History Monday #98

The fact is, they’re flooding this valley so they can hydro-electric up the whole durned state.

Uh-oh, Congress passed another big government bill that won’t really help financially strapped people. Yes, those are recent headlines, but they could also be applied to today’s #HistoryMonday event as well. Although, the historical event we’ll discuss was much more widely accepted at its inception and even today.

A Tennessee Valley Authority sign at the Pres. Roosevelt Museum

On this day in 1833, Pres. Franklin Roosevelt signs Tennessee Valley Authority Act. This act was a hallmark of New Deal programs. The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was a connected effort of public utility companies to be administered by the federal government.

The Tennessee Valley which comprises the states of Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee,  and Kentucky, as well as slivers of North Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia. These states are all part of the Tennessee River watershed which would provide much needed resources for hydroelectric plants.

Building hydroelectric plants and a utility commission in the South during the Great Depression was a way to assist communities that were suffering even more than other regions of the country. As much of the South was already impoverished before the Great Depression, the financial crisis from the Stock Market and banks only compounded the problems.

While seen as part of Pres. Roosevelt’s New Deal program, the TVA Act was authored by Sen. George Norris (R-NE). Sen. Norris had previously blocked a private utility effort by Henry Ford some 12 years earlier. In hopes of preventing further private utility companies that charged unfair prices for their consumers, Sen. Norris authored the Muscle Shoals bill in 1931, but it was vetoed as being a socialist idea by Pres. Hoover. Pres. Roosevelt was not as opposed to Sen. Norris’s efforts, and had campaigned for public utility commissions to be overseen by the federal government prior to his election.

fast forward

The TVA was originally headquartered at Muscle Shoals, AL but would eventually move to its present location in Knoxville, TN. A three-member board appointed by the President administered the authority: Harcourt Morgan, Arthur E. Morgan, and David Lilienthal. Under their leadership, Lilienthal became known as Mr. TVA for his efforts to maintain the commission and to be its public face.

During the initial building of the hydroelectric plants, much of the power produced was directed to aluminum factories owned by Alcoa and others. These plants were necessary for the building of airplanes and other weapons for the war effort. By the time the Fontana Dam was built, much of its electric output was used at Oak Ridge, TN for the uranium enrichment process needed as part of the Manhattan Project.

As power demands grew after World War II, the TVA changed to a broader electric utility portfolio. Adding coal power plants became necessary in the 50’s & 60’s and this became their primary electric-producing method. Keeping their costs low and promoting competition, a handful of power plants were built to use nuclear power, but with skepticism of nuclear reactions, this never really became a primary method.

Of course, as concern grew over the environmental impact over coal, the TVA has retired many of those plants in accordance with EPA regulations. They have in the last decade purchased equipment for wind farms. Also, in attempt to be more in touch with the 21st Century, the TVA has also recently added an in-house energy infrastructure cybersecurity panel. This panel oversees social media and IT programs to prevent threats to energy by cyberterrorists.

Many other rural electric cooperatives aspire to have the efficacy and fame of the TVA, but much of those attributes are reserved only in their regions. Private utility companies also exist today and are not always appreciated for their costs to consumers, but government regulations try to keep those prices in check.

 

The TVA has also been a source for tourism. You can visit many of the sites used by the TVA today and learn more about their construction and their impact in the region. Additionally, museums include artwork form the TVA remembering their contributions.

Media has included the TVA as part of their efforts as well, Ronald Reagan was fired by General Electric for his criticism of the TVA for being a big government program that shouldn’t be celebrated. Given that General Electric used electricity from the TVA, this was a conflict of interest for them. A more recent and less-controversial media appearance features the TVA and their efforts from the Coen brothers 2000 film O Brother Where Art Thou? The film includes the public utility as a timing foil for the protagonist who has to recover stored treasure before his house is flooded by the TVA.

Have you ever visited a TVA site?

History Monday #97

A different kind of bus tour thru the South

The wheels on the bus go round and round while Civil Rights leaders call attention to the plight of African-Americans in the United States. I know it doesn’t roll of the tongue like the original lyrics, but it’s a good setup to today’s #HistoryMonday topic.

Greyhound Bus Station, Jackson Mississippi 1939-12-22.jpg

On this day in 1961, a group of 13 Civil Rights leaders—7 black and 6 white boarded Greyhound & Trailways buses and headed on a tour of the deep South. This was not a sightseeing tour but was intended to call attention to the non-enforcement of Supreme Court cases that overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson decision from 65 years earlier. The Plessy decision had set precedent for the concept of separate but equal facilities as well as transportation.  The riders would come to be called the Freedom Riders by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE).

