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When New Seat Belt Laws Drew Fire as a Violation of Personal Freedom

August 31, 2020 in History

By Dave Roos

The 1980s battle over safety belt laws reflected widespread ambivalence over the role and value of government regulation.

When David Hollister introduced a seat belt bill in Michigan in the early 1980s that levied a fine for not buckling up, the state representative received hate mail . “Congress received more letters from Americans complaining about [the interlock mechanism] than they did about Nixon’s ‘Saturday Night Massacre.’”

Congress responded swiftly in 1974 by killing the interlock mechanism and further mandating that the annoying buzzing sound that indicated an unlatched seat belt could only last eight seconds.

The NHTSA didn’t give up on seat belts, though. It passed a new rule in 1977 that put the ball squarely in the automakers’ court. Detroit had to install some kind of “passive restraint”—a system that worked automatically without driver intervention—that would protect a crash test dummy from damage when hitting a wall at 35 mph.

The only real options at the time, says Mashaw, were airbags and something called “automatic safety belts,” a front seat belt that ran along a track and automatically fastened when the car door closed. Automakers didn’t love either option, but decided to go with the automatic safety belts because they were cheaper. Consumers immediately began arguing that automatic seat belts were unsafe in a car fire, potentially trapping passengers in a burning car. Carmakers agreed to add a release latch, which drivers could easily disconnect, rendering the automatic belt ineffective.

But before any of those changes could be made, Ronald Reagan won the presidency on a promise of deregulation, especially of the automotive industry. One of the first things the Reagan administration did was to rescind the NHTSA rule requiring passive restraints. Insurance companies sued the administration and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court. In a surprise ruling, the justices voted unanimously to block the Reagan administration and enforce the NHTSA’s rule.

“The Reagan administration was put in a bind,” says Mashaw. “They were diehard deregulators and the Supreme Court told them they had to regulate. There’s no way they could justify saying that passive restraints didn’t work, so Elizabeth Dole, then Secretary of the Department of Transportation, came up with what I think was an ingenious compromise.”

Elizabeth Dole’s Compromise

Elizabeth Dole, shown in here in 1983, served as Secretary of Transportation for the United States under President Reagan.

Dole <a target=_blank …read more


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Thousands of Mexican-American antiwar activists march in Chicano Moratorium

August 27, 2020 in History

By Editors

On August 29, 1970, more than 20,000 Mexican-Americans march through East Los Angeles to protest the Vietnam War. The Chicano Moratorium, as this massive protest was known, was peaceful until the Los Angeles Police entered Laguna Park, sparking violence and rioting that led to three deaths. The Chicano Moratorium is now remembered both as the tragic end of one stage of Chicano activism and as a moment that galvanized and inspired a new generation of activists.

READ MORE: The Brutal History of Anti-Latino Discrimination in America

The march was planned as an entirely peaceful demonstration in support of peace and in protest of the Vietnam War, which claimed Latino lives at a disproportionately high rate. As demonstrators assembled in the park, the owner of a nearby liquor store called the police on some Chicano customers in the fear that they might begin shoplifting. When the LAPD responded, it assumed the protest had led to looting, and before long the police were storming the park with tear gas. Three people died and hundreds were arrested as riots spread throughout East LA.

Among the dead was Ruben Salazar, a Los Angeles Times journalist often referred to as the voice of the local Chicano community; he was hit on the head with an LAPD tear gas canister. Salazar’s death, in particular, sparked outrage, and many believe that the police or the FBI, whose agents were present for the march, used the chaos as cover for the assassination of a prominent voice of dissent.

Many viewed the violence and Salazar’s death as a loss of innocence for the Chicano movement. For many, however, it was the beginning of a lifetime of activism and a moment that would forever encapsulate the community’s struggle for racial equality. Many prominent Chicano artists, activists and politicians were present at the rally. The former Laguna Park is now called Ruben F. Salazar Park.

READ MORE: Vietnam War Protests

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How Levee Failures Made Hurricane Katrina a Bigger Disaster

August 27, 2020 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

Breaches in the system of levees and floodwalls left 80 percent of the city underwater.

