Wallace’s Woeful Wager: How a Founder of Modern Biology Got Suckered by Flat-Earthers

In light of Shaq claiming the earth is flat, I figured it was time to publish this article here. Is it always a bad idea to make a wager with a flat earther? Cuz I’d love to bet Shaq that a high-altitude flight would prove the earth’s quite round.

In January of 1870, Alfred Russel Wallace found himself on a collision-course with a group of creationists who fervently believed the earth is flat. The father of biogeography, co-discoverer of the theory of evolution by natural selection, seems an unlikely sort to be mixed in with religious fanatics on a question of geography settled since the 3rd century BC. Why was such a venerable 19th century man of science accepting wagers from flat-earthers regarding the shape of our planet?

Simply put: It looked like easy money.

Really, ten minutes and a telescope should have done it. Alas, nothing is easy when it comes to creationists, as Wallace would learn to his sorrow:

The next matter was a much more serious one, and cost me fifteen years of continued worry, litigation, and persecution, with the final loss of several hundred pounds. And it was all brought upon me by my own ignorance and my own fault—ignorance of the fact so well shown by the late Professor de Morgan—that “paradoxers,” as he termed them, can never be convinced, and my fault in wishing to get money by any kind of wager. It constitutes, therefore, the most regrettable incident in my life.

Sir Charles Lyell, father of modern geology, shared Wallace’s ignorance. They may have steered a much different course had they known the history of the men they hoped to defeat.

Image shows a younger Alfred Russel Wallace posing jauntily with his hand on a chair and one leg cocked. His hat makes him look vaguely Amish.
Alfred Russel Wallace, Singapore, 1862. The poor man had no idea he’d be tormented by a flat-earth creationist within the decade.


19th century Britain was one of the epicenters of the scientific revolution. But with progress comes pushback. Alarmed believers strove to shore up the Bible’s authority, some going much further than others. Not many of them went to greater extremes than Samuel Birley Rowbotham.

Known as Parallax, he was a Biblical literalist, young earth creationist, and quack who believed in a flat, disc-shaped Earth. The North Pole stood at its center, and that was it; in his cosmology, there was no such beast as a South Pole. He backed his contentions with bad math, bogus experiments, and Bible verses. He revived the ancient flat-earth idea and gave it a modern patina of “science,” then used the result to stir up controversy for cash.

One of his many popular lectures on the subject converted William Carpenter, who loved the idea more for its poke in the eye it gave to the scientific establishment than for reasons of biblical fealty. Determined to rid the world of round-earth ideas, he wrote a scathing book called Theoretical Astronomy Examined and Exposed under the (mis)nom(er) de plume Common Sense.

This book soon came to the attention of the man who was to vex Alfred Russel Wallace so sorely. John Hampden, a Protestant rector’s son and all-round arch-conservative, had plenty of leisure time for engaging in argument. His father had left him independently wealthy, although, perhaps suspecting his eldest son would prove prone to causing controversy, stipulated in his will that John would be reduced to a meager £50 per year if he ever did anything to sully the venerable name of Hampden.

John Hampden wasted little time doing just that. After dropping out of Oxford, he occupied himself by publishing various tracts demanding that the Church of England be reformed “on strict Protestant lines.” A staunch biblical literalist “bent on defending Genesis to the hilt,” he was ripe pickings for Carpenter’s flat-earth crusade. Upon reading Theoretical Astronomy, he became convinced the earth was flat, and he had the Bible verses to prove it. Putting his tract-making skills to work, he quickly produced pamphlets such as The Popularity of Error and the Unpopularity of Truth: Shewing the World to be a Stationary Plane and Not a Revolving Globe, purporting to prove the pancake-osity of the planet.

This was the era of steam-powered printing presses and vastly expanding public interest in science, fed by vigorous journalism – a veritable Information Age rather like our own. Like our modern creationists, John Hampden looked on in horror as the masses slurped up all the science they could hold, including the round-earth heresy. He made it his mission to eradicate such ideas from the public consciousness, even when his bombastic techniques horrified his flat-earth grandfather Parallax. Sounding like the Borg of Hampden, he declared that spherical earth theories had to go: “All further resistance is useless.”

