September 1, 1957 – Gloria Maria Milagrosa Fajardo Garcia Born in Havana, Cuba

Gloria Estefan, with her husband Emilio, at the 2014 Tony Awards

On September 1, 1957, a baby girl entered the politically charged world of Havana, Cuba.  Her father, Jose Fajardo, was a Cuban soldier and bodyguard to embattled President Fulgencio Batista.  Her mother, also named Gloria, was the granddaughter of emigres from Asturias and Logrono, Spain.  Baby Gloria was still very young when her family was forced to flee Cuba during Castro’s revolution, landing first in Lafayette, Indiana, then settling in Miami, Florida.   Jose joined the United States military, served in Viet Nam, and eventually revisited Cuba as part of the Bay of Pigs invasion.  Gloria attended Catholic elementary and secondary schools in Miami, and graduated from the University of Miami with a degree in psychology, minoring in French.  During her college years, Gloria worked at the Miami International Airport in the customs department as an English/Spanish/French translator.  She was approached by the CIA during this time as a possible employee, due to her language skills.

In 1976, Gloria met Emilio Estefan of the Miami Sound Machine and they married in 1978.  Gloria joined Emilio’s band and during the mid-1980s the Sound Machine produced several Top-10 hits and released an album that went multi-platinum.  In 1988, the band’s name was changed to Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine; in 1989, the band’s name was dropped and Gloria was credited as a solo artist with the Sound Machine as her backup.

In 1990, Gloria suffered a fractured spine when a semi-truck struck her tour bus.  Two titanium rods were implanted near her spinal column and she recovered completely after a year of intensive physical therapy.  She later formed the Gloria Estefan Foundation to help others with spinal cord injuries.

Over the years, Gloria Estefan has continued to record chart-topping hits, performed at the 1995 and 1999  Super Bowls and 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta, toured the United States and the world, appeared in movies and on television, written children’s books, and become a restaurant and hotel owner.  Her awards include seven Grammys, the Ellis Island Congressional Medal of Honor, the Hispanic Heritage Award, the 1993 National Music Foundation Humanitarian of the Year award, and she has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

A musical based on Gloria and Emilio’s life story is in the works. On Your Feet! will share the story “of two people who – through an unwavering dedication to one another and their pursuit of the American dream – showcased their talent, their music, and their heritage to the world.” On Your Feet! will arrive on Broadway at the Marquis Theatre in October of 2015.

August 31, 1957 – Plumbbob’s “Smoky” Leaves a Troubled Legacy

On August 31, 1957, Operation Plumbob’s “Smoky” test flamed into the sky over busy Yucca Flat, 65 miles north of Las Vegas.  Area 8 of the Nevada Test Site played host that day to the third test of the UCRL TX-41 –  a three-stage, thermonuclear weapon design.  After two previous tests of 3.5 and 5.0 megatons (Redwing Zuni and Tewa), “Smoky” was probably a partial, two-stage test with a decreased yield of 45-50 kilotons.  The MK-41 nuclear device eventually developed from the TX-41 test series became the largest-yield nuclear weapon ever developed or deployed by the United States.  Its yield of 25 megatons was also the highest yield-to-weight ratio for a US nuclear weapon, at about 6 kilotons per kilogram.

Smoky became famous – notorious, even – for its tragic consequences.   Over three thousand servicemen had been in the vicinity of ground zero shortly after the blast, practicing maneuvers as part of the Desert Rock exercise.  Their exposure to radiation from the test eventually became the subject of a Congressional investigation and epidemiological evaluation.  A 1980 study found statistically significant increases in leukemia cases among the 3224 participants.  Instead of the expected four cases, ten were found.

August 30, 1957 – The Labor Day Weekend Begins

1957 Corvette Travel Trailer with Fun Accessories. Photo source: Tin Can Tourists

On August 30, 1957, the Friday before Labor Day weekend, Americans young and old, big and small, got ready to celebrate the last official weekend of summer.  Whether it was to the beach or the pool, the mountains or the desert, the grandparents’ or the Grand Canyon, everyone worked together to pack the station wagon, the trailer, or the ice chest with everything needed to enjoy these final lazy days in the sun before school started and the routine of life kicked in.

Depending on where you were going, you might have packed fishing rods, tennis rackets, horseshoes, inner tubes, a ball and mit, or a new-fangled Frisbee.  Into the plaid cooler might have gone Oscar Meyer wieners, jello salad, three-bean salad, watermelon, grape Nehi, and iced tea.  The cupboards in trailers, the baskets and hampers, could have bulged with Del Monte catsup, French’s mustard, buns, Ritz crackers, Mix Trix (or Chex Mix), marshmallow bars, and butterscotch brownies.

Dads packed their portable grills and asbestos mits to do justice to the thick steaks and ribs buried in ice (don’t forget the Lawry’s Seasoned Salt!).  For breakfast, kids were already busy laying dibs on their favorite mini-boxes of Kellogg’s Variety Pack cereals.  Mom and dad looked forward to eggs, bacon, and Chase & Sanborn coffee – lots of it – or Bisquick pancakes with Log Cabin syrup.

Don’t forget the aluminum folding chairs, kerosene lantern, and bug spray.  Tuck in beach towels and baby oil.  Grab the dog, lock the door, and hit the road!  Summer’s almost over and there’s no time to waste.

August 29, 1957 – The Senate Passes the Civil Rights Act of 1957

United States Senate Chambers

On August 29, 1957, the United States Senate passed the final version of what would become the Civil Rights Act of 1957.  The first civil rights legislation enacted since the Reconstruction period, the amended act replaced an initial version first proposed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on March 11, 1956.  The initial act went through torturous proceedings and changes before it was approved by both houses of Congress and signed into law by the President on September 9th.

The final five-part act was primarily a voting rights act.  It did not create new voting rights, but initiated a greater federal role in protecting existing voting rights of African-Americans and other minorities.  Part I provided for the creation of a six-member bipartisan Commission of Civil Rights who were empowered, among other duties, to investigate any allegations that “certain citizens of the United States are being deprived of their right to vote and have that vote counted by reason of their color, race, religion, or national origin”.  Part II created the position of a new assistant attorney general and led in December 1957 to the formation of the Civil Rights Division within the Department of Justice.  Part III conferred federal court jurisdiction over civil suits that could address and remedy civil rights violations.

Part IV provided significant federal enforcement powers to prohibit actions by any person designed to “intimidate, threaten, [or] coerce . . . for the purpose of interfering with the right [of any person] to vote as he may choose”.  Part IV also authorized the attorney general to initiate civil lawsuits to provide permanent or temporary injunctions or restraining orders to enforce the ban on racially discriminatory denials of the right to vote.  Part V, which had caused so much dissent in the Senate, allowed for enforcement of Part IV by trial in federal court.  Original versions of the act had only provided for trial by a federal judge; the Southern senators forced a compromise which allowed trial by jury on request.  They wanted to ensure the right for white southerners to verdicts from a jury of their white peers.

Compromises and amendments allowed the 1957 Civil Rights Act to pass, but stripped it of real power.  Actual registration and voting by African-Americans did not increase substantially after its passage.  The act did, however, pave the way to more effective legislation in 1964 and 1965 to secure African-American voting rights, housing rights, and an end to legal segregation.

August 28, 1957 – Congress Passes the Poultry Products Inspection Act

Poultry processing in the 1950s at the Piedmont Dressing Plant in Concord, North Carolina. Photo Source: NCSU Library Digital Collection

Poultry processing in the 1950s at the Piedmont Dressing Plant in Concord, North Carolina. Photo Source: NCSU Library Digital Collection

On August 28, 1957, the United States Congress passed the Poultry Products Inspection Act. This comprehensive piece of legislation established uniform standards for inspecting all varieties of poultry to prevent diseased or contaminated birds from entering the food supply. Prior to this date, the US Department of Agriculture had monitored poultry quality only at the invitation of individual poultry processors. The 1957 Poultry Products Inspection Act required processors to cooperate with government inspectors. Provisions of the act also spelled out penalties for companies selling contaminated products or failing to maintain sanitary conditions in their plants.

Specifically, the act, under the governance of the Department of Agriculture, established rules for pre- and post-mortem inspection of poultry, with procedures for the quarantine and disposal of products deemed unfit . It authorized the establishment of sanitary practices for facilities and equipment which would also be verified by inspection. It established labeling standards, listed prohibited practices aimed at circumventing quality assurance, and specified fines and even possible prison sentences for those companies not complying with the regulations.

