Monthly Archives: June 2019

President Truman orders U.S. forces to Korea

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/truman-orders-u-s-forces-to-korea

Just three days after the United Nations Security Council voted to provide military assistance to South Korea, President Harry S. Truman orders U.S. armed forces to assist in defending that nation from invading North Korean armies. Truman’s dramatic step marked the official entry of the United States into the Korean War.

On June 25, 1950, military forces from communist North Korea invaded South Korea. South Korean forces and the small number of U.S. troops stationed in the nation reeled under the surprise attack. On June 27, the United States asked the Security Council in the United Nations to pass a resolution calling on member states of the United Nations to assist South Korea. With the Soviets boycotting the meeting for other reasons, the resolution passed. Three days later, President Truman ordered U.S. ground forces into South Korea and the troops entered South Korea that same day. At the same time, Truman ordered the U.S. Air Force to bomb military targets in North Korea and directed the U.S. Navy to blockade the North Korean coast.

Truman’s action signaled the beginning of official and large-scale U.S. participation in the Korean War. Over the next three years, the United States provided at least half of the U.N. ground forces in Korea and the vast majority of the air and sea forces used in the conflict against North Korea and, later, against communist China, which entered the war on the side of North Korea in late 1950. Nearly 55,000 Americans were killed in the war and over 100,000 were wounded. Cost estimates for the war ranged as high as $20 billion. In July 1953, an armistice was signed that ended the fighting and left Korea a divided nation. 

A first-time offender ends up on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/a-first-time-offender-ends-up-on-the-fbis-ten-most-wanted-list

Glen Godwin, a young business owner, is convicted of murder in Riverside County, California, and sentenced to 26-years-to-life in prison. According to his roommate’s testimony, Godwin stomped on, choked, and then stabbed Kim LeValley, an acquaintance and local drug dealer, 28 times before using homemade explosives to blow up his body in the desert near Palm Springs. Godwin, who had no previous record, eventually found his way onto the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List.

In 1985, while serving his sentence at Soledad Prison, Godwin married Shelley Rose. He was then transferred to Folsom Prison, a maximum-security facility, where he escaped through a 300-yard storm drain and floated across the American River on a raft to freedom in June 1987. Apparently gaining assistance from someone who cut the iron bars on the storm drain from the outside, Godwin was the third person to escape from Folsom in 25 years. Lorenz Karlic, who had once shared a cell with Godwin, was arrested in Hesperia, California, for aiding Godwin in his escape.

After two years without any leads on either Glen or Shelley, who was last seen renting a car at the San Jose Airport, authorities were notified of a man in a Mexican prison under the name of Stewart Carrera, whose fingerprints matched those of Godwin’s. Reportedly, Mexican authorities had arrested Glen on drugs and weapons charges six months after his escape.

While California officials were working to have Godwin extradited back to the United States, he murdered a fellow inmate in Puerto Vallarta Prison—an attempt to avoid returning to the high security prisons in California. Shortly thereafter, he escaped from the Mexican jail.

In December 1996, Godwin appeared on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List. Shelley Godwin, who, unbeknownst to California law enforcement officials, had divorced her husband and remarried in Texas, was apprehended in Dallas when a story on the Godwin case appeared on television’s America’s Most Wanted, but Glen Godwin remains at large.

He was removed from the Most Wanted List in May 2016. 

“Do the Right Thing” released in theaters

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/do-the-right-thing-released

On this day in 1989, the writer-director Spike Lee’s third feature film, Do the Right Thing—a provocative, racially charged drama that takes place on one block in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, on the hottest day of the year—is released in U.S. theaters.

The block in question is home to Sal’s Famous Pizzeria, the only white-owned business in the neighborhood. Mookie (played by Lee) delivers pizza for Sal (Danny Aiello); he is friendly with Sal’s younger son, Vito (Richard Edson), a fact that angers Vito’s brother, Pino (John Turturro), who resents the black majority in the neighborhood. As various characters talk and circulate around Sal’s and the nearby Korean-owned convenience store, tensions build to the breaking point, and violence breaks out, with tragic consequences. Among Do the Right Thing’s memorable supporting characters are the neighborhood staples Da Mayor and Mother-Sister (real-life couple Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee); Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn), who continually blasts Public Enemy’s rap song “Fight the Power” from his massive boom box; Mookie’s sister (Joie Lee, Spike’s own sister); his Puerto Rican girlfriend Tina (Rosie Perez, making her feature film debut); and the smooth-talking radio disc jockey Mister Senor Love Daddy (Samuel L. Jackson).

Upon its release, Do the Right Thing caused a sensation for its incendiary portrayal of race relations, including specific allusions to some notorious recent events in New York. Some critics, including David Denby (then of New York magazine) speculated that the film would incite black audiences to anger and violence. In an interview with New York magazine in April 2008, the always-outspoken Lee recalled of the controversy: “One of the big criticisms was that I had not provided an answer for racism in the movie, which is insane. And what’s even more insane is people like Joe Klein [who also wrote about the film for New York] and David Denby felt that this film was going to cause riots. Young black males were going to emulate Mookie and throw garbage cans through windows. Like, ‘How dare you release this film in summertime: You know how they get in the summertime, this is like playing with fire.’ I hold no grudges against them. But that was 20 years ago and it speaks for itself.”

Nominated for two Oscars—Best Supporting Actor for Aiello and Best Original Screenplay for Lee—Do the Right Thing was later called “culturally significant” by the U.S. Library of Congress and stands to this day as one of Hollywood’s most notable portrayals of modern-day racial tensions.

“Gone with the Wind” published

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/gone-with-the-wind-published

Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, one of the best-selling novels of all time and the basis for a blockbuster 1939 movie, is published on this day in 1936.

In 1926, Mitchell was forced to quit her job as a reporter at the Atlanta Journal to recover from a series of physical injuries. With too much time on her hands, Mitchell soon grew restless. Working on a Remington typewriter, a gift from her second husband, John R. Marsh, in their cramped one-bedroom apartment, Mitchell began telling the story of an Atlanta belle named Pansy O’Hara.

In tracing Pansy’s tumultuous life from the antebellum South through the Civil War and into the Reconstruction era, Mitchell drew on the tales she had heard from her parents and other relatives, as well as from Confederate war veterans she had met as a young girl. While she was extremely secretive about her work, Mitchell eventually gave the manuscript to Harold Latham, an editor from New York’s MacMillan Publishing. Latham encouraged Mitchell to complete the novel, with one important change: the heroine’s name. Mitchell agreed to change it to Scarlett, now one of the most memorable names in the history of literature.

Published in 1936, Gone with the Wind caused a sensation in Atlanta and went on to sell millions of copies in the United States and throughout the world. While the book drew some criticism for its romanticized view of the Old South and its slaveholding elite, its epic tale of war, passion and loss captivated readers far and wide. By the time Mitchell won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1937, a movie project was already in the works. The film was produced by Hollywood giant David O. Selznick, who paid Mitchell a record-high $50,000 for the film rights to her book.

After testing hundreds of unknowns and big-name stars to play Scarlett, Selznick hired British actress Vivien Leigh days after filming began. Clark Gable was also on board as Rhett Butler, Scarlett’s dashing love interest. Plagued with problems on set, Gone with the Wind nonetheless became one of the highest-grossing and most acclaimed movies of all time, breaking box office records and winning nine Academy Awards out of 13 nominations.

Though she didn’t take part in the film adaptation of her book, Mitchell did attend its star-studded premiere in December 1939 in Atlanta. Tragically, she died just 10 years later, after she was struck by a speeding car while crossing Atlanta’s Peachtree Street. Scarlett, a relatively unmemorable sequel to Gone with the Wind written by Alexandra Ripley, was published in 1992.

This Day in History: 06/30/1936 – Gone with the Wind published (TV-PG; 1:00)

Hitler purges members of his own Nazi party in Night of the Long Knives

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/night-of-the-long-knives

In Germany, Nazi leader Adolf Hitler orders a bloody purge of his own political party, assassinating hundreds of Nazis whom he believed had the potential to become political enemies in the future. The leadership of the Nazi Storm Troopers (SA), whose four million members had helped bring Hitler to power in the early 1930s, was especially targeted. Hitler feared that some of his followers had taken his early “National Socialism” propaganda too seriously and thus might compromise his plan to suppress workers’ rights in exchange for German industry making the country war-ready.

