Never Forget American Lynching

Never Forget American Lynching

19th Century America

Abraham Lincoln. Gettysburg  1863. “…we here highly resolve these dead shall not have died in vain”

FDR about  December 7, 1941. A “…date that would live in infamy.

George W Bush. September 11. “…None of us will ever forget this day.”

Never Forget, but…

Sadly, too many Americans too easily forget other equally historic events. Even more sadly, too many Americans actually refuse and are angered when reminded of these other tragic American events.

Never Forget American Lynching

According to the NAACP, from 1882-1968, 4,743 lynchings occurred in the United States.  3,446 of those were black.

The Equal Justice Initiative states that the lynching of African Americans was terrorism, a widely supported campaign to enforce racial subordination and segregation. The EJI has published a well-documented report called Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror.

And among its many other works, the EJI posts a daily article about equal justice in America.

Those posts are the foundation of this blog piece.

It is not comfortable reading.

It is not a complete list.

Knights of the White Camelia

September 28, 1868: one of the worst outbreaks of violence during Reconstruction took place in Opelousas, La. The event started with three local members of the KKK-like Knights of the White Camelia beating newspaper editor Emerson Bentley, who had promoted voter registration and education for all. After some African Americans came to his rescue, bands of armed white mobs roamed the countryside and began killing. More than 200 African Americans and 30 whites died in the Opelousas Massacre, according to estimates. [Smithsonian story]

Never Forget American Lynching

1870s

Never Forget American Lynching

August 26, 1874: sixteen African American men were held in the Gibson County Jail in Trenton, Tennessee, transferred from Picketsville, a neighboring town where they’d been arrested and accused of shooting at two white men.

Around 2:00 a.m. that morning, 400 – 500 masked men, mounted on horses and armed with shot guns, demanded entrance to the Gibson County Jail. The men confronted the jailer and threatened to kill him if he did not relinquish the keys to the cell holding the men. After the jailer gave the leader of the mob the key, the members of the mob bound the men by their hands and led them out of the jail cell. The jailer would later testify that he soon heard a series of gun shots in the distance.

Upon investigation soon after the kidnapping, the jailer found six of the men lying along nearby Huntingdon Road – four were dead, their bodies “riddled with bullets.” Two of the men, found wounded but alive, later died before receiving medical attention. The bodies of the ten remaining men were later found at the bottom of a river about one mile from town.

Local white officials denounced the lynching and held an inquest that concluded the men were killed by “shots inflicted by guns in the hands of unknown parties.” The town mayor also expressed local whites’ fears that black people throughout the county were arming themselves in plans to exact retaliatory violence. Just one day after the mass murder of sixteen black men by hundreds of white men who remained unidentified and free, the mayor ordered police to take all guns belonging to Trenton’s black residents and threatened to shoot those who resisted.

August 30, 1874: Thomas Abney chose a guard of about twenty-five men, the prisoners and with guards began to walk toward Shreveport. That afternoon, still  twenty miles below Shreveport guards at the rear of the group spied forty or fifty heavily armed riders in hot pursuit.

The pursuers were led by a mysterious “Captain Jack”—his real name Dick Coleman—about whom almost nothing is known except that he liked to kill Republicans. Captain Jack’s gang overtook the train, crying out to the guards, “Clear the track,” or die with the prisoners. Dewees, Homer Twitchell, and Sheriff Edgerton died in the first hail of bullets. The lynch mob took Howell, Willis, and Holland prisoner, then executed them in cold blood. At no point did the guards make any effort to protect the prisoners.

South of Coushatta, whites seized a black leader named Levin Allen, broke his arms and legs, and burned him alive.

January 22, 1883: in 1876, Crockett County, Tennessee, Sheriff R. G. Harris and nineteen armed men had removed four African Americans, Robert Smith, William Overton, George Wells, Jr., and P.M. Wells, from the local jail and beat them, killing one.

Federal prosecutors brought criminal charges against Sheriff Harris and his accomplices under the Force Act of 1871, commonly known as the Ku Klux Klan Act or the Civil Rights Act of 1871. Introduced by progressive Republicans to extend the protection of federal law to African Americans in states that refused to protect them from racial terror and violence, the act made it a federal crime for individuals to conspire for the purpose of depriving others of their right to the equal protection of the law.

