On this day in 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act into law. It was the first legislation to diverge from the previous official U.S. policy to respect Native Americans’ legal and political rights. Jackson announced his policy by saying, “It gives me pleasure to announce to Congress that the benevolent policy of the Government, steadily pursued for nearly thirty years, in relation to the removal of the Indians beyond the white settlements is approaching to a happy consummation.” He also said, “Toward the aborigines of the country no one can indulge a more friendly feeling than myself, or would go further in attempting to reclaim them from their wandering habits and make them a happy, prosperous people.”
The policy primarily affected five tribes: the Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Chickasaw, and Seminole nations of the southeastern United States. In 1823, the Supreme Court ruled that the white settlers’ “right of discovery” superseded the Indians’ “right of occupancy.” The five nations resisted nonviolently at first, and tried to assimilate into Anglo-American practices of education, large-scale farming, and slave-holding, but to no avail, and about 100,000 Indians were forcibly marched thousands of miles – sometimes in manacles – to lands west of the Mississippi, most of which were deemed undesirable by white settlers. As many as 25 percent died en route.
The Cherokee nation battled the Removal Act in courts of law, and the Seminoles of Florida battled it literally; Chief Osceola said: “You have guns, and so have we. You have powder and lead, and so have we. You have men, and so have we. Your men will fight and so will ours, till the last drop of the Seminole’s blood has moistened the dust of his hunting ground.”
Today is the birthday of Malcolm X (books by this author), born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska (1925). When he was four years old and living in East Lansing, Michigan, white supremacists set fire to the family’s home. The East Lansing police and firefighters-all white-came to the house when called, but stood by and watched it burn. When he was six, his father was murdered. Police declared his death a suicide, which invalidated the family’s life insurance policy. Little’s mother never recovered from her husband’s murder, and entered a mental institution when the boy was 12. When he was 14, he told his high school teacher that he wanted to be a lawyer. The teacher told him to be realistic and consider a career in carpentry instead. Little dropped out of school the following year.
He was arrested for larceny in 1946, and while in prison, an older inmate encouraged him to use his time to educate himself. Little began checking out books from the prison library, and when he found his vocabulary too limited for some of them, he copied out an entire dictionary word for word. He also began a correspondence with Elijah Mohammad, the founder of the Nation of Islam, and once released, became one of their most prominent organizers. He took the surname “X” to symbolize his lost African heritage.
But in 1964, Malcolm X broke with the Nation of Islam when he learned that his mentor was having multiple affairs, contradicting his own teachings. Seeking clarity, Malcolm that year made the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Here, for the first time, he related to people of all races, and returned to America with a new message. He stopped preaching the rigid separatism that had been his trademark, and instead called for people to work together across racial lines.
At the end of 1964, over many conversations, Malcolm X dictated his life story to the writer Alex Haley. The book was almost finished when, in February of 1965, Malcolm X was shot and killed while speaking at a rally at the Audubon Ballroom in Manhattan. He was 39 years old. A few months later Alex Haley published The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965). It has since seen over 40 editions and sold in the tens of millions.
Taken from the “Writer’s Almanac.”
The Supreme Court ruled that school segregation violated the Fourteenth Amendment on this date in 1954. An eight-year-old girl named Linda Brown in Topeka, Kansas, had to travel 21 blocks every day to an all-black elementary school, even though she lived just seven blocks from another elementary school for white children. Her father, Oliver Brown, asked that his daughter be allowed to attend the nearby white school, and when the white school’s principal refused, Brown sued. The court had five school segregation cases from different states on its docket, so the justices combined them under one name: Oliver Brown et al. v. the Board of Education of Topeka. The Supreme Court justices decided to list Brown’s case first because it originated in Kansas, and they didn’t want to give the impression that segregation was purely a Southern problem.
The legal basis for segregation came from the 1896 Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson, which had established that separate facilities for black and white students were constitutional as long as those separate facilities were equal. When Brown v. Board of Education first came before the Supreme Court in 1952, most of the justices were personally opposed to segregation, but only four of them openly supported overturning such a long-established precedent. The tide shifted in September of 1953 when Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson died of a sudden heart attack, and President Eisenhower chose Earl Warren as the new chief justice. As governor of California, Earl Warren had overseen the internment of many Japanese Americans during World War II, and regretted it. Since the war, he had devoted himself to the cause of civil rights.
Warren’s vote alone made the decision 5 to 4 in favor of overturning segregation, but Warren wanted a unanimous decision for such a controversial case. Once he had all the votes, Warren announced the decision to a crowd at the court on this day in 1954. Justice Stanley Reed, a justice from Kentucky who had been the final holdout, wept as the decision was read.
Even though the nation’s highest court had weighed in, it took many more years and several more Supreme Court cases before most Southern schools were fully integrated, and de facto segregation still exists in some communities.
From “The Writer’s Almanac.”
|The author of two best-selling books of nonfiction: Seabiscuit: An American Legend (2001) and Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (2010).Hillenbrand grew up in Fairfax, Virginia, and spent her childhood riding horses on the family farm, a stone cottage on the banks of the Potomac River that was once used as a hospital during the battle of Antietam. She had to drop out of Kenyon College after suffering her first bout with chronic fatigue syndrome and was confined to bed for the next 18 months. She first published an article about Seabiscuit, the legendary racehorse, in American Heritage magazine (2003). Seabiscuit was small, knobby-kneed, and lazy, and his rider was a half-blind failed prizefighter, but he became the winningest racehorse in history during the 1930s, a symbol of resilience and hope for millions of Americans during the Great Depression. Her agent shopped the proposal to an editor at Random House. The editor wasn’t interested, at first, since books about horses tended to be boring, and the main characters were all dead, but he signed Hillenbrand. She delivered the manuscript 17 months later. The editor read it and sent her an email, which read, “In terms of pure narrative, this is the most satisfying story I have every encountered in my eleven years as an editor. Reading it wasn’t even work; it was pleasure.” Seabiscuit became a New York Times best-seller. The film version starred Tobey Maguire and Jeff Bridges (2003). Because of her chronic fatigue syndrome, Hillenbrand rarely leaves her house, so she’s had to adjust her research methods. She buys vintage newspapers on eBay and does interviews with her subjects by phone. She also listens to a lot of historical audio books, which she says makes her a better writer. “Good writing has a musical quality to it, a mathematical quality, a balance and a rhythm. You can feel that much better when it’s read aloud.” It was while reading old articles about Seabiscuit that Hillenbrand came across a story about running phenomenon Louis Zamperini, whose bombardier plane crashed into the Pacific Ocean in 1943. He spent 47 days adrift on a raft, eating seabirds, until he and his companion were captured. He spent the next two years being tortured in three different Japanese prisoner-of-war camps. Hillenbrand’s book about Zamperini, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (2010) has been on the New York Times best-seller list for over four years. Angelina Jolie directed the film version (2014). About writing, Hillenbrand says: “I feel so fully alive when I’m really into a story. I feel like all my faculties are engaged, and this is where I’m meant to be. It’s probably what a racehorse feels like when it runs. This is what it’s meant to do, what its body is meant to do. This is what my mind is meant to do.”|
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