July 31st 1940: Udham Singh executed
On this day in 1940 the Indian revolutionary nationalist Udham Singh was executed in the British Pentonville Prison for the assassination of Michael O’Dwyer. Singh was present in the Jallianwala Bagh public garden in Amritsar on April 13th 1919 when a peaceful demonstration by Indian nationalists was fired upon by British soldiers. Whilst definite casualty numbers are contested, it is clear that hundreds of innocent people lost their lives that day. The British were led by Brigadier-General Reginald Dyer who gave the instruction to shoot to kill. Dyer’s actions were supported by Lieutenant Governor of the Punjab, Michael O’Dwyer. The event contributed to Singh’s radicalisation, and fuelled his desire for Indian independence from oppressive colonial rule. A Sikh himself, in the early 1930s he adopted the name Ram Muhammad Singh Azad to emphasise the unity of all religions in India in this struggle. On 13th March 1940, 21 years after Jallianwala Bagh, he took his vengeance for the incident by assassinating the then 75 year old O’Dwyer in London. Singh was sentenced to death and hanged on July 31st 1940. Whilst Indian politicians initially condemned his actions, he was hailed as a hero and a martyr by many in India, who saw his actions as a justified and important step in the independence movement. In 1974, when his remains were finally returned to India, as he had wanted, the casket was received by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
"I did it because I had a grudge against him. He deserved it. He was the real culprit. He wanted to crush the spirit of my people, so I have crushed him"
July 29th 1899: First Hague Convention signed
On this day in 1899, the First Hague Convention was signed at the international peace conference at The Hague in the Netherlands. Together with the Second Hague Convention in 1907, these two conventions make up the foundation of international laws regarding the conduct of war. The first conference was called at the suggestion of Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, and the second by US President Theodore Roosevelt. Most of the provisions of the Hague Conventions were violated during the First World War.
July 27th 1963: Garrett Morgan dies
On this day in 1963 the prominent African-American inventor Garrett Morgan died in Cleveland aged 86. Born in Kentucky in 1877 the seventh of eleven children and with only an elementary school education, Morgan went on to develop patents for several inventions. His patents included: a new sewing machine (his first job was as a sewing-machine mechanic); an improved traffic signal (he was the first black man in Cleveland to own a car); a hair-strengthening product; and a breathing device. His model of a breathing device, initially meant to help firefighters, went on to be used as the basis for gas masks in World War One. The hair-strengthening product he invented allowed him to start a business which sold these products to African-Americans - the G.A Morgan Hair Refining Company - which had great financial success. However, Morgan faced considerable racial prejudice throughout his career. Some refused to purchase his devices, which led Morgan to hire a white actor to pose as ‘the inventor’ when showcasing some of his inventions. After his heroism during the Cleveland Tunnel Explosion, when Morgan and his brother put on breathing devices and helped save some of the trapped workers, people realised he was African-American and sales of his products dropped. However after his patent of the traffic signal, which he sold to General Electric for $40,000 and provided the basis for the modern signal, he was honoured and respected by many in the business community. Garrett Morgan, who tirelessly supported the African-American community and whose inventions and personal heroism improved countless lives, died on July 27th 1963 in Cleveland.
July 25th 1853: Joaquin Murrieta killed
On this day in 1853 the Mexican outlaw Joaquin Murrieta, sometimes known as ‘the Robin Hood of El Dorado’, was supposedly killed by California Rangers. Most sources agree that he moved to California in 1849 to seek his fortune after the Gold Rush. He and his family were subject to racial discrimination, and eventually were attacked by American miners; Murrieta was beaten, his wife raped and his brother murdered. After this he supposedly, having been rejected legal help, sought vengeance and formed a gang of outlaws. However this story appears only in a 1854 novelised version of his life, though he was undoubtedly discriminated against, and other accounts say he turned to crime in frustration at being prevented from finding work. His gang took part in cattle rustling, bank robberies and murder. Eventually the infamy of their gang led the Governor of California to form the State Rangers and place a $5,000 bounty on Murrieta’s head. On July 25th 1853, the Rangers attacked the outlaws’ camp by surprise and in the ensuing gunbattle eight bandits, supposedly including Murrieta himself, were killed. To claim the reward, the Rangers decapitated Murrieta and preserved his head, which later went on public display. To some, Joaquin Murrieta was just a violent bandit, but to others he is a Mexican hero who sought to correct the injustices faced by Mexicans in the United States. Murrieta has become a symbol of Mexican resistance to Anglo-American domination of California, and other lands ceded to the United States after their victory over Mexico in 1848. A group of his descendants continue to work to correct what they see as historical inaccuracies about his life that portray him as nothing more than a bandit. His status as a folk hero is further cemented by the debates over the veracity of stories of his death. Whilst many who knew him testified that the head the Rangers displayed was Murrieta’s, some of his relatives claimed it wasn’t, and thus theories abound that he actually survived and lived into old age.
