The First Openly Gay Elected Official in the US Was Shot to Death

The year was 1977 and after several earlier failed campaigns, photography store owner turned equal rights activist Harvey Milk (pictured above) was swept into office as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the city’s 11-member legislative assembly.

When sworn in the following year, Milk became the first openly gay American to be elected to high office in the country. As an office-holder, Milk fought for equal rights for all by opposing unconstitutional measures such as the anti-gay Proposition 6.
Above: Harvey Milk.
Prop 6, which stoked homophobia among conservatives, aimed to remove any gays or lesbians serving in California’s public schools, alleging that they were at risk of molesting children (despite the fact that a much higher rate of sexual molestation occurred among heterosexuals, by virtue of the fact that there were many more straight teachers than gays). The measure called for a public witch hunt to be conducted in order to “out” any gays serving in the schooling system. Thanks to the efforts of Milk and others, Prop 6 was defeated statewide.

Another one of Milk’s achievements was to pass a progressive city-wide ordinance which forbade discrimination against residents based on their sexual orientation. It passed with the support of all but one City Supervisor– that of Dan White, who came into office at the same time as Milk. White was angry at Milk for opposing an initiative he had campaigned on, regarding the placement of a center for troubled teenagers (White, a conservative, wanted it out of his district, Milk thought it was necessary to help kids).

Above: White is arrested.

After opposing every piece of legislation that Milk was for, White eventually resigned his seat because he said his salary was too low to support his family. After a few days he changed his mind and tried to get his seat back, but failed. He then snuck a loaded gun into City Hall killed both Mayor Moscone (who had refused to re-appoint him), as well as his liberal rival Milk. Claiming his penchant for junk food had somehow driven him temporarily insane, lawyers for White managed to get him only five years in prison for the murders.

Milk’s life and achievements were chronicled in the documentary “The Times of Harvey Milk” (1984) and the fictional film “Milk” (2008).

Color Photography Technology Has Existed For About 150 Years

When people think history, they all too often think in black and white when events before, say, the 1970s are mentioned. But the world was “in color” back then too, and color photography technology goes all the way back to the 1860s, becoming widely commercially available in the 1930s.

Color photographs are a lot older than most people think, and with the technology existing, there might technically be color photographs of the US Civil War in existence, though none have ever been discovered.
Above: An early color photo
The oldest color photograph ever found was taken by James Clerk Maxwell, a physicist who created the image by combining three semi-transparent photos each taken with a different color filter (one red, one green and one blue). This first photograph, or at least this first photograph that survived and wasn’t lost, was taken in 1861 of a ribbon tied into a bow, and pictured below:

What follows are some early color photographs documenting people and moments that folks often remember “in black and white.”

Above: Literary giant Mark Twain, photographed in 1908 only two years before his death.

Above: Four ladies pose, circa 1909.

Above: A family portrait outdoors, circa 1915.

Above: British troops return from World War I in a 1919 victory parade.

Above: Circa 1924 swimmers posing in prohibition-era Seneca, New York.

Above: A gas station convenience store at the tail end of the great depression.

Above: Adolf Hitler salutes a crowd during a street parade, circa 1938.

Above: Soldiers storm the beach on D-Day, 1944.

Above: Martin Luther King leads the historic Selma-Montgomery march in 1965.

Above: The racist white counter-protesters who demonstrated against the march.

Pink Wasn’t Always Considered a Feminine Color and Blue Wasn’t Always Masculine

Any expectant mother or father these days is doubtless aware that items designed for baby girls are commonly pink, and those meant for baby boys are blue. But it wasn’t always this way.

As recently as the early 1900s, pink was seen by many as a color that went better with boys, and blue as a color that went better with girls. Newspapers like the The Sunday Sentinel in 1914 offered tips to new parents such as, “If you like the color note on the little one’s garments, use pink for the boy and blue for the girl, if you are a follower of convention.”
Above: Which is more manly?
Another paper, the Ladies Home Journal in 1918 wrote, “There has been a great diversity of opinion on the subject, but the generally accepted rule is pink for the boy and blue for the girl. The reason is that pink being a more decided and stronger color is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” It’s also said that since pink is closer to red, it was more appropriate for boys because red is a “fierce” color, whereas blue was associated with girls since the Virgin Mary is customarily dressed in blue.

Regardless of the original connotations of the two colors, it’s clear that they’ve now reversed their earlier meanings and that pink is much more associated with girls now, and vice versa for blue. There have been some studies that suggest that women just “naturally” like pink better, and that blue is a color that men prefer innately. Others suggest that the now current color consensus, which appears to have materialized in the 1950s, came from the Nazis branding gays with pink triangles in their concentration camps.

