A media controversy ignites over the case of Tawana Brawley

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/a-media-controversy-ignites-over-the-case-of-tawana-brawley

Tawana Brawley, a young Black woman, is found covered with feces and wrapped in garbage bags outside the Pavilion Condominiums in Wappingers Falls, New York. Brawley appeared to have undergone an extremely traumatic experience: parts of her hair were cut off, her pants were slightly burned, and there was a racial slur scrawled on her body. Brawley told authorities that for four days she had been held against her will and repeatedly raped by a gang of white men, one of whom she claimed had a police badge.

The Brawley case became a media sensation when controversial attorney C. Vernon Mason, Alton Maddox, and community activist Al Sharpton declared their support for Brawley and alleged that there was a cover-up in the investigation. Unfortunately, Brawley’s story did not hold up to the close scrutiny that followed.

Although she claimed to have been abducted and held for four days, nobody had filed a missing person’s report for the teenager during that time. In fact, there was little concrete evidence that Brawley had been attacked and increasing suspicion that her story was fabricated. According to several witnesses, Brawley had attended a party while she was supposedly missing, and fiber evidence showed that Brawley had likely written the racial slurs on herself. In the face of mounting criticism, Brawley’s advisers began making wild, unfounded accusations, charging that Assistant District Attorney Stephen Pagones had participated in the alleged rape and that Special Prosecutor Robert Abrams was masturbating to the evidentiary photos.

While the controversy surrounding the case became a media circus, Brawley and her family refused to testify or cooperate with the investigation. In October 1988, a Grand Jury dismissed the entire matter. Attorneys Mason and Maddox faced disciplinary proceedings from the New York State Bar for their conduct during the investigation and Pagones filed a libel suit against Mason, Maddox and Sharpton, which he won in 1998.

Battle of Lookout Mountain

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/battle-of-lookout-mountain

On November 24, 1863, Union troops capture Lookout Mountain southwest of Chattanooga, Tennessee, as they begin to break the Confederate siege of the city. In the “battle above the clouds,” the Yankees scaled the slopes of the mountain on the periphery of the Chattanooga lines.

For nearly two months following the Battle of Chickamauga, the Confederates, commanded by General Braxton Bragg, had pinned the Union army inside Chattanooga. They were not able to surround the city, though, and occupied Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge to the south and east of the city instead. In late October, arriving to take command, Union General Ulysses S. Grant immediately began to form an offensive. On October 27, Union troops attacked Brown’s Ferry southwest of Chattanooga and opened the Tennessee River to boats that brought much needed supplies to the besieged Yankees.

On November 23, Grant began to attack the center of the lines around the city. Lookout Mountain lay on the Union’s far right, and the action there commenced on November 24. Yankee General Joseph Hooker commanded this wing, and his men advanced toward the fog-covered peak. Hooker did not plan to attack the entire mountain that day, thinking the granite crags would be difficult to overcome. The fog masked the Union advance, however, and Hooker’s men climbed relatively easily. 

The Confederates had overestimated the advantages offered by the mountain, and 1,200 Rebels faced nearly 12,000 attacking Yankees. Artillery proved of little use, as the hill was so steep that the attackers could not even be seen until they appeared near the summit. Bragg did not send reinforcements because the Union attack against the Confederate center was more threatening than the sideshow around Lookout Mountain. The Confederates abandoned the mountain by late afternoon. The next day, Union forces launched a devastating attack against Missionary Ridge and successfully broke the Confederate lines around Chattanooga.

READ MORE: 7 Reasons Ulysses S. Grant Was One of America’s Most Brilliant Military Leaders

“Hollywood Ten″ cited for contempt of Congress

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/hollywood-10-cited-for-contempt-of-congress

The House of Representatives votes 346 to 17 to approve citations of contempt against 10 Hollywood writers, directors, and producers. These men had refused to cooperate at hearings dealing with communism in the movie industry held by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). The “Hollywood Ten,” as the men were known, are sentenced to one year in jail. The Supreme Court later upheld the contempt charges.

READ MORE: 7 Artists Whose Careers Were Almost Derailed by the Hollywood Blacklist

The contempt charges stemmed from the refusal of the 10 men to answer questions posed by HUAC as to whether they were or had ever been members of the Communist Party. In hearings that often exploded with rancor, the men denounced the questions as violations of their First Amendment rights. Albert Maltz, Dalton Trumbo, John Howard Lawson, Samuel Ornitz, Ring Lardner, Jr., Lester Cole, Alvah Bessie, Herbert Biberman, Edward Dmytryk, and Robert Adrian Scott were thereupon charged with contempt of Congress. 

The chairman of HUAC, J. Parnell Thomas, dismissed the arguments raised by the men, claiming that Congress had every right to ask people what their political affiliations were. “The Constitution,” he declared, “was never intended to cloak or shield those who would destroy it.” The Hollywood 10 responded with a joint statement in which they argued that HUAC had succeeded in having “the Congress cite the Bill of Rights for contempt.” “The United States,” the statement concluded, “can keep its constitutional liberties or it can keep the Thomas committee. It can’t keep both.”

The impact of the charges against the Hollywood 10 was immediate and long-lasting. Hollywood quickly established the so-called “blacklist,” a collection of names of Hollywood personalities suspected of having communist ties. Those on the list rarely found work in the movies. The contempt charges also created a chilling effect on the Hollywood film industry, and producers, directors and writers shied away from subject matter that might be considered the least bit controversial or open them up to charges of being soft on communism. The blacklist was not completely broken until the 1960s.

The FBI Crime Lab opens its doors for business

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-fbi-crime-lab-opens-its-doors-for-business

The crime lab that is now referred to as the FBI Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory officially opens in Washington, D.C., on November 24, 1932.

The lab was initially operated out of a single room and had only one full-time employee, Agent Charles Appel. Agent Appel began with a borrowed microscope and a pseudo-scientific device called a helixometer. The helixometer purportedly assisted investigators with gun barrel examinations, but it was actually more for show than function. In fact, J. Edgar Hoover, the head of the FBI, provided the lab with very few resources and used the “cutting-edge lab” primarily as a public relations tool. But by 1938, the FBI lab added polygraph machines and started conducting controversial lie detection tests as part of its investigations. 

In its early days, the FBI Crime Lab worked on about 200 pieces of evidence a year. By the 1990s, that number multiplied to approximately 200,000. Currently, the FBI Crime Lab obtains hundreds of new pieces of criminal evidence everyday.

Reagan and Gorbachev hold their first summit meeting

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/reagan-and-gorbachev-hold-their-first-summit-meeting

For the first time in eight years, the leaders of the Soviet Union and the United States hold a summit conference. Meeting in Geneva, President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev produced no earth-shattering agreements. However, the meeting boded well for the future, as the two men engaged in long, personal talks and seemed to develop a sincere and close relationship.

The meeting came as somewhat of a surprise to some in the United States, considering Reagan’s often incendiary rhetoric concerning communism and the Soviet Union, but it was in keeping with the president’s often stated desire to bring the nuclear arms race under control. For Gorbachev, the meeting was another clear signal of his desire to obtain better relations with the United States so that he could better pursue his domestic reforms.Little of substance was accomplished. Six agreements were reached, ranging from cultural and scientific exchanges to environmental issues. Both Reagan and Gorbachev, however, expressed satisfaction with the summit, which ended on November 21. 

The next summit was held in October 1986 in Reykjavik and ended somewhat disastrously, with Reagan’s commitment to the Strategic Defense Initiative (the so-called “Star Wars” missile defense system) providing a major obstacle to progress on arms control talks. However, by the time of their third summit in Washington, D.C. in 1987, both sides made concessions in order to achieve agreement on a wide range of arms control issues.

READ MORE: Why Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’ Defense Plan Remained Science Fiction

Articles of Confederation submitted to the states

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/articles-of-confederation-submitted-to-the-states

On November 17, 1777, Congress submits the Articles of Confederation to the states for ratification.

The Articles had been signed by Congress two days earlier, after 16 months of debate. Bickering over land claims between Virginia and Maryland delayed final ratification for almost four more years. Maryland became the last state to approve the Articles on March 1, 1781, affirming them as the outline of the official government of the United States. The nation was guided by the document until the implementation of the current U.S. Constitution in 1789.

The critical distinction between the Articles of Confederation and the U.S. Constitution–the primacy of the states under the Articles–is best understood by comparing the following lines.

The Articles of Confederation begin:

“To all to whom these Present shall come, we the undersigned Delegates of the States…”

By contrast, the Constitution begins:

“We the People of the United States…do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

The predominance of the states under the Articles of Confederation is made even more explicit by the claims of Article II:

“Each state retains its sovereignty, freedom, and independence, and every power, jurisdiction, and right, which is not by this Confederation expressly delegated to the United States, in Congress assembled.”

Less than five years after the ratification of the Articles of Confederation, enough leading Americans decided that the system was inadequate to the task of governance that they peacefully overthrew their second government in just over 20 years. The difference between a collection of sovereign states forming a confederation and a federal government created by a sovereign people lay at the heart of the debate as the new American people decided what form their government would take.

Between 1776 and 1787, Americans went from living under a sovereign king, to living in sovereign states, to becoming a sovereign people. That transformation defined the American Revolution.

SALT I negotiations begin

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/salt-i-negotiations-begin

Soviet and U.S. negotiators meet in Helsinki to begin the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT). The meeting was the climax of years of discussions between the two nations concerning the means to curb the Cold War arms race. 

Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency Gerard Smith was put in charge of the U.S. delegation. At the same time, National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger began negotiations with the Soviet ambassador in America. The negotiations continued for nearly three years, until the signing of the SALT I agreement in May 1972.Talks centered around two main weapon systems: anti-ballistic missiles (ABM) and multiple independent re-entry vehicles (MIRVs- missiles with multiple warheads, each capable of striking different targets). 

At the time the talks began, the Soviets held a slight advantage in ABM technology; the United States, however, was quickly moving ahead in developing MIRVs, which would give it a tremendous qualitative advantage over Soviet offensive missile systems. From the U.S. perspective, control of ABMs was key. After all, no matter how many missiles the United States developed, if the Soviets could shoot them down before they struck their targets they were of limited use. And, since the Soviets had a quantitative lead in the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and submarine launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), an effective Soviet ABM system meant that the Russians could launch devastating nuclear attacks with little fear of reprisal. 

From the Soviet side, the U.S. development of MIRV technology was particularly frightening. Not only were MIRV missiles technologically superior to Soviet weapons, there were also questions as to whether even an advanced ABM system could protect the Soviet Union from this type of missile. It was obviously time to discuss what seemed to be a never-ending arms race.

The SALT I agreement reached in May 1972 limited each nation to no more than 100 ABM launchers at each of two sites of their own choosing. Offensive weapons were also limited. The United States would be held to 1,000 ICBMs and 710 SLBMs; the Soviets could have 1,409 ICBMs and 950 SLBMs. The administration of President Richard Nixon defended the apparent disparity by noting that nothing had been agreed to concerning MIRVs. American missiles, though fewer in number, could therefore carry more warheads.

Whether all of this made the world much safer was hard to say. The United States and Soviet Union essentially said they would limit efforts to both defend themselves and destroy the other. Their nuclear arsenals, however, were still sufficient to destroy the world many times over.

READ MORE: How ‘Duck-and-Cover’ Drills Channeled America’s Cold War Anxiety