John’s Believe It Or Not… May 17th

* 1919 – Citizens’ Committee of One Thousand organized to counteract Winnipeg General Strike. * 1954 Brown v. Board of Ed is decided * 1970 Heyerdahl sails papyrus boat * 1965 The FBI Laboratory weighs in on the “dirty” lyrics of “Louie Louie” * 2012 Donna Summer – queen of disco – dies

Donna Summer

It’s Thursday! Did You Know…

* 1919 – Citizens’ Committee of One Thousand organized to counteract Winnipeg General Strike.

The Winnipeg General Strike, 15 May-25 June 1919, is Canada’s best-known general strike. Massive unemployment and inflation, the success of the Russian Revolution in 1917, and rising Revolutionary Industrial Unionism all contributed to the postwar labor unrest that fuelled the landmark strike.

In March 1919 western labor leaders met in Calgary to discuss the creation of One Big Union. In Winnipeg on 15 May, when negotiations broke down between management and labor in the building and metal trades, the Winnipeg Trades and Labor Council (WTLC) called a general strike. At stake were the principles of collective bargaining, and better wages and working conditions. Within hours almost 30,000 workers left their jobs. The almost unanimous response by working men and women closed the city’s factories, crippled Winnipeg’s retail trade and stopped trains. Public-sector employees, including policemen, firemen, postal workers, telephone operators and employees of waterworks and other utilities, joined the workers of private industry in an impressive display of solidarity.

The strike was coordinated by the Central Strike Committee, composed of delegates elected from each of the unions affiliated with the WTLC. The committee bargained with employers on behalf of the workers and coordinated the provision of essential services.

Meanwhile, opposition to the strike was organized by the Citizens’ Committee of 1,000, created shortly after the strike began. The committee was made up of Winnipeg’s most influential manufacturers, bankers, and politicians. Rather than giving the strikers’ demands any serious consideration, the Citizens’ Committee, with the support of Winnipeg’s leading newspapers, declared the strike a revolutionary conspiracy led by a small group of “alien scum.” Though evidence failed to support its charges that the strike was initiated by European workers and Bolsheviks, the Citizens’ Committee used these unsubstantiated charges to block any conciliation efforts.

Afraid the strike would spark confrontations in other cities, the federal government decided to intervene. Soon after the strike began, Senator Gideon Robertson, Minister of Labor, and Arthur Meighen, Minister of the Interior and acting Minister of Justice, went to Winnipeg to meet with the Citizens’ Committee. They refused requests from the Central Strike Committee for a similar hearing. On Citizens’ Committee’s advice, the federal government swiftly supported the employers. Federal workers were ordered to return to work immediately or face dismissal. The Immigration Act was amended so British-born immigrants could be deported. The Criminal Code’s definition of sedition was also broadened.

On 17 June the government arrested 10 leaders of the Central Strike Committee and two propagandists from the newly formed One Big Union. Four days later, a charge by Royal North-West Mounted Police into a crowd of strikers resulted in 30 casualties, including one death. Known as “Bloody Saturday”, it ended with federal troops occupying the city’s streets. Six of the labor leaders were released, but Fred Dixon and J.S. Woodsworth arrested. Faced with the combined forces of the government and the employers, the strikers decided to return to work on 25 June.

Strikers overturn a streetcar.
Strikers overturn a streetcar. (Winnipeg Free Press)

* 1954 Brown v. Board of Ed is decided

In a major civil rights victory, the U.S. Supreme Court hands down a unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, ruling that racial segregation in public educational facilities is unconstitutional. The historic decision, which brought an end to federal tolerance of racial segregation, specifically dealt with Linda Brown, a young African American girl who had been denied admission to her local elementary school in Topeka, Kansas, because of the color of her skin.

In 1896, the Supreme Court ruled in Plessy v. Ferguson that “separate but equal” accommodations in railroad cars conformed to the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection. That ruling was used to justify segregating all public facilities, including elementary schools. However, in the case of Linda Brown, the white school she attempted to attend was far superior to her black alternative and miles closer to her home. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) took up Linda’s cause, and in 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka reached the Supreme Court. African American lawyer (and future Supreme Court justice) Thurgood Marshall led Brown’s legal team, and on May 17, 1954, the high court handed down its decision.

In an opinion written by Chief Justice Earl Warren, the nation’s highest court ruled that not only was the “separate but equal” doctrine unconstitutional in Linda’s case, it was unconstitutional in all cases because educational segregation stamped an inherent badge of inferiority on African American students. A year later, after hearing arguments on the implementation of their ruling, the Supreme Court published guidelines requiring public school systems to integrate “with all deliberate speed.”

