TIME Opinion

This Thanksgiving Let’s Finally Stop the Nonsense About the Puritans and Pilgrims

Puritans Pray At Thanksgiving Dinner
Puritans in prayer as a man leads the blessing at Thanksgiving dinner, from an 1867 illustration Kean Collection / Getty Images

Our ancestors were aliens. It’s time we realize that

History News Network

This post is in partnership with the History News Network, the website that puts the news into historical perspective. The article below was originally published at HNN.

Twenty years ago, James Loewen’s book Lies My Teacher Told Me addressed the paradox that American history was full of gripping stories that bored students silly. The problem, Loewen decided, lay with the textbooks, written in a tone he called ‘mumbling lecturer,’ and in content off-putting even to adolescents of white European descent whose ancestry received the most attention. For the rest, these books were either irrelevant or offensive.

Loewen began with the ‘first Thanksgiving’ in 1621, which in the approved version was full of beguiling assumptions. The Pilgrims, it seemed, had carved a world from a wilderness, and everyone else — the Spanish, the Dutch, the Indians — was invisible or passive or wrong. The story had become a pious morality play, a creation myth to preserve and propagate national values. And what about the colonists outside Massachusetts, those who did not sail on the Mayflower? The first permanent colony was Jamestown in 1607, but who had heard of the Susan Constant, Discovery or Godspeed?

I’d like to think that things have improved in US schools since Loewen was writing. But the myths he describes thrive elsewhere, perhaps because previous generations have cherished them into adulthood. Liberty and democracy are historical tripwires. Pilgrim ‘liberty’ was not something we would much fancy today. New Plymouth’s government was more like an oligarchy than a democracy, and the idea of freedom of speech was anathema. Passengers on the Mayflower drew up a compact, often painted as an egalitarian proto-Constitution whereas in reality it was just a socially-exclusive old world company agreement. ‘In their pious treatment of the Pilgrims,’ Loewen argues, ‘history textbooks introduce the archetype of American exceptionalism.’

Exceptionalism implies that a people were special, selected by God or nature to blaze their own trial. The trend was established early on. Edward Johnson’s History of New England (1653) self-righteously praised migrants’ holy work. ‘Behold how the Lord of Hosts hath carried it on in despight of all opposition from his and their enemies,’ thundered Johnson, ‘in planting of his churches in the New World, with the excellent frame of their government.’ The tradition gathered strength in the post-revolutionary era. Thomas Jefferson viewed the Old World as a redundant Ruritania where brave souls were weighed down by the ‘monkish trammels of priests and kings.’

Some historians have taken an explicitly exceptionalist line, others fall into it. Even well-informed, liberal-minded scholars address readers as ‘we’ (as if all readers were US citizens), and treat Europe as mere backstory – a place to quit, not to communicate with, still less return to. It’s like the Atlantic had baptismal powers: by crossing it, a person might be reborn and given the chance to realize dreams that elsewhere were fantasies. Puritans, ruthlessly persecuted in England, could worship freely in America.

The truth was different. Of the 10,000 ministers in England, many of whom had radical sympathies, only seventy-six emigrated, and a third of those had never been in trouble with the authorities. So much for the ‘Puritan diaspora.’ The Pilgrim Fathers who dominate our memory were a tiny unrepresentative minority. Even the Puritans, whom the Pilgrims resembled, were outnumbered four-to-one in New England, and made the other four-fifths resent them by laying down the law and monopolizing power. Of 350,000 English migrants between 1630 and 1700, only 21,000 went to New England anyway. Three times as many went to the Chesapeake, and most to the Caribbean. From the English perspective, the West Indies were by far the most significant American destination, likewise from the perspective of the New England farmers who supplied plantation owners with food so they could concentrate on growing sugar.

So what was in these people’s heads? The Pilgrims, and the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony, were undeniably hostile to orthodox religion in England. But they did not despair of the motherland, and hoped their example would be salutary. This is the true meaning of the Puritan John Winthrop’s ‘city on a hill’ speech, so beloved by presidential speechwriters, who have seen in it the mirage of a uniquely precocious libertarian spirit. Then there was reverse migration. A fifth of New England’s colonists had returned home by 1640, as most had always intended. When the English civil war broke out in 1642, hundreds came back to fight for parliament in the place they called home. Finally, the typical migrant, in so far as such a type existed, was deeply anxious about ceasing to be English, and did everything possible to cling to his or her former cultural identity.

In the end, institutions have origins and events have causes. We just need to remember that nothing looked as it does now, that nothing was inevitable, and that early Americans were not like us. It matters that in 1620 it was England that was the global superpower not the USA, which neither existed nor could be imagined. And it matters that when we mistake our minds for theirs, we do not reanimate the past: we fictionalize it. Our ancestors were aliens. ‘Were we to confront a seventeenth-century Anglo-American,’ the historian David Freeman Hawke once observed, ‘we would experience a sense of culture shock as profound as if we had encountered a member of any other of the world’s exotic cultures.’
Malcolm Gaskill is Professor of Early Modern History at the University of East Anglia. His book “Between Two Worlds: How the English Became Americans” is published by Basic Books

TIME Thanksgiving

5 Things You Didn’t Know About the History of Thanksgiving

Some tidbits about the holiday you can use to impress everyone around the Thanksgiving dinner table

If not for some fortunate circumstances, Thanksgiving could have been a holiday of fasting — rather than feasting — every fourth Thursday of November. And though it’s a well-cherished occasion today, it was met with some disapproval in past centuries.

In the video above, we present you with a few facts about the history of Thanksgiving that just might give you a few more things to be thankful for this season.

TIME Bizarre

The Origins of the ‘Pharaoh’s Curse’ Legend

Howard Carter and King Tut
Howard Carter, English Egyptologist, near golden sarcophagus of Tutankhamon in Egypt in 1922 Rue des Archive / Getty Images

Nov. 26, 1922: Archaeologists enter King Tut’s tomb for the first time

To those who entered King Tut’s tomb — the first people to see inside since the teenaged pharaoh was buried there 3,300 years earlier — the experience inspired either awe or terror.

For British archaeologist Howard Carter, it was a career-defining discovery and the culmination of years of searching for the lost tomb. The hunt had seemed hopeless after months spent sifting through 70,000 tons of sand and gravel, according to Carter’s obituary in the New York Times. But when a workman found a step cut into a chunk of bedrock buried in the sand, the stairway it revealed led to the door of the tomb. Carter opened it on this day, Nov. 26, in 1922.

Tutankhamen was only about 8 or 9 when he came to power in 1332 BC. His decade-long rule was relatively unremarkable in Egyptian history; the discovery of his tomb was significant instead because it was the first such tomb to be found almost entirely intact.

Inside, according to a 1922 New York Times account, stood two life-size statues of the pharaoh wearing solid gold sandals and gold crowns adorned with stylized cobras. The cobras gave local workmen pause, especially after a grim omen later that day. According to the Times, Carter kept a canary as a pet, but that night it was killed by a snake. “The incident made an impression on the native staff, who regard it as a warning from the spirit of the departed King against further intrusion on the privacy of his tomb,” the Times noted.

Newspapers began reporting the legend of a “Pharoah’s Curse,” which would mean death for anyone who disturbed the ancient rulers’ slumber. The wealthy Brit who financed Carter’s excavation, and who joined him inside the tomb on this day 92 years ago, was dead by April — although, as the Times noted, “he had been in bad health.” Eleven other people in the group that entered the tomb with Carter were dead within seven years.

In his 1939 obituary, the Times points out that Carter, despite being fairly sickly himself, lived long enough to be “the best refutation of the curse.” He may have been too dazzled by the tomb’s gilded treasures to give superstition a second thought — after all, Tut was not, in fact, buried in his jammies. Instead, as TIME reported when his coffin was finally opened three years after the tomb was, he wore golden sandals, a gold-inlaid royal apron, a golden star in the place where his heart had been and “innumerable amulets of beauty and ghostly merit, as well as two swords, jewel-studded.”

Over his head and shoulders, Tut wore his now-iconic solid-gold death mask, inlaid with lapis lazuli and precious stones. On his forehead were representations of the deities tasked with protecting him in death: one in the form of a vulture, the other a cobra meant to spit poison at his enemies.

The cobra may have taken revenge on Carter’s canary, but it did little to keep the archaeologist from disturbing the pharaoh’s eternal rest. After Carter opened Tut’s sarcophagus, he and his workers “wrenched the golden mask away from the royal mummy,” the BBC reported — and decapitated the Boy King in the process.

