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Velvet Revolution begins in Czechoslovakia

March 2, 2021 in History

By History.com Editors

On November 17, 1989, nine days after the fall of the Berlin Wall roughly 200 miles to the north, students gather en masse in Prague, Czechoslovakia to protest the communist regime. The demonstration sets off what will become known as the Velvet Revolution, the non-violent toppling of the Czechoslovak government and one of a series of anti-communist revolutions that marked the late 1980s and early ’90s.

Protestors chose November 17 because it was International Students Day, the 50 anniversary of a Nazi attack on the University of Prague that killed nine and saw 1,200 students sent to concentration camps. The Czechoslovak government, ruled by a single, Moscow-aligned communist party since the end of World War II, allowed almost no anti-government speech and harshly suppressed dissent, but it sanctioned the International Students Day march. Anti-government sentiment had become increasingly vocal in recent years, as the economy of the Soviet Bloc declined and democratic movements overthrew the communist regimes in Poland and Hungary.

Students chanting anti-government slogans packed the streets of Bratislava as well as Prague, where they were met with violence from the police (officially, there were no deaths). Despite the police repression, protests spread to other cities and grew exponentially. Theater workers went on strike, converting their stages to forums for public discussion, and the protests grew to include citizens from all walks of life. On November 20, 500,000 protestors demonstrated in Prague’s Wenceslas Square.

Within a few days of the initial protest, the writing was on the wall for one-party rule in Czechoslovakia. The Communist Party’s leadership resigned on November 28 and an anti-communist government was in power by December 10. Václav Havel, a writer and the nation’s most famous dissident, was elected president on December 29, becoming the last president of Czechoslovakia. In the following years, the Czech and Slovak regions of the country separated peacefully in what was dubbed the Velvet Divorce, and in 1993 Havel was elected the first president of the newly-formed Czech Republic.

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Ruby Bridges desegregates her school

March 2, 2021 in History

By History.com Editors

On November 14, 1960, a court order mandating the desegregation of schools comes into effect in New Orleans, Louisiana. Six-year-old Ruby Bridges walks into William Frantz Elementary School, accompanied by federal marshals and taunted by angry crowds, instantly becoming a symbol of the civil rights movement, an icon for the cause of racial equality and a target for racial animosity.

The Supreme Court ordered the end of segregated public schools in Brown vs. Board of Education just a few months before Bridges was born, but it was not until after her kindergarten year that the City of New Orleans finally assented to desegregation. African American children in New Orleans were given a test, and only those who passed were allowed to enroll in all-white public schools. Bridges passed the test and became the only one of the six eligible students to go ahead with desegregating Frantz Elementary. Her father opposed the idea at first, but Bridges’ mother convinced him that sending Ruby to Frantz was both right for their daughter and an important moment for all African Americans. Bridges entered the school along with her mother and several marshals on November 14, and images of the small child and her escorts walking calmly through crowds of rabid segregationists spread across the country. Bridges later recalled that she had initially thought the crowds were there to celebrate Mardi Gras.

READ MORE: Brown v. Board of Education: The First Step in the Desegregation of America’s Schools

Bridges did not attend any classes on November 14 due to the chaos outside the school. No other students attended and all but one teacher, Barbara Henry, stayed home in protest of desegregation. It was several days until a white father finally broke the boycott and brought his son to school, and even when the white students returned, they were kept separate from the school’s lone Black student. Henry, whom Bridges said was the first white teacher and “the nicest teacher I ever had,” taught a class consisting of only Bridges for the entire school year. Federal marshaled continued to escort her to school for that time, and crowds chanting racial slurs and making death threats continued to greet Bridges for months.

Bridges’ family suffered enormously—her father lost his job, her sharecropper grandparents were kicked off of their land and her parents eventually separated—but they also received support in the form of gifts, …read more

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Texas passes a bill becoming the first state in the nation to make Juneteenth an official state holiday

March 2, 2021 in History

By History.com Editors

A celebration that has persisted for over a century receives its first official recognition on June 7, 1979, as the Texas Legislature passes a bill declaring Juneteenth a state holiday. The annual June 19 celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation—not the announcement itself, but the arrival of the news of the proclamation in Texas—is now officially observed in almost all 50 states.

