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Soviets declare nudity a sign of “western decadence”

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/soviets-declare-nudity-a-sign-of-western-decadence

The secretary of the Moscow writer’s union declares that nudity as displayed in the popular play “Oh! Calcutta!” is a sign of decadence in Western culture. More disturbing, he claimed, was the fact that this “bourgeois” thinking was infecting Russian youth.

Sergei Mikhailkov, best known for writing books for children in Russia, lashed out at the Broadway show (where performers were seen in their “birthday suits”), and pornography in general. Such exhibitions were “a general striptease-that is one of the slogans of modern bourgeois art.” It was unfortunate, he lamented, that even Russian youth were becoming enamored of such decadence. Mikhailkov bemoaned the fact that young people in the Soviet Union were more familiar with “the theater of the absurd and the novel without a hero and all kinds of modern bourgeois reactionary tendencies in the literature and art of the West” than with “the past and present of the literature of their fatherland.” Speaking at the end of a conference of Russian intellectuals, he also heaped scorn on Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, whose scathing writings about the Soviet police state earned him the enmity of the Russian government. Although admitting that Solzhenitsyn was a “talented writer,” he found it sad that the novelist “did not want to understand his role of ‘special correspondent’ of so many foreign institutions and organizations.”

Beyond the unintentional humor of many of Mikhailkov’s statements, his comments revealed the impact that U.S. culture-theater, literature, music, and film-was having on the Soviet Union. In the war for hearts and minds, Western “decadence” seemed to be winning the battle.

Sam Cooke dies under suspicious circumstances in LA

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/sam-cooke-dies-under-suspicious-circumstances-in-la

On December 11, 1964, in response to a reported shooting, officers of the Los Angeles Police Department were dispatched to the Hacienda Motel, where they found musician Sam Cooke dead on the office floor, shot three times in the chest by the motel’s manager, Bertha Franklin. The authorities ruled Cooke’s death a case of justifiable homicide, based on the testimony of Ms. Franklin, who claimed that Cooke had threatened her life after attempting to rape a young woman with whom he had earlier checked in.

Even as the lurid details of the case were becoming common knowledge, some 200,000 fans turned out in the streets of Los Angeles and Chicago to mourn the passing of Sam Cooke, a man whose legacy seemed able to transcend the scandal surrounding his death. That legacy was built during a brief but spectacular run as a singer, songwriter, producer and music publisher in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Born in 1931 to a Baptist minister and his wife, Cooke’s early musical development took place in the church. Like other early figures in what would eventually be called “soul” music, Cooke began his professional career singing gospel. A member of the legendary Soul Stirrers since the age of 19, Cooke was given permission by his record label to begin recording secular music in 1956.

“You Send Me” (1957) was Sam Cooke’s first pop smash, and it was followed by such classics as “Chain Gang” (1960), “Cupid” (1961), “Twistin’ the Night Away” (1962) and the Dylan-inspired posthumous release that became an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement: “A Change Is Gonna Come” (1964). His voice has been called the most important in the history of soul music, but just as important to Sam Cooke’s historical standing is the fact that he also wrote all of the aforementioned hits—a remarkable fact for any popular singer of his time.

In the years since his death, the circumstances surrounding Cooke’s shooting have been called into question by his family and others. Though the truth of what happened on this day in 1964 might remain uncertain, Sam Cooke’s place in the history of popular music is anything but.

Buffalo Bill Cody makes his first stage appearance

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/buffalo-bill-cody-makes-his-first-stage-appearance

Already appearing as a well-known figure of the Wild West in popular dime novels, Buffalo Bill Cody makes his first stage appearance on this day, in a Chicago-based production of The Scouts of the Prairie.

Unlike many of his imitators in Wild West shows and movies, William Frederick Cody actually played an important role in the western settlement that he later romanticized and celebrated. Born in Iowa in 1846, Cody joined the western messenger service of Majors and Russell as a rider while still in his teens. He later claimed to have worked for the famous Pony Express, during which time he allegedly completed the third longest emergency ride in the brief history of that company. During the Civil War, Cody joined forces with a variety of irregular militia groups supporting the North. In 1864, he enlisted in the Union army as a private and served as a cavalry teamster until 1865.

Cody began to earn his famous nickname in 1867, when he signed on to provide buffalo meat for the workers of the Eastern Division of the Union Pacific Railroad construction project. His reputation for skilled marksmanship and experience as a rapid-delivery messenger attracted the attention of U.S. Army Lieutenant General Philip Sheridan, who gave Cody an unusual four-year position as a scout-a testament to Cody’s extraordinary frontier skills.

Cody’s work as a scout in the western Indian wars laid the foundation for his later fame. From 1868 to 1872, he fought in 16 battles with Indians, participating in a celebrated victory over the Cheyenne in 1869. One impressed general praised Cody’s “extraordinarily good services as trailer and fighter… his marksmanship being very conspicuous.” Later, Cody again gained national attention by serving as a hunting guide for famous Europeans and Americans eager to experience a bit of the “Wild West” before it disappeared. As luck would have it, one of Cody’s customers was Edward Judson, a successful writer who penned popular dime novels under the name Ned Buntline. Impressed by his young guide’s calm competence and stories of dramatic fights with Indians, Buntline made Cody the hero of a highly imaginative Wild West novel published in 1869. When a stage version of the novel debuted in Chicago as The Scouts of the Prairie, Buntline convinced Cody to abandon his real-life western adventures to play a highly exaggerated version of himself in the play.

Once he had a taste of the performing life, Cody never looked back. Though he continued to spend time scouting or guiding hunt trips in the West, Cody remained on the Chicago stage for the next 11 years. Buffalo Bill Cody was the hero of more than 1,700 variant issues of dime novels, and his star shone even more brightly when his world-famous Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show debuted in 1883. The show was still touring when Buffalo Bill Cody died in 1917.

UNICEF founded

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/unicef-founded

In the aftermath of World War II, the General Assembly of the United Nations votes to establish the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), an organization to help provide relief and support to children living in countries devastated by the war.

After the food and medical crisis of the late 1940s passed, UNICEF continued its role as a relief organization for the children of troubled nations and during the 1970s grew into a vocal advocate of children’s rights. During the 1980s, UNICEF assisted the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in the drafting of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. After its introduction to the U.N. General Assembly in 1989, the Convention on the Rights of the Child became the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history, and UNICEF played a key role in ensuring its enforcement.

Of the 184 member states of the United Nations, only two countries have failed to ratify the treaty–Somalia and the United States. Somalia does not currently have an internationally recognized government, so ratification is impossible, and the United States, which was one of the original signatories of the convention, has failed to ratify the treaty because of concerns about its potential impact on national sovereignty and the parent-child relationship.

Russian forces enter Chechnya

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/yeltsin-orders-russian-forces-into-chechnya

In the largest Russian military offensive since the 1979 invasion of Afghanistan, thousands of troops and hundreds of tanks pour into the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya. Encountering only light resistance, Russian forces had by evening pushed to the outskirts of the Chechen capital of Grozny, where several thousand Chechen volunteers vowed a bitter fight against the Russians.

With the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Chechnya, like many of the other republics encompassed by the former Soviet Union, declared its independence. However, unlike Georgia, the Ukraine, Uzbekistan, and the other former Soviet states, Chechnya held only the barest autonomy under Soviet rule and was not considered one of the 15 official Soviet republics. Instead, Chechnya is regarded as one of many republics within the Russian Federation. Russian President Boris Yeltsin, who permitted the dissolution of the Soviet Union, would not tolerate the secession of a state within territorial Russia.

About the size of Connecticut and located in southeastern Russia on the Caspian Sea, Chechnya was conquered by the Russians in the 1850s as the Russian empire pushed south toward the Middle East. Its people are largely Muslim and fiercely independent, and the region has been a constant irritant to its Russian and Soviet rulers.

In August 1991, Dzhozkhar Dudayev, a Chechen politician and former Soviet air force general, toppled Chechnya’s local communist government and established an anti-Russian autocratic state. President Yeltsin feared the secession of Chechnya would prompt a domino effect of independence movements within the vast Russian Federation. He also hoped to recover Chechnya’s valuable oil resources. After ineffective attempts at funding Chechen opposition groups, a Russian invasion began on December 11, 1994.

After the initial gains of the Russian army, the Chechen rebels demonstrated a fierce resistance in Grozny, and thousands of Russian troops died and many more Chechen civilians were killed during almost two years of heavy fighting. In August 1996, Grozny was retaken by the Chechen rebels after a year of Russian occupation, and a cease-fire was declared. In 1997, the last humiliated Russian troops left Chechnya. Despite a peace agreement that left Chechnya a de facto independent state, Chechnya remained officially part of Russia.

In 1999, Yeltsin’s government ordered a second invasion of Chechnya after bombings in Moscow and other cities were linked to Chechen militants. Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, Yeltsin’s handpicked successor as Russian leader, said of the Chechen terrorists, “we will rub them out, even in the toilet.” In 2000, President Putin escalated Russian military involvement in Chechnya after terrorist bombings in Russian cities continued. In this second round of post-Soviet fighting in Chechnya, the Russian army has been accused of many atrocities in its efforts to suppress Chechen militancy. A peace agreement remains elusive.

Frank Sinatra Jr. endures a frightening ordeal

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/frank-sinatra-jr-endures-a-frightening-ordeal

Frank Sinatra Jr., who was kidnapped in Lake Tahoe, California, on December 8, is allowed to talk to his father briefly. The 19-year-old man, who was trying to follow in his father’s footsteps by pursuing a singing career, was abducted at gunpoint from his hotel room at Harrah’s Casino and taken to Canoga Park, an area of Southern California’s San Fernando Valley. After the brief conversation between father and son, the kidnappers demanded a ransom of $240,000.

Barry Keenan, the young mastermind behind the scheme, had also considered abducting the sons of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. But he and his partners decided upon Frank Sinatra Jr. because they thought he would be tough enough to handle the stress of a kidnapping. Although the crime was originally scheduled for November, President Kennedy’s assassination delayed their plan.