In the early 1920s, the ranks of Hitler’s Nazi Party swelled with resentful Germans who sympathized with the party’s bitter hatred of Germany’s democratic government, leftist politics, and Jews. In November 1923, after the German government resumed the payment of war reparations to Britain and France, the Nazis launched the “Beer Hall Putsch”–their first attempt at seizing the German government by force. Hitler hoped that his nationalist revolution in Bavaria would spread to the dissatisfied German army, which in turn would bring down the government in Berlin. However, the uprising was immediately suppressed, and Hitler was arrested and sentenced to five years in prison for high treason.

Sent to Landsberg jail, he spent his time dictating his autobiography, Mein Kampf, and working on his oratorical skills. After nine months in prison, political pressure from supporters of the Nazi Party forced his release. During the next few years, Hitler and the other leading Nazis reorganized their party as a fanatical mass movement that was able to gain a majority in the German parliament–the Reichstag–by legal means in 1932. In the same year, President Paul von Hindenburg defeated a presidential bid by Hitler, but in January 1933 he appointed Hitler chancellor, hoping that the powerful Nazi leader could be brought to heel as a member of the president’s cabinet.

However, Hindenburg underestimated Hitler’s political audacity, and one of the new chancellor’s first acts was to use the burning of the Reichstag building as a pretext for calling general elections. The police, under Nazi Hermann Goering, suppressed much of the party’s opposition before the election, and the Nazis won a bare majority. Shortly after, Hitler took on absolute power through the Enabling Acts. In 1934, Hindenburg died, and the last remnants of Germany’s democratic government were dismantled, leaving Hitler the sole master of a nation intent on war and genocide.

Soviet cosmonauts perish in reentry disaster

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/soviet-cosmonauts-perish-in-reentry-disaster

The three Soviet cosmonauts who served as the first crew of the world’s first space station die when their spacecraft depressurizes during reentry.

On June 6, the cosmonauts Georgi Dobrovolsky, Vladislav Volkov, and Viktor Patsayev were launched into space aboard Soyuz 11 on a mission to dock and enter Salyut 1, the Soviet space station that had been placed in orbit in April. The spacecraft successfully docked with the station, and the cosmonauts spent 23 days orbiting the earth. On June 30, they left Salyut 1 and began reentry procedures. When they fired the explosive bolts to separate the Soyuz 11 reentry capsule from another stage of the spacecraft, a critical valve was jerked open.

One hundred miles above the earth, the capsule was suddenly exposed to the nearly pressureless environment of space. As the capsule rapidly depressurized, Patsayev tried to close the valve by hand but failed. Minutes later, the cosmonauts were dead. As a result of the tragedy, the Soviet Union did not send any future crews to Salyut 1, and it was more than two years before they attempted another manned mission.

Spanish retreat from Aztec capital

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/spanish-retreat-from-aztec-capital

Faced with an Aztec revolt against their rule, forces under the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes fight their way out of Tenochtitlan at heavy cost. Known to the Spanish as La Noche Triste, or “the Night of Sadness,” many soldiers drowned in Lake Texcoco when the vessel carrying them and Aztec treasures hoarded by CortÝs sank. Montezuma II, the Aztec emperor who had become merely a subject of Cortes in the previous year, was also killed during the struggle; by the Aztecs or the Spanish, it is not known.

Tenochtitlan was founded in 1325 A.D. by a wandering tribe of hunters and gatherers on islands in Lake Texcoco, near the present site of Mexico City. In only one century, this civilization grew into the Aztec Empire, due largely to its advanced system of agriculture. The empire came to dominate central Mexico and by the ascendance of Montezuma II in 1502 had reached its greatest extent, reaching as far south as perhaps modern-day Nicaragua. At the time, the empire was held together primarily by Aztec military strength, and Montezuma II set about establishing a bureaucracy, creating provinces that would pay tribute to the imperial capital of Tenochtitlan. The conquered peoples resented the Aztec demands for tribute and victims for the religious sacrifices, but the Aztec military kept rebellion at bay.

