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the work of history

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    March 31, 1492: Ferdinand and Isabella issue the Alhambra Decree.

    The Reconquista of the Iberian Peninsula from the Muslim rulers who had conquered it in the 8th century (and called it al-Andalus) ended when the Emirate of Granada capitulated to Ferdinand and Isabella. Under the terms of the 1491 Treaty of Granada, the monarchs granted some rights and protections to Muslims and Jews - under Muslim rule, the latter group had seen a cultural “golden age” that lasted several centuries. In 1492, however, Ferdinand and Isabella issued the Alhambra Decree, also called the Edict of Expulsion, which ordered the expulsion of Jews from their dominions. For a sense of the extent of these dominions, their titles were:

    King and Queen of Castile, Leon, Aragon, Sicily, Granada, Toledo, Valencia, Galicia, the Balearic Islands, Seville, Sardinia, Cordoba, Corsica, Murcia, Jaen, of the Algarve, Algeciras, Gibraltar, and of the Canary Islands, count and countess of Barcelona and lords of Biscay and Molina, dukes of Athens and Neopatria, counts of Rousillon and Cerdana, marquises of Oristan and of Gociano.

     A decade earlier, the monarchs had established the Spanish Inquisition to help uphold the Catholic orthodoxy of the realm; under the influence of Spain’s first Grand Inquisitor, the notorious Tomás de Torquemada, the monarchs were compelled by their religious duty to expel from their dominions all Jews who had not yet converted to Catholicism (called, along with Muslim converts, conversos). This was not the only or earliest incidence of Jewish expulsion in Europe: in 1290, Edward I of England issued his own Edict of Expulsion, which stood until the 17th century; French monarchs expelled and re-admitted their Jewish subjects severaltimes throughout the late Middle Ages; and during the Black Plague, which devastated Europe during the mid-14th century, Jews blamed for spreading the diseases fled persecution by their neighbors. Under the Alhambra Decree, around 200,000 Jews were expelled from Spain, emigrating primarily to North Africa and Turkey. While tens of thousands of conversos remained in Spain, they were not fully protected from the Inquisition by their conversion. 

    The Alhambra Decree was revoked 476 years later on December 17, 1968. 

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    History will judge societies and governments — and their institutions — not by how big they are or how well they serve the rich and the powerful, but by how effectively they respond to the needs of the poor and the helpless.

    Cesar Chavez (March 31, 1927 - April 23, 1993)

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    April 1, 1939: The Spanish Civil War ends.

    On March 28, 1939, Spanish Republican forces surrendered Madrid to Francisco Franco and his Nationalist army, which had besieged the capital for, by then, nearly three years. Madrid was one of the last Republican strongholds left standing in Spain after the Catalonia Offensive and the subsequent capture of Barcelona, and shortly after the fall of the capital city, the Francoists completed their total conquest of all of Spain. 

    Franco declared over the radio on April 1 the Nationalist victory and an end to a conflict that had cost half a million lives - and yet was still only the beginning, as the Spanish Civil War was in some ways a precursor to World War II, mostly with regard to early usage of tactics and equipment (like terror bombing and the Luftwaffe’s Stukas)that would be used throughout the later conflict. Shortly after the end of the war, the new Francoist government set out to purge and punish the new regime’s enemies, a continuation of the ongoing “White Terror”. Tens of thousands of Franco’s wartime enemies were executed or sent to labor camps or deported to Nazi concentration camps, and even those who had fled to France were soon targeted by the Vichy government, rounded up, and interned. Trade unions and all political parties except the Falange were suppressed. The end of the Spanish Civil War marked the beginning of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship (which was  nominally neutral throughout World War II, though it remained friendly toward the Axis powers), a not-quite fascist regime that lasted until Franco’s death in 1975. 

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    April 1, 1920: Toshiro Mifune is born.

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    April 2, 1513: Juan Ponce de León lands at Florida.

