This Week in History: March 20, 1928

Mister Rogers Is Born

mister rogers


“Won’t you be my neighbor?” Fred McFeely Rogers asked television viewers this question for more than three decades on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, a children’s show that helped create an entire genre of educational television with a focus on nurturing children’s self-worth. Few series have come close to maintaining the continuity and moral tenor of Rogers’s long-running PBS series. Lacking the commercial development of nearly all the network’s other children series, Rogers’s program maintained an unwavering commitment to education.

Born in Pennsylvania in 1928, Rogers began work in television with variety programs such as The Voice of Firestone (1949–1959) and The Lucky Strike Hit Parade (1950–1959). In November 1953 he moved back to his roots in western Pennsylvania, where he began working at WQED, the nation’s first community-supported public television station. Rogers began experimenting with children’s programming while at WQED, including the award-winning Children’s Corner, which contained the puppets and other details that would later been seen on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. During this period, he also began studying child development and became an ordained Presbyterian minister. Each of these sensibilities infused his on-air persona.

After the 1966 release of Fred Rogers‘s MisteRogers Neighborhood, he renamed the program Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood and it was released nationally in 1968. That same year he was appointed chairman of the Forum on Mass Media and Child Development of the White House Conference on Children and Youth. Rogers had become a leading spokesman on American education and, particularly, how the television medium would be used to help develop it. He steered the programming toward a noncommercial format that could be easily coordinated with classroom use. By 1971 he had created Family Communications, Inc., a company dedicated to children and providing educational support to the families and people who care for them.

Until his death in 2003, Rogers resisted the flamboyant staging of some children’s programs for a conservative, unchanging appearance. Each show begins and ends in the living room of his “television house.” At the opening of each show, Mister Rogers invites the television viewer to be his neighbor and to enter his house. Then he hangs up his coat in the closet, slips into his cardigan sweater, and changes into his sneakers. From his living room, Rogers introduces the viewer to a new idea or object that becomes the focus of the show for the day or week. After the brief introduction, Mister Rogers visits other people in his neighborhood or places where everyday things are made—a balloon factory or a crayon factory, for example.

Aside from Mister Rogers’s seemingly intimate conversations with the viewers—his “television neighbors”—the most engaging action of the program centered on the “Neighborhood of Make-Believe,” a puppet kingdom ruled by puppets King Friday XIII and Queen Sara Saturday and inhabited by several other puppets as well as humans. To help children make a distinction between real and pretend, none of the characters in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe ever appear in Mister Rogers’s “real” world. Despite advances in visual technology, the conveyor between the “real” world of Mister Rogers’s living room and the imaginary world of make-believe remained a mechanical trolley.

Black, B. (2013). Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. In T. Riggs (Ed.), St. James Encyclopedia of Popular Culture (2nd ed., Vol. 3, pp. 582-584). Detroit: St. James Press. Retrieved from

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This Week in History: March 16, 1802

U.S. Military Academy Founded

U.S. Military Academy

An act of Congress of 16 March 1802, signed by President Thomas Jefferson, formally established the Military Academy at West Point, New York, on the site of a strategic Revolutionary War fortress. The academy was begun in part as a result of desires expressed by George Washington, among others, to train Americans in the technical arts of war (artillery and engineering). It was also established to enhance scientific education in the nation and to diversify the nation’s military leadership. In 1843 Congress formally ensured a national representation for U.S. military leadership when it specified that the academy’s cadets would be selected from each congressional district as well as from the territories and the nation at large.

In 1817, after years of governmental neglect and institutional disarray, Sylvanus Thayer was named commanding officer, or superintendent, at West Point. For the next sixteen years he improved administrative and organizational efficiency and established the foundation for future institutional success. He formalized a prescribed four-year curriculum grounded in mathematics, science, and engineering, and utilized some of the more advanced pedagogical thinking of his day. He continued the practice of daily recitations in small classes, provided instruction in all courses at various levels based on the abilities of cadets, and directed that each cadet pass every course in order to graduate. He improved military instruction, tightened discipline, and emphasized earlier efforts to instill ethical conduct and integrity in cadets. That emphasis continued throughout the academy’s subsequent history. Thayer is recognized as the father of the Military Academy because the academy is based on the foundations and traditions he established.

