Tag Archives: History is Cool


Photo: History.

On this date in 1965, Malcolm X is assassinated by rival Black Muslims while addressing his Organization of Afro-American Unity in Washington Heights.

Born Malcolm Little in 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 Michigan. In 1931, Malcolm’s father was murdered by the white supremacist Black Legion. 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 Nation of Islam, whose members are popularly known as Black Muslims. 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 symbolise 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. 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 “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 organisation and made a Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. 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.



Text: History, Wikipedia.
Featured image by T.A. Charron.

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The original book cover

On this date in 1885, Mark Twain publishes his famous—and famously controversial—novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (US version).

The book is focusing on the institution of slavery and other aspects of life in the antabellum South.

At the book’s heart is the journey of Huck and his friend Jim, a runaway enslaved person, down the Mississipi 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. 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, and the naive Huck ends up questioning the hypocritical, unjust nature of society in general.

A month after its publication, a Concord, Massachusets, library banned the book, calling its subject matter “tawdry” and its narrative voice “coarse” and “ignorant”. 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.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens aka Mark Twain. Photo: Time.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been hailed by many serious literary critics as a masterpiece. No less 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.”


Text: History, Wikipedia.
Featured image via Readings, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the alternative cover.


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Photo: The Conversation.

This week in 1997, in South Africa, four apartheid-era police officers, appearing before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, admit to the 1977 killing of Bantu Stephen Biko, a leader of grassroots anti-apartheid campaign known as the Black Consciousness Movement.

In 1969, Biko, a medical student, founded an organisation for South Africa’s Black students to combat the minority government’s racist apartheid policies and to promote Black identity. In 1972, he helped organise the Black People’s Convention and in the next year was banned from politics by the Afrikaner government. Four years later, in September 1977, he was arrested for subversion. While in police custody in Port Elizabeth, Biko was brutally beaten and then driven 700 miles to Pretoria, where he was thrown into a cell. On 12 September 1977, he died naked and shackled on the filthy floor of a police hospital. News of the political killing, denied by the country’s white minority government, led to international protests and a U.N.-imposed arms embargo.

A clenched black fist, the informal symbol of Biko’s Black Consciousness Movement.

In 1995, after the peaceful transfer to majority rule in South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established to examine decades of apartheid policy and to address the widespread call for justice for those who abused their authority under the system. However, as a condition of the transfer of power, the outgoing white minority government requested that the commission be obligated to grant amnesty to people making full confessions of politically motivated crimes during apartheid. Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu was appointed to head the commission.

In early 1997, four former police officers, including Police Colonel Gideon Nieuwoudt, appeared before the commission and admitted to killing Steve Biko two decades earlier. The commission agreed to hear their request for political amnesty but in 1999 refused to grant amnesty because the men failed to establish a politcal motive for the brutal killing.

Inspired by the death of Steve Biko, Peter Gabriel wrote a song called “Biko” in 1980.


Featured image: Sowetan Live.


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Photo: History.

This week in 1957, machines at the Wham-O toy company roll out the first batch of their aerodynamic plastic discs—now known to millions of fans all over the world as Frisbees.

The story of the Frisbee began in Bridgeport, Connecticut, where William Frisbie opened the Frisbie Company in 1871. Students from nearby universities would throw the empty pie tins to each other, yelling “Frisbie” as they let go. In 1948, Walter Frederick Morrison and his partner Warren Franscioni invented a plastic version of the disc called the “Flying Saucer” that could fly further and more accurately than the tin pie plates. After splitting with Franscioni, Morrison made an improved model in 1955 and sold it to the new toy company Wham-O as the “Pluto Plater”—an attempt to cash in on the public craze over space and Unidentified Flying Objects (UFO).

In 1958, a year after the toy’s first release, Wham-O—the company behind such top-sellers as the Hula-Hoop, the Super Ball and the Water Wiggle—changed its name to the Frisbee disc, misspelling the name of the historic pie company. A company designer, Ed Headrick, patented the design for the modern Frisbee in December 1967, adding a band of raised ridges on the disc’s surface—called the “Rings”—to stabilise flight. By aggressively marketing Frisbee-playing as a new sport, Wham-O sold over 100 million units of its famous toy by 1977.

Flying Saucer.
Pluto Platter.

Today, at least 60 manufacturers produce the flying discs—generally made out of plastic and measuring roughly 20-25 cm in diameter with a curved lip. The official Frisbee is owned by Mattel Toy Manufacturers, who bought the toy from Wham-O in 1994.


Text & photos: History, Syracuse University, Wikipedia.


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Street rally protesting Volstead Act | Image: Daniel Hagerman

On this date in 1920, after it was ratified a year earlier on 16 January 1919, prohibition officially goes into effect, with the passage of the Volstead Act (also known as National Prohibition Act).

The 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, prohibiting the “manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes”.

The movement for the prohibition of alcohol began in the early 19th century, when Americans concerned about the adverse effects of drinking began forming temperance societies. By the late 19th century, led by pietistic Protestants, these groups had become a powerful political force, campaigning on the state level and calling for total national abstinence. In December 1917, the 18th Amendment, also known as the Prohibition Amendment, was passed by Congress and sent to the states for ratification.

Al Capone, the famous gangster, one of the biggest alcohol smugglers during Prohibition era | Photo: FBI
A New York’s “speakeasy”, a place where booze are illegally sold specifically | Photo: Life
New Yorkers bid farewell to the Prohibition Amendment | Photo: Getty

The Volstead Act provided for the enforcement of prohibition, including the creation of a special unit of the Treasury Department.

Interestingly, not all alcohol was banned; for example, religious use of wine was permitted. Private ownership and consumption of alcohol were not made illegal under federal law, but local laws were stricter in many areas, with some states banning possession outright.

Despite a vigorous effort by law-enforcement agencies, the Volstead Act failed to prevent the large-scale distribution of alcoholic beverages, and organised crime flourished in America. In 1933, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution was passed and ratified, repealing prohibition.


Featured image: Getty.
Text: History, Wikipedia.