    In March of 1513, Juan Ponce de León, the Spanish governor of Puerto Rico, set out with three ships and two hundred men at the urging of Catholic Monarchs. Although there is no (reliable) written evidence that Ponce de León was also encouraged by the king and queen to seek the mythical Fountain of Youth, or that the explorer sought it out himself, it is a widely-held and romantic (though still apocryphal) belief that he set out to find the fountain on the Bahaman island of Bimini and instead discovered Florida. After Ponce de León’s death, the Fountain of Youth legend became inextricably linked to his exploration and to Florida, specifically St. Augustine. Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas, a historian who was born over two decades after the explorer’s death, mentioned the fountain briefly in his account of the Florida journey:

    Having overhauled the vessels, it appearing to Juan Ponce that he had labored much, he resolved, although against his will, to send some one to examine the island of Bimini; for he wished to do it himself, because of the account he had of the wealth of this island, and especially of that particular spring so the Indians said that restores men from aged men to youths, the which he had not been able to find…

    Regardless, Ponce de León and his men arrived ashore on April 2, 1513, in a lush and colorful land he called Florida, both for the abundance of vegetation and because it was Easter season (Pascua Florida). Although he and his expedition are credited as the European discoverers of Florida (and namers of the region, of course), they were likely not the first Europeans to set foot there, and of course, the peninsula was home to hundreds of thousands of Native Americans, who were initially friendly toward the Europeans but quickly became involved in violent skirmishes with them. As governor of Puerto Rico, Ponce de León had been complicit, a leading figure, even, in the severe mistreatment and subjugation of the indigenous people of the island, particularly through the use of the encomienda system, and he likely would have subjected the people of Florida (which he had been contractually given to settle and govern) to the same treatment had he not been mortally wounded in a Calusa attack during his first colonization attempt in 1521.   

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    “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” 

    Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last speech, delivered the night before his death - April 3, 1968. 

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    April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated.

    The night before his assassination, King delivered his last speech at Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee; popularly known as “I’ve Been to the Mountain”, this speech was made in support of the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike and called upon the United States to “be true to what you said on paper”. At the end of his speech, King famously foreshadowed his own death:

     Like anybody, I would like to live - a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

    Over the years, King had been the recipient of countless death threats, including a bomb threat made against him on his way to Memphis, and so he had become accustomed to the possibility that he might suffer a premature death as so manycivil rights workersand leaders had before him. 

    At around 6 PM, King was standing on the balcony outside his room at Memphis’  Lorraine Motel when he was struck by a single bullet through the cheek, fired from a pump-action rifle wielded by James Earl Ray, who shortly afterward fled north to Canada. After being taken to the hospital, King was pronounced dead five minutes after 7. All across the United States, violent riots in Baltimore, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere broke out during the week following the assassination, though notably not in Indianapolis, where Robert F. Kennedy (who would be assassinated two months later) had delivered arguably his most famous speech informing the city’s residents of King’s death. The funeral, which took place on April 9, was attended by 300,000 people, and a bill to establish a holiday in his honor was presented in Congress not long after. King’s family, and many others besides, maintain that James Earl Ray (a small-time criminal) was the scapegoat of a conspiracy involving the U.S. government and FBI. It is fact that the FBI’s COINTELPRO closely monitored King’s (and other “subversives’) activities intensely, often through illegal and dubious means, such as wiretapping and anonymous letters urging him to commit suicide.

    LIFE: The Day MLK Was Assassinated

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    Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert

    Roger Ebert loved movies.

    Except for those he hated.

    Roger Ebert, longtime film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times and the first movie critic to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize, died today (April 4, 2013) at age 70

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    Thank you for going on this journey with me. I’ll see you at the movies.

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    April 5, 1818: The Army of the Andes and Chilean rebels defeat the Spanish at the Battle of Maipú.

    At this major battle of the Chilean War of Independence, forces led by Bernardo O’Higgins, José de San Martín, and Miguel Estanislao Soler met and defeated Spanish royalist armies near Santiago. Although the Chilean War of Independence (which had begun in 1810) would last by some accounts until 1826, when the last of the royalist troops surrendered, the Battle of Maipú is often considered the point in the war at which independence was all but secured, as the Spanish were never again powerful enough in that region to mount an attack on Santiago.

