Archive for Behind the Headlines
On May 16, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE will premiere Freedom Riders, a film about the 436 Americans who risked their lives by deliberately violating Jim Crow laws in the Deep South in the summer of 1961.
This Wednesday, May 4, Oprah Winfrey will dedicate her entire program to the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Freedom Rides. The Oprah episode will highlight clips from the film as well as selections of content from the AMERICAN EXPERIENCE Freedom Riders website.
On July 7, 1865, three men and one woman were hanged for the crime of conspiring to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln. After the surrender of Confederate general Robert E. Lee and the announcement that Lincoln would serve a second term as president, John Wilkes Booth, a young southern actor and patriot of the Confederacy, began plotting the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. After hearing the announcement that President Lincoln would be attending a performance at the Ford Theater, Booth assigned the tasks of assassinating both Secretary of State William Seward and Vice President Andrew Johnson to a group of fellow conspirators. Although it was Booth who fired the bullet that killed the 16th president, this group of eight lesser-known conspirators aided Booth his scheme.
Dorothy Young, the last surviving stage assistant to famed illusionist Harry Houdini and accomplished dancer, passed away Sunday at her retirement home in Tinton Falls, New Jersey. The entertainer was 103.
The news of Young's passing strangely coincides with the 137th birthday of her employer, Harry Houdini.
Born Erik Weisz in Budapest, Hungary, Harry Houdini, a legendary name in magic, became an international sensation after accomplishing incredible feats as an illusionist and escape artist extraordinaire. In the AMERICAN EXPERIENCE documentary Houdini, old photographs, film clips and a breadth of interviews give an in depth look into the life of the master magician. Houdini died in 1926 from a widespread infection from an appendix burst. He was 52 years old.
Almost two centuries ago, the Two Brothers, a Nantucket whaling ship, sank 600 miles off the coast of Honolulu. Last week, officials from the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument -- one of the world's largest ocean reserves -- reported that marine archaeologists had discovered the 1823 wreckage along with artifacts including harpoons and try-pots, were used to liquefy whale blubber into oil.
A typical vessel of American whaling's "golden age" in the 19th century, the Two Brothers was captained by George Pollard, who was no stranger to shipwrecks. Three years before sinking Two Brothers, Pollard had captained the infamous voyage of the whaling ship Essex. The tale of the Essex, recounted in the AMERICAN EXPERIENCE documentary Into the Deep: America, Whaling & the World, was the inspiration for Herman Melville's classic novel Moby Dick.
Author Hampton Sides, a frequent AMERICAN EXPERIENCE consultant and author of Hellhound on his Trail, on which our 2010 film Roads to Memphis was based, draws a parallel between the Arizona shooter Jared Loughner and the infamous MLK assassin James Earl Ray in a recent Newsweek article. "Though he spent his criminal career striving for anonymity, he desperately wanted the world to know he existed," wrote Sides. "Like a certain deranged young man in Tucson last week, Ray imagined the best way to leave his mark was the gun down someone young, eloquent, and charismatic."
At his 1961 inauguration to the presidency, John F. Kennedy issued a challenge to the American people that, fifty years later, leaders are trying to revive. "My fellow Americans," Kennedy proclaimed into the frozen January air, "ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." The speech was in part an exhortation to the American people to change their attitudes toward government and become active participants in civic life. On the 50th anniversary of his famous inaugural speech, we can't help but wonder: are Americans taking his words to heart?