Spot­light

Cecil Whig - - ACCENT -

Around noon on this day nearly 2,000 years ago — Aug. 24, 79 — the Ro­man cit­i­zens liv­ing in the ci­ties of Pom­peii and Her­cu­la­neum prob­a­bly heard and saw the first ex­plo­sions com­ing from Mount Ve­su­vius.

The vol­cano had been dor­mant for sev­eral cen­turies, and the Ro­mans did not sus­pect that the rich, fer­tile soil in this area was the re­sult of pre­vi­ous vol­canic events. This Ve­su­vius erup­tion lasted around 18 hours, ac­cord­ing to a let­ter writ­ten by a young man known as Pliny the Younger, who lived in Pom­peii and was 17 at the time. He and most of the 20,000 who lived there evac­u­ated, es­cap­ing the toxic gas and lava that would claim the roughly 2,000 who tried to wait out the erup­tion.

Re­searchers and sci­en­tists have been ex­ca­vat­ing the re­mains of these an­cient Ro­man ci­ties for sev­eral cen­turies now. Those ef­forts have yielded the shock­ing and now iconic plas­ter molds of bod­ies as they ap­peared just be­fore be­ing con­sumed by vol­canic ash.

On Aug. 25, 1835, the first ar­ti­cle in a se­ries of six was pub­lished by the New York Sun to an­nounce the dis­cov­ery of life on the moon. ”The Great Moon Hoax” was just that — a hoax — but many read­ers were un­aware, and the pa­per’s cir­cu­la­tion boomed.

The news­pa­per al­leged that the sto­ries were reprinted from the Ed­in­burgh Jour­nal of Science, by Dr. An­drew Grant, who was a col­league of Sir John Her­schel, a fa­mous as­tronomer liv­ing at the time. Her­schel had dis­cov­ered, the fic­tional Grant ar­gued, ev­i­dence of uni­corns and winged hu­manoids re­sem­bling bats on the sur­face of the moon.

In Septem­ber, the news­pa­per ad­mit­ted that the sto­ries were fake, and its cir­cu­la­tion re­mained sur­pris­ingly un­changed.

On a hot Au­gust day in 1963 — the 28th to be ex­act — Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., gave a speech that’s now one of the best- known ever de­liv­ered by an Amer­i­can (prob­a­bly sec­ond to Abra­ham Lin­coln’s “Get­tys­burg Ad­dress,” given 100 years ear­lier).

King’s “I Have a Dream” speech reached the ears of about 250,000 peo­ple at the March on Wash­ing­ton that day, and it out­lined a fu­ture for the coun­try that in­cluded gen­uine ac­cep­tance and in­clu­sion re­gard­less of racial dif­fer­ences. As ev­i­denced by racial tu­mult af­fect­ing ci­ties across the United States over the past few years, that fu­ture has not yet been achieved. King con­tin­ues to be revered as a model of ex­cel­lence and as a sort of qual­ity bar for racial lead­ers in the 2010s.

“I have a dream,” King said in his fa­mous speech, “that one day on the red hills of Ge­or­gia the sons of for­mer slaves and the sons of for­mer slave­own­ers will be able to sit down to­gether at the ta­ble of brother­hood.”

Were he still alive, pop leg­end Michael Jack­son would have cel­e­brated his 58th birth­day on Aug. 29.

Be­fore he was the king of pop, Jack­son was a mem­ber of the highly suc­cess­ful Jack­son 5, which con­sisted of him and his four older broth­ers. The pop group was one of the first all-black col­lec­tives to achieve cross­over pop­u­lar­ity in the mu­sic in­dus­try. Jack­son’s mu­si­cal legacy was so­lid­i­fied by his later solo re­leases, es­pe­cially with the al­bums re­leased in the peak of his mu­si­cal ca­reer: “Off the Wall” (1979), “Thriller” (1982) and “Bad” (1987).

His pub­lic im­age came un­der con­tro­versy in the 1990s and 2000s, how­ever, af­ter he was ac­cused of child molestation. He was never con­victed of the crimes, and though parts of that neg­a­tive rep­u­ta­tion trailed him for the rest of his life, the pub­lic’s over­whelm­ingly pos­i­tive re­sponse to his death (an es­ti­mated 31 mil­lion Amer­i­cans watched his funeral at the Sta­ples Cen­ter live on tele­vi­sion) made his cul­tural im­pact clear.

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