Oct. 2, 2000

The Planet on the Table

by Wallace Stevens

Broadcast date: MONDAY, 2 October 2000

"The Planet on the Table," by Wallace Stevens, from The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens (Vintage Books).

On this day in 1967, Thurgood Marshall was sworn in as the first black justice of the United States Supreme Court. Marshall served as chief counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from 1940 to 1962. He won 29 of the 32 cases that he argued before the Supreme Court for the NAACP, including the landmark case of Brown versus the Board of Education (1954), which declared that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. He served on the Supreme Court until 1991, and died in 1993.

On this day in 1950, the comic strip "Peanuts" made its debut, the creation of a young, free-lance cartoonist named Charles Schulz. He wanted to call the strip "Li'l Folks," but United Feature Syndicate, who had just bought it, thought the name was too similar to another comic strip, and changed it to "Peanuts." It is probably the most popular comic strip ever.

It's the birthday of writer Graham Greene in Berkhamsted, England (1904). He came to divide his fiction into two categories: "novels," with serious, often religious themes; and "entertainments," which were spy thrillers and crime stories, sometimes with a satirical edge. He said, "The world is not black and white. More like black and grey."

It's the birthday of comedian Julius Henry Marx, better known as "Groucho," in New York City (1890). He once said, "I don't want to belong to any club that would accept me as a member."

It's the birthday of poet Wallace Stevens, born in Reading, Pennsylvania (1879). He practiced law for several years in New York, then joined the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company in Connecticut, where he worked his way up to vice-president. He was also a major American poet, and his Collected Poems (1955) won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Once, when discussing one of his poems with an admirer, he said, "I don't think you'd understand this unless you wrote it." He was unconcerned with popularity, and was a solitary man who once admitted, "Life is an affair of people, not of places. But for me life is an affair of places and that is the trouble." One of his places was Florida, whose tropical images color many of his poems.

It's the birthday of Nat Turner, born a slave in Southampton County, Virginia (1800). He learned to read, studied the Bible diligently, and became a preacher who spoke of self-respect and justice, urging his fellow slaves to rebel against their condition of servitude. He believed he was divinely chosen to deliver them from bondage. In February of 1831, he took a solar eclipse as a sign from God that the time for revolt was at hand, and began to prepare, declaring, "I should arise and...slay my enemies with their own weapons." Beginning on August 22, he and his followers killed between 55 and 65 white people in two days. On August 23, they fought and lost a battle with state and Federal troops. Turner escaped, but was captured on October 30. At his trial, he admitted to leading the rebellion but pleaded "not guilty." He was executed on November 11.

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