AceHistoryDesk – Today in History – On December 5, 1776, Phi Beta Kappa, America’s most prestigious undergraduate honor society, was founded. Organized by five students at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, Phi Beta Kappa was the nation’s first Greek letter society. From 1776 to 1780, members met regularly at William and Mary to write, debate, and socialize. They planned the organization’s expansion and established the characteristics typical of American fraternities and sororities: an oath of secrecy, a code of laws, mottoes in Greek and Latin, a badge and a seal, a special handclasp, and an elaborate initiation ritual.
When the Revolutionary War forced William and Mary to close in 1780, newly formed chapters at Harvard and Yale directed Phi Beta Kappa’s growth and development. By the time the William and Mary chapter was revived in 1851, Phi Beta Kappa was represented at colleges throughout New England.
By the end of the nineteenth century, the once secretive, exclusively male social group had dropped its oath of secrecy, opened its doors to women, and transformed itself into a national honor society dedicated to fostering and recognizing excellence in the liberal arts and sciences.
In 1988 the organization changed its name to The Phi Beta Kappa Society, which today has over 270 chapters.
Membership in the national organization is based on outstanding achievement in the liberal arts and sciences. Approximately ten percent of the nation’s institutions of higher learning have Phi Beta Kappa chapters, with membership typically limited to students in the upper tenth of their graduating class. As of 2022, the society counts six of the nine current U.S. Supreme Court justices and former presidents George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, plus 14 others as members.
Phi Beta Kappa sponsors campus and community activities, fellowships, and service and literary awards. Since 1932, the society has published The American Scholar, a quarterly journal inspired by Ralph Waldo Emerson’s 1837 Harvard lecture. The journal aspires to Emerson’s ideals of independent thinking, self-knowledge, and a commitment to world affairs and to books, history, and science.
AceHistoryDesk – Today in History Fraunces Tavern opened in 1762 as the “Queen’s Head Tavern” and also was known as the “Sign of Queen Charlotte” for its portrait of the queen. Under the proprietorship of Samuel Fraunces, a patriot of African and French extraction born in the French West Indies, the tavern was located across the Bowling Greenfrom the Whitehall Ferry landing. There, a barge waited to carry Washington across the Hudson River to New Jersey and then to Annapolis to resign his commission.
Goodbye to General Washington with a heart full of love and gratitude, I now take leave of you.
I most devoutly wish that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honorable. I cannot come to each of you, but shall feel obliged if each of you will come and take me by the hand.
After British troops evacuated the city on November 25, 1783, Governor George Clinton threw a huge party at Fraunces Tavern in honor of General Washington. On December 1, a display of “fire-works and illuminations” was viewed from the Battery.
All the festivities were reported in the newspaper published by James Rivington, formerly “Printer to the King’s Most Excellent Majesty.” With the departure of the British, The Royal Gazette became Rivington’s New-York Gazette, and Universal Advertiser. The December 6, 1783, issue of the newspaper described Washington’s farewell to his officers:
Last Thursday noon (December 4), the principal officers of the army in town assembled at Fraunces Tavern, to take a final leave of their illustrious, gracious, and much loved Comrade, General Washington. The passions of human nature were never more tenderly agitated, than in this interesting and distressful scene…[His] words produced extreme sensibility on both sides…
Rivington’s New-York Gazette, and Universal Advertiser, December 6, 1783.none
According to Colonel Benjamin Tallmadge’s account, General Henry Knox stood closest to General Washington.
As the general concluded his address, the two turned to each other and “suffused in tears…embraced each other in silence.” Then, each of the officers followed suit, afterwards following Washington to the ferry landing where he departed, waving to them from his barge.
General Washington had already issued his Farewell Orders to the Continental Army. The outpouring of emotion and affection for Washington upon his retirement to Mount Vernon for Christmas imposed a heavy burden of reciprocal correspondence. The general authored many letters of recommendation for former soldiers and patriots including a testimonial for Samuel Fraunces, who likely assisted the Continental Army by obtaining intelligence from British army officers frequenting his tavern while New York was under royal government. Fraunces later was employed by Washington as a steward in his presidential households in New York and Philadelphia.
Read Washington’s correspondence. Search the George Washington Papers using the terms Fraunces, Tallmadge, or Knox to find a wealth of material, including documentation of Washington’s expenditures at the tavern. Search the collection using the term Washington farewellto locate more words from Washington at the time of his retirement. View the Timeline and the Essays in the collection for additional biographical information about Washington.