Whatever the reason, the two colors associations may not be set in stone. In fact, there are some indications that pink is making a comeback as a manly color, so stay tuned.

The Publisher of a “Hitman Manual” Was Once Sued for Aiding & Abetting Murder

In 1999, an insurance company paid out a multi-million dollar settlement to family members of the victims in a triple murder case that had occurred seven years earlier. The company represented Paladin Press, a controversial book publisher.

Paladin, which specializes in action how-to manuals and supposedly forbidden knowledge, had published a book called “Hit Man: A Technical Manual for Independent Contractors” in 1983, which the killer used as a guide for the murders. Paladin also settled a similar lawsuit in 2006 for the book, which included such advice as “the proper way to make a kill with the recommended knife is to twist the blade before withdrawing it from a vital area.”
Above: The manual’s cover

The book was conveniently split into nine chapters, each detailing topics like how to find employment, how to scrub a serial number off the barrel of a gun, how to silence a barking dog, and how to improvise a silencer.

Obviously it wasn’t a good enough guide to help him evade capture however, and it later came out in the subsequent lawsuit against the publisher that it had been written by an imaginative Florida housewife, who probably wasn’t all that qualified to write advice on killing people.

As a result of the lawsuits it faced, Paladin stopped publishing the book and reportedly destroyed all remaining copies they held in their warehouse. But a handful of the books can still be found at rare book dealers and copies have circulated for free on the internet as a result.

FBI Agents Once Secretly Tried to Convince Rev Martin Luther King to Kill Himself

Although it’s hard to contextualize today, during the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, the FBI was secretly engaged in a wide-ranging and largely illegal counter intelligence program within the United States.

COINTELPRO as it was dubbed, was formally meant to protect the United States from elements deemed “subversive” by the US government. Many of these supposedly “subversive” elements included harmless Civil Rights activists like Dr Martin Luther King, whom the FBI wrongly suspected as being communist.
Above: Dr King in prison, one of the many times he was arrested for civil disobedience
The program was uncovered in 1971 when a group of anonymous civil liberties activists broke into a Pennsylvania FBI office and stole reams of documents revealing the illegal activities. The documents were then leaked in a series to the media, which (after some initial hesitation) began to publish them, provoking a Congressional investigation and reforms within the FBI.

Among the classified documents which were subsequently released (though millions more remain classified), are documents that reveal that FBI agents secretly engaged in operations meant to harass Dr King. As the leader of the COINTELPRO operation said in a classified memo, “We must mark [King] now, if we have not before, as the most dangerous Negro in the future of this Nation… it may be unrealistic to limit [our actions against King] to legalistic proofs that would stand up in court or before Congressional Committees.”

After the FBI had been illegally tapping King’s phone, they believed they had evidence that he had been engaging in an extra-martial affair. Just before he was set to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, they mailed him tapes of the recorded phone conversations along with a letter which they pretended was written by African Americans threatening to expose him, unless he did “the only thing left for you to do. you know what it is… You are done. There is but one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy fraudulent self is bared to the nation.”

King obviously didn’t kill himself, and instead fought for Civil Rights for another four years until being assassinated. To read the declassified portions of the secret FBI letter, click here.

During the 1990s, the Clintons Were a Constant Target of Conservative Hoaxes

It’s not unusual for politicians to bend the truth when making accusations about opposing candidates’ records, but what some conservatives accused Bill Clinton of doing during his term in office was far beyond the norm.

Although it’s now largely forgotten, a myriad of dubious allegations faced Clinton during the 1990s, including allegations that he was a serial murder, serial rapist and drug dealer (and the accusations went on, and on, and on).

Above: The First Couple, 1993-2001

So many accusations were alleged against the Clintons that in 1998, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton claimed that there was a “vast right wing conspiracy” against her family.

One of the most well known conservative smear merchants during the 1990s was a conservative magazine called the American Spectator. The Spectator was then financed by a conservative billionaire who funded an effort with the blanket purpose “to unearth damaging information about President Clinton.” It published numerous reports accusing Clinton of all kinds of wrongdoings, many of the most significant of which were written by a journalist named David Brock.

Brock, then a best selling conservative author, helped fabricate scandals including one in which Clinton supposedly engaged in sexual encounters arranged for him by Arkansas State Troopers. It was later revealed that the troopers interviewed for the story were bribed, and Brock recanted all of his conservative reporting, effectively ending his career as an admitted “right wing hit man.”

After exposing more conservative hoaxing designed to bring down the president, Brock later founded the nonprofit group Media Matters for America, a liberal group which seeks to undermine elements of conservative bias in the media. The crusade against the Clintons was also written about in the book and film The Hunting of the President.

