It’s Wednesday Hump Day! Did You Know…
* 1949 – Lester B. Pearson signs the North Atlantic Treaty.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), created in 1949, was Canada’s first peacetime military alliance, placing the nation in a defensive security arrangement with the United States, Britain and the nations of western Europe. During the Cold War, NATO forces provided a frontline deterrence against the Soviet Union and its satellite states. More recently the organization has asserted its members’ strategic interests in the global campaign against Islamic terrorism.
In 1947, in the aftermath of the Second World War and the beginning of the Cold War, there was much concern in Ottawa and other Western capitals as the Soviet Union (USSR) created a buffer zone in eastern Europe between itself and West Germany, by imposing its will on East Germany, Poland and other nations along the Soviet border. The USSR pursued a policy of aggressive military expansion at home and subversion abroad, and there was real fear that France, Italy or other nations might become Communist and eventually ally themselves with the Soviets.
The problem was complicated by what Ottawa saw as a resurgent isolationism in the United States, and an unwillingness in the US Congress to pick up the international burdens that France and Britain, both weakened by the Second World War, could no longer bear. The answer seemed to lie in an arrangement that would link the democracies on both sides of the Atlantic into a defensive alliance, thus securing western Europe from attack while involving the US firmly in world affairs.
A further advantage for Ottawa was that such an arrangement might bind together all of Canada’s trading partners, and it, therefore, offered potential economic benefits also.
The first public expression of this thinking in Canada came from Escott Reid, a civil servant at the Department of External Affairs (now Foreign Affairs and International Trade), at the Couchiching Conference on 13 August 1947. Other Canadians, including External Affairs Minister Louis St. Laurent, picked up the idea, and it was soon being discussed in Washington and London. Secret talks between the British, Americans and Canadians followed, and these led to formal negotiations for a broader alliance in late 1948, by which time St. Laurent was prime minister.
Canada’s representative at the negotiations was Hume Wrong, ambassador to the US and a hardheaded realist. Wrong believed any treaty should be for defense alone, a view popular among the other participants. A provision supporting Ottawa’s wish for economic ties (an idea promoted by Reid and Canada’s new foreign minister Lester Pearson), was included in the treaty, but little came of it in practice.
The treaty was signed on 4 April 1949. It included 12 nations: Canada, United States, Iceland, Britain, France, Norway, Denmark, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Portugal, and Italy. At the core of the treaty was the collective security provision of Article 5, that ” . . . an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.”
* 1968 Dr. King is assassinated
Just after 6 p.m. on April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. is fatally shot while standing on the balcony outside his second-story room at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. The civil rights leader was in Memphis to support a sanitation workers’ strike and was on his way to dinner when a bullet struck him in the jaw and severed his spinal cord. King was pronounced dead after his arrival at a Memphis hospital. He was 39 years old.
In the months before his assassination, Martin Luther King became increasingly concerned with the problem of economic inequality in America. He organized a Poor People’s Campaign to focus on the issue, including an interracial poor people’s march on Washington, and in March 1968 traveled to Memphis in support of poorly treated African-American sanitation workers. On March 28, a workers’ protest march led by King ended in violence and the death of an African-American teenager. King left the city but vowed to return in early April to lead another demonstration.
On April 3, back in Memphis, King gave his last sermon, saying, “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop…And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”
One day after speaking those words, Dr. King was shot and killed by a sniper. As word of the assassination spread, riots broke out in cities all across the United States and National Guard troops were deployed in Memphis and Washington, D.C. On April 9, King was laid to rest in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. Tens of thousands of people lined the streets to pay tribute to King’s casket as it passed by in a wooden farm cart drawn by two mules.
The evening of King’s murder, a Remington .30-06 hunting rifle was found on the sidewalk beside a rooming house one block from the Lorraine Motel. During the next several weeks, the rifle, eyewitness reports, and fingerprints on the weapon all implicated a single suspect: escaped convict James Earl Ray. A two-bit criminal, Ray escaped a Missouri prison in April 1967 while serving a sentence for a holdup. In May 1968, a massive manhunt for Ray began. The FBI eventually determined that he had obtained a Canadian passport under a false identity, which at the time was relatively easy.
On June 8, Scotland Yard investigators arrested Ray at a London airport. He was trying to fly to Belgium, with the eventual goal, he later admitted, of reaching Rhodesia. Rhodesia, now called Zimbabwe, was at the time ruled by an oppressive and internationally condemned white minority government. Extradited to the United States, Ray stood before a Memphis judge in March 1969 and pleaded guilty to King’s murder in order to avoid the electric chair. He was sentenced to 99 years in prison.
Three days later, he attempted to withdraw his guilty plea, claiming he was innocent of King’s assassination and had been set up as a patsy in a larger conspiracy. He claimed that in 1967, a mysterious man named “Raoul” had approached him and recruited him into a gunrunning enterprise. On April 4, 1968, he said, he realized that he was to be the fall guy for the King assassination and fled to Canada. Ray’s motion was denied, as were his dozens of other requests for a trial during the next 29 years.
During the 1990s, the widow and children of Martin Luther King Jr. spoke publicly in support of Ray and his claims, calling him innocent and speculating about an assassination conspiracy involving the U.S. government and military. U.S. authorities were, in conspiracists’ minds, implicated circumstantially. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover obsessed over King, who he thought was under communist influence. For the last six years of his life, King underwent constant wiretapping and harassment by the FBI. Before his death, Dr. King was also monitored by U.S. military intelligence, which may have been asked to watch King after he publicly denounced the Vietnam War in 1967. Furthermore, by calling for radical economic reforms in 1968, including guaranteed annual incomes for all, King was making few new friends in the Cold War-era U.S. government.
Over the years, the assassination has been reexamined by the House Select Committee on Assassinations, the Shelby County, Tennessee, district attorney’s office, and three times by the U.S. Justice Department. The investigations all ended with the same conclusion: James Earl Ray killed Martin Luther King. The House committee acknowledged that a low-level conspiracy might have existed, involving one or more accomplices to Ray, but uncovered no evidence to definitively prove this theory. In addition to the mountain of evidence against him–such as his fingerprints on the murder weapon and his admitted presence at the rooming house on April 4–Ray had a definite motive in assassinating King: hatred. According to his family and friends, he was an outspoken racist who informed them of his intent to kill Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He died in 1998.
* 1975 Microsoft founded
On this day in 1975, at a time when most Americans use typewriters, childhood friends Bill Gates and Paul Allen found Microsoft, a company that makes computer software. Originally based in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Microsoft relocated to Washington State in 1979 and eventually grew into a major multinational technology corporation. In 1987, the year after Microsoft went public, 31-year-old Gates became the world’s youngest billionaire.
Gates and Allen started Microsoft—originally called Micro-Soft, for microprocessors and software—in order to produce software for the Altair 8800, an early personal computer. Allen quit his job as a programmer in Boston and Gates left Harvard University, where he was a student, to focus on their new company, which was based in Albuquerque because the city was home to electronics firm MITS, maker of the Altair 8800. By the end of 1978, Microsoft’s sales topped more than $1 million and in 1979 the business moved its headquarters to Bellevue, Washington, a suburb of Seattle, where Gates and Allen grew up. The company went on to license its MS-DOS operating system to IBM for its first personal computer, which debuted in 1981. Afterward, other computer companies started licensing MS-DOS, which had no graphical interface and required users to type in commands in order to open a program. In 1983, Allen departed Microsoft after being diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma; he was successfully treated for the disease and went on to pursue a variety of other business ventures.
In 1985, Microsoft released a new operating system, Windows, with a graphical user interface that included drop-down menus, scroll bars, and other features. The following year, the company moved its headquarters to Redmond, Washington, and went public at $21 a share, raising $61 million. By the late 1980s, Microsoft had become the world’s biggest personal-computer software company, based on sales. In 1995, amidst skyrocketing purchases of personal computers for home and office use, Windows 95 made its debut. It included such innovations as the Start menu (TV commercials for Windows 95 featured the Rolling Stones singing “Start Me Up”) and 7 million copies of the new product were sold in the first five weeks. During the second half of the 1990s, Internet usage took off, and Microsoft introduced its web browser, Internet Explorer, in 1995.
In 1998, the U.S. Department of Justice and 20 state attorneys general charged Microsoft with violating antitrust laws by using its dominance to drive competitors out of business; in 2001, the company reached a settlement with the government that imposed restrictions on its corporate practices. Also in 2001, Microsoft joined the video-game market with the launch of its Xbox console, which proved to be a hit. However, in the first decade of the 21st century, Microsoft fell behind companies such as Apple in the mobile-phone market and Google in the search-engine market.