By the time

The ‘Bowl Effect’

Fears about flooding go all the way back to the founding of New Orleans on land in 1717, by the French-Canadian explorer Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville. Human intervention—including expansion onto drained swamplands surrounding the original city—and the erosion of coastal wetlands only made things worse over the centuries. By the time Katrina arrived, New Orleans lay at an average of six feet below sea level, with some neighborhoods even lower than that.

Surrounded by water—Lake Pontchartrain to the north, and the Mississippi River to the south—and bordered by swampland on two sides, New Orleans has long relied on a system of levees to protect it from flooding. But the city’s low elevation, and its position within the different levee systems, creates a so-called “bowl effect,” meaning that when water gets into the city, it is very difficult to get it out. During Katrina, with many pump stations damaged by the storm, the water stayed in the bowl.

Failures of Engineering

A helicopter drops sand bags to plug a levee break on the east side of the London Avenue Canal in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans, Louisiana. Photographed on September 11, 2005, three weeks after the storm hit.

Before Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans hadn’t experienced a major hurricane for 40 years. After Hurricane Betsy flooded the city in 1965, killing several dozen people and causing more than $1 billion in damage, Congress authorized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin a major overhaul of the region’s hurricane protection system. Yet due to budget cuts and various delays, the project was only 60-90 percent complete by the time Katrina hit, according to a report by the United States Government Accountability Office.

In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers claimed the massive storm had overwhelmed the levee system, which had been designed to protect the region from a Category 3 storm or below. Yet later investigations revealed that some of the city’s levees failed even at water levels far below what they had been built to withstand.

In June 2006, the Army Corps issued a report of more than 6,000 pages, in which it took at least some responsibility for the flooding that occurred during Katrina, admitting …read more


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How JFK’s ‘Viva Kennedy’ Campaign Galvanized the Latino Vote

August 26, 2020 in History

By Benjamin Francis-Fallon

When JFK faced a tight race for the White House in 1960, he turned to a group of Americans who had long been overlooked by political campaigns.

During his 1960 bid for the White House, John F. Kennedy faced a tight race. Kennedy and his Republican opponent, Richard Nixon, remained neck-and-neck in the polls throughout the campaign season. Kennedy gained leads after his historic TV debate performances, but Nixon gained momentum heading into Election Day.

One way the nation’s first Catholic president sought to gain an edge in the close contest was by courting a potential bloc that had been largely ignored by U.S. political candidates—the Latino vote.

Uniting Mexican Americans, Puerto Ricans, Cuban Americans

While Latino voters are now prominent in national political discussion, this was hardly the case before 1960. For most of the 20th century, Democrats and Republicans expected Latinos to serve as silent and loyal subordinates, when they bothered asking for their votes at all. Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans constituted the bulk of the nation’s Latinos. But they had made few efforts to unite and amplify their voices.

Latino voters lived in different parts of the country, with Mexican Americans mostly in the Southwest, and the Puerto Ricans’ mainland population concentrated in the Northeast. They held distinct political and cultural identities rooted in their regions, states, as well as the homelands from which they or their ancestors had migrated.

Cuban refugees added to the mix after 1959, the bulk of them arriving in Florida. But they expected the imminent overthrow of Fidel Castro and a quick return to their island homes. So despite their overlapping linguistic and cultural traditions, and often common experiences of discrimination, poverty and political exclusion, most Latinos did not act as if they belonged to one community, political or otherwise.

All the same, the growth of large Spanish-speaking populations in all corners of the country raised a new political possibility: Could these distinct communities (at least Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans) be forged into a single constituency? Given how little power they had amassed working separately, might some kind of national alliance change the political game?

WATCH: ‘The Presidents’ on HISTORY Vault

Edward Roybal Leads Effort to Activate Latino Vote

Edward Roybal, circa 1978.

For ambitious Mexican Americans, the 1960 presidential campaign presented an early test. Edward Roybal was the leader in coalescing the Latino vote. A liberal city …read more


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7 Firsts in US Presidential Election History

August 20, 2020 in History

By Becky Little

The first Black presidential party nominee ran 104 years before the first Black president.