The “States’ Rights” Term Conservatives Frequently Use Has a Dark, Racist Origin

During the 2008 presidential election, both members of the Republican ticket, John McCain Sarah Palin, said that they were advocates of “states’ rights.” This was not terribly surprising, considering that every Republican elected to the White House for the past 30 years has extolled the virtues of states’ rights at one point or another.

But what many don’t know– or have forgotten– is that the term “states’ rights” actually has a sinister and deeply racist origin.
Above: Riiiiiiight.
The phrase was originally used as a code word by conservatives to court southern racists, assuring them that they were supporters of their right to have as much discrimination in their state laws as they wanted. In other words, they believed in the individual states’ right to be institutionally racist and they wouldn’t let the federal government disrupt them.

Southern political pamphlets using the term date back to the 1800s, even before the Civil War. The words even adorned the official state flag of Georgia in the mid-1800s.

During the Civil Rights Movement, conservative governor George Wallace proudly declared his support for “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!” but later said he wished that he had declared his support of the more subtle “States’ rights now! States’ rights tomorrow! States’ rights forever!”

Similarly, former Republican National Committee Chair (and Ronald Reagan/George H. W. Bush advisor) Lee Atwater admitted in an interview that “states’ rights” was deliberately coded terminology. “You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you. Backfires.”

“So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff,” Atwater continued. “You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.” Why was Atwater so blunt? At the time of the interview he was told he’d be quoted anonymously, although his identity as the source was revealed some 25 years later.

Movie Trailers Weren’t Always Shown Before Films

Movie trailers have been around since at least 1912, but they didn’t always run before the movies they’re attached to.

In fact, movie trailers (as you might guess by their name, trailers) used to trail behind films in theaters, not before them. Nowadays, the thought of showing advertisements for upcoming films after movies instead of before them makes little sense, because with the main attraction over with, why would the audience stick around to watch commercials?
Above: A screencap from the “Casablanca” movie trailer
The answer is that often times in the early days of movies, the main attraction wasn’t over when the movie finished. It was common in the early decades of movies to show them in double features– i.e. one movie right after another. In the 1920s, 1930s, 1940s and so on, trailers would often play after the first movie and before the second (which was often the blockbuster movie that people had come to actually see; the first was often a B-movie).

Starting in the 1920s and 1930s, theatrical trailers were often supplemented with newsreels, public service announcements, and short animated films, in a precursor to the diversity of modern day television programming.

Early on, trailers were cobbled together by individual theaters hoping to promote upcoming films, but soon the studios got into the act, eventually sub-contracting out the task of creating trailers to outside companies (a practice which is still largely followed today).

Tug of War Used to be an Olympic Sport

Although nowadays it’s better known as a game that kids play at summer camp, tug of war used to be an actual Olympic sport, with ten countries having competed for the coveted gold medal in the early 20th century.

The rules were simple: drag the rope in your team’s direction far enough and you won. The number of team members for each game varied slightly, with each team consisting of between five and eight members for each Olympics. Teams would wear matching uniforms for the competition, which was considered part of the track and field games.
Above: These tug-of-war champs were Olympians
The sport has been contested at five Summer Olympics from 1900 to 1920, although only a handful of countries competed each time. Still, they kept including it (although today it likely would have been canceled due to lack of participation). Great Britain won the most cumulative medals, with five in all throughout the years.

Like any other game, tug of war involved a definite strategy. In 1908, the American team boycotted the competition, accusing their British counterparts of cheating– by using boots with spikes on them to dig into the ground.

Before Rebranding, The US Dept. of Defense Was Called The “Department of War”

Some would say that the old title was more descriptive or honest. The US Department of Defense, which is commonly known as the DoD for short, actually used to be titled more bluntly, “Department of War.”

The name change occurred in the late 1940s. With World War II over, the United Nations was taking steps towards what it hoped would be a lasting peace. In its Charter, the UN outlawed wars of aggression (wars which aren’t fought in defense), and as a result, top US military brass felt the American bureau needed a name, if only for PR reasons.
Above: The official Dept of War seal
So, from 1947 through 1949, Congress adopted a series of laws renaming (and reorganizing) the American national military establishment to a more politically correct naming scheme. Accordingly, the Secretary of War was renamed the Secretary of Defense. Perhaps only one vestige of the old naming scheme remains: the US Army War College in Pennsylvania.

Following suit, several other countries also renamed their war departments around the same time. For example, Great Britain similarly used to have a War Office, which was renamed to the Ministry of Defence in 1963.