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This Enslaved Woman Sued for Her Freedom and Helped End Slavery in Massachusetts

March 22, 2019 in History

By Abigail Higgins

A portrait of Elizabeth Freeman, also known as Mum Bett, on display by the Massachusetts legislature in observance of Black History Month. She was the first female slave set free under the state constitution after she sued for her freedom in 1781.

In 1780, the proclamation “all men are born free and equal,” rang out from the central square in the small town of Sheffield in western Massachusetts. The line was from the state’s newly ratified constitution, read aloud for a proud public to hear. America’s war for independence was raging and, like the rest of the burgeoning country, the town was gripped by revolutionary fever.

But one woman who heard it wasn’t inspired—she was enraged. Elizabeth Freeman, then known only as “Bett,” was an enslaved woman who understood the irony in the declaration right away. As she watched the men around her declare freedom from oppressive rule, it only stood to reason that she should do the same.

Freeman marched, by some accounts immediately, to the house of Theodore Sedgwick, a prominent local lawyer, and demanded a dramatic accounting for the hypocrisy: she wanted to sue the state of Massachusetts for her freedom.

“I heard that paper read yesterday, that says all men are born equal and that every man has a right to freedom,” she said, “I am not a dumb critter; won’t the law give me my freedom?”

Perhaps surprisingly, Sedgwick agreed to represent her. Her trial the following year became what has been called “the trial of the century,” rocking not only Massachusetts but the entire institution of slavery.

“She was kind of the Rosa Parks of her time,” says David Levinson, author along with Emilie Piper of One Minute a Free Woman, a book about Freeman.

Slavery in America (TV-PG; 3:01)

Massachusetts occupied an odd place in the history of slavery. It was the first colony to legalize the practice and its residents were active in the slave trade.
What made it different, however, was that state law recognized enslaved people as both property and as persons— which meant they could prosecute the men who owned them, requiring they prove lawful ownership. By 1780, nearly 30 enslaved people had sued for their freedom on the basis of a variety of technicalities, such as a reneged promise of freedom or an illegal purchase.

Freeman’s case, however, was different. She didn’t seek her …read more


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Why the King James Bible of 1604 Remains the Most Popular Translation in History

March 22, 2019 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

Not only was it the first ‘people’s Bible,’ but its poetic cadences and vivid imagery have had an enduring influence on Western culture.

In 1604, England’s King James I authorized a new translation of the Bible aimed at settling some thorny religious differences in his kingdom—and solidifying his own power.

But in seeking to prove his own supremacy, King James ended up democratizing the Bible instead. Thanks to emerging printing technology, the new translation brought the Bible out of the church’s sole control and directly into the hands of more people than ever before, including the Protestant reformers who settled England’s North American colonies in the 17th century.

Emerging at a high point in the English Renaissance, the King James Bible held its own among some of the most celebrated literary works in the English language (think William Shakespeare). Its majestic cadences would inspire generations of artists, poets, musicians and political leaders, while many of its specific phrases worked their way into the fabric of the language itself.

Even now, more than four centuries after its publication, the King James Bible (a.k.a. the King James Version, or simply the Authorized Version) remains the most famous Bible translation in history—and one of the most printed books ever.

READ MORE: The Bible

King James I of England, 1621.

How the King James Bible came to be

When King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England in 1603, he was well aware that he was entering a sticky situation.

For one thing, his immediate predecessor on the throne, Queen Elizabeth I, had ordered the execution of his mother, Mary, Queen of Scots, who had represented a Catholic threat to Elizabeth’s Protestant reign. And even though Elizabeth had established the supremacy of the Anglican Church (founded by her father, King Henry VIII), its bishops now had to contend with rebellious Protestant groups like the Puritans and Calvinists, who questioned their absolute power.

By the time James took the throne, many people in England at the time were hearing one version of the Bible when they went to church, but were reading from another when they were at home. While one version of Christianity’s holy texts—the so-called Bishops’ Bible—was read in churches, the most popular version among Protestant reformers in England at the time was the Geneva Bible, which had been created in that city by …read more


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China: Timeline

March 22, 2019 in History

By Editors

For as long as there have been civilized humans, there has been some form of China.

