On This Day in History

On This Day, Sept. 26, 1960 – Nixon and Kennedy Square Off on TV

1960 – The first televised debate between presidential candidates Richard M. Nixon and John F. Kennedy took place in Chicago, IL. The Kennedy-Nixon debates not only had a major impact on the election’s outcome, but ushered in a new era in which crafting a public image and taking advantage of media exposure became essential ingredients of a successful political campaign. They also heralded the central role television has continued to play in the democratic process. Nixon took a major hit in August when a reporter asked President Dwight D. Eisenhower to name some of his vice president’s contributions. Exhausted and irritated after a long press conference, Eisenhower replied, “If you give me a week, I might think of one. I don’t remember.” (While the remark was intended as a self-deprecating reference to the president’s own mental fatigue, the Democrats promptly used it in a television commercial that ended with...

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On This Day, Sept. 25, 1957 – The Little Rock Nine Enter School

1957 – 300 U.S. Army troops stood guard as nine black students were escorted to class at Central High School in Little Rock, AR. The Little Rock Nine were a group of African American students enrolled in Little Rock Central High School in 1957. Their enrollment was followed by the Little Rock Crisis, in which the students were initially prevented from entering the racially segregated school by Orval Faubus, the Governor of Arkansas and unruly white mobs. They then attended after the intervention of President Dwight D. Eisenhower. The NAACP had registered nine black students to attend the previously all-white Little Rock Central High, selected on the criteria of excellent grades and attendance. The nicknamed “Little Rock Nine” consisted of Ernest Green (b. 1941), Elizabeth Eckford (b. 1941), Jefferson Thomas (1942–2010), Terrence Roberts (b. 1941), Carlotta Walls LaNier (b. 1942), Minnijean Brown (b. 1941), Gloria Ray Karlmark (b. 1942),...

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On This Day, Sept. 23, 1952 – Richard Nixon Delivers the Checkers Speech

1952 – Richard Nixon gave his “Checkers Speech”. At the time he was a candidate for vice-president. The Checkers speech or Fund speech was an address made on September 23, 1952 by the Republican vice presidential candidate, California Senator Richard Nixon. Nixon had been accused of improprieties relating to a fund established by his backers to reimburse him for his political expenses. With his place on the Republican ticket in doubt, he flew to Los Angeles and delivered a half-hour television address in which he defended himself, attacked his opponents, and urged the audience to contact the Republican National Committee (RNC) to tell it whether he should remain on the ticket. During the speech, he stated that regardless of what anyone said, he intended to keep one gift: a black-and-white dog who had been named Checkers by the Nixon children, thus giving the address its popular name. Nixon’s speech...

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On This Day, Sept. 22, 1961 – JFK Signs Act Establishing the Peace Corps

1961 – President John F. Kennedy signed a congressional act that established the Peace Corps. The Peace Corps program was an outgrowth of the Cold War. President Kennedy pointed out that the Soviet Union “had hundreds of men and women, scientists, physicists, teachers, engineers, doctors, and nurses . . . prepared to spend their lives abroad in the service of world communism.” The United States had no such program, and Kennedy wanted to involve Americans more actively in the cause of global democracy, peace, development, and freedom. A few days after he took office, Kennedy asked his brother-in-law, R. Sargent Shriver, to direct a Peace Corps Task Force. Shriver was known for his ability to identify and motivate creative, visionary leaders, and he led the group to quickly shape the organization. After a month of intense dialogue and debate among task force members, Shriver outlined seven steps to forming the Peace...

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On This Day, Sept 21, 1989 – Powell Becomes Joint Chiefs’ Chairman

The Senate Armed Forces Committee unanimously confirms President George H. Bush’s nomination of Army General Colin Powell as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Powell was the first African-American to achieve the United States’ highest military post. Powell was born in 1937 in Harlem, New York, to Jamaican immigrant parents. Joining the U.S. Army after college, he served two tours in Vietnam before holding several high-level military posts during the 1970s and 1980s. From 1987 to 1989, he was national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan and in 1989 reached the pinnacle of his profession when he was appointed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by President George Bush. As chairman, General Powell’s greatest achievement was planning the swift U.S. victory over Iraq in 1991’s Persian Gulf War. In 1993, he retired as chairman. Two years later, he embarked on a national tour to promote his autobiography,...

