May 21st 1924: Leopold and Loeb kill Bobby Franks
On this day in 1924, University of Chicago students Richard Loeb and Nathan Leopold Jr murdered 14 year old Bobby Franks. The pair killed the boy as a ‘thrill killing’ in their attempt to perform the perfect crime. However, the two were caught and put on trial. They used their wealth and influence to hire famous defence lawyer Clarence Darrow who argued the pair could not be held morally accountable because they had been raised thinking they were superior and thus are not to blame for their actions. He was successful, and the men avoided the death penalty, instead getting life imprisonment.
May 19th 1795: Josiah Bartlett dies
On this day in 1795 the American statesman Josiah Bartlett died in Kingston, New Hampshire aged 65. Bartlett was a delegate to the Continental Congress for New Hampshire and one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. Bartlett went on to become Chief Justice of the New Hampshire Supreme Court and the fourth Governor of New Hampshire. The fictional President on ‘The West Wing’, Josiah Bartlet, is named for him and in the show was descended from this Bartlett.
May 17th 1954: Brown v. Board of Education
On this day in 1954, the US Supreme Court handed down its unanimous decision in the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. The decision declared segregation on grounds of race in schools unconstitutional. The ruling overturned the 1896 decision Plessy v. Ferguson which allowed segregation under the doctrine ‘separate but equal’. The case had been bought by African-American parents, including Oliver L. Brown, against Topeka’s educational segregation. It was argued before the Court by the chief legal counsel of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP): Thurgood Marshall, who became the first African-American Supreme Court justice in 1967. The Court, led by Chief Justice Earl Warren, declared that segregation violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment. The landmark decision is considered the start of the Civil Rights Movement which led to racial integration and full legal rights for African-Americans.
“We conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal”
- Warren’s opinion for the Court
May 15th 1886: Emily Dickinson dies
On this day in 1886 the American poet Emily Dickinson died aged 55. Dickinson lived as a recluse in her home town of Amherst, Massachusetts. Her work was not fully appreciated until after her death when the breadth of her work was discovered. Dickinson’s poems include ‘Hope is the Thing with Feathers’, ‘Because I Could Not Stop for Death’ and ‘T’is So Much Joy’. She fell ill following the death of several of her loved ones and died in 1886 from Bright’s disease.
13th May 1940: “Blood, toil, tears and sweat” speech
On this day in 1940 British Prime Minister Winston Churchill made his famous speech in the House of Commons. The speech was his first to the Commons since becoming Prime Minister on 10th May. He gave the speech during the Battle of France of the Second World War and it provided a great morale boost in the United Kingdom.
“I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.
You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs - Victory in spite of all terror - Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival”
May 11th 1812: Spencer Perceval assassinated
On this day in 1812,Spencer Perceval became the first and only British Prime Minister to be assassinated when he was shot by John Bellingham in the lobby of the House of Commons. Perceval became Tory Prime Minister in 1809 (replacing the Duke of Portland) and his administration had to deal with economic depression, Luddism and the ‘madness’ of King George III. He had initially been considered a weak Prime Minister, but things had been looking up for his administration until he was shot by Bellingham who was a merchant with a grievance against the government for supposedly not freeing him when he was imprisoned in Russia. Bellingham was hanged on 18th May.
“I am murdered…I am murdered”
- Perceval’s last words
May 9th 1671: Thomas Blood tries to steal the Crown Jewels
On this day in 1671 the Irish colonel Thomas Blood attempted to steal England’s Crown Jewels from the Tower of London. Blood and some accomplices subdued Master of the Jewel House Talbot Edwards after he showed them the jewels and then tried to steal them. Blood flattened the St. Edward’s Crown with a mallet and hid it under his coat, another filed the Sceptre with the Cross in two and a third stuffed the Sovereign’s Orb down his trousers. Blood and his men were soon caught and the Jewels recovered. Blood was taken before King Charles II who, to the surprise of many, pardoned Blood and then gave him land in Ireland. Since then, the Crown Jewels have been kept under armed guard in the Jewel House of the Tower of London.