On January 22, 1883, the United States Supreme Court in United States v. Harris dismissed the indictments against the sheriff and his accomplices and declared that the Force Act was unconstitutional because the Fourteenth Amendment limited Congress to taking remedial steps against state action that violated the Fourteenth Amendment and applied only to acts by states, not to acts of individuals.

Harris dealt a devastating blow to congressional efforts to combat the widespread violence and terrorism targeting black Southerners during Reconstruction and left African Americans unprotected against lynching.

1887 – 1898

Never Forget American Lynching
Strikers lynched

November 1, 1887: thirty-seven Black striking Louisiana sugar workers are murdered when Louisiana militia, aided by bands of “prominent citizens,” shoot unarmed workers trying to get a dollar-per-day wage. Two strike leaders are lynched.

Orion “Owen” Anderson

November 8, 1889: group of 40 white men took 18-year-old black Orion “Owen” Anderson from jail in Leesburg, Virginia and lynched him. Anderson was alleged to have worn a sack on his head and frightened the daughter of a prominent white man on her walk to school.

Though there were no witnesses to the “incident” and the girl could not identify her “attacker,” Anderson was arrested after a sack was found near him. He was jailed under accusation of attempted assault, and later reports claimed he confessed.

The vigilante group all wore wore. They took Anderson from his cell, carried him to the freight depot of the Richmond & Danville Railroad, hanged him, and shot his body full of bullets.

Leesburg’s newspaper, the Mirror, reported the lynching on November 14th, calling it “a terrible warning,” and stating, “The fate of the self-confessed author of the outrage should serve as a terrible admonition to the violators of the law for the protection of female virtue.”

Henry Smith lynched

February 1, 1893: accused of raping and murdering a four-year-old girl, a posse hunted down 17-year-old Henry Smith was hunted down by a posse.

When returned to town, the local citizens proudly announced they would burn him alive. That boast was reported in news stories which traveled by telegraph and appeared in newspapers from coast to coast.

The killing of Smith was carefully orchestrated. On February 1, 1893, the townspeople constructed a large wooden platform near the center of town. And in view of thousands of spectators, Smith was tortured with hot irons for nearly an hour before being soaked with kerosene and set ablaze.

The extreme nature of Smith’s killing, and a celebratory parade that preceded it, received attention which included an extensive front-page account in the New York Times. And the noted anti-lynching journalist Ida B. Wells wrote about the Smith lynching in her landmark book, The Red Record.

“Never in the history of civilization has any Christian people stooped to such shocking brutality and indescribable barbarism as that which characterized the people of Paris, Texas, and adjacent communities on the first of February, 1893.”

Photographs of the torture and burning of Smith were taken and were later sold as prints and postcards. And according to some accounts, his agonized screams were recorded on a  primitive graphophone and later played before audiences as images of his killing were projected on a screen. [EJI article]

Frazier Baker

February 22, 1898: Frazier Baker, an African American who had recently been appointed postmaster of Lake City, S.C., and his infant daughter, Julia, were killed and his wife and three other daughters were maimed for life when a lynch mob set after them. Citizens of the small town of 500 residents set fire to the post office, where the Bakers lived, and shot them as they ran out.

John Henry James

July 12, 1898: a Black man named John Henry James was lynched near Charlottesville, Virginia after being falsely accused of assaulting a white woman. Although at least 150 unmasked white men were involved in the lynching – and the police chief and county sheriff were present when Mr. James was lynched – no one was ever held accountable for his killing. Mr. James’s lynching was later celebrated by several hundred more white people who gathered to see his body as it was left hanging for hours. [EJI article]

Never Forget American Lynching

1892

March 9, 1892: three young black men, Thomas Moss, Calvin McDowell, and Henry Steward, had opened the People’s Grocery Company in Memphis, Tennessee. Located across the street from a white-owned grocery store that had been the local black community’s only option, the new business reduced the white store’s profits and threatened the racial order by forcing whites to compete economically with blacks.

A white mob formed, intent on using force to put the black grocery out of business, and the black grocers armed themselves for defense. When the mob attacked, shots were fired and three white men were wounded. Moss, McDowell, and Steward were arrested and sensational newspaper reports published the next day fanned the flames of racial outrage. On March 9, 1892, a white mob stormed the Memphis jail, seized all three men and brutally lynched them. No one was punished for the killings.

