All posts by sleuthboss

“Men in Black” premieres in theaters

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/men-in-black-premieres

On July 2, 1997, the science fiction-comedy movie Men in Black, starring Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, opens in theaters around the United States. The film grossed more than $250 million in America alone and helped establish the former sitcom star Will Smith as one of Hollywood’s most bankable leading men. Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld (Get Shorty), Men in Black was based on an early 1990s comic book by Lowell Cunningham called The Men in Black. Smith and Jones reprised their roles as Agent J and Agent K, two secret agents who must protect the Earth from aliens, in the sequels Men in Black II (2002) and Men in Black III (2012). (Neither appeared in the 2019 spin-off Men in Black: International.) 

Born September 25, 1968, in West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Smith formed the rap group D.J. Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince with his friend Jeffrey Townes when they were teenagers. Radio-friendly hits like “Parents Just Don’t Understand” and “Summertime” propelled the duo to success, and in 1988, they won the first-ever Grammy Award for rap music. Smith would go on to a successful solo career, scoring No. 1 hits with the theme song from Men in Black as well as the smash hit single “Getting’ Jiggy Wit It.” From 1990 to 1996, Smith starred in the popular TV sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. His early film roles included Six Degrees of Separation (1993) and Bad Boys (1995) with Martin Lawrence. Smith’s first blockbuster movie was 1996’s Independence Day, about a hostile alien invasion. After Men in Black, Smith starred in a string of movies, including Enemy of the State (1998), Wild Wild West (1999), Bad Boys II (2003), I, Robot (2004), Hitch (2005), I Am Legend (2007) Hancock (2008), Suicide Squad (2016) and Aladdin (2019). Though they met with varying degrees of success, these films showcased Smith’s talents as a buff action star with great comedic timing.

In addition, Smith has made several successful forays into serious drama, receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for 2001’s Ali, about boxer Muhammad Ali. The actor nabbed a second Oscar nomination for his star turn in 2007’s The Pursuit of Happyness, which was based on the true story of the homeless salesman-turned-stockbroker Chris Gardner. The film co-starred Smith’s son Jaden. Smith and his wife, the actress Jada Pinkett Smith, married in 1997 and have two children, Jaden and Willow (Smith has another son, Trey, from a previous marriage). Pinkett Smith’s film credits include The Nutty Professor (1996), The Matrix Reloaded (2003), Collateral (2004), The Women (2008) and Girls Trip (2017). 

Stephen Hawking breaks British bestseller records

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/stephen-hawking-breaks-british-bestseller-records

Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking breaks British publishing records on July 2, 1992 when his book A Brief History of Time remains on the nonfiction bestseller list for three and a half years, selling more than 3 million copies in 22 languages.

A Brief History of Time explained the latest theories on the origins of the universe in language accessible to educated lay people. The book was made into an acclaimed documentary in 1992, which focused largely on Hawking’s own story. Diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease in his 20s, Hawking was told he had only two years to live. Despite the sobering prognosis, Hawking pursued his studies in theoretical physics, married, and had a son. Eventually, his disease left him paralyzed except for his left hand. He was able to speak, although his speech was difficult to understand, until he underwent a tracheotomy in 1985 during a bout with pneumonia. Afterward, he relied on a mouse-controlled voice synthesizer, which improved the clarity of his speech. His familiar, synthesized voice can be heard in the Brief History of Time documentary, a popular Pink Floyd song and an episode of The Simpsons.

A recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and numerous other honors, Hawking wrote several additional popular science books, including Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays (1993) and The Grand Design (2010), which he cowrote with fellow physicist Leonard Mlodinow. He was known for his scientific contributions to cosmology and quantum gravity and was affiliated with the University of Cambridge and the California Institute of Technology, among other institutions. He died on March 14, 2018, in Cambridge, England. 

Chief Tecumseh urges Native Americans to unite against white settlers

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/chief-tecumseh-urges-indians-to-unite-against-whites

Alarmed by the growing encroachment of whites settlers squatting on Native American lands, the Shawnee Chief Tecumseh calls on all Native peoples to unite and resist.

Born around 1768 near Springfield, Ohio, Tecumseh won early notice as a brave warrior. He fought in battles between the Shawnee and the white Kentuckians, who were invading the Ohio River Valley territory. After the Americans won several important battles in the mid-1790s, Tecumseh reluctantly relocated westward but remained an implacable foe of the white men and their ways.

