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September 30 2014


July 07 2014


November 18 2013


What A Thug's Life Looked Like In 19th Century India

By Lakshmi Gandhi

Today's thugs can trace their literary ancestry to the highway robbers who formed the Thuggee Cult of India. The thuggees were hunted down, imprisoned or killed in the 19th century during British rule.

Monday, November 18, 2013

During a 1906 meeting of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Sir William Turner submitted part three of his research "Contributions to the Craniology of the People of the Empire of India." Included were the photographs of individual skulls from a group who the British Medical Journal said "made it their business to frequent the great highways of India and become friendly with travelers, with a view to setting upon them and strangling them."

Meet the original thugs.

The word "thug" traces its roots to the Hindi and Urdu word thag, which means thief or swindler, and which itself is derived from the Sanskrit verb sthagati (to conceal). The word would enter the English language in the 1800s during the British imperial rule of India.

The skulls examined by Turner in the craniology study once belonged to members of what was called the "Thuggee Cult." The thuggees were believed to be a professional organization of criminals and assassins who reportedly had strangled thousands of people on India's roadsides.

They were widely portrayed as "born criminals" who worshipped Kali, the Hindu goddess of death and destruction. "The profession of a Thug, like almost every thing in India, is hereditary," according to the 1837 book Illustrations of the History and Practices of the Thugs.

The first printed reference to a "thug" appeared in Ziau-d din Barni's History of Fīrūz Shāh, which was written in about 1356. However, the thuggees as a group weren't "discovered" by the British or even widely discussed until the 1830s. That's when the British governor-general of India, Lord William Bentinck, and Capt. William Sleeman made a concerted effort to eradicate the thuggees from India.

Nearly 4,000 thugs were discovered and, of those, about 2,000 were convicted; the remaining were either sentenced to death or transported within the next six years. Sleeman then declared the thuggee to be completely eradicated.

"The system is destroyed, never again to be associated into a great corporate body. The craft and mystery of Thuggee will not be handed down from father to son," Sleeman said.

As Sleeman's use of the words "craft" and "mystery" hint at, the thuggees continued to capture a place in the British imagination even after they were eliminated. The 1839 novel Confessions of a Thug, by Philip Meadows Taylor, quickly became a best-seller in England and beyond, and was instrumental in introducing the word "thug" to the greater population. Taylor's novel was a first-person narrative by Ameer Ali, as he lays bare the secrets of his life and his crimes. (Meadows Taylor had worked with Sleeman on the effort to eliminate the thuggees and claimed Ameer Ali was based on a man he had encountered.)

Mark Twain wrote extensively about the thuggees in two chapters of his classic 1897 travelogue, Following the Equator. As critic Gladys Carmen Bellamy notes, Twain "found India a strange and sinister land," and these feelings are quite clear in his descriptions of Thuggees. Twain devotes page after page of the book to describing exactly how the Thugs killed their victims; one chapter is titled "Eradication of Thuggee."

Twain also draws a parallel between India's Thugs and Westerners in this passage:

"The joy of killing! The joy of seeing killing done — these are the traits of the human race at large. We White people are merely modified Thugs; Thugs fretting under the restraints of a not very thick skin of civilization; Thugs who not long ago enjoyed the slaughter of the Roman arena ..."

The mystique of the Thuggees was also portrayed in the 1960 film The Stranglers of Bombay (which was originally titled The Horror of Thuggee), in which a British army captain in 1930s Bombay investigates the murders of both the English and Indians by the Thuggee.

The Thuggees would briefly re-enter the public imagination in the early 1980s when Harrison Ford starred in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (a character based on William Sleeman also appears). In the film, the hero agrees to both recover a lost stone and rescue a group of young children who had been abducted by the Thuggees. This portrayal of India and its people was widely criticized by South Asians.

Some historians now argue that the Thuggee Cult was in many ways an invention of the British colonizers as a way to better control India. Historian Martine van Woerkens argues in her book The Strangled Traveler: Colonial Imaginings and the Thugs of India that the Thuggee Cult may have been the result of "colonial imaginings," and that the brutality used to suppress the group has been overlooked.

Along those lines, the Los Angeles-based band Thuggee Cult says it chose the name in part as an attempt to take back the word and return it to its pre-colonial roots. "The idea of Thuggee Cult, it is anti-colonial," says band member Suleiman Hodali. "The label itself has been appropriated. We're trying to reclaim the word from its anti-colonial history."

Here in the United States, the word thug has long been a staple in rap lyrics. According to the invaluable site Rap Genius, "thug" appears in either the name of the artist or in the lyrics of over 4,800 songs. And Tupac Shakur famously had "Thug Life" tattooed across his abdomen.

Not everyone is happy with the prevalence of thug culture in hip-hop. As Tricia Rose writes in her book The Hip Hop Wars: What We Talk About When We Talk About Hip Hop and Why It Matters: "The thug both represents a product of discriminatory conditions and embodies behaviors that injure the very communities from which it comes."

In the publishing world, "thug lit" refers to a genre of fiction that is trying to break into the mainstream. Best-selling author Wahida Clark's website calls her the "Queen of Street Literature." Clark is signed to Cash Money Content, a Simon and Schuster imprint that's operated by the Cash Money record label, which is home to rappers Nicki Minaj, Lil Wayne and Drake.

Recently there's been a spate of blogs that reclaim the word "thug" in an ironic way. The blog Thug Kitchen shares recipes and cooking tips. As its FAQ section says: "Everyone deserves to feel a part of our country's push towards a healthier diet, not just people with disposable incomes who speak a certain way."

And the Web series Thug Notes stars a character named Sparky Sweet, who neatly breaks down classic works of English literature.

Check out the mildly NSFW summary of Heart of Darkness below. (Sample quote: "When it comes to swinging ivory for clean dollars, this fool Kurtz got the Congo sewn up.")

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

SOURCE: http://www.capradio.org/news/npr/story?storyid=245953619

November 06 2013


This Day in History - November 6th, 1962: U.N. condemns apartheid

Nov 6, 1962:
U.N. condemns apartheid
SOURCE: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/un-condemns-apartheid

On this day in 1962, the United Nations General Assembly adopts a resolution condemning South Africa's racist apartheid policies and calling on all its members to end economic and military relations with the country.

In effect from 1948 to 1993, apartheid, which comes from the Afrikaans word for "apartness," was government-sanctioned racial segregation and political and economic discrimination against South Africa's non-white majority. Among many injustices, blacks were forced to live in segregated areas and couldn’t enter whites-only neighborhoods unless they had a special pass. Although whites represented only a small fraction of the population, they held the vast majority of the country's land and wealth.

Following the 1960 massacre of unarmed demonstrators at Sharpeville near Johannesburg, South Africa, in which 69 blacks were killed and over 180 were injured, the international movement to end apartheid gained wide support. However, few Western powers or South Africa's other main trading partners favored a full economic or military embargo against the country. Nonetheless, opposition to apartheid within the U.N. grew, and in 1973 a U.N. resolution labeled apartheid a "crime against humanity." In 1974, South Africa was suspended from the General Assembly.

After decades of strikes, sanctions and increasingly violent demonstrations, many apartheid laws were repealed by 1990. Finally, in 1991, under President F.W. de Klerk, the South African government repealed all remaining apartheid laws and committed to writing a new constitution. In 1993, a multi-racial, multi-party transitional government was approved and, the next year, South Africa held its first fully free elections. Political activist Nelson Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison along with other anti-apartheid leaders after being convicted of treason, became South Africa's new president.

In 1996, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), established by the new government, began an investigation into the violence and human rights violations that took place under the apartheid system between 1960 and May 10, 1994 (the day Mandela was sworn in as president). The commission's objective was not to punish people but to heal South Africa by dealing with its past in an open manner. People who committed crimes were allowed to confess and apply for amnesty. Headed by 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the TRC listened to testimony from over 20,000 witnesses from all sides of the issue—victims and their families as well as perpetrators of violence. It released its report in 1998 and condemned all major political organizations—the apartheid government in addition to anti-apartheid forces such as the African National Congress—for contributing to the violence. Based on the TRC's recommendations, the government began making reparation payments of approximately $4,000 (U.S.) to individual victims of violence in 2003.

SOURCE: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/un-condemns-apartheid

July 31 2013


Today in History - July 31st

1916: "First Lady" of NASCAR Louise Smith Born
1965: J. K. Rowling born

1916: "First Lady" of NASCAR Louise Smith Born

On this day in 1916, the future racing legend Louise Smith, who will become the first woman inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, is born in Barnesville, Georgia.

In the mid-1940s, the racing promoter Bill France was looking for a female driver as a way to attract spectators to some of the earliest events in what would become the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) circuit. Before a race near Greenville, South Carolina, in 1946, he heard of Louise Smith, a local resident who was famous for outrunning law enforcement on the roads. With France's encouragement, Smith entered the race at Greenville-Pickens Speedway in a 1939 Ford and finished third. Unaware that a checkered flag meant the finish line, she kept going beyond the end of the race until someone threw out a red flag.

Though her husband Noah, the owner of a junkyard, didn't approve of her new speed-demon career, Smith was hooked. In 1947, she famously "borrowed" Noah's new car, a Ford coupe, and drove it to watch races in Daytona Beach, Florida. She ended up entering the race herself and wrecking the car, a fact she tried to conceal from him, not knowing that the news had made the front page of the Greenville paper before she returned home. Smith subsequently became a regular on France's new circuit, appearing in NASCAR events throughout the United States and Canada for the next decade. She won 38 races and had some spectacular crashes, including one in which her car overturned, earning her 48 stitches and four pins in her left knee. Dubbed the "Good Ol' Gal" by her fellow drivers, Smith nonetheless struggled in the masculine world of NASCAR. As she told the Associated Press in 1998: "Them men were not liking it to start with and they wouldn't give you an inch."

Smith retired in 1956 but remained active in the racing world: She sponsored various drivers, and was involved in the Miss Southern 500 Scholarship Pageant at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. In 1999, she was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in Talladega, Alabama. Smith died in April 2006, at the age of 89.

SOURCE: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-lady-of-nascar-louise-smith-born?et_cid=55351713&et_rid=703883316&linkid=http%3a%2f%2fwww.history.com%2fthis-day-in-history%2ffirst-lady-of-nascar-louise-smith-born

1965: J. K. Rowling born

On this day in 1965, Joanne Rowling, better known the world over as J.K. Rowling, the author and creator of the celebrated Harry Potter book series, is born near Bristol, England. Beginning in the late 1990s, Rowling’s seven Harry Potter novels became international blockbusters, selling over 400 million copies and being translated into more than 60 languages. The books also spawned a series of movies, video games and other merchandise that made Rowling one of the wealthiest people in the entertainment industry.

Rowling attended England’s University of Exeter, where she studied French, and later worked for human-rights organization Amnesty International in London and as a language instructor in Portugal. The idea for Harry Potter came to Rowling when she was riding a train from Manchester, England, to London in 1990. She began writing the first book that night. Rowling finished the book while living in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she struggled financially as a single mother and battled depression. Her completed manuscript was turned down by a number of publishers before she got a book deal with Bloomsbury Publishing in August 1996.

The first Harry Potter book debuted in Great Britain in 1997 under the title Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The book was released in the United States the following year and renamed Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Children and adults alike were captivated by the story of the bespectacled boy wizard Harry, his friends Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger, their adventures at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and Harry’s struggles against his enemy, the evil Lord Voldemort.

On November 16, 2001, the first Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, opened in America and was a huge box-office success. It was directed by Chris Columbus (Home Alone, Mrs. Doubtfire) and starred British child actor Daniel Radcliffe as Harry Potter, Rupert Grint as Ron and Emma Watson in the role of Hermione. A roster of celebrated actors took supporting roles in the film and its various sequels, including Ralph Fiennes, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Richard Harris and Gary Oldman.

The seventh and final (according to Rowling’s predetermined plan) Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, debuted in U.S. bookstores on July 21, 2007. Like all the previous Harry Potter books, it is slated to become a movie, to be released in 2010. To date, the Harry Potter films are the most financially successful series in history, having surpassed both the Star Wars and James Bond franchises.

SOURCE: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/jk-rowling-born

July 16 2013


'The African Queen' (1951) Adventure, PG

Just finished watching African Queen, The.

I would give it 2 1/2 out of 5 stars or 4 1/2 out of 10. I thought Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart had zero chemistry throughout the whole thing, which was a shame. It made me think though, besides Bacall, has Bogey really had onscreen chemistry with any other leading actresses? The scenery was beautiful and I liked that it was filmed mostly on location, which gave way to lots of off-screen problems that sounded more dramatic and interesting than the film itself. Apparently Bogey was the only one who didn't get ill throughout the shooting because his diet included zero water and lots of whiskey. Sounds like Katharine Hepburn narrowly escaped a series of possibly fatal accidents and spent a lot of time with buckets by her side. Definitely the trooper. The screenplay was censored and had to be rewritten many times due to things like co-habitation whilst not married. Bogey's character originally spoke with a thick Cockney accent, which Bogey could not do, so that caused another screenplay overhaul. I wonder if the original novel by C. S. Forester, The African Queen, fares better and if this might not be an interesting read The Making of the African Queen: Or How I Went to Africa With Bogart, Bacall and Huston and Almost Lost My Mind by the Great Kate herself. Any of you ever read it?

Debating on whether or not to watch another 'A' movie or to move a long.


'African Queen, The' on Netflix streaming for my 'A' movie.

Have you guys seen it? What did you think?


So I wanted to start my alphabetical movie watching again after suddenly being inspired to watch 'An Affair to Remember'. Only 'An Affair to Remember' is not on Netflix streaming or on Amazon Prime for free, so I will need another classic A movie to watch that I have never seen.


June 22 2013


The Cellar Book of Charles II


By Dean Nicholas | Posted 13th June 2013, 9:29

(Go to the source to see the image.)

Above is an image of Charles II's cellar book of 1660. Scroll your mouse over the image for a closer look, and see how much of the text you can decipher.

Of particular interest is the fourth paragraph, which makes reference to the Haut-Brion wine estate (written as 'Hobrione'). It is among the first mention in any language of an estate-named claret, and marks the beginnings of fine wine's association with England's social and political elite.

This theme is explored in Walpole, Whigs and Wine, the cover story of our July issue, which is out June 20th. In the article, Charles Ludington of North Carolina State University explores how a taste for fine claret became a mark of wealth and power in 18th-century England.

Source: http://www.historytoday.com/blog/2013/06/cellar-book-charles-ii

June 16 2013


I'm back!

I see I have neglected this journal for two years, and before the last post, more years. Shame on me! Well I'm going to try to wipe the dust off and to start posting here again. Debating whether or not to make it a community so other people can post too. What do you think? Yay or nay?

So while forgotten, then remembered, this journal is not dead!

February 20 2013


Is there a serial killer in your family history? 2.5million criminal records published online

Wednesday 20 Feb 2013 12:01 am
(Pictures at the source)

A notorious baby killer and a woman who cut up and boiled her employer are among 2.5million criminal records published for the first time.

Dating from 1770 to 1934, the findmypast.co.uk archive is the largest collection of rap sheets from England and Wales ever released.

Everything from Edwardian ‘Asbos’, where habitual drunks were banned from pubs, to mugshots, court documents and appeal letters have been made available.

One case history features infamous Amelia Dyer who is thought to have killed 400 babies. The ‘baby farmer’ tricked desperate mothers into thinking she offered a caring home for illegitimate children.

But after pocketing a fee she strangled them with a ribbon and threw their bodies in the Thames. Her crimes went undetected for 16 years until police caught her and she was hanged in 1896.

Another highlighted case has links to TV naturalist Sir David Attenborough. The head of 55-year-old widow Julia Thomas was dug up in the grounds of the derelict Hole in the Wall pub beside his home in Richmond, south-west London, in October 2010. She was murdered in March 1879 by her thieving housekeeper Kate Webster.

She pushed Mrs Thomas down the stairs, strangled her, then chopped up her body and boiled it in a laundry copper.

The documents, taken from the National Archives, also feature newspaper articles which are packed with detail.

‘We have painstakingly published online entire registers containing mugshots of habitual drunks that feature incredible descriptions of criminals’ appearances, demeanour and identifying marks,’ said Debra Chatfield at findmypast.co.uk.

SOURCE: http://metro.co.uk/2013/02/20/is-there-a-serial-killer-in-your-family-history-2-5million-criminal-records-published-online-3504854/

September 22 2012


This Day in History: 9/22/12

1776: Patriot executed for spying
1828: Shaka Zulu assassinated
1862: Lincoln issues Emancipation Proclamation


In New York City on this day in 1776, Nathan Hale, a Connecticut schoolteacher and captain in the Continental Army, is executed by the British for spying.

A graduate of Yale University, Hale joined a Connecticut regiment in 1775 and served in the successful siege of British-occupied Boston. On September 10, 1776, he volunteered to cross behind British lines on Long Island to spy on the British in preparation for the Battle of Harlem Heights.

Disguised as a Dutch schoolmaster, the Yale-educated Hale slipped behind British lines on Long Island and successfully gathered information about British troop movements for the next several weeks. While Hale was behind enemy lines, the British invaded the island of Manhattan; they took control of the city on September 15, 1776. When the city was set on fire on September 20, British soldiers were told to look out for sympathizers to the Patriot cause. The following evening, September 21, Hale was captured while sailing Long Island Sound, trying to cross back into American-controlled territory. Although rumors surfaced that Hale was betrayed by his first cousin and British Loyalist Samuel Hale, the exact circumstances of Hale's capture have never been discovered.

Hale was interrogated by British General William Howe and, when it was discovered that he was carrying incriminating documents, General Howe ordered his execution for spying, which was set for the following morning. After being led to the gallows, legend holds that the 21-year-old Hale said, "I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country." There is no historical record to prove that Hale actually made this statement, but, if he did, he may have been inspired by these lines in English author Joseph Addison's 1713 play Cato: "What a pity it is/That we can die but once to serve our country."

SOURCE: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/patriot-executed-for-spying


Shaka, founder of the Zulu Kingdom of southern Africa, is murdered by his two half-brothers, Dingane and Mhlangana, after Shaka's mental illness threatened to destroy the Zulu tribe.

When Shaka became chief of the Zulus in 1816, the tribe numbered fewer than 1,500 and was among the smaller of the hundreds of other tribes in southern Africa. However, Shaka proved a brilliant military organizer, forming well-commanded regiments and arming his warriors with assegais, a new type of long-bladed, short spear that was easy to wield and deadly. The Zulus rapidly conquered neighboring tribes, incorporating the survivors into their ranks. By 1823, Shaka was in control of all of present-day Natal. The Zulu conquests greatly destabilized the region and resulted in a great wave of migrations by uprooted tribes.

In 1827, Shaka's mother, Nandi, died, and the Zulu leader lost his mind. In his grief, Shaka had hundreds of Zulus killed, and he outlawed the planting of crops and the use of milk for a year. All women found pregnant were murdered along with their husbands. He sent his army on an extensive military operation, and when they returned exhausted he immediately ordered them out again. It was the last straw for the lesser Zulu chiefs: On September 22, 1828, his half-brothers murdered Shaka. Dingane, one of the brothers, then became king of the Zulus.

SOURCE: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/shaka-zulu-assassinated


On this day in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issues a preliminary Emancipation Proclamation, which sets a date for the freedom of more than 3 million black slaves in the United States and recasts the Civil War as a fight against slavery.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, shortly after Lincoln's inauguration as America's 16th president, he maintained that the war was about restoring the Union and not about slavery. He avoided issuing an anti-slavery proclamation immediately, despite the urgings of abolitionists and radical Republicans, as well as his personal belief that slavery was morally repugnant. Instead, Lincoln chose to move cautiously until he could gain wide support from the public for such a measure.

In July 1862, Lincoln informed his cabinet that he would issue an emancipation proclamation but that it would exempt the so-called border states, which had slaveholders but remained loyal to the Union. His cabinet persuaded him not to make the announcement until after a Union victory. Lincoln's opportunity came following the Union win at the Battle of Antietam in September 1862. On September 22, the president announced that slaves in areas still in rebellion within 100 days would be free.

On January 1, 1863, Lincoln issued the final Emancipation Proclamation, which declared "that all persons held as slaves" within the rebel states "are, and henceforward shall be free." The proclamation also called for the recruitment and establishment of black military units among the Union forces. An estimated 180,000 African Americans went on to serve in the army, while another 18,000 served in the navy.

After the Emancipation Proclamation, backing the Confederacy was seen as favoring slavery. It became impossible for anti-slavery nations such as Great Britain and France, who had been friendly to the Confederacy, to get involved on behalf of the South. The proclamation also unified and strengthened Lincoln's party, the Republicans, helping them stay in power for the next two decades.

The proclamation was a presidential order and not a law passed by Congress, so Lincoln then pushed for an antislavery amendment to the U.S. Constitution to ensure its permanence. With the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865, slavery was eliminated throughout America (although blacks would face another century of struggle before they truly began to gain equal rights).

Lincoln's handwritten draft of the final Emancipation Proclamation was destroyed in the Chicago Fire of 1871. Today, the original official version of the document is housed in the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

SOURCE: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/lincoln-issues-emancipation-proclamation

September 21 2012


9/21/1780 Benedict Arnold commits treason

On this day in 1780, during the American Revolution, American General Benedict Arnold meets with British Major John Andre to discuss handing over West Point to the British, in return for the promise of a large sum of money and a high position in the British army. The plot was foiled and Arnold, a former American hero, became synonymous with the word "traitor."

Arnold was born into a well-respected family in Norwich, Connecticut, on January 14, 1741. He apprenticed with an apothecary and was a member of the militia during the French and Indian War (1754-1763). He later became a successful trader and joined the Continental Army when the Revolutionary War broke out between Great Britain and its 13 American colonies in 1775. When the war ended in 1883, the colonies had won their independence from Britain and formed a new nation, the United States.

During the war, Benedict Arnold proved himself a brave and skillful leader, helping Ethan Allen's troops capture Fort Ticonderoga in 1775 and then participating in the unsuccessful attack on British Quebec later that year, which earned him a promotion to brigadier general. Arnold distinguished himself in campaigns at Lake Champlain, Ridgefield and Saratoga, and gained the support of George Washington. However, Arnold had enemies within the military and in 1777, five men of lesser rank were promoted over him. Over the course of the next few years, Arnold married for a second time and he and his new wife lived a lavish lifestyle in Philadelphia, accumulating substantial debt. The debt and the resentment Arnold felt over not being promoted faster were motivating factors in his choice to become a turncoat.

In 1780, Arnold was given command of West Point, an American fort on the Hudson River in New York (and future home of the U.S. military academy, established in 1802). Arnold contacted Sir Henry Clinton, head of the British forces, and proposed handing over West Point and his men. On September 21 of that year, Arnold met with Major John Andre and made his traitorous pact. However, the conspiracy was uncovered and Andre was captured and executed. Arnold, the former American patriot, fled to the enemy side and went on to lead British troops in Virginia and Connecticut. He later moved to England, though he never received all of what he'd been promised by the British. He died in London on June 14, 1801.

SOURCE: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/benedict-arnold-commits-treason?et_cid=46745596&et_rid=703883316&linkid=http%3a%2f%2fwww.history.com%2fthis-day-in-history%2fbenedict-arnold-commits-treason

9/21/1792 Monarchy Abolished in France

In Revolutionary France, the Legislative Assembly votes to abolish the monarchy and establish the First Republic. The measure came one year after King Louis XVI reluctantly approved a new constitution that stripped him of much of his power.

Louis ascended to the French throne in 1774 and from the start was unsuited to deal with the severe financial problems that he inherited from his predecessors. In 1789, food shortages and economic crises led to the outbreak of the French Revolution. King Louis and his queen, Mary-Antoinette, were imprisoned in August 1792, and in September the monarchy was abolished. Soon after, evidence of Louis' counterrevolutionary intrigues with foreign nations was discovered, and he was put on trial for treason. In January 1793, Louis was convicted and condemned to death by a narrow majority. On January 21, he walked steadfastly to the guillotine and was executed. Marie-Antoinette followed him to the guillotine nine months later.

SOURCE: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/monarchy-abolished-in-france

9/21/1949 Mao Zedong outlines the new Chinese government

At the opening of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in Peking, Mao Zedong announces that the new Chinese government will be "under the leadership of the Communist Party of China."

The September 1949 conference in Peking was both a celebration of the communist victory in the long civil war against Nationalist Chinese forces and the unveiling of the communist regime that would henceforth rule over China. Mao and his communist supporters had been fighting against what they claimed was a corrupt and decadent Nationalist government in China since the 1920s. Despite massive U.S. support for the Nationalist regime, Mao's forces were victorious in 1949 and drove the Nationalist government onto the island of Taiwan. In September, with cannons firing salutes and ceremonial flags waving, Mao announced the victory of communism in China and vowed to establish the constitutional and governmental framework to protect the "people's revolution."

In outlining the various committees and agencies to be established under the new regime, Mao announced that "Our state system of the People's Democratic Dictatorship is a powerful weapon for safeguarding the fruits of victory of the people's revolution and for opposing plots of foreign and domestic enemies to stage a comeback. We must firmly grasp this weapon." He denounced those who opposed the communist government as "imperialistic and domestic reactionaries." In the future, China would seek the friendship of "the Soviet Union and the new democratic countries." Mao also claimed that communism would help end reputation as a lesser-developed country. "The era in which the Chinese were regarded as uncivilized is now over. We will emerge in the world as a highly civilized nation." On October 1, 1949, the People's Republic of China was formally announced, with Mao Zedong as its leader. He would remain in charge of the nation until his death in 1976.

SOURCE: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/mao-zedong-outlines-the-new-chinese-government

September 12 2012


Have UK archaeologists found Richard III's skeleton?

By Michael Holden
LONDON | Wed Sep 12, 2012 6:37pm IST

(Reuters) - Archaeologists searching for the body of England's King Richard III under a city centre parking lot said on Wednesday they had found remains which could be those of the monarch depicted by Shakespeare as an evil, deformed, child-murdering monster.

Richard was killed at the Battle of Bosworth in central England in 1485 and his bones reportedly ended up in a Franciscan friary known as Greyfriars, now located under a car park in the centre of Leicester.

Bosworth Field is around 14 miles (25 km) away from Leicester and Richard is one of just a few English kings whose final resting place is unknown.

A team from the city's university began excavating the site last month and said they had discovered a skeleton with wounds apparently sustained in combat, which they believed might be that of the last English king to die in battle.

"Clearly we are all very excited by these latest discoveries," Richard Taylor, the university's Director of Corporate Affairs, told reporters.

"It is proper that the university now subjects the findings to rigorous analysis so that the strong circumstantial evidence that has presented itself can be properly understood."

The bones were found in good condition in the choir area of the friary's church which was documented in historical records to be Richard's burial place.

"The skeleton on initial examination appears to have suffered significant perimortem trauma, near-death trauma, to the skull which appears to be consistent, although is not certainly caused by an injury received in battle," Taylor said.

"A bladed implement appears to have cleaved part of the rear of the skull."

A barbed metal arrowhead was also found between vertebrae of the skeleton's upper back.


Richard, who only reigned for two years, was portrayed as a power-hungry hunchback in one of William Shakespeare's most famous plays, "The Tragedy of King Richard the Third", although contemporary chroniclers suggested he was a tough soldier.

Taylor said the body had spinal abnormalities, believed to be severe scoliosis, a form of spinal curvature, which would have made his right shoulder appear visibly higher than his left one, which matches contemporary accounts of Richard.

However, the individual was not a hunchback.

The remains will now undergo laboratory tests, including a DNA test which will take up to 12 weeks. Archaeologists have access to Richard III's DNA after swab samples were taken on Friday from a direct descendant of the king's sister, Canadian-born Michael Ibsen.

"We are not saying today that we have found Richard III," Taylor said.

"Our focus is shifting from archaeological excavation to laboratory analysis. This skeleton certainly has characteristics that warrant extensive further detailed examination."

Whilst his reign was brief, Richard continues to fascinate historians and debate rages to this day as to whether he was responsible for the murder of two young princes in the Tower of London, the sons of his elder brother Edward IV.

"We came with a dream and if the dream becomes reality it will be nothing short of miraculous," said Philippa Langley from the Richard III Society, a group which campaigns for a reassessment of the monarch's unsavoury reputation.

Richard, crowned at Westminster Abbey in July 1483, died fighting his enemies led by Henry Tudor, later Henry VII. He was the last Plantagenet king and was followed by the Tudor dynasty, which included Henry VIII and Queen Elizabeth I.

If bones prove to be those of the king, they will be reinterred at Leicester Cathedral, just a few steps away from the excavation site. (Editing by Paul Casciato)

SOURCE: http://in.reuters.com/article/2012/09/12/uk-britain-archaeology-richardiii-idINLNE88B01J20120912

May 09 2012


This Day In History 5/9/12

What was behind Colonel Thomas Blood’s failed attempt to steal the Crown Jewels during the cash-strapped reign of Charles II and how did he survive such a treasonable act? Nigel Jones questions the motives of a notorious 17th-century schemer.

Illustration of Colonel Thomas Blood by G.Scott, 1813Money was always a problem for the merry monarch. Generous with courtiers, supporters and mistresses, the pensions that Charles II (r.1660-85) actually owed to lesser mortals were often either in arrears – or never paid at all. But Charles knew the value of majesty to monarchy and after his penurious years of exile did not stint in putting on a show. He spent the huge sum of £32,000 on remaking the Crown Jewels, which had been broken up, melted down or sold off by Cromwell’s Commonwealth. A couple of silver spoons and the famous egg-sized ‘Black Prince’s Ruby’ (actually a spinel, which adorned the state crown and was worn on the helmet of Henry V at Agincourt in 1415 and by Richard III at Bosworth in 1485) were all that survived. Fortunately, however, detailed descriptions of the vanished jewels remained in their former home, the Tower of London, from which they were accurately reconstituted.

A courtier, Sir Gilbert Talbot, was appointed keeper of the jewels. Allocated a generous annual salary of £50, Talbot had his own rent-free apartment at the Tower as well as rooms in other royal palaces. He also received free food of ‘fourteen double dishes per diem’. On top of this he was given a cut of £300 from the king’s New Year’s gift money, a tax on the nobility in the form of a compulsory cash ‘gift’ that Talbot collected. He received another £300 annually in tips from foreign ambassadors to whom he presented royal gifts. And, as if this was not enough, Talbot also creamed off a hefty £800 yearly in bribes and sweeteners from the silversmiths and goldsmiths who executed royal commissions. Talbot’s perks included his own coronation robes and the right to precede all the judges of the land in formal processions. As the cherry on his cake Talbot had the singular honour of placing upon and removing the crown from the king’s head whenever he was required to wear it.

Talbot’s assistant keeper at the Tower, confusingly named Talbot Edwards, was not nearly as well-off as his boss. Since Gilbert preferred the roomier Whitehall Palace as his chief residence, it fell to Edwards to live at the Tower. After the Restoration in May 1660 the new Crown Jewels had been housed in the Martin tower in the north-east corner of the fortress. Edwards and his wife and daughter occupied the floors immediately above the jewel house, a fortified basement vault. Edwards officially drew a state salary, but his wages were years overdue. Since in 1671 he was 77, it appeared unlikely that he would ever see his money. He relied instead on the fees he charged visitors who came to view the jewels.

Thomas Blood (1618-80), or ‘Colonel’ Blood as he is popularly known (he constantly promoted himself and never actually rose above the rank of lieutenant), was not only the most celebrated jewel thief in history, but one of the most outlandish, outrageous and lucky rogues never to swing from a gibbet. His life story reads like a piece of far-fetched fiction from the pen of Daniel Defoe, but it is well-documented reality.

Blood was born into a family of English Protestant settlers in County Meath, Ireland. Blood’s father, also Thomas, though a humble blacksmith, owned some 230 acres around Sarney, county Meath, his son’s birthplace. In 1641 the simmering tension between Ireland’s Catholic and Protestant communities exploded into violence when the Catholics rose in rebellion. Hundreds of Protestants were massacred; thousands more driven from their homes to Dublin, held for Charles I by the moderate Anglican James Butler, Duke of Ormond (1610-88). Politics was reaching boiling point; 1642 saw the outbreak of civil war. Urgently needing troops Charles I ordered Ormond to reach a truce with the Irish rebels. Outraged, Blood switched support from king to Parliament and began a lifelong grudge against Ormond, whom he saw as a traitor to the Protestant cause. After various plots against Ormond came to nothing, Blood travelled to England, joined the Parliamentary army and in 1650 married Maria Holcroft, the daughter of a landed Lancashire family.

The Restoration in 1660 changed everything for Blood. He refused to accept the return of the monarchy and was deeply involved in several republican plots throughout the decade – one even aimed at seizing the Tower. Showing an extraordinary talent for evasion,  he somehow managed to avoid arrest. Blood sank into the murky depths of London’s political and criminal underworld. Under a variety of aliases he flitted between ill-lit inns and basement cellars, where spies, government provocateurs, religious maniacs, pimps, prostitutes and thieves mingled. In such a world it was difficult to tell a principled plotter from a treacherous rogue or government plant.

Listen: Nigel Jones talks about the Tower of London on the podcast

In July 1667, hearing that one of his former republican co-conspirators, John Mason, was being transferred from the Tower of London to York for trial and probable execution, Blood resolved to rescue him. Travelling north with Mason was William Leving, a former rebel who had turned King’s Evidence and was due to testify against Mason. At an inn near Doncaster Blood sprung an ambush. Despite falling from his horse three times and sustaining a wound to the face and a sword thrust through his arm, he won the brawl, grabbing Mason and escaping. Leving was found poisoned in his jail cell in York, a short time later, a murder probably arranged by George Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham, Blood’s principal patron.

Buckingham (1628-87), the archetypal Restoration rake, has been long suspected as the eminence grise behind Blood. A convinced anti-Catholic, he sympathised with Blood’s religious stance, if not his republican politics. Descended from royalty on his mother’s side and brought up from infancy with Charles II after his father’s assassination, Buckingham had pretensions to succeed the childless Charles himself and even on his deathbed referred to himself as ‘a prince’. A ruthless libertine, who skewered one aristocratic love rival in a duel and then eloped with the widow, Buckingham used Blood as a hitman to carry out crimes with which he did not wish to sully his own hands. He was behind Blood’s next audacious crime, the attempted abduction of their mutual enemy, the Duke of Ormond, who was waylaid by Blood’s gang on December 6th, 1670 while riding in his carriage in central London. Although wounded, Ormond managed to escape, but it was a close shave. His son, Lord Ossory, publicly accused Buckingham of the crime – a grave charge that Buckingham, a noted duellist, tellingly failed to answer.

The strong suspicion must be that Buckingham, who had himself survived four brief bouts of imprisonment in the Tower, was also behind Blood’s next and even more sensational crime: the theft of the Crown Jewels. Because of his close ties with the king, Charles repeatedly forgave his childhood friend his many betrayals and crimes. But Buckingham was an inveterate intriguer and committed Nonconformist, who disapproved of Charles’s Catholic sympathies. Eventually he fell permanantly out of favour with the king. However, there is evidence that, just as Buckingham used Blood to carry out some of his dirtier deeds, so the cunning Charles used Buckingham to perform disreputable – and deniable – services that  could be distanced from the Crown. I believe that Blood’s theft of the jewels was one such service.

