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You Tube Makes History Easy!

Many historical events escape You Tube's purview; the signing of the Declaration of Independence can be viewed only in historical re-enactment; you're better off just reading about it on Wiki (even if Walt Disney's version of Paul Revere did capture this seven-year-old's imagination.)

But shortly after Thomas Edison electrified the world (pun intended), moving pictures began capturing famous moments.

 

They often were re-enactments as well, but by the actual people involved instead of stage actors, and within days or even minutes of the actual event. (For instance, ribbon-cutting, bill-signing, and hand-shaking ceremonies were often done several times to make sure the press got good footage.)

This list was first posted in the spring of 2010. By 2012, I noticed that a number of the links no longer connected to anything. So I expect that I'm going to have to do a lot of updating here, and that within a few months, there will again be broken links. If you find any, do me the favor of dropping me an email, so that I can find a new source of that information.

The Earliest Moving Films

 

Our first link is in fact of a film made by Edison in 1894; not momentous in content, but merely in its existence. 

This film by Edison in 1900 proves that love is eternal and that we're glad sound hadn't been added yet.

There are a number of important historic moments that could have benefited from the use of sound, but sadly, that had to wait for another generation. But you can see

That was around the time of World War One; they caught a bit of that on film, too. The sinking of the Lusitania, in an even rarer animated video from 1918, captures that direct cause of our entry into World War One. 

War is not exempt from the joys of musical moments, as George M. Cohan (the Man who owned Broadway ) proved. "Over There" earned him the Congressional Gold Medal.

The Post-War era wasn't all song and dance. A wave of anti-immigrant sentiment caused Sacco and Vanzetti to be convicted and killed for a crime that virtually every historian says they didn't commit ; in fact, it was a crime someone else confessed to committing. Of the many songs commemorating their lives and deaths, Holly Near's is my favorite. (There are better recordings of the song, but not with video.)

The Great Depression and World War Two

George M. Cohan did indeed "own Broadway." During the Great Depression, he took on the highly controversial role (as portrayed by James Cagney) of playing Franklin Roosevelt in "I'd Rather Be Right [than President.]"

In 1927, sound and motion had been linked, and Al Jolson delivered his immortal message to the world: "You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet!" This was the first time the audio was recorded on the same tape as the video.

And it was just in time to save the masses. When the depression hit, movie theaters were clean, warm, and distracting. Escapism was big business.

Black Tuesday and the Great Depression cannot be captured on film -- how can you compress a national crisis of over a decade into a You Tube clip? Here are a few tries:

The Stock Market Crash as a result of the panic on Wall Street, leading to the Great Depression . The Song "Brother Can You Spare a Dime? " [linked here to a recording by Al Jolson, referred to in the song] portrayed the desperation of the laborer when there was no more work to be done.

The photos in this video capture the decade better than any other short video I've seen. It has been said that some of the prints were staged or captioned out of context. Regardless, they show the sentiment of the decade.

Franklin Roosevelt was the hope of the nation. His Inauguration speech in 1933 addresses the issues that plague the country.

At the same time, Fiorello LaGuardia ran for and became mayor of New York. He was so successful that La Guardia airport is named after him. He seemed to have arrived at some truths ahead of his time (although the reference to weed may be the joke of the presenter.)

In 1935, FDR justifies signing the Social Security act in an effort to relieve the effects of the Depression. 

While the economy occupied the American consciousness, Europe was immersed in a message of hate. Adolf Hitler rose to power on the strength of speeches like this.  His propagandized version of the 1936 Berlin Olympics, directed by Leni Riefenstahl, was supposed to prove Aryan Supremacy, but African-American runner Jesse Owens destroyed his plans by winning an incredible four gold medals. His victory in the100 meters, with fellow black American Ralph Metcalfe finishing second, is the most-often seen footage, but Riefenstahl's documentary shows a clip of Hitler storming out of the stadium that I still can't find and can't upload separately. Hitler's address at the Nuremberg Rally in 1934 is widely attributed as the impetus that catapulted the hatred into war. 