President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation officially freed the enslaved peoples of the rebellious Southern states on New Year’s Day of 1863, but the order only applied to territories currently held by the Confederacy. Southerners did not recognize Lincoln’s authority, and in many cases slaveowners and whites simply withheld the news from enslaved people. The wait was especially long in Texas, where news of slavery’s demise did not arrive until two months after Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox ended the Civil War. On June 19, 1865, Union General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas and proclaimed the news to the enslaved people there.

READ MORE: What Is Juneteenth?

The day instantly became an important one to the African American citizens of Texas, who held annual celebrations and even made pilgrimages to Galveston each Juneteenth. In 1872, a group of Black ministers and businessmen purchased ten acres of land in Houston for the occasion, naming it Emancipation Park. Black communities across the nation continued to celebrate Juneteenth for the next century. The holiday received renewed interest with the rise of the civil rights Movement in the 1960s, particularly when Rev. Ralph Abernathy of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference proclaimed Juneteenth “Solidarity Day” as part of his 1968 Poor People’s Campaign. Another civil rights leader, the recently-elected State Representative Al Edwards of Houston, introduced the bill making Juneteenth a paid holiday in the state of Texas. In the following decades, most of the country either made Juneteenth a holiday or declared it would officially observe the occasion, and parades and public celebrations have attracted larger and larger crowds.

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Chanel No. 5 perfume launches

March 2, 2021 in History

By History.com Editors

On May 5, 1921, a date of symbolic importance to its iconic creator, the perfume Chanel No. 5 officially debuts in Coco Chanel’s boutique on the Rue Cambon in Paris. The new fragrance immediately revolutionized the perfume industry and remained popular for a century.

Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel was the daughter of a clothing peddler and a laundrywoman. She learned to sew in the convent where her father sent his three daughters after the death of their mother when Coco was only 11. From these humble beginnings, she quickly established herself on the fashion scene when her lover, a wealthy textile magnate named Étienne Balsan, helped her set up her first boutique. By 1921, Chanel was a celebrated clothing designer and socialite, known both for wildly popular, groundbreaking clothing designs and for her high-profile romances and larger-than-life public image.

It was one such romance that led to the creation of Chanel No. 5—while vacationing in the South of France with Grand Duke Dmitri Pavlovich, an exiled Russian nobleman who had taken part in the killing of Grigori Rasputin, Chanel met the perfumer Ernest Beaux. She began to work with him on a fragrance that would bear her name, allegedly challenging him to create a scent that would “smell like a woman, not like a rose.” According to legend, Beaux or his assistant accidentally added an “overdose” of aldehydes—chemicals that helped a scent last longer but which were used sparingly by perfumers of the time, who preferred natural ingredients and fruity scents—to one of the samples he prepared for Chanel. A number of reasons have been posited as to why Chanel settled on this scent: many argue that the aldehydes reminded her of soap, a scent that took her back to her mother’s laundry, while others hold that she picked the fifth sample of a batch that Beaux offered because of her lifelong obsession with the number five. Chanel later said the concoction “was what I was waiting for…a woman’s perfume, with the scent of a woman.” The fragrance would officially debut, along with her new collection, on the fifth day of the fifth month of 1921.

Even before it debuted, Chanel No. 5 caused a stir. Chanel hosted a party for some of her most fashionable friends, sprayed the perfume around the table, and, according to legend, was asked about the scent by every woman who passed by. The fragrance …read more

Source: HISTORY

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Kim Ng named first female MLB general manager

March 2, 2021 in History

By History.com Editors

On November 13, 2020, veteran front-office official Kim Ng breaks several glass ceilings simultaneously when she is named General Manager of the Miami Marlins. Ng is the first woman and first person of East Asian descent to lead a Major League Baseball front office, as well as the first female GM in the history of North American professional men’s sports.

