This Week in History: May 17-23, 2021

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This Week in History
by Dianne Hermann

“If ever a time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall
possess the highest seats in Government, our country will stand in
need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin.” Samuel Adams


May 17-23, 2021




May 17

1733 – England passes the Molasses Act, doubling the tariffs on rum and molasses imported to the colonies from countries other than British possessions.

1792 – The New York Stock Exchange is formed when 24 merchants sign the Buttonwood Agreement at 68 Wall Street.

1875 – In the first Kentucky Derby horse race, Oliver Lewis wins aboard Aristides in 2:37.75. The Derby was founded by Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr, the grandson of William Clark (Lewis & Clark Expedition).

1883 – Buffalo Bill Cody’s first wild-west show premieres in Omaha, Nebraska. Cody died in 1917 at age 70.

1884 – Alaska becomes a U.S. territory following its purchase from Russia for $7 million. It was known as Seward’s Folly after Secretary of State William H. Seward signed the treaty with Russia.

1954 – The Supreme Court unanimously rules in Brown v Topeka Board of Education that racial segregation of children in public schools violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, reversing the 1896 “separate but equal” Plessy v Ferguson decision.

1973 – The Senate Watergate Committee began its hearings. Watch the opening remarks of the committee.



1996 – President Clinton signs a measure requiring neighborhood notification when sex offenders move in. Megan’s Law was named for 7-year-old Megan Kanka, who was raped and killed in 1994 by a repeat sex offender.

2000 – Thomas E. Blanton Jr. and Bobby Frank Cherry surrender to police in Birmingham, Alabama. The two former Ku Klux Klan members were convicted of murder in the bombing of a church in 1963 that killed four young black girls. Blanton, now 82, is currently serving a life sentence. Cherry died in prison in 2004 at age 74.

2014 – Victor Espinoza, riding California Chrome, wins the 139th Preakness in 1:54.84. Espinoza also won the Preakness in 2002 and 2015. Watch Espinoza ride California Chrome to a win the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness, the first and second leg of the Triple Crown. The horse failed to win the Belmont Stakes.




May 18

1652 – Rhode Island enacts the first law declaring slavery illegal.

1896 – The Supreme Court affirms race separation in Plessy v Ferguson. Homer Plessy was arrested in New Orleans for sitting in a “whites only” railroad car. The Supreme Court ruled that separate facilities were constitutional as long as they are equal. Justice John Harlan was the lone dissenter on the Court.

1926 – Evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson vanishes while swimming near Venice, California. She showed up a month later in Senora, Mexico, saying she had been kidnapped. Watch a video of McPherson’s speech on prohibition.



1927 – Andrew Kehoe blows up Bath Consolidated School in Michigan, killing 38 children and 2 teachers after killing his wife and setting their home on fire. Kehoe died in a second bombing later that day aimed at the school’s superintendent.

1953 – Jacqueline Cochran is the first woman to break the sound barrier, flying an F-86 Sabre fighter plane. She set more than 200 aviation records. Cochran died in 1980 at age 74.

1967 – Tennessee Gov. Ellington repeals the “Monkey Law,” upheld in the 1925 Scopes Trial.

1980 – Mt. Saint Helens erupts in the state of Washington. The eruption caused the deaths of 57 people and $3 billion in damage. Watch a USGS video of the eruption.



1983 – The Senate revises U.S immigration laws, gives millions of illegal aliens legal status under an amnesty program.

1998 – The U.S. Department of Justice and 20 U.S. states file an anti-trust case against Microsoft. Microsoft and the DOJ reached a settlement in 2001.

2010 – A Portland, Oregon, police officer was asked to leave the Red & Black Café by the co-owner who felt uncomfortable having a uniformed officer in his vegan restaurant. The café closed down in 2015.


May 19

1643 – Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Harbor form the United Colonies of New England.

1848 – Mexico signs the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, giving Texas to the U.S., and ending the Mexican-American War.

1862 – The Homestead Act is signed into law by President Lincoln, providing up to 160 acres of free land for settlement of West. A total of 1.6 million people claimed 420,000 square miles of government land.

1865 – Confederate President Jefferson Davis is captured by the Union Cavalry in Georgia. Davis held at Fort Monroe, Virginia, but he was released after two years.

1884 – The Ringling Brothers circus premieres in Wisconsin. The circus was started by the 5 Ringling Brothers. Ringling Brothers Circus merged with Barnum and Bailey Circus in 1907, and the circuses closed in 2017.

1913 – The California Alien Land Law passes, forbidding “aliens ineligible for citizenship” from owning agricultural land. The bill was primarily directed at Japanese immigrants.

1921 – Congress sharply curbs immigration through the Emergency Quota Act by setting a national quota system. Based on the quota formula, the number of immigrants fell from about 800,000 in 1920 to about 300,000 in 1921-1922.

1958 – The U.S. and Canada form NORAD (North American Air Defense Command). NORAD has tracked Santa at Christmas annually since 1955.

1999 – Rosie O’Donnell and Tom Selleck have an uncomfortable verbal conversation concerning gun control on Rosie O’Donnell’s talk show. Watch a video of Selleck being a total gentleman.



2005 – “Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith” brings in $50 million on its opening day. “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” brought in a (then) record $28.5 million when it opened on this day in 1999.

2018 – American actress Meghan Markle marries Prince Harry, youngest son of England’s Princess Diana and Prince Charles. The banished couple and their son live somewhere in California.


May 20

1639 – Dorchester Massachusetts, forms the first school funded by local taxes.

1874 – Levi Strauss markets blue jeans with copper rivets at the price of $13.50 a dozen.