Read TIME’s 1934 report on rumors that a prominent Egyptologist had fallen prey to King Tut’s curse: A Curse on a Curse

TIME White House

A Presidential Turkey Flap: Ronald Reagan and the Bonkers Birds

The history of the presidential turkey tussles

It was President Ronald Reagan’s first Thanksgiving in the White House, in 1981, when he stepped out toward the lawn where a special turkey was waiting for him. He sauntered confidently down the steps, swinging his arms into a full handshake with fowl farmer Hugh McClain — when, suddenly, the turkey began to flail its wings wildly, white feathers all aflutter. Ducking away from the bird like a chef dodging oil sparks from a stove-cooked meal, Reagan watched as handlers placated the finicky fowl.

Reagan’s turkey wasn’t visiting the White House to be pardoned: for all it knew, it could have been a future dinner, which explains its angst. In 1981, the official presidential pardon hadn’t ever been offered, though presidents had spared turkeys before. Abraham Lincoln’s son Tad is said to have begged his father to officially pardon a turkey headed for the Christmas diner table. President Kennedy informally pardoned the Turkey just days before he was assassinated. Many gift turkeys, it seems, were destined for the presidential Thanksgiving spread, but by the time of the Nixon administration, they appear to have been quietly sent to a grassy safe haven rather than the carving knife.

The president-and-turkey saga is about 150 years old. A Rhode Island poultry dealer named Horace Vose sent turkeys to the president from the time of the Ulyssses S. Grant administration until his death in 1913, according to the White House, and in the 1940s President Harry Truman started the tradition of using a National Turkey Federation and Poultry and Egg National Board gift turkey as a photo-op.

But back to Reagan. In 1984, it happened again: the White House turkey resisted the President’s overtures in front of television cameras, flapping away from the president and strutting toward the press. The turkey was actually headed for a petting farm in Virginia, according to an Associated Press report from the time, so it needn’t have been nervous. TIME commemorated Reagan’s fowl foibles in 1997 in a piece on the selection of the president’s turkey:

At 16 weeks, 10 candidates are selected–all toms (or males), because they’re bigger. Criteria: size, feathers, posture, temperament. The last is not insignificant: the 1984 turkey flapped its wings in President Reagan’s face.

The history of the official turkey pardon didn’t begin until 1989, when President George H.W. Bush, Reagan’s successor, excused the turkey from the Thanksgiving feast. The turkey looks “understandably nervous,” Bush said, according to the History Channel. (That was a line that his son, George W. Bush would reuse in his first White House turkey pardon in 2001.) Bush Sr. continued, speaking to reporters, “Let me assure you, and this fine tom turkey, that he will not end up on anyone’s dinner table, not this guy. He’s granted a presidential pardon as of right now.”

President Obama’s turkey this year is from an Ohio farm and is enjoying the 25th year of turkey pardons. But the president doesn’t take the annual fowl forgiveness too gravely. “The office of the presidency is the most powerful position in the world, brings with it many awesome and solemn responsibilities,” President Obama joked last year. “This is not one of them.”

TIME People

Elian Gonzalez, 15 Years Later

The April 17 2000 Cover of TIME
The April 17, 2000, Cover of TIME TIME

Nov. 25, 1999: Cuban refugee Elian Gonzalez, just shy of his 6th birthday, is rescued off the coast of Florida

Elian Gonzalez’ mother was so desperate to escape Cuba and raise her son in the U.S. that she risked the 90-mile ocean crossing in a rickety aluminum boat. When it capsized, drowning her and nine others, 5-year-old Elian clung to an inner tube until he was rescued by fishermen on this day, Nov. 25, in 1999, and later reunited with relatives in Miami.

Elian’s father, meanwhile, wanted to raise his son closer to Castro. What followed was an international tug-of-war between Elian’s father, Juan Miguel, and the relatives who struggled to keep him in the country his mother had died trying to reach.

Elian became a poster child for the troubled relationship between Cuba and the U.S. — and, some said, a pawn in their political posturing. The drama made headlines because it combined a bitter political divide with a fundamental parenting question: Is it possible to be both a good father and a communist.

After more than four months of legal wrangling and a one-on-one meeting between Juan Miguel and Attorney General Janet Reno, the U.S. government reluctantly conceded that yes, it was possible. According to a 2000 TIME story about their meeting, Reno wanted to give Miguel every possible opportunity to recant: “She wanted to see for herself: Was he really a loving father — and did he really, truly want to raise his child in a country where milk is rationed for children over 7 and soldiers drown citizens who try to flee?”

But Miguel managed to convince her of both his love and his genuine desire to raise his son in Cuba. Elian’s return was a new trauma for the boy, who had already suffered unthinkable trauma. To get past the crowds of protesters who surrounded the Miami home where he was staying with relatives, armed federal agents were sent to forcibly seize the boy.

He was separated not just from his Miami relatives — and a new puppy — but from an American lifestyle that included unlimited chocolate milk, trips to Disney World and a growing collection of toys. His relatives feared that when he returned to Cuba, he would be subjected to high-pressure political indoctrination. According to the BBC, Cubans countered that “Elian ha[d] already been indoctrinated in the U.S., and [was] being turned into a ‘toy-obsessed’ capitalist.”

Back in Cuba, however, he quickly put capitalism behind him. By age 12, he addressed Fidel Castro as “my dear Grandpa Fidel,” according to a get-well letter he sent the Cuban leader in 2006. At 14, he was inducted into the Communist Party.

And last year, at age 20, he railed against the American embargo of Cuba, which he blamed for his mother’s death.

“Their unjust embargo provokes an internal and critical economic situation in Cuba,” forcing people like his mother to flee, he proclaimed at a youth rally in Ecuador.

When a CNN reporter at the rally asked Elian what his life had been like since his repatriation, he answered: “magnificent.”

Read TIME’s Apr. 17, 2000, cover story about Elian Gonzalez: I Love My Child

TIME Opinion

The Reason Every One of Us Should Be Thankful

Thanksgiving Preparations
Illustration of preparing the Thanksgiving meal circa 1882. Kean Collection / Getty Images

As Thanksgiving approaches, a little bit of historical context goes a long way

Astronomy is a historical science because the distance scales involved are so immense that to look out into space is to look back into time. Even at the almost unfathomable speed of light — 300,000 kilometers per second — the sun is eight light minutes away, the nearest star is 4.3 light years away, the nearest galaxy, Andromeda, is about 2.5 million light years away and the farthest object ever observed is about 13.8 billion light years away. Astronomers call this way of describing such distances “lookback time.”

The concept is not limited to astronomy: current events also have their own lookback times, accounting for what gave rise to them. Just as looking at a star now actually involves seeing light from the past, looking at the world today actually involves looking at the reverberations of history. We have to think about the past in order to put current events into proper context, because that’s only way to track human progress.

Consider the longing many people have for the peaceful past, filled with bucolic scenes of pastoral bliss, that existed before overpopulation and pollution, mass hunger and starvation, world wars and civil wars, riots and revolutions, genocides and ethnic cleansing, rape and murder, disease and plagues, and the existential angst that comes from mass consumerism and empty materialism. Given so much bad news, surely things were better then than they are now, yes?

No.

Overall, there has never been a better time to be alive than today. As I document in my 2008 book The Mind of the Market and in my forthcoming book The Moral Arc, if you lived 10,000 years ago you would have been a hunter-gatherer who earned the equivalent of about $100 a year — extreme poverty is defined by the United Nations as less than $1.25 a day, or $456 a year — and the material belongings of your tiny band would have consisted of about 300 different items, such as stone tools, woven baskets and articles of clothing made from animal hides. Today, the average annual income in the Western world — the U.S. and Canada, the countries of the European Union, and other developed industrial nations — is about $40,000 per person per year, and the number of available products is over 10 billion, with the universal product code (barcode) system having surpassed that number in 2008.

Poverty itself may be going extinct, and not just in the West. According to UN data, in 1820 85-95% of the world’s people lived in poverty; by the 1980s that figure was below 50%, and today it is under 20%. Yes, 1 in 5 people living in poverty is too many, but if the trends continue by 2100, and possibly even by 2050, no one in the world will be poor, including in Africa.

Jesus said that one cannot live on bread alone, but our medieval ancestors did nearly that. Over 80% of their daily calories came from the nine loaves a typical family of five consumed each day. Also devoured was the 60 to 80% of a family’s income that went to food alone, leaving next to nothing for discretionary spending or retirement after housing and clothing expenses. Most prosperity has happened over the two centuries since the Industrial Revolution, and even more dramatic gains have been enjoyed over the last half-century. From 1950 to 2000, for example, the per capita real Gross Domestic Product of the United States went from $11,087 (adjusted for inflation and computed in 1996 dollars) to $34,365, a 300% increase in comparable dollars! This has allowed more people to own their own homes, and for those homes to double in size even as family size declined.

For centuries human life expectancy bounced around between 30 and 40 years, until the average went from 41 in 1900 to the high 70s and low 80s in the Western world in 2000. Today, no country has a lower life expectancy than the country with the highest life expectancy did 200 years ago. Looking back a little further, around the time of the Black Death in the 14th century, even if you escaped one of the countless diseases and plagues that were wont to strike people down, young men were 500 times more likely to die violently than they are today.

Despite the news stories about murder in cities like Ferguson and rape on college campuses, crime is down. Way down. After the crime wave of the 1970s and 1980s, homicides plummeted between 50 and 75% in such major cities as New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Baltimore and San Diego. Teen criminal acts fell by over 66%. Domestic violence against women dropped 21%. According to the U.S. Department of Justice the overall rate of rape has declined 58% between 1995 and 2010, from 5.0 per 1,000 women age 12 or older to 2.1. And on Nov. 10, 2014, the FBI reported that in 2013, across more than 18,400 city, county, state, and federal law enforcement agencies that report crime data to the FBI, every crime category saw declines.

What about the amount of work we have today compared with that of our ancestors? Didn’t they have more free and family time than we do? Don’t we spend endless hours commuting to work and toiling in the office until late into the neon-lit night? Actually, the total hours of life spent working has been steadily declining over the decades. In 1850, for example, the average person invested 50% of his or her waking hours in the year working, compared to only 20% today. Fewer working hours means more time for doing other things, including doing nothing. In 1880, the average American enjoyed just 11 hours per week in leisure time, compared to today’s 40 hours per week.

That leisure time can be spent in cleaner environments. In my own city of Los Angeles, for example, in the 1980s I had to put up with an average of 150 “health advisory” days per year and 50 “stage one” ozone alerts caused by all the fine particulate matter in the air—dirt, dust, pollens, molds, ashes, soot, aerosols, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides—AKA smog. Today, thanks to the Clean Air Act and improved engine and fuel technologies, in 2013 there was only one health advisory day, and 0 stage-one ozone alerts. Across the country, even with the doubling of the number of automobiles and an increase of 150% in the number of vehicle-miles driven, smog has diminished by a third, acid rain by two-thirds, airborne lead by 97%, and CFCs are a thing of the past.

Today’s world has its problems — many of them serious ones — but, while we work to fix them, it’s important to see them with astronomers’ lookback-time eyes. With their historical context, even our worst problems show that we have made progress.

Rewind the tape to the Middle Ages, the Early Modern Period or the Industrial Revolution and play it back to see what life was really like in a world lit only by fire. Only the tiniest fraction of the population lived in comfort, while the vast majority toiled in squalor, lived in poverty and expected half their children would die before adulthood. Very few people ever traveled beyond the horizon of their landscape, and if they did it was either on horseback or, more likely, on foot. No Egyptian pharaoh, Greek king, Roman ruler, Chinese emperor or Ottoman sultan had anything like the most quotidian technologies and public-health benefits that ordinary people take for granted today. Advances in dentistry alone should encourage us all to stay away from time machines.

As it turns out, these are the good old days, and we should all be thankful for that.

Michael Shermer is the Publisher of Skeptic magazine, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University. He is the author of a dozen books, including Why People Believe Weird Things and The Believing Brain. His next book, to be published in January, is entitled The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity Toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom.

TIME gender

The Brutal Triple Murder Behind the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women

Busts of the Mirabal sisters at the muse
Busts of the Mirabal sisters at the museum in the village of Salcedo, north of Santo Domingo. The Mirabal sisters were assasinated in 1960 during the dictatorial regime of Rafael Trujillo. (RICARDO HERNANDEZ--AFP/Getty Images) RICARDO HERNANDEZ—AFP/Getty Images

Nov. 25 kicks off 16 days of activism to advance equality for women

The Empire State Building was lit up orange Monday night, but the color wasn’t a reference to a Thanksgiving pumpkin pie. It was to mark Nov. 25 as the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, which hits its 15th anniversary this year.

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women isn’t just a single day — it’s the beginning of 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, which culminates on Human Rights Day on Dec. 10. The days are meant to “symbolically link violence against women with human rights, and to emphasize that such violence is the worst form of violation of women’s human rights,” explains Lakshmi Puri, Assistant Secretary-General of the U.N. and Deputy Executive Director of U.N. Women. “Violence against women is one of the most tolerated violations of human rights. It’s unacceptable.”

And Nov. 25 wasn’t randomly chosen. Though the day now addresses the issue of violence against women everywhere, its story starts with one particular — and particularly brutal — act.

The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women was started in 1999 to commemorate the Mirabal sisters, political activists in the Dominican Republic who were assassinated on this date in 1960 for opposing dictator Rafael Trujillo. The three sisters started an anti-Trujillo group called the Movement of the Fourteenth of June, named after a massacre reportedly ordered by the dictator. They called themselves, “Las Mariposas,” or “the butterflies,” and openly protested Trujillo and his regime. To retaliate, his henchmen beat the sisters to death in a cane field and faked a car accident to explain their deaths.

Puri says the day was chosen to commemorate the Mirabal sisters’ courage in taking political action despite the brutality they faced. “Violence against women in politics is also a very particular form of violence, to intimidate them so they don’t engage in politics,” she says.

The 16 Days of Activism are meant to raise global awareness of the violence endured by women and girls around the world, Puri explains. The 16 days will include marches, marathons and other public activism to promote gender equality and improve the lot of women everywhere. According to U.N. estimates, 35% of women in the world have experienced physical or sexual violence, 700 million women alive today were married as children and more than 133 million girls and women have experienced female genital mutilation. The U.N. estimates that in 2012 over half of murdered women were killed by partners or family members, and that 120 million girls worldwide have been forced to have sex at some point in their lives. “Together, we must end this global disgrace,” UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said at a ceremony before the lighting of the Empire State Building.

“It’s a very difficult issue to tackle without a mindset change,” Puri says, adding that the 16 Days of Activism are intended to challenged the entrenched gender inequality in most societies. Activists in Mexico City will run a marathon to end the violence, a film series about women’s lives will be screened in Uganda and public spaces in India will turn orange to support the cause. But do any of these actions really help women who are trapped in forced marriages or subjected to brutal violence? “It creates a culture of zero tolerance,” she says. “It creates awareness, it shows the determination of people, and it becomes the new normal.”

The day has been celebrated every year since 1999, but it takes on extra significance this year. It’s not just the 15th anniversary of the first The International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, but it’s also an occasion to look forward to 2015, which will mark 20 years since the groundbreaking Beijing Platform for Action. That’s where Hillary Clinton made her famous speech saying, “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights.”

The U.N. is also taking greater steps to include men in their mission to elevate global women, with their He for She program launched this year. Puri says they’re trying to challenge the idea “that it’s a right of a man to be violent and that it’s the fate of the woman to be subjected to violence.”

“These things,” she says, “have to change.”

TIME language

That ‘A System Cannot Fail…’ Quote? It’s Not From W.E.B. DuBois

Thank social media--and perhaps Rihanna--for the confusion

In the moments following Monday night’s announcement that there would be no indictment for Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, one line began to bubble up on social media: a system cannot fail those it was never built to protect.

The quotation, sometimes rendered as “designed to protect” or “meant to protect,” is attributed to historian and Civil Rights icon W.E.B. DuBois, and it captures the sense of futility felt by many who had hoped that Brown’s death would lead to a trial.

But, search for any variation on those words along with DuBois’ name, and you’ll come up blank. Look for a source in DuBois’ writings, and there’s nothing. Though it’s always possible that someone who produced work about a century ago would have work that was not available to be searched online, the phrase doesn’t turn up in lists of his most quoted lines — and, in fact, a Google search that limits results to those created prior to last summer, when it was similarly used to respond to the death of Trayvon Martin, provides no results at all.

So where did that quotation come from, and who actually said it?

A likely source of its proliferation is the singer Rihanna, who has a large social-media following and tweeted the quotation on July 14, 2013, a day after George Zimmerman was acquitted in Martin’s case:

Rihanna’s message was retweeted more than 11,000 times, but it doesn’t mention a source for the phrase. In the days that followed, the line was used many times on social media and in articles on the topic of Martin’s death, and within a single day it had acquired W.E.B. DuBois as its author — a source that makes sense, given DuBois’ activism, and his prolific and quotable body of work.

In reality, however, this was the source of the quote:

That’s Vann Newkirk, who tweets as @fivefifths with the Twitter handle “W.E.B.B.I.E. DuBois.”

Reached by email late Monday night, he confirmed that as far as he knows, the idea and the wording were “100% on the spot” from him. When Zimmerman was acquitted, he was talking to some people who felt let down by the justice system; he personally felt like even to feel let down was to expect too much from that system, so he said as much.

“It went pretty wild and got attributed to everyone under the sun, but the one that stuck was DuBois,” he continues, speculating that his Twitter handle was responsible for the confusion. “I felt some pride in how it spread and the fact that people reasonably believed it was the property of people I idolized. At the very least, it resonates, and with all that’s going on, I’m happy people were able to find some meaning in it, whether they attribute it to me or Ronald McDonald.”

