June 27 in freethought history…

smithsonplaqueJune 27, 1829 – Englishman James Smithson dies in Genoa, Italy, aged 63. Born Jacques-Louis Macie in 1765 in Paris, he was the illegitimate son of Hugh Smithson (a.k.a. Sir Hugh Percy, 1st Duke of Northumberland). Well-educated and well-traveled, Smithson was an avid naturalist and scientist, whose published research included a paper disputing that the fossil contents of Kirkdale Cave in England were the result of Noah’s Flood. Smithson bequeathed his estate, library and scientific collections (valued then at over $500,000) to “the United States of America, to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge.” Smithson never set foot in America.

June 27, 1869 – Anarchist and atheist activist Emma Goldman is born in the Russian Empire. She emigrated to American in 1885. She wrote, “The philosophy of Atheism represents a concept of life without any metaphysical Beyond or Divine Regulator. It is the concept of an actual, real world with its liberating, expanding and beautifying possibilities, as against an unreal world, which, with its spirits, oracles, and mean contentment has kept humanity in helpless degradation.” Her incendiary rhetoric and advocacy of violence led to multiple arrests and eventual deportation from the United States in 1919. She died in exile in 1940. Her freespirited personality contrasted with her harsh public persona, giving birth to the apocryphal quote, “If there won’t be dancing at the revolution, I’m not coming.”

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