This Day in History – June 20th – Hijinx, Humor, and Insight

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NewsWhistle is pleased to feature Gary Jenneke’s “This Day In History” column.

You can read the original at Gary’s THIS DAY IN HISTORY blog — or scroll down to enjoy Gary’s unique look at life’s comings and goings.

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THIS DAY IN HISTORY… JUNE 20

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1756 – Black Hole of Calcutta.

An Indian ruler, Siraj ud-Daulah, ordered the French and British to stop construction work at Fort William in Calcutta. The French complied, the British didn’t. Armed conflict ensued and the British were forced to surrender. The captives were marched down to the fort’s dungeon where they were crammed into a cell measuring 14 by 18 feet. They were British soldiers, Indian sepoys, and Indian civilians. How many were in the cell is uncertain. Some estimates are as high as 146 but it is now more widely believed that 64 prisoners were jammed into the cell for 24 hours. Whatever the number, they were so tightly packed the jailers had difficulty closing the cell door. There were only two small windows in the cell and pleas for mercy and relief were ignored. Resolve weakened and panic ensued. This from Wikipedia.org: “They raved, fought, prayed, blasphemed, and many then fell exhausted on the floor, where suffocation put an end to their torments.” Siraj ud-Daulah was unaware of the cruelty of his men and when he found out he immediately ordered the release of the prisoners. By that time only 21 prisoners were still alive. Despite having been unaware of the prisoners’ condition, and showing some small kindness to the survivors, Siraj un-Daulah was executed after British forces recaptured Calcutta.

Payback for British colonialism. Until Gandhi came along the history between the English and Indians was rife with violence and cruelty.  

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1789 – Tennis Court Oath.

Deputies of the Third Estate of France had intended to meet at a hotel in Versailles. However the hotel was locked and the entrance guarded by troops loyal to Louis XVI. So the 577 deputies went to a nearby indoor tennis court. There they took an oath pledging to remain assembled until a new national constitution had been drafted and implemented. This act captured the revolutionary imagination of France at the time and is comparable to the storming of the Bastille which took place less than a month later.

An exciting and dangerous time to be in France. A lot of people lost their heads, both literally and figuratively. 

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1943 – Detroit Race Riot.

There had been a migration of African-Americans from the South to Detroit to labor in the war industry. Tensions between the races increased due to a lack of available housing and white resistance to public housing being constructed in their neighborhoods. A fist fight between two men, one white and one Black, at an amusement park soon turned into a brawl. That spread to the streets where stores were looted, buildings burned and cars overturned. Blacks were dragged off streetcars and beaten while whites were pulled from their cars. The riot only lasted 24 hours but 34 people were killed in the violence, 25 African-American and 9 whites. The police did little other than siding with the whites and FDR sent in federal troops to quell the violence. Police were responsible for 17 African-American deaths while no whites died at the hands of the authorities.

Just another sad milepost in the long trail of racial animosity in this country. 

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Birthdays:

1905 – Lillian Hellman.

Writer. Hellman wrote two stage plays in the 1930s that were very successful, “The Children’s Hour” and “The Little Foxes.” So much so she was the first woman to gain entrance to the all-male club of American Dramatic Literature. “The Children’s Hour” was banned in London, Boston and Chicago because of its subject matter: two female teachers having their lives ruined because a female student spread lies about them being lovers. Lesbianism was a taboo thought, much less drama material at that time. The play was considered too scandalous to be considered for the Pulitzer Prize. Hellman was a long time romantic partner with detective writer Dashiell Hammett and she claimed she was the inspiration for the character of Nora in his novel “The Thin Man.” As were many writers of that era Hellman’s politics were left-wing and even after Stalin’s purges in Russia became public she remained sympathetic to communism. When called before the HUAC during Senator Joseph McCarthy’s purges she was defiant and refused to name names. Blacklisted for a time, Hellman continued to write and continued to find success. Her “Toys in the Attic” ran for 464 performances on Broadway. She also wrote a series of veracity-challenged, according to her critics, memoirs. She was unabashed on that front also, writing “What I have written is the truth as I saw it, but the truth as I saw it, of course, doesn’t have much to do with the truth.” Hellman remained a controversial figure her whole life, dying at 79 in 1984. 

“It was the Depression, people were out of work and here we were making so much money as writers. I think we joined the Communist Party as a way to assuage our guilt.” A blacklisted screenwriter and contemporary of Hellman’s once told me, in explaining their political affiliation at that time. 

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1924 – Chet Atkins.