The Supreme Court had ruled against the practice of segregation in Morgan v. Virginia in 1946, Sarah Keys v. Carolina Coach Company (1955), and Boynton v. Virginia just the year before. However, local authorities had ignored the reversal of separate but equal and protests had ensued.

Early protest rides in 1946 & 1947 occurred after the Morgan decision went unenforced. Sit-ins also occurred after the Boynton decision. CORE organized the first bus protest rides that would travel from Washington D.C. and end up in New Orleans about 2 weeks later.

fast forward

As the Freedom Riders drew attention to the unfair practice of segregation and Jim Crow laws present in the South, more rides were planned for the summer. In addition to the CORE group of riders, organizers from the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) joined the efforts.

Unfortunately, the Freedom Riders were met with violence in many of the Southern locations even by the police and other authorities. Governor Ross Barnett of Mississippi resisted the desegregation efforts and infamous Public Safety Commissioner Eugene “Bull” Connor directed police to resist the Freedom Riders.

Pres. John Kennedy appreciated the problems that faced African-Americans in the South but feared escalating violence towards them and urged a cool-down period during the summer. The Freedom Riders encouraged the protests to continue in spite of the mounting violence. Attorney Gen. Robert Kennedy also pushed for a cool-down but CORE & SNCC leaders ignored his advice as well.

Many of the Freedom Riders would be involved in other protests during the Civil Rights Era. Stokely Carmichael became the face of SNCC and gained attention for their coordinated efforts along with Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Speaking of the SCLC, Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth had helped to found the organization 4 years earlier with Martin Luther King Jr., Bayard Rustin, Ella Baker, C.K. Steele, Joseph Lowery, and Ralph Abernathy all playing key roles in the initial meeting.

Abernathy, King, and Shuttlesworth were arrested 2 years later in Birmingham while protesting on Good Friday to bring attention to the problems with segregation. King would write his famous Letters from a Birmingham Jail during this stay in jail.

In terms of media response, Oprah Winfrey helped celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Rides, on her TV program by inviting all living Freedom Riders which aired on May 4, 2011. Eyes on the Prize, a PBS series featured an episode, “Ain’t Scared of Your Jails: 1960-1961,” dedicated to the Freedom Riders and included an interview with James Farmer, a co-founder of CORE and the original Freedom Ride. PBS also broadcasted an episode of its American Experience series in 2012 about the Freedom Riders with interviews and news footage from the Freedom Riders movement. Simon & Garfunkel penned and performed the song “He Was My Brother”, as a tribute to the Freedom Riders.

Commemorative facilities have also been erected to honor the Freedom Riders’ legacy with one located the old Greyhound Bus terminal in Montgomery, Alabama, which became the new Freedom Ride Museum as part of the 50th Anniversary. Two years later, Montgomery police Chief Kevin Murphy presented Congressmen John Lewis with his own badge and apologized to Lewis for violence the statesman had suffered during Civil Rights protests. Jackson, Mississippi also commemorated the 50th Anniversary with a reunion and conference in the city. President Barack Obama declared the Anniston, Alabama bus station the Freedom Riders National Monument in January 2017.

Have you visited any of the sites of the Freedom Riders protests?

History Monday #96

Nueva administración en España en este día

While it looks like North Korea may be changing management shortly, today is also a historical day for another nation’s change in leadership. Today’s #HistoryMonday is heading back to a date that is the furthest date we’ve looked at in this series.

Gibraltar - Wikipedia
The Rock of Gibraltar located at the Southern tip of the Iberian Peninsula 

On this day in 711, Tariq ibn Ziyad (Arabic: طارق بن زياد) lands at Gibraltar with Berber troops from Northern Africa. Tariq was attempting to expand the Umayyad Caliphate along the Mediterranean and conquer the city of Constantinople.

Tariq, governor of Tangier, Morocco led the expedition with soldiers who likely had been conquered and converted to Islam. Berbers had traveled to Southern Spain prior to the expedition led by Tariq, but with little success.

Numbers of how many troops were in the expedition vary greatly. The most conservative estimates are somewhere around 1,200 troops and the highest estimate puts the number around 12,000. Since the historical accounts are provided by both Moorish and Spanish experts this explains the discrepancy.

Spain was being ruled by a Visigoth king Roderic (Spanish: Rodrigo) who had usurped the throne with encouragement by local Iberians and support from other Visigoth nobility. Welcomed by the Iberian senate and some bishops, Roderic was tolerated by the common folk since his reign was short-lived.