To accomplish his academic goals Thayer gathered an impressive faculty, often graduates of the Military Academy, who offered a superb education in mathematics, physical sciences, and engineering. Their efforts established the academy as the first, and for several decades the premier, engineering school in the nation. Faculty members Charles Davies in mathematics, William H. C. Bartlett in engineering, mechanics, and physics, and Dennis Hart Mahan in engineering and military science provided cadets with scientific and technical skills rarely taught elsewhere in the new nation. The faculty’s scholarship was widely used in courses at other colleges, and the academy’s graduates helped establish technical departments at many leading universities. In addition, Mahan’s writings had a major impact on the tactics used by military leaders on both sides in the Civil War.

Near the end of its first century, the academy selected the motto “Duty, Honor, Country,” a phrase that formalized Thayer’s ideals. An emphasis on character development instilled in a rigorous military environment and enhanced by a demanding academic, military, and physical program enabled academy graduates to provide both military and civilian service to the nation throughout the nineteenth century.

“Military Academy, U.S.” Encyclopedia of the United States in the Nineteenth Century, edited by Paul Finkelman, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2001. U.S. History in Context, Accessed 7 Mar. 2018.

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This Week in History: March 9, 1959

Barbie Makes Her Debut


On this day in 1959, the first Barbie doll goes on display at the American Toy Fair in New York City.

Eleven inches tall, with a waterfall of blond hair, Barbie was the first mass-produced toy doll in the United States with adult features. The woman behind Barbie was Ruth Handler, who co-founded Mattel, Inc. with her husband in 1945. After seeing her young daughter ignore her baby dolls to play make-believe with paper dolls of adult women, Handler realized there was an important niche in the market for a toy that allowed little girls to imagine the future.

Barbie’s appearance was modeled on a doll named Lilli, based on a German comic strip character. Originally marketed as a racy gag gift to adult men in tobacco shops, the Lilli doll later became extremely popular with children. Mattel bought the rights to Lilli and made its own version, which Handler named after her daughter, Barbara. With its sponsorship of the “Mickey Mouse Club” TV program in 1955, Mattel became the first toy company to broadcast commercials to children. They used this medium to promote their new toy, and by 1961, the enormous consumer demand for the doll led Mattel to release a boyfriend for Barbie. Handler named him Ken, after her son. Barbie’s best friend, Midge, came out in 1963; her little sister, Skipper, debuted the following year.

Over the years, Barbie generated huge sales–and a lot of controversy. On the positive side, many women saw Barbie as providing an alternative to traditional 1950s gender roles. She has had a series of different jobs, from airline stewardess, doctor, pilot and astronaut to Olympic athlete and even U.S. presidential candidate. Others thought Barbie’s never-ending supply of designer outfits, cars and “Dream Houses” encouraged kids to be materialistic. It was Barbie’s appearance that caused the most controversy, however. Her tiny waist and enormous breasts–it was estimated that if she were a real woman, her measurements would be 36-18-38–led many to claim that Barbie provided little girls with an unrealistic and harmful example and fostered negative body image.

Despite the criticism, sales of Barbie-related merchandise continued to soar, topping 1 billion dollars annually by 1993. Since 1959, more than 800 million dolls in the Barbie family have been sold around the world and Barbie is now a bona fide global icon., “Barbie makes her debut”,

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This Week in History: February 27, 2006

African Burial Ground

African Burial Ground National Monument Established

The New York African Burial Ground—the oldest and largest cemetery for enslaved Africans in the United States—was unearthed in 1989 as construction workers prepared to install a 34-story federal office building in lower Manhattan. Following the discovery that the building site was situated above an 18th-century “Negroes Burying Ground,” a crew of archaeologists was employed to conduct an archaeological excavation. In 1991, the construction of the federal office building ensued alongside an extensive archaeological dig that uncovered the skeletons of more than 400 enslaved Africans buried at the cemetery during the early to late 18th century. The excavation and construction project was suspended in 1992 following a congressional mandate issued largely in response to a public demand. The African American New York community pressured the federal government to ensure that the skeletal remains of their African ancestors be appropriately studied and ultimately reinterred.

