Wednesday, June 04, 2008

19th Ammendment, Tiananmen Square, American Leadership: Juxtaposition in History, Invitation for Prayer

This information compiled by the staff at The Writer's Almanac strikes me in rich and glorious contrast to last night's event at the Xcel Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. The first black man in this country's to secure the Democratic presidential nomination.

It all informs my prayer and contemplation.


It was one this day in 1919 that the 19th Amendment to the constitution, giving women the right to vote, was passed by the United States Congress. The movement for the women's vote had gained momentum under Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony, two women who had been born at a time in the 19th century when had been barred from college and all professions, including the clergy. They couldn't serve on juries or testify in court, sign contracts, keep or invest money, own or inherit property. Above all, they could not vote representatives into office who might have changed these laws.

The national women's movement came out of the movement to abolish slavery.

After the Congress passed the amendment on this day in 1919, it had to be ratified by a majority of state legislatures. The state that tipped the balance was Tennessee and the man who cast the deciding vote was the twenty-four year old representative Harry Burn, the youngest man in the state legislature that year. Before the vote, he happened to read his mail, and one of the letters he received was from his mother. It said, "I have been watching to see how you stood but have noticed nothing yet…Don't forget to be a good boy and…vote for suffrage." He did.


It was on this day in 1989 that the Chinese troops stormed Beijing's Tiananmen Square to crack down on students conducting pro-democracy demonstrations. The demonstrations had begun months earlier, after the government accused them of planning a coup d'etat. They drew thousands of supporters from three dozen universities and staged hunger strikes and sit-ins. The Chinese government declared martial law, and troops approached the square with tanks in the late evening of June 3.

Ordinary workers had gathered along the nearby roads. They had been demonstrating in support of the students for weeks, and they crowded into the streets to block the advance of the tanks toward the square. Though the event would come to be called the Tianamen Square massacre, almost all the people killed were the ordinary people in the streets outside the square. Violence broke out around midnight on this day in 1989, with some people throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at the troops, and the troops responding with gunfire.

The violence continued in and around the square for the rest of the day. The famous photograph of a student staring down a tank was taken by an American Associated Press photographer named Jeff Widener. He went to the top of a hotel near the square and began to take pictures of the tanks clearing the last remnants of people from the streets. Then he saw one man walk up to a tank and stand in its path, refusing to move. He took several photographs and then the man was grabbed by bystanders and pulled out of the tank's path. Widener asked another journalist to hide the film in his underwear to smuggle it out of the country.

The identity of the protester in the photograph is not known with any certainty, but he's been called one of the most influential revolutionaries of the twentieth century.

1 comment:

Marian said...

Isn’t it interesting to see how much longer women were kept down than former slaves? The 15th amendment giving black men the right to vote was passed in 1870. Just 5 years after black men were freed from slavery. It only took five years to realize a man is a man and is capable of conscientious thought and not a piece of property … but so many more to realize that women were capable of conscientious thought? The 19th amendment didn’t happen for 49 more years! Wow! It’s ironic considering this campaign for the presidency. At this rate, we won’t have a woman president until the 2050’s or 60’s and I will be dead.