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January 22nd 1973: Roe v. Wade

On this day in 1973, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Roe v. Wade that women have the right to an abortion, thus legalising abortion in the United States. The case was brought to federal court by a Texas woman under the alias of Jane Roe, against Dallas County District Attorney Henry Wade, who represented the state. After a decision was made in the district court, the case was referred up through the court system, eventually reaching the nation’s highest court in 1970. The all-male Supreme Court, led by Warren Burger as Chief Justice, ruled 7-2 that a right to privacy under the 14th Amendment covers a woman’s right to an abortion. The majority opinion was written by Justice Harry Blackmun, with Justices Bryon White and William Rehnquist penning dissents. The Roe decision was issued the same day as a related case called Doe v. Bolton which overturned Georgia’s anti-abortion laws. Roe v. Wade was immediately controversial, sparking celebrations in the pro-choice camp and protests from anti-abortion activists. It is still a divisive issue today, with its supporters arguing the decision forms a vital part of a woman’s right over her own body, and those opposed to abortion calling for the decision’s repeal. The Court’s 1973 decision has since been challenged, and abortion rights have been gradually eroded in subsequent rulings, but the fundamental right to an abortion remains.

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tfw one of the girls you grew up with probably calls Donald Drumpf “daddy” and is the whitest person in the world doesn’t remember anything from her US History class.

(Not censoring names because they are proud of themselves.)

January 22

In 1973, the US Supreme Court handed down its decision in Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion in all fifty states, and everyone respected the rights of women to make decisions about their own bodies and health, and trusted their judgments pertaining to these matters, and no one ever did or said anything stupid regarding that topic again.

(This has been Today in History from an alternate and saner universe.)

Animated stereoview of President Teddy Roosevelt waving from his carriage on Pennsylvania Avenue while headed towards the White House during his presidential inauguration parade in Washington, D.C., March 4, 1905. By Carleton H. Graves.

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January 20th 2009: Inauguration of Barack Obama

On this day in 2009, eight years ago, Barack Obama was sworn into office as the 44th President of the United States. That day, Obama made history as the nation’s first African-American President, having successfully defeated Republican candidate John McCain in the 2008 election. January 20th has been the official presidential Inauguration Day since the ratification of the 20th Amendment in 1933; previously, new presidents were sworn in on March 4th. Obama’s inauguration was one of the most observed events in global history, with millions watching in person, online, or on television. The day’s theme was ‘A New Birth of Freedom’, which derives from President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth. Obama was sworn into office by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, who administered the oath of office required by the Constitution in Article Two, Section One, Clause Eight. However, the oath administered to Obama strayed slightly from the exact words specified in the Constitution, and he thus retook the oath the next evening. Obama was re-elected to office in 2012, defeating Republican Mitt Romney. The Obama presidency will be remembered primarily for the historic passage of the Affordable Care Act, the normalisation of relations with Cuba, and his appointments to the Supreme Court. His years in office were also marked by increased partisanship and division in America, and continued instability in the Middle East. Obama leaves office today, to be replaced by Republican Donald Trump, with high approval ratings, leaving a legacy of grace and statesmanship that will not be soon forgotten.

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December 14th 1780: Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler marry

On this day in 1780, Founding Father Alexander Hamilton married Elizabeth Schuyler. Hamilton was born to a troubled family in the British West Indies, and moved to America as a teenager for an education. However, as the American colonies teetered on the brink of revolution, Hamilton found himself drawn to the Patriot cause. Soon into the war, Hamtilon became the assistant and adviser to General George Washington. It was during this time that he met and married Elizabeth Schuyler, who came from a prominent New York family. Elizabeth, or Eliza, was known for her sharp wit, and Hamilton was immediately smitten with her. The couple married in 1780, and went on to have eight children. As Hamilton’s career progressed, Eliza was his chief companion and helped him with his political writings. Hamilton was a fierce advocate of a strong central government, penning the majority of the Federalist Papers which supported the ratification of the Constitution, and became the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton and Schuyler’s marriage was not without its trials; in 1797 the so-called Reynolds Pamphlet was published, revealing Hamilton’s affair with a woman named Maria Reynlds. In 1801, their nineteen-year-old son Philip was killed in a duel defending his father’s honour. Just three years after losing her son, Elizabeth was widowed when Alexander was killed by Aaron Burr in a duel. Elizabeth then devoted her life to philanthropy and preserving Hamiton’s legacy; in 1806, she founded New York’s first private orphanage. By the mid-nineteenth century, Elizabeth was one of the last living links to the revolutionary era, making her a very famous figure. In 1848, during the cornerstone-laying ceremony for the Washington Monument, Elizabeth rode in the procession with President James K. Polk and future presidents James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton died in 1854, aged 97, fifty years after her husband’s death.

