September 22nd 1827: Smith finds the golden plates
On this day in 1827, Joseph Smith Jr. claimed to have found the golden plates on which the third book of the Bible is written. Smith said he was visited by an angel called Moroni who told him where they were buried. He then supposedly translated the golden plates and had them published as ‘The Book of Mormon’ and thus founded the Latter Day Saint movement. Mormons believe that Jesus came to America and the Book tells the history of an ancient Judeo-Christian civilisation in America. Smith never allowed anyone to see the golden plates, and so many question whether they ever existed. Smith led his followers West, but along the way encountered much hatred from Christians and Smith was eventually killed by a mob in 1844 aged 38.
September 16th 1620: Mayflower sets sail
On this day in 1620, the Mayflower started her voyage from Great Britain to North America. She carried 102 passengers, many of whom were pilgrims who later settled in Plymouth, Massachusetts. By November they sighted land and landed at Cape Cod and proceeded the settle there, though around half died during the first harsh winter in the New World. The site where the Mayflower pilgrims landed at Plymouth is marked today by ‘Plymouth Rock’. The Mayflower left for England the next April. The journey of the Mayflower is considered a major and symbolic event in American history as the ship carried the some of the first European settlers to America’s shores.
September 11th 2001: 9/11 Terror Attacks
On this day in 2001, thirteen years ago today, two hijacked planes were crashed into the World Trade Center towers in New York City and another into the Pentagon building in Virginia. The Twin Towers collapsed and part of the Pentagon was badly damaged. A fourth plane was intended to strike the US Capitol Building in Washington DC but its passengers seized control from the hijackers and crashed the plane into a field in Pennsylvania. Nearly 3,000 people died on this terrible day and thousands more injured in the attacks which sent shockwaves around the world. The attacks were planned and carried out by members of the terrorist group al-Qaeda, and masterminded by Osama bin Laden, who was since been found and killed by US forces. The aftermath of the tragedy prompted greater focus on national security both in the US and abroad and contributed to the invasions of, and subsequent wars in, Iraq and Afghanistan. Today, thirteen years on, we remember the thousands of people who lost their lives on 9/11.
"America is under attack"
- White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card telling President Bush about the attacks
September 6th 1901: President McKinley shot
On this day in 1901, US President William McKinley was shot by anarchist Leon Czolgosz at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. The President died from gangrene which developed from the bullet wounds on September 14th and was succeeded by his Vice-President, Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt was only 42 when he became President, making him the youngest man to assume the office. McKinley was reluctant to accept security protection, and after his assassination Congress officially charged the Secret Service with the duty of protecting the President.
"We are all going, we are all going. God’s will be done, not ours."
- McKinley’s last words
August 28th 1955: Emmett Till murdered
On this day in 1955, the 14-year-old African-American boy Emmett Till was murdered in Mississippi. While visiting family in the state, Till allegedly flirted with the young white shopkeeper Carolyn Bryant while buying candy. Bryant told her husband and a few nights later he and his half-brother abducted Till and brutally tortured and murdered him. His mutilated body was found three days later in the Tallahatchie river; Till’s face was unrecognisable, but he was identified by the ring he wore engraved with his father’s initials that his mother gave him before he left for Mississppi. The viciousness of this unprovoked, racially-motivated crime sent shockwaves throughout the nation. The case drew attention to the oppression of African-Americans throughout the nation and provided a name and a face to the threat of lynching. Till’s mother Mamie, a highly educated woman who went on to become a devoted fighter for African-American equality, insisted on an open-casket funeral in order to show the world what was done to her young son. Thousands attended the funeral and thousands more saw the horrific images of Till’s body. Due to the fierce reactions the murder had engendered it was a particularly painful, but sadly expected, outcome when the all-white jury in Mississippi acquitted Till’s killers, despite Till’s great-uncle openly identifying them in court. A few months later the killers, now protected by double jeopardy laws, sold their story to Look magazine and openly confessed to the murder in chilling detail. Taking place a year after the Supreme Court outlawed school segregation in Brown v. Board of Education, the outrage over the murder galvanised the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement. 100 days after Emmett Till’s murder Rosa Parks, on her way back from a rally for Till hosted by the then-unknown Martin Luther King Jr., refused to give up her seat for a white man on an Alabama bus. This sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott, thus beginning the movement that would result in the dismantling of the system of Jim Crow segregation and win successes in promoting African-American social and political equality.
August 20th 1938: Lou Gehrig hits 23rd Grand Slam
On this day in 1938 the famous New York Yankees baseball first baseman Lou Gehrig hit his 23rd Grand Slam. Nicknamed ‘The Iron Horse’, Gehrig’s 23 Grand Slams remained the most on record until it was broken by fellow Yankees player Alex Rodriguez in 2013. The remarkable career of this exceptionally talented baseball player ended in 1939 when, after his performance had been deteriorating, Gehrig was diagnosed with a terminal neurodegenerative disease which severely limits physical mobility (often to the point of paralysis) while not affecting the brain. The disease is known by different names, for example in the UK it is called motor neurone disease (or MND), and in the US as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The diagnosis led Gehrig to retire aged 36 and on a July 4th 1939 ‘Lou Gehrig Appreciation Day’ at Yankee Stadium, he gave an emotional farewell speech that has become known as baseball’s Gettysburg Address. Lou Gehrig died two years later just before his 38th birthday. His legacy continues as one of the greatest players of all time and in the fact that many Americans now refer to ALS/MND as ‘Lou Gehrig’s Disease’. Other notable people to have this disease include Stephen Hawking, whose is an unusual case as he has lived with it for over 50 years. This cruel disease, which affects hundreds of thousands of people across the world, has been brought to the forefront of public attention due to the recent ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’ in which someone has a bucket of ice water tipped over their head and then nominate others to do the same and donate to charity. To donate to this cause and find out more about the disease visit the ALSA website (US) or MNDA website (UK). The effort to raise funds and awareness of this disease which tragically ended Lou Gehrig’s life has been a great success, with over $30 million in donations being made to the ALSA and celebrities like Bill Gates, Robert Downey Jr. and the Foo Fighters getting involved.
"Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth…I might have been given a bad break, but I’ve got an awful lot to live for”
- Lou Gehrig in his 1939 farewell speech
August 15th 1965: Beatles at Shea Stadium
On this day in 1965 the Beatles played their iconic concert at Shea Stadium in New York City. The gig was part of the band’s 1965 tour of the United States, by which time they were international superstars and ‘Beatlemania’ gripped the world. The band formed in Liverpool in 1960, and came to prominence with their first hit ‘Love Me Do’ in 1962. By the time of the Shea Stadium gig they had a huge following in the US, and at Shea played to around 55,600 fans. As typical of Beatlemania, the crowd was deafening with their screams, which meant that the music could not really be heard, and were often seen crying and fainting. The Beatles did still manage to play a 30 minute set (very short by modern standards) with 12 songs. It was the intensity of these concerts, and the fact they could not hear themselves, that contributed to the band’s decision to stop touring in 1966. Soon after the Shea Stadium gig, which was followed by another huge concert at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl, the band recorded their sixth album ‘Rubber Soul’. The Shea Stadium gig was immortalised in a 1966 documentary about the event, which contributed to it becoming one of the band’s most famous concerts. Shea was also an important milestone for the Beatles, and in fact for all musicians, as it ushered in the age of stadium concerts.
"At Shea Stadium, I saw the top of the mountain"
- John Lennon in 1970
August 6th 1945: Hiroshima bombed
On this day in 1945, the first nuclear attack in history occurred when the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The American plane Enola Gay dropped the bomb called ‘Little Boy’, which killed around 70,000 people instantly. The effects of the radiation killed thousands more in later years, resulting in a catastrophic death toll of around 140,000 people. Three days later the ‘Fat Man’ bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, resulting in the loss of around 75,000 lives; in both cases, the majority of casualties were civilian. Whilst other Axis powers including Nazi Germany had already surrendered earlier that year, ending the war in the European theatre, Japan had continued to fight the Allied forces. The bombings were therefore deemed necessary by the United States to end the war and avoid a costly invasion of Japan. In the aftermath of the devastating attacks, Japan surrendered to the Allies on 15th August, thus ending the war in the Pacific theatre of World War Two. Today, 69 years on, the atomic-bomb scarred cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki provide a sharp reminder of the horrors of nuclear warfare.
"My God, what have we done?"
- Enola Gay’s co-pilot Robert Lewis upon seeing the impact
September 20th 1973: ‘Battle of the Sexes’
On this day in 1973 female tennis player Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in the ‘Battle of the Sexes’ tennis match. She defeated him 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 before a crowd of over 30,000. The match, the second in the ‘Battle of the Sexes’, took place in Houston, Texas. King was the No. 2 female tennis player and Riggs a retired male Wimbledon champion. Riggs had defeated Margaret Court in the first match and proceeded to taunt female players as he was expected to win. King challenged him to a nationally televised match and defeated him, thus cementing her status in the history of tennis.
September 13th 1814: Defense of Fort McHenry
On this day in 1814, the United States army forces at Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland successfully defended the city from the British during the War of 1812. British warships bombarded the fort for over 24 hours, but the American defense held fast and by the morning of September 14th the British were forced to retreat due to lack of ammunition. The event, particularly the sight of an American flag being raised over the fort at dawn in celebration of victory, inspired Francis Scott Key to write a poem called ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’. Key was a witness to the battle because he was aboard a British ship having been trying to negotiate the release of an American prisoner. The poem was eventually set to the tune of a well-known 18th century British song and the anthem soon became a popular patriotic American song, and was commonly used by the armed forces. On March 3rd 1931, at the urging of many patriotic organisations, a congressional resolution was signed by President Hoover which affirmed 'The Star-Spangled Banner' as America’s official national anthem.