And he was willing to wager his money on it.


On January 12th, 1870, Hampden threw down his gauntlet in the weekly journal Scientific Opinion.

What is to be said of the pretended philosophy of the 19th century, when not one educated man in ten thousand knows the shape of the earth on which he dwells? Why, it must be a huge sham! The undersigned is willing to deposit from £50 to £500, on reciprocal terms, and defies all the philosophers, divines and scientific professors in the United Kingdom to prove the rotundity and revolution of the world from Scripture, from reason, or from fact. He will acknowledge that he has forfeited his deposit, if his opponent can exhibit, to the satisfaction of any intelligent referee, a convex railway, river, canal, or lake. JOHN HAMPDEN

Alfred Russel Wallace saw the ad. Though it must have seemed like the easiest of easy money, he was cautious, and consulted a man whom he held in the highest esteem.

Before accepting this challenge I showed it to Sir Charles Lyell, and asked him whether he thought I might accept it. He replied, “Certainly. It may stop these foolish people to have it plainly shown them.”

Poor Wallace, like Lyell, thought that Hampden only needed to be shown some proof in order to accept the plain fact that the earth is round. He knew nothing of Hampden and his ilk, or he may never have accepted the wager. But in addition to wanting to win a cool £500, he believed “that a practical demonstration would be more convincing than the ridicule with which such views are usually met.” He was about to find out that practical demonstrations have absolutely no effect on these truest of true believers.

The first signs that Hampden was determined to win by crook if he couldn’t manage a victory by hook came when Wallace wrote in response to his advertisement, graciously accepting the challenge. Wallace offered to prove the earth’s curvature by measuring “the convexity of a canal or lake.” As for where this was to be done, he was amenable to any suitable stretch of water. “A canal will do if you can find one which is nearly straight for four miles without locks; if not, I propose Bala Lake, in North Wales, as a place admirably suited for the experiment.” He thought any of the editors of several popular science or sporting journals could would be suitably unbiased referees; if not them, then perhaps “any well known Land Surveyor, or Civil Engineer, or any Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.”

Hampden at first seemed quite above-board about the thing, agreeing that Mr. John Henry Walsh, editor of the Field magazine, should serve as referee. Walsh was an ideal choice, as he knew neither of them, was a non-scientist with no skin in the globe-vs-flat-earth game, and had prior experience deciding wagers. But shortly after funds were placed in Walsh’s hands to guarantee the wager, Hampden demanded a referee of his own.

Wallace didn’t see a problem with this, writing back:

Your wish to have a second referee is quite reasonable, and I accede to it at once, only stipulating that he shall not be a personal acquaintance of your own, and shall be a man in some public position as Editor, Author, Engineer, &c.

Hampden, having no scruples in his crusade to prove the earth flat like he was certain the Bible proved, wasted no time in choosing William Carpenter. Yes, that William Carpenter. The one who had converted him to flat-eartherism, with whom he was monetarily entangled, and who could only just be called an author. Having thus secured a referee biased wholly in his favor, Hampden proposed a straight six-mile stretch on Old Bedford Canal for the location of the experiment.

Wallace didn’t know that this same stretch had already been used by Parallax in his own attempts to prove the earth flat – which feat he’d managed by holding his telescope a mere eight inches above the water, thus allowing refraction to interfere with his measurements and give the impression that he was sighting along an utterly flat stretch of water resting on a flat earth. It was a classic example of a poorly-designed experiment yielding invalid results. Hampden was loading the dice as much as he could manage.

So that was how Alfred Russel Wallace, venerable naturalist and science legend, ended up that March on a cold canal in Norfolk, England, squinting through telescopes in a valiant but vain effort to prove the shape of the earth to committed creationists. Since Walsh couldn’t be there for the whole week of experiments, a surgeon and amateur astronomer named Mr. Martin Wales Bedell Coulcher acted as Wallace’s referee. All the interested parties watched Wallace’s painstaking experiment, which had been designed to correct for refraction.