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On This Day, Sept 20, 1973 – King Triumphs in Battle of Sexes

On this day in 1973, in a highly publicized “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match, top women’s player Billie Jean King, 29, beats Bobby Riggs, 55, a former No. 1 ranked men’s player. Riggs (1918-1995), a self-proclaimed male chauvinist, had boasted that women were inferior, that they couldn’t handle the pressure of the game and that even at his age he could beat any female player. The match was a huge media event, witnessed in person by over 30,000 spectators at the Houston Astrodome and by another 50 million TV viewers worldwide. King made a Cleopatra-style entrance on a gold litter carried by men dressed as ancient slaves, while Riggs arrived in a rickshaw pulled by female models. Legendary sportscaster Howard Cosell called the match, in which King beat Riggs 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. King’s achievement not only helped legitimize women’s professional tennis and female athletes, but it was seen...

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On This Day, Sept 19,1995 – Unabomber Manifesto Published

On this day in 1995, a manifesto by the Unabomber, an anti-technology terrorist, is published by The New York Times and Washington Post in the hope that someone will recognize the person who, for 17 years, had been sending homemade bombs through the mail that had killed and maimed innocent people around the United States. After reading the manifesto, David Kaczynski linked the writing style to that of his older brother Ted, who was later convicted of the attacks and sentenced to life in prison without parole. All told, the Unabomber was responsible for murdering three people and injuring another 23. Theodore John Kaczynski was born May 22, 1942, in Evergreen Park, Illinois, a Chicago suburb. As a student, he excelled at math, graduated from Harvard and received a Ph.D. in math from the University of Michigan. In 1967, he got a teaching job at the University of California...

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On This Day, Sept 18, 1975 – Patty Hearst Captured

Newspaper heiress and wanted fugitive Patty Hearst is captured in a San Francisco apartment and arrested for armed robbery. On February 4, 1974, Patricia Hearst, the 19-year-old daughter of newspaper publisher Randolph Hearst, was kidnapped from her apartment in Berkeley, California, by two black men and a white woman, all three of whom were armed. Her fiancé, Stephen Weed, was beaten and tied up along with a neighbor who tried to help. Witnesses reported seeing a struggling Hearst being carried away blindfolded, and she was put in the trunk of a car. Neighbors who came out into the street were forced to take cover after the kidnappers fired their guns to cover their escape. Three days later, the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), a small U.S. leftist group, announced in a letter to a Berkeley radio station that it was holding Hearst as a “prisoner of war.” Four days later,...

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On This Day, Sept 17, 1978 – Camp David Accords Signed

At the White House in Washington, D.C., Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin sign the Camp David Accords, laying the groundwork for a permanent peace agreement between Egypt and Israel after three decades of hostilities. The accords were negotiated during 12 days of intensive talks at President Jimmy Carter‘s Camp David retreat in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland. The final peace agreement–the first between Israel and one of its Arab neighbors–was signed in March 1979. Sadat and Begin were jointly awarded the 1978 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. A state of war had existed between Egypt and the State of Israel since the establishment of Israel in 1948. In the first three Arab-Israeli wars, Israel decisively defeated Egypt. As a result of the 1967 war, Israel occupied Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, the 23,500-square-mile peninsula that links Africa with Asia. When Anwar el-Sadat became Egyptian president...

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On This Day, Sept 16, 2013 – Gunman Kills 12 in D.C. Navy Yard Massacre

On this day in 2013, a 34-year-old man goes on a rampage at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., killing 12 people and wounding several others over the course of an hour before he is fatally shot by police. Investigators later determined that the gunman, Aaron Alexis, a computer contractor for a private information technology firm, had acted alone. Shortly after 8 a.m., Alexis used his security pass to enter Building 197 at the Navy Yard, a former shipyard, dating to the early 1800s, and weapons plant that now serves as an administrative center for the Navy. At approximately 8:16 a.m., Alexis, armed with a sawed-off Remington 870 shotgun and dressed in a short-sleeve polo shirt and pants, shot his first victim. Over the course of the next hour, he moved through the 630,000-square-foot, multi-level Building 197, the headquarters of the Naval Sea Systems Command, gunning down more victims...

