TIME society

MLK, Civil Rights and The Fierce Urgency of Now

What can the Civil Rights Movement and President Johnson's "Great Society" teach us about legislative action today?
Getty Images

What can the Civil Rights Movement and President Johnson's "Great Society" teach us about legislative action today?

What’s in a moment?

At the 1963 March on Washington and elsewhere, Martin Luther King, Jr spoke of “the fierce urgency of now,” the need for immediate, “vigorous and positive action” on civil rights. Princeton historian Julian Zelizer has borrowed King’s words for the title of his new book to re-examine the Lyndon Johnson presidency, the power of Congress, and the birth, and fate, of the Great Society.

On a recent Thursday evening Zelizer and Jonathan Alter (the two are a kind of Simon and Garfunkel of modern politics) engaged in wide ranging discussion of civil rights, grass roots activism, and the nature of leadership, past and present. It was a moment for moments, exploring larger historiographical questions about how we mark and measure progress, how insights into one era help us make sense of our own.

In The Fierce Urgency of Now, Zelizer recounts the astonishing achievements of a brief three-year window, 1963-1966: the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts, Medicare and Medicaid, the War on Poverty, national investments in education and infrastructure, and a series of groundbreaking environmental and consumer protection laws. Challenging what has become, a half century later, received wisdom about the Great Society, Zelizer shifts the lens from Johnson to the Congress to explode what he calls two “myths”: that much of the country and the federal government had become, ineluctably, liberal, and that LBJ’s famous “Treatment” – the force of his personality – willed legislation into being.

“Johnson deserves his share of the credit,” Zelizer contends, “but less for being an especially skilled politician who could steamroll a recalcitrant Congress than for taking advantage of extremely good legislative conditions when they emerged.” By 1966, deteriorating conditions in many American cities, the resurgence of a strong conservative coalition, mounting concern over Vietnam on the left and right, and sweeping losses for the Democrats in the midterm elections, meant Johnson’s window was shut. At that point, notes Zelizer, “all the Treatment and parliamentary tricks in the world had little practical effect on Congress.”

This thesis, supported in large measure by transcripts of oval office audiotapes, counters the more “Johnson-centric” and great man view of history. By implication, it also takes on the work of the “great man” historian who has helped shaped this narrative. Robert Caro’s exhaustively researched and highly decorated volumes on Johnson – in particular the Pulitzer Prize winning Master of the Senate – have become a kind of gospel of LBJ’s legislative prowess and potency. As President, “Johnson knew the limits of his skill,” Zelizer told the group assembled at New America NYC. “Johnson used to say, ‘I’m not a Master of a damn thing. The only power that I’ve got is nuclear, and I can’t use that.’”

The role of historical revision was more than subtext in the evening’s discussion. Alter, a defining historian of Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Barack Obama, has explained of the craft, “writing contemporary history is tricky, like pulling pottery out of the kiln before the glaze has hardened.” In The Promise, his chronicle of Obama’s first year in office, Alter also writes of the importance of multiple drafts and subsequent “versions” of history. Accordingly, he probed how Zelizer’s version of the “battle” for the Great Society enriches our understanding of that moment, and illuminates issues of governance and leadership more broadly. Which raised, inexorably, the Obama comparisons. When asked by an audience member about the prospect of any American president ever achieving that kind of ’63-’66 legislative run, Zelizer replied, “we will need a different Congress to get a great society, not just a different president.” We may still be too close to our subject to conclude how Presidential temperament does – or does not – influence legislative outcomes. But it is useful to remember, as Zelizer noted, that some of the elements of our current political morass – large and consequential mid-term swings, a dysfunctional Congress – are not without precedent.

The publication of The Fierce Urgency of Now coincides with the release of Selma, Director Ava DuVernay’s new film about the marches for voting rights in 1965. The movie portrays how activists persisted in the face of brutal attacks from Alabama State troopers and local police, drawing the national attention to the moment and movement necessary to pass the Voting Rights Act. Members of the Johnson Administration and others have suggested that the filmmakers unfairly depict the President as hostile to voting rights. Zelizer supports this critique, and notes that Johnson, shortly after his election, instructed Deputy Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach and others to craft the framework and deal for a voting rights bill, both in place before Selma. Where LBJ disagreed with King, Zelizer suggests, was on timing. “Johnson was committed to voting rights,” Zelizer says. But “he was scared of the limits of his power… He was worried if he sent the Voting Rights bill so soon after the Civil Rights bill” he would lose the political support of moderate Democrats and others, and jeopardize other legislative priorities like Medicare and education.

“This is the fierce urgency of now debate,” Zelizer argues. “The movement, the protests, were critical in getting the bill out now rather than later.” According to Zelizer, the Selma film is “really exceptional in capturing the bravery and the courage of the movement, showing how the movement was moving the issue… This is a stunning portrayal of one of the themes of the book: the way that average people mobilize to change Washington.” In our current struggles for civil rights, and the need to shape movement from moment, there is no lesson more hopeful – or urgent.

