December 3, 1856: Thoreau’s Journal

About as much more snow as fell on the 29th November has fallen in the night upon that, so stilly that we were not aware of it till we looked out. It has not even lodged on the window-sashes, and I am first convinced it has fallen by seeing the old tracks in the road covered and the roofs uniformly white. It is now somewhat misty, or perhaps a fine rain beginning.

waldenFewer weeds now rise above the snow. Pinweed (or sarothra) is quite concealed. It is a uniform white napkin in many fields. But not yet are the Great Meadows fairly whitened. There, as I look sideways at them, I see still the stretching acres of straw-colored brown grass and weeds. The pastures are uniformly white, but the meadows are that rich, wild brown straw color, or only white in ridges where there is less grass, reminding of the fall, and of water beneath.

The steam of the locomotive stretches low over the earth, enveloping the cars.

The sight of the sedgy meadows that are not yet snowed up while the cultivated fields and pastures are a uniform white, -fenny places which are longer enabled to resist the aggressions of winter! It takes a deep snow to blot out the traces of summer there, for the grass did not get cut this year.

Mizzles and rains all day, making sloshy walking which sends us all to the shoemaker’s. Bought me a pair of cowhide boots, to be prepared for winter walks. The shoemaker praised them because they were made a year ago. I feel like an armed man now. The man who has bought his boots feels like him who has got in his winter’s wood. There they stand beside me in the chamber, expectant, dreaming of far woods and woodpaths, of frost-bound or sloshy roads, or of being bound with skate-straps and clogged with ice-dust.

For years my appetite was so strong that I fed-I browsed – on the pine forest’s edge seen against the winter horizon. How cheap my diet still! Dry sand that has fallen in railroad cuts and slid on the snow beneath is a condiment to my walk. I ranged about like a gray moose, looking at the spiring tops of the trees, and fed my imagination on them, -far-away, ideal trees not disturbed by the axe of the wood-cutter, nearer and nearer fringes and eyelashes of my eye. Where was the sap, the fruit, the value of the forest for me, but in that line where it was relieved against the sky? That was my wood-lot; that was my lot in the woods. The silvery needles of the pine straining the light.

December 2 1763: Touro Synagogue is dedicated

The Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island is the oldest synagogue building in the United States. It is a structure of exquisite beauty and one of the most historically significant Jewish buildings in the United States.

TouroThe synagogue’s congregation was founded in 1658 by the descendants of Jewish families who had fled the Inquisitions in Spain and Portugal and who themselves left the Caribbean seeking the greater religious tolerance that Rhode Island offered.

In his famous letter to the “Hebrew congregation at Newport,” written in 1790, President George Washington pledged to the Touro congregation that our new nation would give “to bigotry no sanction and to persecution no assistance.”

By the time Longfellow wrote the following verse, most Jews had moved out of Newport and the synagogue had locked its doors. Renewal came late in the 19th century. Today the Touro Synagogue is once again an active house of worship and a national shrine to religious freedom.


    The Jewish Cemetery at Newport
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 

How strange it seems! These Hebrews in their graves,
Close by the street of this fair seaport town,
Silent beside the never-silent waves,
At rest in all this moving up and down!

The trees are white with dust, that o’er their sleep
Wave their broad curtains in the south-wind’s breath,
While underneath these leafy tents they keep
The long, mysterious Exodus of Death.

And these sepulchral stones, so old and brown,
That pave with level flags their burial-place,
Seem like the tablets of the Law, thrown down
And broken by Moses at the mountain’s base.

The very names recorded here are strange,
Of foreign accent, and of different climes;
Alvares and Rivera interchange
With Abraham and Jacob of old times.

“Blessed be God! for he created Death!”
The mourners said, “and Death is rest and peace;”
Then added, in the certainty of faith,
“And giveth Life that nevermore shall cease.”

Closed are the portals of their Synagogue,
No Psalms of David now the silence break,
No Rabbi reads the ancient Decalogue
In the grand dialect the Prophets spake.

Gone are the living, but the dead remain,
And not neglected; for a hand unseen,
Scattering its bounty, like a summer rain,
Still keeps their graves and their remembrance green.

How came they here? What burst of Christian hate,
What persecution, merciless and blind,
Drove o’er the sea — that desert desolate —
These Ishmaels and Hagars of mankind?

They lived in narrow streets and lanes obscure,
Ghetto and Judenstrass, in mirk and mire;
Taught in the school of patience to endure
The life of anguish and the death of fire.

All their lives long, with the unleavened bread
And bitter herbs of exile and its fears,
The wasting famine of the heart they fed,
And slaked its thirst with marah of their tears.

Anathema maranatha! was the cry
That rang from town to town, from street to street;
At every gate the accursed Mordecai
Was mocked and jeered, and spurned by Christian feet.

Pride and humiliation hand in hand
Walked with them through the world where’er they went;
Trampled and beaten were they as the sand,
And yet unshaken as the continent.

For in the background figures vague and vast
Of patriarchs and of prophets rose sublime,
And all the great traditions of the Past
They saw reflected in the coming time.

And thus forever with reverted look
The mystic volume of the world they read,
Spelling it backward, like a Hebrew book,
Till life became a Legend of the Dead.

But ah! what once has been shall be no more!
The groaning earth in travail and in pain
Brings forth its races, but does not restore,
And the dead nations never rise again.

December 1, 1955: Rosa Parks Doesn’t Give Up Her Seat

Rosa Parks remembered when she was just a child going to elementary school, how she would watch the school buses take white students to their new school, while she and her fellow black students had to walk to theirs.

“I’d see the bus pass every day… But to me, that was a way of life; we had no choice but to accept what was the custom. The bus was among the first ways I realized there was a black world and a white world… I did a lot of walking in Montgomery.”

Rosa ParksOne day in 1943, Parks boarded a Montgomery Transit bus and paid the fare. When she went to take her seat, the driver told her to follow city rules and to enter the bus again from the back door. Parks complied and exited the bus to re-board at the rear, but before she was back aboard, the bus sped off, leaving her to walk home in the rain.Twelve years later, around 6 p.m. on Thursday, December 1, 1955 after working all day, Rosa Parks boarded the Cleveland Avenue bus in downtown Montgomery. She paid her fare and sat in an empty seat she found in the first row of back seats reserved for the “colored” section. Her row was near the middle of the bus, directly behind the ten seats reserved for white passengers.As the bus traveled along its regular route, the white-only seats in the bus started to fill up. When the bus reached its third stop in front of the Empire Theater, several more passengers boarded. The bus driver noted that white passengers were now standing, so he got up and moved the “colored” section sign back a row and requested the four people in that row to give up their seats so that the white passengers could sit: “Y’all better make it light on yourselves and let me have those seats.”

Rosa Parks remembered what happened next: “We didn’t move at the beginning, but he says, ‘Let me have these seats.’”

The other three people moved back, but Parks just moved toward the window seat.

The driver said, “Why don’t you stand up?”

“I don’t think I should have to stand up.”

“’Well, if you don’t stand up, I’m going to have to call the police and have you arrested.”

“You may do that.”

As the officer took her away, Rosa asked, “Why do you push us around?”

“I don’t know, but the law’s the law, and you’re under arrest.”

Rosa Parks later recalled: “When that white driver stepped back toward us, when he waved his hand and ordered us up and out of our seats, I felt a determination cover my body like a quilt on a winter night.

“I only knew that, as I was being arrested, that it was the very last time that I would ever ride in humiliation of this kind…

“I did not want to be mistreated, I did not want to be deprived of a seat that I had paid for. It was just time… I had not planned to get arrested. I had plenty to do without having to end up in jail. But when I had to face that decision, I didn’t hesitate to do so because I felt that we had endured that too long.

“People always say that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired, but that isn’t true. I was not tired physically, or no more tired than I usually was at the end of a working day. I was not old, although some people have an image of me as being old then. I was forty-two. No, the only tired I was, was tired of giving in.”

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