Ng, the daughter of two Americans of Chinese descent, played softball at the University of Chicago and wrote her college thesis on the effects of Title IX. She has spent her entire career in Major League Baseball, beginning with an internship for the Chicago White Sox. After six years with the White Sox, she worked in the offices of the American League before the youngest assistant GM in the league in 1998, when she was hired by the New York Yankees. Her talent was widely discussed during her time with the Yankees, who won three World Series in her four years in New York. In 2000, Yankees superstar Derek Jeter presented her with a Women in Sports and Events Award. She soon moved on to become Vice President and Assistant General Manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, where she spent nine years before moving to the MLB front office.

Between 2005 and 2020, Ng reportedly interviewed for at least five vacant GM positions and was often referred to as a “GM-in-waiting.” Nonetheless, she did not receive an offer, even as young and relatively unproven male executives like Theo Epstein received acclaim and lucrative jobs across the league. It was Jeter, now the chief executive and part-owner of the Marlins, who finally picked Ng to lead a team’s baseball operations. “There’s an adage, ‘You can’t be it if you can’t see it,’” Ng said at a press conference announcing her appointment. “I suggest to them, ‘Now you can see it.’”

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How Billie Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’ Confronted an Ugly Era of Lynchings

March 1, 2021 in History

By Karen Juanita Carrillo

During a time when violence against Black Americans was devastatingly common, Holiday’s haunting rendition of the song often left audiences uncomfortable.

The haunting lyrics of “Strange Fruit” paint a picture of a rural American South where political and psychological terror reigns over African American communities.

“Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze,” blues legend Billie Holiday sang in her powerful 1939 recording of the song, “Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.” The song’s lyrics portray the everyday violence that was being inflicted on Black people. And Holiday dared to perform it—in front of Black and white audiences, alike.

“She wanted to make a statement with that song. There was something about standing in front of white audiences and being brave enough to confront America’s ongoing crime,” says Loyola University Maryland associate professor of African and African American studies Karsonya (Kaye) Wise Whitehead. “The writing wasn’t simply about the past—it was happening at that moment.”

READ MORE: . “This made Billie a Black performer who had something to say and was saying it, had the nerve to say it, to sing it.”

‘Strange Fruit’ Named Song of the Century

Holiday may not have predicted the impact her Time magazine review would have, but she did understand the power of the song. Holiday’s vocalizing and improvisational abilities gave Meeropol’s poetry force and emotional impact.

“The first time I sang it I thought it was a mistake and I had been right being scared,” Holiday writes in her autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues. “There wasn’t even a patter of applause when I finished. Then a lone person began to clap nervously. Then suddenly everyone was clapping.”

Holiday went on to record “Strange Fruit” with the Commodore Records jazz label on April 20, 1939. The song helped raise Holiday to national prominence—at just age 23.

Not all audiences appreciated Holiday’s performance of the song. Among them was the director of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, Harry Anslinger. Anslinger, who openly espoused racist views, saw to it that Holiday, who struggled with drug use, was targeted, pursued and arrested in 1947 for possession of narcotics. She was sent to Alderson Federal Prison Camp in West Virginia for a year. Upon her release, Holiday was barred from securing a cabaret performer’s license.

Despite her struggles, Holiday’s performance of “Strange Fruit” continued to resonate—and it remains among her bestselling recordings. In 1999, Time …read more

Source: HISTORY

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Why the 19th Amendment Did Not Guarantee All Women the Right to Vote

March 1, 2021 in History

By Lesley Kennedy

Despite the adoption of the 19th Amendment, many women of color, immigrant women and poorer women continued to face barriers at the polls.

With the certification of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on August 26, 1920, women secured the right to vote after a decades-long fight. “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex,” it reads.

But while the passage of the 19th Amendment enabled most white women to vote, that wasn’t the case for many women of color.

“For Black women, their votes weren’t lifted by that tide in the South,” Christina Rivers, associate professor of political science at Depaul University, says. “Their votes were suppressed solely on the basis of race.”

