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By Nathan Bierma

Content & Context

The Books & Culture Weblog

This Week:

  1. Timeline: June 2003
  2. Places & Culture
  3. June book blog


We emerge from June with our faith in the human race intact, if badly shaken. This was the month in which our most prominent baseball slugger, do-it-yourself decorator, and newspaper editors all took their tumbles. And the month in which Gregory Peck and David Brinkley departed on the same day. Such ambassadors of decency seemed to have few successors. A kennel owner was convicted of supplying the federal government with bomb-sniffing dogs he never actually trained to sniff bombs, endangering the lives of law enforcement workers. The sequel to Dumb and Dumber premiered. It all made for a long month—literally in the Northern Hemisphere, which observed the longest day of the year. At times we longed to put a stop to it, the way China halted the Yangtze River this month to build a controversial dam, the way California voters wanted to fire their governor, and the way the Supreme Court ruled libraries could block dirty Internet sites. The month's news could make you lose your appetite—though that wasn't why a 135-pound Texas woman surrendered her fork halfway through her 72 ounce steak. (A Florida father and daughter had more stamina, swimming five hours to shore when their sailboat capsized in the Atlantic Ocean.)

At least the present was better than the past. Seven years after he allegedly carried out the 1996 Olympics bombing, and five years after he allegedly bombed an abortion clinic in Birmingham, Eric Rudolph was arrested in North Carolina by a 21-year-old patrolman who didn't recognize him. A 72-year-old Mississippi man was sentenced to life in prison for the 1966 lynching of a black sharecropper. Investigators in Peru doubled their estimate of how many people died at the government's hands in the last twenty years—up to 60,000. Other reminders of the past proved to be red herrings. An apparent burial box for Jesus' brother James and a supposedly millennia-old instruction tablet for the Temple in Jerusalem were declared to be forgeries by the Israel Antiquities Authority. Meanwhile, Volkswagen announced that its Beetle will become extinct after 69 years. Orwell turned 100 as CBS announced the premiere of Big Brother 4.

There were other glimpses of the future in June as well, most notably 13-year-old Michelle Wie, who became the youngest person ever to win a U.S. Golf Association championship. Soon after the 84th anniversary of Congress' approval of the women's suffrage amendment, June brought other milestones of cultural change. The Supreme Court cautiously upheld affirmative action in a landmark case, and struck down a Texas ban on homosexual relations. Canada, meanwhile, legalized gay marriage, and couples flocked to Toronto. And Hispanics were declared to be the largest minority in the United States.

"You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it," said Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird—which is exactly what Gregory Peck did with the timeless character in the 1962 movie. Less than a week after the American Film Institute placed Finch ahead of superheroes and gunslingers as the greatest movie hero of all time, Peck died at age 87. Author Harper Lee came out of seclusion to say of Peck, "Atticus Finch gave him the opportunity to play himself." David Brinkley's curt and clever newscasts helped establish television news in American culture. Katharine Hepburn, who won four Oscars in a legendary movie career that spanned five decades, died at 96. Strom Thurmond, 100, was the longest-serving U.S. senator. Donald Regan had a contentious interval as Ronald Reagan's chief of staff. Elizabeth Fowler, whose 1944 book recounted her ten days drifting at sea with 34 men after a German U-boat sank her ship, died at 95. Natalya Reshetovskaya, 84, was the first wife of Alexander Solzhenitsyn. Sir Denis Thatcher was the husband of British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. Maynard Jackson was the first black mayor of Atlanta. David Newman was the screenwriter for Bonnie and Clyde and Superman. Johnny Miles was a Nova Scotia grocery deliveryman before winning the 1926 Boston Marathon in an historic upset. Johnny Hopp played in five World Series with the Cardinals and Yankees. When a stolen van barreled down a crowded Washington, D.C. street, 15-year-old John Johnson pushed two friends out of the way to safety before being struck and killed.


From the Washington Post:

NAPLES—This grandly decayed city has been trying hard the past few years to shed an image of urban anarchy, crime and corruption. But every so often, the Naples of old reemerges. … An Old Naples moment arrived last [month] in a sudden crisis of uncollected trash. It overflowed bins and cascaded down narrow alleyways and wide boulevards. The stench outraged citizens here and in surrounding towns. They began to burn the uncollected refuse, casting an appalling haze over the city. Schools and open-air markets closed, tourists headed for out-of-town trains and politicians conjured up conspiracy theories to explain it all. The crisis subsided by week's end, when officials of the Campania region, of which Naples is the capital, arranged to export trash to provinces with excess capacity for garbage. The crisis was a parable of government problems in Italy's deep south. It was a throwback to the days when construction began on highways that inexplicably stopped short of their destinations, when publicly funded factories were built and abandoned, when economic aid was spent with no improvement in unemployment statistics. Full story
MYRTLE BEACH, S.C.—The scene was like something in a high-budget rap video: hundreds of young black men and women on motorcycles, cruising down Ocean Boulevard in the finest leisure gear and gawking at one another. But they weren't the only ones closely watching this year's Bikefest. Just days after the local chapter of the NAACP filed a federal lawsuit alleging that this coastal city, its police chief and its surrounding county discriminated against visitors to the predominantly black event, Mayor Mark McBride … assembled 500 officers from law enforcement agencies throughout coastal Carolina. That was about twice the force city officials said they had gathered just a few days before, when a largely white crowd of bikers had gathered for their annual Harley Week. … The NAACP complaint, filed [last month], alleged that Myrtle Beach, its police chief and Horry County had conspired to violate the civil rights of blacks. Bikefest participants have complained of draconian traffic enforcement, humiliating arrests and occasional police beatings. The lawsuit further alleged that numerous Myrtle Beach businesses, including restaurants and hotels, shut their doors when black motorcyclists and beachgoers start flowing into town. Full story


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Nathan Bierma is editorial assistant at Books & Culture.

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