All posts tagged: history

A Bolt in the Dark

The scene is of the world falling apart: It is the late spring of 1942. We are in the city of Turin in the north-west of Italy, near the border of Nazi-occupied France. Mussolini’s Blackshirts march through the streets. Every few days the anxiety and senselessness of the moment is cracked by the whine of British bombers, who have made their way from the Allied invasion of North Africa. On occasion, they fly over the city, releasing their cargo as families scramble to their basements, despite the risk of being trapped beneath the rubble of their precarious homes—the fate of so many. Amid this chaos, along one ordinary street within a quite common home, there is a young Jewish-Italian woman at work. She is tall, probably 30, with dark hair and hawkish features. She is toiling away at her bedroom desk, her eyes fixed on the task before her. She is holding make-shift micro-scalpels that she has ground from sewing needles. To her left, there is a powerful Zeiss microscope and a syringe filled with …

Say It Ain’t So, Doc: How Should Martin Luther King Scholars Deal With the Rape Story?

These are difficult days for students of Martin Luther King, Jr. The man many of us have dedicated long months and years to researching, often out of a profound sense of respect, is facing an allegation of laughing and even offering advice while a fellow Baptist minister raped a woman in a Washington, D.C. hotel room in January 1964. The source of this explosive claim is a trove of newly released FBI surveillance documents unearthed by the dean of MLK historians himself, David J. Garrow, author of The FBI and Martin Luther King: From “Solo” to Memphis and the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography on King, Bearing the Cross. Since the article detailing Garrow’s new findings came out at the end of May in the British magazine Standpoint, Garrow has taken more of a pounding in the press than King. No surprises there, perhaps. Like those now criticizing Garrow, I desperately want to believe that the 55-year-old allegation is a trumped-up product of the FBI’s “viciously negative attitude” toward King, as Garrow described it in “Solo” to …

The French Genocide That Has Been Air-Brushed From History

The Secret History On March 4 2011, the French historian Reynald Secher discovered documents in the National Archives in Paris confirming what he had known since the early 1980s: there had been a genocide during the French Revolution.1 Historians have always been aware of widespread resistance to the Revolution. But (with a few exceptions) they invariably characterize the rebellion in the Vendée (1793–95) as an abortive civil war rather than a genocide. In 1986, Secher published his initial findings in Le Génocide franco-français, a lightly revised version of his doctoral dissertation.2 This book sold well, but destroyed any chance he might have had for a university career. Secher was slandered by journalists and tenured academics for daring to question the official version of events that had taken place two centuries earlier.3 The Revolution has become a sacred creation myth for at least some of the French; they do not take kindly to blasphemers. Keepers of the Flame The first major Revolutionary mythographer was the journalist and politician Adolphe Thiers (1797-1877), who became the first President …