Georgia Levenson Keohane is a Senior Fellow at New America and Director of the Program on Profits and Purpose, a new initiative that explores ways in which social entrepreneurship, innovation and finance can address some of our most pressing social and economic challenges. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The Weekly Wonk. Sign up to get it delivered to your inbox each Thursday here, and follow @New America on Twitter.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME movies

Selma Cast Will March in Alabama to Celebrate MLK Day

attends the "Selma" New York Premiere at Ziegfeld Theater on December 14, 2014 in New York City.
From left: Oprah, David Oyelowo, and Ava DuVernay, attend the "Selma" New York Premiere at Ziegfeld Theater on Dec. 14, 2014 in New York City. Rob Kim—Getty Images

Director Ava DuVernay and stars Oprah Winfrey and David Oyelowo will be there too

Oprah Winfrey, who produced and appears in the Oscar-nominated movie Selma, will march in Selma, Alabama on Sunday with members of the film’s cast and crew to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday.

Director Ava DuVernay and star David Oyelowo will also be marching in the event to celebrate Dr. King’s contributions, according to The Hollywood Reporter. The film is about Dr. King and the voting rights protests of 1965 in Selma. Monday is MLK Day, a national holiday celebrating Dr. King’s birthday and his leadership in the civil rights movement.

Paramount is offering free screenings of Selma for students in 24 American cities on Monday, thanks to contributions by prominent African-American business leaders.


TIME society

Growing Up in Atlanta, Every Day Was MLK Day

Martin Luther King, Jr. Getty Images

Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

"If you grow up black in King's hometown, you can't help but see his story intertwine with your own"

To grow up in Atlanta is to be always aware of the story of Martin Luther King, Jr., and to see it intertwine with your own fate.

I was born there in 1978, less than a mile from the house where King grew up. As a schoolchild, I like others, visited Atlanta’s Auburn Avenue—the street where King was born, worked, died, and is honored. To see King’s neighborhood, and the home he was born in, humanized him for us children, letting us know that he was once young like us, wrestling with classes and playing with siblings. We went to the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King declared, “If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice,” and to the headquarters of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the organization he led until his death in 1968. We visited the King Center built by his widow to spread King’s nonviolent doctrine, and saw the eternal flame that burns near his tomb and reminds us that his work endures.

My grandparents—native Floridians who first came to Atlanta as college students in the late 1930s—and my mother tried to shield my brother and me from the indignities they suffered during the era of Jim Crow. They did this mostly by trying to give us a better life; I seldom spoke to them about the racism they endured. But the living history was everywhere in Atlanta, and the frequency with which I saw King’s lieutenants and associates on television reminded me of both the progress we’d achieved and the work still left to be done. John Lewis, for example, was leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee when he was gassed and beaten badly on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, in 1965, during the start of a march to the state capitol that came to be known as “Bloody Sunday.” But he went on to represent Atlanta as a U.S. congressman and has fought for decades to preserve the Voting Rights Act he, King, and hundreds of foot soldiers helped usher into law.

When I became a journalist, I found myself gravitating toward telling the stories of black people, and focusing specifically on the legacy of the civil rights movement. As a college student, I got my first reporting job at the Atlanta Daily World, a black newspaper first published in 1928. The office was on Auburn Avenue—the same street I’d first visited as a child. I was working blocks away from where King worked.

By taking on civil rights as a beat in Atlanta, I not only had a front row seat to history, but the ability to ask those who lived it how they felt about current-day racial struggles. It was an extraordinary opportunity.

Even though I have left Atlanta, I carry all this history with me. This fall, almost a half-century after the enactment of the federal Civil Rights Act that King supported, I spent a few weeks in Ferguson, Missouri, as a reporter for Fusion covering the Michael Brown shooting and the ensuing protests.

From the day I arrived, the parallels between the Ferguson context and that of King’s struggles were everywhere.

Even though segregation is no longer legal and discussion of the civil rights movement has appeared in textbooks for decades, I still found neighborhoods in Ferguson so divided along color lines that I thought I had stepped into those black-and-white TV images of the 1960s I had seen. In the same way Bull Connor referred to King and other protesters as “outside agitators” in Birmingham, authorities and some residents in Ferguson referred to “outsiders” and the “negative influence of the media” on the African-American community—as if this community had no grounds to be unhappy of their own volition with the status quo before August 9, 2014. I talked to people on both sides of the racial divide who did not know each other’s daily lives.

The way the police deployed tear gas, dogs, smoke bombs, and riot gear certainly reminded me of stories I’d been told by people like Lewis. Images of clashing police and protesters in Ferguson—and the real-time reactions on social media—reminded me of the nation’s horror at the sight of water hoses, clubs, and snarling dogs 50 years before.

The Ferguson rallies, both there and elsewhere in the country, were full of young people—much like those during the civil rights movement. But there were important differences, too. Unlike the masses who rallied around King in Alabama, there was no single leader of the protests I covered in Ferguson night after night. The shooting of Michael Brown had been the catalyst, but inequality—and specifically unequal treatment of black people in the criminal justice system—was the real subject, one with many stories to tell.

During the 1960s, the black church had a central role, serving as the moral foundation of the movement. In Ferguson, churches served as the site of several rallies and meetings, and preachers could regularly be seen keeping the peace on the front lines during protests. But the burgeoning movement was neither started nor maintained through the church.

And while the protesters on West Florissant Avenue were mostly peaceful demonstrators, there were some who would have disappointed King—looting, committing arson, firing guns.