Immediately following his son’s abduction, Frank Sr. received offers of assistance from Attorney General Robert Kennedy and Sam Giancana, one of the country’s most powerful organized crime leaders.He declined and instead accepted aid from the FBI. After a series of phone calls, the kidnappers revealed the drop point for the ransom money and said that Frank Jr. could be found on Mulholland Drive in Los Angeles. In an attempt to avoid a public scene, law enforcement officials picked the young Sinatra up and brought him home in the trunk of their car.

Within a couple of days, John Irwin, one of Keenan’s partners, turned himself in to the San Diego FBI field office and confessed to the crime. By December 14, all the perpetrators had been located and arrested.

During the trial, which took place in the spring of 1964, controversy erupted when the defendants claimed that Frank Jr. had orchestrated the abduction as an elaborate publicity stunt. Gladys Root, a flamboyant Los Angeles attorney, pursued this line of defense, despite the fact that there was no evidence to support the accusation. Even after Keenan and the others were convicted, the rumors persisted. For his part, Keenan served 4-and-a-half years in federal prison. After his release, he became a successful real-estate developer.

Emily Dickinson is born

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/emily-dickinson-is-born

On December 10, 1830, Emily Dickinson is born in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Dickinson was a witty and popular student at Amherst Academy and at Mt. Holyoke but was viewed as somewhat unconventional. She made a few trips to Philadelphia and Boston but rarely left Amherst. She preferred her home, where her stern lawyer father, invalid mother, spinster sister, and domineering brother created a colorful, if oppressive, family life. In 1858, Dickinson began collecting the many short poems she wrote into small, hand-sewn books. In 1862, she wrote an editor at the Atlantic Monthly, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, to evaluate her work. He felt her work wasn’t yet ready to publish but became her mentor, and the two corresponded for many years.

Dickinson had only one romance that is known about today, with Judge Otis Lord. Although it looked like the two would marry, the romance ended. Dickinson was increasingly reluctant to leave the house after 1862 and would often decline even to see visitors. Although she wrote 1,775 poems, only seven were published in her lifetime. All were deceptively simple, endless variations on the same pattern. Dickinson died at the age of 56.

In 1890, thanks to her sister’s efforts, Poems by Emily Dickinson was published, followed by more volumes over the next 60 years. In 1955, The Complete Works of Emily Dickinson was published.

Soul legend Otis Redding dies in a plane crash near Madison, Wisconsin

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/soul-legend-otis-redding-dies-in-a-plane-crash-near-madison-wisconsin

When he left his final recording session in Memphis, Otis Redding intended to return soon to the song he’d been working on—he still had to replace a whistled verse thrown in as a placeholder with additional lyrics that he’d yet to write. In the meantime, however, there was a television appearance to make in Cleveland, followed by a concert in Madison, Wisconsin. On its final approach to Madison on December 10, 1967, however, the private plane carrying soul-music legend Otis Redding would crash into the frigid waters of a small lake three miles short of the runway, killing seven of the eight men aboard, including Redding. “Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay” would be released in its “unfinished” form several weeks later, with Redding’s whistled verse a seemingly indispensable part of the now-classic record. It would soon become history’s first posthumous #1 hit and the biggest pop hit of Redding’s career.

In the six months leading up to his death, Otis Redding had gone from one great success to another. In June, Aretha Franklin had taken a cover version of his song “Respect” all the way to #1 on the pop charts. Later that same month, the adulation of the young audience of rock fans at the Monterey International Pop Festival had transformed him into an icon of the blossoming counterculture thanks to his blistering, now-legendary live performance there. But if Otis Redding was only beginning to gain momentum within the largely white mainstream in 1967, he was already a giant in the world of soul music.

Wyoming grants women the right to vote

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/wyoming-grants-women-the-vote

Motivated more by interest in free publicity than a commitment to gender equality, Wyoming territorial legislators pass a bill that is signed into law granting women the right to vote.

Western states led the nation in approving women’s suffrage, but some of them had rather unsavory motives. Though some men recognized the important role women played in frontier settlement, others voted for women’s suffrage only to bolster the strength of conservative voting blocks. In Wyoming, some men were also motivated by sheer loneliness–in 1869, the territory had over 6,000 adult males and only 1,000 females, and area men hoped women would be more likely to settle in the rugged and isolated country if they were granted the right to vote.

Some of the suffrage movement’s leaders did have more respectable reasons for supporting women’s right to vote. William Bright, a territorial legislator who was in his mid-forties, had a persuasive young wife who convinced him that denying women the vote was a gross injustice. The other major backer, Edward M. Lee, the territorial secretary who had championed the cause for years, argued that it was unfair for his mother to be denied a privilege granted to African-American males.

Ultimately, though, appeals to justice and equality did not pass the legislation–most Wyoming legislators supported Bright and Lee’s bill because they thought it would win the territory free national publicity and might attract more single marriageable women to the region. Territorial Governor John A. Campbell appreciated the publicity power of the policy and signed the bill into law, making Wyoming the first territory or state in the history of the nation to grant women this fundamental right of citizenship.

READ MORE: The State Where Women Voted Long Before the 19th Amendment