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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

February 11, 1990

It's time for another edition of the Tuesday Timeline.  And, even though this week is the week of the holiday that shall not be named (which isn't even a real holiday), this week's edition of the blog will not feature a single reference to that day in which you're supposed to give your girlfriend a box of chocolates so that she can dump you months later for making her fat.

(Sigh...I tried people.  I really did try.)

But that doesn't mean that we can't have fun along the way with this particular entry today.  A lot of interesting stuff happened on February 11 in the world of history and pop culture.  Just have a look at these!

660 BC - This date is believed to be the date in which Japan was founded by Emperor Jimmu

1531 - Henry VIII is recognized as the supreme head of the Church of England

1752 - The first hospital to open in the United States - Pennsylvania Hospital - is opened by Benjamin Franklin

1790 - The Religious Society of Friends (otherwise known as the "Quakers") petition U.S. Congress to abolish slavery nationwide

1794 - The first session of the United States Senate opens to the public

1826 - The University of London is founded under its original name - University College London

1843 - Giuseppe Verdi's "I Lombardi alla prima crociata" receives its first performance in Milan, Italy

1861 - The United States House of Representatives unanimously passes a resolution guaranteeing noninterference with slavery in all states

1903 - Anton Bruckner's 9th Symphony receives its first performance in Vienna, Austria

1916 - After giving lectures on birth control, Emma Goldman is arrested

1917 - American author Sidney Sheldon (d. 2007) is born in Chicago, Illinois

1919 - Actress Eva Gabor (d. 1995) is born in Budapest, Hungary

1938 - The BBC debuts the world's very first science-fiction program - an adaptation of a portion of the play "R.U.R"

1943 - General Dwight D. Eisenhower is selected to command the Allied armies in Europe during World War II

1953 - President Eisenhower refuses a clemency appeal for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg

1968 - The Memphis Sanitation Strike begins

1971 - A total of eighty-seven countries sign the Seabed Arms Control Treaty outlawing nuclear weapons on the ocean floor in international waters

1973 - The first release of American P.O.W.'s take place during the Vietnam War

1997 - Space Shuttle Discovery is launched on a mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope

2006 - Author Peter Benchley (b. 1940) dies at the age of 65

2012 - Singer Whitney Houston (b. 1963) is found dead in her hotel room of a drug overdose at just 48 years old

There are also a number of people who have birthdays on February 11.  Here's just a sample of those who are turning one year older today.  Happy birthday to Tina Louise, Burt Reynolds, Gerry Goffin, Sergio Mendez, Jeb Bush, Wesley Strick, Catherine Hickland, Bradley Cole, Carey Lowell, Sheryl Crow, Diane Franklin, Sarah Palin, Ty Treadway, Jennifer Aniston, Kelly Slater, Shawn Hernandez, Isaiah Mustafa, Brice Beckham, Brandy Norwood, Matthew Lawrence, Kelly Rowland, Natalie Dormer, and Taylor Lautner.

So, what date are we going to go back to this week?  How about a date that is firmly etched into the pages of modern-day history?  A date that will forever be highlighted in "Black History Month" for years to come.

We're taking a trip back in time twenty-four years ago to February 11, 1990.  And, many of you probably already know what happened on that date because when this man passed away two months ago at the age of 95, this date was mentioned quite a lot in his epitaph and remembrances.

February 11, 1990.  The date that Nelson Mandela was freed from prison after spending over twenty-five years behind bars.

Certainly, it was one of the most important events to ever take place within the twentieth century.  And, although I was barely nine years old when the release took place, I do remember our teachers talking about it with us in class, and I sort of knew that what had happened was the end of a living nightmare for Mandela, who would later become the President of South Africa in 1994.  

And, I'm sure that everyone who was alive on February 11, 1990 was watching as Nelson Mandela walked outside of Victor Verstee Prison holding the hand of his then-wife Winnie as a free man.  It truly was one of those moments that made you stop and stare, and reflect on what he must have went through while he was imprisoned.

But why exactly was he in prison in the first place?  What did he do that constituted Nelson Mandela spending a little over a quarter of his whole life behind bars?

The story goes like this.

In the 1940s, South Africa was not a very nice place to be if your skin colour happened to be black.  Apartheid (a term meaning 'the state of being apart') was in full swing, and the racial segregation between people of colour in South Africa and white South Africans was out of control.  Similar things were happening in other nations of the world with racial segregation during this time, but one could look at South Africa as being at the absolute extreme worst case scenario.