There are some who think of the events in Ferguson as an isolated incident, simply a moment in time. But to me it seemed like part of the continuum in the struggle for progress in our country. When I interviewed King’s aides, they were always quick to mention that the civil rights movement didn’t die with King; it’s ongoing. While our nation has made racial progress, we still have far to go before we achieve full equality among America’s citizens. The reaction to what happened in Ferguson exposed that chasm anew.

Errin Whack is a journalist whose articles, essays, and interviews have appeared in numerous outlets, including Fusion News, The Guardian, The Associated Press, and The Washington Post. She currently serves as vice president of print for the National Association of Black Journalists and lives in Washington, D.C. She wrote this for What It Means to Be American, a national conversation hosted by the Smithsonian and Zocalo Public Square.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME faith

The History of Jews in France in 6 Key Moments

A member of the French Jewish community holds a sign during a rally in Jerusalem on Jan. 11, 2015, to demonstrate Jerusalem's support for France and the Jewish community there. Gali Tibbon—AFP/Getty Images

Understand how history shaped the Jewish community in France, from the French Revolution to today

The deadly assault on a kosher supermarket in Paris on Friday confirmed the fears of many French Jews that anti-Semitism is a persistent and growing threat in France. Already, thousands of Jews have departed for Israel in the wake of 2012 shooting at a Jewish day school and an attack last year on the Jewish museum in Belgium.

The history of the Jewish community in France has, in some ways, been shaped by anti-Semitism—but it is also shaped by the type of support that coalesced around the Jewish community over the weekend. Prime Minister Manuel Valls declared that “France without Jews is not France” and an estimated 3.7 million people took to the streets in solidarity with the victims of last week’s violence.

The Jewish community in France “is not as isolated as we thought,” said French Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia after the march. “For months we have been asking where is France? Today we saw France, and the France we saw was a spitting image of biblical descriptions of Jerusalem, where brothers unite.”

To learn more about how the situation got the way it is for the Jewish population of France, TIME spoke with Maud S. Mandel, Dean of the College at Brown University and author of Muslims and Jews in France: History of a Conflict. Here’s a look at some of the key periods that have shaped the history of French Jews:

1. The French Revolution

Within two years of the Revolution, France became the first country in modern Europe to grant Jews equal rights under the law, setting a precedent for France and a new standard for Europe as a whole. At the time, there were only about 40,000 Jews in France, living primarily in the country’s eastern Alsace-Lorraine region, but the process of Jewish emancipation that largely began with the Revolution would have a lasting impact.

2. Napoleon and the Great Sanhedrin

Still, the question of if and how to integrate the Jewish community into French society—a problem known at the time as “the Jewish question”—persisted after the Revolution and the rise of Napoleon Bonaparte, who was named French Emperor in 1804. “The hope by enlightenment philosophes and revolutionaries that supported Jewish emancipation was that that Jews would integrate into the state like everybody else and that their differences would diminish,” says Mandel. “Napoleon believed that such change wasn’t happening quickly enough, that Jews weren’t fully blending into the surrounding populations.”

Proposing to put the question to the Jewish people, in 1806 Napoleon convened an assembly of important leaders in the Jewish community to clarify their political and religious loyalties. A year later, religious leaders gathered for what was called the Great Sanhedrin, named after the Jewish high court in ancient Israel, to ratify the declarations of the assembly. Through this process, Napoleon effectively asked whether the allegiances of French Jews lay in the Jewish community or in the larger society, says Mandel. “That was a big moment, the Sanhedrin, because it was during this moment of political theater when Jews declared themselves first and foremost French citizens, and that’s where their primary political allegiances were,” she says. “And after that, over a period that took decades, successive generations of Jews integrated more fully because now they were citizens.”

3. The Dreyfus Affair

The assumption that Jews had become an integral part of French society was rocked in the late 19th century. In 1894, Captain Alfred Dreyfus, who was Jewish, was convicted of spying for Germany, spawning a decade-long scandal. Dreyfus was eventually exonerated, but the period was marked by anti-Semitic riots and a vocal anti-Semitic press—as well as by equally vocal non-Jewish defenders of Dreyfus.

Jews in France interpreted the Dreyfus Affair in different ways, according to Mandel. For some, Dreyfus’s exoneration represented the triumph of French republican values over discrimination and xenophobia. “For many French Jews it was actually a sign that eventually the state would in fact side with justice and inclusion,” says Mandel. But for others, the scandal was proof that anti-Semitism was endemic to Europe. One of the people who felt that way was an Austro-Hungarian journalist reporting from Paris, Theodor Herzl—the man who would found the modern Zionist movement.

4. The Holocaust

The Second World War had a devastating impact on Jews in France, as it did on Jewish communities across Europe. Even before the war, the influx of Jewish refugees and immigrants from Germany and Eastern Europe had sparked an anti-Semitic backlash. (At the turn of the century, there were about 80,000 Jews in France; by 1939, there were about 300,000.) In the wake of the German invasion, the newly installed Vichy government willingly helped the Nazis round up Jews in France, particularly from recent immigrant communities. It was a stain on French history with tragic repercussions: by the end of the war, more than 70,000 Jews were deported from France, of whom only about 2,500 would survive.

On the other hand, the high number of Jews in France who did survive the war spoke to the public’s reluctance to participate in the Nazi deportation. “Of the Jews who survived, many, many of them owed their lives to French citizens who hid them, to officials who dragged their feet, to the very fact that they were French and they had all kinds of connections in French society that allowed them to avoid the worst outcome,” Mandel says. “That didn’t mean they didn’t lose property and suffer great losses and hardship over the period of World War II. I think that’s where you see the tension in the French story.”

5. Jewish Migration from North Africa

In the decades following the war, as France pulled out of Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco, large populations of Jews in those countries fled along with it. Many left for the newly established state of Israel, but others went to France. The migration north was most pronounced in Algeria, where the people already had French citizenship because of the special status of Algeria as a French colony; 90% of Jews in that country headed for France. The influx from North Africa doubled the Jewish population in France and introduced new customs to the increasingly diverse Jewish community. The North African Jews were also more willing than their predecessors in France to engage in politics along ethnic lines, coming out in force, for example, in support of Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War.

“Since that time, the Jewish community has been much more visible in support of Israel,” says Mandel. “It’s also been much more comfortable with expressing an ethnic politics within mainstream French political discourse.”

6. Jewish-Muslim Tensions

The arrival of Jews from North Africa coincided with a massive influx of Muslim migrant laborers, also largely from North Africa. While there were occasional clashes between these two immigrant populations, Jewish and Muslim immigrants often lived side-by-side in the early years, says Mandel. Beginning in the 1980s, however, tensions began to emerge, especially as the state failed to fully integrate the Muslim community into French society. “The difference was visible, and it caused resentment and interfered with their ability to work together because the needs of the two communities were so different,” says Mandel. Those tensions were only heightened by the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Still, Mandel distinguishes between those lingering tensions and the high profile attacks against Jews that have fueled fears of escalating anti-Semitism since the 2000s. Those, says Mandel, are linked to global Islamic terrorism. “I want to be really clear, that phenomenon does not run through and through France’s very diverse and large Muslim population,” she says. “It is one fringe element.”

Meanwhile, French Jews—the third largest Jewish population in the world after America and Israel—are more integrated into French society than ever before, says Mandel. “The tragic irony is that at the very moment at which we’re talking about the greatest spike in anti-Semitism in Europe since World War II,” she says, “is also a moment where we can underscore the ways in which prior former forms of anti-Semitism have significantly diminished.”

TIME History

The History of French-Muslim Violence Began in the Streets of Algeria

When the Algerian War ended with a ceasefire in March 1962, LIFE was there to capture both the celebration and the violence

It’s not difficult to situate the horrific massacres in Paris last week— which claimed the lives of 17 victims — within the broader context of terrorism carried out by Islamic extremist groups like al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and greater Syria (ISIS). But there’s another context in which the attacks should be understood, and it dates back to the 1950s and early ‘60s, when the Algerian War had France fighting to maintain its colonial hold on the North African country, and Algeria fighting for independence.

The chaotic scenes last week echoed a history of violence between the French and the Algerian Muslims who lived under Paris’s rule for more than a century. In the words of Robert Fisk, Middle East correspondent for The Independent, “the desperate and permanent crisis in Algerian-French relations” is “like the refusal of a divorced couple to accept an agreed narrative of their sorrow.” Though the Algerian War took place in the middle of the 20th century, its foundation was laid by the 19th century French invasion of Algeria, which was followed by efforts to convert the Muslim population to Christianity. French rule fomented a growing resentment among Algerians that in the 1950s would escalate to revolt.

Though exact death tolls don’t exist, there are estimates that hundreds of thousands to more than a million Algerian Muslims died in the war, with tens of thousands of French military and civilians perishing in the conflict. The peace that followed the ceasefire in 1962 was, as Fisk puts it, “a cold peace in which Algeria’s residual anger, in France as well as in the homeland, settled into long-standing resentment.” Many of the hundreds of thousands of people of Algerian descent living in France today are poor and feel the specter of discrimination in government policies like the 2010 ban on face coverings.

In March 1962, LIFE photographer Paul Schutzer was on the scene in Algiers as the Algerian War came to an end with a tenuous ceasefire and a path to Algerian self-determination. Part of that city witnessed jubilant celebration—a truce had finally been reached between French President Charles de Gaulle and the Muslim-led National Liberation Front. But in other corners of town, a gruesome massacre was underway, as a group of French army officers called the Organisation de l’armée secrète (O.A.S.) in favor of French rule in Algeria killed innocent Muslims in a last-ditch effort—a mutiny of sorts—to thwart independence.

LIFE explained the motivations of the O.A.S.:

A cynical hope underlay the O.A.S. attacks: if by killing innocent people the O.A.S. could provoke all-out communal war, sympathetic elements of the French army might throw in with the Algerian Europeans against the Moslems and even against De Gaulle. But this wretched hope was in vain; retaliating, the French forces boldly struck, while air force jets strafed O.A.S. sniper positions. De Gaulle, “Le Grand Charlie,” had spoken.

The photographs above capture both the celebration and the bloodshed that coincided on the streets of Algiers as one historical chapter ended and another began. And the paradox Schutzer captured on that day — the intersection of violence and peace and a new and complicated independence—reverberates even today.

Liz Ronk, who edited this gallery, is the Photo Editor for LIFE.com. Follow her on Twitter at @LizabethRonk.

TIME language

Actually, That Boston Time Capsule Isn’t Technically a Time Capsule

The Century Safe
The Century Safe assembled and buried in Philadelphia on the occasion of the American centennial, to be opened in 100 years time, 1876 Archive Photos / Getty Images

Time capsules weren't invented until the 19th century. So what do you call the copper box found in the Massachusetts State House cornerstone?

The news that a copper box from the Revolutionary era had been unearthed in Boston drew excitement from history buffs eager to see what Paul Revere and Samuel Adams had chosen to preserve. Examination by x-ray suggested that it contains coins and documents from the 18th-century Massachusites, and its unveiling on Tuesday evening will provide a window into their world — which is exactly the purpose of burying a time capsule.

However, though countless news outlets (TIME included) have heralded the discovery of the time capsule, the copper box that Revere and Adams buried in 1795 isn’t technically a time capsule.

As time-capsule expert William E. Jarvis explained in his 2002 book Time Capsules: A Cultural History, one of the defining characteristics of a time capsule is that it must have an end date. A box placed in a building foundation — as the Boston box was in the cornerstone of the State House there — without specific instructions as to when it should be opened is instead, Jarvis writes, a “foundation deposit.”

But why put a box in a cornerstone if the point isn’t that someone in the future will find it? (Unless it contains a singing frog, which is an entirely different situation.)

It turns out that repositories in foundations and cornerstones have an ancient history, which Jarvis traces back thousands of years, to ancient Mesopotamia. The origins of these rituals are presumed to be connected to the sanctification of the building in question; then, as with some 13th-century European churches and cathedrals, holy objects might be placed in the foundation of a building that would be used for religious purposes.

“People have been putting things in the foundations of buildings for millennia,” says Knute Berger, another expert on the topic. (Berger and Jarvis are two of the founders of the International Time Capsule Society.) The reasons why, he says, are “spotty but interesting.” Some groups, he says, did intend to leave knowledge for the future — for example, a fraternal order called the Rosicrucians believed their founder had done so with his tomb — and some were making offerings, while others were merely doing the equivalent of signing a painting, as medieval workers did when they chiseled their initials into buildings.

Ceremonial cornerstones, often associated with rituals of Freemasonry, were common in early American history. In 1793, George Washington himself conducted just such a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol; it remains unfound and its contents are a mystery. The cornerstone deposit in Boston was likewise laid as part of a grand Masonic ceremony, on July 4th, 1795; at the time, Paul Revere was Grand Master of the state’s Freemason fraternity. On the day in question, the participants started at the old State House and processed to the location where the new one would be. Fifteen white horses drew the stone to its new home — one horse for each of the states in the union at the time, according to the current Secretary of the Commonwealth’s office — and Revere then delivered a speech congratulating those gathered on having been part of the establishment of a country where liberty and laws would prevail. “May we my Brethren, so Square our Actions thro life as to shew to the World of Mankind, that we mean to live within the Compass of Good Citizens that we wish to Stand upon a Level with them that when we part we may be admitted into that Temple where Reigns Silence & peace,” he said.

Revere’s remarks don’t mention the contents of the cornerstone being unearthed in the future, or whether the contents would indicate anything about the world of 1795. And when the box was found in 1855, during State House repairs, and resealed with added contents, it still wasn’t technically a time capsule.

But if that’s not a time capsule, what is?

Jarvis’ book identifies the first-ever true time capsule as the Century Safe (pictured above) created for the 1876 Philadelphia World’s Fair and designed to be opened a century later, but the idea didn’t really take off until the 1930s or so. Perhaps interest in science around the turn of the 20th century sparked the birth of the fixed-end-date time capsule, guesses Berger: a true time capsule is like an experiment conducted with the scientific method, in that it has a set beginning and end.

The International Time Capsule Society is particularly concerned with the Crypt of Civilization, a time capsule conceived in 1936 and sealed in 1940, designed to be opened on May 28, 8113. It was meant to contain a complete record of civilization, including English lessons so that its eventual finders could read that record. The publicity surrounding the idea for the Crypt (which was first mentioned in an article by Thornwell Jacobs in Scientific American) also set off a fad, which prompted the Westinghouse Company’s decision to include a similar project in their exhibition for the 1938 World’s Fair. They called the project, meant to be opened 5,000 years later, a “time capsule” — widely seen as the first usage of the term. As TIME wrote when that project was announced, it was going to be buried 50 ft. underground and contain missives to the future from luminaries of the present. “Anyone who thinks about the future must live in fear and terror,” read Einstein’s.

When the capsule was buried in its steel-lined, concrete-stoppered tube in 1940, TIME reported that it contained much else as well:

Among the objects which went into it were a woman’s hat, razor, can opener, fountain pen, pencil, tobacco pouch with zipper, pipe, tobacco, cigarets, camera, eyeglasses, toothbrush; cosmetics, textiles, metals and alloys, coal, building materials, synthetic plastics, seeds; dictionaries, language texts, magazines (TIME among them), other written records on microfilm.

Still, whether or not the Boston box is a time capsule, we people of the present can learn from it. Though the capsule may include gold or silver, burying such treasure is more interesting than digging it up.