By the early 19th century, many Shawnee and other Ohio Valley tribes were becoming increasingly dependent on trading with the Americans for guns, cloth, and metal goods. Tecumseh spoke out against such dependence and called for a return to traditional Native American ways. He was even more alarmed by the continuing encroachment of white settlers illegally settling on the already diminished government-recognized land holdings of the Shawnee and other tribes. The American government, however, was reluctant to take action against its own citizens to protect the rights of the Ohio Valley Indians.

READ MORE: Native American History Timeline 

On this day in 1809, Tecumseh began a concerted campaign to persuade the tribes of the Old Northwest and Deep South to unite and resist. Together, Tecumseh argued, the various tribes had enough strength to stop the whites from taking further land. Heartened by this message of hope, Native Americans from as far away as Florida and Minnesota heeded Tecumseh’s call. By 1810, he had organized the Ohio Valley Confederacy, which united Native peoples from the Shawnee, Potawatomi, Kickapoo, Winnebago, Menominee, Ottawa and Wyandot nations.

For several years, Tecumseh’s Indian Confederacy successfully delayed further white settlement in the region. In 1811, however, the future president William Henry Harrison led an attack on the confederacy’s base on the Tippecanoe River. At the time, Tecumseh was in the South attempting to convince more tribes to join his movement. Although the battle of Tippecanoe was close, Harrison finally won out and destroyed much of Tecumseh’s army.

When the War of 1812 began the following year, Tecumseh immediately marshaled what remained of his army to aid the British. Commissioned a brigadier general, he proved an effective ally and played a key role in the British capture of Detroit and other battles. When the tide of war turned in the American favor, Tecumseh’s fortunes went down with those of the British. On October 5, 1813, he was killed during Battle of the Thames. His Ohio Valley Confederacy and vision of Native American unity died with him.

READ MORE: 20 Rare Photos of Native American Life at the Turn of the Century

Greece declares war on Central Powers

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/greece-declares-war-on-central-powers

On July 2, 1917, several weeks after King Constantine I abdicates his throne in Athens under pressure from the Allies, Greece declares war on the Central Powers, ending three years of neutrality by entering World War I alongside Britain, France, Russia and Italy.

Constantine, educated in Germany and married to a sister of Kaiser Wilhelm II, was naturally sympathetic to the Germans when World War I broke out in the summer of 1914, refusing to honor Greece’s obligation to support Serbia, its ally during the two Balkan Wars in 1912-13. Despite pressure from his own pro-Allied government, including Prime Minister Eleutherios Venizelos, and British and French promises of territorial gains in Turkey, Constantine maintained Greece’s neutrality for the first three years of the war, although he did allow British and French forces to disembark at Salonika in late 1914 in a plan to aid Serbia against Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian forces.

By the end of 1915, with Allied operations bogged down in Salonika and failing spectacularly in the Dardanelles, Constantine was even less inclined to support the Entente, believing Germany clearly had the upper hand in the war. He dismissed Venizelos in October 1915, substituting him with a series of premiers who basically served as royal puppets. Meanwhile, civil war threatened in Greece, as Constantine desperately sought promises of naval, military and financial assistance from Germany, which he did not receive. After losing their patience with Constantine, the Allies finally sent an ultimatum demanding his abdication on June 11, 1917; the same day, British forces blockaded Greece and the French landed their troops at Piraeus, on the Isthmus of Corinth, in blatant disregard of Greek neutrality. The following day, Constantine abdicated in favor of his second son, Alexander.

On June 26, Alexander reinstated Venizelos, who returned from exile in Crete, where he had established a provisional Greek government with Allied support. With a pro-Allied prime minister firmly in place, Greece moved to the brink of entering World War I. On July 1, Alexander Kerensky, the Russian commander in chief and leader of the provisional Russian government after the fall of Czar Nicholas II the previous March, ordered a major offensive on the Eastern Front, despite the turmoil within Russia and the exhausted state of Kerensky’s army. The offensive would end in disastrous losses for the Russians, but at the time it seemed like a fortuitous turn of events for the Allies, in that it would help to sap German resources. The following day, Greece declared war on the Central Powers.

The new king, Alexander, stated the case for war dramatically in his official coronation address on August 4: “Greece has to defend her territory against barbarous aggressors. But if in the trials of the past Greece has been able, thanks to the civilizing strength of the morale of the race, to have overcome the conquerors and to rise free amidst the ruins, today it is quite a different matter. The present cataclysm will decide the definite fate of Hellenism, which, if lost, will never be restored.” Over the next 18 months, some 5,000 Greek soldiers would die on the battlefields of World War I.

The Battle of El Alamein begins

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-battle-of-el-alamein-begins

On July 1, 1942, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel is brought to a standstill in the battle for control of North Africa. The First Battle of El Alamein begins. 

In June, the British had succeeded in driving Rommel into a defensive position in Libya. But Rommel repelled repeated air and tank attacks, delivering heavy losses to the armored strength of the British, and finally, using his panzer divisions, managed to force a British retreat—a retreat so rapid that a huge quantity of supplies was left behind. In fact, Rommel managed to push the British into Egypt using mostly captured vehicles.

Rommel’s Afrika Korps was now in Egypt, in El Alamein, only 60 miles west of the British naval base in Alexandria. The Axis powers smelled blood. The Italian troops that had preceded Rommel’s German forces in North Africa, only to be beaten back by the British, then saved from complete defeat by the arrival of Rommel, were now back on the winning side, their dwindled numbers having fought alongside the Afrika Korps. Naturally, Benito Mussolini saw this as his opportunity to partake of the victors’ spoils. And Hitler anticipated adding Egypt to his empire.

But the Allies were not finished. Reinforced by American supplies, and reorganized and reinvigorated by British General Bernard Montgomery, British, Indian, South African and New Zealand troops battled Rommel, and his by now exhausted men, to a standstill in Egypt. Montgomery denied the Axis Egypt. Rommel was back on the defensive—a definite turning point in the war in North Africa.

Last Ford Thunderbird produced

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/last-ford-thunderbird-produced

The last Thunderbird, Ford Motor Company’s iconic sports car, emerges from a Ford factory in Wixom, Michigan on July 1, 2005.

Ford began its development of the Thunderbird in the years following World War II, during which American servicemen had the opportunity to observe sleek European sports cars. General Motors built the first American sports car: the Chevrolet Corvette, released in 1953. The undeniably sleek Corvette’s initial engine performance was relatively underwhelming, but it was gaining lots of attention from the press and public, and Ford was motivated to respond, rushing the Thunderbird to the market in 1955. The 1955 Thunderbird was an immediate hit, selling more than 14,000 that year (compared to just 700 Corvettes). The success of the Thunderbird led Chevrolet to continue production of (and improve upon) the Corvette, which soon became a tough competitor in the sports car market.

In addition to the powerful V-8 engine that Ford was known for, the Thunderbird boasted all the conveniences consumers had become accustomed to, including a removable hard convertible top, soundproofing and the accessories standard to most Ford cars. In 1958, to satisfy critics who thought the T-Bird was too small, Ford released a four-seater version with a roomier trunk and bucket seats. The Beach Boys elevated the Thunderbird to pop- culture-icon status in 1964 by including it in the lyrics of their hit single “Fun Fun Fun” (“she’ll have fun, fun, fun ’til her daddy takes the T-Bird away”). By that time, President John F. Kennedy had already included 50 Thunderbirds in his inaugural procession in 1961, and a T-Bird would also feature prominently in the 1973 film “American Graffiti.”

Thunderbird sales slowed during the 1990s, and Ford discontinued the Thunderbird in 1997. In 2002, however, in an attempt to capitalize on car buyers’ nostalgia, the company launched production of a retro T-Bird, a two-seater convertible that took some of its styling from the original classic. The luxury retailer Neiman Marcus offered an early special edition version in their 2000 Christmas catalog, priced at just under $42,000; their stock of 200 sold out in two hours and 15 minutes. Despite brisk early sales and good reviews, sales of the new Thunderbird couldn’t justify continued production, and Ford discontinued it again in mid-2005.

READ MORE: The Cars That Made America

The Battle of Gettysburg begins

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-battle-of-gettysburg-begins

One of the largest military conflicts in North American history begins on July 1, 1863, when Union and Confederate forces collide at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. The epic battle lasted three days and resulted in a retreat to Virginia by Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia.

Two months prior to Gettysburg, Lee had dealt a stunning defeat to the Army of the Potomac at Chancellorsville, Virginia. He then made plans for a Northern invasion in order to relieve pressure on war-weary Virginia and to seize the initiative from the Yankees. His army, numbering about 80,000, began moving on June 3. The Army of the Potomac, commanded by Joseph Hooker and numbering just under 100,000, began moving shortly thereafter, staying between Lee and Washington, D.C. But on June 28, frustrated by the Lincoln administration’s restrictions on his autonomy as commander, Hooker resigned and was replaced by George G. Meade.

READ MORE: How the Battle of Gettysburg Turned the Tide of the Civil War

Meade took command of the Army of the Potomac as Lee’s army moved into Pennsylvania. On the morning of July 1, advance units of the forces came into contact with one another just outside of Gettysburg. The sound of battle attracted other units, and by noon the conflict was raging. During the first hours of battle, Union General John Reynolds was killed, and the Yankees found that they were outnumbered. The battle lines ran around the northwestern rim of Gettysburg. The Confederates applied pressure all along the Union front, and they slowly drove the Yankees through the town.

