Thurgood Marshall becomes first African-American justice, 1967

In 1934, Thurgood Marshall, the grandson of a slave, began working for the Baltimore branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Marshall’s crowning achievement in his career as a civil-rights lawyer was winning the Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education in 1954, thus (legally) ending racial segregation in public schools.

In 1961, President John F Kennedy appointed Marshall as a judge for the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals. And in 1965, President Lyndon B Johnson appointed Marshall as the first black solicitor general. In his two years as solicitor general, Marshall won 14 out of the 19 cases he argued before the Supreme Court.

On this day in 1967, Thurgood Marshall was confirmed as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, making him the first African-American justice.

One of Marshall’s obituaries said in regard to his contribution to civil rights: “We make movies about Malcolm X, we get a holiday to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, but every day we live with the legacy of Justice Thurgood Marshall.”

Thurgood Marshall

Further reading:

What a great conclusion to such a momentous week in history for equal rights!

March on Washington, 1963

MLK waving to crowd at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Continuing Monday’s theme of equality for all Americans, today is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and, of course, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s momentous “I Have a Dream” speech.

On this day in 1963, 250,000 Civil Rights supporters marched from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial. They gathered on the National Mall to listen to several speakers, the last of whom was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He had a 7-minute speech planned but launched into a largely improvised 16-minute sermon. In fact, the iconic and anaphoral phrase “I have a dream” was not a planned part of his speech, although he had used this phrase in past speeches.

If you haven’t yet seen King’s impassioned and inspirational speech, here it is in full.

Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.

Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.
Now is the time to open the doors of opportunity to all of God’s children. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in his “I Have a Dream” speech

The Martin Luther King Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Martin Luther King finished his historic speech with fervor:

And when this happens, when we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! free at last! thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

After hearing King’s speech, Kennedy stated, “He’s damn good.”

In addition, after King delivered his speech, the march ended peacefully and without a single arrest. As King said, the March on Washington was truly “the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.”

Further reading: Here is the text of the speech.

The “I Have a Dream” speech is one of the greatest uses of rhetoric in history. How might things have been different if he followed his original script?

The Nineteenth Amendment, 1920

Although I’m one year away from America’s voting age, I am so excited to cast my first presidential vote in 2016! The freedom to vote has always been a reality for me, but this has not always been the case for women.

Since the early 19th century, women (and men) in favor of suffrage have campaigned for an amendment to the United States Constitution allowing women to vote. What is now the Nineteenth Amendment to the Constitution was first introduced to Congress in 1878. The amendment was ratified in 1920, meaning it took 42 long years to be realized! President Woodrow Wilson’s decision to support the amendment in 1917 was a game-changer for the women’s suffrage movement.

Congress passed the Nineteenth Amendment in 1919. However, it wasn’t until August 18, 1920 that three-fourths of the states agreed to the amendment (a requirement for ratification). On this day in 1920, Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, thus sending the amendment into effect.

Early women voters at Pitt. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

And to think this was all less than a century ago!

Further reading: Here is some info about suffragist Lucretia Mott

When I read about how hard the suffragettes fought for the freedom to vote, it makes me want to never take for granted  my right to vote. What about you?

Gene Kelly, 1912

Gene Kelly in the 1952 classic Singin’ in the Rain.

You dance love, and you dance joy, and you dance dreams. And I know if I can make you smile by jumping over a couple of couches or running through a rainstorm, then I’ll be very glad to be a song and dance man.

-Gene Kelly

On this day in 1912, actor, dancer, singer, choreographer, and all-around talented guy Gene Kelly was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

If you haven’t seen Gene Kelly’s “Singin’ in the Rain” number, then WATCH IT RIGHT NOW! Seriously, though. It is a classic. It gives me the urge to use pretentious film critic phrases such as “the pinnacle of film musicals,” “a quintessential dance number,” and “the zenith of Kelly’s career.”

Here’s the bad news about Gene Kelly: he was a bit of a tyrant on set. He even made Debbie Reynolds cry.  Why Gene Kelly? Why?