“The ritual is almost more important that the substance,” says Berger. And when it comes to that, it doesn’t even really make a difference whether the Massachusetts State House cornerstone technically fits into Jarvis’ definition of a time capsule. “What matters is that you were there.”

Read TIME’s original story about the 1940 burial of the World’s Fair time capsule, here in the TIME Vault: 5,000-Year Journey

TIME History

Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Birthday Message to Sir Isaac Newton Makes Big Bang on Twitter

StarTalk Radio's Climate Change Panel Discussion And Reception
Physicist/TV host Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson in New York City, June 5, 2014. Andrew Toth—Getty Images

It was shared over 68,000 times

As Christians celebrated the birth of Jesus Christ on Thursday, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson noted the birth of another notable man: Sir Isaac Newton.

Tyson’s tweet was met with some praise and some ire—many felt the tweet was disrespectful to those observing Christmas on Dec. 25. But many cheered Tyson’s wit.

The anti-Christian furor was stoked by Tyson’s follow-up tweet, which read:

Late Friday, Tyson wrote a Facebook message explaining his tweet, which he says is his most retweeted ever.

“Everybody knows that Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus on December 25th,” Tyson wrote. “I think fewer people know that Isaac Newton shares the same birthday. Christmas day in England – 1642. And perhaps even fewer people know that before he turned 30, Newton had discovered the laws of motion, the universal law of gravitation, and invented integral and differential calculus.”

Tyson also addressed the idea that his posts were somehow anti-Christian, saying, “If a person actually wanted to express anti-Christian sentiment, my guess is that alerting people of Isaac Newton’s birthday would appear nowhere on the list.”

TIME History

Rep. John Lewis: An Oral History of Selma and the Struggle for the Voting Rights Act

Colman Domingo plays Ralph Abernathy, David Oyelowo plays Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., André Holland plays Andrew Young, and Stephan James plays John Lewis in Selma. Atsushi Nishijima—Paramount

Rep. John Lewis is a member of the U.S. Congress from Georgia, and in 1965 he was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

How the fight for the African American vote was really won

Selma, Alabama, selected herself to become the battleground for the voting rights movement of the 1960s. It was a regional center of commerce and trade, but it was also starkly divided by race and class.

Members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) first decided to organize in Selma in 1962. Then, it was almost impossible for people of color to register and vote in Alabama. Even though Selma was the Dallas County seat, only 2.1% of voting age African Americans were registered to vote. We could attempt to register at the county courthouse only on the first and third Mondays of each month. We had to pass a so-called literacy test, pay a poll tax, and interpret certain sections of the Alabama state constitution. Bernard LaFayette was the first among SNCC staff to lead organizing efforts there, and during one voter registration drive, he was attacked and beaten.

After the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, on September 16, 1963, when four little girls were killed on Sunday morning, our efforts in Selma intensified. African Americans attended mass meetings and rallies by the hundreds to train and prepare to participate in nonviolent protests. People would march down to the courthouse from Brown Chapel AME Church, and stand in line all day, hoping to walk up the green marble steps, through a set of double doors, and into the registrar’s office. We stood there hour after hour, and by the end of the day, only two or three people would make it in just to get an application to register to vote.

We were met at the courthouse by Sheriff Jim Clark. He was a mean, vicious man. He wore a gun on one side and a nightstick on the other. He carried an electric cattle prodder in his hand, and he didn’t use it on cows. He wore a button on his left lapel that said “NEVER.” He would harass, threaten, try to intimidate us, and push us back down the stairs. Day in and day out from September 1963 through all of 1964, he bullied and terrorized peaceful, nonviolent protestors.

The first time I was arrested was in September of 1963. I was carrying a sign that said “ONE MAN, ONE VOTE.” For that I was arrested and taken to jail. Hundreds of people in Selma were arrested and jailed. On one occasion, he arrested so many of us that we filled the city and county jails. The rest of us were taken to a holding pen where chickens were kept. We all had to sleep on the bare wooden floor at night.

The movement came to a head in the early part of 1965 when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was invited to Selma. He came the first week in January to speak at a mass meeting. Several hundred people came out to the rally. I remember it like it was yesterday.

On January 18, it was my day to lead the people down to the Dallas County courthouse to try to register to vote. Sheriff Clark met me at the top of the steps.

“John Lewis, you’re an outside agitator. You’re a troublemaker,” Clark said.

“Sheriff, I may be an agitator, but I’m not an outsider,” I said. “I grew up only 50 miles from here, and I’m going to stay here until these people are allowed to register and vote.”

And he said, “You’re under arrest.”

A few weeks later, police ambushed a nighttime march to the courthouse in Marion, Alabama. The streetlights were shot out and the beating began. A young Vietnam War veteran named Jimmie Lee Jackson was shot while trying to protect his mother. He died a few days later. Because of what happened to him, a decision was made to march from Selma to Montgomery.

SNCC decided not to participate in the march because they felt Dr. King’s presence might overshadow the years of organizing and protest they had invested in voting rights in Selma. But I was determined to march and I told them, “If the people want to march, I’m going to march with them.” They said I could march as an individual, but not as the chairman of SNCC. That was fine with me. On March 6, several of us drove from SNCC headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, to Selma, carrying our sleeping bags. We arrived at the SNCC Freedom House in Selma where we could stay and sleep.

