THIS WEEK IN HISTORY MARCH 17TH – MARCH 23RD
March 17, 1966
Cesar Chavez and the National Farm Workers Association left Delano for Sacramento, the capital of California, a 340-mile march which would take three weeks. They were calling public attention to the plight of farm workers and for their struggle for the right to organize a union.
March 17, 1968
In London’s Trafalgar Square, at the largest anti-Vietnam War protest in Britain to date, 25,000 people marched. They were demonstrating against American action in Vietnam and British support for the United States policy.
Some then attempted to storm the U.S. Embassy, resulting in 200 arrests and fifty taken to hospital, nearly half police officers.
Actress Vanessa Redgrave was allowed to enter the embassy to deliver a protest
March 17, 1978
The oil supertanker Amoco Cadiz ran aground and, in the worst oil spill ever, lost its entire cargo of 1,619,048 barrels (223,000 tons).
A slick 18 miles wide and 80 miles long polluted approximately 200 miles of France’s Brittany coastline.
The Amoco Cadiz disaster was the first marine environmental catastrophe to be covered by the world’s media in real time.
March 18, 1922
Gandhi’s “Great Trial” for writing seditious articles opposing British colonial rule began in Ahmedabad, India. The accused, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, aged 53, described himself as a farmer and weaver by profession, and spoke in his own defense, pleading guilty.
“I hold it to be a virtue to be disaffected towards a government which, in its totality, has done more harm to India than any other system . . . .
” . . . I do not ask for mercy. I am to invite and cheerfully submit to the highest penalty that can be inflicted upon me for what in law is a deliberate crime and what appears to me to be the highest duty of the citizen.”
March 18, 1970
The first strike against the U.S. government and the first mass work stoppage in the 195-year history of the Postal Service began with a walkout of letter carriers in Brooklyn and Manhattan who were demanding better wages.
Ultimately, 210,000 (in 30 cities) of the nation’s 750,000 postal employees participated in the wildcat strike. With mail service virtually paralyzed in New York, Detroit, and Philadelphia, Pres. Nixon declared a state of national emergency and assigned military units to New York City post offices. The stand-off ended one week later.
Congress voted a six percent raise for the workers retroactive to December.
March 18, 1992
In a referendum, the last whites-only election held in South Africa, voters overwhelmingly gave the government authority to negotiate a new constitution with the African National Congress and other black political groups, and an end to the system of racial separation know as apartheid.
March 19, 1911
The first International Women’s Day was held in Germany, Austria, Denmark, and some other European countries. This date was chosen by German women because, on that date in 1848 the Prussian king, faced with an armed uprising, had promised many reforms, including an unfulfilled one of votes for women. A million leaflets calling for action on the right to vote were distributed throughout Germany.
MARCH 19 1963
The blacklisting of Pete Seeger (and other members of The Weavers) from the folk music television show “Hootenanny” prompted a boycott by 50 folk artists (The Kingston Trio, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and Peter, Paul & Mary, among others).
Seeger had become a cultural hero through his outspoken and joyful commitment to the anti-war and civil rights movements, and helped popularize the anthemic “We Shall Overcome.”
March 19, 1978
50,000 marched in Amsterdam to protest U.S. deployment of the neutron bomb in Europe. The neutron bomb was a tactical (artillery shell) enhanced-radiation weapon. It killed people with a neutron flux that penetrated armor but was effective only over a limited area, leaving little fallout or residual radiation. It did minimal damage, however, to physical structures.
March 19, 2011
In response to widespread peaceful demonstrations for political change in Syria, the government sealed off the city of Deraa. Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad claimed his country would not be affected by the movement for more democracy across the Arab world that had already toppled governments in Tunisia and Egypt. His regime was composed almost entirely of ethnic Allawites in a country more than 80% Sunni.
Mourners at the funerals for five shot dead by security forces in Deraa chanted, “God, Syria and freedom only.” Demonstrations had been held in at least five cities, including the capital of Damascus.
March 20, 1815
Switzerland was declared neutral by the great powers of Europe at the Vienna Congress following the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte. The confederation of 22 cantons (member states) had its current borders established with its neighbors France, Germany, Austria and Italy.
March 20, 2011
The nuclear reactor crisis created in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami on the northeast coast of Japan began to spread health risks to the surrounding area. Elevated levels of radiation were found in spinach and milk in the nearby prefectures (counties). As a result of pumping seawater to keep the reactors cool after loss of electricity and damage wiped out all the cooling systems, radiation was found in the ocean waters.
March 21, 1937
On Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter), the Nationalist Party of Puerto Rico was to march in Ponce (city on the southern coast of the island) in support of Puerto Rican independence. They were also protesting the imprisonment of Albizu Campos, leader of the Party and the lawyer for the sugarcane workers who had led a general strike.
The colonial military governor, Blanton Winship (a Georgian who had been Judge Advocate General of the U.S. Army), revoked the parade permit at the last minute. Nationalists insisted on marching regardless and, surrounded by the well armed police, were fired upon as they began. Whoever fired the first shot, 18 Nationalists and 2 policemen died. 200 others, Nationalists and bystanders, were injured, 150 arrested. This incident is known as Masacre de Ponce, or “The Ponce Massacre
March 21, 1960
South African police opened fire on unarmed demonstrators in the black township of Sharpeville near Johannesburg. The demonstrators were protesting the establishment of apartheid pass laws which restricted movement of non-whites.
In Sharpeville itself, 69 were killed and 176 wounded when police fired on the crowd, 63 of them shot in the back. In the aftermath of the Sharpeville massacre, protests broke out in Cape Town and elsewhere, and there were further casualties. Overall, 13,000 were jailed.
The organizer, Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe, head of the Pan-Africanist Congress, had written to the police commissioner, notifying him of the plans, and had said at a press conference, “I have appealed to the African people to make sure that this campaign is conducted in a spirit of absolute nonviolence, and I am quite certain they will heed my call.”
March 21, 2011
An estimated 14 million Egyptians voted in an essentially problem-free election. 77% voted to endorse a process that would bring elections for parliament within six months and a presidential election later.
March 22, 1956
Civil rights leader Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., was convicted of organizing an allegedly illegal boycott by black passengers of buses in Montgomery, Alabama. He was fined $500 but when his lawyers indicated his intent to appeal, the sentence was changed to 386 days of imprisonment
March 22, 1965
3,200 civil rights demonstrators, led by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., and under protection of a federalized National Guard, began a third attempt at a week-long march from Selma, Alabama, to the state capitol at Montgomery in support of voting rights for black Americans. Marchers on their way to Montgomery
A week before, the march had been violently stopped before leaving Selma. People from all over the country arrived to support the effort for enfranchisement of African Americans in the South whose right to vote had been systematically denied.
MARCH 22 1974
The Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (ERA) was passed by both houses of Congress with two-thirds majorities. The amendment, to give women full equality under law, was ratified by the legislatures of only 35 states, short of the required three-quarters of the 50 states, and thus never became law.
March 23, 1942
The U.S. government began moving all those of Japanese ancestry, including some native-born U.S. citizens (known as nisei), from their west coast homes to indefinite imprisonment in detention centers, beginning with Manzanar in California which eventually held more than 10,000 Americans.
Located on 60,000 acres west of Los Angeles, it is now a national historic site; only 3 of the original 800 buildings remain.