Thursday, December 15, 2011

10 Days That Unexpectedly Changed America

Leon Czolgosz assassinates William McKinley
From a farmer's rebellion, to a bloody battle in Maryland, up on through the trial of a school teacher, change in America has often initiated unexpectedly and without foresight. In this program, ten different filmmakers offer their takes, of varying quality, on the days that forever altered the fabric of our being.

1) Massacre at Mystic - May 26, 1637
Having reached an impasse with their land brokering with the Pequot Indians, English settlers backed by Mohican and Narragansett Indians encroached a Pequot settlement in Mystic, Connecticut at night and began to slaughter men, women, and children, wiping out a third of their tribe. The brutal siege would betray colonist/native trusts and set a pattern for white land seizure of Native American lands.
2) Shays' Rebellion: America's First Civil War - January 25, 1787
Under the command of Daniel Shays, hundreds of impoverished Massachusetts farmers stormed the state's debtors courts to prevent further loss of land and liberty. In response, after unable to gain help from an ailing federal government, the state conscripts mercenary army. To attain the necessary manpower, Shays and his men decide to storm the Springfield Federal Armory on the red letter day. Although the rebellion was put down, it called for the strengthening of our government, leading to the formation of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.
3) Gold Rush - January 24, 1848
A gold discovery in California prompted people from all over the world to partake in an arduous journey and descend upon the newly acquired territory. The Gold Rush would lead to the building of the transcontinental railroad and assert the U.S. as a world economic power.
4) Antietam - September 17, 1862
Near Sharpsburg, Maryland, the Battle of Antietam cost 23,000 soldiers on both the North and South their lives, making it the single bloodiest day in American history. The marginal victory for the Union allowed President Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. By making the Civil War as war to end slavery, it prevented European countries from intervening on behalf of the Confederacy, and shifted the conflict in favor of the Union.
5) The Homestead Strike - July 6, 1892
Striking workers at Andrew Carnegie's Homestead steel mill just outside of Pittsburgh, PA confronted Pinkerton strikebreakers sent in on the Monongahela River in a bloody standoff. The militia was eventually sent in and the strike put down, which ultimately resulted in the growth of Carnegie's steel empire. The Homestead Strike led to the creation of jobs across America, the industrial and corporate nature of the country, and the growing disparity between ownership and worker.
6) Murder at the Fair: The Assassination of President McKinley - September 6, 1901
At the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, disaffected anarchist Leon Czolgosz shot and killed President William McKinley, putting Vice President Theodore Roosevelt into power and ushering in a progressive reform age, which likely would not have happened had it not been for the assassin's bullet.
7) Scopes: The Battle Over America's Soul - July 21, 1925
In Dayton, Tennessee John T. Scopes was arrested for teaching evolution in his classroom and his "Monkey Trial" soon became the first mass media court case and the trial of the century, as renowned defense attorney Clarence Darrow  and the great orator William Jennings Bryan squared off in a case that showed the divide between religion and science and determined what would be taught in schools for decades to come.
8) Einstein's Letter - July 16, 1939
At the insistence of fellow physicist Leo Szilard and against his better judgement, Albert Einstein sends a letter to President Roosevelt stressing the development of nuclear weapons, which would lead to the Manhattan Project, the dropping of the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the permanent alteration of our world.
9) When America Was Rocked - September 9, 1956
Elvis Presley created an unprecedented storm in the mid-50s drawing the love of many adoring fans and the ire of their disapproving parents. His appearance on The Ed Sullivan show legitimized his sexually charged style and black music, which helped change race relations, sexual mores, teen culture, pulp culture, and music forever.
10) Freedom Summer - June 21, 1964
As the civil rights movement began to slowly affect the South, Mississippi held resolutely and often violently to maintain its segregationist way of life. As SNCC and SCLC engaged in Freedom Rides to promote voter registration, the murder of three civil rights workers, two of whom were white, brought Mississippi to the forefront of the national media and led to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act which greatly altered the racial fabric of our country.