In 1992, a team of researchers from Howard University’s department of sociology and anthropology began studying the skeletal remains found at the African Burial Ground site. The New York African Burial Ground—formerly referred to as the Negroes Burying Ground—was established in 1712 and used until 1794 as the final resting place for “people of African descent, paupers (poor people), and British and American prisoners of war during the American Revolution” (Hansen and McGowan, 2). The enslaved populations interred at the burial site were believed to have originated from West Africa, West-Central Africa, and the Caribbean, exported to the North American mainland through the Atlantic slave trade.

By 1644 when the British acquired New Amsterdam, subsequently renaming the territory New York in reverence of the Duke of York, increasing numbers of enslaved Africans were channeled into the colony to labor for British colonists. As a consequence of the English acquisition of New Amsterdam, black New Yorkers—enslaved and free—were subject to more restrictive laws that suppressed New York Africans’ ability to participate in the social and religious institutions that existed in colonial New York. With the strict governance of the social, religious, and political welfare of enslaved New Yorkers came orders that regulated the activities of enslaved blacks during non-laboring hours. Due to the special edicts designed for persons of African descent residing in New York City during the colonial period, New York Africans were forced to bury their deceased outside of the New York City limits.

With the suppression of the social and human liberties of enslaved Africans in New York City, enslaved blacks fashioned the African Burial Ground as one of the initial social institutions established by enslaved Africans in the colony. The institution of slavery and its practitioners consistently challenged the humanity of the enslaved who were routinely forced to relinquish their identities through arbitrary “renaming” practices, separated from kin—blood born and fictive, prohibited from the exercise of religious expression, and defrauded the ability to communicate through the use of indigenous African languages. The assault on the African identity, culture, physical and social mobility, and overall humanity, coupled with the legal mandates that prohibited enslaved blacks from sharing burial space with whites, made necessary the African Burial Ground among other Negroes Burying Grounds interspersed throughout the African Diaspora.

West African culture remained a consistent influence on enslaved Africans in the Americas during the colonial and postcolonial periods. The effect of West African culture on enslaved blacks in New York was articulated through the retention of various West African traditions and beliefs, especially as it related to funerary customs. The use of burial shrouds, the ritual adornment of bodies and coffins, and even the physical orientation of the bodies demonstrate links to West African spiritual practices alive in colonial New York City. Researchers involved in the African Burial Ground Project recognized almost immediately the African continuities that existed, reflected in the various ornaments, engravings, jewelry, beads, coins, coffins, and other artifacts uncovered at the site.

LeFlouria, T. L. (2010). African Burial Ground, New York City. In L. M. Alexander & W. C. Rucker (Eds.), Encyclopedia of African American History (Vol. 1, pp. 10-12). Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO.

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This Week in History: February 22, 1956

Montgomery AL

Montgomery Bus Boycott Arrests

90 Montgomery, Alabama Negro leaders, 24 of whom were Protestant ministers, were arrested February 22-24 on charges of violating a state anti-boycott law by leading a Negro boycott of Montgomery City Lines buses to protest segregated seating practices. All were released on $300 bond each. They were arraigned February 24, and all pleaded not guilty.  115 had been indicted, but several were out of the state. At least one was arrested on returning to Montgomery February 27.

The Reverend Ralph D. Abernathy, 29, pastor of the First Baptist Church and one of the 24 arrested ministers, announced February 22 that boycott leaders had proclaimed February 24 as Prayer-Pilgrimage Day, a day on which “not a single race-loving Negro” would ride. Most Montgomery Negroes complied and walked to work (or to court) February 24 despite a drizzle. Negro ministers exhorted Montgomery Negroes at a mass meeting February 23 to keep their movement one of “passive resistance” and to avoid violence.

The bus line was only one of several enterprises boycotted by one side or another for allegedly taking sides in the segregation issue. The pro-segregation White Sentinel, published in St. Louis, had accused Phillip Morris, Inc. of giving money to the NAACP–a report denied by both the company and the NAACP–and as a result Philip Morris cigarettes were boycotted by many whites in Alabama. The Negro Tuskegee Civic Association News told Negroes February 7 that any businessman “who is not sympathetic to your becoming a registered voter [does not deserve] your patronage.”

