This Day in History
1271 — Kublai Khan renames his empire “Yuan” marking the start of the Yuan Dynasty. From biography.com: Khan, grandson of Genghis,”introduced a new social structure that divided the population into four classes: The Mongolian aristocracy and a foreign merchant class were both exempt from taxation and enjoyed special privileges, while the northern and southern Chinese bore most of the empire’s economic burden and were compelled to do much of the manual labor.” The first ruler to espouse the “trickle down” theory.
Khan’s dynasty began to unravel as the discriminatory nature of his imposed social structure led to deep resentment among the lower Chinese classes, who were constantly overtaxed to pay for a series of unsuccessful military campaigns.
What a surprise.
1892 — The Nutcracker was first performed at the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, Russia, on 18 December 1892. The Nutcracker has become a holiday classic and one of the most popular ballets in the world. But the road from its Saint Petersburg premiere in 1892 to a staple for ballet companies everywhere was not easy. It was panned by critics after its premiere and Tchaikovsky himself, who was commissioned to compose the music, didn’t have high hopes for its success. In 1954 George Ballanchine of the New York City Ballet revived it but it wasn’t really considered a Christmas tradition until the late 1960s.
So hang in there artists.
1987 — Ivan Boesky sentenced to three years in prison. Boesky pleaded guilty to insider trading on Wall Street and agreed to pay a $100 million fine and cooperate with the Securities and Exchange Commission’s investigation. He was crucial in exposing a nationwide scandal at the heart of the ’80s Wall Street boom. Boesky testified that he had gained his $200 million fortune using illegal inside information about impending mergers to trade stock in the companies involved. As a result of Boesky’s confession, subpoenas were issued to some of the world’s most famous financiers.
His defense should have been “That just proves I’m smart.”
1886 — Ty Cobb — The “Georgia Peach”, one of the greatest Major League Baseball players of all time (1905–1928), is also known as perhaps its most fierce competitor. He still holds the major league record for career batting average at .366. Cobb’s reputation includes sharpening his spikes before a game and then sliding into bases with them aimed at his opponent’s legs. He had a surly temperament and was known to have fought opponents, spectators and even teammates. Cobb also has long had the reputation of being an avowed racist.
That’s what I’ve always read and had a low opinion of him as a result. Then I found this information, from a sportswriter named Charles Leersham.
Ty Cobb descended from a long line of abolitionists. His great-grandfather was a minister who preached against slavery and was run out of town for it. His grandfather refused to fight in the Confederate army because of the slavery issue. And his father was an educator and state senator who spoke up for his black constituents and is known to have once broken up a lynch mob.
Cobb himself was never asked about segregation until 1952, when the Texas League was integrating, and Sporting News asked him what he thought. “The Negro should be accepted wholeheartedly, and not grudgingly,” he said. “The Negro has the right to play professional baseball and whose [sic] to say he has not?” By that time he had attended many Negro league games, sometimes throwing out the first ball and often sitting in the dugout with the players. He is quoted as saying that Willie Mays was the only modern-day player he’d pay to see.
The prevailing wisdom being wrong, how can that be?
1910 — Abe Burrows — Burrows was a director, author and comic who wrote a score of shows for Broadway, including “Guys and Dolls.” One of his lines on radio was: “I guess I could tell you exactly what I look like, but I think that’s a lousy thing to say about a guy.”
Have to like somebody like that.
1912 Benjamin Davis — Air Force general and commander of the Tuskegee Airmen. Despite facing incredible racial barriers, Davis rose through the ranks and was the first African-American general in the Air Force. Here is an account of his time at West Point.
Davis was racially isolated by his white classmates, few of whom spoke to him outside the line of duty. He never had a roommate. He ate by himself. His classmates hoped that this would drive him out of the Academy. The “silent treatment” had the opposite effect. It made Davis more determined to graduate.
The military eventually became the first truly integrated institution in America. By the time I served, racism still existed but there was a more level playing field than the rest of society. While there was a paucity of commissioned officers, we had many African-American petty officers.
I was stationed at Holiday Beach Communication Center on Kodiak Island, Alaska. An isolated barracks and radio station, our complement was about forty men. Only one of our number was black. He was a serious young man named Powell who kept to himself. I decided to try get to know him better and while discovering we had absolutely nothing in common, I also received my first lesson in white privilege. By this time I had come to hate being in the Navy. I hated the isolation of Alaska, I hated the Mickey Mouse discipline, and I hated the lack of freedom. I was surprised to find that Powell did not share my sentiments. He told me the Navy was a lot better than where he had come from in Mississippi, and that if he worked hard, did his duty, he had a chance for advancement in rank and to make a life for himself. The Navy was fair and he would be judged on achievement, not color. The fact that the life we were living, a life of restriction and unhappiness for me, was better than anything he could expect in the civilian world was a more personal window to racial inequality.