January 13 ... on This Day ...

On this date in 1898 Emile Zola’s “J’Accuse” letter was printed.

The J’accuse item was an open letter in a newspaper editorial and was a defining moment in the now infamous Dreyfus Affair. The Dreyfus Affair was a miscarriage of justice that divided France deeply and lastingly (between 1895 and 1906).

Zola was a well known and respected writer and his editorial was highly inflammatory and it brought to public attention the military cover up regarding Captain Alfred Dreyfus. A captain in the French army, Dreyfus had been sentenced to imprisonment in Devil’s Island, a penal colony in Guiana, South America. He had been convicted of espionage.

Zola learned that there had been an injustice, that Dreyfus was indeed innocent, and that evidence of such was suppressed by the army. Zola’s editorial was an excoriating condemnation of the military for their concealment of the mistaken conviction.

The Zola letter provoked outrage on a national scale – on both sides of the issue – among political parties, religious bodies and other organizations. Zola was sued for libel buy supporters of the military, convicted and sentenced to a year’s imprisonment. Rather than serve his sentence Zola fled France.

In 1899 Dreyfus was recalled to France, given another trial, was convicted but then pardoned. Zola returned to France shortly after Dreyfus was pardoned and died in 1902, sadly before Dreyfus was finally exonerated (in 1906).

Also on this day:

1128: Pope Honorius II grants a papal sanction to the Knights Templar, declaring it to be an army of God.

1893: Britain's Independent Labor Party, the precursor to the current Labor Party, met for the first time.

1929: Old West lawman Wyatt Earp died in Los Angeles

1941: Irish writer James Joyce died.

1966: Robert C. Weaver was the first black Cabinet member. He was appointed Secretary of Housing and Urban Development by U.S. President Johnson.

1982: An Air Florida Boeing 727 plunged into the Potomac River in Washington, D.C., killing 78 people.