Meanwhile, Hernan Cortes, a young Spanish-born noble, came to Hispaniola in the West Indies in 1504. In 1511, he sailed with Diego Velazquez to conquer Cuba and twice was elected mayor of Santiago, the capital of Hispaniola. In 1518, he was appointed captain general of a new Spanish expedition to the American mainland. Velazquez, the governor of Cuba, later rescinded the order, and Cortes sailed without permission. He visited the coast of Yucatan and in March 1519 landed at Tabasco in Mexico’s Bay of Campeche with 500 soldiers, 100 sailors, and 16 horses. There, he won over the local Indians and was given a female slave, Malinche–baptized Marina–who became his mistress and later bore him a son. She knew both Maya and Aztec and served as an interpreter. The expedition then proceeded up the Mexican coast, where Cortes founded Veracruz, mainly for the purpose of having himself elected captain general by the colony, thus shaking off the authority of Velazquez and making him responsible only to King Charles V of Spain.

At Veracruz, Cortes trained his army and then burned his ships to ensure loyalty to his plans for conquest. Having learned of political strife in the Aztec Empire, Cortes led his force into the Mexican interior. On the way to Tenochtitlan, he clashed with local Indians, but many of these peoples, including the nation of Tlaxcala, became his allies after learning of his plan to conquer their hated Aztec rulers. Hearing of the approach of Cortes, with his frightful horses and sophisticated weapons, Montezuma II tried to buy him off, but Cortes would not be dissuaded. On November 8, 1519, the Spaniards and their 1,000 Tlaxcaltec warriors were allowed to enter Tenochtitlan unopposed.

Montezuma suspected them to be divine envoys of the god Quetzalcoatl, who was prophesied to return from the east in a “One Reed” year, which 1519 was on the Aztec calendar. The Spaniards were greeted with great honor, and Cortes seized the opportunity, taking Montezuma hostage so that he might govern the empire through him. His mistress, Marina, was a great help in this endeavor and succeeded in convincing Montezuma to cooperate fully.

In the spring of 1520, Cortes learned of the arrival of a Spanish force from Cuba, led by Panfilo Narvaez and sent by Velazquez to deprive Cortes of his command. Cortes led his army out of Tenochtitlan to meet them, leaving behind a garrison of 80 Spaniards and a few hundred Tlaxcaltecs to govern the city. Cortes defeated Narvaez and enlisted Narvaez’ army into his own. When he returned to Tenochtitlan in June, he found the garrison under siege from the Aztecs, who had rebelled after the subordinate that Cortes left in command of the city massacred several Aztec chiefs, and the population on the brink of revolt. On June 30, under pressure and lacking food, Cortes and his men fled the capital at night. In the fighting that ensued, Montezuma was killed–in Aztec reports by the Spaniards, and in Spanish reports by an Aztec mob bitter at Montezuma’s subservience to Spanish rule. He was succeeded as emperor by his brother, Cuitlahuac.

During the Spaniards’ retreat, they defeated a large Aztec army at Otumba and then rejoined their Tlaxcaltec allies. In May 1521, Cortes returned to Tenochtitlan, and after a three-month siege the city fell. This victory marked the fall of the Aztec empire. Cuauhtemoc, Cuitlahuac’s successor as emperor, was taken prisoner and later executed, and Cortes became the ruler of vast Mexican empire.

The Spanish conquistador led an expedition to Honduras in 1524 and in 1528 returned to Spain to see the king. Charles made him Marques del Valle but refused to name him governor because of his quarrels with Velazquez and others. In 1530, he returned to Mexico, now known as New Spain, and found the country in disarray. After restoring some order, he retired to his estate south of Mexico City and sent out maritime expeditions from the Pacific coast. In 1540, he returned to Spain and was neglected by the court. He died in 1547.

Daredevil crosses Niagara Falls on tightrope

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/daredevil-crosses-niagara-falls-on-tightrope

Jean Francois Gravelet, a Frenchman known professionally as Charles Blondin, becomes the first daredevil to walk across Niagara Falls on a tightrope. The feat, which was performed 160 feet above the Niagara gorge just down river from the Falls, was witnessed by some 5,000 spectators. Wearing pink tights and a yellow tunic, Blondin crossed a cable about two inches in diameter and 1,100-feet long with only a balancing pole to protect him from plunging into the dangerous rapids below.