Read next: Don’t Blame Social Media for Ferguson’s Troubles

TIME Civil Rights

These Slain Civil Rights Workers Are Getting the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Civil Rights Workers Murdered
From left, Michael Schwerner, James Chaney, and Andrew Goodman Underwood Archives / Getty Images

What happened to James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner?

On Monday, President Obama will award 19 people with the highest honor possible for an American civilian, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Though the majority of the honorees, like Tom Brokaw and Stephen Sondheim, are famous and living, one of the items on the list of recipients stands out: James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner.

Not only is theirs the only item on the list honoring a group rather than an individual, but their names may also be unfamiliar to most people, as well as the achievement, half a century ago, for which the three men are being honored — one that resulted in their deaths.

Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner were part of the “Freedom Summer” voter-registration drive that took place in Mississippi in 1964; they were killed that June. Their deaths, in the words of the White House, “shocked the nation and their efforts helped to inspire many of the landmark civil rights advancements that followed.”

Here’s what happened to them:

As TIME reported in its issue of July 3, 1964, Chaney and Schwerner were among the staffers at an “indoctrination course” in Ohio at which hundreds of Northern college students prepared to go to Mississippi to register voters. Schwerner, then 24, was a social worker from New York who had spent the previous two years, along with his wife Rita, working for civil rights with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). Chaney was a high-school drop-out who had joined CORE and volunteered to be an instructor at the orientation for voter registration. Goodman was one of their students, a junior at Queens College who was relatively new to the civil-rights movement. They left the orientation, along with five other people, on June 20 and drove to Mississippi.

Freedom Summer map
From the July 3, 1964, issue of TIME

On the morning of June 21, they visited the office of the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO)—an advocacy group that was one of the organizers of the drive—in Meridian, Miss., before driving to see the site of a recently burned-down church in the area. They met with one of the church’s lay leaders, who described to them what had happened during the fire, and then set off to return to Meridian. Their car was stopped for speeding around 5:00 p.m. near Philadelphia, Miss. They were booked at the county jail, fined and told to leave.

Late that night, the police deputy escorted them to the edge of town. But they never returned to Meridian. COFO alerted the FBI and the highway patrol. Within three days, their car was found — gutted and stripped — and a full-scale search was underway (see map). It was slow going, according to TIME:

At week’s end, there was still no sign of the missing men. Some people shared the suspicion voiced by Neshoba County Sheriff L. A. Rainey: “They’re just hiding and trying to cause a lot of bad publicity for this part of the state.” But with each passing day, the possibility of a hoax seemed less and less likely. Whatever their fate, whether dead or alive, the case of the three young civil rights workers would reverberate around the U.S. for the rest of this summer and beyond.

Their bodies were found more than a month later. All three had been shot.

Three years later, the local Sheriff and his deputy were indicted by a federal grand jury on civil rights charges. Though the deaths of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner were considered, no murder charges could be bought. (Those would have had to have come from Mississippi, not the federal government.) When the related trial began that October, more than a dozen Mississippians faced charges.

During the trial, eyewitness accounts by paid informers revealed what had happened to the three men. As TIME reported:

Carlton Wallace Miller, 43, a Meridian police sergeant who received $2,400 from the FBI over a two-year period, testified that the Meridian chapter of the White Knights of the Klan had marked Schwerner for “elimination—the term for murdering someone.” To lure Schwerner from Meridian, where he and his wife Rita were operating a Negro community center, said Miller, Klansmen burned down the Mount Zion (Negro) Church at Longdale, outside Philadelphia. Five days later, Schwerner and two companions, Goodman, a white man, and Chancy, a Negro, drove 50 miles to Longdale to inspect the ruins of the church.

Near Philadelphia, the three men were arrested on a speeding charge by Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price, 29. Soon, said James E. Jordan, 41, who received $8,000 from the FBI and has been living safely in Georgia and Florida since turning informer nearly three years ago, the word went swiftly around Meridian that there were some “civil rights workers locked up and they need their rear ends torn up.”

Jordan and seven others, he said, armed themselves and drove to Philadelphia. There they parked by the courthouse where Ethel Glen (“Hop”) Barnett, 45, current Democratic nominee for sheriff of Neshoba County and one of the defendants, told them to wait. Two uniformed men in a city police car informed them that the prospective victims had been released. Later they were told by men in a highway patrol car that the victims would be stopped somewhere down the highway by Deputy Sheriff Price, who, along with Neshoba Sheriff Lawrence Rainey, is now on trial.

…They were driven into a deserted area, and Jordan got out to stand guard. “The cars then went on up the road,” testified Jordan. “I heard doors slam and loud talk. Then I heard several shots.”

Seven of the defendants in that trial were found guilty of conspiracy. In 2005, a former Klansman became the first person to face actual murder charges related to the case; he was convicted and sentenced, aged 80, to 60 years in jail.

President Obama mentioned each by name in his 2013 speech commemorating the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr’s March on Washington. “To dismiss the magnitude of this progress — to suggest, as some sometimes do, that little has changed — that dishonors the courage and the sacrifice of those who paid the price to march in those years,” the President said. “Medgar Evers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, Martin Luther King Jr. — they did not die in vain. Their victory was great.”

Read TIME’s original 1964 report on the search for the missing men in the TIME Vault: The Grim Roster

TIME

On Evolution Day, Remember That Darwin Knew He’d Meet Resistance

127035224
A statue of Darwin in the Natural History Museum, London Philippe Lissac—Godong / Getty Images

Plus, TIME's original coverage of the anti-evolution arguments of the 1925 Scopes trial

Correction appended, Nov. 24, 2014, 5:49 p.m.

Time was, “Darwin” was just a guy’s name. It was not a noun (Darwinism) or an adjective (Darwinian). And it certainly wasn’t a flash point for debate between folks who prefer a Scriptural view of the history of life and those who take a more scientific approach. That started to change 155 years ago today, on Nov. 24, 1859, when Charles Darwin’s seminal work—On the Origin of Species—was published.

Darwin knew that by supporting an empirical theory of evolution as opposed to the Biblical account of Creation he was asking for trouble. Two weeks before the book’s publication, he sent letters to 11 prominent scientists of his day, asking for their support—or at least their forbearance—and acknowledging that for some of them, that would not be easy. To the celebrated French botanist Alphonse de Candolle he wrote:

Lord, how savage you will be, if you read it, and how you will long to crucify me alive! I fear it will produce no other effect on you; but if it should stagger you in ever so slight a degree, in this case, I am fully convinced that you will become, year after year, less fixed in your belief in the immutability of species.

And to American Asa Gray, another botanist, he conceded:

Let me add I fully admit that there are very many difficulties not satisfactorily explained by my theory of descent with modification, but I cannot possibly believe that a false theory would explain so many classes of facts as I think it certainly does explain.

But the whirlwind came anyway. Speaking of Darwin in 1860, the Bishop of Oxford asked: “Was it through his grandfather or his grandmother that he claimed his descent from a monkey?” The battle raged in the U.S. in the summer of 1925, with the trial of John Scopes, a substitute school teacher charged with violating a Tennessee statute forbidding the teaching of evolution in schools.

But Darwin and his theory of evolution endured, so much so that Nov. 24 is now recognized as Evolution Day. As if serendipity and circumstance were conspiring to validate that decision, it was on another Nov. 24, in 1974, that the fossilized remains of Lucy, the australopithecus who did so much to fill in a major gap in human evolution, were found in Ethiopia.

In honor of Lucy and Evolution Day and Darwin himself, check out TIME’s coverage of the florid anti-evolution closing argument of prosecuting attorney and three-time presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan during the Scopes trial, as quoted in the magazine’s Aug. 10, 1925 issue:

“Darwin suggested two laws, sexual selection and natural selection. Sexual selection has been laughed out of the class room, and natural selection is being abandoned, and no new explanation is satisfactory even to scientists. Some of the more rash advocates of Evolution are wont to say that Evolution is as firmly established as the law of gravitation or the Copernician theory.

“The absurdity of such a claim is apparent when we remember that any one can prove the law of gravitation by throwing a weight into the air and that any one can prove the roundness of the earth by going around it, while no one can prove Evolution to be true in any way whatever.”

Bryan died mere days after the trial ended but, as the historical record shows, his strenuous efforts paid off—sort of. Scopes was duly convicted. His sentence for teaching what most of the world now accepts as science: $100.

Read the full text of that story, free of charge, here in the TIME archives, or in its original format, in the TIME Vault: Dixit

Correction: The original version of this article misstated the date of Darwin Day. Darwin Day is typically celebrated on February 12.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser