3-15-2012 This Day In History
Mar 15, 1965:
Johnson calls for equal voting rights
On this day in 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson addressed a joint session of Congress to urge the passage of legislation guaranteeing voting rights for all.
Using the phrase "we shall overcome," borrowed from African-American leaders struggling for equal rights, Johnson declared that "every American citizen must have an equal right to vote." Johnson reminded the nation that the Fifteenth Amendment, which was passed after the Civil War, gave all citizens the right to vote regardless of race or color. But states had defied the Constitution and erected barriers. Discrimination had taken the form of literacy, knowledge or character tests administered solely to African-Americans to keep them from registering to vote.
"Their cause must be our cause too," Johnson said. "Because it is not just Negroes, but really it is all of us, who must overcome the crippling legacy of bigotry and injustice. And we shall overcome."
The speech was delivered eight days after racial violence erupted in Selma, Alabama. Civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King and over 500 supporters were attacked while planning a march to Montgomery to register African-Americans to vote. The police violence that erupted resulted in the death of a King supporter, a white Unitarian Minister from Boston named James J. Reeb. Television news coverage of the event galvanized voting rights supporters in Congress.
A second attempt to march to Montgomery was also blocked by police. It took Federal intervention with the "federalizing" of the Alabama national guard and the addition of over 2,000 other guards to allow the march to begin.
The march to Montgomery finally began March 21 with over 3,000 participants under the glare of worldwide news publicity.
The violence, however, continued. Just after the march was successfully completed on March 25, four Klansman shot and killed Detroit homemaker Viola Liuzzo as she drove marchers back to Selma.
On August 6, 1965, Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, which made it illegal to impose restrictions on federal, state and local elections that were designed to deny the vote to blacks.
While state and local enforcement of the act was initially weak, mainly in the South, the Voting Rights Act gave African-American voters the legal means to challenge voting restrictions and vastly improved voter turnout. In Mississippi alone, voter turnout among blacks increased from 6 percent in 1964 to 59 percent in 1969.
In 1970, President Richard Nixon extended the provisions of the Voting Rights Act and lowered the eligible voting age for all voters to 18.
Mar 15, 1820: Maine enters the Union
As part of the Missouri Compromise between the North and the South, Maine is admitted into the Union as the 23rd state. Administered as a province of Massachusetts since 1647, the entrance of Maine as a free state was agreed to by Southern senators in exchange for the entrance of Missouri as a slave state.
In 1604, French explorer Samuel de Champlain visited the coast of Maine and claimed it as part of the French province of Acadia. However, French attempts to settle Maine were thwarted when British forces under Sir Samuel Argall destroyed a colony on Mount Desert Island in 1613. Sir Ferdinando Gorges, a leading figure in the Plymouth Company, initiated British settlement in Maine after receiving a grant and royal charter, and upon Gorges' death in 1647 the Massachusetts Bay Colony claimed jurisdiction. Gorges' heirs disputed this claim until 1677, when Massachusetts agreed to purchase Gorges' original proprietary rights.
As part of Massachusetts, Maine developed early fishing, lumbering, and shipbuilding industries and in 1820 was granted statehood. In the 19th century, the promise of jobs in the timber industry lured many French Canadians to Maine from the Canadian province of Quebec, which borders the state to the west. With 90 percent of Maine still covered by forests, Maine is known as the "Pine Tree State" and is the most sparsely populated state east of the Mississippi River.
Mar 15, 1939: Nazis take Czechoslovakia
On this day, Hitler's forces invade and occupy Czechoslovakia--a nation sacrificed on the altar of the Munich Pact, which was a vain attempt to prevent Germany's imperial aims.
On September 30, 1938, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, French Premier Edouard Daladier, and British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain signed the Munich Pact, which sealed the fate of Czechoslovakia, virtually handing it over to Germany in the name of peace. Although the agreement was to give into Hitler's hands only the Sudentenland, that part of Czechoslovakia where 3 million ethnic Germans lived, it also handed over to the Nazi war machine 66 percent of Czechoslovakia's coal, 70 percent of its iron and steel, and 70 percent of its electrical power. Without those resources, the Czech nation was left vulnerable to complete German domination.
No matter what concessions the Czech government attempted to make to appease Hitler, whether dissolving the Communist Party or suspending all Jewish teachers in ethnic-German majority schools, rumors continued to circulate about "the incorporation of Czechoslovakia into the Reich." In fact, as early as October 1938, Hitler made it clear that he intended to force the central Czechoslovakian government to give Slovakia its independence, which would make the "rump" Czech state "even more completely at our mercy," remarked Hermann Goering. Slovakia indeed declared its "independence" (in fact, complete dependence on Germany) on March 14, 1939, with the threat of invasion squelching all debate within the Czech province.
Then, on March 15, 1939, during a meeting with Czech President Emil Hacha--a man considered weak, and possibly even senile--Hitler threatened a bombing raid against Prague, the Czech capital, unless he obtained from Hacha free passage for German troops into Czech borders. He got it. That same day, German troops poured into Bohemia and Moravia. The two provinces offered no resistance, and they were quickly made a protectorate of Germany. By evening, Hitler made a triumphant entry into Prague.
The Munich Pact, which according to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had purchased "peace in our time," was actually a mere negotiating ploy by the Hitler, only temporarily delaying the Fuhrer's blood and land lust.