Ida B. Wells, a 29-year-old black schoolteacher and journalist living in Memphis, was a friend of the three murdered men and was deeply impacted by their deaths. She published an editorial urging local blacks to “save our money and leave a town which will neither protect our lives and property, nor give us a fair trial in the courts, but takes us out and murders us in cold blood when accused by white persons.” As a result, a white mob destroyed her office and printing press. The mob had intended to lynch her but she was visiting Philadelphia at the time. More than 6000 African Americans heeded her call. Ms. Wells would devote her entire life to documenting and challenging the injustice of lynching through research, writing, speaking, and activism.

Henry & Ephraim Grizzard lynched

April 27, 1892: two white girls reported that black men had assaulted them. Four or five black men were quickly arrested and taken to jail, including Ephraim Grizzard, and his brothers Henry and John. On this date, a mob seized and lynched Henry Grizzard.

April 30, 1892: a white mob lynched an African American man named Ephraim Grizzard in Nashville, Tennessee, just days after the lynching of his brother, Henry. In the middle of the afternoon, the unmasked mob dragged Ephraim Grizzard from the Nashville jail, stripped him naked, beat and stabbed him severely, and then hanged him from the Woodland Street Bridge. As Grizzard’s corpse swayed in the air, members of the mob riddled his body with bullets. Thousands of spectators viewed the brutal scene as Mr. Grizzard’s mutilated body was reportedly left on display for almost ninety minutes.

No one was held accountable for either of the brothers’ deaths. [We Remember Nashville article]

Never Forget American Lynching

1892 – 1893

October 13, 1892: a large white lynch mob killed Burrell Jones, Moses Jones, Jim Packard, and an unidentified fourth victim – all young black men – outside Monroeville, Alabama. News reports from the time vary greatly in listing the young men’s names and ages, but several reports indicate that the eldest of the four was nineteen years old, and that at least one of the others may have been as young as fifteen.

A couple of days before the lynchings, a white farmer and his daughter were murdered and their home set on fire. In the aftermath, nearly a dozen African American men and boys were arrested, jailed, and accused of committing or being an accomplice to the crime.

After law enforcement officials were able to coerce one of the accused into giving a “confession” that implicated three others, all four young men were declared suspects.

Once news of the “confession” spread, a mob of white men from Monroeville and surrounding communities went to the jail and demanded a lynching. In response, law enforcement officials handed the four young black men over to the mob. The mob took them just outside the city, near a bridge over Flat Creek, and hanged and shot all four young men to death. According to various news reports, the corpses “were cut down as soon as life was extinct and the bodies torn to pieces by the maddened mob,” then piled in “a large heap” and burned.

Henry Smith lynched

February 1, 1893: accused of raping and murdering a four-year-old girl, a posse hunted down Henry Smith was hunted down by a posse.

When returned to town, the local citizens proudly announced they would burn him alive. That boast was reported in news stories which traveled by telegraph and appeared in newspapers from coast to coast.

The killing of Smith was carefully orchestrated. On February 1, 1893, the townspeople constructed a large wooden platform near the center of town. And in view of thousands of spectators, Smith was tortured with hot irons for nearly an hour before being soaked with kerosene and set ablaze.

The extreme nature of Smith’s killing, and a celebratory parade that preceded it, received attention which included an extensive front-page account in the New York Times. And the noted anti-lynching journalist Ida B. Wells wrote about the Smith lynching in her landmark book, The Red Record.

“Never in the history of civilization has any Christian people stooped to such shocking brutality and indescribable barbarism as that which characterized the people of Paris, Texas, and adjacent communities on the first of February, 1893.”

