Roots of rebellion


1636 European settlers kill 3,000 Narrangansett Native Americans who have been resisting them in southern Connecticut; 600 of the settlers are also killed in the conflict.

1638 Anne Hutchinson is banished from Massachusetts Bay Colony after a trial for ‘heresy’ – she insists on women’s right to interpret the Bible for themselves.

1676 A rebellion of white frontiersmen is joined by slaves and servants. The Governor has to flee the burning colonial capital, Jamestown. Britain, the colonial power, sends 1,000 troops. Nathaniel Bacon, leader of the rebellion, dies in the conflict and 23 of his associates are hanged.

1712 The first large-scale slave revolt takes place in New York.

1713 There are bread shortages and riots in Boston.

1721 A report from South Carolina to the British Government says that ‘black slaves have lately attempted and were very nearly succeeding in a new revolution’.

1760 There have by now been 18 uprisings aimed at overthrowing colonial governments, 6 black rebellions from South Carolina to New York and 40 riots of various kinds; 400 pamphlets have appeared arguing questions of disobedience to the law.

1776 Four days after the reading of the Declaration of Independence in Boston a military draft is ordered, which is followed by riots when it is revealed that the wealthy can pay for substitutes.

1786 Shays’ rebellion of indebted farmers in Massachusetts.

1811 The largest-ever slave revolt takes place in New Orleans on the plantation of Major Andry – 66 are killed and 16 shot by firing squad.

1822 Denmark Vesey, a former slave, is accused of plotting to burn Charleston, followed by the largest American cities; 36 of his associates are hanged.

1829 A reward – $1,000 dead, $10,000 alive – is offered for the capture of David Walker, the son of a slave in Boston, after the publication of his anti-slavery pamphlet Walkers’ Appeal.

1831 Nat Turner leads a rebellion by 70 slaves in Southampton County, Virginia; Turner and 18 others are hanged.

1832 Sauk chief Black Hawk is defeated and captured in the Indian wars: ‘An Indian who is as bad as the white men could not live in our nation,’ he says. ‘He would be put to death and eaten up by wolves.’ There have been over 400 treaties signed between European immigrants and Native Americans: every single one of them has been broken.

1834 Mill workers (mostly women) in Lowell, Massachusetts, take strike action.

1835 27,000 gather in City Hall Park, New York, to protest the decision of a court to find 25 members of a labour union guilt of ‘conspiracy’. The Equal Rights Party (known as the ‘Locofocos’) calls for ‘Bread, Meat, Rent and Fuel’ and seizes barrels of flour for the hungry.

1841 Dorr’s Rebellion in Rhode Island, where only owners of land are allowed to vote. A New People’s Legislature is convened and a People’s Constitution declared – though only for whites.

1845 Small tenant farmers join the Anti-Rent movement in New York.

1846 War with Mexico and resistance to the military draft. An anonymous letter is sent to the Cambridge Chronicle: ‘No sir-ee! As long as I can work, beg or go to the poor house, I won’t go to Mexico.’

1850 More than 1,000 slaves are by now escaping every year to Canada and Mexico, despite the terror of pursuit and the Fugitive Slave Act.

1853 Sojourner Truth, who is black, gets a hostile reception from the National Woman’s Rights Convention in New York: ‘We have all been thrown so low that nobody thought we’d ever get up again,’ she says. ‘But we’ll have our rights; see if we don’t. And you can’t stop us from them; see if you can.’

1859 John Brown, a white man opposed to slavery, is hanged after planning to seize an arsenal in Virginia. His last reported words are: ‘I, John Brown, am quite certain that the crimes of this guilty land will never be purged away but with blood.’

1863 Sojourner Truth helps to recruit slaves, who are deserting Southern plantations, to the Union army in the Civil War.

1872 150,000 parade through New York City calling for an 8-hour working day.

