CHARLOTTE, N.C., April 21, 2017 – Regardless of what day of the year you pick, something important has always happened on that day. Just to prove it, we are selecting April 20th as a case in point. And you probably thought it was just an ordinary day.
We begin our April 20 coverage back in 1912 when the Boston Red Sox played their first game ever at Fenway Park. The competition that day was the New York Highlanders, who became the New York Yankees the following year, inaugurating one of the greatest rivalries in sports.
Having won the 1918 World Series against the Chicago Cubs, by 1919, the Red Sox commenced a prolonged Series slump, and would not win a World Series again until 2004. They did beat New York by a score of 7-6 that first Fenway game on April 20, though.
Thirty-seven years ago today, Fidel Castro announced that all Cubans wishing to emigrate to the U.S. should board boats that were waiting in the port of Mariel just west of Havana. By the next day, 125,000 Cubans landed on American shores.
By 1980, an agreement had been reached which halted emigration into the U.S.
Following the Declaration of Independence in 1776, it took almost a year before New York adopted its first constitution. That meeting took place in Kingston on April 20th, 1777 and began by declaring “the possibility of reconciliation between Britain the onetime American colonies as remote and uncertain, thereby making the creation of a new New York government necessary for the preservation of internal peace, virtue, and good order.”
On this day in 1861, Colonel Robert E. Lee resigned from the United States army just two days after he was offered command of the Union forces and three days after Virginia, his native state, seceded from the Union.
Conflicted about the decision, Lee’s resignation letter contained only one sentence. The previous day he told his close friend, Gen. Winfield Scott, that he would actually have resigned on April 18th “but for the struggle it has cost me to separate myself from a service to which I have devoted the best years of my life and all the ability I possess.”
Janet Guthrie is not a household name, but in on this date in 1976, she made major sports headlines when she became the first woman to compete in a NASCAR Winston Cup race. The next year Guthrie drove in the Indianapolis 500.
Today, Guthrie is retired. But Danica Patrick of Beloit, Wisconsin is now a regular on the NASCAR circuit. Patrick made history on April 20, 2008 when she claimed the checkered flag at the Indy Japan 300 in Montegi, Japan, becoming the first woman ever to win an Indy car race.
Marie and Pierre Curie made a major contribution to science on April 20, 1902 by successfully isolating radioactive radium salts from pitchblende in their Paris laboratory.
As a result of her pioneering research, Curie became the first female Nobel Prize winner in history, though her work with radium also cost her her life in 1934. Unfortunately, she had contracted leukemia as a result of her extended studies of radioactivity and handling of radioactive materials.
Over the centuries, April 20 has featured its share of challenging moments as well. On that date in 1689, former British king, James II, a Catholic, began a siege of Londonderry in Northern Ireland. Deposed as king in 1888 in a bloodless coup known as the “Glorious Revolution”—which was led by Dutch monarch William of Orange and James’ own Protestant daughter Mary, William’s wife— James first fled to France.
James eventually raised an army, backed in part by the French, to march on the Irish capital city of Dublin in an effort to retake his throne. Proceeding northwest, he first encircled, and then lay siege to the Protestant stronghold of Londonderry (called Derry then and now by Irish Catholics), commencing April 20, 1689. The city held out against the siege until reinforcements arrived on August 1 and forced James to retreat, leading to his eventual defeat at the Battle of the Boyne.
Back in the U.S.A., Congress authorized President Ulysses S. Grant to declare martial law and impose harsh penalties against terror organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan in 1871.
Founded at the end of the Civil War in 1865, the Klan became most active in communities where the races were relatively balanced. Passed on April 20, 1871, Washington’s response to the increasing racial violence, The Third Force Act (more popularly called the Ku Klux Klan Act) was actually abolished by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1882 as being unconstitutional.
Since that time, there have been two major revivals of the Klan, the first in the 1910s and ’20s and the second meant to counter the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and ’60s.
Perhaps more familiar to most people today is the tragic shooting spree at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado where two teenaged gunmen killed 13 people just before noon on April 20, 1999. Dressed in long trench coats, the killers began shooting outside and then moved indoors to continue their massacre.
The school reopened in the fall.
Though it seems strange today, a new sound process for movies was introduced on this day in 1926. Studio executives called sound cinema a “fad” and rejected the idea at first.
In August of 1926, John Barrymore appeared in the first movie with sound. “Don Juan” had no dialogue. But it did feature a musical score. The following year, Al Jolson became famous as the first actor to speak in a film called “The Jazz Singer.”
Finally, on a couple of pop culture notes, Edgar Allen Poe published the first detective story in 1841 with his famous tale of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue.”
And basketball fans would be irate if we forgot to mention that Michael Jordan scored 63 points in Chicago’s 135-131 double overtime loss to Boston in the 1986 NBA playoffs.
And for the counter-culture, it’s a celebration of Marijuana as 420 is the unofficial weed day. Why is a mix of urban legend and the Grateful Dead. But whatever the origins a lot of fans spent the day lighting up.
Now imagine if something really important ever happened on April 20th.
Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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