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TODAY IN HISTORY:
CA Senate Committee Calls UC Berkeley Hotbed of Communists and Homosexuals: 1966. Major bursts of anti-war demonstration on most American college campuses were still in their infancy, but already the “Free Speech Movement” had planted its foothold at the University of California at Berkeley. Following demonstrations and sit-ins against a campus-wide ban on political activity in the fall of 1964, UC Berkeley president Clark Kerr rescinded the ban when classes resumed following Christmas break in 1965. This led state legislators to charge that because of Kerr’s accommodation of the student’s First Amendment rights, the campus was now “seething with Communists and homosexuals,” according to a report released by the State Senate Committee on Un-American Activities. According to an Associated Press report:
The five-member committee accused Ker of a “hostile attitude” toward its work, and said he not only didn’t help in seeking out communist activities on campus “but actual took steps that tended to prevent its being given.”
…To back up its charge that homosexuality is rampant at Berkeley, the committee cited a story in the Daily Californian, the student newspaper, which reported that 2700 of the school’s 27,000 students were homosexual.
Jim Branson, editor of the campus newspaper, said that the statistics was provided by Harold Call (see Sep 20), president of the Mattachine Society of San Francisco, a group devote to protecting the rights of homosexuals.
The committee charged that under Kerr, “the campus sank to a new low,” and reported campus dances with lewd themes and blatant promiscuity and the presentation of “disgusting, debased spectacles.”
The committee held Kerr responsible for allowing “left-wing domination of the campus scene.” Kerr, in turn, said that the university “by its nature is dedicated to freedom in a society. It can become, consequently, an arena for dissent.” He also told reporters that for four years he had been asking the committee to provide the names of Communists connected with the university, but the committee failed to respond.
The Berkeley campus would continue to be a lightning rod, both for left-wing political dissent and for right-wing discontent. It also became a topic of the 1966 gubernatorial campaign when then-actor Ronald Reagan, in his first run for public office, called for Kerr’s dismissal on May 12. Later that fall, Reagan announced that if he were elected governor, he would appoint former CIA director John McCone to investigate campus unrest at Berkeley. On January 20, 1967, during Gov. Reagan’s first meeting with the UC Board of Regents, the board fired Kerr as U.C. President.
Jesse Helms Rails Against “Militant-Activist-Mean Lesbian”: 1993. But of course, in Helms’s imagination what other kind of lesbian was there? President Bill Clinton had nominated Roberta Achtenberg, a San Francisco civil rights lawyer, as Assistant Secretary for Housing and Urban Development. As San Francisco City Supervisor, she supported efforts to bar the Boy Scouts from using the city’s school facilities because of its exclusion of gays scouts and leaders. Helms blew his stack over that. “She’s not your garden-variety lesbian,” he told the Associated Press. “She’s a militant-activist-mean lesbian, working her whole career to advance the homosexual agenda. Now you think I’m going to sit still and let her be confirmed by the Senate? . . . If you want to call me a bigot, go ahead.”
Helms was a bigot, but Achtenberg was confirmed. She remained on the job until 1995 when she left to run against Willie Brown for mayor of San Francisco. Obviously, she didn’t make it. Achtenberg is currently serving on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Helms is currently dead.
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: 1840-1893. The great Russian composer’s brother, Modeste, was comfortable with being gay, but Pyotr was not, at least not until much later in life. But he had to undergo a short, disastrous marriage before he arrived at the conclusion that his sexual orientation was insurmountable. Meanwhile, he became Russia’s most celebrated composer, with Swan Lake, Eugene Onegin, The Nutcracker, and his Fourth Symphony and Sixth Symphony (Pathétique) probably his finest works. He composed the 1812 Overture to celebrate Russia’s defeat of Napoleon at the outskirts of Moscow. Tchaikovsky confessed that the work, complete with live canon shots, would be “very loud and noisy, but I wrote it with no warm feeling of love, and therefore there will probably be no artistic merits in it.” He warned one Russian conductor, “I shan’t be at all surprised and offended if you find that it is in a style unsuitable for symphony concerts.” The 1812 Overture, it turned out, became one of his most popular works.
His death in 1893 was attributed to cholera, although there have been a persistent legend that his died by suicide. One story has it that a sentence of suicide was imposed in a “court of honor” by Tchaikovsky’s fellow alumni of the St. Petersburg Imperial School of Jurisprudence because of his homosexuality. Another has it that his suicide was ordered by Tsar Alexander III himself. There doesn’t appear to be much evidence for either theory. But against the backdrop of those unfounded rumors, many have taken Pathétique, which Tchaikovsky premiered just a few days before his death, as his final statement. According to an eyewitness at the premiere:
Tchaikovsky began conducting with the baton held tightly in his fist … in his usual manner. But when the final sounds of the symphony had died away and Tchaikovsky slowly lowered the baton, there was dead silence in the audience. Instead of applause, stifled sobs came from various parts of the hall. The audience was stunned and Tchaikovsky stood there, motionless, his head bowed.
Some have come to regard Pathétique as Tchaikovsky’s requiem, with its second performance coming three weeks later at his memorial concert in St. Petersburg.
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