In New York City, Malcolm X, an African American nationalist and religious leader, is assassinated by rival Black Muslims while addressing his Organization of Afro-American Unity at the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights.
Born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1925, Malcolm was the son of James Earl Little, a Baptist preacher who advocated the black nationalist ideals of Marcus Garvey. Threats from the Ku Klux Klan forced the family to move to Lansing, Michigan, where his father continued to preach his controversial sermons despite continuing threats. In 1931, Malcolm’s father was brutally murdered by the white supremacist Black Legion, and Michigan authorities refused to prosecute those responsible. In 1937, Malcolm was taken from his family by welfare caseworkers. By the time he reached high school age, he had dropped out of school and moved to Boston, where he became increasingly involved in criminal activities.
In 1946, at the age of 21, Malcolm was sent to prison on a burglary conviction. It was there he encountered the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam, whose members are popularly known as Black Muslims. The Nation of Islam advocated black nationalism and racial separatism and condemned Americans of European descent as immoral “devils.” Muhammad’s teachings had a strong effect on Malcolm, who entered into an intense program of self-education and took the last name “X” to symbolize his stolen African identity.
After six years, Malcolm was released from prison and became a loyal and effective minister of the Nation of Islam in Harlem, New York. In contrast with civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X advocated self-defense and the liberation of African Americans “by any means necessary.” A fiery orator, Malcolm was admired by the African American community in New York and around the country.
In the early 1960s, he began to develop a more outspoken philosophy than that of Elijah Muhammad, whom he felt did not sufficiently support the civil rights movement. In late 1963, Malcolm’s suggestion that President John F. Kennedy’s assassination was a matter of the “chickens coming home to roost” provided Elijah Muhammad, who believed that Malcolm had become too powerful, with a convenient opportunity to suspend him from the Nation of Islam.
A few months later, Malcolm formally left the organization and made a Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, where he was profoundly affected by the lack of racial discord among orthodox Muslims. He returned to America as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz and in June 1964 founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity, which advocated black identity and held that racism, not the white race, was the greatest foe of the African American. Malcolm’s new movement steadily gained followers, and his more moderate philosophy became increasingly influential in the civil rights movement, especially among the leaders of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.
On February 21, 1965, one week after his home was firebombed, Malcolm X was shot to death by Nation of Islam members while speaking at a rally of his organization in New York City.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 20, 2017 is:
onus \OH-nuss\ noun
1 : burden
2 : a disagreeable necessity : obligation
3 : blame
4 : stigma
Management has made it clear that the onus is on employees to ask for further training if they don't understand the new procedures.
"I feel very fortunate that I never got into this business as a beauty queen. Even back in high school, the actors I idolized were the chameleons. That really took the onus off of what I looked like, and what a beautiful woman is supposed to look like." — Connie Britton, quoted in The New York Times, 15 Dec. 2016
Did you know?
Understanding the etymology of onus is not at all burdensome; it's as simple as knowing that English borrowed the word—spelling, meaning, and all—from Latin in the 17th century. We can also add that it's a distant relative of the Sanskrit word for "cart" (a vehicle that carries a burden). English isn't exactly loaded with derivatives of Latin onus, but the root did give us onerous ("troublesome") and exonerate ("to clear from accusation or blame"—thus, "to unburden"). Additionally, our legal language has onus probandi, which is often shortened to onus. It means "burden of proof"—that is, the obligation of proving a disputed assertion in a court of law.
In a highly controversial vote on February 20, 1985, the Irish government defies the powerful Catholic Church and approves the sale of contraceptives.
Up until 1979, Irish law prohibited the importation and sale of contraceptives. In a 1973 case, McGee v. The Attorney General, the Irish Supreme Court found that a constitutional right to marital privacy covered the use of contraceptives. Pressured by strong conservative forces in Irish society, particularly the Roman Catholic Church, the government was slow to change the law to reflect the court’s decision, and a number of proposed bills failed before reaching the books.
