May 1, 1960: The U-2 incident takes place.
By 1955, both the United States and Soviet Union had developed and successfully detonated thermonuclear weapons; the next year, the first Lockheed U-2, an icon of Cold War-era espionage, flew a mission over the Soviet Union in order to gather and deliver intelligence regarding its technological progress. Covert reconnaissance missions conducted throughout the era provided the government detailed photographs that would, hopefully, enable the U.S. to stay ahead of its communist foe.
Meanwhile, Soviet Union-United States relations seemed to be, to some extent, thawing - in late 1959, Nikita Khrushchev visited the United States for the first time with his family (and a strong desire to see Disneyland) and left the country in the hope that some kind of détente might be achieved between the nations. This brief period of good feelings was disrupted by the U-2 incident, in which CIA pilot Francis Gary Powers and his U-2 spy plane were shot down while flying in Soviet airspace. Unaware that both the pilot and his equipment had been recovered by Soviet officials, the U.S. government released a cover story claiming that Powers had been conducting weather tests. The cover story was contradicted by the concrete evidence provided by the Soviet government of American espionage activity, and by Powers’ own confession; Powers, upon returning home (having been traded for a KGB agent), was criticized for failing to self-destruct his aircraft and for failing to commit suicide, although he was ultimately determined to have not divulged any important information to the Soviets and was posthumously awarded the Silver Star in 2012.
Although Eisenhower accepted responsibility for the incident, including the failed cover-up, the U-2 incident caused the collapse of the planned Paris Four Power summit, and any tentative easing of tensions achieved in the previous decade was undone. And in 1962, a U-2 plane captured images in Cuba and initiated a confrontation that would send the two nations closer to nuclear war than ever before.
How to Spot a Communist
But there are other communists who don’t show their real faces… who work more silently…
April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King, Jr. is assassinated.
The night before his assassination, King delivered his last speech at Mason Temple in Memphis, Tennessee; popularly known as “I’ve Been to the Mountain”, this speech was made in support of the Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike and called upon the United States to “be true to what you said on paper”. At the end of his speech, King famously foreshadowed his own death:
Like anybody, I would like to live - a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. 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. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.
Over the years, King had been the recipient of countless death threats, including a bomb threat made against him on his way to Memphis, and so he had become accustomed to the possibility that he might suffer a premature death as so many civil rights workers and leaders had before him.
At around 6 PM, King was standing on the balcony outside his room at Memphis’ Lorraine Motel when he was struck by a single bullet through the cheek, fired from a pump-action rifle wielded by James Earl Ray, who shortly afterward fled north to Canada. After being taken to the hospital, King was pronounced dead five minutes after 7. All across the United States, violent riots in Baltimore, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere broke out during the week following the assassination, though notably not in Indianapolis, where Robert F. Kennedy (who would be assassinated two months later) had delivered arguably his most famous speech informing the city’s residents of King’s death. The funeral, which took place on April 9, was attended by 300,000 people, and a bill to establish a holiday in his honor was presented in Congress not long after. King’s family, and many others besides, maintain that James Earl Ray (a small-time criminal) was the scapegoat of a conspiracy involving the U.S. government and FBI. It is fact that the FBI’s COINTELPRO closely monitored King’s (and other “subversives’) activities intensely, often through illegal and dubious means, such as wiretapping and anonymous letters urging him to commit suicide.
LIFE: The Day MLK Was Assassinated
“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”
Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last speech, delivered the night before his death - April 3, 1968.
Today is the 45th anniversary of the My Lai Massacre.
Photo gallery (images may be graphic)
March 7, 1965: The first Selma to Montgomery March (“Bloody Sunday”) takes place.
During the 1960s, only small percentages of the large populations of eligible black voters in certain parts of the South could actually vote, even after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Voter registration programs organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and other civil rights groups (including the Southern Christian Leadership Conference) were established in these states, but they were met with fierce opposition: during the 1964 “Freedom Summer” campaign, designed to register African-Americans in Mississippi, eighty civil rights workers were beaten by white residents; in one notorious incident, local Klansmen ambushed and murdered three workers as retribution for their efforts in attempting to register and educate disfranchised voters.
In 1965, a voter registration campaign focused in Selma, Alabama, began - at the head of this revived effort was Martin Luther King, Jr., the SNCC, and the SCLC. On March 7, a group of several hundred people set out from Selma on a fifty-four-mile march toward Montgomery, but this protest was stopped short in a brief and violent confrontation (later known as “Bloody Sunday”) between the marchers and state troopers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. One of the main catalysts for the march, besides the ongoing struggle over voting restrictions, was the killing of Jimmie Lee Jackson by an Alabama State Trooper a week earlier; however, the events of Bloody Sunday garnered more national attention than Jackson’s murder.
As the Selma marchers crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge, they were met by state troopers, who began to shove and beat them, while another detachment fired tear gas into the crowd. Among those injured in the attack was John Lewis, who escaped the beatings with a fractured skull. These acts of violence against peaceful protesters were widely publicized and highly influential in turning public opinion in favor of the Civil Rights Movement. Following the second ceremonial march, conducted on March 9, a white minister named James Reeb was severely injured by KKK members and later died after the hospital in Selma turned him away; the death of a white minister captured the public’s attention even more securely. When Martin Luther King, Jr. led a third march on March 21, 25,000 people gathered in Montgomery to hear him speak and deliver his “How Long, Not Long” speech, and after President Johnson witnessed the events of Bloody Sunday on television, he was compelled to introduce a voting rights bill to Congress and did so on March 15; he also delivered his own speech to a joint session of Congress in which he quoted an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement - “we shall overcome” - in an obvious and momentous display of support for the movement.
Johnson’s bill passed in August as the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965.
How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.