Also prevented from voting: Native Americans—both men and women—did not gain the right to vote until the Snyder Act of 1924, four years after the ratification of the 19th Amendment and more than 50 years after the passage of the 15th Amendment. Even then, some Western states, including Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, didn’t grant Native Americans the right to vote until the 1940s and ‘50s. It wasn’t until the Cable Act of 1922 that women were allowed to keep their citizenship—and gain the right to vote—if they were married to an immigrant (who had to be eligible to become a U.S. citizen).

In Puerto Rico, literate women won the right to vote in 1929, but it wasn’t until 1935 that all women were given that right. And Asian American immigrant women were denied the right to vote until 1952 when the Immigration and Nationality Act allowed them to become citizens.

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

A Divided Suffrage Movement

But even with the passage of these amendments and acts, a number of nefarious methods were used to keep segments of the population from voting. Most of these measures targeted Black Americans in the Jim Crow South, but Latinx, Native American and Asian Americans also faced obstacles to voting in the Southwest and West.

“When you combine literacy tests, invasive registration forms, interpretation tests, poll taxes and outright violence, this kept Black voting registration percentages down to the single digits in most of the Confederate South,” Rivers …read more

Source: HISTORY

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Women in WWII Took on These Dangerous Military Jobs

February 25, 2021 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

Looking beyond traditional nursing or clerical roles, some women served as snipers, bomber pilots and more.

Women served on both sides of World War II, in official military roles that came closer to combat than ever before. The Soviet Union, in particular, mobilized its women: Upward of 800,000 would enlist in the Red Army during the war, with more than half of these serving in front-line units. British forces included many women alongside men in vital anti-aircraft units. And Nazi Germany followed suit later in the conflict, when its flagging fortunes required the nation’s full mobilization.

Of the four major powers in the conflict, only the United States resisted sending any women into combat. Still, thousands of American women did join the military in various capacities during World War II, upending generations of traditional gender roles and longstanding assumptions about female capability and courage.

Soviet Union: Bombers and Snipers

The Night Witches (TV-PG; 1:55)

WATCH: The Night Witches

Soviet women served as scouts, anti-aircraft gunners, tank drivers and partisan fighters, but the two most dangerous—and celebrated—roles they played were as pilots and snipers.

In the fall of 1941, with invading German forces threatening Moscow, Marina Raskova (known as the “Russian Amelia Earhart”) convinced Joseph Stalin to authorize three regiments of female pilots. The most famous was the 588th Night Bomber Regiment, whose pilots hit so many of their targets that the Germans started calling them the Nachthexen, or “night witches.” Using rickety plywood planes, the women of the 588th flew more than 30,000 missions and dropped more than 23,000 tons of bombs on the Nazis; 30 of them were killed and 24 received the Hero of the Soviet Union medal, the nation’s highest award for valor.

Though nearly 2,500 Soviet women were trained as snipers, many others took on the role without formal training. Assigned to infantry battalions, female snipers were tasked with targeting German frontline officers and picking them off as they advanced. One sniper, Lyudmila Pavlichenko (aka “Lady Death”), killed a confirmed 309 Germans, including 36 enemy snipers, in less than a year of service with the Red Army’s 25th Rifle Division. Wounded four separate times, she was taken out of combat by late 1942; the Soviet government sent her to the United States, where she toured the country with Eleanor Roosevelt. She was 25 years old.

READ MORE: Meet the Night Witches, …read more

Source: HISTORY

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9 Groundbreaking Inventions by Women

February 25, 2021 in History

By Becky Little

Women inventors are behind a wide range of key innovations, from Kevlar to dishwashers to better life rafts.

Female inventors have played a large role in U.S. history, but haven’t always received credit for their work. Besides the fact that their contributions have sometimes been downplayed over overlooked, women—particularly women of color—have historically had fewer resources to apply for U.S. patents and market their inventions.

Not all of the female inventors on this list received attention for their work in their lifetime, or were able to market their inventions. But all of them contributed innovations that helped advance technology in their respective fields.