It’s hard to say how old Chinese culture actually is, but it’s one of the oldest that still has a presence in the modern world. Legends claim that the earliest rulers in China were the Xia Dynasty, from 2100 to 1600 B.C., with Yu as the first emperor, but there is little proof that the dynasty actually existed. Below is a timeline of one of the great cradles of civilization.

Shang Dynasty, Confucius

1600-1050 B.C.: Shang Dynasty - The earliest ruling dynasty of China to be established in recorded history, the Shang was headed by a tribal chief named Tan. The Shang era is marked by intellectual advances in astronomy and math.

551–479 B.C.: Confucius - The teacher, politician and philosopher was raised in poverty by his mother. He entered politics in 501 B.C. as a town governor after gaining attention as a teacher, but in 498 B.C. lived in exile to escape political enemies.

Returning to China around 483 B.C., Confucius devoted most of his time to teaching disciples his ideas (including, “Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart,” and “It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.”) His ideas would become central to Chinese culture over time and endorsed by the government.

221-206 B.C.: Qin Dynasty - The Qin Dynasty, from which China derives its name (Qin is pronounced “Chin”), was the first official empire in its history. The Qins standardized regional written scripts into a single national one, establishing an imperial academy to oversee the translated texts.

Great Wall of China (TV-14; 2:14)

The Qin Dynasty created the first Asian superhighway, the 500-mile Straight Road, along the Ziwu Mountain range, and began work on the Great Wall by expanding the northern border wall.

Qin Emperor Ying Zheng created an elaborate underground complex at the foot of the Lishan Mountain, famously featuring 13,000 terracotta statues of warriors and horses.

The Silk Road, Paper and Guns

125 B.C.: The Silk Road - Following capture and escape during a mission for Emperor Wu, Zhang Qian returned after 13 years with a map of the ground he had covered. Reaching as far as Afghanistan, his maps were accurate and led to the international trade route the Silk Road.

105 A.D.: Paper and books …read more


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Why Gen. Eisenhower Threatened to Quit Just Before D-Day

March 22, 2019 in History

By Patrick J. Kiger

Before the invasion, the Allied commander was at odds with air force officers and Churchill over a controversial plan.

As the Supreme Commander of Allied forces in Europe and leader of the D-Day invasion, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower became legendary for his ability to get officers and armies from different nations to work together to defeat Nazi Germany.

But if needed, he was also willing to take a more confrontational approach.

In fact, just a few months before the critical D-Day invasion, Eisenhower threatened to quit his command and go back to the United States. Eisenhower had been in heated talks with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill over a controversial plan to bomb the French railway and road system ahead of the Normandy invasion.

On June 6, 1944, more than 156,000 American, British and Canadian troops stormed 50 miles of Normandy’s fiercely defended beaches in northern France in an operation that proved to be a critical turning point in World War II.

View the 8 images of this gallery on the original article

READ MORE: D-Day: Facts on the Epic 1944 Invasion That Changed the Course of WWII

The so-called Transportation Plan, largely devised by British zoologist-turned-military strategist named Solly Zuckerman with the help of British Air Marshal Arthur Tedder, called for diverting Allied strategic bombers that had been hammering German industrial plants. Instead, Eisenhower wanted them to temporarily shift to a new mission—crippling the transportation infrastructure that the Germans might use to move troops and equipment to the coastal region, thus hindering them from rushing to counter the Allied invasion force.

“Eisenhower wanted to use our heavy strategic bombers, the big four-engine planes that were built to destroy German cities and the economy, and send them to wreck the French roads and railway system,” explains Robert Citino, executive director of the Institute for the Study of War and Democracy and senior historian at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

For Eisenhower, the switch in bombing seemed like a no-brainer. He knew that landing a massive invasion force and overcoming the elaborate layers of defenses that the Germans had built along the coast would be an incredibly difficult task, and the consequences of a failure would be catastrophic.

“He thought he had to do everything possible to make sure Rommel couldn’t kick them off the beaches,” explains military historian Carlo …read more