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On This Day, Sept 15, 1963 – Four Black Schoolgirls Killed in Birmingham

On this day in 1963, a bomb explodes during Sunday morning services in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four young girls. With its large African-American congregation, the 16th Street Baptist Church served as a meeting place for civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr., who once called Birmingham a “symbol of hardcore resistance to integration.” Alabama’s governor, George Wallace, made preserving racial segregation one of the central goals of his administration, and Birmingham had one of the most violent and lawless chapters of the Ku Klux Klan. The church bombing was the third in Birmingham in 11 days after a federal order came down to integrate Alabama’s school system. Fifteen sticks of dynamite were planted in the church basement, underneath what turned out to be the girls’ restroom. The bomb detonated at 10:19 a.m., killing Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Addie Mae Collins–all 14...

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On This Day, Sept. 14, 1901 – William McKinley Dies of Gunshot Wound

1901 – U.S. President William McKinley died of gunshot wounds inflicted by an assassin. Vice President Theodore Roosevelt, at age 42, succeeded him. On September 6, 1901, while standing in a receiving line at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, McKinley was approached by Leon Czolgosz, a Polish-American anarchist carrying a concealed .32 revolver in a handkerchief. Drawing his weapon, Czolgosz shot McKinley twice at close range. One bullet deflected off a suit button, but the other entered his stomach, passed through the kidneys, and lodged in his back. When he was operated on, doctors failed to find the bullet, and gangrene soon spread throughout his body. McKinley died eight days later. Czolgosz was convicted of murder and executed soon after the shooting. As president, McKinley became known–controversially–as a protector of big businesses, which enjoyed unprecedented growth during his administration. He advocated the protective tariff as a way of shielding...

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On This Day, Sept. 13, 1948 – Margaret Chase Smith Elected to US Senate

1948 – Margaret Chase Smith was elected to the Senate and became the first woman to serve in both houses of the U.S. Congress. Margaret Chase Smith was born in Skowhegan, Maine, on December 14, 1897. Her entry into politics came through the career of Clyde Smith, the man she married in 1930. Clyde was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1936; Margaret served as his secretary. When Clyde died in 1940, Margaret succeeded her husband. After four terms in the House, she won election to the United States Senate in 1948. In so doing, she became the first woman elected to both houses of Congress. Senator Smith came to national attention on June 1, 1950, when she became the first member of the Senate to denounce the tactics used by colleague Joseph McCarthy in his anticommunist crusade. Following her “Declaration of Conscience” speech, some pundits speculated...

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On This Day, Sept. 12, 1938 – Adolph Hitler Calls for Freedom of Sudetland Germans

1938 – In a move very similar to the present Russia/Ukraine tensions and the calls for a referendum by Vladimir Putin, Adolf Hitler demanded self-determination for the Sudeten Germans in Czechoslovakia. Having secured anschluss with Austria, Hitler turned his attention to the Sudetenland, a western region of Czechoslovakia inhabited mostly by German-speakers. Czechoslovakia was itself a relatively new nation, carved out of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire by the Treaty of St Germain (September 1919). But Hitler had no respect for this treaty or for Czechoslovakian sovereignty. He began claiming ethnic Germans in the Sudetenland were being persecuted by Prague. A small but vocal pro-Nazi group in the Sudetenland, led by Konrad Henlein, echoed these grievances, though most were exaggerated or fabricated. In April 1938 Henlein’s party demanded political autonomy for the Sudetenland. Through mid-1938 they organised terrorist attacks against Czechoslovakian government troops and facilities. Hitler, in an ominous speech...

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On This Day, Sept 11, 2012 – Four Die in Attack on Benghazi Consulate

2012 – Terrorists attacked the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. Four Americans were brutally murdered and ten others were injured. News of the attacks spreads against the backdrop of two other major stories: protests at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo and the U.S. presidential campaign. The Cairo protests, which took place just hours before the attack in Benghazi, were sparked by anger over an anti-Muslim video made in the United States. In the following days, angry demonstrations are held at U.S. diplomatic missions throughout the Muslim world. Initial reports from journalists in Libya also link the Benghazi attack to the video, and remarks from U.S. officials seem to lay blame there as well. On Sept. 12, President Barack Obama says in his Rose Garden remarks about the attack: “We reject all efforts to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. But there is absolutely no justification to this type of...