Meanwhile, at Dr. King’s organization, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), Andy Young, James Bevel, and Hosea Williams drew straws to determine who would represent the organization in the march. The one who drew the shortest straw would be the leader. Hosea pulled the shortest one, so he led the march on behalf of SCLC. The leaders of SCLC asked me to lead with Hosea.

BLOODY SUNDAY – March 7, 1965

I can never forget the next morning. We got up, went to church at Brown Chapel and prepared to march. About 500 of us kneeled, and Andy Young conducted a prayer. We got up, lined up in two’s, no one saying a word. We were absolutely silent. We began walking in an orderly, peaceful non-violent fashion, We didn’t interfere with traffic; we walked on the sidewalk along the street. When we got to the edge of the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Hosea looked down at the Alabama River.

“John, can you swim?” he said.

“No. Hosea,” I said. ” Can you?”

“Yes. ”

“We’re not going to jump,” I said. “We’re not going back. We’re going to move forward.” And that’s what we did.

When we came to the highest point of the bridge, we saw a sea of blue Alabama state troopers down below, and a big posse behind Sheriff Clark. The night before, the sheriff had called all white men over the age of 21 to come down to the courthouse to be deputized in order to stop the march. There were dozens of men carrying baseball bats, shotguns, and any weapons they could find.

We just kept on walking, no one saying a word. When we got a few yards away from the officers, we heard a voice on a megaphone.

“I am Major John Cloud,” the state trooper commander said. “This is an unlawful march. You have three minutes to disperse and return to your church.”

“Major, please give us a moment to kneel and pray,” Hosea requested.

In less than a minute and a half the major shouted, “Troopers advance!”

We saw men putting on their gas masks. They came toward us with nightsticks, beating us, pushing us, trampling us with horses, and releasing the tear gas. I was hit in the head by a state trooper with a nightstick. My legs felt weak under me. Apparently, I fell. I suffered a concussion on the bridge, and I thought I was going to die that day. I saw death. Fifty years later, I still don’t remember how I made it through the streets of Selma back to Brown Chapel that evening.

The church was filled to capacity, maybe a thousand or more people were there, and outside people were protesting what had happened. Someone asked me to say something. I remember what I said.

“I don’t know how President Johnson can send troops to Vietnam,” I said, “but he can’t send troops to protect people in this country who only want to register and vote.”

And the next thing I knew, I along with 16 other people were being transported to a hospital in Selma run by the Sisters of St. Joseph. It was the same place where Jimmie Lee Jackson had died just a few days ago. That day, March 7, 1965, is now known as Bloody Sunday.

Early that Monday morning, Dr. King and Rev. Ralph Abernathy visited me in the hospital. They comforted me.

“Don’t worry John, ” Dr. King assured me, “We will make it from Selma to Montgomery, and the Voting Rights Act will be passed.”

News organizations had covered the march, and the film of the brutal police response was broadcast all over the nation. Americans were shocked by what they saw. Major demonstrations broke out all over America, including at the White House and in front of the Justice Department.

Dr. King made an appeal for all religious leaders to come to Selma to participate in a march. Movement lawyers of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund went to court, assisted by Assistant Attorney General John Doar. We appeared before federal judge Frank M. Johnson in Alabama and got a federal order to march from Selma to Montgomery.

On March 15th, only seven days after Bloody Sunday, President Lyndon Johnson spoke to Congress and delivered one of the most meaningful and powerful speeches any modern president has made on civil and voting rights. In that speech he used the theme song of the movement, saying, “And we shall overcome.”


Finally, on March 21, Dr. King led a march of thousands from Selma to Montgomery. Since Governor George Wallace could not assure our protection, President Johnson commanded the National Guard to ensure our safety on the road. We arrived in Montgomery on March 25.

Congress debated the Voting Rights Act, and it was signed into law in August 1965. Because of the action of the American people, and the actions of the President and Congress, that law changed America forever, and many elected officials, including President Carter, President Clinton, President Obama, and thousands across America, are in office today because of the Voting Rights Act. It has been hailed as the most effective piece of legislation passed in America the last 50 years, and it was a crowning achievement of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Rep. John Lewis is a member of the U.S. Congress from Georgia, and in 1965 he was chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME History

Watch: The Forgotten Genius Who Figured Out How the Heart Works

A video from the World Science Festival tells the story of William Harvey, a forgotten pioneer in human anatomy

In the 17th-century, William Harvey, an English physician, worked to debunk the misconceptions that phlegm and bile were at the root of all health problems.

He was a leading figure in cardiology at the time, and it is to him that we owe the discovery of blood circulation. Almost forgotten now, Harvey was a trailblazer back then, or as the World Science Festival sees it, “he ruffled a lot of feathers, but eventually became a major influence on modern medicine.”

Watch the video above for more on his controversial, and until now overlooked, legacy.

TIME Innovation

Terrorism Isn’t Madness

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Conflating terrorism and madness is a very old mistake, with a special history in France

Each time a terrorist act occurs in the world, the specter of madness looms on the horizon.