I think the root of his tyranny was an innate perfectionism. He was just as hard on himself as others. Kelly shot the “Singin’ in the Rain” number with a 101 degree fever! Kelly was intensely dedicated to work, and it shows.

Gene Kelly

Further reading:

When you learn something bad about an actor, does that spoil their work for you?

The Mona Lisa is stolen, 1911

Today, the Mona Lisa is arguably the most famous and recognizable painting in the world. However, this was not always the case.

The Mona Lisa achieved international fame after it was stolen from the Louvre on this day in 1911. Shockingly enough, no one realized it was gone until the next day. The person who discovered it was missing thought that it was simply out being photographed, but eventually realized it was, in fact, stolen. Quelle horreur! 

No one was safe from suspicion. Those accused included Pablo Picasso and JP Morgan. About 60 detectives set out to find the culprit(s). However, this scandalous theft eventually became a cold case. The perpetrator was not found for two whole years after the crime. It turned out that the culprit was Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian carpenter who actually helped construct the glass case protecting the painting. Peruggia was an Italian patriot who claimed he wanted the Mona Lisa in its home country of Italy.

The culprit, Vincenzo Peruggia.

Further reading:

Did you know the Mona Lisa was stolen? Would it be as famous if it weren’t? Do you believe there is more to the story than just an Italian patriot wanting to return the Mona Lisa to Italy?


Coco Chanel, 1883

A girl should be two things: classy and fabulous.
-Coco Chanel

Coco Chanel (née Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel) was born on this day in 1883– or 1893 as Chanel later claimed– in Saumur, France.

This style icon known for luxury had a very unfortunate childhood. Her mother died when she was very young. Consequently, her father, who made his living as a peddler, sent her to an orphanage where she learned how to sew.

Before she became a designer, however, she was a singer who became known by her nickname, “Coco.” In her 20s, Chanel was in a relationship with Etienne Balsan, and then his friend, Arthur “Boy” Capel. Her relationships with these men helped give Chanel her start in fashion.

Chanel claims the turning point in her career was when she fashioned a dress out of jersey on a cold day. Jersey had been previously used primarily for men’s fashion. However, Chanel’s jersey dress piqued the interest of many women who asked her where she got the dress. Since then, Chanel has been known for her chic, simple, and comfortable designs that have revolutionized fashion by incorporating elements from menswear. And one cannot forget her famous perfume “Chanel No. 5” which is still popular today.

Chanel was born into poverty, but overcame it through her creativity and connections. Although rags-to-riches stories are popular today, Chanel lied about her past because of her era’s stigma of poverty.

Coco Chanel was no doubt a talented and iconic designer, but many people tend to glorify her and overlook the fact that she was a Nazi sympathizer. That’s right. During World War II, Chanel became involved with a Nazi officer. She lost a lot of face for this, as her relationship was seen as a betrayal of France (part of France was, of course, occupied by Germany at the time). She had already shut down her business due to the depression and outbreak of war, but fled to Switzerland for a couple of years as a sort of self-imposed exile.

Chanel returned to fashion in the 70s and eventually achieved great success. And the rest, as they say, is history.


Further reading:

Did you know that Chanel was a Nazi sympathizer or that she was born into poverty? Do you wear Chanel?

Lucille Ball, 1911

102 years ago on this day, the beautiful, hilarious, and charming Lucille Ball was born. She won our hearts as the mischievous housewife, Lucy Ricardo, in I Love Lucy and continued her successful showbiz career even after the quintessential sitcom. Her company, Desilu Productions, produced hits such as The Dick Van Dyke Show.

Luckily, Lucille Ball’s contributions to the entertainment business did not go unrecognized. She was the first woman to win the International Radio and Television Society’s Gold Medal, and she won four Emmys.

Still one of the funniest scenes on television. Click here to watch the famous scene.

I’m happy that I have brought laughter because I have been shown by many the value of it in so many lives, in so many ways.

-Lucille Ball

Further Reading: