Today in 1926, the two-man comedy series “Sam ‘n’ Henry” debuted on Chicago’s WGN radio station. The creators and the stars of the new program, Freeman Gosden and Charles Carrell, were both white; the characters they played were two black men from the Deep South who moved to Chicago to seek their fortunes.
At that time, white actors performing in dark stage makeup–or “blackface”–had been a significant tradition in American theater for over 100 years. Gosden and Carrell, were both vaudeville performers and doing a Chicago comedy act in blackface.”Sam ‘n’ Henry” became an immediate hit.
In 1928, Gosden and Carrell took their act to a rival station, the Chicago Daily News’ WMAQ. They discovered WGN owned the rights to their characters’ names and simply changed them. The popularity of “Amos ‘n’ Andy” soon exploded. Over the next 22 years, the show became the highest-rated comedy in radio history, attracting more than 40 million listeners. By 1951, when “Amos ‘n’ Andy” came to television, changing attitudes about race and concerns about racism had virtually wiped out the practice of blackface.
With Alvin Childress and Spencer Williams taking over for Gosden and Carrell, the show was the first TV series to feature an all-black cast and the only one of its kind for the next 20 years. Advocacy groups and the NAACP criticized both the radio and TV versions of “Amos ‘n’ Andy” for promoting racial stereotypes. These protests led to the TV show’s cancellation in 1953.The final radio broadcast of “Amos ‘n’ Andy” aired November 25, 1960.
The following year, Gosden and Carrell created a short-lived TV sequel called “Calvin and the Colonel.” They avoided controversy by replacing the human characters with an animated fox and bear. The show was canceled after one season.
Today in 1888, the so-called “Schoolchildren’s Blizzard” killed 235 people, across the Northwest Plains region of the United States. Most victims of the blizzard were children making their way home from school in rural areas and adults working on large farms.
The storm came with no warning, and some accounts say that the temperature fell nearly 100 degrees in just 24 hours. There had been unseasonably warm weather the previous day from Montana east to the Dakotas and south to Texas. Within a matter of hours, Arctic air from Canada rapidly pushed south. Temperatures plunged to 40 below zero in much of North Dakota. Along with the cold air, the storm brought high winds and heavy snows. The combination created blinding conditions.
Today in 1932 Ophelia Wyatt Caraway, a Democrat from Arkansas, became the first woman to be elected to the U.S. Senate. Caraway had been appointed to the Senate two months earlier to fill the vacancy left by her late husband, Thaddeus Horatio Caraway. In 1938, she was reelected. After failing to win the nomination in 1944, she was appointed to the Federal Employees Compensation Commission by President Franklin Roosevelt.
Although she was the first freely elected female senator, Caraway was preceded in the Senate by Rebecca Latimer Felton, who was appointed in 1922 to fill a vacancy but never ran for election. Jeannette Rankin, elected to the House of Representatives in 1917, was the first woman to sit in Congress.
Roosevelt wanted to prevent potential labor union strikes, which would slow industrial production and impede the war effort. The nation’s massive conversion to a war economy had catapulted the United States out of the Great Depression, but the increase in employment also threatened to put labor unions and industrial leaders at odds over working conditions and wages.
Today in 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt reinstated Woodrow Wilson’s National War Labor Board (NWLB) in an attempt to forestall labor-management conflict during World War II.
The NWLB was formed in 1940 as the National Defense Advisory Board; later it became the Labor Division of the Office of the Production of Management (OPM), which morphed into the National Defense Mediation Board (NDMB) until 1942 when Roosevelt renamed the unit the National War Labor Board.
Although the NWLB was established to mediate between parties involved in industrial disputes, Roosevelt also gave the board power to intercede and impose settlements in order to preempt any pause in production. The following October, Roosevelt issued the Order Providing for the Stabilization of the National Economy, which expanded the NWLB’s control over wages and prices by stipulating that any adjustment of wages had to be cleared through it.
The Truman administration discontinued the National War Labor Board in 1946, giving labor-arbitration duties back to the National Labor Relations Board.
Today in 1991 Congress authorized President George Bush to use military force against Iraq following its invasion of Kuwait.
Today in 1996 the first joint American-Russian military operation since World War II occurred as Russian troops arrived to aid in peacekeeping efforts in Bosnia.
Today in 1999 President Bill Clinton sent a check for $850,000 to Paula Jones officially ending the sensational sexual harassment legal case that ultimately endangered his presidency. The lawsuit exposed the president’s affair with Monica Lewinsky.
Happy birthday John Winthrop, English lawyer, born today in 1587 (or 1588) at Edwardstone, Suffolk, England.
Winthrop was a Puritan leader who led groups to the New World in 1628 and founded a number of communities on the shores of Massachusetts Bay and the Charles River. He was the elected first governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Winthrop died of natural causes March 26, 1649, at Boston, Massachusetts Bay Colony and is buried in what is now called the King’s Chapel Burying Ground in Boston. He was age 61.
Happy birthday John Hancock, merchant, statesman, and Founding Father, who was born today 1737 (January 12, 1736, Old Style calendar) at Braintree (now Quincy), Province of Massachusetts Bay.
Hancock was a delegate to the Continental Congress, president of the Second Continental Congress, first signer of the Declaration of Independence with a prominent signature, and first and third governor of Massachusetts.
Hancock died October 8, 1793, at his estate Hancock Manor, Boston, Massachusetts. He was age 56.
Happy birthday John Griffith Chaney, later John Griffith “Jack” London, sailor, oyster pirate, fish patroller, hobo, jail inmate for vagrancy, Klondike gold prospector, socialist activist, journalist and prolific writer, born today in 1876 at San Francisco, California.
While in Alaska, London wrote stories about the region and his first collection of stories “The Son of the Wolf” (1900) was published. In his 17-year writing career he wrote 50 fiction and nonfiction books. London is probably best known for “The Call of the Wild” (1903), “The Sea Wolf” (1904) and “White Fang” (1906).
London died November 22, 1916, at his ranch, Glen Ellen, California, where his ashes are buried. He was age 40. He is said to have been a suicide; this is disputed by researchers and biographers.
His ranch is now a National Historic Landmark and Jack London State Historic Park.