1876 The Centennial of Independence is marked by public meetings under the banner ‘We, The Other People’.

1877 Strikes by 100,000 workers against wage cuts on the railroads; 100 are killed and 1,000 jailed.

1886 The American Federation of Labour (AFL) calls for strikes for the 8-hour working day; 350,000 workers respond on 1 May. After demonstrations and a bomb blast in Haymarket Square, Chicago, four convicted anarchists are hanged. The Knights of Labour organize largely black workers in the sugar fields of the South.

1887 Membership of the Farmers Alliance reaches 200,000. The Alliance works around principles of co-operation, but its membership among blacks is limited.

1890 Mary Ellen Lease tells a Farmers Alliance meeting in Kansas: ‘Wall Street owns this country. It is no longer government of the people, by the people and for the people, but a government of Wall Street, by Wall Street and for Wall Street.’

1891 The Colored Alliance organizes a strike in southern cotton fields.

1892 The Farmers Alliance arranges lectures in 43 states which reach 2 million people.

1903 ‘Mother’ Mary Jones takes the children of textile workers in Pennsylvania on a march to Washington, DC. The National Afro-American Council protests at lynchings in the South.

1905 The Industrial Workers of the World – the ‘Wobblies’ – are formed in Chicago. Their objective is to have ‘One Big Union’ that includes women, foreigners, black workers and anyone who wishes to join.

1911 A devastating fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory kills hundreds of workers, almost all young immigrant women. Formed the previous year, the International Ladies Garment Workers Union rises to prominence – the owners of the factory are tried for manslaughter. Helen Keller, who is blind and deaf, writes to a suffragist in England: ‘Our democracy is but a name. We vote? What does that mean? It means that we choose between two bodies of real, though not avowed, autocrats. We choose between Tweedledum and Tweedledee.’

1913 Black leader WEB Du Bois says that ‘the American Negro is convinced that his greatest enemy is not the employer who robs him, but his fellow white working man’.

A strike by coal miners begins in Colorado, where Mother Jones is present as an organizer. In 1914 gunmen hired by the mine’s owners, the Rockefellers, kill 11 children and 2 women.

1914 Charles Schenk is prosecuted for producing a leaflet opposing conscription for World War One. A new Espionage Act is introduced and 900 people are imprisoned.

1915 Joe Hill, a Wobblie organizer and song writer, is accused of killing a grocer in Utah; he is executed by firing squad. Women textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, organize a major strike.

1917 At a peace demonstration in Boston, banners read: ‘Who stole Panama? Who crushed Haiti? We demand peace.’ About 65,000 men are conscientious objectors; 165 leaders of the Wobblies are arrested for conspiracy to hinder the draft; 101 are convicted after the longest criminal trial in US history. The Wobblies are destroyed.

1920 Following the Russian Revolution, 4,000 resident Russians are rounded up, held in seclusion, brought to secret trials and deported.

1932 In response to the Great Depression, self-help organizations have been established in 37 states, with 300,000 members.

1934 The Committee for Industrial Organization (CIO) is formed for workers outside the craft unions of the American Federation of Labor (AFL). It organizes sit-down strikes.

1942 As the US enters World War Two, there are 350,000 cases of draft evasion – 110,000 Japanese Americans are interned on the West Coast.

1950 After the passing of the Internal Security Act, aimed at ‘Communist front’ organizations, detention camps are set up. Julius and Ethel Rosenburg are executed for spying.

1955 Rosa Parks, a black 42-year-old seamstress, refuses to obey segregation laws in Montgomery, Alabama. The Student Nonviolent Co-ordinating Committee, composed mostly of blacks, is formed to oppose segregation.

1963 More than 200,000 black and white Americans descend on Washington DC and hear Martin Luther King deliver his ‘I have a dream’ speech.

‘Let us not seek,’ he told the crowd, ‘to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of hatred and bitterness.’ He went on: ‘I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”’

1965 Norman Morrison, a 35-year-old pacifist and father of three, burns himself to death outside the Pentagon to protest the war in Vietnam. Martin Luther King and 300 supporters are arrested in Selma, Alabama for parading without a permit.

1966 Crusading attorney Ralph Nader makes headlines with his book Unsafe at Any Speed, a scathing indictment of the auto industry for producing unsafe vehicles. The book leads to congressional hearings and a series of automobile safety laws.