The iron parapet of Welney bridge was thirteen feet three inches above the water of the canal. The Old Bedford bridge, about six miles off, was of brick and somewhat higher. On this bridge I fixed a large sheet of white calico, six feet long and three feet deep, with a thick black band along the centre, the lower edge of which was the same height from the water as the parapet of Welney bridge; so that the centre of it would be as high as the line of sight of the large six-inch telescope I had brought with me. At the centre point, about three miles from each bridge, I fixed up a long pole with two red discs on it, the upper one having its centre the same height above the water as the centre of the black band and of the telescope, while the second disc was four feet lower down. It is evident that if the surface of the water is a perfectly straight line for the six miles, then the three objects—the telescope, the top disc, and the black band—being all exactly the same height above the water, the disc would be seen in the telescope projected upon the black band; whereas, if the six-mile surface of the water is convexly curved, then the top disc would appear to be decidedly higher than the black band, the amount due to the known size of the earth being five feet eight inches, which amount will be reduced a little by refraction to perhaps about five feet.

The above diagrams illustrate the experiment made. The curved line in Fig. 1, and the straight line in Fig. 2, show the surface of the canal on the two theories of a round or a flat earth. A and C are the two bridges six miles apart, while B is the pole midway with two discs on it, the upper disc, the telescope at A, and the black line on the bridge at C, being all exactly the same height above the water. If the surface of the water is truly flat, then on looking at the mark C with the telescope A, the top disc B will cover that mark. But if the surface of the water is curved, then the upper disc will appear above the black mark, and if the disc is more than four feet above the line joining the telescope and the black mark, then the lower disc will also appear above the black mark.
“The above diagrams illustrate the experiment made. The curved line in Fig. 1, and the straight line in Fig. 2, show the surface of the canal on the two theories of a round or a flat earth.” Image and caption by Alfred Russel Wallace, from My Life.

This experiment showed curvature, as it could not fail to do. Hampden’s mentor and referee Carpenter signed the sketch of the results produced by Mr. Coulcher, affirming it indeed showed what they both had seen.

Sketch of the bridge, showing the sheet of calico with the black horizontal stripe, and the poles with both dots showing above the line.
Coulcher’s sketch, reproduced in Alfred Russel Wallace’s autobiography My Life.

However, he declared those results were unable to prove the earth was a globe “because the telescope was not leveled, and because it had no cross-hair!”

Wallace, being at pains to ensure that there would be no doubt about the results, proceeded to recalibrate the experiment to Carpenter’s specifications, and ran it again.

At his request to have a spirit-level in order to show if there was any “fall” of the surface of water, I had been to King’s Lynn and borrowed a good Troughton’s level from a surveyor there. This I now set up on the bridge at exactly the same height above the water as the other telescope, and having levelled it very accurately and called Mr. Carpenter to see that the bubble was truly central and that the least movement of the screws elevating or depressing it would cause the bubble to move away, I adjusted the focus on to the distant bridge, and showing also the central staff and its two discs…. We then fixed a calico flag on the parapet to make it more visible, and drove back with the instruments to Old Bedford bridge, where I set up the level again at the proper height above the water, and again asked both the referees to make sketches of what was seen in the level-telescope. This they did. Mr. Carpenter’s was rather more accurately drawn, and Mr. Coulcher signed them as being correct, and both are reproduced here.

The sketch is two circles, each with an upside-down bridge. They both show the discs of the poles in a line above the black bar on the calico sheet.
“These two views, as seen by means of the inverting telescope, are exact representations of the sketches taken by Mr. Hampden’s Referee, and attested by Dr. Coulcher as being correct in both cases: first, from Welney Bridge; and secondly, from the Old Bedford Bridge.” Image and caption from My Life.

This new setup showed the same thing as the first: the earth was indubitably curved. No reasonable person could doubt it. Alas, Wallace was not dealing with reasonable persons. They responded in true creationist fashion: by completely refusing to deal with reality.

Mr. Hampden declined to look through either telescope, saying he trusted to Mr. Carpenter; while the latter declared positively that they had won, and that we knew it; that the fact that the distant signal appeared below the middle one as far as the middle one did below the cross-hair, proved that the three were in a straight line, and that the earth was flat, and he rejected the view in the large telescope as proving nothing for the reasons already stated.