In 1979, the Irish health minister, Charles Haughey, introduced a bill limiting the legal provision of contraceptives to “bona fide family planning purposes.” Signed into law in November 1980, the Health (Family Planning) Act ensured that contraceptives could be sold by a registered pharmacist to customers with a valid medical prescription. Still, many people saw the law as too strict. Over the next several years, a movement began to make contraceptives more easily available, causing bitter divisions inside and outside of the Dail, Ireland’s main house of Parliament.
As the government debated the changes, Catholic Church leaders railed against them, warning that increased access to contraceptives would encourage the moral decay of Ireland, leading to more illegitimate children and increased rates of abortion and venereal disease. On the eve of the vote in early 1985, the Dublin archbishop claimed the legislation would send Ireland down a “slippery slope of moral degradation.” Some politicians were even threatened with violence if they voted for the legislation.
On February 20, 1985, a coalition of the Fine Gael and Labour parties led by Dr. Garret FitzGerald defeated the opposition of the conservative Fianna Fail party by an 83-80 vote. The new legislation made non-medical contraceptives (condoms and spermicides) available without prescriptions to people over 18 at pharmacies; it also allowed for the distribution of these contraceptives at doctors’ offices, hospitals and family planning clinics. Though it was still illegal to advertise contraceptives and use of the birth control pill remained restricted, the vote marked a major turning point in Irish history–the first-ever defeat of the Catholic Church in a head-to-head battle with the government on social legislation.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 19, 2017 is:
bemuse \bih-MYOOZ\ verb
3 : to cause to have feelings of wry or tolerant amusement
She had neither asked for nor expected her newfound celebrity, and was bemused by all the attention she was receiving.
"I have no interest in bemusing an audience or puzzling an audience. I don't think my plays are difficult. When they're spoken of in those terms, I'm always surprised." — Tom Stoppard, quoted in The San Francisco Chronicle, 10 Oct. 2016
Did you know?
In 1735, British poet Alexander Pope lamented, in rhyme, being besieged by "a parson much bemus'd in beer." The cleric in question was apparently one of a horde of would-be poets who plagued Pope with requests that he read their verses. Pope meant that the parson had found his muse—his inspiration—in beer. That use of bemused harks back to a 1705 letter in which Pope wrote of "Poets … irrecoverably Be-mus'd." In both letter and poem, Pope used bemused to allude to being inspired by or devoted to one of the Muses, the Greek sister goddesses of art, music, and literature. The lexicographers who followed him, however, interpreted "bemus'd in beer" as meaning "left confused by beer," and their confusion gave rise to the first modern sense of bemused above.
On this day in 1847, the first rescuers reach surviving members of the Donner Party, a group of California-bound emigrants stranded by snow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
In the summer of 1846, in the midst of a Western-bound fever sweeping the United States, 89 people–including 31 members of the Donner and Reed families–set out in a wagon train from Springfield, Illinois. After arriving at Fort Bridger, Wyoming, the emigrants decided to avoid the usual route and try a new trail recently blazed by California promoter Lansford Hastings, the so-called “Hastings Cutoff.” After electing George Donner as their captain, the party departed Fort Bridger in mid-July. The shortcut was nothing of the sort: It set the Donner Party back nearly three weeks and cost them much-needed supplies. After suffering great hardships in the Wasatch Mountains, the Great Salt Lake Desert and along the Humboldt River, they finally reached the Sierra Nevada Mountains in early October. Despite the lateness of the season, the emigrants continued to press on, and on October 28 they camped at Truckee Lake, located in the high mountains 21 kilometers northwest of Lake Tahoe. Overnight, an early winter storm blanketed the ground with snow, blocking the mountain pass and trapping the Donner Party.