England was the first victim of Hitler's war by sea. Winston Churchill made many memorable speeches. The finest of these were not recorded on video, so we're making do with a mixed-media montage. If you want to see the great man in action, there are a few films:"Do Your Worst;" "the fate of Holland..., " "The Iron Curtain." 

For a number of years, Hitler attacked groups within Eastern Europe -- Jews, Poles, Catholics, gays and lesbians, Gypsies, Communists, political activists and intellectuals. 

The following footage of concentration camps is gruesome. 
Don't click if you don't want to cringe. 

Some of the worst concentration-camp films.

A student film montage, showing the breadth and horror of atrocities, is almost as good as the Soviet Army's documentary footage.

While America was praising the heroic achievement of Jesse Owens, we weren't treating African-Americans so well at home. Marian Anderson's contract to sing at the D.A.R . hall in Washington DC was refused when the members finally noticed that the renowned singer was black. Liberal Eleanor promptly resigned from the group and got Franklin to make amends by allowing Anderson to sing at the Lincoln Memorial. (Whether the song is praise for the Roosevelts or a slap in the face of the D.A.R (or perhaps both) I do not know.)

On December 8, 1941, America finally gets involved. FDR addresses the attack on Pearl Harbor the day before and declares war on Japan. 

Now if, after all this grimness, you need a moment of levity before we continue, you might want to see Eddie Izzard's take on World War Two. If comedy offends you at this moment, skip it.

 

On June 6th, 1944, the troops landing at Normandy brought about the end of the war in Europe. D-Day was celebrated across many nations. Ten weeks later, on August 25th, the allies liberated France. While Pope Pius XII is seen here blessing the Allied troops, his refusal to get involved during the war is well-documented, but still a subject of controversy.

April 12, 1945, President Roosevelt died. His passing was mourned not only by families who felt that his programs helped ease the poverty of the Great depression and by those who believed that his intervention helped end the war, but also by the many victims of polio and infantile paralysis whom he supported, having suffered from polio himself. 

At the time of Roosevelt's death, the war in the Pacific still surged. The Japanese refused to surrender until August, when the U.S. dropped two atom bombs, one on Hiroshima on August 6th and a second on Nagasaki on August 9th. After the incredible devastation, Japan surrendered. 

The latter 1940s were marked by the Nuremberg trials, in which many Nazi war criminals were convicted and punished. Adolf Eichmann, the head of Hitler's Secret Service, was one of many Nazis who escaped to South America. These mass murderers were sought, captured and tried, especially by the Israeli government.  Eichmann was caught and convicted in 1960, and sentenced to death by hanging. 

There has been much controversy over the right of an international tribunal, largely American, to try Nazi leaders. The movie "Judgment at Nuremberg," made in 1961, is probably the best examination of the legal issues surrounding an international military tribunal.

This film is more than three hours long, and is quite serious.
Turn off the cell phone and settle in with the munchies.

Harry Truman, Roosevelt's vice-president, served out the remainder of Roosevelt's term and was then elected in 1948. Here's his Inaugural Address, in 1949. 

Eleanor Roosevelt, meanwhile, was campaigning vigorously -- not for political office, but for the UN's Declaration of Human Rights. This was one of many of Eleanor's causes. In 1933 she urged women to help victims of the Depression, and in 1940 she added her efforts to the Red Cross's fundraising effort.

The Cold War and JFK

As Eddie Izzard mentioned, after Russia lost 26,000,000 soldiers in World War Two, they decided to take over most of Eastern Europe in order to build a buffer zone between themselves and the west. The invasion of Hungary in 1956 was filmed by many Austrians who were helping the Hungarians escape.

The United States responded to this aggression with the "Cold War," which inspired the Communist Witch Hunts . Dwight Eisenhower's 1953 Inaugural address warns the country of perils to be overcome at home and abroad. [You'll have to listen carefully, though; I've tried a half-dozen versions and the sound is miserable on all of them.] Those perils were often blown out of proportion, according to many people, especially in the attacks on Hollywood. Many people spoke out, in defense of themselves and others. Yet this official propaganda film made by the U.S. government shows that the Witch Hunts were very real indeed.