They were at an impasse. At first, Hampden refused an umpire to decide between the referees. Eventually, he agreed to have Walsh review the results, and both sides sent in sketches and reports. Walsh weighed the evidence, decided it did indeed prove the earth was spherical, and published both materials and his conclusion in the Field.

Hampden threw a fit. Carpenter wrote “a long argument to show that the experiments were all in Mr. Hampden’s favour.” This diatribe didn’t sway Walsh. He declared Wallace the positive winner, and, despite Hampden demanding his money back, gave the winnings to Wallace.

Unfortunately, British law didn’t protect gentlemen’s interests when it came to bets, even if the wager was strictly along scientific lines, and would eventually force Wallace to give the money back. Of course, by then, that amount was offset by the judgements entered in Wallace’s favor against Hampden, who had embarked on an extraordinary 15-year campaign of abuse and libel that landed him in both jail and court several times. He sent vitriolic letters to everyone he could think of, including Wallace’s wife:

“Mrs. Wallace,—Madam, if your infernal thief of a husband is brought home some day on a hurdle, with every bone in his head smashed to pulp, you will know the reason. Do you tell him from me he is a lying infernal thief, and as sure as his name is Wallace he never dies in his bed.

“You must be a miserable wretch to be obliged to live with a convicted felon. Do not think or let him think I have done with him.

“John Hampden.”

Death threats were beyond the pale of English law, as were various and sundry libelous statements and a refusal to desist when court-ordered to. Wallace won several actions, but Hampden declared bankruptcy, probably to prevent him from collecting damages. In the end, with all the court costs, and despite being the wronged party throughout it all, Wallace’s woeful wager cost him several hundred pounds and no end of trouble.

Still, he’d done his best to, as Lyell said, “stop these foolish people.” He’d learned a valuable lesson we would be wise to heed today: don’t accept wagers from men who are religiously motivated to believe in easily-disproved notions such as the idea of a flat earth. And he’d shown with an elegant little experiment that the earth is definitely round, which our images from space gorgeously support.

Flat-earth belief didn’t die with Hampden. You can read all about it in Christine Garwood’s remarkable book, Flat Earth: the History of an Infamous Idea.


Garwood, Christine (2007): Flat Earth: the History of an Infamous Idea. New York, NY: Thomas Dunne Books.

Wallace, A.R. (1905): My Life: A Record of Events and Opinions. London: Chapman and Hall. Volume 2.

Wallace, A.R. Reply to Mr Hampden’s Charges Against Mr Wallace. The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 22


Originally published at Rosetta Stones

Wallace’s Woeful Wager: How a Founder of Modern Biology Got Suckered by Flat-Earthers

Hidden Figures: Yes, Go See It Right Now

Here’s how to deal with the fact that a great orange buffoon is getting sworn into our highest office: go see Hidden Figures. Just go. Go see black women fighting misogyny and racism and Jim Crow while doing badass math. You need to see that right now.

*This review is mostly spoiler-free*

Take your children to go see it. Yes, even the young ones. Yes, even the teens. Look: I was in a theater full of little kids and teenagers, and they were sitting there beside unrelated adults up to the age of probably-watched-John-Glenn-orbit-live-on-teevee-with-their-own-kids, and apparently they were all riveted. I have never been to a movie that full of young folk who were so extraordinarily quiet. I’ve never been in an auditorium packed with nearly 400 people of all ages and had such an uninterrupted experience. The kids will do fine, and they need to see this.

Hollywood put out a movie about black women doing math, and it was spellbinding. I never thought they’d try. And since they tried, I never thought they’d do it with so much math and so few explosions. They had exploding rockets, but seemed almost embarrassed to mention them. There was a love story, but only because one of the real women this movie is based on actually got married in the middle of our race to space. It wasn’t shoved in just to hook our emotions, and you get the feeling they’d rather be doing more math. The movie stayed remarkably true to actual, historical events.

You’ll get to meet three of the most extraordinary women in our country’s scientific history: Katherine Goble (later Johnson), Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson. You will get to see them be math nerds. You will get to see them have interests other than marriage and children. Hell, you’ll even get to see one of them fix a car. In a dress. Did you know women could fix cars while wearing dresses? Well, now you do.