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On This Day, Sept. 10, 1963 – Alabama Standoff Ends as Blacks Enter School

1963 – Twenty black students entered public schools in Alabama at the end of a standoff between federal authorities and Alabama governor George C. Wallace. On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down its decision regarding the case called Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, in which the plaintiffs charged that the education of black children in separate public schools from their white counterparts was unconstitutional. Brown v. Board of Education meant that the University of Alabama had to be desegregated. In the years following, hundreds of African-Americans applied for admission, but all were denied. The University worked with police to find any disqualifying qualities, or when this failed, intimidated the applicants. But in 1963, three African-Americans with perfect qualifications — Vivian Malone Jones, Dave McGlathery and James Hood—applied, refusing to be intimidated. In early June a federal district judge ordered that they...

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On This Day, Sept. 9, 1957 – Eisenhower Signs New Civil Rights Law

1957 – The first civil rights bill to pass Congress since Reconstruction was signed into law by President Dwight Eisenhower. The act initiated a greater federal role in protecting the rights of African Americans and other minorities. The Civil Rights Act of 1957 did not create new rights, but it increased protection of voting rights and laid the foundation for federal enforcement of civil rights law by creating the Civil Rights Division in the Department of Justice, a Civil Rights Commission within the executive branch, and expanding federal enforcement authority to include civil lawsuits. Although many of the more violent forms of racial oppression had been reduced by the 1950s, in the South state law was often used to prevent African Americans from exercising their civil rights. To register to vote, for example, many states required that applicants take a voter qualification test. The questions on the test were...

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On This Day. Sept. 8, 1935 – Sen. Huey P. Long Shot and Mortally Wounded

1935 – U.S. Senator Huey P. Long, of Louisiana  was shot and mortally wounded. During the era of the Great Depression, Long was a larger-than-life politician who gained national attention as Louisiana’s “Kingfish” — a nickname he gave himself. Long was a high school drop-out who taught himself law and became a member of the Louisiana bar in 1915. In 1918 he moved to Shreveport and began a political career as a lively opponent of corporate wealth and privilege, targeting giants such as John D. Rockefeller’s Standard Oil Company. From 1928 until 1932, Long served as Louisiana’s governor and launched an ambitious and successful program of public works. Long also ruled over a statewide political machine whose corrupt methods caused critics to regard him as a demagogue and political thug. While still governor, he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1930; preferring to stay on as governor for a...

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On This Day, Sept 7, 1940 – The Blitz Begins

On this day in 1940, 300 German bombers raid London, in the first of 57 consecutive nights of bombing. This bombing “blitzkrieg” (lightning war) would continue until May 1941. After the successful occupation of France, it was only a matter of time before the Germans turned their sights across the Channel to England. Hitler wanted a submissive, neutralized Britain so that he could concentrate on his plans for the East, namely the land invasion of the Soviet Union, without interference. Since June, English vessels in the Channel had been attacked and aerial battles had been fought over Britain, as Germany attempted to wear down the Royal Air Force in anticipation of a land invasion. But with Germany failing to cripple Britain’s air power, especially in the Battle of Britain, Hitler changed strategies. A land invasion was now ruled out as unrealistic; instead Hitler chose sheer terror as his weapon...

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On This Day, Sept 6, 1997 – 2.5 Billion TV Viewers Watch Princess Diana’s Funeral

On this day in 1997, an estimated 2.5 billion people around the globe tune in to television broadcasts of the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales, who died at the age of 36 in a car crash in Paris the week before. During her 15-year marriage to Prince Charles, the son of Queen Elizabeth II and the heir to the British throne, Diana became one of the most famous, most photographed people on the planet. Her life story was fodder for numerous books, television programs and movies and her image appeared on countless magazine covers, including those of People and Vanity Fair. After her death, she remained an iconic figure and a continual source of fascination to the media and entertainment world. Diana Spencer was born on July 1, 1961, in Norfolk, England. On July 29, 1981, at the age of 20, “Shy Di”–as the voracious British media dubbed...

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