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the work of history

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    June 11, 1963: Thich Quang Duc self-immolates as an act of protest.

    Thich Quang Duc was a Buddhist monk who, fifty years ago on this day, set himself alight on a street intersection in Saigon. His act of self-immolation was performed in protest of Ngô Đình Diệm’s regime and its repressive religious policies against Buddhists, who made up a majority of his country’s population (Diệm himself was a Catholic). During the Buddhist crisis of 1963, nonviolent protests among Buddhists and led by Buddhist monks broke out, leading to sometimes violent responses from the Diệm government. 

    Duc, surrounded by a throng of Buddhist monks in addition to horrified onlookers, did not move during the burning. David Halberstam, writing for The New York Times, described the scene in detail:

    Flames were coming from a human being; his body was slowly withering and shriveling up, his head blackening and charring. In the air was the smell of burning human flesh; human beings burn surprisingly quickly. Behind me I could hear the sobbing of the Vietnamese who were now gathering. I was too shocked to cry, too confused to take notes or ask questions, too bewildered to even think … As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him.

    Halberstam was later awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his war reporting, and Malcolm Browne, who took the iconic photograph of Duc’s self-immolation (pictured above), also won a Pulitzer Prize. Duc’s self-immolation made international headlines and it, along with similar incidents, compelled the United States government to express its frustration with Diệm’s policies and with the resulting unpopularity of his regime in Vietnam and in the United States. Discord over Diệm’s handling of the Buddhist crisis and the threat posed by the Vietcong eventually led to a coup, initiated by ARVN officers, that led to the president’s removal from office and assassination.


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    June 12, 1963: Medgar Evers is assassinated.

    Medgar Evers was a civil rights activist who, until his assassination on June 12, 1963 outside his home in Mississippi, worked with the NAACP in his home state to organize marches, lead protests and boycotts, and help disenfranchised African-Americans register to vote. Evers was not the first or only activist to be murdered while serving in the Deep South during this period, nor was he as publicly recognized as Malcolm X or Martin Luther King, Jr., but his murder remains one of the most infamous events of the Civil Rights Movement. 

    Evers was shot and killed in his own driveway, in front of his children, as he exited his car the morning after President John F. Kennedy delivered an address in support of civil rights, which urged the American public to stand behind a piece of legislation which would later become the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. As a prominent black civil rights leader within his own community, Evers and his family were targeted by militant white supremacists with threats of violence and with violent acts up until his assassination. The man who shot at Evers and killed him with a single bullet to the back in the early hours of June 12 was one of these supremacists, a member of the White Citizens’ Council (and later of the KKK) named Byron De La Beckwith, who was tried twice — and acquitted twice, by all-white, all-male juries — for Evers’ murder. De La Beckwith was finally convicted thirty-one years later in 1994 and sentenced to life in prison; Evers, a US Army sergeant who served for three years in the European Theatre of World War II, was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The week after Evers’ death, President Kennedy submitted to Congress his promised civil rights bill.


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    June 25, 1947: The Diary of a Young Girl is published.

    Look at how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.

    Anne Frank (June 12, 1929– February/March 1945)


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    June 26, 1892: Pearl S. Buck is born.

    Pearl S. Buck was a Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning author most famous for her 1931 novel The Good Earth, and for her advocacy of the rights of women and minorities; in 1938, she became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, a feat which attracted her much derision from male authors, one of whom remarked“if she can get it, anybody can". She is also one of two American women to have received both Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes. Buck was also notable and unique in the subject matter of many of her novels. Born to American missionaries, Buck grew up near Nanking, China, and incorporated her direct experiences within the culture into her novels during a time when the most common depictions of the Chinese came in the form of “Yellow Peril" cartoons and fiction, when they were depicted at all. The average American knew little about China, and what they did know was based on an amalgam of unfavorable stereotypes. When The Good Earth (which featured - with no exoticism - a family of Chinese peasants) was published, the Chinese Exclusion Act was nearly fifty years old, but her popular novel helped to facilitate its repeal by presenting a different image of China to the average American and "demythologizing China and the Chinese people in the American mind". 