You’ll get to see three black women star in their own story, as heroes, not as sidekicks and inspirations to white people. This wasn’t a story about white people learning how not to be racist gits (although several white people learned this, the movie isn’t about them). This wasn’t a story about three career women trying to also balance their roles as wives and mothers (although they were). This wasn’t a story about men learning how to deal with career women, women smarter than them, and figuring out how not to be sexist gits (although this all happens).

No. Continue reading “Hidden Figures: Yes, Go See It Right Now”

Hidden Figures: Yes, Go See It Right Now

Condemned to Repeat


History is a living thing.

I first saw it come alive in Roz Ashby’s and Ken Meier’s hands. On the first day of Western Civilization I, they handed out a quote and asked us to date it. It was a typical “kids these days” rant, full of complaints about their manners, their dress, and their stunning lack of respect toward their elders. Most of the class guessed it had been written in the 1950s or 60s. Professor Meier revealed, with a delightfully sardonic smile, that we were all wrong. The rant had been delivered by Socrates more than two thousand years ago.

I still have the handout they gave us that day: “The Value of History” by Robin Winks. I’d signed on as a history major because I love the past. I hadn’t, until then, thought of it as something of urgent importance. But the professors’ prank, followed by their impassioned lecture on the vitality and relevance of history and Winks’ case for its value, changed my perception entirely.

History wasn’t just curiosity. It wasn’t simply tradition and heritage, important to preserve for its own sake. It was also essential in order to understand the present, and to navigate the future.

Image shows a painting done in dark colors. Three faces, two in profile and one centered, are above a wolf, lion, and dog who are likewise facing in the three directions, with the lion centered. An old man with a white beard wearing a red cap gazes to the left, above the wolf. A man with black hair and beard stares out from the center, above the lion. A young man with reddish-brown hair wearing a red tunic dotted with white gazes out to the right from above the dog's head. Above them are inscribed the words EX PRAETERITO/PRAESENS PRUDENTER AGIT/NE FUTURA ACTIONẼ DETURPET, barely visible in dark brown ink against a slightly lighter brown background.
Titian, The Allegory of Prudence.

“From the past the man of the present acts prudently so as not to imperil the future,” Titian inscribed on his famous painting. We should chisel that saying into every monument. Those who don’t take the past seriously, who treat history as a trivial handful of facts, interesting stories, and events that have no bearing on today, won’t have the wisdom to create a better future.

“Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it,” George Santayana wrote in The Life of Reason. Too many of us refuse to listen to that warning. How many times have we weathered a crisis only to discover that we’re repeating prior mistakes? Individuals, organizations, entire nations have rushed themselves over cliffs that others fell from before, when a safe way down had already been discovered.

It’s true that things change, and no situation is exactly the same as another. Some people seem to believe those cosmetic differences mean there’s nothing to learn. And so, mistakes get repeated. Safeguards get torn down because no one seems to remember why they were put in place to begin with. Blinded by the present, looking toward the future, we don’t see what history is trying to show us. We strip away the protections that people made wise by the events of their own day put in place in order to protect the generations to come. We’re seeing the effects of that now, in a myriad of ways: our failed imperial experiment in Iraq, the erosion of our Constitutional rights, the crisis in our banking industry brought on by the repeal of regulations enacted to prevent another Great Depression, the rise of a despot and the fall of a democracy. That was another age, those who disregard history say. Things are different now. We are different. And they plunge in, believing they’re blazing new trails when they’re traveling down well-worn roads.

The past is never truly past. “Great events have incalculable consequences,” Victor Hugo said in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Some of those consequences echo down through ages. You can’t understand what’s happening now if you don’t understand what happened then. The effects are still being felt. What we do now will impact generations to come. What our ancestors did centuries ago set the conditions for our time.

“This black page in history is not colourfast / will stain the next,” Epica warns in their song “Feint.” We can’t prevent that stain, but history can give us advice on how we might limit its spread.

Some things, perhaps, we’d rather forget. But as Chaim Weizman knew, “you cannot deny your history and begin afresh.” History comes with us, whether we will it or not. Denying it gets us nowhere. Embracing history, knowing it, allows us to accommodate its effects.

