On this day in 1805 – (211 years ago) — the city of Detroit caught fire and almost completely burned to the ground. Detroit was just a territorial outpost then — an inland seaport, population about six hundred. Lacking any real fire department, the citizens formed a bucket brigade, passing pails of water hand-to-hand from the Detroit River to the burning wooden buildings. Of course, it was hopeless. And soon there was nothing left of the city but one stone building and a few brick chimneys. Amazingly, no one was killed.
On this day in 1837 – (179 years ago) — in Boston, long-simmering tensions between New England Yankees and recent Irish immigrants erupted in violence when a group of firefighters, emerging from a saloon after having put out a fire, ran into an Irish funeral procession on Broad Street in the city center. Trash talking and insults gave way to pushing and shoving, then kicking and punching, and finally an open riot. Estimates vary, but thousands of people were apparently involved, as rioters threw rocks and looters broke into nearby homes. The unrest eventually forced Mayor Samuel Eliot to call in ten military units to make arrests and bring an end to what is still, to this day, regarded as the worst riot in the history of Boston.
On this day in 1963 – (53 years ago) — not one but three rotten historical events occurred within a time span of twenty-four hours. In Saigon, Vietnam (known today as Ho Chi Minh City), in the presence of several international journalists, a Buddhist monk named Thích Quảng Đức calmly sat down in a busy intersection, had gasoline poured on himself, and set himself on fire as a protest against the persecution of Buddhists by the South Vietnamese government of President Ngo Dinh Diem, who favored the country’s Roman Catholic minority. Gruesome photographs of the monk burning to death shocked the world.
In Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Governor George Wallace, recently elected on a campaign promise to keep the state’s schools racially segregated in defiance of federal law, staged a political media stunt by standing in the doorway of a University of Alabama building to prevent two black students from entering to register for classes. Wallace was forced to back down after National Guard troops, acting on orders from President John Kennedy, ordered him to step aside and let the students through. After some hesitation, Wallace finally did so. But the stunt made him a nationally known figure and a right-wing hero.
In Jackson, Mississippi, shortly after midnight, the civil rights activist Medgar Evers, who had recently survived several murder attempts, was arriving at home from a meeting with local NAACP lawyers when he was shot in the back by a sniper hiding in the bushes. Evers was taken to a local hospital that, at first, would not admit him because he was black. But he finally was admitted, and he died an hour later. Police arrested a former Ku Klux Klan member for the murder, but an all-white jury failed to convict him. Only in 1994, thirty-one years later, after a retrial with new evidence, was Byron De La Beckwith finally found guilty and sent to prison.
Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi