History Book

NICK EICHER, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It: the WORLD Radio History Book. Today, a slave who escaped  helps others do the same. Plus, 25 years ago, the fiery end to the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, Texas.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: But first, the United States ratifies a treaty with one of its nearest neighbors, beginning 200 years of peace.  Here’s Paul Butler.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: We begin today with April 16th, 1818. The U.S. Senate authorizes the Rush-Bagot Disarmament Pact between the United States and Great Britain. Following the end of the War of 1812, the two countries agreed to eliminate their fleets from the Great Lakes, except for small patrol vessels.

The agreement also set the boundary between the U.S. Missouri Territory and British North America at the 49th parallel.

Upon ratification in 1818, the pact creates the world’s longest east–west boundary—more than 5,000 miles—and the longest demilitarized border in the world.

During the two World Wars, Canada and the U.S. maintain the terms of the agreement despite internal pressures to use the waterway for military purposes. But after World War 2, both countries agreed to allow naval vessels back on the Great Lakes for training purposes.

Next, April 20th, 1853. Escaped slave Harriet Tubman returns to the south for the first of many trips to rescue other slaves. She had escaped to Philadelphia four years earlier—where she soon began planning how to help her family escape.

Over the next eight years, she leads many slaves to freedom, operating along the underground railroad. Tubman is adept at keeping babies quiet, throwing dogs off the scent, and when necessary, convincing fearful slaves to keep moving forward—as sometimes, they wanted to turn back.

Last year, Tubman impersonator Becky Stone explained how she’d change their minds…

STONE: A pistol, to threaten them in case they wanted to turn back…I ran the Liberty Line for 8 years. I never ran that train off the track, and I never lost a passenger.

By the time slavery is abolished, Tubman has made nearly 20 such journeys, liberating at least 300 slaves and earning the nickname Moses. During the Civil War she also plans and leads a decisive attack and rescue operation.

In 2016, the U.S. Treasury Secretary announced plans to put Tubman on the face of the 20 dollar bill in 2020, but the plan is currently on hold.

And finally, April 19th, 1993—25 years ago this week.

AUDIO: News clip

After a 51-day standoff with the FBI, the Branch Davidian compound blockade comes to a fiery end.

AUDIO: News clip

The siege began 7 weeks earlier after a botched law-enforcement raid attempting to arrest cult leader David Koresh and search the 77-acre compound for illegal weapons. After an hour-long firefight, four ATF agents and five cult-members are dead.

The FBI took over the operation and tried many times to negotiate a resolution to the stand-off, speaking with Koresh 116 times.   

FBI: You’re telling me the children are innocent yet you’re keeping them in there? Send them out! What’s the purpose of that? Hey, none of your business.

In the early morning hours of April 19th, an armored vehicle tears a hole into the front wall of the compound and begins pumping tear gas inside.

Someone waves a white flag, but refuses to leave the compound. At noon, a fire began and due to strong winds, the entire compound was burned to the ground within an hour. The next day, President Clinton answered questions about the tragedy:

CLINTON: I regret what happened, but it is not possible in this life to control the behavior of others in every circumstance. These people killed four federal officials serving in the line of duty…we did everything we could to avoid the loss of life.

In 1995, Attorney General Janet Reno appeared before a congressional panel.

RENO: Everyone involved in the events of April 19 made their best judgements based on all the information we had. This was the hardest decision I have ever had to make, probably one of the hardest decisions that anybody could have to make. It will live with me for the rest of my life. I’m accountable for it and I’m happy to answer your questions.

Many hold the FBI responsible for the fire, but Branch Davidians who survive later report other cult-members started the blaze.

In the end, 81 cult members die, including 22 children.

One protester who witnessed the Waco standoff was Timothy McViegh. Two years later, he would detonate a truck bomb outside the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City—as retaliation against against the U.S. government.  

That’s this week’s WORLD Radio History Book, I’m Paul Butler.

(AP Photo/Susan Weems) Fire engulfs the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, April 19, 1993.

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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