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The Maundy Monday Newsletter - This Week in History May 15 - 21.
The Battle of Chancellorsville took place in late April, early May 1863. In a town just west of Fredericksburg, Virginia, Union forces took the Civil War to the footsteps of the Confederacy.
After sacking Major General Ambrose Burnside as the head of the Army of the Potomac for failing to take Fredericksburg a year earlier, President Abraham Lincoln handed the army to Major General John Hooker.
Hooker was quite a boastful man, proclaiming that he hoped God would have mercy on Confederate General Robert E. Lee because Hooker would provide none.
As you would imagine, Hooker and the Federal troops got worked by Lee and Lt. General Stonewall Jackson. Despite being outnumbered by the reinvigorated and massive Army of the Potomac, Lee and Jackson took Hooker to class in military tactics, which resulted in a significant victory for the rebels as Hooker’s men retreated across the Potomac River.
The Confederates were so spot on in this battle that they managed to take out Jackson himself, as I mentioned in last week’s Maundy Monday Newsletter.
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Despite losing a field officer like Jackson, Lee would find himself and his Army of Northern Virginia reinvigorated. He would drive north over the next few weeks to take the war to the North, where it would end over the 4th of July in Gettysburg.
One hundred years later, and Union victory long since won, the South held on to its racist, segregated ways. Birmingham, Alabama, was the center of tension between the white establishment and the Civil Rights Movement led by Martin Luther King, Jr.
In April 1963, King launched the Birmingham Campaign in earnest. Unlike the major battle just 100 years earlier, there would be no violence but sit-ins, protests, and marches. The idea was for the people to take direct action rather than sit around waiting for the justice system to deliver on the promises made in Central Virginia.
The protests worked as boycotted businesses saw sales drop and anxiety increase.
In response, eight white men from different religious denominations wrote an essay titled A Call for Unity, which begged African Americans to stop protesting and wait patiently for the courts to continue to work toward equality and justice.
On the day A Call for Unity was published, King and many leaders were arrested for ignoring a court order telling them to stop protesting.
While in jail, King was given a newspaper copy of the Call and wrote his response along the margins.
King then took his religious brothers to school on how to achieve rights.
He first stated that he couldn’t be considered an outsider as he was characterized because no one who is a citizen of the United States could be an outsider when working within the United States.
Next, King disputed their claim that waiting was wise because waiting was just another way of saying Never, which was unacceptable.
A Call for Unity claimed the demonstrations were illegal, and King argued St. Augustine’s position that unjust laws are no laws at all.
Finally, King took exception to the white men praising the police for keeping the peace. King affirmed that the oppressed people had maintained their peacefulness despite the suffering they continually faced from a country that denied them their dignity and rights.
He professed that the country is interconnected. A country that King stated bluntly where Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
A letter from Birmingham was published on May 19, 1963, in the New York Evening Post.
It would gain more popularity as it was circulated nationwide during the summer.
It was a lesson that reinvigorated the Civil Rights Movement.
Okay, let's highlight what else happened this week. Here's what I got:
1. The first ballot of the eleven impeachment articles failed on May 16, 1868. 17th president, Andrew Johnson, was served with impeachment papers but eventually survived. I read all about it on my honeymoon.
2. The Watergate hearings were televised on May 17, 1973. The Senate Select Committee on Presidential Activities began hearings after five men connected to the reelection of President Richard Nixon were arrested for breaking into the Democratic National Headquarters based in the Watergate Building in Washington, DC. The hearings led to a rapid end of Nixon’s administration, and he resigned in August. HBO has a drama series out right now on the case.
3. Blue Jeans were patented on May 20, 1873. Businessman Levi Straus and tailor Jacob Davis teamed up to put rivets on working men’s pants. Patent #131,121 was approved, and denim was used as the fabric. Blue Jeans are pretty popular, with over $2.2 billion in annual sales.
When I pulled together this week’s lesson, I found something incredibly disappointing.
At the beginning of the 1960s, the media labeled the Civil Rights Movement extreme. King embraced that label, saying that what he was trying to achieve was extreme. President Dwight Eisenhower then used King’s acceptance of this label to deny him an opportunity to meet because that would mean Ike would have been obligated to meet with the Ku Klux Klan.
I’ll have to remember this when I get around to my next edition of ranking the presidents.