By evening, the Federal troops rallied on high ground on the southeastern edge of Gettysburg. As more troops arrived, Meade’s army formed a three-mile long, fishhook-shaped line running from Culp’s Hill on the right flank, along Cemetery Hill and Cemetery Ridge, to the base of Little Round Top. The Confederates held Gettysburg, and stretched along a six-mile arc around the Union position. Lee’s forces would continue to batter each end of the Union position, before launching the infamous Pickett’s Charge against the Union center on July 3.

“Mr. X” article on Soviet Union appears in Foreign Affairs

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/mr-x-article-appears-in-foreign-affairs

State Department official George Kennan, using the pseudonym “Mr. X,” publishes an article entitled “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” in the July edition of Foreign Affairs. The article focused on Kennan’s call for a policy of containment toward the Soviet Union and established the foundation for much of America’s early Cold War foreign policy.

In February 1946, Kennan, then serving as the U.S. charge d’affaires in Moscow, wrote his famous “long telegram” to the Department of State. In the missive, he condemned the communist leadership of the Soviet Union and called on the United States to forcefully resist Russian expansion. Encouraged by friends and colleagues, Kennan refined the telegram into an article, “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” and secured its publication in the July edition of Foreign Affairs. Kennan signed the article “Mr. X” to avoid any charge that he was presenting official U.S. government policy, but nearly everyone in the Department of State and White House recognized the piece as Kennan’s work. In the article, Kennan explained that the Soviet Union’s leaders were determined to spread the communist doctrine around the world, but were also extremely patient and pragmatic in pursuing such expansion.

In the “face of superior force,” Kennan said, the Russians would retreat and wait for a more propitious moment. The West, however, should not be lulled into complacency by temporary Soviet setbacks. Soviet foreign policy, Kennan claimed, “is a fluid stream which moves constantly, wherever it is permitted to move, toward a given goal.” In terms of U.S. foreign policy, Kennan’s advice was clear: “The main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union must be that of a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies.”

Kennan’s article created a sensation in the United States, and the term “containment” instantly entered the Cold War lexicon. The administration of President Harry S. Truman embraced Kennan’s philosophy, and in the next few years attempted to “contain” Soviet expansion through a variety of programs, including the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949. Kennan’s star rose quickly in the Department of State and in 1952 he was named U.S. ambassador to Russia. By the 1960s, with the United States hopelessly mired in the Vietnam War, Kennan began to question some of his own basic assumptions in the “Mr. X” article and became a vocal critic of U.S. involvement in Vietnam. In particular, he criticized U.S. policymakers during the 1950s and 1960s for putting too much emphasis on the military containment of the Soviet Union, rather than on political and economic programs.

READ MORE: Cold War: Definition and Timeline

Kobe Bryant accuser goes to police

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/kobe-bryant-accuser-goes-to-police

A female employee at a Colorado resort goes to police to file sexual misconduct charges against basketball star Kobe Bryant on July 1, 2003. A few days later, an arrest warrant was issued for Bryant, and the ensuing case generated a media frenzy.

On the night of June 30, 2003, Bryant checked into the Lodge and Spa in Cordillera, located in Edwards, Colorado, near Vail. The 24-year-old Los Angeles Lakers guard was scheduled to have knee surgery the following day. A 19-year-old employee at the resort agreed to show Bryant around and he later invited her to his room. The two reportedly flirted and kissed; however, the accuser claimed that when she decided to leave, Bryant became upset and sexually assaulted her. The following day, July 1, she went to the police to file a complaint. Bryant was questioned by the authorities and provided a DNA sample. On July 3, an arrest warrant was issued for the basketball phenom, who the next day turned himself in to authorities in Eagle County, Colorado, and was released on $25,000 bail. On July 18, with his wife by his side, Bryant held a news conference in which he admitted to having sex with the accuser but maintained it was consensual.

Bryant, who was drafted into the NBA after high school in 1996, went on to play for the Lakers during the 2003-2004 season, but faced intense scrutiny and lost many of his endorsement deals as a result of the rape case. The accuser, whose identity was mistakenly made public as a result of court clerical errors, endured media speculation about her personal life and received death threats.

On September 1, 2004, after jury selection had begun, the district attorney dropped the rape charge against Bryant because the accuser decided not to testify or participate in the trial. In early March 2005, Bryant and the accuser settled her civil lawsuit against him for an undisclosed sum. 

Bryant died in a helicopter crash in January 2020. He was 41 years old.