    And, although she was the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries, she was not hesitant to criticize Christian evangelism in China, specifically noting in her 1932 public talk “Is there a Case for the Foreign Missionary?" that Western evangelists ignorant of Chinese culture and philosophy often held themselves above the evangelized, concluding that there was no place for this sort of mission in the life of the average Chinese person. For these sentiments she was labeled "psychopathic" by the general secretary of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions. 

    Buck was a prolific writer after the publication of The Good Earth, but none of her later works achieved the same success as her earlier novel. However, she remained a prominent activist, contributing to NAACP and National Urban League magazines regularly, protesting colonialism with W.E.B. Du Bois, speaking out against Japanese internment, and promoting modern birth control and the Equal Rights Amendment. Her activism even earned the attention of the FBI, who suspected she might be an agitator (although she was also anti-communist), and her FBI file eventually reached nearly 300 pages. Her activism continued until her death in 1973. 


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    Study of a woman’s head in three-quarter profile (Study for Unchastity in the “Beethoven Frieze") (1902) - Gustav Klimt


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    June 28, 1969: The Stonewall riots begin.

    The Stonewall riots, though not the first protest of its kind, is commonly regarded as the beginning of the gay liberation movement of the 1960s and 70s and the modern LGBT rights movement. It erupted in response to a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, in Greenwich Village, Manhattan. The Stonewall Inn opened in 1967 as a Mafia-funded gay establishment, attracting and serving patrons of different races and socioeconomic backgrounds, as well as transgender patrons, who were often barred from other establishments, while technically lacking a valid liquor license to do so; at the time, many such establishments were closed down or refused licenses by the New York State Liquor Authority for promoting “indecent conduct", forcing many (such as the popular Stonewall Inn) to operate illegally. The owners of Stonewall utilized bribes and other underhanded tactics to keep the establishments open, and the bar was also prepared for regular police raids - even to relocate, if such measures were necessary.

    One of these police raids took place on the evening of June 27 to the morning of June 28 resulting in thirteen arrests, but more importantly, an event that triggered America’s LGBTQ community to public action. In accordance with “standard procedure", the policemen barred the doors and began checking the identifications of the patrons, in some cases leading select customers to bathrooms to verify their sex. As the policemen assembled the patrons in line and transported the seized alcohol to police cars, a crowd began to form outside Stonewall to watch the events unfold. What finally sparked a full-scale riot was, reportedly, the cry of one woman, who yelled “Why don’t you guys do something?" to the crowd of bystanders, and then was shoved into a police wagon. Hundreds of people then broke into a riot, scuffling with the police, smashing windows, and hurtling items. These were not spontaneous, random acts of destruction, but rather the culmination of pent-up anger and frustration over the continued silencing and suppression of the communities; said one demonstrator:

    We all had a collective feeling like we’d had enough of this kind of shit. It wasn’t anything tangible anybody said to anyone else, it was just kind of like everything over the years had come to a head on that one particular night in the one particular place…

    A lull interrupted the rioting before an even larger demonstration began over the next few days, collectively making up the country’s first major, highly-publicized gay rights demonstration. 


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    Gustave Doré → the Crusades

    Description: Florine, the daughter of the Duke of Burgundy, courageously fights alongside her fiancé, the son of the king of Denmark.


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    July 2, 1964: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 goes into effect.

    Forty-nine years ago, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was designed to:

    … enforce the constitutional right to vote, to confer jurisdiction upon the district courts of the United States to provide injunctive relief against discrimination in public accommodations, to authorize the Attorney General to institute suits to protect constitutional rights in public facilities and public education, to extend the Commission on Civil Rights, to prevent discrimination in federally assisted programs, to establish a Commission on Equal Employment Opportunity, and for other purposes. 

    This landmark piece of civil rights legislation had been a goal of Johnson’s predecessor John F. Kennedy, who, months before his assassination in November 1963, addressed the nation in order to underscore the nation’s need for a comprehensive civil rights bill and to urge the public to support a bill that would "[give] all Americans the right to be served in facilities which are open to the public — hotels, restaurants, theaters, retail stores, and similar establishments." Until 1963, Kennedy had shown much reservedness in pursuing his civil rights agenda, knowing it would antagonize southern Democrats, whose support was vital to his re-election, but the events of 1963 (the Birmingham campaign, the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church, the integration of the University of Alabama) demanded the government take immediate action. Five days after Kennedy’s assassination, Johnson, a bold and experienced promoter of legislation, addressed Congress itself and urged them to pass the bill as quickly as possible, saying“No memorial oration or eulogy could more eloquently honor President Kennedy’s memory than the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill for which he fought so long". The bill passed in the House of Representatives by a margin of 289-126, garnering most of its support from northern states and emerging mostly intact and uncompromised.

