Today in Writing History July 12, 1562: Fray Diego de Landa, Bishop of Yucatán, burned the sacred idols and books of the Maya. There were many Mayan books in print at the time of the conquest. The Maya produced them as codices, or folding books, printed on bark paper by professional scribes. They used them as their main historical and political record. De Landa wrote: “We found a large number of books in these characters and, as they contained nothing in which were not to be seen as superstition and lies of the devil, we burned them all, which they regretted to an amazing degree, and which caused them much affliction.” There are four known Mayan codices still in existence.
Today in Labor History July 12, 1810: Members of the shoemakers’ union went on trial in New York City for striking to win a raise. The authorities fined them $1 each.
Today in Writing History July 12, 1817: Henry David Thoreau, American essayist, poet, activist and philosopher was born.
Today in Labor History July 12, 1850: Oscar W. Neebe (1850-1916) was born. He was the founder of the Beer Wagon Drivers Union (which later merged with the Teamsters Union). Neebe was also one of the Haymarket martyrs. They imprisoned him for his “role” in the Haymarket bombing. However, he was not in Haymarket Square at the time. He is one of the eight anarchists who are commemorated worldwide each year on May 1, International Workers’ Day. In 1893, Governor Altgeld pardoned the surviving Haymarket prisoners. Neebe joined the IWW soon after their founding in 1905.
Today in Labor History July 12, 1878: A yellow fever epidemic began in New Orleans, leading to the deaths of 5,000 people. 40,000 people fled the city (20% of the population), spreading the disease throughout the Mississippi Valley. 5,000 more people died in Memphis. Trade was completely halted, resulting in mass starvation and riots. Thousands more died in the state of Mississippi. The plague finally ended in October, when lower temperatures drove off the mosquitoes that carried the disease.
Today in Labor History July 12, 1892: The state militia moved in to break a 12-day strike against Carnegie Steel in Homestead, Pennsylvania. The guardsmen were there primarily to protect scabs and remained in Homestead until October. Pinkerton detectives killed seven workers. Strikers were protesting wage cuts of 18-26%, suffer seven deaths in attacks on them by Pinkerton (“Pinks”) detectives. Alexander Berkman, anarchist friend of Emma Goldman, tried to kill Henry Clay Frick, chairman of the board at Carnegie, on July 23, in an attentat (propaganda by the deed), an action many anarchists of the day believed would inspire the working class to rise up in revolt against the ruling class.
Today in Writing History July 12, 1904: Pablo Neruda, Chilean poet, diplomat, and Nobel Prize laureate was born. He started writing poetry in his early teens and was mentored by future Nobel laureate Gabriela Mistral, who ran his school. In 1924, at the age of 20, he published his second book of poetry, “Veinte Poemas de Amor y un Cancion Desesperada.” This book sold millions of copies and is still the best-selling book of Spanish poetry ever. Gabriel Garcia Marquez called him the greatest poet of the 20th century.
Neruda served as a Chilean diplomat in Spain during the Spanish Civil War, where he became radicalized, particularly by the execution of his friend Garcia Lorca, by Francisco Franco. After World War II, he served as a Chilean senator for the Communist Party. However, he had to go into hiding in 1948, when Communism was declared illegal in Chile. Neruda was hospitalized with cancer just as Pinochet was taking power through a coup d’etat and died in 1973. Many accused Pinochet of poisoning him, but a 2013 international forensic team determined that he died of prostate cancer.
Today in Labor History July 12, 1917: Today was the final day of the vigilante deportation of striking mine workers at Bisbee, Arizona. On July 11, authorities sealed off the county and seized the local Western Union telegraph office to cut off outside communication, while several thousand armed vigilantes rounded up 1,186 members of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). The workers were herded into manure-laden boxcars and dumped in the New Mexico desert. During the Bisbee mine strike, company-hired vigilantes attempted to kidnap and deport Jim Brew, a miner and IWW member. However, Brew fought back and was shot and killed. Brew was a veteran of the West Virginia Cripple Creek strike of 1903-04.
Today in Labor History July 12, 1948: Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion expelled Palestinians from the towns of Lod and Ramla.
Today in Labor History July 12, 1967: Riots began in Newark, New Jersey. There were 159 race riots in the summer of 1967. Over the four days of the Newark riots, 26 people died.