One of the earliest and most famous targets of accusations of Communist spying was leveled against Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. They were sentenced to death for crimes that many believe were falsified. 

The primary agent of the House Un-American Activities Committee [HUAC] was Senator Joseph McCarthy, R-Wisconsin. (not to be confused with the later Senator Eugene McCarthy, D-Minnesota). Joseph McCarthy is almost certainly the model for the anti-communist propagandist Senator John Iselin in the 1962 version of The Manchurian Candidate . [The 2004 version is less clearly based on the McCarthy era.]

These young students do a creditable job of summarizing the McCarthy witch hunts.

Long after the end of the McCarthy era, acts like The invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 kept the flames of the Cold War burning. 

By the end of the decade, McCarthy had been discredited, and America faced a new threat: the Military-Industrial Complex. Many people credit this phrase as an invention of 1960s radicals, but it was in fact coined by President Dwight David Eisenhower, hero of World War Two and a conservative Republican. 

Eisenhower delivered his farewell address three days before John Fitzgerald Kennedy took office. Before being elected, JFK had to overcome extensive anti-Catholic bigotry. This speech of Kennedy's before a meeting of southern Protestant ministers is a measure both of the bias he faced and the brilliance with which he faced it.

Judy Garland votes for Kennedy Kennedy had a lot of big names in his corner. Peter Lawford was a fan (and an in-law), as was Danny Kaye. Judy Garland wore her "vote for Jack" button proudly. Marilyn Monroe's relationship to Kennedy has been hypothesized ad nauseam. Marilyn Monroe

Frank Sinatra recorded a record for his campaign;

 

Kennedy's brilliance (and his father's connections?) won him the election. And like Abraham Lincoln almost exactly 100 years earlier, he took office facing one of the major issues of his presidency: the Cuban Missile Crisis

Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev had already expressed both a desire to de-escalate armaments and to assert Soviet power. His famous "shoe-banging" incident at the UN, in which he emphasized his speech with a loud thump, was much belittled in the American press. 

Fidel Castro had become president of Cuba in 1959, and as a Communist, had strong ties with the Soviet Union. Russia secretly began building missile bases in Cuba. Kennedy took a strong stand against both Cuban and Soviet acts, and won. 

Kennedy was a visionary, as this speech shows. He delivered it the night before he was assassinated. [If you use the closed captioning, be aware that about 20% of the speech is mistranslated.]

It was not his only speech on the necessity of achieving scientific and technical superiority. This one, delivered two months earlier, is one of many. Kennedy spent most of his brief tenure trying to move America into the future, challenging us to give our best to our country

Kennedy's vision became reality six years after his death. On July 16, 1969, Apollo 11 began its four day journey to the moon and the most famous words since Al Jolson said "You Ain't Heard Nothin' Yet" in 1927.

 

The astronauts were celebrities for the rest of their lives.

On November 22, 1963, the course of American history was changed, not for the first time nor for the last, but for the worst of all reasons: a conspiracy against our own citizens. Anyone watching the famed Zapruder film can tell that Kennedy wasn't shot from the sixth floor of a building behind him. Therefore he wasn't shot by Lee Harvey Oswald. 

 

For anyone who wants a reasonably realistic explanation of the Kennedy assassination, I recommend Oliver Stone's film "JFK." 

The movie centers around New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison, who investigated Oswald's and Ruby's visits to New Orleans, their apparent connection to each other, and alleged falsifications in the Warren Commission Report. Garrison was attacked by the government and the press for his investigation. 

Regardless of what the movie and Jim Garrison say, the belief that Oswald and Ruby had FBI and CIA connections is persistent.

The New American Revolution

Whether the turmoil of the 1960s and 70s is related to the growing distrust many young people had for their government or is more directly related to the escalation of the Viet Nam War (or whether those two are linked as Stone's "JFK" suggests), it is undeniable that anti-war, civil rights, women's rights and gay rights issues so dominated the latter portion of the 1960s as to lead many people to take seriously the threat of revolution. 