U.S. presidential history is filled with “firsts.” First president? George Washington. First president to die in office? William Henry Harrison. First president to serve two non-consecutive terms? That would be Grover Cleveland, who won the 1884 election, lost the 1888 election, then won again in 1892. Cleveland is both the 22nd and the 24th president and the only commander-in-chief to hold this dubious distinction.

But there are other “firsts” in presidential election history that mark the changing of the nation. Not all of them involve the major parties of their day. For a long time, third parties were the only way for anyone who wasn’t a white man to launch a bid for the White House. Below are seven key examples of “firsts” in presidential (and vice presidential) history.

WATCH: Ultimate Guide to the Presidents on HISTORY Vault

First Woman to Receive Presidential Nomination

Victoria Claflin Woodhull, circa 1872.

The first woman to run for president was Victoria Woodhull, the Equal Rights Party’s nominee in 1872. The party nominated Frederick Douglass as Woodhull’s running mate, which technically makes him the first Black vice presidential nominee. However, Douglas didn’t accept the nomination and he gave stump speeches for Republican incumbent Ulysses S. Grant, who won that election.

Like many white suffragists, Woodhull resented the fact that Black men had won the vote before white women, and made racist appeals to white men when arguing for white women’s right to vote. This likely influenced Douglass’ decision to endorse Grant.

READ MORE: How Early Suffragists Sold Out Black Women

First Black American to Receive Presidential Nomination

George Edwin Taylor, circa 1904.

Douglass himself was a minor presidential contender at a couple of conventions: he received one vote at the Liberty Party’s convention in 1848 and one at the Republican Party’s convention in 1888 (the nominee in 1888 was Benjamin Harrison, who became president). However, the first Black American to receive a presidential nomination was George Edwin Taylor in 1904.

Taylor, the son of a formerly enslaved man, was a journalist and politician who’d served as an alternate delegate-at-large at the 1892 Republican National Convention. In 1904, Taylor won the presidential nomination at the convention of the National Negro Liberty Party, also known as the National …read more


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6 Events That Laid the Groundwork for the Vietnam War

August 20, 2020 in History

By Jessica Pearce Rotondi

The conflict in Vietnam took root during an independence movement against French colonial rule and evolved into a Cold War confrontation.

The Vietnam War (1955-1975) was fought between communist North Vietnam, backed by the Soviet Union and China, and South Vietnam, supported by the United States. The bloody conflict had its roots in French colonial rule and an independence movement driven by communist leader Ho Chi Minh.

Vietnam was a battleground in the Cold War, when the United States and Soviet Union grappled for world domination. By war’s end, North and South Vietnam would be reunited, but at great cost. Here are six events that led to the as a model for his Proclamation of the Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, writing: “All men are born equal: the Creator has given us inviolable rights, life, liberty, and happiness!”

2. Battle of Dien Bien Phu

The conflict between the French and the Viet Minh came to a head at the decisive Battle of Dien Bien Phu, when, after a four-month siege, the French lost to the Viet Minh under commander Vo Nguyen Giap, marking the end of French rule in Vietnam. The question of who would rule Vietnam and how drew the interest of world superpowers, who watched the situation in Vietnam with growing unease.

3. The 1954 Geneva Accords Divide Vietnam

Diplomats from the United States, the USSR, the People’s Republic of China, the United Kingdom, North and South Korea, and France, as well as representatives from the Viet Minh (northern Vietnam), the State of Vietnam (southern Vietnam), Cambodia, and Laos, in session at the Geneva Conference in July 1954. The resulting Geneva Accords would dissolve the French Indochinese Union.

The Geneva Accords were signed in July of 1954 and split Vietnam at the 17 parallel. North Vietnam would be ruled by Ho Chi Minh’s communist government and South Vietnam would be led by emperor Bao Dai. An election was scheduled in two years’ time to unify Vietnam, but the U.S., fearful that a national election would lead to communist rule, ensured it never took place.