“With my last idea; I shall cherish the sweet hope of meeting you in a better world. Adieu best of wives and best of Women. Embrace all my darling Children for me.”
- Alexander Hamilton to Elizabeth Schuyler, just days before his death

The thing is, capitalism has never been reformed ‘peacefully’.

Reform movements which have formally disavowed violent means - from the Civil Rights movement in 1960s America, to Attlee’s Labour government in 1940s Britain - have only been historically successful because mass, organised, revolutionary movements of the politically disenfranchised outside of the formal reform movement have forced those benefiting from the status quo to cede concessions to non-violent, often middle-class, reformist leaders. Malcolm X, the Socialist Party of the USA and the Communist Party forced the American elite to come to the table with Dr. King; the syndicalist and communist trade unions in post-War Britain made opposition to Attlee’s NHS and limited nationalisations foolhardy.

Those who preach non-violence as a strategy rather than as a flexible tactic fatally mistake capitalism for a rational, logical system which plays by its own rules and respects human life.

We know better.

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January 19th 1809: Edgar Allan Poe born

On this day in 1809, the American poet and writer Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston, Massachusetts. The young Poe barely knew his parents, with his father leaving the family and his mother passing away when he was just three years old. He lived with another couple as foster-parents, and was forced to gamble to pay for his tuition at the University of Virginia, which he had to drop out of due to financial difficulties. He soon joined the army and was accepted into West Point, though he was expelled after a year. After leaving the academy, Poe turned his full attention to his writing. He then traveled around Northern cities, including New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore; it was in Baltimore, in 1836, that he married his young cousin Virginia. In Richmond, Poe worked as a critic for various magazines, occasionally publishing his original work which included short stories and poems. In 1841, Poe published his ‘Murders in the Rue Morgue’, which many consider the beginning of the detective fiction genre. His most famous work, the poem ‘The Raven’, was published in 1845 to critical praise. Sadly, his wife died from tuberculosis two years later, leaving the writer grief-stricken and nearly destitute, as he never had great financial success.  On October 3rd, he was found ill in Baltimore and taken to hospital, where he died on October 7th aged 40. It is still unknown what his precise cause of death was, but alcoholism is widely believed to have played a part. While not appreciated in his lifetime, Poe is now considered one of the great American writers.

“Lord, help my poor soul”
- Poe’s last words

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Today marks the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor which officially catapulted the United States into the Second World War.

This illustration from 1943 depicts Doris “Dorie” Miller (1919-1943), an African-American sailor from Waco, Texas during that fateful morning in 1941 as he defends the fleet at Pearl Harbor from the USS West Virginia. Despite not being trained on the .50 caliber Browning, Miller impressively managed to shoot down an estimated 3 to 4 Japanese planes until he ran out of ammunition. At that point, Miller began to help moving injured sailors out of harm’s way before abandoning the ship.

For his efforts on that day, Miller was awarded the US Navy Cross and was lauded as one of the first American heroes in Second World War (as the pin shows).

Miller would unfortunately be killed in action onboard the USS Liscome Bay during the battle of Makin Island 1943.

(US National Archives, USAmericana)

Although they are presented as harmless, goofy explorations of inane historical side-notes, cable TV specials such as Ancient Aliens and The Lost History of Ancient America normalise expressions of racist intellectual attitudes towards native peoples.

Their basic premise remains: ‘These primitive brown people couldn’t possibly have contributed to our cultural history! It must have been [aliens / giants / prehistorical Europeans]’. Indigenous peoples in North America, Latin America and Africa were practical metallurgists, experimental chemists, civil engineers and urban planners - restoring native peoples to their factual place in human developmental history reveals a dazzlingly beautiful archaeological narrative which throws grubby crypto-fascist conspiracy loons into the shade. 

Busting these absurd, revisionist ahistories is an anti-racist duty.