Photographs of the torture and burning of Smith were taken and were later sold as prints and postcards. And according to some accounts, his agonized screams were recorded on a  primitive graphophone and later played before audiences as images of his killing were projected on a screen. [ThoughtCo story]

Bob Hudson killed

October 9, 1893: according to reports, in Weakley County, Tennessee the wife of a Bob Hudson, both African-American, had filed charges of assault and battery against a white man, who was subsequently arrested and fined

On this date, ten masked white men dragged Mrs. Hudson from her home and whipped her severely. When Bob Hudson ran to his wife’s defense, the mob shot and killed him. Including Bob Hudson, at least five African American victims of racial terror lynching were killed in Weakley County, Tennessee, between 1877 and 1950. [EJI story]

Interracial Couple lynched

January 12, 1896: a mob of twenty men gathered around the home of Patrick and Charlotte “Lottie” Morris in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, and set it ablaze. Mr. Morris, a white railroad hand, and his wife, a black woman, had garnered the ill will of the community “on account of their difference in color” as well as their operation of a gathering place and hotel for black people.

The mob first attempted to burn down the Morris’ home at 11:00 that night, but Mr. Morris discovered the fire and extinguished it. By midnight, the mob set a fire that could not be controlled. When the couple attempted to escape the flames through the front door of their home they were met with a barrage of gunfire. Mrs. Morris was shot and killed at the doorstep while Mr. Morris was maimed by a shot to his leg.

The Morris’ twelve-year-old son witnessed the events and escaped through the back door of the home. As the boy ran for safety, the mob shot into the darkness after him but missed. Patrick Morris Jr. spent the night hiding underneath a nearby home in the neighborhood.

The next morning, community members found that much of the Morris’s home had been destroyed by the fire. Mr. and Mrs. Morris’s charred remains were found on their bed inside the home. A coroner’s examination revealed that one of the bodies had been decapitated, though it was unclear whether this act was carried out before or after death. Charlotte Morris was sixty-eight years old and Patrick Morris was fifty-eight years old. [Black Then article]

Bob Hudson Lynched

October 9, 1893: according to reports, in Weakley County, Tennessee the wife of a Bob Hudson, both African-American, had filed charges of assault and battery against a white man, who was subsequently arrested and fined

On this date, ten masked white men dragged Mrs. Hudson from her home and whipped her severely. When Bob Hudson ran to his wife’s defense, the mob shot and killed him. Including Bob Hudson, at least five African American victims of racial terror lynching were killed in Weakley County, Tennessee, between 1877 and 1950.

December 20, 1893: Georgia became the first state in the Union to pass a law against lynching, making the act punishable by four years in prison.  The statute was not particularly effective. [EJI story]

Never Forget American Lynching

1897 – 1898

December 10, 1897: in Lawrence County, Mississippi a white family was found murdered. A surviving 5-year-old child claimed a black man did it. Officials brought several black male “suspects” before her and she identified one — a man named Charles Lewis — as the perpetrator. A mob of hundreds immediately formed and lynched Lewis.

Although early accounts alleged only one perpetrator, the white community was unsatisfied to lynch only one man, and continued to “investigate” the white family’s murders.

December 15, 1897: a group of 30 white men approached a group of black men, including an acquaintance of Charles Lewis and coerced him into saying that a man named Tom Waller had also been involved in the crime. Though another man in the group insisted this was not true, the unsubstantiated allegation was enough to seal Mr. Waller’s fate.

Soon after he was taken into custody, a growing mob of 400 people seized Waller from law enforcement and conducted a “sham trial”; newspapers reported that several men “held court under a tree,” where Waller was interrogated as a rope was placed around his neck. Some men reportedly suggested that the “trial” be delayed a week because the “evidence” was so scant, but the rest of mob rejected that idea and instead insisted that Waller be lynched that night.

Newspapers later explained that the mob preferred to lynch Mr. Waller immediately because waiting “meant standing guard all night in the cold, and most of those present did not relish this at all.”

As the hundreds of white men in the mob grew “hungry,” press accounts described, “a wagon load of provisions” including fish and lobster was brought forward and everyone “indulged in a hearty supper” before continuing their deadly plan.

The mob ultimately hanged Tom Waller on the night of December 15th, on the same hill where Mr. Lewis had been lynched five days earlier, and left his body hanging until 10am the next morning.

February 22, 1898: Frazier Baker, an African American who had recently been appointed postmaster of Lake City, S.C., and his infant daughter, Julia, were killed and his wife and three other daughters were maimed for life when a lynch mob set after them. Citizens of the small town of 500 residents set fire to the post office, where the Bakers lived, and shot them as they ran out. [Black Past article]

Never Forget American Lynching

1899

June 4, 1899: the Afro-American Council declared a national day of fasting to protest lynching and violence against African Americans.