The Brown v. Board of Education decision served to greatly motivate the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s and ultimately led to the abolishment of racial segregation in all public facilities and accommodations.

In 1951, Linda Brown was just a little girl of nine years old when her parents wanted her to go to a school of her choice.
In 1951, Linda Brown was just a little girl of nine years old when her parents wanted her to go to a school of her choice. (

* 1970 Heyerdahl sails papyrus boat

On May 17, 1970, Norwegian ethnologist Thor Heyerdahl and a multinational crew set out from Morocco across the Atlantic Ocean in Ra II, a papyrus sailing craft modeled after ancient Egyptian sailing vessels. Heyerdahl was attempting to prove his theory that Mediterranean civilizations sailed to America in ancient times and exchanged cultures with the people of Central and South America. The Ra II crossed the 4,000 miles of ocean to Barbados in 57 days.

Heyerdahl, born in Larvik, Norway, in 1914, originally studied zoology and geography at the University of Oslo. In 1936, he traveled with his wife to the Marquesas Islands to study the flora and fauna of the remote Pacific archipelago. He became fascinated with the question of how Polynesia was populated. The prevailing opinion then (and today) was that ancient seafaring people of Southeast Asia populated Polynesia. However, because winds and currents in the Pacific generally run from east to west, and because South American plants such as the sweet potato have been found in Polynesia, Heyerdahl conjectured that some Polynesians might have originated in South America.

To explore this theory, he built a copy of a prehistoric South American raft out of balsa logs from Ecuador. Christened Kon-Tiki, after the Inca god, Heyerdahl and a small crew left Callao, Peru, in April 1947, traversed some 5,000 miles of ocean and arrived in Polynesia after 101 days. Heyerdahl related the story of the epic voyage in the book Kon-Tiki (1950) and in a documentary film of the same name, which won the 1952 Oscar for Best Documentary.

Heyerdahl later became interested in the possibility of cultural contact between early peoples of Africa and Central and South America. Certain cultural similarities, such as the shared importance of pyramid building in ancient Egyptian and Mexican civilizations, perhaps suggested a link. To test the feasibility of ancient transatlantic travel, Heyerdahl built a 45-foot-long copy of an ancient Egyptian papyrus vessel in 1969, with the aid of traditional boatbuilders from Lake Chad in Central Africa. Constructed at the foot of the Pyramids and named after the sun god Ra, it was later transported to Safi in Morocco, from where it set sail for the Caribbean on May 24, 1969. Defects in design and other problems caused it to founder in July, 600 miles short of its goal. It had sailed 3,000 miles.

Undaunted, Heyerdahl constructed a second papyrus craft, the Ra II, with the aid of Aymara Indian boatbuilders from Lake Titicaca in Bolivia. With a multinational crew of seven, the Ra II set sail from Safi on May 17, 1970. After a voyage of 57 days and 4,000 miles, the ship arrived in Barbados. The story of this voyage is recorded in the book The Ra Expeditions (1971) and in a documentary film.

In 1977, Heyerdahl led the Tigris expedition, in which he navigated a craft made of reeds down the Tigris River in Iraq to the Persian Gulf, across the Arabian Sea to Pakistan, and finally to the Red Sea. The goal of the expedition was to establish the possibility that there was contact between the great cultures of Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, and Egypt across the sea. Heyerdahl later led research expeditions to Easter Island and an archeological site of Tucume in northern Peru. For the most part, Heyerdahl’s ideas have not been accepted by mainstream anthropologists.

May 17, 1970: Thor Heyerdahl's Ra II Sails From Morocco To Cross The Atlantic
May 17, 1970: Thor Heyerdahl’s Ra II Sails From Morocco To Cross The Atlantic (History and Headlines)

* 1965 The FBI Laboratory weighs in on the “dirty” lyrics of “Louie Louie”

Based on the outcry from parents who bought into what may have started as an idle rumor, the FBI launched a formal investigation in 1964 into the supposedly pornographic lyrics of the song “Louie, Louie.” That investigation finally neared its conclusion on this day in 1965, when the FBI Laboratory declared the lyrics of “Louie Louie” to be officially unintelligible.

No one will ever know who started the rumor that “Louie Louie” was dirty. As written by Richard Berry in 1955, the lyrics revolve around a sailor from the Caribbean lamenting to a bartender named Louie about missing his far-away love. As recorded in crummy conditions and in a single take by the Kingsmen in 1963, lyrics like “A fine little girl, she wait for me…” came out sounding like “A phlg mlmrl hlurl, duh vvvr me” Perhaps it was some clever middle-schooler who started the rumor by trying to convince a classmate that those lyrics contained some words that are as unprintable today as they were back in 1963. Whatever the case, the story spread like wildfire, until the United States Department of Justice began receiving letters like the one addressed to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy and dated January 30, 1964. “Who do you turn to when your teenage daughter buys and brings home pornographic or obscene materials being sold…in every City, Village and Record shop in this Nation?” that letter began, before going on to make the specific assertion that the lyrics of “Louie Louie” were “so filthy that I can-not enclose them in this letter.”

