This Day in History – November 25th

885 – The leaders of Paris refuse to pay tribute to invading Danish Vikings, leading to the 11-month Siege of Paris – By the 880s, a Kingdom of France resembling the France we know today was starting to take shape, though it was still broken up in three chunks; West Francia, East Francia (Germany) and Middle Francia (Italy). West Francia included nearly all of modern western France from the Mediterranean to the English Channel, including Paris, which was then located entirely on an island in the Seine River. Since the Seine was easily navigable by boat, beginning in 845 Paris became a popular target for Viking raiders. In 885, the city was ruled by Odo, Count of Paris, as the rather incompetent King of West Francia, Charles the Fat, resided near the German border. In the fall of 885, Charles refused to pay tribute to the Viking leader, Sigfred, who responded by sending at least 300 ships and thousands of men up the Seine. They raided and pillaged until, on this date in 885, they reached Paris, which was defended by city walls and had a pair of fortified bridges blocking the further progress of the Viking longships. Though he was vastly outnumbered with no more than 200 soldiers at his disposal, Odo refused to surrender, and the siege began. The Danes used catapults and other such siege engines, but they were repelled by the Franks who rained down hot wax and pitch on them. The Vikings tried taking out one of bridges by setting one of their ships aflame and pushing it towards the bridge, but it sank. Later, they tried unsuccessfully to dam up the river with debris and dead bodies to create a new pathway to the city. By February, the north bridge had fallen but still the Franks did not give in. The siege dragged on for months, and many Vikings decided to give up and move on to attack other settlements. Finally, in October 886, after much begging by the people of Paris, Charles arrived with his army. Rather than wiping out the Vikings, he paid them off and let them sail on to raid Burgundy, which was revolting against him. When Charles died three years later, the Franks elected as their king the brave Odo, who ruled until his death in 898.

1947 – A day after being censured by Congress, 10 Hollywood film writers are blacklisted by the industry – During the Great Depression and parts of World War II when the USSR was a vital ally against Nazi Germany, many left-leaning Americans saw Communism as a very promising alternative to Capitalism. After the war though, the ‘Red Scare’ took over and Communists were accused of acting to subvert the U.S. political system and orchestrating massive worker’s strikes. The Hollywood film industry was not immune to these strikes and, in 1946, the publisher of The Hollywood Reporter printed a column naming 10 screenwriters as Communist sympathizers. Among the writers was Dalton Trumbo, who was portrayed by Bryan Cranston in the 2015 biopic “Trumbo.” In October 1947, Trumbo and the others were subpoenaed by the House Un-American Activities Committee, who were investigating if there were Communist agents slipping propaganda into American films. Trumbo and the rest of the “Hollywood Ten,” refused to testify and they were each charged with contempt of Congress on Nov. 24, 1947. The following day, on this date in 1947, a meeting took place in New York City attended by representatives from MGM, Columbia, Fox, Paramount, Universal, Warner Bros. and others. A resulting press release proclaimed that the actions of the Hollywood Ten were “a disservice to their employers and have impaired their usefulness to the industry.” They were blacklisted, and most spent time in prison as a result of the charge. For more than a decade they struggled to find reputable work in Hollywood, writing under pen names or without receiving credit for their work. Two of Trumbo’s scripts from that period, “Roman Holiday” and “The Brave One” won Academy Awards, though he was not acknowledged during the ceremonies. In 1960, the American Legion protested the Stanley Kubrick film “Spartacus” when it was revealed that Trumbo had written the script. Newly-elected president John F. Kennedy crossed the picket lines to watch the film. That marked the symbolic end of the blacklisting.

1963 – President John F. Kennedy is laid to rest – The funeral for assassinated U.S. President, John F Kennedy, took place in Washington on this date in 1963. Around 800,000 citizens lined the streets to watch the coffin’s procession from the Capitol, where the president’s body had lain in state since the previous day. The funeral procession moved on to St Matthew’s Cathedral in central Washington. Kennedy’s coffin, draped with the Stars and Stripes, was lain on a gun carriage drawn by six grey horses. A black riderless horse pranced along behind. Following the carriage in black car were Kennedy’s widow, Jacqueline Kennedy, and her two children, three-year-old John F. Kennedy junior, and five-year-old Caroline, as well as his brothers, Robert and Edward. Also making up the procession of guests were a long list of leaders from all across the world including Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, British Prime Minister Sir Alec Douglas-Home, French President Charles de Gaulle, and Canadian Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson. During the service at St. Matthew’s, Kennedy’s inaugural address was read, including his famous words: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.” As the coffin left the church following the ceremony, cameras caught three-year-old John F. Kennedy Junior step forward for a moment and put his hand to his forehead in what appeared to be a salute. America’s youngest elected president was buried in Arlington Cemetery to a 21-gun salute and three musket volleys. Lee Harvey Oswald, the man who had been accused of Kennedy’s murder Nov. 22 in Dallas, Texas, was shot dead by nightclub owner Jack Ruby the day before Kennedy’s funeral. In an address following Kennedy’s assassination, Pearson called it “one of the great tragedies of history.” Progressive Conservative leader John Diefenbaker, who had been prime minister for most of Kennedy’s administration, said: “A beacon of freedom has gone. Whatever the disagreement, to me he stood as the embodiment of freedom, not only in his own country, but throughout the world.”

1973 – Greek President George Papadopoulos is ousted by a military coup – On this date in 1973, after weeks of unrest and violent student uprisings, Greek armed forces toppled the country’s government for the second time in less than a decade. Shortly before dawn, tanks rolled into Athens and troops took up positions around government buildings there. Brigadier Dimitrios Ioannides, head of the military police, orchestrated the coup. President George Papadopoulos had come to power through a military coup six years earlier and had since become known as the leader of a repressive and brutal regime. Earlier that year, he had declared Greece a republic, abolishing the monarchy and declaring himself president. The military characterized the 1973 coup as a “continuation of the revolution of 1967,” when Greek military leaders led by Papadopoulos had seized control. The new regime lasted only a few months, collapsing in 1974. In 1975, after unsuccessfully attempting to meddle with the government of Cyprus, Ioannides was charged with high treason and rebellion. Exiled former Greek Prime Minister Constantine Karamanlis was recalled to the country to head the new government. He is credited with guiding the country’s return to democracy and engineering its entry into the European Economic Community in 1980. Papadopoulos and Ioannides both died in prison, in 1999 and 2010, respectively.

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