two
Grounds you for a week or two
Bye bye blackbird.
  No one in the base could undermine you
Till we did some countersigning on you
Now you're just a silly joke
Invented by some macho bloke
Blackbird bye bye."

No Nuclear Weapons
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July 17, 1970

The Young Lords Party entered the Lincoln Hospital in the South Bronx, NYC. The hospital, located in a condemned and dilapidated building, was filled with pain, degredation, neglect, flies, and humiliation. The YLP set up care units in the Hospital, and drew attention to the abysmal conditions.
The direct-action takeover prompted a response by the government, and the building of a new Lincoln Hospital.
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July 17, 1976

The opening ceremony of the 21st Olympic Games in Montreal was marked by the withdrawal of more than twenty African countries, Iraq and Guyana, and their 300 athletes. They had demanded that New Zealand be banned from participation because its national rugby team had toured South Africa, itself banned from the Olympics since 1964 for its refusal to end the racially separatist policy of apartheid.

The Soweto Massacre, in which 150 children were killed by South African troops, had occurred just one month earlier. The apartheid government had been using international sport as a means to build respectability. The following year, however, in reaction to the Olympic boycott, the nations of the British Commonwealth (which includes New Zealand)adopted the Gleneagles Agreement, discouraging all sporting contacts with South Africa.
African countries boycott Olympics Gleneagles Agreement

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Takecare. And thank you for keeping the message of peace in our environment, our lives."


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July 17, 1979

Fighters of the Sandinista National Liberation Front overthrew the U.S.-supported dictatorial regime of Anastasio Somoza in the Central American republic of Nicaragua and forced him to flee the country. The notorious and feared U.S.-trained National Guard crumbled and its surviving commanders negotiated a surrender, despite their superiority in armaments.

The Sandanista Revolution
Anastasio Somoza  
Girls born after the historic Sandinista victory.
Legal voting age
in Nicaragua is 16 years.
The overthrow: Sandinista rebels take Nicaraguan capital

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July 18, 1872

Great Britain, under the leadership of William Gladstone, passed a law requiring voting by secret ballot. Previously, people had to mount a platform in public and announce their choice of candidate to the officer who then recorded it in the poll book. Secrecy served to prevent the possibility of coercion and retaliation for one’s vote.
A ballot box used in the 1872 election.

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July 18, 1918

Mandela photo gallery

Nelson Mandela was born. He was one of the leaders in the successful fight against apartheid in South Africa and became its first black president. In 1993 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Mandela at 19

A short bio of Nelson Mandela by the Nobel Committee

Nelson Mandela
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July 19, 1848 

The first Women's Rights Convention in the U.S. was held at Seneca Falls, New York. Its “Declaration of Sentiments” launched the movement of women to be included in the constitution.

The Declaration used as a model the U.S. Declaration of Independence, demanding that the rights of women as individuals be acknowledged and respected by society. It was signed by sixty-eight women and thirty-two men.
The impetus came from Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott, both of whom had been excluded, along with all the other female American delegates, from the World Anti-Slavery Convention (London, 1840) because of their sex.

Frederick Douglass, the former slave and abolitionist leader attended the convention and supported the resolution for women’s suffrage.When suffrage finally became a reality in 1920, seventy-two years after this first organized demand in 1848, only one signer of the Seneca Falls Declaration, Charlotte Woodward, then a young worker in a glove manufactory, had lived long enough to cast her first ballot.
The Seneca Falls convention and reaction to it  The Declaration of Sentiments

All great legislation grows out of mass movements organized by people like you and me.

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July 19, 1958

Several black teenagers, members of the local NAACP chapter (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), entered downtown Wichita’s Dockum Drug Store (then the largest drugstore chain in Kansas) and sat down at the lunch counter.
Wichita sit-in sculpture The store refused to serve them because of their race. They returned at least twice a week for the next several weeks. They sat quietly all afternoon, creating no disturbance, but refused to leave without being served. Though the police once chased them away, they were breaking no law, only asking to make a purchase, a violation of store policy.

This was the first instance of a sit-in to protest segregationist policies. Less than a month later, a white man around 40 walked in and looked at those sitting in for several minutes. Then he looked at the store manager, and said, “Serve them. I'm losing too much money.” That man was the owner of the Dockum drug store chain.
That day the lawyer for the local NAACP branch called the store’s state offices, and was toldby the chain’s vice president that “he had instructed all of his managers, clerks, etc. (statewide), to serve all people without regard to race, creed or color.”

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July 19, 1974 

Martha Tranquill of Sacramento, California, was sentenced to nine months’ prison time for refusing to pay her federal taxes as a protest against the Vietnam War.

July 19, 1993

President Bill Clinton announced regulations to implement his "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy regarding gays in the military, saying that the armed services should put an end to “witch hunts.” The policy was developed by General Colin Powell, then Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and eventually summarized as “don’t ask, don’t tell, don’t pursue, don’t harass.”


July 20, 1967


The first Black Power conference was held in Newark, New Jersey, calling on black people in the U.S. “to unite, to recognize their heritage and to build a sense of community.”

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Malcom X
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July 20, 1971

The first labor contract in the history of the federal government was signed by postal worker unions and the newly re-organized U.S. Postal Service. This contract was made possible by the postal strike of March 1970, in which 200,000 postal workers walked off the job, defying federal law.

Prior to that, postal worker salaries started at $6,200 a year, and many postal workers were eligible for food stamps. The strike was not organized by a national union; it started when rank-and-file workers walked off the job in New York City and it spread to other parts of the country.
The strike led to federal legislation that allowed postal unions to negotiate a contract with postal management (previously, postal salaries were set by Congress), with provisions for arbitration if no agreement were reached.

Since that time, postal unions have successfully negotiated or arbitrated wages and benefits that provide a secure standard of living for their members.

Read about the history of the APWU (American Postal Workers Union)

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