Female inventors have played a large role in U.S. history, while not always receiving credit for their work. Among the many inventions by women innovators is the dishwasher, which was patented in 1886 by a wealthy socialite, Josephine G. Cochran, of Shelbyville, Illinois, who sought a way to wash her fine china.

View the 9 images of this gallery on the original article

1. Life Raft

In the early 1880s, when a new wave of European immigrants were sailing to the United States, a Philadelphia inventor named Maria E. Beasley designed an improved life raft. Unlike the flat life rafts of the 1870s, Beasley’s raft had guard rails to help keep people inside during emergencies when they had to abandon ship.

Beasley patented her first life raft design in 1880 in both the United States and Great Britain, and received a second U.S. patent for an updated version of the raft in 1882. In addition to the life raft, she also invented a foot warmer, a stream generator and a barrel-hooping machine, receiving a total of 15 U.S. patents and at least two in Great Britain during her life.

2. Fold-Out Bed

In 1885, a Chicago inventor and furniture store owner named Sarah E. Goode received a patent for her “Cabinet-Bed.” The new piece of furniture was a desk that folded out into a bed, allowing the user to save space in a tiny apartment.

Goode’s invention predated the 20th century’s pull-down Murphy beds and pull-out sofas. With her Cabinet-Bed, Goode—who was born into slavery and won her freedom after the Civil War—became one of the first Black women to patent and invention with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

READ MORE: 8 Black Inventors Who Made Daily Life Easier

3. Dishwasher

Josephine G. Cochran …read more

Source: HISTORY

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How the Aztec Empire Was Forged Through a Triple Alliance

February 24, 2021 in History

By Dave Roos

Three city-states joined in a fragile, but strategic alliance to wield tremendous power as the Aztec Empire.

The . “It wasn’t good for farming the corn, beans and squash that they all lived on.”

Soon, however, the Mexica learned an agricultural trick from the neighboring Xochimilca, who taught them to build productive raised bed gardens in the shallows using basket-like fences of woven reeds. In time, the previously unattractive island location transformed into a central trading hub with canoes filled with goods criss-crossing the lake to buy and sell in Tenochtitlán.

WATCH: Greatest Ancient Metropolises on HISTORY Vault

Itzcoatl Leads a Bold Coup

While settlers around Lake Texcoco thrived agriculturally, they lived under volatile rulership. Power dynamics in 14th-century Mexico were complicated to say the least.

“Every city state was always on the edge of civil war,” says Townsend, the result of an energetically polygamous ruling class.

Kings, known as tlàtoani (meaning “speaker” or “mouthpiece”), took multiple wives as gifts and tributes from their political allies. The polygamous unions yielded dozens of potential heirs, each vying for the throne with the military backing of their mother’s home city.

In 1426, the tlàtoani of Azcapotzalco, still the most powerful city state, died suddenly. His heirs, each representing the interests of another city state, began killing each other off in a desperate grab for the throne. Chaos ensued.

The tlàtoani of Tenochtitlán at the time was a man named Itzoatl or “Obsidian Snake.” Itzcoatl himself was an unlikely heir to the Tenochtitlán throne, as the son of a former king and an enslaved woman. But he was a savvy schemer and knew an opportunity when he saw it.

Itzcoatl sought allies from towns that had been wronged by Azcapotzalco. But not only that, he looked for bands of brothers from second- and third-tier queens who had little chance of rising to power on their own. That’s how Itzcoatl forged an alliance between Tenochtitlán and aspiring families in the two smaller city states of Tlacopan and Texcoco.

Together, this unlikely coalition of the least-powerful bands of brothers waged war against chaotic Azcapotzalco and seized power in a coordinated coup. The Triple Alliance was born.

The Triple Alliance: An Ad Hoc Empire

Panoramic view of Tenochtitlán, the ancient capital of the Aztec empire, and the Valley of Mexico.

Once Azcapotzalco was subdued, the Triple Alliance combined its armies to intimidate city states and villages across the Valley of Mexico and …read more

Source: HISTORY