Over the course of the next two years, the FBI gathered many versions of the putative lyrics to Louie Louie. They interviewed the man who wrote the song and officials of the record label that released the Kingsmen’s smash-hit single. They turned the record over to the audio experts in the FBI laboratory, who played and re-played “Louie Louie” at 78 rpm, 45 rpm, 33 1/3 rpm and even slower speeds in an effort to determine whether it was pornographic and, therefore, whether its sale was a violation of the federal Interstate Transportation of Obscene Material law. “Unintelligible at any speed” was the conclusion the FBI Laboratory relayed to the investigators in charge on this day in 1965, not quite exonerating “Louie Louie,” but also not damning the tune that would go on to become one of the most-covered songs in rock-and-roll history.

The Real Lyrics of "Louie-Louie"
The Real Lyrics

Here’s the YouTube link to the original:

* 2012 Donna Summer – queen of disco – dies

On this day in 2012, singer and songwriter Donna Summer, who rose to fame during the 1970s with such disco anthems as “Love to Love You Baby” and “Hot Stuff,” dies at age 63 in Naples, Florida, after battling cancer. Also known for such 1980s hits as “She Works Hard for the Money,” the five-time Grammy Award winner influenced scores of other artists with her music, which has been sampled by Pet Shop Boys, Beyonce, and Ne-Yo, among others.

LaDonna Adrian Gaines was born on December 31, 1948, in Boston. She grew up singing in church, and in the late 1960s moved to Germany after being cast in a touring production of the Broadway rock musical “Hair.” In the early 1970s, while continuing to work as a singer in Europe, she was briefly married to Austrian actor Hellmuth Sommer. When the two divorced, she kept a variation of his last name as her stage name.

After disco’s popularity peaked in the late 1970s, Summer began recording in a variety of musical genres, from new wave rock to gospel. She even penned a song, “Starting Over Again,” that became a number-one country single for Dolly Parton in 1980. In 1983 Summer released her 11th studio album, “She Works Hard for the Money,” which reached number nine on the U.S. Billboard chart and whose title track became a pop-rock feminist anthem. She had the last top 10 single of her career in 1989 with “This Time I Know It’s for Real.”

Summer, who moved to Nashville with her second husband in the mid-1990s, continued to record and perform, earning her fifth Grammy in 1998, in the best dance recording category, for “Carry On.” In 2008 she released her 17th and final studio album, “Crayons,” which included three songs that made it onto the dance music charts. In 2009 Summer performed at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, Norway, in honor of President Barack Obama. The music icon’s last single, “To Paris With Love,” was released in 2010.

On May 17, 2012, Summer, the mother of three daughters, died from non-smoking-related lung cancer. She was buried in Nashville.

In this May 21, 2008 file photo, Donna Summer performs during the finale of "American Idol" at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles. Summer, the Queen of Disco
In this May 21, 2008 file photo, Donna Summer performs during the finale of “American Idol” at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles. Summer, the Queen of Disco (Chattanooga Times Free Press)

Today’s Sources: 

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology

* The Canadian Encyclopedia                                

* This Day In History – What Happened Today                                            

Author: John Fioravanti

I'm a retired History teacher (35 years), husband, father of three, grandfather of three. My wife, Anne, and I became business partners in December 2013 and launched our own publishing company, Fiora Books (, to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

11 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… May 17th”

  1. Brown v. Board of Ed took another decade to bring segregation out of the closet. Heyerdahl was amazing. We all sung Louie Louie using dirty lyrics. Donna Summer brought an element of fun to the music scene.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I remember when Thor Heyerdahl crossed the Atlantic, a stunning feat. I didn’t realize all the fuss about Louie, Louie. Though I was too young to remember the 1954 Supreme Court ruling of Brown v. Board of Ed, I certainly was aware that it set the stage for extraordinary change. Thank you, John.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I remember all the fuss about Elvis and his gyrating hips, but I had never heard of all the fuss about the lyrics of Louie, Louie. I guess the claims about the obscene lyrics fall into the modern category of Fake News!
      Yes, I thought Heyerdahl’s building of the papyrus ship and his voyage were fascinating. It seems like a lot of work and expense to test a theory – and then most experts in his field were not convinced that his theories had merit. Shaking my head. Thanks, Gwen!


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