A lot of that revolution started in and was reflected in the music of the era.  But we're not going to stray off to Beatle mania and the British invasion; this page is intended to introduce you to the historical and political wonders of You Tube that aren't primarily musical. 

For instance, how many of us have seen Malcolm X -- not the movie, the man?  His speeches, or at least the ones I saw on You Tube, seem to be carefully considered statements about the deficiencies of the "one day things will change" policy of Martin Luther King. Dr. King's response was equally well-reasoned.

The earliest signs of revolutions were in the black south. Rosa Parks, Busing boycotts and voters' registrations drives began in the 1950s, and ultimately led to the Civil Rights Law of 1963 and the rise of Dr. Martin Luther King.

While the early 1960s were primarily focused on Civil Rights for blacks, other political movements were forming. The Civil Rights movement was linked to a more general human rights message in Bob Dylan's song "If I Had a Hammer," the most famous recording of which was by Peter, Paul and Mary.

 

In 1967, the Anti-War movement found words in Arlo Guthrie's comedic classic, Alice's Restaurant. A more ironic anti-war song was "the Fixin' to Die Rag" by Country joe and the Fish.  An enterprising student used the song as a backdrop for his history project on Viet Nam.  

By 1968, so many events were happening that we could hardly keep track of them as they happened. One too many people believed that Dr. King did indeed have a dream, and made sure he died before that dream came true. Walter Cronkite, the anchor not only of CBS Evening News but of our last real belief that the news was believable, reported the event.

When Bobby Kennedy ran for President, his speeches, especially his victory speech at the California primary, addressed the needs of a unified approach:  "We want to deal with our own problems within our own country, and we want peace in Viet Nam." Three minutes later Kennedy was shot on national television.

The Black Panther Party rose to ascendancy in part because many Blacks felt the need to assert themselves after Dr. King's assassination. Huey Newton, one of the leaders of the Black Panthers, seems awfully tame for all the discrediting of his stance. Bobby Seale took over a lot of the Party's leadership after Newton was imprisoned. 

In August of 1968, the Democratic National Convention in Chicago combined black and anti-war activists; for some the message was an end to war, to others, it was an end to the genocide or Black and Latino soldiers who couldn't afford the draft deferral tactic of attending college or graduate school. Rallies turned into a mass attack on demonstrators by Chicago Police, the State Militia, and the National Guard.

In 1969 eight protest leaders were charged with Conspiracy to incite to riot. Most commentators alleged that the charges are absurd, since the eight had no common causes or goals, and didn't ever meet together. When Bobby Seale was denied the right to defend himself at the trial, he called the judge words I probably can't print here. As a result, he was brought into a courtroom bound and gagged, and eventually was removed from the courtroom. Seale served four years in jail for contempt of court. The trial was not televised.

 

As the decade changed, more and more radical groups organized. Jane Fonda's efforts against the Vietnam War , highlighting the opposition to the war by the soldiers, which became known as the "GI Movement," earned her the nickname "Hanoi Jane.

In June of 1969 another group asserted its civil rights. Gay people had long been targeted as "enemies" of the American Way.

In June of 1969 another group asserted its civil rights. Gay people, at first primarily drag queens, took a stand on Christopher Street in New York in what eventually became known as the Stonewall Riots, named after the bar in which the fighting began. 

Women were demanding their rights , frequently (and ironically) because they were denied equal roles in existing organizations. Jo Freeman, Department of Political Science at the University of Chicago, wrote ,

"There had been individual temporary caucuses and conferences of women as early as 1964 when Stokeley Carmichael made his infamous remark that "the only position for women in SNCC is prone." But it was not until 1967 that the groups developed a determined, if cautious, continuity and began to consciously expand themselves."

Cesar Chavez began organizing the migrant farm workers, most of whom were Mexican or Filipino, leading a series of boycotts -- grapes and lettuce being the two most successful.

In 1969, Native Americans staged a protest against broken treaties by trying to reclaim Alcatraz Island ( whose use asa prison had already been discontinued). In 1973, Native Americans, many of the Lakota Tribe, decided to reclaim their heritage from the U.S. government at the place called Wounded Knee, the last place that Native Americans were slaughtered by the U.S. Cavalry in 1890.

Activist Holly Near, who had begun her political protests with Jane Fonda's FTA movement, was the first person to link the various protestors into a unity of people against the establishment through her music.

 

 

They All Fall Down

As the 1960s and 70s saw the growth of various political movements, the later 1970s saw their demise.

The first to fall was the Black Civil Rights Movement. Malcolm X was killed in 1965 , Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968. Robert Kennedy, on the Presidential campaign trail , was one of the many to announce the tragedy. in 1968 Black Panther leader Huey Newton was arrested several times, creating disorder in the Black Panthers Party. Demonstrations were more symbolic than effective. Eldridge Cleaver had a brief but highly visible place in the movement. He ran for President, but was imprisoned before the election for his actions in trying to free Huey Newton , which ended in the death of several police officers. Angela Davis, one of the few women to rise to prominence among the Panthers (probably because she was arrested, became a fugitive, and was eventually arrested. As a college professor, she was often an eloquent spokesperson . Bobby Seale was arrested as one of the infamous "Chicago 8" charged with conspiracy to incite to riot at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. As a result of his repeated conflicts with Judge Julius Hoffmann, Seale wound up spending four years in prison for 6 counts of contempt of court.

Although Seale and Cleaver represented the Black Panthers, their involvement with the DNC brought the anti-war faction into the picture. As Holly Near had connected the draft of disproportionate numbers of Black and Hispanic soldiers into the war, white anti-wart activists took the infamous treatment of Bobby Seale into the heart of the anti-war movement.

 

With most of the Panthers in jail, in hiding, or killed, along with the deaths of Malcolm X and Dr. King, the black freedom movement had no strong center. Jesse Jackson tried to fill the void, but he was neither militant enough to serve as a voice for the Panthers or pacifist enough to replace Dr. King.

Anti-War protests and the focus on Richard Nixon, the Pentagon Papers, Watergate , and illegal activity to maintain control of the power base eventually brought an unprecedented reaction -- the resignation of the U.S. President .

The entanglement of the Back Civil Rights Movement and the anti-Viet Nam War demonstrations rose to public prominence together. The end of the war also gave the black activists a less clear center about which to fight.

Much of the antipathy toward the events in Southeast Asia was turned toward the returning soldiers, instead of the government that encouraged the war.

One of the major issues connecting the Vietnam War to discrimination against Blacks and Hispanics was the use of college attendance as a reason to be excused from the draft. during the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Department of Justice put serious pressure on colleges, especially public schools in the South, to start admitting minorities if they wanted to keep the federal financial aid. As a result, more minorities were in college and excused from the draft. So not only was the war winding down, but the reason for Blacks to use it as a major point of contention was also diminishing.

The end of the war and the advances made in college education for minorities took a lot of the wind out of the sails of what Billy Joel called "The Angry Young Man ."

There were still four protest issues gaining some attention, but since none of them was the center of focus of the young white man, they got much less media attention.

The fight for Native American rights that gained so much attention at Alcatraz and Wounded Knee was virtually destroyed by a poorly designed protest by Marlon Brando that turned what should have been serious issues into a media circus. Brando won the Oscar for best actor in "The Godfather," and as a protest against the treatment of Native Americans, refused to accept the award. Instead, he had Sacheen Littlefeather reject the award because of the mistreatment of Native Americans in he media. The stunt backfired; once it was discovered that Ms. Littlefeather was an actress, the fact that she was also a Native American activist was completely obscured. for the next decade, one could hardly speak about Native Americans without the conversation turning into a comedy and a series of insults.

Cesar Chavez's work with migrant farmworkers, especially people brought up from Mexico to work for the agricultural season and sent home at the end of the season, earned him enormous fame. The workers he was representing were eulogized in a song by Woody Guthrie called "Deportee, " After successfully organizing boycotts of grapes and lettuce, he succeeded in organizing the United Farm Workers' Union. (From the Wiki article it appears that he sometimes supported the goals of their Union and sometimes opposed them.) His next major target was the Gallo vineyards. His 110 mile march got enormous coverage , and the ability to organize the workers and improve wages and living conditions was considered a major victory. As with so many movements, the highly-publicized win gave many people permission to stop fighting.