Some exemptions to the act’s provisions included those individuals who raised and slaughtered their own poultry, poultry processed for uses other than human consumption, and, curiously, pizza! The USDA inspectors evidently didn’t want to maintain a presence in the some kitchens (and felt it necessary to state so). Here’s how they spelled it out:

“The Secretary shall exempt pizzas containing a poultry product from the inspection requirements of this chapter if -

(A) the poultry product components of the pizzas have been prepared, inspected, and passed in a cured or cooked form as ready-to-eat in compliance with the requirements of this chapter; and

(B) the pizzas are to be served in public or private nonprofit institutions.”

In other words, no USDA inspectors wearing hairnets in school kitchens (among other places)!

The 1957 Poultry Products Inspection Act remained in force until July 31, 2014, when new regulations were established after much wrangling between the USDA, the poultry processing industry, and labor unions. The government wanted processors to perform some of the poultry inspections themselves, freeing government inspectors to focus more of their attention on sanitary conditions in general. Feathers flew and the poultry processors and unions opposed this, but the USDA prevailed. The processors also wanted to speed up the production line from 140 to 175 chickens per minute, which the unions opposed, and which the government decided to veto.

August 28, 1957 – Senator Strom Thurmond’s Famous Filibuster

Sen. Strom Thurmond addresses the Senate, August 28, 1957. Photo source: Associated Press

On August 28, 1957, Senator Strom Thurmond, D-SC, began the longest filibuster in Senate history in an attempt to prevent passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1957.  His one-man act lasted 24 hours and 18 minutes.  Cots were brought in for sleepy fellow legislators as Thurmond read from the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and President George Washington’s Farewell Address.  The clock ticked as Strom pontificated on random issues, shared his grandmother’s biscuit recipe, and recited entries from the phone book.

The final version of the civil rights legislation awaiting vote by the Senate was the result of sustained conflict and compromise, both between the Democratic and Republican parties, and within the Democratic party itself.  Senate President Lyndon Johnson, recognizing the mood of the country – even in the South – had paved the way to a version of the bill palatable to most of his fellow Southern senators.  On the day of Thurmond’s last ditch oratory attempt to stop the inevitable, most Southern senators were embarrassed and upset by Thurmond’s actions, which they felt would make them look bad to their constituents.  They had agreed, as part of the final compromise, not to filibuster the bill.

Thurmond, as usual, went his own way.  He was a highly decorated veteran of World War II, serving in the US Army and taking part in the Normandy invasion.  He was opinionated and vocal on numerous issues throughout his life and career.  In 1964 he switched party alliances and supported Republicans Barry Goldwater and Richard Nixon.  He later moderated his views and voted in favor of increased rights for African-Americans, but defended his earlier segregationist leanings as support for states’ rights.  He is the only senator to reach 100 years of age while still in office and was the Senate’s second-longest serving senator in its history.

August 27, 1957 – Underground Nuclear Test Launches Giant “Manhole Cover”

On August 27, 1957, a four-inch-thick steel plate weighing several hundred pounds shot into the stratosphere over the Nevada Test Site, never to be seen again.  Operation Plumbbob’s Pascal-B was an underground test of a nuclear safety device designed to limit the amount of destructive energy released by a bomb in the event of an accidental detonation.  Buried at the bottom of a 500-foot shaft and sealed with an over-2-ton plug of cement, Pascal-B generated sufficient energy – the equivalent of a few hundred tons of dynamite – to vaporize the concrete plug.  The concrete vapor expanded and raced up the shaft, propelling a massive steel plate sealing the shaft opening into the sky.

According to the February 1992 issue of the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Magazine, astrophysicist Bob Brownlee was in charge of designing the Pascal-B test.  “He knew the lid [steel plate] would be blown off; he didn’t know exactly how fast.  High-speed cameras caught the giant manhole cover as it began its unscheduled flight into history.  Based on his calculations and the evidence from the cameras, Brownlee estimated that the steel plate was traveling at a velocity six times that needed to escape Earth’s gravity when it soared into the flawless blue Nevada sky.  ‘We never found it.  It was gone,’ Brownlee says, a touch of awe in his voice almost 35 years later”.

Even though the eventual whereabouts of the steel plate forever remained a mystery, it’s unlikely, according to the laws of physics and the character of the Earth’s atmosphere, that the plate headed into outer space.  Unable to maintain escape velocity on its own (not being equipped with mini-rocket engines), it would not retain sufficient speed to pass completely through the layers of nitrogen, oxygen, and other gases surrounding our planet.  Most likely it either vaporized in the explosion, disintegrated in the atmosphere, or landed somewhere far from the Nevada Test Site.  It’s also possible it became some innocent person’s “close encounter”, or enormous fish story.