May 7th 1974: Willy Brandt resigns
On this day in 1974 Willy Brandt resigned as Chancellor of Germany. Brandt was a member of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) and became chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1969. As chancellor Brandt pursued a ‘new policy towards the east’ (Ostpolitik) and aimed for reconciliation between West Germany and the Soviet bloc, especially East Germany. He resigned after it was revealed that one of his closest aides, Günter Guillaume, was an agent of the East German secret police (the Stasi).
May 20th 1927: Lindbergh begins first solo flight across Atlantic
On this day in 1927 at 7.52am, Charles Lindbergh set off from Long Island in New York on the world’s first solo non-stop flight across the Atlantic Ocean. He landed in Paris at 10.22pm the next day. He covered nearly 3,600 miles in a purpose built single seat plane the Spirit of St. Louis. Lindbergh wanted the Orteig Prize, a $25,000 reward offered by Raymond Orteig for the first non-stop solo flight between New York and Paris; many died in the pursuit of the prize, but Lindbergh won it. Lindbergh was a US Air Mail pilot before his fame from this historic flight, for which he was awarded a Medal of Honor.
May 18th 1980: Mount St. Helens erupts
On this day in 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted in Washington, United States. The eruption killed 57 people and caused $3 billion in damage. There were warning signs before the eruption and so the mountain was closed to the public and this measure saved many lives. The ash from the eruption reached 11 states. The volcano erupted another five times during 1980.
May 16th 1990: Jim Henson dies
On this day in 1990, the creator of The Muppets Jim Henson died aged 53. Henson’s Muppets featured in Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, with his most famous characters including Kermit the Frog and Elmo. Henson died from organ failure in 1990 in New York City. The Jim Henson Company and the Jim Henson Foundation continued after his death and his characters remain famous and popular.
May 14th 1881: Mary Seacole dies
On this day in 1881 the Jamaican nurse Mary Seacole died in London aged 76. She applied to give medical assistance to wounded servicemen during the Crimean War but was refused, and so gave treatment independently. Her patients liked her and helped raised money for her after the war when she was left destitute. She has often been forgotten and placed in the shadow of famous Crimean War nurse Florence Nightingale. However in 2004 Seacole was voted the greatest Black Briton.
May 12th 1937: George VI crowned
On this day in 1937, the coronation of King George VI of the United Kingdom was held at Westminster Abbey, London. He became King upon the abdication of his older brother (Edward VIII) who left the throne in order to marry divorced American socialite Wallis Simpson. George never expected to become King, but when the role was thrust upon him became one of Britain’s most loved monarchs. He ruled during the Second World War, and he and his wife Elizabeth were a great morale boost for the nation. He was also monarch during the dissolution of the British Empire. He died on 6th February 1952, and his oldest daughter Elizabeth became Queen. Elizabeth II rules to this day.
May 10th 1941: Hess parachutes into Scotland
On this day in 1941 during the Second World War, Adolf Hitler’s deputy in the Nazi Party Rudolf Hess fled Germany and parachuted into Scotland in an attempt to negotiate peace with the United Kingdom. On 10th May he took off in a plane from Augsburg and in the evening he arrived over the UK and parachuted down near the Scottish village of Eaglesham. He told authorities he had an important message and was handed to the army who took him as a prisoner of war. Winston Churchill sent Hess to the Tower of London, making him its last inmate. After the war he was tried at the Nuremberg Trials and sentenced to life imprisonment, which he served at Spandau Prison in Berlin. Despite calls for his release Hess died in prison in 1987, supposedly due to suicide by hanging, but many claim others helped in his death.
May 8th 1884: Truman born
On this day in 1884, the future 33rd President of the United States Harry S. Truman was born. Truman served as Vice-President under Franklin D. Roosevelt and became President upon Roosevelt’s death in 1945. As President, Truman oversaw the end of World War Two and made the decision to use nuclear weapons against Japan. His other acts as President include passing the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe, issuing the Truman Doctrine to contain communism and overseeing the Korean War. Truman left the presidency in 1953 and died in 1972 aged 88.