Samuel Langhorne Clemens, under his pen-name Mark Twain, had previously published the novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in which the character of Huckleberry “Huck” Finn is introduced for the first time. Eight years after its release, the sequel was published in the United Kingdom in December 1884 and was followed by the American version two months later.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which was originally published without the definite article at the start of its title, is set in the antebellum South when the economy was fuelled by plantations using slave labour. The novel follows Huck’s journey down the river Mississippi with Jim, a slave who ran away from his owner Miss Watson.
Notable as one of the first American novels to be written in vernacular English, it is told in the first person by Huck himself. This is said to have revolutionised American literature, with Ernest Hemingway later claiming that “All modern American literature comes from…Huckleberry Finn.”
Despite such later acclaim, the book was greeted with mixed reviews on its release and within just a month it had been banned by the library in Concord, Massachusetts for being “trash…suitable only for the slums.” Other libraries in the late 19th and early 20th century followed suit, and the novel continues to divide opinion due to its frequent use of the n-word and its portrayal of black characters. However, defenders of the book instead interpret Twain’s creation as a masterpiece of American literature that uses satire to present a powerful attack on racism.
Bridges was born in 1954, the same year that the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas that racially segregated schools were unconstitutional. Although the court ordered schools to desegregate “with all deliberate speed”, there was significant opposition and some local school districts placed further legal obstacles in the way of segregation.
Despite her father’s initial reluctance to expose his daughter to the potential trouble that integration was expected to cause, six year-old Ruby Bridges was put forward for an academic entrance test to determine whether she should be allowed to attend the all-white William Frantz Elementary School. The school was situated just five blocks from her home in New Orleans, yet Bridges had previously needed to attend a segregated kindergarten a number of miles away.
Having passed the entrance exam, and with the school district unable to delay integration any longer, Ruby Bridges and her mother were driven the short distance to the school accompanied by four federal marshals. Crowds of protesters lined the streets and, with the threat of violence hanging over the young girl and her family, she spent the entire first day in the principal’s office.
Only one teacher at William Frantz Elementary agreed to teach Ruby and, although some white families that had boycotted the school slowly returned to classes, for an entire year Ruby was taught on her own. Outside school the Bridges family also experienced hardships including Ruby’s father being made redundant, but other members of the community rallied round to support them.
Davis was born in Washington D.C. and, although his army records and gravestone claim that he was born in 1877, his biographer has found a census document that suggests he was actually born three years later and falsified his birth year in order to join the army.
Davis first entered military service following the outbreak of the Spanish-American War in 1898, and later served as Professor of Military Science and Tactics at both Wilberforce University in Ohio and Tuskegee University in Alabama as well as serving tours of duty around the world. Having been assigned to the 369th Regiment, New York National Guard in 1938, he later took command of the unit and was promoted to brigadier general by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on 25 October 1940.
During the Second World War, Davis was an influential member of the Advisory Committee on Negro Troop Policies. Having been tasked with improving race relations and securing the morale of black soldiers in the European theatre, he lobbied to end segregation and introduce full racial integration. Davis was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal (DSM) on 22 February 1945 for his ‘wise advice and counsel’ that ‘brought about a fair and equitable solution to many important problems which have since become the basis of far-reaching War Department policy.’
Benjamin O. Davis Sr. died on 26 November 1970 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. His son, Benjamin O. Davis Jr., had already followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming the first African-American general in the United States Air Force.