“The ‘temporary’ division of the country at the seventeenth parallel into two ideologically-opposed states meant that the civil conflict in Vietnam would collide full-scale with the East-West rivalry,” says Lien-Hang T. Nguyen, Dorothy Borg Associate Professor in the History of the United States and East Asia at Columbia University.

4. …read more


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Hurricane Katrina: 10 Facts About the Deadly Storm and Its Legacy

August 19, 2020 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

The 2005 hurricane and subsequent levee failures led to death and destruction—and dealt a lasting blow to leadership and the Gulf region.

Hurricane Katrina, the tropical cyclone that struck the Gulf Coast in August 2005, was the third-strongest hurricane to hit the United States in its history at the time. With maximum sustained winds of 175 mph, the storm killed a total of 1,833 people and left millions homeless in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.

The heavy death toll of the hurricane and the subsequent flooding it caused drew international attention, along with widespread and lasting criticism of how local, state and federal authorities handled the storm and its aftermath.

New Orleans on average is 6 feet below sea level and Hurricane Katrina turned fatal after levees constructed to protect the city from rising waters failed catastrophically. Here, on August 30, 2005, water can be seen spilling over along the Inner Harbor Navigational Canal.

View the 14 images of this gallery on the original article

1. Katrina first made landfall in South Florida.

The storm initially formed as a tropical depression southeast of the Bahamas on August 23. By the evening of August 25, when it made landfall north of the Broward-Miami-Dade county line, it had intensified into a category 1 hurricane. With top winds of around 80 mph, the storm was relatively weak, but enough to knock out power for about 1 million and cause $630 million of damage.

WATCH: Cities of the Underworld: Hurricane Katrina on HISTORY Vault

2. Katrina Stalled over the Gulf of Mexico, gaining strength.

After passing over Florida, Katrina again weakened, and was reclassified as a tropical storm. But over the Gulf of Mexico, some 165 miles west of Key West, the storm gathered strength above the warmer waters of the gulf. On August 28, the storm was upgraded to a category 5 hurricane, with steady winds of 160 mph.

In this satellite image, a close-up of the center of Hurricane Katrina’s rotation is seen at 9:45 a.m. EST on August 29, 2005 over southeastern Louisiana. Katrina made landfall that morning as a Category 4 storm with sustained winds in excess of 135 mph.

3. The eye of the storm hit the Gulf Coast near Buras, Louisiana on August 29.

On the morning of August 29, 2005, Katrina made landfall around 60 miles southeast of New …read more


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People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is founded

August 19, 2020 in History

By Editors

On August 21, 1980, animal rights advocates Ingrid Newkirk and Alex Pacheco found People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Rising from humble beginnings, PETA will soon become the world’s foremost and most controversial animal rights organization.

Newkirk’s interest in protecting animals began 11 years prior, when she found some abandoned kittens and was appalled by the conditions that awaited them at a New York City animal shelter. She set aside her plans to become a stockbroker and instead focused on animals, eventually becoming the first female poundmaster in the history of the District of Columbia. In 1980 she began dating Pacheco, a graduate student and activist who had sailed aboard a whale-protection ship, and the two co-founded PETA a short time later.

PETA’s first major campaign came the following year, when Pacheco got a job at a research facility in Silver Spring, Maryland in order to expose the experiments being conducted on monkeys there. PETA distributed photos of the monkeys being kept in horrific conditions, leading to a police raid and, eventually, the first-ever conviction of a researcher on animal-cruelty charges.

Having made a national name for itself, PETA continued to shine a spotlight on animal cruelty. PETA continued to conduct undercover operations and file lawsuits on behalf of animals, but is is perhaps best known for its marketing campaigns and stunts. An early-’90s ad campaign depicted bloody scenes from slaughterhouses with captions like “Do you want fries with that?” while another ad series featured a number of naked celebrities in protest of the fur industry. PETA activists have been known to wear elaborate costumes, body paint, or nothing at all to draw attention to their causes, and to throw red paint symbolizing blood on people wearing fur.