July 22, 1899: a white mob abducted Frank Embree from officers transporting him to stand trial and lynched him in front of a crowd of over 1,000 onlookers in Fayette, Missouri.

About one month earlier, Frank Embree had been arrested and accused of assaulting a white girl. Though he was scheduled to stand trial on July 22, the town’s residents grew impatient and decided to take “justice” into their own hands by lynching Mr. Embree instead.

According to newspaper accounts, the mob attacked officers transporting Embree, seized him, and loaded him into a wagon, then drove him to the site of the alleged assault. Once there, Mr. Embree’s captors immediately tried to extract a confession by stripping him naked and whipping him in front of the assembled crowd, but he steadfastly maintained his innocence despite this abuse. After withstanding more than one hundred lashes to his body, Embree began screaming and told the men that he would confess. Rather than plead for his life, Embree begged his attackers to stop the torture and kill him swiftly. Covered in blood from the whipping, with no courtroom or legal system in sight, Embree offered a confession to the waiting lynch mob and was immediately hanged from a tree.

Never Forget American Lynching

For subsequent chronologies, see…

Hunting the Wren

Hunting the Wren

It was a common strategy of the Catholic Church to convert so-called pagans by converting their practices as well. Such was the case with December 26 and St Stephen’s Day.

The birds of the earth
The beasts of the field
By spite and by fury
Are people revealed

Hunting the Wren

Inequality

The objectivicaton and casual abuse of women is as old as sex. The typically stronger male is able to force himself upon the life of females. The unequal punishment of women who were “guilty” of the same “crimes” as the men with whom they broke the law is far older than any Scarlet Letter. Ask any sex worker.

The Wrens of the Curragh, is the last cut on the outstanding Lankum album, The Livelong Day. It powerfully relates to such violent inequality.

Hunting the Wren

Background: Wrenboys

Hunting the Wren

According to the Celtic lore, the wren symbolized action, accuracy, watchfulness and enthusiasm in life, yet in Ireland and England  wrenboys would hunt a wren, kill it, and visit homes on St Stephen’s Day (December 26) reciting a poem that asked for money to give the bird a proper burial. A feather from the wren might be offered to the patrons for good luck.

An example might be:

The Wren Song

St. Stephen’s Day Song

The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
St. Stephen’s Day was caught in the furze,
Although he was little his honor was great,
Jump up me lads and give us a treat.

As I was going to Killenaule,
I met a wren upon the wall.
Up with me wattle and knocked him down,
And brought him in to Carrick Town.

Droolin, Droolin, where’s your nest?
Tis in the bush that I love best
Tis in the bush, the holly tree,
Where all the boys do follow me.

Up with the kettle
And down with the pan,
And give us a penny
To bury the wren.

We followed the wren three miles or more,
Three miles or more, three miles or more.
We followed the wren three miles or more,
At six o’clock in the morning.

Mrs. Clancy’s a very good woman,
A very good woman, a very good woman,
Mrs. Clancy’s a very good woman,
She give us a penny to bury the wren.

Hunting the Wren

Boys of Barr Na Sraide

The song “Boys of Barr Na Sraide” also refers to wrenboys. It was based on a poem by Sigerson Clifford which includes the lines,

With cudgels stout they roamed about to hunt for the dreólín*
We searched for birds in every furze from Litir to Dooneen.
We danced for joy beneath the sky, life held no print nor plan
When the Boys of Barr na Sráide went hunting for the wren.

Hunting the Wren

The Treacherous Wren

As childish and innocent as the tradition may seem at first (obviously disregarding the random killing of a bird), humans have the ability to turn ritual violent. The irrational rationalized.

According the the Slilgo Heritage site, Why, of all birds, is the inoffensive little wren chosen as the martyr for display by groups who take their name from it?   Because of its treachery, some claim!  When the Irish forces were about to catch Cromwells troops by surprise, a wren perched on one of the soldiers drums made a noise that woke the sleeping sentries just in time, thereby saving the camp. 