200 years ago today
September 8th 1974: Ford pardons Nixon
On this day in 1974, US President Gerald Ford pardoned his predecessor Richard Nixon for any crimes he may have committed during his presidency. This came after Nixon’s resignation over his administration’s involvement in illegal activities, including wiretapping, the cumulative revelations of which became known as the Watergate scandal. Ford, Nixon’s Vice-President, became President on August 9th upon Nixon’s resignation, which was a first of its kind for a President of the United States. Now President Ford pardoned Nixon in order to help the nation move on from the shameful events of Watergate, but the decision was controversial as many wanted Nixon to be made accountable. Ford was defeated by Democrat Jimmy Carter in the 1976 presidential election, and has the distinction of never being elected as either Vice-President or President.
40 years ago today
September 1st 1983: Korean Air Lines Flight 007 shot down
On this day in 1983 the Korean Air Lines Flight 007 from New York City to Seoul was shot down by a Soviet jet fighter over the Sea of Japan. All 269 passengers and crew aboard the flight were killed, leaving no survivors; the majority of the victims were South Koreans. Flight 007 was off course and strayed into Soviet airspace, which was on high alert due to the presence of a US reconnaissance plane that resembled a Boeing 747 aircraft. Soviet pilot Major Gennadi Osipovich was responsible for the attack, and despite privately suspecting it might be a civilian jet, fired a heat-seeking missile at the plane which caused it to crash into the ocean. Occurring in the middle of the Cold War, the incident increased tensions between the world’s two leading superpowers - the United States and the Soviet Union. In what US President Ronald Reagan called a “massacre”, among the 269 victims was a US Congressman from Georgia. This incident has been much discussed recently due to the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine on July 17th 2014.
August 21st 1831: Nat Turner’s rebellion begins
On this day in 1831 the Virginian slave Nat Turner began the deadliest slave rebellion the United States had ever seen, which resulted in the deaths of 55 whites. Turner, a slave preacher, had come to believe that God intended for him to lead a black uprising against the injustice of slavery. In the evening of August 21st 1831, Turner and his co-conspirators met in the woods to make their plans and early the next morning began the rebellion by killing Turner’s master’s family. Turner and his men, who soon numbered over 80, then went from house to house assaulting the white inhabitants. Eventually a local militia, and then federal and state troops, confronted the rebels and dispersed the group. Turner himself initially evaded capture but was captured on October 30th. Subsequently Turner, along with over fifty other rebels, was executed. However the retribution for Nat Turner’s rebellion did not end there. The uprising sent shockwaves across the South, and while full scale rebellion such as Turner’s was rare in the Deep South due to the rigid enforcement of the slave system, caused widespread fear of another rebellion. In the ensuing hysteria over 200 innocent black slaves were killed by white mobs. Turner’s rebellion came close to ending slavery in Virginia, as in its wake the state legislature considered abolishing the ‘peculiar institution’. However the measure was voted down and instead the state decided to increase plantation discipline and limit slaves’ autonomy even further by banning them from acting as preachers and learning to read. Similar measures were adopted across the slave-holding South and thus Nat Turner’s rebellion increased the South’s commitment to slavery, despite undermining the pro-slavery argument that it was a benevolent system and slaves were content. Turner has left behind a complicated legacy, with some seeing him as an African-American hero and others as a religious fanatic and villain; his memory raises the eternal question of whether violence is justified to bring about necessary change.
August 18, 1771. Phillis Wheatley, a famous poet, becomes a full member of Old South Meeting House, the church and public meeting space where she attended since being brought to Boston as an enslaved child more than ten years earlier. Old South Meeting House is where she first heard the Reverend George Whitefield preach, and her poem about him was the first poem to earn her widespread recognition. In 1773, she became the first African to publish a poetry book in the English language, and the third woman in America to do so.
Today, Old South Meeting House is a history museum, and we celebrate Phillis Wheatley day on August 18.
August 9th 1974: Nixon resigns
On this day in 1974 at noon, Richard M. Nixon became the first and only President of the United States to resign from office. He was replaced by his Vice-President Gerald Ford, who remains the only President to have never been elected Vice-President (as he was appointed in 1973 to replace Spiro Agnew), or President (as he lost his presidential re-election bid in 1976 to Jimmy Carter). Richard Nixon resigned due to the revelations of the Watergate scandal that his administration had been involved in illegal activities, which included breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate complex, covering up said break-in, and widespread wiretapping. He long denied direct knowledge of these activities, but after the Supreme Court forced him to hand over the tapes of his conversations in the Oval Office, Nixon’s involvement was clear. What was also made evident by the tapes was Nixon’s intense paranoia, his rough demeanor and his often racist attitudes. He resigned rather than face impeachment and almost certain removal by Congress. He was later pardoned for his crimes by Ford, who hoped his decision would help America heal and move on. 40 years on, Richard Nixon is mainly remembered for the corruption and dishonesty of Watergate, which discredited the presidency for many years after. However, his numerous achievements in office must not be forgotten: he cooled down the Cold War with his policy of détente and was the first President to visit China and Moscow; withdrew American troops from Vietnam; supported affirmative action policies; established the Environmental Protection Agency; supported the Equal Rights Amendment; and oversaw major desegregation of schools. Nixon is rightfully remembered for his role in Watergate and his unprecedented resignation in disgrace but we must be wary of only seeing one side of one of the most controversial figures of American history.
40 years ago today