    The situation in the Senate was more complicated. Claiming that the bill was unconstitutional (not an uncommon accusation) and comparing it to Reconstruction-era policies, Senator Strom Thurmond actually switched to the Republican party, and the longtime Democratic-voting states of the South voted Republican in the 1964 election. The bill finally passed over intense Southern opposition after a seventy-five-day-long filibuster, which was ended by the second cloture invoked by the Senate in nearly forty years; the final vote was 73-27, and President Johnson signed the bill into law two weeks later. 

    President Johnson’s remarks upon signing the Civil Rights Act of 1964


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    Yeah, I fixed that, thanks. What is math????


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    July 3, 1863: Confederate forces are defeated at the Battle of Gettysburg.

    The Battle of Gettysburg was one of the turning points of the American Civil War, marking the high tide of the Confederacy and producing the largest number of casualties in any battle of the entire war, with each side suffering around 23,000. The battle took place in Pennsylvania - north of the Mason-Dixon Line, making it one of the only major Civil War battles (or perhaps the only) fought north of the line that traditionally divided the Northeastern and Southern halves of the United States. Until then, virtually all of the fighting and destruction had taken place in the South. It also marked the end of Confederate general Robert E. Lee’s second invasion of the Union after the failed Maryland Campaign; this time around, he and the Army of Northern Virginia aimed to penetrate the Union as far north as Philadelphia to relieve pressure off the war-torn South. His campaign was thwarted by the Union Army of the Potomac under George Meade, who had just three days earlier replaced Joseph Hooker, which outnumbered Lee’s own forces by 20,000.

    The armies met on July 1 and fought fiercely for two days. One area of the battlefield located at the foot of the Little Round Top hill was dubbed the “Slaughter Pen" because, by the end of the battle, " the ground was found in many places to be almost covered with the dead and wounded". On July 3, George Pickett and two other Confederate generals launched an infantry assault now known as "Pickett’s Charge”, the “high-water mark" of the Confederate advance into the North, its best chance of victory, and ultimately a failure. The fighting came to a standstill on July 4, and by the evening Lee’s forces were in retreat, after Union forces elected to cease its attack. The Army of the Potomac then failed to pursue the fleeing forces and relinquished an important opening to destroy Robert E. Lee and the bulk of the Confederate army in one fell swoop, a cautious move for which George Meade was heavily criticized, even if his victory at Gettysburg was widely celebrated. 

    Simultaneously a turning point, a moral victory (for the North, now optimistic over the fact that Robert E. Lee was not, in fact, unbeatable), and a squandered opportunity, the Battle of Gettysburg and the surrender of Vicksburg stamped out any hope the Confederacy still maintained for a victory or at the very least an equal truce to end the war. At the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg four months later, Abraham Lincoln delivered his famous address


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    Thank you very much.


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    Gustav Klimt “Golden Phase" detail from Judith I (1901), Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I (1907), and The Kiss (1907-1908). 


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    July 4, 1776: The Declaration of Independence is adopted.

    When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.—That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…


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    Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (1910) - Ralph Vaughan Williams


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    July 6, 1907: Frida Kahlo is born.

    I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought, there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you.


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    July 7, 1937: The Marco Polo Bridge Incident begins.

    The battle on the Marco Polo (or Luguo) Bridge, located kilometers outside Beijing, then called Beiping, marked the beginning of the full-scale invasion of China by the Japanese Empire and the beginning of the Second Sino-Japanese War, the largest war in Asia of the 20th century. It coincided with and eventually merged with World War II, becoming a part of the larger conflict in the Pacific and much of Asia. 