Search Today in History with the term George Washington to learn more about the first president. Features highlight the president’s birthday, his resignation as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, and his death.
AceHistoryDesk – Today in History – On December 2, 1763, members of the Jewish community of Newport, Rhode Island witnessed the dedication of the Touro Synagogue, the oldest surviving synagogue building in what is now the United States—and sole survivor from the colonial era. Designed in the Georgian style by English architect Peter Harrison, the synagogue was named for Isaac Touro, its first Hazzan (prayer leader).
Organized Jewish community life in Newport dates to 1658, when fifteen families emigrated and established a congregation in the growing seaport. Then called Nephuse Israel (Scattered of Israel), it was the second Jewish congregation in the future U.S., and the first in a British colony.
Newport developed into a thriving commercial center where the Jewish community included a sizeable number of merchants active in the sea trade. By the mid-eighteenth century, Newport’s Jewish congregation, now known as Jeshuat Israel (Salvation of Israel), was ready to build a synagogue structure for its ongoing use. Begun in 1759, the “Jews Synagogue” was designed by Harrison with a neoclassical exterior but an interior closely suited to the needs of Jewish religious practice. Still in use as a synagogue today, the building was designated a National Historic Site in 1946.
On August 17, 1790, the Hebrew congregation of Newport welcomed George Washington to their city. In a pair of letters exchanged with the congregation’s president, Washington penned his most memorable statement on the place of religious freedom in America: “To Bigotry No Sanction, To Persecution No Assistance.”
During the second half of the nineteenth century, Newport’s temperate climate and scenic location made it a favorite vacation spot for the rich. Newport is filled with “cottages” like Belcourt Castle and The Breakers. Designed by architects like Richard Morris Hunt and landscaped by professionals including Frederick Law Olmsted these mansions provided imposing settings for wealthy Americans like Cornelius Vanderbilt.
AceHistoryDesk – Today in History – On the evening of December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, an African American, was arrested for disobeying an Alabama law requiring black passengers to relinquish seats to white passengers when the bus was full. Blacks also were required to sit at the back of the bus. Her arrest sparked a 381-day boycott of the Montgomery bus system and led to a 1956 Supreme Court decision banning segregation on public transportation.
Rosa Parks: “Why do you push us around?” Officer: “I don’t know but the law is the law and you’re under arrest.”
Quiet Strength: the faith, the hope, and the heart of a woman who changed a nation, reflections by Rosa Parks with Gregory J. Reed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1994. p23.none
Rosa McCauley was born on February 4, 1913, in Tuskegee, Alabama. In 1932, she married Raymond Parks and with his encouragement earned a high school diploma. The couple was active in the Montgomery Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). While working as a seamstress, Mrs. Parks served as chapter secretary and, for a time, as advisor to the NAACP Youth Council. Denied the right to vote on at least two occasions because of her race, Rosa Parks also worked with the Voters League in preparing blacks to register.“
Probably first used in 1945 by striking South Carolina tobacco workers, “We Shall Overcome” became the anthem of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. The protest song’s first separate publication, shown above, credits Silphia Horton of the Highlander Folk School with shared authorship.
Following the Brown v. Board of Education decision, the NAACP choose Rosa Parks to attend a desegregation workshop at the Highlander Folk School in Monteagle, Tennessee. Reflecting on that experience, Parks recalled, “At Highlander I found out for the first time in my adult life that this could be a unified society…I gained there the strength to persevere in my work for freedom not just for blacks, but for all oppressed people.”
Although her arrest was not planned, Park’s action was consistent with the NAACP’s desire to challenge segregated public transport in the courts. A one-day bus boycott coinciding with Parks’s December 5 court date resulted in an overwhelming African-American boycott of the bus system. Since black people constituted seventy percent of the transit system’s riders, most buses carried few passengers that day.
The success of the boycott mandated sustained action.
Religious and political leaders met at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and formed the Montgomery Improvement Association (later the Southern Christian Leadership Conference). Dexter’s new pastor, Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., was appointed the group’s leader. For the next year, the Montgomery Improvement Association coordinated the bus boycott and King, an eloquent young preacher, inspired those who refused to ride:
If we are wrong—the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong. If we are wrong—God almighty is wrong! If we are wrong—Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer and never came down to earth. If we are wrong—justice is a lie. And we are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.” 1
Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., Montgomery, Alabama, 1955.none
During the boycott, King insisted that protestors retain the moral high ground, hinting at his later strategy of nonviolent resistance.