* 1960 Ben-Hur wins 11 Academy Awards
Clocking in at three hours and 32 minutes, William Wyler’s Technicolor epic Ben-Hur is the behemoth entry at the 32nd annual Academy Awards ceremony, held on this day in 1960, at the RKO Pantages Theatre in Hollywood. Setting an Oscar record, the film swept 11 of the 12 categories in which it was nominated, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor (Charlton Heston).
Wyler’s 1959 film was the latest dramatic adaptation of the mega-bestselling novel Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, published in 1880 by Lew Wallace. Wallace, a former general in the American Civil War, wrote his most successful novel after experiencing a new awakening of his Christian faith. The book told the story of a young Jewish aristocrat, Judah Ben Hur, who chafes against the repressive Roman rule in Judea, loses his fortune and his family, but eventually triumphs over obstacles (thanks partially to the intervention of Jesus Christ).
After Wallace’s novel was adapted into a long-running stage play in 1899 and a short film in 1907, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer bought the film rights and produced a major motion-picture version, directed by Cecil B. DeMille, in 1925. After DeMille scored a hit with a remake of his own 1923 biblical epic The Ten Commandments (1956), MGM decided to revive Ben-Hur as well. Wyler had worked on the set of DeMille’s 1925 version and the square-jawed Heston played Moses in The Ten Commandments.
Filmed on location in Italy, on a budget of some $15 million, Ben-Hur was the most expensive movie ever made up to that point. The film’s famous chariot race scene alone took three weeks to shoot and used some 15,000 extras. The setting for the race was constructed on 18 acres of back-lot space at Cinecitta Studios outside Rome. Aside from a few of the most daredevil stunts, Heston and Stephen Boyd (who played Messala, Judah Ben-Hur’s boyhood friend turned bitter enemy) did most of their own chariot driving. The payoff was big: Writing in his review of the film for the New York Times, Bosley Crowther called the scene a “stunning complex of mighty setting, thrilling action by horses and men, panoramic observation and overwhelming dramatic use of sound.”
At the 1960 Oscars, Ben-Hur swept 11 categories, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actor (Hugh Griffith, playing an Arab sheik who befriends Ben-Hur), Best Color Cinematography, Best Color Art Direction/Set Direction, Best Sound, Best Score, Best Film Editing, Best Color Costume Design and Best Special Effects. It was also nominated in the Best Adapted Screenplay category. Ben-Hur’s record number of Oscars still stands, although two films (1997’s Titanic and 2003’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) have matched it.
* 1928 Maya Angelou is born
Poet and novelist Maya Angelou-born Marguerite Johnson – is born in St. Louis, Missouri. Her parents divorced when she was three, and she and her brother went to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. When she was eight, she was raped by her mother’s boyfriend. When she revealed what happened, her uncles kicked the culprit to death. Frightened by the power of her own tongue, Angelou chose not to speak for the next five years.
From this quiet beginning emerged a young woman who sang, danced, and recorded poetry. After moving to San Francisco with her mother and brother in 1940, Angelou began taking dance lessons, eventually auditioning for professional theater. However, her plans were put on hold when she had a son at age 16. She moved to San Diego, worked as a nightclub waitress, tangled with drugs and prostitution and danced in a strip club. Ironically, the strip club saved her career: She was discovered there by a theater group. She auditioned for an international tour of Porgy and Bess and won a role. From 1954 to ’55, she toured 22 countries.
In 1959, she moved to New York, became friends with prominent Harlem writers, and got involved with the civil rights movement. In 1961, she moved to Egypt with a boyfriend and edited for the Arab Observer. After leaving her boyfriend, she headed to Ghana, where a car accident severely injured her son. While caring for him in Ghana, she took a job at the African Review, where she stayed for several years. Her writing and personal development flourished under the African cultural renaissance that was taking place.
When she returned to the U.S., she began publishing her multivolume autobiography, starting with I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Four more volumes appeared during the next two decades, as well as several books of poetry. In 1981, Angelou was appointed Professor of American Studies at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem. She has been nominated for several important awards and read a poem written for the occasion at President Clinton’s inauguration.
* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology http://canadachannel.ca/todayincanadianhistory/index.php
* The Canadian Encyclopedia http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/nato-north-atlantic-treaty-organization/
* This Day In History – What Happened Today http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/