A plan of Tower of London and its Liberties in 1597; the title reads "A True and Exact Draught of the TOWER LIBERTIES, survey'd in the Year 1597 by GULIELMUS HAIWARD and J. GASCOYNE".In spring 1671, just a few months after the abortive abduction of Ormond, Talbot Edwards received an unusual visitor at the Tower. He was dressed as an Anglican clergyman, appeared about 50 years old and had fierce, penetrating eyes above a hawkish Roman nose with a notable scar (a relic of Blood’s rescue of John Mason). Although the cleric’s appearance was slightly outlandish – he sported a long beard, a cassock and cloak and a cap with ‘ears’ – Edwards, scenting a fee, was only too happy to show the reverend gentleman and the lady accompanying him, whom he introduced as his wife, the jewels in his care.

Edwards led the couple to the basement of Martin tower, unlocked the reinforced door and let them into the vault where the jewels were kept behind a metal grille inside a recess in the thick walls. As Blood feasted his eyes on the glittering regalia, his ‘wife’ (in reality, a hired actress named Jenny Blaine) staged a fainting fit, or in Edwards’ words, ‘a qualm upon her stomack’. The old gentleman hurried away to fetch a reviving glass of water, leaving Blood to case the joint. Jenny, invited to rest in the Edwards’ apartment, made a rapid recovery. Blood took the opportunity to deepen his intimacy with Edwards and his wife, returning a few days later with a gift of gloves in appreciation for their kindness.

Blood now began to groom the elderly couple and their unmarried daughter: a softening-up process for the crime he was planning. After several visits the rel-ationship had progressed enough for Blood to make a proposal. He had, he said, a very eligible nephew to introduce to the Edwards’ spinster daughter, Elizabeth. Would it not be a fine thing, he asked, if the young people were joined in holy matrimony? Naturally, he added, he would conduct the ceremony. The Edwards were overwhelmed by this generous offer, particularly after Blood threw in the information that his nephew had a couple of hundred acres of good land in Ireland. A dinner was held in Martin tower to celebrate the betrothal, at which Blood offered fervent prayers for the wellbeing of the royal family. Afterwards Edwards gave his guest a detailed tour of the Tower, even selling him a pair of pistols that Blood had admired. Having thus literally and metaphorically disarmed his ‘mark’, Blood departed to make final preparations for his heist.

Blood had arranged to bring his ‘nephew’ to meet the Edwards at seven in the morning of May 9th, 1671; the Tower was unlikely to be crowded. He arrived accompanied by his son, another Thomas Blood, a professional highwayman. He played the part of the nephew, ‘Tom Hunt’. Also in the party were two regular Blood gang members, Robert Perrot, a fierce Baptist and former parliamentarian trooper turned silk dyer; and Robert Halliwell, who was to act as lookout. All were armed to the teeth with concealed pistols, stiletto daggers and swordsticks. A fourth gang member, William Smith, a stalwart of the eschatological Fifth Monarchy religious sect, remained outside the Tower, holding their horses. Halliwell loitered outside the Martin tower, trying not to look furtive, while the Bloods went inside with Perrot. Elizabeth Edwards, eager to see her fiancé but shy of making a premature appearance, sent her maid to take a peek. The maid saw Halliwell at the door of the tower, assumed he was her mistress’s intended and returned to make her report.

Meanwhile Blood suggested that, while awaiting the arrival of Mrs Edwards and her daughter, still at their toilette, Talbot Edwards could show the jewels to the ‘nephew’ and Perrot. The old man led the men below. As soon as Edwards had unlocked the door to the jewel house and admitted the trio, he was set upon as he bent to lock the door behind them. A cloak was thrown over his head and a home-made gag – a wooden plug with an air-hole drilled through it – was thrust into his mouth and secured with a leather thong. Immediately Edwards began to struggle. Blood produced a wooden mallet and bludgeoned Edwards to the ground. As the keeper continued to resist, he stabbed him in the stomach.

Leaving Edwards for dead, the gang set about their task. Blood removed the metal grille and flattened the king’s state crown with his mallet. This made it easier to conceal in a bag he wore under his cassock. Young Blood started to saw the long sceptre in half with a file so he could hide it, while Perrot stuffed the heavy orb into his breeches. The blows of Blood’s mallet dislodged some of the jewels encrusting the crown, including the Black Prince’s Ruby. As Blood scrabbled on the floor grabbing the precious stones there was an unwelcome interruption.

It was exactly at this moment that the Edwards’ son, Wythe, who had been a soldier in Flanders for ten years, returned to witness his sister’s betrothal, accompanied by his friend and fellow soldier Captain Marcus Beckman. As Wythe went upstairs to greet his mother and sister, Halliwell hurried down to the jewel house to warn his companions. With no time to finish sawing the sceptre in half, the rod was left lying on the floor as the thieves made off with the crown and orb.

As soon as they had gone old Talbot Edwards spat out his gag and shouted ‘Treason! Murder! The crown is stolen!’ Hearing his cries his daughter rushed downstairs to find her father in a pool of blood. Wythe Edwards and Captain Beckman gave chase across the courtyard. Beckman, a Swedish-born military engineer, was already familiar with the Tower having once been imprisoned there as a suspected spy.

In the time it took the two soldiers to catch up with the thieves young Blood and Halliwell had reached their horses and made off. Blood and Perrot, weighed down with their loot, passed under the archway of the Bloody Tower and turned right into Water Lane, heading towards the Byward Tower exit. Edwards and Beckman shouted to the yeoman warder manning the drawbridge over the moat to stop them. As he attempted to do so Blood drew a pistol and fired hitting the warder. The two miscreants evaded a second warder at the Middle Tower. Had they then turned right up Tower Hill they might have got away, but instead they tried to lose themselves in the early morning crowds thronging the riverside wharves.

The two soldiers, younger and fitter, were gaining on them. Blood resorted to the old ploy of yelling ‘Stop thief!’ as he ran, pointing to his two pursuers. Momentarily fooled, some upstanding citizens laid hands on Edwards and Beckman but the deception did not last long. Blood and Perrot managed to reach their horses held by Smith at the Iron Gate and were in the act of mounting when their pursuers finally caught up with them. Blood fired his second pistol at Beckman but missed. After a struggle, during which some of the jewels fell from his pockets, rolled away and were never seen again, Blood and Perrot were subdued and arrested. Blood’s son, whose horse had collided with a cart and thrown him during his hasty escape, was also detained and Halliwell was picked up later. As he was led away Blood was philosophical, remarking: ‘It was a gallant deed, although it failed.’

The crown and orb, minus some missing stones, were repaired and restored to their rightful place. Blood and his gang were imprisoned in the vaults beneath the White Tower, where prisoners had been tortured in Tudor times. Few doubted that their fate would be the traditional terrible death meted out to traitors of hanging, drawing and quartering. The theft of the Crown Jewels, with their sacral, religious symbolism, was akin to kidnapping the monarch himself. But astonishingly this was not the punishment that awaited Blood. In fact the episode was to mark the beginning of another stage in Blood’s amazing career. From republican rebel and buccaneering outlaw forever outwitting the state’s agents, he became one such agent himself. How did this transformation come about?

The motivation for Blood’s attempted robbery has been much debated. Though violent and ruthless, he was never a career criminal and despised his son’s activities. Blood senior’s crimes – from a plot to seize Dublin Castle to the attempted abduction of the Duke of Ormond – were of a different order. They always had a political and/or religious motive. If his aim was financial gain he would have used any monies obtained to further the cause of republican Nonconformism. It has also been plausibly suggested that the raid was an ‘inside job’, organised with the knowledge and secret approval of the king himself, who – as ever – was chronically short of cash.

Charles’ actions after the crime were certainly suspect. Blood remained remarkably calm in captivity, maintaining that he would only make a complete confession to the king himself. Although he was brought to Charles in irons and closely questioned by a royal inquisition consisting of the king, his brother James and their cousin Prince Rupert, he was never condemned, nor even punished, beyond his few weeks’ imprisonment in the Tower. Nor were any of his confederates. Even more astonishingly Blood was actually rewarded by the king for his crime, receiving lands in his native Ireland and a pension of £500 a year. Before bestowing this the king laughingly asked Blood what he would do if granted mercy and Blood boldly replied: ‘I would endeavour to deserve it, Sire.’ Cheekily he added that Charles owed him his life, since in his republican days he had once stalked the king with a musket, intending to assassinate him. But, observing Charles skinny-dipping in the Thames at Vauxhall, Blood, hiding in some nearby reeds, said he was so ‘awe-struck’ by the sight of his naked sovereign that he forebore to fire.

Charles’ lenient treatment of Blood astonished contemporaries. The diarist John Evelyn was outraged  not long after the robbery to see the jewel thief sitting at the Treasury table at a dinner to honour a party of visiting French noblemen:

Blood ... that impudent bold fellow who had not long before attempted to steal the Imperial Crown itself out of the Tower ... How came he to be pardoned, and even received into favour, not only after this, but several other exploits almost as daring both in Ireland and here, I could never come to understand ... The only treason of this sort that was ever pardoned. The man had not only a daring but a villainous unmerciful look, a false countenance, but very well spoken and dangerously insinuating.

Whether Charles was moved merely by fellow feeling for a glib rascal like himself or whether, more plausibly, Blood was acting as his secret agent when he raided the Tower the fact is that he inexplicably escaped punishment and spent the rest of his murky life as a ‘cut-out’ link man between the government and his former colleagues in the Nonconformist underground. Alan Marshall, historian of the 1678 Popish Plot, has described Blood in the late 1670s as the court’s ‘special agent and gun for hire’, suggesting that he is the most likely candidate behind the murder of Sir Edmund Berry Godfrey, the JP investigating the plot, whose unsolved death in October 1678 was blamed on a Catholic conspiracy, leading to a frenzy that almost destroyed the Stuart monarchy.

In stark contrast to Blood’s undeserved good fortune, the victim of his crime – Talbot Edwards – was treated less generously. Although he recovered from the assault, he became infirm and applied for a pension, which was initially refused. Grudgingly the government eventually granted it shortly before he died. Elizabeth Edwards did find a husband as a direct result of that dramatic May morning, but it was not young Thomas Blood. The man she married was the gallant Captain Beckman, who was promoted to major for his courage in capturing Blood. The old rogue himself died in 1680, in bed, aged 62.

Nigel Jones is the author of Tower: an Epic History of the Tower of London (Hutchinson, 2011).

Further reading: 
  • R.L. Greaves, Deliver Us from Evil: The Radical Underground in Britain 1660-63 (Oxford University Press, 1986)
  • R.L. Greaves, Enemies Under His Feet: Radicals and Nonconformists in Britain 1664-1677 (Stanford University Press, 1990)
  • David Hanrahan, Colonel Blood: the Man Who Stole the Crown Jewels (Sutton, 1999)
  • David Hanrahan, Charles II and the Duke of Buckingham: the Merry Monarch and the Aristocratic Rogue (Sutton, 2006
  • Graham Hopkins, Constant Delights: Rakes, Rogues and Scandal in Restoration England (Robson, 2002)
  • Alan Marshall, Intelligence and Espionage in the Reign of Charles II 1660-1685 (Cambridge University Press, 1994


April 11 2012


The Warrior Queens by Antonia Fraser

I just started rereading The Warrior Queens: The Legends and the Lives of the Women Who Have Led Their Nations in War by Antonia Fraser. I love this book and highly recommend it, though it can be dry at times, it's still a great read and mentions one of my favorites, Queen Jinga.

April 04 2012


This Day in History: 04/04/1968 Dr. King Assassinated

((Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated April 4th, 1968. In honor of Dr. King, what are your favorite biographies, documentaries, anything, about Dr. King? What are your favorite books about Civil Rights in the USA and other countries? Biographies, documentaries, anything, about other Civil Rights leaders, famous and not so famous?))


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.

SOURCE: http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/dr-king-is-assassinated

January 18 2012

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