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After invading Hispania (Latin: Spain) forces from Morocco known as the Moors continued conquering the Iberian Peninsula and renamed it Al-Andalus in the Arabic language. Their reign lasted almost eight centuries until the unification of the several kingdoms under Ferdinand and Isabel in 1492. During this period, Spain was influenced heavily by Islam which is still seen today. Among those influences are the Alhambra, Hindu-Arabic numeral systems, spiced foods, and libraries.

Alhambra - HISTORY
The Alhambra, an example of Arabic architecture in Granada, Spain

Loan words in Spanish also bear the influence of the Arabic language. These include: azúcar (Sugar), aceite (oil), alcohol, Ojalá (hopefully), azul (blue), and the article el derives from the Arabic article al.

The Southern province of Spain still bears the Arabic title for Spain. Andalucía/Andalusia is known for the cities of Seville, Cordoba, and Malaga. Sevillian oranges known for their distinctive flavor are a contribution of the Moors through their Spice route trade in Spain.

During this period, the legend of El Cid began to take root. Celebrated as a character displaying tolerance between Christians and Muslims. Born as Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, he was able to command both Christian and Moorish troops in the early 11th Century. As he was able to earn the trust of Moors, he was given the Arabic title al sayiid which was transliterated as El Cid in the Spanish language.

The Moors promoted a cooperative and tolerant existence between Christians, Muslims, and Jews in Spain that was not common through the rest of Europe but was present in much of the medieval territories governed by Muslim rulers. As Spain reacted to the Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century, these tolerant policies were sadly suspended. The Torquemada and other Inquisitors punished not only Muslims but also Jews in an attempt to establish Christianity as the official state religion.

Do you know who owns Gibraltar now and why it remains famous?

History Monday #95

Trouble in the Gulf of Mexico thanks to a faulty oil rig

Happy 4/20, today’s #HistoryMonday event has nothing to do with certain illicit substances that others may be enjoying today. It’s a topic from more recent history, but has implications on one of the standard political hot topics.

Deepwater Horizon explosion - Wikipedia

On this day in 2010, an oil rig exploded thanks to a fire. The rig known as Deepwater Horizon was erected in 2001 in the Gulf of Mexico, approximately 50 miles off the Louisiana coast. The catastrophe resulted in the death of 11 people and wounded 17 others on board. These casualties represented 22% of the employees on the rig of around 125 people. Owned by British Petroleum (BP), the fire and the spill of oil into the Gulf was the single largest offshore oil spill in American history. The rig had been tasked with drilling an exploratory well for BP and had almost completed the task. Losses of oil were around 4.9 million barrels (or 206 million gallons) when all was said and done.

Deepwater Horizon’s demised began as natural gas shot up from the well through a riser pipe to the rig’s platform,  causing several explosions and a large fire that burned for more than a day afterwards. Crew members tried to enact safety protocols to stop the oil from spilling more but sadly were unsuccessful.

fast forward

Deepwater Horizon continued causing destruction for three months afterwards.  Multiple efforts had been tried to plug the leak to prevent further spillage. Eventually, on July 15, BP was able to successfully cap the well which would prevent further spilling. Cement was injected into the well 2 months later in September to permanently seal the well and allowed federal authorities to declare it dead. Unfortunately, the Gulf states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida had suffered contaminated waterways. Adverse effects from the oil spill devastated the recreational and foodstuff economies of the region. Most notably, the wildlife were affected far more than the economic endeavors and scientists believe the full extent of the damage to the wildlife may not be seen for decades.

In January 2011, a commission tasked by the federal government concluded the disaster was “foreseeable and preventable” and the result of “human error, engineering mistakes and management failures,” along with ineffective government regulation. As a result of criminal charges filed against BP, the petroleum company pleaded guilty to the charges, and paid $4.5 billion in fines. Two BP managers were charged for manslaughter in addition to the charges against the company itself. As more information was discovered in the trials of these executives and another found guilty of perjury, BP was fined $18.7 billion in 2015.

Pres. Obama also insisted on a moratorium on offshore drilling in the United States and declined any requests for new rigs to be built. The moratorium was eventually overturned by a federal judge who asserted the moratorium was too broad and was unclear on who held authority to enforce the disciplinary action. Many governors and legislators in America passes laws to withhold or end offshore drilling in their waterways, including Florida and California. Discussion has continued after the short moratorium on offshore drilling if this practice could help Americans loosen their dependence on foreign oil. Critics point out that disasters in other countries outnumber those in the Gulf, including South China Sea and North Sea disasters.