July 23rd 1885: Ulysses S. Grant dies
On this day in 1885, former Civil War general and 18th President of the United States Ulysses S. Grant died. He became a national icon after he led the Union to victory over Robert E. Lee’s Confederate forces in the Civil War and secured Lee’s surrender at Appomattox in 1865. He became President in 1869, and enforced Reconstruction and civil rights laws. However, his presidency was marred by stories of his alcoholism and corruption in his administration. He left the office in 1877, and launched an unsuccessful bid for a third term in 1880. In 1885 he died of throat cancer at the age of 63 and his body lay in state.
"I hope that nobody will be distressed on my account."
- Grant’s last words
July 22nd 1977: Deng Xiaoping restored to power
On this day in 1977 the Chinese politician Deng Xiaoping returned to government. He had been a prominent figure during the Chinese Civil War, having first become active in the communist movement while studying in France in the 1920s. He rose through the ranks of the Chinese Communist party but his policies differed from those of Communist leader Mao Zedong, especially regarding the economy and the rapid industrialisation and collectivisation of the Great Leap Forward campaign. He was therefore purged for his ‘capitalistic’ tendencies during Mao’s consolidation of Chinese communism in the Cultural Revolution. Deng was especially sidelined by the hardline leftist ‘Gang of Four’, but after their fall in October 1976 he emerged as the next likely leader of China following Mao’s death a month earlier. Therefore on July 22nd 1977 Deng was restored to the posts of Vice Premier of the State Council, Vice-Chairman of the Central Committee, Vice-Chairman of the Military Commission and Chief of the General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army. He then succeeded in pushing aside Mao’s chosen successor Hua Guofeng and Deng thus became China’s de facto leader. Whilst in power, Deng made a reputation as a reformer who aimed to open up Chinese society by allowing criticism of the Cultural Revolution; he firmly argued that "Poverty is not socialism" and aimed to lift millions of peasants out of poverty. He also led market reforms that helped make China the global economic force it is today. However Deng was inflexible in his devotion to communism, and the 1989 brutal suppression of protests in Tienanmen Square occurred during his tenure. He also introduced the infamous ‘one-child policy’ in China. In 1984 Deng Xiaoping negotiated with Britain the return of Hong Kong to Chinese control by 1997, but did not live to see its fruition as he died in February 1997 aged 92.
July 20th 1944: Assassination attempt on Hitler
On this day in 1944, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler narrowly survived an assassination attempt in what became known as the July 1944 bomb plot. The plot was led by German Army Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg and several military figures who also planned a military coup d’etat after the assassination. The plan was to place a bomb under the table in a briefcase in a conference room in Hitler’s Prussian Wolf’s Lair headquarters. However one of the attendees at the meeting moved the case behind the table leg with his foot, thus deflecting the blast from Hitler, though the blast did kill four in attendance. The Gestapo arrested at least 7000 people in response to the attack and almost 5000 were executed.
July 18th 1969: Chappaquiddick incident
On this day in 1969, after a party on Chappaquiddick island, Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Massachusetts) drove his car off a bridge, killing his passenger Mary Jo Kopechne. Kennedy, brother of late President John F. Kennedy, pleaded guilty to leaving the scene and admitted he failed to report the incident to the authorities until fishermen found the car and Kopechne’s body. He denied that he was under the influence of alcohol, but whilst negligent driving was considered the cause of Kopechne’s death Kennedy was not prosecuted. Chappaquiddick continued to haunt Kennedy’s political career, and weakened his hopes of a run for the office of President of the United States. Some have taken the incident as another indication of a ‘Kennedy curse’.
July 30th 1912: Emperor Meiji dies
On this day in 1912 the Emperor of Japan, Emperor Meiji, died in Tokyo aged 59. He ascended to the throne on February 3rd 1867 upon the death of his father Emperor Kōmei. Meiji ruled for 45 years, and during this time Japan transformed dramatically. The year after he came to the throne the Tokugawa Shogunate, the samurai who had led Japan since around 1600, officially handed power back to the emperor, thus beginning the Meiji Restoration. The period that followed saw Japan undergo significant modernisation from a feudal, samurai system to a state that more mirrored its Western counterparts. This Westernisation was a popular movement that was personally championed by Meiji and included a new school system, dismantling of the feudal class system and adoption of the new Meiji Constitution. A growing impetus for change came as a result of the end of Japan’s sakoku policy of seclusion where the country was closed to foreigners. The policy ended in 1853 with the arrival of US Commodore Matthew Perry and the forcible opening of the country to trade with the West. The subsequent Westernisation policies of the Meiji Restoration were welcomed by many, but not by the former samurai; figures such as Saigō Takamori fought what they saw as the eradication of their way of life. As well as overseeing this Westernisation of Japan, Meiji was emperor during both the Sino-Japanese War in 1894-95 and Russo-Japanese War in 1904-5. When Emperor Meiji died in 1912 and his son took over and became Emperor Taishō, he left Japan a very different country than it was when he first ascended to power.
July 28th 1794: Robespierre et al. executed
On this day in 1794, Maximilien Robespierre, Louis Antoine de Saint-Just, Georges Couthon and many of their peers were executed by guillotine in Paris. Robespierre, Saint-Just and Couthon were leading figures in the French Revolution and were radical Jacobins. They served on the Committee of Public Safety, which ruled France during the bloody ‘Reign of Terror’ which saw mass violence and executions of ‘enemies of the revolution’. There was a coup against the Committee on July 27th 1794, which prompted a reactionary movement against the bloody policies of the Reign of Terror. For their role in the violence, Robespierre, Saint-Just and Couthon were executed.
July 26th 1948: Desegregation of US military
On this day in 1948, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order 9981 to abolish racial discrimination in the military. The order established the President’s Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services, which committed the United States government to the desegregation of the military and equality within the ranks. This came in the aftermath of the Second World War, where thousands of African-American men and women joined the armed forces. The discrimination faced by African-American soldiers while fighting for their country led to a ‘Double V’ campaign against fascism abroad and racism at home. Activists like A. Philip Randolph had pushed for integration of the armed forces for a long time before Truman’s action. President Truman aimed to implement limited civil rights legislation to protect African-Americans but was thwarted by the threat of Southern filibuster in Congress; he therefore resorted to executive action and by the end of the Korean War the US military was almost completely integrated. Full civil desegregation in the United States did not begin until after the 1954 Supreme Court ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka which ruled school segregation unconstitutional.
July 24th 1911: Bingham at Machu Picchu
On this day in 1911, American historian Hiram Bingham III with his Peruvian guides arrived at the Inca site of Machu Picchu in the mountains of Peru. Machu Picchu is a 15th Century Inca estate built for emperor Pachacuti which was abandoned as a result of the Spanish conquest. The site lay largely undisturbed for hundreds of years, with only locals knowing of its existence. However, with Bingham’s arrival at the site it became known to the wider world and was studied scientifically; he is thus attributed with ‘re-discovering’ the erroneously called ‘Lost City of the Incas’. Bingham took artefacts from the site to Yale University for examination and only recently has the university agreed to return them to Peru. In the years since Bingham’s expedition, his grandoise claims of how he trekked through wilderness to find the ‘lost city’ have been discredited and instead it has been stressed how the site was accessible and well known to locals. However he is still renowned as the man who introduced the world to this spectacular sight. Restoration work began soon after Bingham’s expedition and the site has since become a major tourist attraction.
July 22nd 2011: Norway terror attacks
On this day in 2011, the 7/22 attacks occurred in Oslo and Utøya, Norway. In Oslo, a car bomb was set off near prominent government buildings killing eight people and injuring 209. The second attack under two hours later in Utøya took place at a Norwegian Labour Party (the ruling party) youth summer camp on the island. There, a gunman killed 69 and injured 110. Four days after the devastating events, 150,000 Norwegians gathered in Oslo carrying roses in memory of those who were killed in the attacks. Anders Behring Breivik, a right-wing extremist, was arrested on Utøya island and subsequently found guilty of both attacks. The brutal attacks were the deadliest in Norway since World War Two and three years on we remember all of the 77 victims of this senseless violence.
"Evil can kill a human being but never defeat a people"
- Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg after the attacks
July 21st 1969: Man walks on the Moon
On this day in 1969, American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the Moon. The Apollo 11 mission landed on the Moon on July 20th at 20:18 UTC. and Armstrong’s boot hit the surface of the Moon at 02:56 UTC the next day. Aldrin soon joined Armstrong and the pair planted the flag of the United States on the lunar surface, and they received a brief phone call from US President Richard Nixon. The moon landing was broadcast live, reaching an estimated global audience of 450 million. The astronauts returned safely to Earth on July 24th where they were met by the President and celebrated globally. The landing was a major victory for the United States in the Cold War space race with Soviet Russia and fulfilled the goal put in place by the late President John F. Kennedy in 1961 to put a man on the moon before the end of the decade.
"That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind"
July 19th 64: Great Fire of Rome begins
On this day in 64 AD, a fire began in the merchant area of Rome and soon swept across the rest of the famed city. The fire burned for six days, and destroyed much of Rome in the process. Some have claimed, though it is debated, that the infamously insane Emperor Nero failed to do anything to control the fire and merely ‘fiddled while Rome burned’. It has not yet been determined whether the fire was caused by accident or arson, but it has been suggested that Nero began the fire himself and made Christians a scapegoat. Indeed, after the fire Nero did take the opportunity to blame the devastation on Rome’s Christian population, thus beginning one of the most intense and prolonged persecutions of the period - the so-called Neronian persecution. However, modern scholars have begun to doubt this old story of Nero’s role in starting the fire.