Another explanation is that it ‘betrayed St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr, by flapping its wings to attract his pursuers when he was hiding’.  More say the hostility towards this most harmless of creatures results from the efforts of  clerics in the middle ages to undermine vestiges of druidic reverence and practices regarding the bird.  Medieval texts interpret the etymology of wren, the Irish for which is dreolín, as derived from ‘dreán’ or ‘draoi éan’ the translation of which is ‘druid bird’.

Hunting the Wren

Curragh Camp

The Curragh Camp is an army base and military college located in The Curragh, County Kildare, Ireland. It is the main training center for the Irish Defence Forces and is home to 2,000 military personnel. It was built in 1855, but has been a military site for more than that.

During the Great Famine (an Gorta Mór) from 1845–1849, over a million Irish died and a million more emigrated .  Those numbers accounted for approximately 25% of the Irish population!

During the famine, women who didn’t die or emigrate still faced horrible choices. In 2017, Declan O’Rourke released the album Chronicles of the Great Irish Faminethirteen songs that account the terrifying choices faced by the living.

Hunting the Wren

Wrens of the Curragh

Some women chose to live in the furze-covered areas near Curragh Camp and became known as the wrens of the Curragh. They lived outdoors in literal burrows roofed over with gorse. They clubbed together as a band for protection because they were treated with such derision by everyone else.. They had hoped to find menial work, but often found that sex work was their only choice. It was a community of self-help with all sharing the little that they had.

Charles Dickens wrote in his essay,  “Stoning the Desolate“:

There are, in certain parts of Ireland and especially upon the Curragh of Kildare, hundreds of women, many of them brought up respectably, a few perhaps luxuriously, now living day after day, week after week, and month after month, in a state of solid heavy wretchedness, that no mere act of imagination can conceive. Exposed to sun and frost, to rain and snow, to the tempestuous east winds, and the bitter blast of the north, whether it be June or January, they live in the open air, with no covering but the wide vault of heaven, with so little clothing that even the blanket sent down out of heaven in a heavy fall of snow is eagerly welcomed by these miserable outcasts.  [Charles Dickens, All the Year Round, No 292, November 26, 1864]

Note well, the double standard regarding sex and one’s sex was as strong then as now. It was the woman whom society punished. The exploitive man’s behavior came under the category of exploits.

Hunting the Wren

Hunting the Wren

Nearly two centuries later, enter Lankum, the Irish band  consisting of brothers Ian and Daragh Lynch, Cormac MacDiarmada and Radie Peat.  Irish Central says that, “Lankum have an alchemical ability to combine traditional folk roots with contemporary undercurrents to forge music that is dark, mysterious, and transcendental. 

Their accounting of the Curragh Camp women takes a different tack regarding the plight of these hunted human wrens than the wrenboys did and too many still do. #metoo

Sharp is the wind
Cold is the rain
Harsh is the livelong day
Upon the wide open plain

By Donnelly’s hollow
Under sad gorse and furze
There lies a young wren oh
By the saints she was cursed

The wren is a small bird
How pretty she sings
She bested the eagle
When she hid in its wings

With sticks and with stones
All among the small mounds
They come from all over
To hunt the wren on the wide open ground

They flock round the soldiers
In their jackets so red
For barrack room favours
Pennies and bread

The soldier is rough
In anger or fun
And he causes much bloodshed
With his big musket gun

The birds of the earth
The beasts of the field
By spite and by fury
Are people revealed

Attacked in the village
Spat on in town
They come from all over
To hunt the wren on the wide open ground

The wren is a small bird
Though blamed for much woe
Her form is derided
Wherever she goes

With cold want and whisky
She soon is run down
Her body paraded
On a staff through the town

Her head for her ceiling
The sod was her floor
She chose the cold open plain for
The dark work has more

With two broken wings
And feathers so brown
They come from all over
To hunt the wren on the wide open ground

For me, this is the most powerful indictment of the incredible and absolute mistreatment of women since Joni Mitchell’s musical account of Magdalene Laundries.

Hunting the Wren

USSR Dissolves

USSR Dissolves

Long live our Soviet motherland,
Built by the people’s mighty hand.
Long live our people, united and free.
Strong in our friendship tried by fire.
Long may our crimson flag inspire,
Shining in glory for all men to see.

The Red Menace

As Baby Boomers there was no greater enemy than the Soviet Union.   We stockpiled atomic weapons for the war that was sure to come. We put those weapons on top of rockets, in land bunkers, aboard submarines, ships, huge flying bombers, and secret places.

If a Boomer were a Catholic, then they prayed for the conversion of “Russia”  (easier than saying the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) at the end of every Sunday mass.

If we wanted to label something an enemy, we said the person was a Communist, a Red, a -nik.

We had to keep Communism contained despite its spread into so many countries: eastern Europe, Cuba, central America, Africa, South America, and Asia.

We sent thousands of our soldiers to Korea to stop the spread of Communism. We sent thousands of our troops to Vietnam to stop the spread of Communism. Our military budget, the largest of any nation anywhere, was predicated on stopping Communism.

USSR Dissolves

Birth of a Nation

On December 30, 1922 in post-revolutionary Russia, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) is established, comprising a confederation of Russia, Belorussia, Ukraine, and the Transcaucasian Federation (divided in 1936 into the Georgian, Azerbaijan, and Armenian republics). Also known as the Soviet Union, the new communist state was the successor to the Russian Empire and the first country in the world to be based on Marxist socialism.

The USSR eventually consisted of: Russia, Ukraine, Byleorussia, Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Lithuania, Latvia,  Estonia, Moldovia, Kazakhstan, Kirghizia, Uzbekistan, Turmenia, and Tajikistan.

USSR Dissolves

Dissolution of a Nation

When it happened, it happened, ironically,  like the dominoes we had fought so hard to stop from happening.

The economics, the politics, the many pieces that led to the dissolution of the USSR are more than this blog can cover. Dates are easier to list.

These dates include the withdrawal of the Soviet Union from the countries of eastern Europe. Countries that while not officially part of the USSR, were satellites of the vast Union.

USSR Dissolves

Leaks in the dam

September 11, 1988: 300,000 demonstrate for independence in Estonia.

August 23, 1989: two million indigenous people of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined hands to demand freedom and independence, forming an uninterrupted 600 km human chain called the Baltic Way.

August 23, 1989: Hungary (a Soviet satellite) removed border restrictions with Austria (a free European country)

September 10, 1989: thousands of East Germans cross the Austria-Hungary frontier after Budapest waived border restrictions amid the largest legal exodus from eastern Europe since 1945.

USSR Dissolves

Satellites waiver

The Wall Falls

November 9, 1989: the fall of the Berlin Wall. East Germany’s communist government allowed all citizens direct passage to the west, rendering the Berlin Wall obsolete.

Czechoslovakia

November 17, 1989: riot police put down student protests against the communist government in Czechoslovakia. The incident started a series of non-violent protests that finally forced the communists from power two weeks later.

November 29, 1989: in response to a growing pro-democracy movement in Czechoslovakia, the Communist-run parliament ended the party’s 40-year monopoly on power.

Romania

December 15, 1989: a popular uprising began in Romania.

December 17, 1989: Timișoara Riot in Romania. Demonstrations in the city of Timișoara were triggered by the government-sponsored attempt to evict László Tőkés, an ethnic Hungarian pastor, accused by the government of inciting ethnic hatred. Members of his ethnic Hungarian congregation surrounded his apartment in a show of support. Romanian students spontaneously joined the demonstration which had became a more general anti-government demonstration. Regular military forces, police and Security fired on demonstrators killing and injuring men, women and children.

December 19, 1989: workers in Romanian cities go on strike in protest against the communist regime.

December 21, 1989: Romanian leader, Nicolae Ceaușescu, spoke to crowd of the Socialist revolution’s chievements and Romanian “multi-laterally developed Socialist society.” Roughly eight minutes into his speech, several people began jeering, booing and whistling at him and shouting “Timișoara,” a reaction that would have been unthinkable for most of the previous quarter-century of his rule. As the speech wore on, more and more people did the same. He tried to silence them by raising his right hand and calling for the crowd’s attention before order was temporarily restored, then proceeded to announce social benefit reforms. The crowd continued to boo and heckle him.

December 22, 1989: the Romanian army defected to the cause of anti-communist demonstrators, and the government of Nicolae Ceausescu was overthrown. Ceaușescu and his wife Elena flee.