It was the first in a series of famous Niagara tightrope walks performed by “The Great Blondin” from 1859 to 1860. These “ascensions,” as he advertised them, always had different theatrical variations, including doing tightrope walks blindfolded, in a sack, with his manager on his back, sitting down midway to cook an omelet, and pushing a wheelbarrow across while dressed as an ape. In 1861, he performed at the Crystal Palace in London, turning somersaults on stilts on a rope stretched 170 feet above the ground. He died in 1897.

Soviet Dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov Defects from U.S.S.R.

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/mikhail-baryshnikov-defects-cold-war-dancer

Considered one of the world’s greatest ballet dancers of all time, Soviet virtuoso Mikhail Baryshnikov choreographs his own Cold War-era defection from the U.S.S.R. after four years of planning.

Known as “Misha” to his admirers, Baryshnikov, then 26, finished a performance with the Leningrad-based Kirov Ballet in Toronto while on a Canadian tour, and then evaded his KGB handlers, disappearing into the crowd outside, hopping into a waiting car and hiding out until he was officially granted political asylum in Canada. Soon after, he received political asylum in the United States, where he became principal dancer with the American Ballet Theatre and the New York City Ballet. He became a U.S. citizen on July 3, 1986.

Baryshnikov called the defection an artistic choice rather than a political one.

“When I was in Toronto, I finally decided that if I let the opportunity of expanding my art in the West slip by, it would haunt me always,” he told The Globe and Mail in his first post-defection interview. “What I have done is called a crime in Russia … But my life is my art and I realized it would be a greater crime to destroy that. I want to work with some of the West’s great choreographers if they think I am worthy of their creations.”

Baryshnikov told People magazine in 1985 that the defection unfolded like a thriller.

“It was arranged secretly through friends,” he said. “I was running, the getaway car was waiting a few blocks away as we were boarding on the group’s bus. KGB was watching us. It was actually funny. Fans are waiting for me outside the stage door, and I walk out and I start to run, and they start to run after me for autograph. They were laughing, I was running for my life. It was very emotional moment, I tell you.”

Wounded soldiers evacuated from the Little Big Horn by steamboat

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/soldiers-are-evacuated-from-the-little-big-horn-by-steamboat

After a slow two-day march, the wounded soldiers from the Battle of the Little Big Horn reach the steamboat Far West.

The Far West had been leased by the U.S. Army for the duration of the 1876 campaign against the hostile Sioux and Cheyenne Indians of the Northern Plains. Under the command of the skilled civilian Captain Grant Marsh, the 190-foot vessel was ideal for navigating the shallow waters of the Upper Missouri River system. The boat drew only 20 inches of water when fully laden and Marsh managed to steam up the shallow Big Horn River in southern Montana in June 1876. There, the boat became a headquarters for the army’s planned attack on a village of Sioux and Cheyenne they believed were camping on the nearby Little Big Horn River.

On June 28, Captain Grant and several other men were fishing about a mile from the boat when a young Indian on horseback approached. “He wore an exceedingly dejected countenance,” one man later wrote. By signing and drawing on the ground, the Indian managed to convey that there had been a battle but the men did not understand its outcome. In fact, the Indian was Curley, one of Lieutenant Colonel George Custer’s Crow scouts. Three days earlier, he had been the last man to see Custer and his 7th Cavalry battalion before they were wiped out during the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

The following day, Grant received a dispatch from General Terry, who had found Custer’s destroyed battalion and the surviving soldiers of the 7th Cavalry. Terry ordered Grant to prepare to evacuate the wounded soldiers. Slowed by the burden of carrying the wounded men, Terry’s force did not arrive until June 30. Grant immediately received the 54 wounded soldiers and sped downstream as quickly as possible. With the Far West draped in black and flying her flag at half-mast, Grant delivered the wounded to Fort Abraham Lincoln near Bismarck, North Dakota, at 11:00 p.m. on July 5.

The fast and relatively comfortable transport of the wounded by steam power undoubtedly saved numerous lives. Yet, Grant was also the bearer of bad news. From Fort Abraham Lincoln, General Terry’s report of the disaster was telegraphed all over the country. Soon the entire nation learned that General Custer and more than 200 men had been killed along the Little Big Horn River.