Deepwater Horizon (film) - Wikipedia

Deepwater Horizon’s failure was immortalized in film and on television. Among these are episodes devoted to the disaster on HBO’s The Newsroom and National Geographic Channel’s Seconds from Disaster.  Mark Wahlberg starred in the feature film Deepwater Horizon in 2016 which was directed by Peter Berg.

Should we continue offshore drilling?

History Monday #94

Russians being involved with the United States? No it’s not the usual news about the 2 nations

As we all deal with social distancing and what may be coming, maybe we should look North to the Future. I mention that phrase as it’s the motto of the state being discussed in today’s #HistoryMonday topic.

 

Flag of Alaska
State Flag of Alaska

On this day in 1867, U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward signed a treaty with Russia agreeing to purchase Alaska for $7 million. The price of roughly two cents an acre should have been seen as a bargain but was ridiculed in Congress and in the press as “Seward’s Folly,” “Seward’s icebox,” and President Andrew Johnson’s “polar bear garden.” Much of the derision stemmed from wondering why the country would purchase a massive amount of land with little that could be used in it.

Russia had established a presence in Alaska in 1732 to pursue fur-trapping interests. After over-hunting the otters in Alaska and needing cash after an unsuccessful effort in the Crimean War, Russia sought to sell their North American colony. Authorities for both nations had discussed transferring ownership of the territory during the administration of President James Buchanan, but the Civil War interrupted the discussions. At the conclusion of the Civil War in 1865, Seward, re-started the discussions so that the United States could expand their influence along the Pacific and West to benefit the country.

fast forward

Congress and the Senate approved the purchase after much debate and discussion on April 9. Six months later on October 18, in a ceremony between the two nations the territory was formally handed over from Russia to the United States.

Settlement in the territory by Americans was slow the first three decades, but with the discovery of gold in 1898 settlers rushed into the territory and began the process to Americanize the territory. Discoveries of natural resources such as oil and the forests would also convince settlers to move into the massive territory and by January 3, 1959 the Last Frontier would become the 49th State.

History Monday #93

Going up…

A new week begins, and I could give you an elevator pitch of the event, but I’ll keep it to the usual length of a #HistoryMonday post. Now that I’m back to writing for my own personal edification instead of for academics, I don’t have to worry about too little length or citations. Anyways, let’s get to the event of focus.

Elisha Otis demonstrating the safety of his elevator

On this day in 1857, Elisha Otis installs his first safety elevator in a commercial application. Even after having demonstrated its safety four years earlier at the Worlds Fair, he was only able to achieve minimal success. Thanks to his sons’ efforts in the ensuing years, the Otis Elevator Company they founded with their father success would come shortly after.

The key to the success of Otis’s elevator was the safe descent after having lifted cargo or passengers. Hoists already existed that could move objects to higher locations, but fears of stress on safety ropes plagued many elevator users. Otis showed his elevator was safe despite the rope being cut thanks to Otis’s safety brake for elevators.

fast forward

Otis Elevator Company would change the composition of buildings. With safer means of transporting goods and people in buildings, these structures could be built more than a few stories while avoiding the arduous flights of stairs. Eventually, the structure that defines city skylines—the skyscraper owes its success to the elevator.

Beyond the original elevator being installed in the building on Broadway in New York, many more elevators were included in buildings constructed after 1857 and by 1860 the Otis Elevator Company was achieving more success than Elisha Otis could have predicted. Sadly, the greatest success was experienced by his sons, as Elisha passed away in 1860.

Elevators also created the new job of elevator operator, who were required to operate the levers guiding the ascent or descent of the car. Many of these operators were African-Americans who needed jobs post-slavery. As this profession grew, a union of the workers was organized in 1917. Eventually as elevators employed an automated system, the elevator operators were no longer needed.

Otis Elevator Company has become one of the most recognized elevator manufacturers thanks to the success of the elevator Elisha Otis invented. As the company continued to grow and install elevators in numerous buildings worldwide, the company also popularized the escalator and until 1950 had a near-exclusive claim on the term for the moving staircase. But as escalator became the default name for the moving staircase, Otis Elevator Company was unable to retain the trademark. So, escalators can be made by not just Otis but other elevator companies.

Where’s your favorite elevator you’ve ridden in?

History Monday #92

Impeachment is the buzzword in Washington

We’re barely into the new year, and there’s talk of impeachment. Of course, some of that is current rhetoric against Pres. Trump, but today’s #HistoryMonday is all about impeachment of a president who refuses to follow congressional rules and has a tumultuous cabinet.

Pres. Andrew Johnson

On this day in 1868, the House of Representatives adopt articles of impeachment against Pres. Andrew Johnson. These in response to continued efforts by Pres. Johnson to remove his Secretary of War. Leading the impeachment effort against Pres. Johnson was Thaddeus Stevens (R) of Pennsylvania. Stevens was quoted as saying, “This [impeachment] is not to be the temporary triumph of a political party” which sounds remarkably similar to the most recent statements about Pres. Trump’s impeachment.

Pres. Johnson had earned the ire of Congress prior to ascending to the presidency in 1865. Following a policy of Pres. Lincoln to extend mercy to Southerners, Pres. Johnson sought to forgive Confederate sympathizers after the end of the Civil War. This was hardly surprising as Pres. Johnson was a Democrat from Tennessee who wasn’t opposed to slavery in the South but was opposed to the secession from the United States. Republicans who wanted to punish Southerners for seceding equating it to treason were opposed to Pres. Johnson and others’ leniency during Reconstruction.

Edwin McMasters Stanton Secretary of War.jpg
Edwin M. Stanton, Sec. of War (1862-1868)

During Reconstruction, the South was divided into districts to be governed by the military. These military governors would be overseen by the Secretary of War. Pres. Johnson was at odds with Sec. Edwin M. Stanton who tended to agree with the Republicans who pushed for stronger discipline against the South. Congress had passed the Tenure of Office Act in 1867 to prevent the President from firing officials who are confirmed by the Senate without submitting the request to fire the official to the Senate for the same advice and consent. While the law was worded ambiguously, it was understood by most to be a protection for Stevens.

Pres. Johnson knew the Tenure of Office Act didn’t preclude him from suspending officials during congressional recesses, so in August of 1867 he took advantage of that loophole. While Stanton was suspended, Pres. Johnson appointed Ulysses S. Grant as Interim Secretary of War. When Congress reconvened later that winter, Grant resigned to avoid punishment by Congress. In response, Pres. Johnson selected Lorenzo Thomas as Interim Secretary of War on February 22, 1868 when he submitted the name to the Senate and asked Thomas to relieve Stanton of his duties. Stanton then barricaded himself in his office and had Thomas arrested.

The Republicans in Congress who wanted to keep Pres. Johnson in check and asked Stanton to withdraw the arrest of Thomas in order to proceed towards impeachment. Reviewing the acts leading to that point, Congress passed a resolution to impeach Pres. Johnson 126-47, which fell mostly along party lines. Although 4 Democrats voted for the resolution, and 2 Republicans voted against. Oddly enough, 17 representatives abstained from voting.

fast forward

Congress drafted 11 articles of impeachment against Pres. Johnson on March 4 after the resolution to impeach. Most of these articles were specifications of the impropriety about Stanton’s suspension and firing, as well as appointing others to the position that couldn’t assume it since the office was improperly vacated.

The Senate began its trial later that same day with Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase presiding over the trial. As this was the first instance of impeachment, Chase wasn’t sure of his authority and neither was the Senate. After objections to early rulings, Chase decided not to issue rulings to keep the peace. A challenge was presented for ruling but was left undecided regarding the president of the Senate pro tempore, Benjamin Wade. As there was no Vice President at that time, Wade would accede to the presidency should Pres. Johnson be convicted and removed from office. So, it was argued that this was a conflict of interest for Wade, who did vote to convict.

On May 16, the Senate voted 35-19 that Pres. Johnson was guilty of the 11th Article, falling one vote shy of the threshold to convict. The Senate took a 10-day-recess and voted on the 2nd and 3rd Articles, and again missed by one vote to convict. The Senate then adjourned without addressing the other eight articles. Inquiries from both sides determined that patronage and bribery had been employed to sway votes. Given these improper attempts to influence the votes, it made sense to move on.

Of course, we have seen in the last five decades that impeachment is still a tool of Congress to keep an eye on the President and attempt to maintain a balance of power and check on authority of the executive. In those five decades, we have seen an impeachment process begun against Pres. Richard Nixon, Pres. Bill Clinton, and Pres. Donald Trump. Pres. Nixon resigned before the impeachment trial in the Senate, so it’s unclear what might have happened with their decision(s). The two most recent impeachments also resulted in acquittal like Pres. Johnson. Given the high threshold to convict, it’s unlikely that an impeached president is convicted in the Senate unless that president grossly and/or maliciously violates the law.

Should Pres. Johnson have been impeached?