“Racial Problem: Alabama Bus Boycott Arrests; Other Developments.” Infobase Learning, February 28, 1956. Accessed January 24, 2018. World News Digest.

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This Week in History: February 18, 1931

Toni Morrison Born

Toni Morrison Nobel Prize

When Toni Morrison won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993, she became the first American woman to receive the award since Pearl Buck in 1938, and the first African American woman ever to be so honored. In describing her work, the Nobel Committee stated; “She delves into the language itself, a language she wants to free from the fetters of race. And she addresses us with the luster of poetry.”

Born Chloe Anthony Wofford in Lorain, Ohio, Morrison graduated from Howard University in 1953 and earned a master’s degree in English at Cornell University in 1955. After a series of university teaching jobs, she became the Robert F. Goheen Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University in 1988. Over her long career as a writer Morrison has used poetic language in an unflinching examination of gender conflicts, race relations, and other aspects of American society, winning a National Book Critics Circle Award for Song of Solomon in 1977 and a Pulitzer Prize for Beloved in 1988. As she explained it, “My work requires me to think about how free I can be as an African American woman writer in my genderized, sexualized, wholly radicalized world.” In the novels The Bluest Eye (1970), Sula (1973), Song of Solomon, (1977), Tar Baby (1981), Beloved(1987), Jazz (1992), and Paradise (1998) Morrison has demonstrated her mastery of literary technique. When asked for her reaction to winning the Nobel Prize for Literature she responded, “When I heard  I’d won you heard no “Aw, shucks’ from me. The prize didn’t change my inner assessment of what I’m capable of doing, but I welcomed it as a public, representational affirmation of my work. I was surprised at how patriotic I felt, being the first native-born American winner since John Steinbeck, I felt pride that a black and a woman had been recognized in such an international forum,” In her Nobel address in Stockholm, Morrison said, “The vitality of language lies in its ability to limn the actual, imagined and possible lives of its speakers, readers, writers. Although its poise is sometimes in displacing experience, it is not a substitute for it. It arcs toward the place where meaning may lie.” Henry Louis Gates, chairman of the African American Studies Department at Harvard University, said: “I think she got the Nobel Prize for two books, essentially, Beloved and Jazz. He called  Jazz a “truly brilliant postmodern book” and said Morrison was “as great and as innovative as Faulkner and Garcia Marquez and Woolf. That’s why she deserved the Nobel Prize.”

Paradise, Morrison’s first book after winning the Nobel Prize, was conceived as the final installment of a trilogy that examines love in all its forms. In the first installment, Beloved, she told the troubling tale of an escaped slave whose love for her daughter was so strong that she would rather kill the child than see her returned to servitude. The second volume, Jazz, looks at “elicit” love, telling the story of a married man in Harlem during the 1920s who murders his young girlfriend after she jilts him for a younger man. That story is interwoven with the related story of a wealthy white and her mulatto son during the reconstruction era. Paul Gray described the form of love treated in Paradise as “a hunger for security, the desire to create perfection in an imperfect world.” In tracing the fates of former slaves who migrated west after the Civil War, Morrison was struck by the admonition that appeared in the ads for black settlers; “Come Prepared or Not at All.” Setting her novel in an all-black town in Oklahoma, she used this aphorism to construct a tale of rejection, isolation, anger, and collective memory. While she is known for her careful dissection of race relations, Morrison deliberately refused to concentrate on race in Paradise. As she told Gray, “I wanted the readers to wonder about the race of those girls [in the local convent] until those readers understood that their race didn’t matter. I want to dissuade people from reading literature in that way.” She added: “Race is the least reliable information you can have about someone. It’s real information, but it tells you next to nothing.”

Morrison, Toni 1931-. (2001). In J. S. Baughman, V. Bondi, R. Layman, T. McConnell, & V. Tompkins (Eds.), American Decades (Vol. 10). Detroit: Gale. Retrieved from


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