On Oct. 22, 2014, Michael Zehaf-Bibeau fatally wounded a soldier on Parliament Hill in Ottawa before being shot by the police. A Muslim convert and a drug addict, he didn’t have any psychiatric record, but his mother confirmed he was mentally deranged. Two days later, Zane Thompson, a Muslim convert, described as a “recluse” with mental problems, attacked four policemen in New York City with a hatchet, a “terrorist act” according to the NYPD commissioner. On Dec. 15, 2014, Man Haron Monis, a self-proclaimed Iranian Sheikh, who was suspected of murdering his wife and had been charged with 40 sexual offenses dating back a decade, took hostages in a café in Sydney during 16 hours, before being shot dead by the police – two hostages died in the raid. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the gunman had “a long story of violent crime, infatuation with extremism and mental instability”.

This may sound like a modern epidemic, but, as I know from my experience studying French history, connecting terror and madness is a very old story.

In 19th-century France, psychiatrists and politicians were particularly quick to accept the analogy between revolutionary terror and madness, leading psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud to say later that the French were a “people of psychical epidemics, of historical mass convulsion.” Psychiatrists coined new diseases such as “political monomania,” “revolutionary neurosis,” “paranoia reformatoria,” and even “morbus democraticus” (democratic disease). Theorists and writers concurred. Addressing readers potentially nostalgic of revolutionary spirit, the diplomat and historian Chateaubriand wrote that the Reign of Terror (1793 to 1794), a policy of political repression, “was not the invention of a few giants; it was quite simply a mental illness, a plague.”

But what does systematically combining political violence and madness mean? Not much, since it takes two complex terms and, by combining them, offers a simple explanation.

Scientists can fall into the same tempting trap. Théroigne de Méricourt, a feminist supposedly leading a group of armed Amazons during the Revolution, ended her life in a lunatic asylum, where she was diagnosed with dementia due to her political convictions. This clinical demonstration was full of factual errors and approximations, and based on plagiarism of a sort, as a sick condition was portrayed as the result of sick ideology. Of course, Théroigne may have been insane. But was her madness necessarily related to her beliefs or did the doctor’s opposing political (royalist) beliefs orient the diagnosis?

Beside politics, religion (and the acceptable “limits” of its practice) often interferes in diagnosis. On February 14, 1810, Jacob Dupont, a famous thinker who had advocated atheism, was institutionalized at Charenton, a lunatic asylum founded in the 17th century. Dupont’s medical file reads:

“Former Doctrinaire [i.e., former member of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine], former representative in the Legislative Assembly and the Convention; withdrew to a small village near Loches, where he lived for eight years with a sister who died six months ago. Metaphysical and revolutionary reveries, notorious advocacy of atheism in the Convention; publicly gave a course on that subject on Place Louis XVI seven years ago. Many writings full of the same madness. No violence, no delusions on other subjects.”

Here it is spelled out: atheism is madness. The assertion itself is not surprising in a society that shared Louis Sébastien Mercier’s opinion that atheism was “the sum total of all the monstrosities of the human mind” and “a destructive mania … that is very close to dementia.” This time, however, the judgment served as a diagnosis penned by a physician who, even though he was using the term “madness” in a colloquial sense, admitted that Dupont had “no delusions on other subjects.”

This point is crucial, because it proves, black on white, that religious beliefs constituted a sufficient basis for confinement. If the doctor, Antoine-Athanase Royer-Collard, had known that Dupont had been forced to resign his seat in the Convention 1794 due to his mental state, and was arrested the following year for raping a blind old woman, he would have felt even more justified in his diagnosis. Though Royer-Collard had only looked at Dupont’s openly declared atheism to make his decision, the background information would have underscored how it was only part of a larger pathology.

What do we learn from history? That a plausible conflation of terms, if not carefully scrutinized and documented, often turns to be a very harmful confusion.

If we go back to our contemporary examples, it appears that the three men (at least according to what newspapers tell us) share some common traits: Islam, violence and hypothetical madness. In other words: religion, political extremism, and medical condition. The three men are considered lone-wolf jihadists, who live “on the fringe of the fringe,” as the Sydney hostage-taker’s attorney characterized his client.

Isolated, frustrated, unable to join any terrorist organization, these so-called jihadists are first and foremost social misfits, galvanized by causes that get daily media attention. No anti-terrorist laws could ever apply to them, unless you could put the entire population of the world under continuous surveillance. Recent studies from Indiana State University and University College London have demonstrated that 32 to 40 percent of lone-wolf attackers suffered from mental problems, while, actually, “group-based terrorists are psychologically quite normal.”

What can we take away from this? We must be more careful about differentiating solo attackers from organized political forces – just as we must be more careful about using the word “madness.” In other words, let’s restore the full meaning of complicated concepts. And let’s remind ourselves that terrorism is a real threat of political thought, that religion is not fanaticism, and that madness is a very serious social issue that deserves more attention in countries that have failed to create effective mental health policies.

Laure Murat, a historian, is a professor in the Department of French and Francophone Studies at UCLA. Her last book is entitled: The Man Who Thought He Was Napoleon. Towards a Political History of Madness (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014). She wrote this for Thinking L.A., a project of UCLA and Zocalo Public Square. Zocalo Public Square is a not-for-profit Ideas Exchange that blends live events and humanities journalism.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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