 

Chavez continued to fight on behalf of farmworkers, especially immigrant farmworkers (Braceros) This silent video of marchers on their way to hear Chavez speak in 1979 gives evidence to his ongoing commitment, but farm workers were old news by then --the battle was over, victoriously, and mainstream attention turned to other issues.

There were two big issues that never quite went away. One can argue that it's because of the larger numbers of people that they represented; one can argue that it's because the majority of the visible leaders were white. Whichever the reason, the fights for equal rights for women and for Lesbian and gay people lost most of their steam in the 70s, but never quite disappeared altogether.

Many women would have been content to join men in fighting against the Vietnam war, for equal rights for minorities and laborers, but there was a problem: the men didn't want them. In reaction, Congress introduced a Constitutional Amendment. President Gerald Ford, the last man standing after Nixon resigned, signed the UN proposal to dedicate 1975 as international women's year, and women pushed hard for publicity and votes. Despite multiple extensions and exposure of false data, the ERA has never passed. But leaders like Gloria Steinem continued the fight until literally the last day for Congressional approval. And while women still out-perform men academically, their fight for equality has never regained the momentum it lost when the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution failed.

While the fight for women's rights was national and constitutional, the fight for rights for Lesbians and gay men was being fought in a microcosm. Individual cities throughout the United States were passing gay rights laws, and it seemed that a definite momentum was beginning to build. San Francisco elected the country's first openly gay official, Harvey Milk, in 1976. His election gave the anti-gay forces a focal point. Panic-stricken reactionaries started a group called Save Our Children, and hired Anita Bryant as their symbolic spokesperson. The movement that started in Dade County Florida quickly became national, with the biggest focus on a state-wide referendum in California known as Proposition 6. As San Francisco became the focal point for gay rights, it also became the focal point for anti-gay sentiment. Tension escalated to tragedy on November 27, 1978 . Dan White, another city supervisor, shot Mayor George Moscone, then city supervisor Harvey Milk, in a manner that left little doubt that the verdict would be would be first degree murder. When the trial started, gay people were excluded from the jury, signaling that the judge would be making decisions sympathetic to Dan White. When he was acquitted on charges of first-degree murder, and found guilty of involuntary manslaughter instead, the riots that people had expected at the time of the killing finally erupted .

The political losses as cities repealed gay rights bills, and the overwhelming sense that gay people could not receive justice led to a sharp decline in political activism among the lesbian and gay community.By 1980, what had been a national movement was again reduced to a handful of local equal rights efforts.

The decline of the gay and women's movements were not the only events two would dissolution people fighting for change. In December of 1980, John Lennon was killed while entering his home at the Dakota in New York. In March of 1981, President Ronald Reagan, was shot while leaving a speaking engagement at a hotel in Washington, DC. [The footage focuses on press secretary press secretary Jim Brady, who was killed. As the news announcer mentions a minute or so into the tape, President Reagan had already been driven from the scene on the way to the hospital.] The death of press secretary Jim Brady led to the passage of the Brady law, an effort to limit the sale of handguns.

In May of 1981, Pope John Paul II was shot four times in an assassination attempt as he was leaving St. Peter's Square. None of these incidents had any clear political motivation, amplifying the sense of chaos and hopelessness overtaking the country and the world.

Meanwhile, the women's liberation movement and the ERA had lost most of its steam. Even though the time permitted for passage of the constitutional amendment had been extended, proponents could see that there was little chance of capturing the required 38 states.

Ironically, as the battle for women's rights ground to a halt, the most feminist TV show ever written began a seven year stretch of dealing with political issues, women's rights, and controversy. In each of its seven years, one of the two stars, Tyne Daley or Sharon Gless, won the Emmy for best actress in a TV drama.

 

The show never had top ratings, but every effort to cancel it brought such an outpouring of viewer response that the show wound up being the strongest icon of women in the media.

 

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