1916 – The Saturday Evening Post features its first Norman Rockwell painting on the cover, entitled “Boy with Baby Carriage,” for which Rockwell was paid $75. Rockwell painted 321 covers over the next 47 years.

1926 – Congress passes the Air Commerce Act, which licenses pilots and planes.

1927 – Charles Lindbergh takes off from New York to cross the Atlantic Ocean in the “Spirit of St. Louis.” He landed in Paris the following afternoon.

1932 – Amelia Earhart leaves Newfoundland to become the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean when she landed in Ireland the following day. She scheduled her flight to coincide with the 5th anniversary of Lindbergh’s flight.

1939 – The first regular airmail and passenger service across the Atlantic Ocean begins when the “Yankee Clipper” takes off from Port Washington, New York.

1959 – Ford wins the battle with Chrysler to call its new car “Falcon.” Ford produced the Falcon from 1960 to 1970. Watch the 1961 Ford Falcon commercial featuring the Peanuts gang.



1985 – The FBI arrests John A. Walker, Jr. His brother, son, and friend were all recruited in the spy ring. They were all convicted of spying for USSR. John would have been eligible for parole, but he died in prison in August 2014 at age 77.

2013 – Yahoo purchases Tumblr, a social networking website created by David Karp in 2007, for $1.1 billion.

2015 – David Letterman hosts the “Late Show with David Letterman” for the last time after 33 years on TV.


May 21

1881 – The American Red Cross is founded by Clara Barton in Washington, DC. Barton, who served as a nurse in the Civil War, led the Red Cross for 23 years. She died in 1912 at age 90.

1918 – The House of Representatives passes the 19th Amendment allowing women to vote. The bill was first introduced in Congress in 1878.

1922 – The cartoon, “On the Road to Moscow,” by American political cartoonist Rollin Kirby wins a Pulitzer Prize. It was the first cartoon awarded the Pulitzer.

1924 – Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb kidnap 13-year-old Bobby Franks for fun. Franks was murdered by teenagers Leopold and Loeb, and both were sentenced to life in prison.

1956 – The U.S. detonates the first airborne hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean over Bikini Atoll. A B-2 bomber dropped the bomb from 55,000 feet and it detonated at 15,000 feet. The resulting explosion was estimated to be 4 miles in diameter. Watch a newsreel report of the historic test.



1998 – An expelled student, Kipland Kinkel, in Springfield, Oregon, kills 2 people and wounds 25 others with a semi-automatic rifle. Police also discovered that he killed his parents before the rampage.

2013 – Microsoft announces the release of Xbox One. Global sales are estimated at 49 million units.


May 22

1807 – Former Vice President Aaron Burr is tried for treason in Richmond, Virginia. It was alleged that Burr plotted to annex Spanish territories in Louisiana and part of Mexico to establish an independent territory. Burr was acquitted for lack of evidence that he acted on his plot. Burr killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel in 1804.

1849 – Abraham Lincoln patents a buoying device. Lincoln is the only president to hold a patent.

1872 – The Amnesty Act removes voting and office-holding restrictions to secessionists who participated in the Civil War, except for 500 military officers. Congress passed the original restrictive act in May 1866.

1900 – The Associated Press organizes in New York City as a non-profit news cooperative.

1946 – The first U.S. rocket (WAC Corporal) to reach the edge of space is fired from the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.

1967 – “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” premieres on PBS and airs until 2001. Fred Rogers died in 2003 at age 74. Watch the show’s opening scene.



1977 – Janet Guthrie sets the fastest time on the second weekend of qualifying, becoming the first woman to earn a starting spot in the Indianapolis 500 since its inception in 1911.

1985 – U.S. sailor Michael L. Walker, the 22-year-old son of spy John Walker, Jr., is arrested for spying for USSR. He was convicted of spying and served 15 years of a 25-year sentence. He was released from prison in 2000 and is on probation. His father, spy John Walker, died in prison in 2014.

1992 – Johnny Carson makes his final appearance after 30 years as host of the Tonight Show. Watch Johnny Carson in his own words.



2002 – Chandra Levy’s remains are found in Washington, DC’s Rock Creek Park. She was last seen on April 30, 2001. California Congressman Gary Condit was questioned in the case due to his relationship with Levy. An illegal immigrant was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to 60 years in prison in Levy’s murder.

2011 – An EF5 Tornado strikes Joplin, Missouri, killing 161 people, making it the single deadliest U.S. tornado since modern record keeping began in 1950. Then Vice President Joe Biden visited Joplin, expressing sympathy for the 161,000 people who died.


May 23

1923 – A team of police officers, led by Texas Ranger Cordell Walker, ambush bank robbers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow near their hide-out in Black Lake, Louisiana, killing them both. Watch a narrated black and white video of the aftermath.



1939 – The USS Squalus submarine sinks in the Gulf of Maine, drowning 26 sailors. The 33 remaining crew were rescued from a depth of 243 feet by divers using the newly developed Heliox air systems (helium and oxygen). The divers were later awarded the Medal of Honor.

1963 – NBC purchases the TV rights to the 1963 AFL championship football game for $926,000. (By contrast, ESPN acquired the rights to Monday Night Football in 2005 and paid over $1 billion to air 17 regular season games over 8 years.)

1985 – Thomas Patrick Cavanagh is sentenced to life in prison for trying to sell Stealth Bomber secrets to the Soviet Union for $25,000. He was paroled in 2001.

1992 – In Lisbon, Portugal, the U.S. and four former Soviet republics sign an agreement to implement the START missile reduction treaty that had been agreed to by the Soviet Union before it was dissolved.

2018 – NFL owners approve a new national anthem policy requiring football players to stand if they choose to be on the field for the pre-game ceremonies.




Image from: independent.co.uk


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