    Three years earlier, the “Disaster of Rancagua”, a decisive royalist victory over the patriots, marked the beginning of the Reconquista period during the Spanish American wars of independence, during which Spain, with its newly restored king Ferdinand VII and an end to the threat posed by Napoleon, began to take the upper hand in the wars. In 1817, after the Crossing of the Andes, Santiago was recaptured from the royalists once more, and Bernardo O’Higgins Riquelme was appointed Chile’s second Supreme Director. As Chile’s former royal governor Mariano Osorio prepared for a rematch over Santiago, it seemed as though the capital might fall into royalist hands again - that would be decided at Maipú, where two evenly-matched armies (numbers-wise) faced off against each other. The royalist force lost twice as many men as the patriot army (around 2,000), and their loss left them with no hope for a second Reconquista. 

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  • 04/06/13--14:05: More Caspar David Friedrich

  • Evening Landscape with Two Men

    Monk by the Sea


    Evening on the Baltic Sea

    The Sea of Ice

    Moonrise Over the Sea

    Mountain Landscape

    Cloister Cemetery in the Snow

    More Caspar David Friedrich

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    April 9, 1959: NASA selects the “Mercury Seven”.

    Two years after the Soviet Union launched the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, and the Space Race along with it, NASA chose from an elite pool of candidates America’s first astronauts, now members of a group known collectively as “the Mercury Seven”. The competition between the two nations during the early years of the Space Race moved at breakneck speed - Sputnik was launched in late 1957; the United States launched Explorer 1 three months later in January of 1958; NASA was formed five months after that; and by the end of the year the agency had set up Project Mercury and begun the search process for its first astronauts.

    This search process was, initially, fairly general. Candidates had to be male, under six feet and 180 pounds (size was critical in performing human spaceflight), a bachelor’s decree, and flight experience and qualifications. 110 applicants met all these qualifications, and dozens were further eliminated through strenuous physical and mental tests until eighteen remained, and of those eighteen seven men from three branches of the U.S. military were selected to form “Astronaut Group 1”. These seven men were regarded by the public (to whom they were introduced on April 9, 1959) as valiant explorers, models of American values, and the faces of anti-Communism in space. 

    The seven members of the Mercury Seven were:

    - Alan Shepard, the first American to travel into space (and presumably the first to play golf on the surface of the moon, as well)

    - Gus Grissom, commander of the first manned Gemini mission, Gemini 3; Grissom was also one of three men to die in the Apollo 1 fire

    - Malcolm Carpenter, the second American to orbit the Earth

    - John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth 

    - Wally Schirra, the only one of the seven to fly in Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions

    - Gordon Cooper, pilot of the final manned Mercury mission

    - Deke Slayton, pilot of the American crew of the joint US-Soviet Apollo-Soyuz Test Project

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    Tintern Abbey, the transept (1795) - J.M.W. Turner

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    April 10, 1930: Dolores Huerta is born.

    Dolores Huerta was born in Dawson, New Mexico, and was raised by her mother (along with her two brothers) in Stockton, California, a major city in the state’s agriculturally productive San Joaquin Valley. Although her mother eventually became a hotel owner and a successful businesswoman, Huerta’s community was supported by low-wage migrant farm workers (like the family of Cesar Chavez), and so Huerta herself, inspired by her upbringing and her experience working as a teacher among impoverished students, became a community organizer and set out to “correct economic injustice”. In the 1950s Huerta worked with the Stockton chapter of the Community Service Organization, a group that focused on promoting political participation and empowerment among American immigrant groups, especially Mexican-Americans, and which came to be known as “training ground for the first generation of Latino leaders”. Among these leaders was Huerta herself, and Cesar Chavez, whom she met while working with the CSO. 

    In 1960, she founded the Agricultural Workers Association (AWA), and in 1962 Huerta and Chavez founded a union called the National Farm Workers Association that would later merge with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee to become the United Farm Workers of America, . Its principal aim was (and is) to organize farmworkers and, through non-violent methods, to “provide farm workers and other working people with the inspiration and tools to share in society’s bounty”. In 1965, the AWOC and NFWA organized the Delano grape strike in protest of the poor pay (90 cents an hour, on average) and poor working conditions of table grape growers; this strike was not resolved until 1970, but the activists successfully brought national attention to the plight of oft-overlooked farmworkers. Huerta was a co-founder of the UFW and one of its major spokespeople and organizers, but she also provided within the union a feminist voice; previously she had referred to feminism as a “middle-class phenomenon”, but later referred to herself as a “born-again feminist” - in addition to organizing farmworkers in pursuit of better pay and working conditions, Huerta also worked to get more women involved in the movement. 

