Robert E. Lee’s Birthday (and Edgar Allen Poe’s)


Today is Tuesday, Jan. 19, the 19th day of 2010. There are 346 days left in the year.

Today’s Highlight in History:

On Jan. 19, 1960, the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between Japan and the United States of America was signed by both countries in Washington, D.C. (Domestic opposition to the treaty led to the resignation of Japanese Prime Minister Nobusuke Kishi (nah-boo-soo- keh kee-shee)).

On this date:

In 1807, Confederate general Robert E. Lee was born in Westmoreland County, Va.; until sometime in the 1960s, or possibly even the early 1970s, January 19 was a holiday celebrated in Louisiana, Texas, Virginia and many other states formerly belonging to the Confederate States of America.  When I was a law clerk in West Palm Beach in 1992-1993, the people of Okechobee, Florida, and several other inland “Cracker” towns were famous for still celebrating the (by then unofficial) birthday of one of West Point’s finest graduates, who built the first levees along the Mississippi River and was instrumental in the founding of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  My good college friend John K. Naland, now of the U.S. State Department, had the honor of serving in the same U.S. Army First Company, First Division, First Army, of which Captain Robert E. Lee was once commander.  The college fraternity called “KA of the South” at Tulane when I was an undergraduate still had Full-Dress (Confederate Officer Grey) Uniformed Parades with their little sisters in southern belle costume on this day around the statute of General Lee, eternally facing north, at the center of Lee Circle on St. Charles in New Orleans, right around the block from Confederate Memorial Hall, where Jefferson Davis was laid to rest in 1893.  It is a great historical museum, and is now adjacent to both the Museum of Southern Art and the World War II (formerly D-Day) Museum.  And yes, my great great grandfather and his brothers all fought with General Lee at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and one of them (“Wolf”) was wounded and lay on the battle field for 3 days, until he was taken to a Northern P.O.W. hospital camp, where he was healed and ultimately released, in New York, where he got a job at the Bank of New York, and was then transferred back to New Orleans where he met and married an Acadienne (Cajun) girl of French and Native American (Tunica-Biloxi) descent.  His son (my great-grandfather Benjanmin) became a state Judge.  My grandmother Helen grew up in the most amazing cultural melange of Southern Confederate Nostalgic Patriotism, adoringly Francophone/Francophile  heritage, and Post-Reconstruction mixed racially prejudiced and ambiguously ethical and arrogant.  She inherited her grandfather’s blue eyes and pale skin along with her grandmother’s straight black and thick hair, and told stories about how she was afraid that she would be separated from her fair-haired sisters and ordered to the “back of the bus” or trains in the same state that required 1/8 African = 7/8 White “Octaroon” Homer Adolph Plessy to ride in the back of the St. Charles streetcar.  New Orleans up until about 1880 had known no such thing as de jure segregation, even though it had started up in other parts of the South after the War as the defeated whites tried to protect themselves and their heritage.  Such things are now called “invidious racism” when performed by whites, but cheered as justifiable and laudable “ethnic pride and heritage” by all other groups.

In 1809, author, poet and critic Edgar Allan Poe was born in Boston.

In 1853, Giuseppe Verdi’s opera “Il Trovatore” premiered in Rome.

In 1861, Georgia seceded from the Union.

In 1937, millionaire Howard Hughes set a transcontinental air record by flying his monoplane from Los Angeles to Newark, N.J., in seven hours, 28 minutes and 25 seconds.

In 1955, a presidential news conference was filmed for television for the first time, with the permission of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

In 1966, Indira Gandhi was elected prime minister of India.

In 1970, President Richard M. Nixon nominated G. Harrold Carswell to the Supreme Court; however, the nomination was defeated because of controversy over Carswell’s past racial views.

In 1980, retired Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas died in Washington, D.C. at age 81.

In 1990, Arthur J. Goldberg, former Supreme Court justice, labor secretary and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, was found dead in his Washington apartment at age 81.

Ten years ago: Michael Skakel (SKAY’-kul), a nephew of Robert F. Kennedy, was charged with bludgeoning to death 15-year-old Martha Moxley in Greenwich (GREH’-nich), Conn. in 1975, when he was also 15. (Skakel was later convicted, and is appealing.) A dormitory fire at Seton Hall University in New Jersey killed three people and injured 62. Former Italian Prime Minister Bettino Craxi died in Tunisia at age 65. Actress Hedy Lamarr was found dead in her Orlando, Fla. home; she was 85.

Five years ago: Previewing his second inauguration, President George W. Bush pledged to seek unity in a nation divided by political differences, saying, “I am eager and ready for the work ahead.” Condoleezza Rice won strong but not unanimous endorsement as secretary of state from a Senate panel. The American Cancer Society reported that cancer had passed heart disease as the top killer of Americans age 85 and younger. Former chairman and chief executive of Citicorp Walter B. Wriston died in New York at age 85.

One year ago: Russia and Ukraine signed a deal restoring natural gas shipments to Ukraine and paving the way for an end to the nearly two-week cutoff of most Russian gas to a freezing Europe.

Today’s Birthdays: Former U.N. Secretary-General Javier Perez de Cuellar is 90. Actress Jean Stapleton is 87. Actor Fritz Weaver is 84. Actress Tippi Hedren is 80. Former PBS newsman Robert MacNeil is 79. Movie director Richard Lester is 78. Singer Phil Everly is 71. Actor-singer Michael Crawford is 68. Actress Shelley Fabares is 66. Country singer Dolly Parton is 64. ABC newswoman Ann Compton is 63. TV chef Paula Deen is 63. Rock singer Martha Davis is 59. Singer Dewey Bunnell (America) is 58. Actor Desi Arnaz Jr. is 57. Comedian Paul Rodriguez is 55. Conductor Sir Simon Rattle is 55. Actress Katey Sagal is 53. Reggae musician Mickey Virtue (UB40) is 53. Rock musician Jeff Pilson (Foreigner) is 52. Actor Paul McCrane is 49. Actor William Ragsdale is 49. Tennis player Stefan Edberg is 44. Rock singer Whitfield Crane (Ugly Kid Joe) is 42. Singer Trey Lorenz is 41. Actor Shawn Wayans is 39. Rock singer-musician John Wozniak (Marcy Playground) is 39. Actress Drea (DRAY-uh’) de Matteo is 38. Comedian-impression ist Frank Caliendo is 36. Actress Marsha Thomason is 34. Actress Jodie Sweetin is 28. Actor Logan Lerman is 18. Olympic gold medal gymnast Shawn Johnson is 18.

Thought for Today: “Any girl can be glamorous. All you have to do is stand still and look stupid.” — Hedy Lamarr, Austrian-American actress (1914-2000).

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