    In 1931, Japan seized the northeastern portion of China called Manchuria and installed there a puppet state under the name “Manchukuo"; under the governance of the former Chinese emperor Puyi and the direction of the Japanese Empire, Manchukuo was effectively detached from the rest of China. Over the next few years, Japan continued to industrialize the region and build its influence in the regions surrounding Manchukuo, expanding its territory and stationing troops along the railways leading to Beijing, until finally, a skirmish between Japanese and Chinese troops on the Marco Polo Bridge over a lost Japanese soldier (later determined to have wandered off to relieve himself) heightened tensions between the nations - and eventually, escalated into war. The incident has often been interpreted as both the result of a series of misunderstandings and accidents to the fault of both the Japanese and Chinese, and as an incident intentionally staged by the Japanese as a pretext for a full-blown invasion of China. 

    The Japanese forces outmatched the KMT National Revolutionary Army, then also entangled in civil war with Communist forces, in terms of industrial strength, technology, and training, and quickly overwhelmed them, occupying Beijing and taking Shanghai after a bloody bout of urban warfare in August to November 1937. A war marked by great loss of life (both military and civilian), unspeakable atrocities, and strategic stalemates began at Marco Polo Bridge on July 7, 1937, and it would not end for eight years.


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    My Sweet Rose (1908) - John William Waterhouse


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    July 10, 1553: The reign of Lady Jane Grey begins.

    On this day in 1553, the disputed monarch, a great-granddaughter of King Henry VII, began her nine-day rule. She came to the throne at age sixteen through the political machinations of her parents, the Duke of Suffolk and his wife, and John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland, who sought to keep the throne in Protestant hands and out of those of Mary, Henry VIII’s daughter by his first wife and a Catholic. The 1536 Second Succession Act declared both Mary and Elizabeth illegitimate and removed both from the line of succession. Their half-brother Edward began his reign in 1547, before which the Third Succession Act superseded the Second and returned Mary and Elizabeth to the throne, making the former Edward’s rightful successor. 

    The king fell ill in early July of 1553 and, on his deathbed, circumvented the Third Succession Act by naming his cousin Jane Grey his heir. So, backed by a weak claim and a dying king’s will (and her Protestant faith), Lady Jane Grey reluctantly succeeded the throne; her rule was cut astoundingly short when Mary and her supporters marched into London nine days later and deposed the teenaged monarch. By this time, the Privy Council and even Jane’s own father had affirmed their support for Mary as their rightful queen, and the Duke of Northumberland’s supporters had abandoned him as well. Jane and her husband were charged with and found guilty of high treason, although their fates were not sealed until the outbreak of the Wyatt Rebellion, which, like Jane herself, had the support of Protestant nobles but not of the populace (although she had no part in it). To minimize risk - and because Jane’s father, who had previously escaped execution, had taken part in the rebellion, Queen Mary ordered Jane, her father, and her husband executed. She was beheaded in the Tower of London, in the secluded space of Tower Green reserved for nobles and hidden from the public, on February 12, 1554. Her innocence, young age, supposed piety and intelligence, and the honor with which she faced her execution propelled her in the years following her death to the celebrated status of a martyr. 


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    The hangman went to her to help her therewith; then she desired him to let her alone, and also with her other attire and neckercher, giving to her a fair handkercher to knit about her eyes.

    Then the hangman kneeled down, and asked her forgiveness, whom she gave most willingly.  Then he willed her to stand upon the straw: which doing, she saw the block.  Then she said, ‘I pray you dispatch me quickly.’  Then she kneeled down, saying, ‘Will you take it off before I lay me down?’ and the hangman answered her, ‘No, madame.’  She tied the kercher about her eyes; then feeling for the block said, ‘What shall I do?  Where is it?’  One of the standers-by guiding her thereto, she laid her head down upon the block, and stretched forth her body and said: ‘Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit!’  And so she ended. (x)

    Painting: The Execution of Lady Jane Grey (1833) - Paul Delaroche


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    Wedding dinner


    Marcus Garvey


    "Couple Wearing Raccoon Coats with a Cadillac"


    Flapper twins


    Alpha Phi Alpha basketball team


    Dancing girls

    James Van Der Zee’s photographic chronicle of the Harlem Renaissance and African-American life in Harlem during the 1920s/30s (source)

    In these photographs, you will not see the common images of black Americans — downtrodden rural or urban citizens. Instead, you will see a people of great pride and fascinating beauty.


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