August 27 in freethought history…

webduboisAugust 27, 1963 – Author, academic and African-American activist W. E. B. Du Bois dies in Ghana, aged 95. He was a co-founder of the NAACP and the author of such highly regarded works as The Souls of Black Folk and Black Reconstruction in America. Unlike most prominent civil rights leaders of the 20th century, Du Bois was not closely associated with organized religion. A freethinker since early adulthood, du Bois rubbed his Atlanta University colleagues the wrong way when he refused requests to lead public prayers.

August 27, 1987 – At a news conference in Chicago, then Vice President George H. W. Bush, when asked by a reporter if he supported “the equal citizenship and patriotism of Americans who are atheists,” responded, “I don’t know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. This is one nation under God.” To a follow-up question Bush attempted to clarify, saying, “I support separation of church and state.  I’m just not very high on atheists.” The comment went largely unnoticed by the mainstream media, and no audio or video from that portion of the press conference exists. Bush became President on January 20, 1989. Bush has never conclusively affirmed or denied the comment; nonetheless, in a February 21, 1989 letter, presidential counsel C. Boyden Gray, responding to then-president of American Atheists Jon Garth Murray’s concerns about the Bush administration’s stance regarding the rights of atheists,  that “you may rest assured that this Administration will proceed at all times with due regard for the legal rights of atheists, as well as others with whom the President disagrees.”

August 27, 1995 – Madalyn Murray O’Hair, son Jon Garth Murray and granddaughter (through estranged son William J. Murray III) Robin Murray O’Hair are kidnapped at gunpoint in San Antonio, Texas by David Roland Waters, a disgruntled ex-employee of American Atheists, the activist organization founded by O’Hair. Waters and his accomplices would murder the three atheists about a month later, after forcing them to empty the accounts of American Atheists, and would bury their remains on a ranch. The bodies would not be recovered until 2001, after Waters was convicted of extortion in association with the case and sentenced to life in prison.

August 27, 2008 – Lesbian activist Del Martin dies, aged 87. With longtime partner Phyllis Lyon, she co-founded the Daughters of Bilitis (America’s first lesbian organization) in 1955, and in 2008, she and Lyon became the first same-sex couple married in California. In 1964, Martin and Lyon co-founded the San Francisco-based Council on Religion and the Homosexual, which included Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran, and United Church of Christ representatives.

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