1967 The largest black uprising in history strikes urban ghettos. World Champion boxer Mohammad Ali, refusing the draft for Vietnam, declares: ‘I speak for the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam.’

1968 There are 3,305 prosecutions of Vietnam draft refusers. In Tucson, Arizona, Philip Supina is sentenced to four years in prison for refusing the draft.

Daniel Ellsberg leaks ‘The Pentagon Papers’, giving the inside story of US involvement in Vietnam, to the New York Times. The Women’s International Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell (WITCH) appear suddenly on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and distribute leaflets.

1969 Alcatraz, the disused prison island in San Francisco Bay, is occupied by 78 Native Americans who offer to buy it for the price paid for Manhattan in glass beads and red cloth 300 years earlier.

A police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a club in Greenwich Village with a predominantly gay clientele, sparks a riot and the birth of the gay-rights movement.

1970 The FBI has so far listed 1,785 student demonstrations against the war in Vietnam. At Kent State, four students are killed by the National Guard.

1971 Prison uprising in Attica, New York; 31 prisoners are killed. George Jackson, author of Soledad Brother, is shot in the back by guards in San Quentin prison ‘while trying to escape’.

1972 The Democratic Party’s National Committee offices in the Watergate Hotel, Washington DC, are broken into. A combination of investigative journalism and ‘deep throat’ insiders eventually implicates Republican President Nixon, who is forced to resign in 1974.

1973 Armed supporters of the American Indian Movement (AIM) seize the historic site of Wounded Knee in South Dakota demanding investigation of Native American problems. Two are killed in a gun battle with the FBI; the siege lasts 70 days but AIM’s concerns are ignored.

1974 Karen Silkwood, an employee of the Kerr-McGee plutonium processing plant, is killed in a car crash on her way to deliver important documents to a newspaper reporter. Silkwood, 28, was a union activist concerned with health-and-safety issues at the plant.

1979 Reactor 2 at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant suffers a partial meltdown. Within weeks attorneys file a class action suit against Metropolitan Edison Company on behalf of all businesses and residents within 25 miles of the plant. The environmental movement grows rapidly.

1968 1980 Philip and Daniel Berrigan, Anne Montgomery, Molly Rush and four others – The Ploughsares Eight – enter the General Electric Plant in King of Prussia, PA, and smash nose cones for nuclear missiles. They are sentenced to long prison terms.

1982 Close to a million people gather in Central Park, New York, to protest against the arms race with the Soviet Union – the largest political demonstration in America history.

1986 Bill Breedon, of Odon, Indiana, demands a $30 million ransom for the return of a street sign he has stolen bearing the name John Poindexter. A local man, Poindexter is prominent in the ‘Iran-Contra’ scandal, in which the Reagan administration illegally launders money from arms sales to Iran to fund the Contra terrorists in Nicaragua. Breedon is imprisoned for a few days – the only person ever to be imprisoned for the Iran/Contra scandal.

1990 Judy Bari and Darryl Cherney, active members of Earth First! and defenders of California’s ancient redwood forests, are nearly killed when a motion-triggered pipe bomb wrapped with nails explodes under their car in Oakland. In April 2002 $4.4 million damages are awarded against the Oakland police and the FBI for treating them as suspects (Judi Bari died in 1997).

1997 The anti-sweat-shop movement sweeps across college campuses.

1999 Labour unions, environmentalists and activists of all kinds and from around the world combine to disrupt a meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle. Demonstrations have become a regular feature outside the annual meetings of the World Bank and IMF in Washington DC.

2001 Following the assaults on New York and Washington, widespread criticism of the bombing of Afghanistan and the ‘war on terrorism’ goes largely unreported, other than a strident critique by Susan Sontag published in the New York Review of Books, for which she is vilified. A circular letter entitled Not In Our Name is signed by hundreds of prominent Americans.

Source: primarily Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States, Longman, London and New York, second edition 1996.

New Internationalist issue 351 magazine cover This article is from the November 2002 issue of New Internationalist.
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