Image shows a painting in warm golden colors, showing an old man naked except for a strip of red cloth flowing around him, holding a scythe. A woman with angle wings, wearing a harvest orange dress, is floating in the sky behind him, resting a heavy book on his shoulders. She holds a pen in one hand and is looking over her shoulder.
Andrea Casali, The Personification Of History Writing On The Back Of Time

History is of great practical value, then. But that’s not the whole of its worth. It offers perspective and proportion. Knowing what others survived gives us hope for a future in dark times. It can put current events in context, just like your old dad giving you the yarn about having to walk to school barefoot in the snow uphill both ways as a kid. I often take comfort from that when the world seems like it’s coming apart at the seams. It has frayed, often torn, before. Not all of us make it. Things get worse before they get better. But we always manage to patch it back up somehow. Civilization has been through hell a thousand thousand times. As long as we avoid following the same paths that led other societies to grimmer outcomes, we’ll probably do just fine. I tell myself that a lot these days, and I have plenty of history to prove it. From history comes hope. Sometimes.

And sometimes, there’s delight in seeing ancient people behaving the same way we do. We tend to get only the broad brushstrokes of history in school. We don’t get the enchanting, everyday bits, the ones that tell us people are people everywhere. Read Socrates griping about the durned kids in ancient Athens, or Abu Nawais looking for his next drink, and you realize that they were people like us. There were fart jokes in the cradle of civilization and risque graffitti in Pompeii. The more you learn of history, the more you realize that the things we consider larger than life arose not from some golden age of supermen, but from mostly ordinary people doing their best to deal with times that were no more or less challenging than now. The best days are indeed behind us – but they are also now, and they are ahead. How much easier it is when we can pick the brains of our ancestors, pluck up their best ideas, and avoid their worst mistakes. It’s practically cheating!

“He who cannot draw on three thousand years is living from hand to mouth,” Goethe once said. When we neglect our history, we risk ourselves. History gives us a chance to live securely. When we can draw on thousands of years of knowledge and experience, we’re no longer condemned.

A version of this post appeared in En Tequila Es Verdad’s past.

Condemned to Repeat

New at Rosetta Stones: Trump’s Disastrous Education Picks, and More!

Between Aunty Flow and trying to read up on Nazis, I’ve been a bit lax on blogging. But in case you missed them, here some spiffy recent Rosetta Stones posts for your reading pleasure: Continue reading “New at Rosetta Stones: Trump’s Disastrous Education Picks, and More!”

New at Rosetta Stones: Trump’s Disastrous Education Picks, and More!

Two Quotes that America Needs to Take to Heart Right Now

With white supremacists now waltzing into America’s highest offices to the cheers of neo-Nazis and the KKK, I think it’s time to republish a couple of quotes I’ve used on this blog in the past. Too many in this country seem to have forgotten that America was supposed to stand against fascism. Too many have forgotten the cost of letting fascism gain power. Too many have forgotten that fascism is a monster that must be fought at all costs.

There is already a lot of blood on America’s hands, but the amount of blood and shame will be incalculable if we don’t stop this.

Whoever refuses to remember the inhumanity is prone to new risks of infection.

Richard von Weizsacker

Especially now, it’s critical to remember the true horrors perpetrated in the name of an ideology. Richard von Weizsacker, President of Germany from 1984 to 1994, gave a speech on the 40th anniversary of the end of World War II that speaks of the importance of that remembrance. Here’s the above quote in context (CN: casual ableism): Continue reading “Two Quotes that America Needs to Take to Heart Right Now”

Two Quotes that America Needs to Take to Heart Right Now

The Real Story of Thanksgiving

When I was a schoolkid, we were taught all about Thanksgiving. Pretty much everything was wrong.

We were told the Pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock. Nope. They first landed at Cape Cod. They came to Plymouth about a month later, but they didn’t land on the Rock.

Then our teachers said the Pilgrims nearly starved that first winter. They didn’t. They weren’t exactly healthy, but they weren’t starving to death. They had plenty of seafood, and they also had all the food they stole from Native American winter stores.

Our teachers said the Indians (my school hadn’t caught up to terms like Native American or indigenous people yet) saved the Pilgrims that winter by feeding them. Well, if you consider theft to be a form of giving, then yes, I suppose the Wampanoag indirectly fed the Pilgrims. Truth is, they were hanging back through the winter, watching the white folks who’d moved into one of their abandoned villages. They’d already been hard hit by Europeans, who just a few years before had been busily enslaving them and giving them diseases that wiped out alarming numbers of them. They knew that white folks could be dangerous. But this batch had women and children with them, which made the Wampanoag think they were peaceful. Continue reading “The Real Story of Thanksgiving”

The Real Story of Thanksgiving

“Let Us Not be a Community Who Says, ‘We got ours so fuck you.'”

Gregory Gadow gave me his kind permission to repost his very incisive Facebook post here. This is so important.

A friend of mine made a very good point. Thanks, Calvin Hipps!

Dan White murdered San Francisco mayor George Moscone and supervisor Harvey Milk on November 27, 1978. Charged with two counts of first degree murder, he was eventually convicted on two counts of “voluntary manslaughter,” the lightest possible sentence given the evidence. It was later shown that the jury gave him that sentence because A) White had been a SF police officer, and thus jurors presumed that he was acting against evil-doers, and B) because Supervisor Milk was an openly gay man.

When the verdict was handed down on the afternoon of May 21, 1979, the gay community went ballistic. San Francisco’s gay community had long been a target of SFPD’s bigotry, and many saw this verdict as police literally getting away with murdering community members. What originally started as an angry but peaceful protest quickly changed when the police tried to stop the demonstration. Police were attacked, and damage was done to SF government buildings. After several hours, the rioting subsided.

Black and white image shows a ghostly building with high windows and balconies in the background. There is a line of skinny trees whose trunks end in a puff of branches. Below the trees is a line of silhouetted figures standing in a line. The scene is lit by a streetlamp whose light seems to be diffused by smoke or mist.
Rioters outside San Francisco City Hall the evening of May 21, 1979, reacting to the voluntary manslaughter verdict for Dan White, that ensured White would serve only five years for the double murders of Harvey Milk and George Moscone. Image and caption courtesy Daniel Nicoletta (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Then the police staged a massive round of retaliatory raids in the Castro District. Cops in riot gear swarmed into gay bars and assaulted patrons, without even a pretext of claiming the mantle of law.

Sound like anything in recent events? Continue reading ““Let Us Not be a Community Who Says, ‘We got ours so fuck you.’””

“Let Us Not be a Community Who Says, ‘We got ours so fuck you.'”

Black History Month Extravaganza #4: The Long Journey Towards Equality

We give the shortest month of the year to black history, so please excuse me if I say “Fuck that” and extend our history into March.

In this edition, I’ll be introducing you to some incredible folks. These are people who survived slavery, and then thrived. These are folks who made the civil rights movement happen. Continue reading “Black History Month Extravaganza #4: The Long Journey Towards Equality”

Black History Month Extravaganza #4: The Long Journey Towards Equality

Black History Month Extravaganza #3: Business and Pleasure

Welcome back to another installment of black history you may have never learned! Today, we’re going to meet some enterprising entrepreneurs, discover that some of our most important STEM breakthroughs have been due to people of color, and admire black artistry.

Continue reading “Black History Month Extravaganza #3: Business and Pleasure”

Black History Month Extravaganza #3: Business and Pleasure

Black History Month Extravaganza #2: Social Justice Express

Black History Month is still filling my Facebook feed with extraordinary people and events. Today, we’ll focus on some social justice aspects, including many people who fought and are fighting for justice.

Image shows a grayscale photo of Frantz Fanon, looking toward the right with an intense and serious gaze. Caption says, "We revolt simply because, for many reasons, we can no longer breathe." Frantz Fanon (July 20, 1925 - Dec. 6, 1961)
Frantz Fanon, via Sincere Kirabo

There are so many incredible black folks who did and are doing amazing social justice work, large things and small things and all things in between, that we could fill libraries with them. Here are just a few who have crossed my feed this month: Continue reading “Black History Month Extravaganza #2: Social Justice Express”

Black History Month Extravaganza #2: Social Justice Express