    During her work as an activist, Huerta was arrested over twenty times. In 1988, she was beaten by the police in San Francisco during a peaceful protest against the policies of George H.W. Bush, and after this incident she began to focus on women’s rights advocacy. Since the 1990s, Huerta has received numerous honors and awards for her work, including the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award in 1998, honorary degrees from several institutions, and most recently the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian award.  

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    April 11, 1945: Buchenwald concentration camp is liberated.

    Buchenwald was established in 1937 near Weimar, making it one of the earliest concentration camps constructed within German borders. During its years of operation, Buchenwald served primarily as a source of slave laborers – political prisoners, Poles , Jews, Romani, criminals, prisoners of war, etc. – who worked to support German factories and production, and who died in massive numbers from their working and living conditions, although Buchenwald and camps like it were technically not considered “extermination camps” (these camps, equipped with gas chambers and crematoriums, were mostly located in Poland). Buchenwald was also made notorious by the brutality of its guards and overseers, most famously Ilse Koch, the “Bitch of Buchenwald”, who allegedly collected the tattoooed skins of camp prisoners. Tens of thousands of prisoners died at Buchenwald and in its subcamps by the time of its liberation by a detachment of American troops, while some 28,000 were evacuated and forced on a death march just days before the troops arrived.

    Margaret Bourke-White, a war correspondent who was present at Buchenwald around the time of its liberation, wrote in her 1946 memoir Dear Fatherland, Rest Quietly on the German citizens from nearby Weimar who were made to walk through the camp and look upon the atrocities committed by their countrymen:

    This whiteness had the fragile translucence of snow, and I wished that under the bright April sun which shone from a clean blue sky it would all simply melt away. I longed for it to disappear, because while it was there I was reminded that men actually had done this thing — men with arms and legs and eyes and hearts not so very unlike our own. And it made me ashamed to be a member of the human race.

    The several hundred other spectators who filed through the Buchenwald courtyard on that sunny April afternoon were equally unwilling to admit association with the human beings who had perpetrated these horrors. But their reluctance had a certain tinge of self-interest; for these were the citizens of Weimar, eager to plead their ignorance of the outrages.

    When US forces arrived at Buchenwald, the 21,000 prisoners who had been left behind had taken control of the camp after their SS guards fled, aware of the inevitable arrival of Allied forces. 

    LIFE Behind the Picture: The Liberation of Buchenwald, April 1945 (graphic images)

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    Pond in the Morning (1899) - Gustav Klimt

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    April 12, 1864: The Fort Pillow Massacre takes place.

    The battle over Fort Pillow, a fort in Tennessee situated in a strategic position on the Mississippi, ended in its capture by Confederate forces and in a massacre of surrendered black Union troops. African-Americans had been serving in Union regiments since mid-1862, although these regiments were commanded by white officers, and opening military service to African-Americans did not do much to lessen the prejudice and racism that they faced in Northern society. Confederate policy toward these soldiers regarded them not as prisoners of war but as slaves in insurrection, and decreed that captured black soldiers be dealt with accordingly. Captured white officers were tried for “inciting servile insurrection” (for which the punishment was death), and their soldiers were to“be at once delivered over to the executive authorities of the respective States to which they belong, to be dealt with according to the law of said States”. This often involved returning freed/escaped slaves to slavery, although in some cases, Confederate officers chose instead to allow their soldiers to massacre surrendering troops rather than take them prisoner. Thus there always existed a dangerous uncertainty over what treatment black soldiers (and their white officers) might face if they were captured, or if they surrendered in Union uniform.