Berlin

December 22, 1989: Berlin’s Brandenburg gate is reopened.

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Ceaușescus executed

December 25, 1989: near Târgoviște, Romania the  Ceaușescus were court-martialled on orders of the National Salvation Front, Romania’s provisional government. They faced charges including illegal gathering of wealth and genocide. Ceaușescu repeatedly denied the court’s authority to try him, and asserted he was still legally president of Romania.

At the end of the quick trial the Ceaușescus were found guilty and sentenced to death. A soldier standing guard in the proceedings was ordered to take the Ceaușescus out back one by one and shoot them, but the Ceaușescus demanded to die together. The soldiers agreed to this and began to tie their hands behind their back which the Ceaușescus protested against but were powerless to prevent.

The Ceaușescus were executed by three of soldiers though reportedly hundreds of others also volunteered. The firing squad began shooting as soon as the two were in position against a wall. Before his sentence was carried out, Nicolae Ceaușescu sang “The Internationale” while being led up against the wall.

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Republics waiver

Lithuania

January 11, 1990: in Lithuania, 300,000 demonstrated for independence.

Armenia and Azerbaijan

January 16, 1990:  in the wake of vicious fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani forces in Azerbaijan, the Soviet government sends in 11,000 troops to quell the conflict.

The fighting–and the official Soviet reaction to it–was an indication of the increasing ineffectiveness of the central Soviet government in maintaining control in the Soviet republics, and of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s weakening political power.

Political power outage

February 7, 1990: the Central Committee of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party agreed to endorse President Mikhail Gorbachev’s recommendation that the party give up its 70-year long monopoly of political power. The Committee’s decision to allow political challenges to the party’s dominance in Russia was yet another signal of the impending collapse of the Soviet system.

Lithuania

March 15, 1990:  the Soviet Union announced that Lithuania’s declaration of independence was invalid.

May 4, 1990: Latvia declared independence from the Soviet Union.

One Germany

October 3, 1990: Germany reunited.

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August 1991 dominoes

Georgia

April 9, 1991: the Supreme Council of the Republic of Georgia declared independence from the Soviet Union.

Estonia

August 20, 1991:  Estonia declares its independence from the Soviet Union.

Lativa

August 21, 1991:  Latvia declares its independence from the Soviet Union.

Ukraine

August 24, 1991:  Ukraine declared independence from Soviet Union.

Belarus

August 25, 1991:  Belarus declares independence from Soviet Union.

Moldova

August 27, 1991:  Moldova declares independence from the Soviet Union.

Communist Party suspended

August 29, 1991: after three hours of anguished debate, the Soviet Parliament voted to suspend all activities of the Communist Party pending an investigation of its role in the coup. It was an action that confirmed the demise of the old regime even as the search quickened for new forms of association and order. The fate of the party was already sealed before Parliament’s vote. Individual republics had closed its offices and seized its vast properties and funds and President Mikhail S. Gorbachev had quit as its General Secretary and had called on the leadership to step down. But Parliament was the only national institution with the formal powers to act against the entire organization, and its decision served to confirm the indictment already passed by the people. [NYT article]

Azerbaijan

Azerbaijan

August 30, 1991:  Azerbaijan declared independence from Soviet Union.

Kyrgystan & Uzbeckistan

August 31, 1991:  Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan declare independence from the Soviet Union.

Uzbeckistan
Kyrgystan
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Final pieces fall

Tajikistan

September 9, 1991: Tajikistan declares its independence from the Soviet Union.

Armenia

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September 21, 1991:  Armenia declares independence from the Soviet Union.

Turkmenistan

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October 27, 1991: Turkmenistan declares its independence from the Soviet Union.

Kasakhstan

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December 16, 1991: Kazakhstan declared its independence from the Soviet Union.

Russia

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December 12, 1991: Russia independent

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The The End

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December 24, 1991: Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as head of Soviet Union.

December 26, 1991: the official dissolution of the USSR.

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Treaty of Accession

April 16, 2003: 10 countries signed  the 2003 Treaty of Accession admitting them to the European Union (EU). After Malta and Cyprus, eight of the ten new EU nations (Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) were former communist countries. The signing of the treaty in Athens marked the first time that former members of the Soviet Bloc joined the EU.

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