Musician, record producer. Also known as Mr. Guitar, Atkins helped create what became called the “Nashville sound.” He had trouble getting a start in country music because he was shy and his style so sophisticated some questioned whether he was truly country. Even after he was successful he was criticized for allowing jazz influences into his playing. As a producer he worked with Hank Snow, Dolly Parton, Elvis Presley, Eddy Arnold, Perry Como and more. If during a recording session someone was out of tune Atkins would not call out that person. He would say there was a tuning problem and would everybody please check. If it persisted he’d simply have the mix for that part turned down. He collected 14 Grammys and is in both the Country Music and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. After surviving an early bout of it, Atkins succumbed to colon cancer in 2001. 

He sounded like a kind man and he had the perfect name for a country star.

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1925 – Audie Murphy.

Soldier, actor. Murphy was one of the most decorated American soldiers in WWII. Every available combat medal was awarded to him, including the Medal of Honor. He was also presented with medals for heroism from the French and Belgian governments. Actor James Cagney originally brought him to Hollywood although that association did not last. One of his first major roles was The Youth in “The Red Badge of Courage.” Although reluctant to do so, he played himself in “To Hell and Back,” a movie about his wartime experience. After that Murphy mostly appeared in westerns. He grew up in poverty with no father and quit school after the fifth grade to pick cotton to help support his family. Raised in Texas, he hunted for food and was an excellent shot. He joined the Army at age 16, having falsified his age. Murphy suffered from battle fatigue, now known as PTSD, and slept with a loaded pistol under his pillow. An American success story, Murphy died at age 45 in the crash of a small plane. 

No great shakes as an actor, he did however bring an earnest honesty to his roles. A sadness, rather than joy seemed to emanate from him, which is understandable. 

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ABOUT GARY JENNEKE

At various junctures of his life, Gary has been an indifferent grade school student, poor high school student, good Navy radioman, one-time hippie, passable college student, inveterate traveler, dedicated writer, miscast accountant (except for one interesting stint at a Communist café), part-time screenwriting teacher, semi-proud veteran, unsuccessful retiree and new blogger.

You can reach him at gary@newswhistle.com.

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CREDITS

The above information was sourced from the following sites and newspapers.

Sources:

OnThisDay.com

AlphaHistory.com

BlackPast.org

Wikipedia.org

TheGuardian.com

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We’d also like to thank the following photographers and videographers for the use of their images:

* Lead-In Stock Image (“Flame”)  – Photo by Marek Piwnicki on Unsplash

* Lillian Hellman (video)  – The Dick Cavett Show & Alan Eichler/ YouTube.com

* Chet Atkins (video)  – renig427 / YouTube.com

* “To Hell and Back” ( video) – Universal PicturesMichael Appert / YouTube.com

* Outro (Man-In-Museum Cartoon) – SkyPics Studio / Shutterstock.com

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OTHER DAYS IN HISTORY …

December 2

December 3

December 5

December 8

* December 9

December 11

December 12

* December 13

* December 15

December 16

December 18

* December 19

December 22

December 23

December 24

December 25

December 28

January 1

January 3

* January 4

January 6

January 7

January 8

January 11

* January 12

* January 14

January 15

January 17

January 19

January 22

January 23

January 24

January 28

January 29

February 1

February 2

February 3

February 5

* February 9

February 10

* February 12

February 14

February 15

February 20

February 21

February 22

February 25

February 28

February 29

March 2

March 4

March 6

* March 9

March 11

March 12

March 14

March 15

March 17

March 19

March 21

March 22

March 23

March 27

March 28

March 29

April 2

April 3

April 4

April 6

April 9

* April 11

April 13

April 16

April 18

April 21

* April 22

April 23

April 26

April 28

April 29

April 30

May 2

* May 3

* May 7

May 9

May 10

May 12

May 13

May 17

* May 20

May 24

May 26

May 27

May 28

May 29

May 30

May 31

June 1

June 6

June 8

June 10

June 11

June 12

June 13

June 17

June 18

June 21

June 24

June 28

June 29

July 2

July 3

* July 9

July 13

July 15

July 19

July 23

July 25

July 30

July 31

* August 3

August 7

August 10

August 11

August 16

August 17

August 21

August 24

August 25

* August 28

August 31

September 2

September 5

September 6

September 8

September 11

September 12

September 15

September 16 

September 17

September 21

September 23

September 25

September 26

September 27

September 30

October 1

October 3

October 4

October 5

October 7

October 10

October 11

* October 12

October 14

October 15

October 16

October 18

October 20

October 24

October 25

October 26

October 27

October 30

October 31

November 1

November 3

* November 4

November 5

November 6

November 8

November 9

November 10

November 11

November 13

November 14

November 15

November 16

* November 17

November 18

* November 19

November 20

November 23

November 24

November 26

November 28

November 29

November 30

* Stay tuned for more!

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