Most of the group stayed near the lake–now known as Donner Lake–while the Donner family and others made camp six miles away at Alder Creek. Building makeshift tents out of their wagons and killing their oxen for food, they hoped for a thaw that never came. Fifteen of the stronger emigrants, later known as the Forlorn Hope, set out west on snowshoes for Sutter’s Fort near San Francisco on December 16. Three weeks later, after harsh weather and lack of supplies killed several of the expedition and forced the others to resort to cannibalism, seven survivors reached a Native American village.
News of the stranded Donner Party traveled fast to Sutter’s Fort, and a rescue party set out on January 31. Arriving at Donner Lake 20 days later, they found the camp completely snowbound and the surviving emigrants delirious with relief at their arrival. Rescuers fed the starving group as well as they could and then began evacuating them. Three more rescue parties arrived to help, but the return to Sutter’s Fort proved equally harrowing, and the last survivors didn’t reach safety until late April. Of the 89 original members of the Donner Party, only 45 reached California.
Merriam-Webster's Word of the Day for February 18, 2017 is:
protean \PROH-tee-un\ adjective
1 : of or resembling Proteus in having a varied nature or ability to assume different forms
2 : displaying great diversity or variety : versatile
"Together, the paintings demonstrate Picasso's protean ability to slip into new visual languages to suit the occasion, his subject and his own whims." — Colin Dabkowski, The Buffalo (New York) News, 13 Jan. 2017
"Love for Sale examines the shape-shifting undergone by popular music, from minstrelsy to hip-hop, and the equally protean ways in which it has reached the public, from printed notation sheets for do-it-yourself parlor revelry in days of yore to the streaming and downloading of our digital era." — Rayyan al-Shawaf, The Los Angeles Review of Books, 16 Jan. 2017
Did you know?
Proteus was the original master of disguise. According to Greek mythology, the grizzled old shepherd of Poseidon's sea creatures possessed the gift of prophecy but didn't like to share his knowledge. Proteus would escape those who wanted to question him by changing his shape. The only way to get a straight answer from him was to sneak up behind him during his midday nap and hold onto him (while he frantically changed from shape to shape) until he eventually revealed what he knew. The adjective protean describes anyone or anything that is as mutable and adaptable as the mythological sea-shepherd.
On this day in 1885, Mark Twain publishes his famous–and famously controversial–novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Twain (the pen name of Samuel Clemens) first introduced Huck Finn as the best friend of Tom Sawyer, hero of his tremendously successful novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876). Though Twain saw Huck’s story as a kind of sequel to his earlier book, the new novel was far more serious, focusing on the institution of slavery and other aspects of life in the antebellum South.
At the book’s heart is the journey of Huck and his friend Jim, a runaway slave, down the Mississippi River on a raft. Jim runs away because he is about to be sold and separated from his wife and children, and Huck goes with him to help him get to Ohio and freedom. Huck narrates the story in his distinctive voice, offering colorful descriptions of the people and places they encounter along the way. The most striking part of the book is its satirical look at racism, religion and other social attitudes of the time. While Jim is strong, brave, generous and wise, many of the white characters are portrayed as violent, stupid or simply selfish, and the naive Huck ends up questioning the hypocritical, unjust nature of society in general.
Even in 1885, two decades after the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn landed with a splash. A month after its publication, a Concord, Massachusetts, library banned the book, calling its subject matter “tawdry” and its narrative voice “coarse” and “ignorant.” Other libraries followed suit, beginning a controversy that continued long after Twain’s death in 1910. In the 1950s, the book came under fire from African-American groups for being racist in its portrayal of black characters, despite the fact that it was seen by many as a strong criticism of racism and slavery. As recently as 1998, an Arizona parent sued her school district, claiming that making Twain’s novel required high school reading made already existing racial tensions even worse.
Aside from its controversial nature and its continuing popularity with young readers, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been hailed by many serious literary critics as a masterpiece. No less a judge than Ernest Hemingway famously declared that the book marked the beginning of American literature: “There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.”