Radio host Don Imus makes offensive remarks about Rutgers' women's basketball team

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/don-imus-offensive-remarks-rutgers-womens-basketball-team

On April 4, 2007, syndicated talk radio host Don Imus ignites a firestorm after making racially disparaging remarks about the Rutgers University women’s basketball team, insulting their appearance and tattoos and, most infamously, calling them “nappy-headed hos.” After a nationwide torrent of criticism, Imus apologized and lost his job but ultimately salvaged his career.

The remarks came during a discussion between Imus, his producer, and a reporter about a game between Rutgers and the University of Tennessee. Activists and journalists began to call for Imus to be fired almost immediately. Imus apologized on his show two days later, calling himself “a good man who did a bad thing,” but numerous sponsors, including General Motors, Staples, and other major companies, pulled their advertising. The Rev. Al Sharpton called for Imus to be “taken off the airwaves,” and Barack Obama, who would become the nation’s first African American president the following January, called Imus’ remarks “divisive, hurtful, and offensive.” MSNBC, which simulcast Imus in the Morning on television, dropped the show on April 11. The following morning, Sharpton and the Rev. Jesse Jackson met with Les Moonves, CEO of CBS, who announced the cancellation of Imus in the Morning that afternoon.

Imus’ defenders—as well as Imus himself—pointed to the frequent use of words like “ho” in rap music as the source of the problem, arguing that Imus was merely using offensive language that was commonplace in the world of hip-hop. Though many commentators decried what they felt was an over-reaction that ruined Imus’ career, Imus was in fact only off the air from April until December. He signed a five-year deal worth $40 million with New York station WABC and returned to the air on December 3. Two years later, Imus in the Morning returned to television, simulcast on Fox Business News. Imus’ career survived the incident, and he retired due to health reasons in 2018.

"Annie Hall" beats out "Star Wars" for Best Picture

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/annie-hall-beats-out-star-wars-for-best-picture

The rise of the action-adventure blockbuster was on the horizon, but on April 3, 1978, the small-scale romantic comedy triumphs over the big-budget space extravaganza. At the 50th annual Academy Awards, held at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, Woody Allen’s Annie Hall won the Oscar for Best Picture, beating out George Lucas’ Star Wars.

Annie Hall was seen as a major turning point for Allen, who made his debut as a triple threat (writer-director-star) with Take the Money and Run (1969) and proved his knack for zany comedy in films like Bananas (1971) and Sleeper (1973). In Annie Hall, Allen blended comedy with the offbeat and thought-provoking musings on love and relationships that had previously been the stuff of his stand-up comedy and written essays.

As the film began, Allen’s Alvy Singer, a New York City comedy writer, ponders the demise of his relationship with the freewheeling singer Annie Hall (Diane Keaton). The film leapt around between New York City and Hollywood along with Alvy’s memories, which include scenes from his childhood, his first meeting with Annie, an ill-fated visit to her family and meetings between the couple when they are both involved with other people. Allen employed unusual cinematic techniques, including split-screen imagery, characters addressing the camera directly, subtitles to explain what the characters are really thinking during a conversation and an animated sequence in which Alvy interacts with the Wicked Queen from Snow White. While the movie originally contained a subplot about a murder, it was completely cut out in the editing, reducing the running time from 140 minutes to a more manageable 95 minutes.

At the time Annie Hall was made and released, Keaton was Allen’s real-life girlfriend. She was born Diane Hall, and the character of the clever but scatterbrained Annie was based loosely on her. Keaton also brought her own fashion sense to the film, and Annie’s effortlessly quirky style, a mix of baggy trousers, hats and oversized jackets, would inspire a wave of imitators. When it was released, Annie Hall grossed some $40 million and was praised by critics as Allen’s best work to date. In addition to Best Picture, the film won Oscars for Allen as Best Director and Best Original Screenplay (with Marshall Brickman) and for Keaton as Best Actress. Allen, who declined to attend the ceremony, received a nomination for Best Actor as well. With his win in the Best Director category, Allen became the first director to win an Oscar for a movie in which he also starred.