PETA has been criticized from all sides—many believe them to be extremists and find their methods distasteful, while other activists criticize PETA’s willingness to work with corporations in industries like fast food or fashion to make incremental improvements to animal welfare. Still others within the animal rights movement argue that PETA plays an outsized role, focusing attention on media controversies instead of concrete changes.

Nonetheless, PETA has achieved a litany of animal-rights reforms: convincing some of the world’s largest fashion brands not to use fur, animal-testing bans by more than 4,6000 personal-care companies, ending the use of animals in automobile crash tests, closing the Ringling Brothers and Barnum …read more


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The Woman Who Became Governor 11 Years Before Women's Suffrage

August 18, 2020 in History

By Michelle T. Harris

Carrie B. Shelton had the power to veto bills as Oregon governor—but she couldn’t vote.

More than a decade before American women gained the right to vote, a 32-year-old woman stepped into the role of governor of Oregon, becoming the first woman to assume a state’s top office. While she was only governor over a weekend and her impact on the state was minimal, the fact that Carrie B. Shelton served as the state’s chief executive helped garner respect for women’s participation in politics and added to the call for women’s suffrage.

Shelton never actively sought the governorship, but rather was well-placed when circumstances left the position open. On Saturday, February 27, 1909, Governor George Chamberlain of Oregon resigned from office before boarding a train cross-country. He was headed to Washington, D.C. to be sworn in as a U.S. Senator. Though Chamberlain hadn’t yet finished his second term as governor, he needed to be in the capital by March 4 to be sworn in along with the rest of the freshman senate class. If he arrived late, every member would have seniority over him.

By Oregon law, Secretary of State Frank W. Benson would normally have assumed the role as acting governor over the weekend. However, Benson was too ill to immediately step in. This left Chamberlain’s private secretary, Shelton, the next natural successor to take the governor’s office over the next 48 hours. Meanwhile, Benson would have time to recover before being sworn in on Monday morning.

READ MORE: A Timeline of the Fight for All Women’s Right to Vote

This is how Shelton became America’s first female governor—11 years before the August 18, 1920 ratification of the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote. In her brief role as governor, Shelton had the power to veto bills and sign executive orders—all before she could legally cast a ballot.

Genealogist Anne Mitchell, a great-great-niece of Shelton, spent years collecting documents on her family history as well as many of Shelton’s surviving possessions, which she donated to the Willamette Heritage Center.

“She could run things on her own and was extremely knowledgeable,” says Mitchell about Shelton. She says unfortunately, little documentation remains about Shelton’s time in office.

The 19th Amendment (TV-PG; 4:36)

WATCH: The 19th Amendment

A Tragic Past

Born Carrie Bertha Skiff in 1876 to Willis and Mary Skiff, Shelton spent her early years in …read more


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5 Times Hurricanes Changed History

August 14, 2020 in History

By Christopher Klein

These violent storms have had far-reaching consequences that altered the course of history in surprising ways.

Each year an average of two hurricanes strike the United States, leaving death and destruction in their wakes. According to Eric Jay Dolin, author of

Deadliest Hurricanes in U.S. History (TV-PG; 6:24)

5. A hurricane helped ensure victory in the American Revolution.

As it swept across Caribbean ports used by the French and British navies as staging areas during the American Revolution, the Great Hurricane of 1780 took an estimated 22,000 lives. While the British lost eight ships and nearly all of their crews, the deadliest Atlantic hurricane on record also claimed more than 40 French transport vessels and the lives of thousands of soldiers on board.

The storm provided an added impetus for France—which had signed a treaty in 1778 to provide military support to the patriots—to agree to George Washington’s request to move its ships northward. Repairing their ships during the winter of 1781, the French then moved most of their vessels north to the Virginia coast during the following hurricane season. After defeating British naval forces at the Battle of the Chesapeake on September 5, 1781, French warships blocked any British escape by sea during the Siege of Yorktown. That operation concluded with the surrender of Lord Charles Cornwallis and effectively ended the American Revolution.

READ MORE: How an Enslaved Man-Turned-Spy Helped Secure Victory at the Battle of Yorktown

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