    The Confederate force at Fort Pillow was under the command of Major General Nathan Bedford Forrest, later first Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, and they outnumbered the Union soldiers (made up of both black and white men) around 2,000 to 600. Even after the overwhelmed Union troops threw down their guns in surrender, Confederate soldiers indiscriminately slaughtered both black and white soldiers, though black soldiers made up a disproportionately large amount of those killed (which was around half the total force of 600) and a disproportionately small amount of those taken prisoner. An excerpt from a letter “from a naval officer’, reflecting on the aftermath of the battle:

    I had some conversation with rebel officers, and they claim that our men would not surrender, and in some few cases they could not control their men, who seemed determined to shoot down every negro soldier, whether he surrendered or not.

    In June of that year, Congress passed laws equalizing pay between black and white soldiers; while advocating equal pay, one Massachusetts senator claimed that he believed the Union’s treatment of African-Americans was nearly as bad as that of the Confederate soldiers who had carried out the massacre at Fort Pillow. 

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    April 14, 1865: Abraham Lincoln is assassinated.

    Five days after the surrender and deactivation of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House (the effective end of the war), Abraham Lincoln was shot in the head by John Wilkes Booth, a stage actor and Confederate sympathizer. The demise of the Confederacy pushed Booth, a strongly pro-South, anti-Lincoln Maryland native, over the edge, and he abandoned a kidnapping plot that he and co-conspirators Lewis Powell, George Atzerodt, David Herold, Samuel Arnold, Michael O’Laughlen and John Surratt had been formulating since 1864 in favor of simple assassination.

    On April 14, they learned that President Lincoln would be attending a performance of the play Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre, in Washington, D.C., later that evening. He and the conspirators gathered once more, and it was decided that Lewis Powell and David Herold would attack Secretary of State William Seward, that George Atzerodt would carry out an assassination attempt on Vice President Andrew Johnson, and that Booth himself would kill Lincoln. The only attack of these that resulted in a death was Booth’s. He entered the Lincolns’ private theatre box during a particularly humorous moment in the play and shot the President once in the head, before leaping onto the stage, where he yelled either the Virginia state motto - “Sic semper tyrannis” - or “the South is avenged!” Booth broke his leg sometime between the fall and his escape, and he went on the run before being shot outside a barn in Virginia on April 26.

    Lincoln, meanwhile, was moved to a house across the street from the theatre; he was pronounced dead early the next morning, the day before Easter Sunday. Utterly divisive as a leader in life, Lincoln was nevertheless mourned by millions in both the North and South in death.

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    Harbor of Trieste (1907) - Egon Schiele

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    April 15, 1947: Jackie Robinson breaks the “baseball color line”.

    Professional American baseball was established in 1869, four years after the end of the Civil War; while African-Americans did have their own clubs and professional leagues, Major League Baseball was de facto segregated from its founding until 1946 (non-whites had previously played in the MLB, however), when Jackie Robinson, a Georgian and a Negro League baseball player, signed with the Brooklyn Dodgers. 

    Robinson played his first game with the Dodgers on April 15, 1947, at Ebbets Field in front of a crowd of 26,000, over half of whom were black. Robinson received torrents of racist hatred and resentment from spectators, from opposing teams, and from even his own teammates. When Robinson, who had once been court-martialed during his time as an army officer for refusing to move to the back of a bus asked Branch Rickey, “are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?” Rickey famously responded that he was looking for a player “with guts enough not to fight back”. Robinson’s first step toward the integration of Major League Baseball was neither smooth nor simple - Robinson was heckled with slurs and even injured while playing, he and his family were met with death threats and violence, and some of his own teammates refused to play alongside a black player (though others, like Pee Wee Reese and Hank Greenberg defended Robinson). But his debut was a monumental moment in baseball history; in 1948, 1951, and 1956, baseball greats like Satchel Paige, Willie Mays, and Hank Aaron all signed with major league teams. 

    In 1962, Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. His jersey number, 42, has since been retired by all Major League Baseball teams. Later in his life, he served on the board of directors of the NAACP, supported the SCLC and CORE, and worked to promote civil rights - writing that he wouldn’t “‘have it made’ until the most underprivileged Negro in Mississippi can live in equal dignity with anyone else in America.” 

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