This is not a war between the white and the Negro but a conflict between justice and injustice. If we are arrested every day, if we are exploited every day, if we are trampled over every day, don’t ever let anyone pull you so low as to hate them. We must use the weapon of love.2
Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., Montgomery, Alabama, 1955.none
In December 1956 the Supreme Court banned segregation on public transportation and the boycott ended over a year after it had begun. Rosa and Raymond Parks moved to Detroit where, for more than twenty years, the “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement” worked for Congressman John Conyers. In addition to the Rosa Parks Peace Prize (Stockholm, 1994) and the U.S. Medal of Freedom (1996), Rosa Parks has been awarded two-dozen honorary doctorates from universities around the world.
Rosa Parks died on October 24, 2005, at the age of ninety-two, at her home in Detroit, Michigan. On October 30, 2005, Parks became the first woman to lie in honor in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.
Martin Luther King Jr. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. ed. Clayborne Carson (New York: Intellectual Properties Management in Association with Warner Books: 1998), 60. (Return to text)
King 1998, 81. (Return to text)
Visit the Rosa Parks Papers to view approximately 7,500 items (manuscripts) as well as 2,500 photographs relating to Parks’s private life and public activism on behalf of civil rights for African Americans. View the webcast, Rosa Parks Collection: Telling Her Story at the Library of Congress, which highlights items from the collection and provides a look behind the scenes at how the Library’s team of experts in cataloging, preservation, digitization, exhibition and teacher training are making the legacy of Rosa Parks available to the world.
Explore the online exhibit, Rosa Parks: In Her Own Words which showcases rarely seen materials that offer an intimate view of Rosa Parks and documents her life and activism.
In May 1999, Congress recognized Rosa Parks’s contributions to the nation by authorizing President Clinton to award her a gold medal. Learn more about this honor and access the text of Public Law: 106-26 by reading the Bill Summary available through Congress.gov. Review current civil rights legislation. Search Congress.gov on civil rights.
The online exhibition The African American Odyssey: A Quest for Full Citizenship, highlights a wide array of important and rare books, government documents, manuscripts, maps, musical scores, plays, films, and recordings related to African-American history and the struggle for civil rights.
As a young man, Clemens worked as a typesetter for his brother Orion’s newspaper before following his dream of navigating the Mississippi on paddle wheel steamboats.
He piloted boats for three years until the outbreak of the Civil War stopped river traffic in 1861.
Clemens wrote for the Virginia City, Nevada, newspaper Territorial Enterprise in 1862, adopting the pseudonym Mark Twain. Two years later he moved to San Francisco where his writing gained further popularity and he developed the humorous style now famous throughout the world. In 1866 he went to Hawaii as a reporter for the Sacramento Union.
Clemens joined his brother in Nevada where Orion had been appointed secretary of the territory. Roughing It, first published in 1872, is Clemens’ account of his journey. In the Prefatory, Clemens describes his writing style:
Yes, take it all around, there is quite a good deal of information in the book. I regret this very much; but really it could not be helped: information appears to stew out of me naturally, like the precious ottar of roses out of the otter. Sometimes it has seemed to me that I would give worlds if I could retain my facts; but it cannot be. The more I calk up the sources, and the tighter I get, the more I leak wisdom. Therefore, I can only claim indulgence at the hands of the reader, not justification.
While in the West, Clemens stayed briefly at the California boarding house of uprooted Missourian Mrs. Lee Summers Whipple-Haslam. In her book, Early Days in California, she recalls that her mother engaged Clemens in extended conversation:
As usual with Missourians, they imparted numerous and various details of ancient forefathers, and, after lengthy discussion, decided that according to all the rules and laws of Missouri, they were cousins.
Later, when other boarders, thinking Clemens “wonderful,” asked if there were others like him in Missouri, she replied “no” and explained that “he was a Missouri freak that had broken loose from his hitching post.”
He objects that there is no night service and that he is regularly cut off while practicing his cursing. In fact, Twain enjoyed and made use of new inventions. For example, he was the first author to submit a typewritten manuscript to his publisher.