Between the period of 1960 and 1983, for instance, it is estimated that close to three and a half million non-white South Africans were forcibly removed from their own homes and asked to leave the country for other parts of Africa.  If you think that was bad enough, citizenship for black South Africans were revoked beginning in the early 1970s and the South African government at the time segregated educational opportunities, medical care, and public transportation, leaving black South Africans with lesser quality services than white South Africans.

It was probably one of the biggest stains to ever be left in the history of the twentieth century.  You can see why so many people in the world look at apartheid as a disgusting part of modern day history.

And certainly Nelson Mandela was against apartheid in all of its forms. 

It's hard to say when Mandela's fight against apartheid really began, but many would believe that the catalyst took place in 1948.  1948 was an election year, and it was also a year in which the right to vote was only granted to white South Africans.  And, 1948 is the year that apatheid really began to show its ugly head when Daniel Francois Malan of the National Party took power. 

I suppose it is redundant to mention this now, but at the time, the National Party was absolutely pro-white rights and anti-black rights.  And, the year that Malan and his party implemented the new apartheid legislation was the year that Nelson Mandela began his fight against apartheid.

Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, Nelson Mandela - with assistance from the African National Congress - launched a campaign to raise awareness against apartheid, and although he was a very charismatic speaker and had a following of people who listened to his words, he certainly did have his brushes with the law. 

It seemed as though every few months, Mandela would find himself in trouble with the law over his anti-apartheid sentiments.  He was arrested in June 1952 after holding a public rally in which ten thousand people showed up, and was briefly held in Marshall Square Prison.  But the net result of that arrest meant that the membership of the ANC grew from 20,000 members to over 100,000.  Of course, this also had a negative impact as well, as the government's concern over so many people turning against their laws that they arrested mass numbers of people on the streets and introduced the Public Safety Act in 1963, which promoted martial law.

Then came Mandela's arrest for high treason on December 5, 1956.  He, alongside with most of the ANC Executive members were charged with high treason following a series of protests and anti-apartheid movements, which the government deemed to be a threat to their rule.  Can't imagine why that would be the case.

A total of 156 people were arrested, and the trial lasted a grand total of five years, wrapping up in March 1961 with the accused being declared not guilty. - a verdict which completely embarrassed the government of South Africa.  But just because Nelson Mandela avoided serving jail time at the conclusion of the Treason Trial of 1956 didn't mean that it was all over.  For, Nelson's hardships would really begin in the year 1962, when he was arrested along with ten others on the charges of recruiting people for training in guerrilla warfare and committing acts of sabotage, conspiring to commit said acts, and soliciting and receiving funds from sympathizers in other African nations. 

It was at the beginning of the trial that Nelson Mandela stood up and gave a three-hour long speech from the defendant's dock, which explained the political positions of the ANC, as well as defending everything that they had done in an effort to rid South Africa of all things having to do with apartheid.  It was certainly an eloquent speech...and perhaps the most important statement of that speech was at the very end of it.  Here are Nelson's own words, as spoken at his trial in April 1964.

"During my lifetime I have dedicated my life to this struggle of the African people.  I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination.  I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities.  It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and see realised.  But, My Lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

Of course, we all know what happened after that.  We know that Mandela was found guilty and was sentenced to life imprisonment in South Africa in June of 1964.  He spent the next two and a half decades in three different prisons undergoing many hardships, but refusing to back down on his dream that one day apartheid would be a thing of the past, and he hoped that he would live to see the day in which South Africans of all different backgrounds would enjoy equal rights.

Mandela's release from prison in February 1990 marked a huge turning point for the future of South Africa.  A new president (F.W. de Klerk) had just been elected not long before Mandela's 1990 release, and while he believed that apartheid was an outdated political system that did more harm than good and pardoned all of the prisoners who were a part of the ANC during the 1950s and 1960s, Mandela was not initially given his release papers.  It wasn't until November 1989 - the same month that the Berlin Wall came crumbling down - that de Klerk called his cabinet together to debate legalizing the ANC and freeing Mandela from prison.  Not everyone on his cabinet was keen to see Mandela released at all, but de Klerk stood firm in his stance that Mandela be released from prison, and in December 1989, de Klerk and Mandela had a formal meeting discussing the situation.

Mandela's release was granted on February 2, 1990...and nine days later, Mandela walked out of that prison a free man...with renewed hope for the future.

And, over the last twenty-three years of his life, Mandela certainly made his mark on a now apartheid free South Africa, winning the presidency and making the necessary changes that he had wanted made for decades.  His death in December 2013 at the age of 95 was the end of a life devoted towards bringing equality to all, and I think that he will always be considered one of the biggest freedom fighters of recent history.

February 11, 1990 was only the beginning...

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