ACLU says it will contest obscenity of "Howl"

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/aclu-says-it-will-contest-obscenity-of-howl

The American Civil Liberties Union announces it will defend Allen Ginsberg’s book Howl against obscenity charges.

The U.S. Customs Department had seized some 520 copies of the book several weeks earlier as the book entered the U.S. from England, where it had been printed. Poet Allen Ginsberg had first read the title poem, Howl, at a poetry reading in the fall of 1956 to enormous acclaim from his fellow Beat poets. The poem’s racy language, frank subject matter, and lack of form offended some conservative readers, but to young people in the 1960s, it sounded a call to revolt against convention. Along with Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, the poem served as the reference manual and rallying cry for a new generation. Ginsberg himself coined the term “flower power.”

After the seizing of Howl, American publisher and poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti announced he would publish it in the U.S. After its publication, he was arrested and tried for promoting obscene material. The ACLU successfully defended both Ferlinghetti and the book at Ferlinghetti’s trial, calling on nine literary experts to render an opinion on the book’s merits. Ferlinghetti was found not guilty.

"The Louisiana Hayride" radio program premieres on KWKH-AM Shreveport

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-louisiana-hayride-radio-program-premieres-on-kwkh-am-shreveport

Even the most ardent non-fans of country music can probably name the weekly live show and radio program that is regarded as country music’s biggest stage: the Grand Ole Opry, out of Nashville, Tennessee. Yet even many committed country fans are unfamiliar with a program that, during its 1950s heyday, eclipsed even the Opry in terms of its impact on country music itself. From its premiere on April 3, 1948 to its final weekly show in 1960, The Lousiana Hayride, out of Shreveport, Louisiana, launched the careers not only of several country-music giants, but also of a young, genre-crossing singer named Elvis Presley, the future King of Rock and Roll.

In many ways, The Louisiana Hayride was a straightforward knock-off of the Grand Ole Opry, but with two key differences. While both programs focused on country music and targeted the same geographic area with their 50,000-watt signals, The Louisiana Hayride embraced new artists and new musical innovations that the staunchly traditionalist Grand Ole Opry would never consider. While the Opry would rarely if ever feature a performer who had not yet had a hit record, the Hayride often featured up-and-coming artists who had yet to find an audience. And while the Opry banned the electric guitar, the Hayride embraced the instrument that would help transform one strain of “hillbilly music” into the new, hybrid form called rock and roll.

The Louisiana Hayride was the brainchild of Horace Lee Logan, who first became a radio host on Shreveport’s KWKH-AM in 1932 at the age of 16. Because most of the talented country artists who got their first breaks on the Hayride—Hank Williams, Kitty Wells, Webb Pierce, Faron Young—would eventually move on to Nashville, it was common to hear The Lousiana Hayride referred to as “the Grand Ole Opry’s farm team.” Logan, however, always referred to the Opry as “the Tennessee branch of the Hayride.”

In addition to giving Hank Williams his first wide radio audience in 1949 and then welcoming him back after the Opry fired him for drunkenness in 1952, Logan and The Louisiana Hayride also gave 19-year-old Elvis Presley a crucial break in October 1954. After a lackluster, single-song debut on the Grand Ole Opry failed to garner him a return invitation, Elvis gave a knockout performance of That’s All Right (Mama) and Blue Moon of Kentucky on The Louisiana Hayride that set him on his path toward stardom.

An interesting footnote to the story of The Louisiana Hayride involves the origin of a famous Elvis-related phrase. In gratitude to Horace Logan for the boost he’d provided when Elvis was an unknown back in 1954, Presley gave a return performance on the Hayride in December 1956, at the very peak of his popularity. Midway through the show, thousands of young Elvis fans abandoned their seats after the King’s performance, noisily chasing after him in the wings while the live broadcast continued. It was then that Logan took the microphone and coined a famous phrase: “Please, young people…Elvis has left the building…please take your seats.”

Texas Ranger “Big Foot” Wallace born

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/texas-ranger-big-foot-wallace-born

The legendary Texas Ranger and frontiersman “Big Foot” Wallace is born in Lexington, Virginia.

In 1836, 19-year-old William Alexander Anderson Wallace received news that one of his brothers had been killed in the Battle of Goliad, an early confrontation in the Texan war of independence with Mexico. Pledging to “take pay of the Mexicans” for his brother’s death, Wallace left Lexington and headed for Texas. By the time he arrived, the war was over, but Wallace found he liked the spirited independence of the new Republic of Texas and decided to stay.

Over six feet tall and weighing around 240 pounds, Wallace’s physique made him an intimidating man, and his unusually large feet won him the nickname “Big Foot.” In 1842, he finally had a chance to fight Mexicans and joined with other Texans to repulse an invasion by the Mexican General Adrian Woll. During another skirmish with Mexicans, Wallace was captured and endured two years of hard time in the notoriously brutal Perote Prison in Vera Cruz before finally being released in 1844.

After returning to Texas, Wallace decided to abandon the formal Texan military force for the less rigid organization of the Texas Rangers. Part law-enforcement officers and part soldiers, the Texas Rangers fought both bandits and Indians in the vast, sparsely populated reaches of the Texan frontier. Williams served under Ranger John Coffee Hays until the start of the Civil War in 1861. Opposed to secession but unwilling to fight against his own people, Williams spent most of the war defending Texas against Indian attacks along the frontier.

During his many years in the wilds of Texas, Wallace had hundreds of adventures. Once, Indians attacked Wallace while he was working as a stage driver on the hazardous San Antonio-El Paso route. He escaped with his life but the Indians stole his mules, leaving him stranded in the Texas desert. Forced to walk to El Paso, Wallace later claimed he ate 27 eggs at the first house he encountered after his long journey, then he went into town to have a “real meal.”

In his later years, Wallace decided he had enough of life as a fighter and adventurer. In exchange for his loyal service, the state of Texas granted him land along the Medina River and in Frio County in the southern part of the state. Always happy to regale listeners with highly embellished tales of his frontier days, Wallace became a contemporary folk hero to the people of Texas. As one of his admirers concluded, Wallace was the perfect symbol of “old-timey free days, free ways, and free land.”

Wallace died in 1899 and is buried in the Texas State Cemetery.

Nixon administration vows to "Vietnamize" the war

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/nixon-administration-will-vietnamize-the-war

Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird announces that the United States is moving to “Vietnamize” the war as rapidly as possible. By this, he meant that the responsibility for the fighting would be gradually transferred to the South Vietnamese as they became more combat capable. However, Laird emphasized that it would not serve the United States’ purpose to discuss troop withdrawals while the North Vietnamese continued to conduct offensive operations in South Vietnam. Despite Laird’s protestations to the contrary, Nixon’s “Vietnamization” program, as he would announce it in June, did include a series of scheduled U.S. troop withdrawals, the first of the war.

Also on this date: U.S. military headquarters in Saigon announce that combat deaths for the last week of March have pushed the total number of Americans killed during eight years of U.S. involvement in Vietnam to 33,641. This was 12 more deaths than during the Korean War. By the end of the war, 47,244 Americans had been killed in action in Vietnam. An additional 10,446 died as a result of non-hostile causes like disease and accidents.

READ MORE: Vietnam War: A Timeline 

Pony Express debuts

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/pony-express-debuts

On April 3, 1860, the first Pony Express mail, traveling by horse and rider relay teams, simultaneously leaves St. Joseph, Missouri, and Sacramento, California. Ten days later, on April 13, the westbound rider and mail packet completed the approximately 1,800-mile journey and arrived in Sacramento, beating the eastbound packet’s arrival in St. Joseph by two days and setting a new standard for speedy mail delivery. Although ultimately short-lived and unprofitable, the Pony Express captivated America’s imagination and helped win federal aid for a more economical overland postal system. It also contributed to the economy of the towns on its route and served the mail-service needs of the American West in the days before the telegraph or an efficient transcontinental railroad.

READ MORE: 10 Ways the Transcontinental Railroad Changed America

The Pony Express debuted at a time before radios and telephones, when California, which achieved statehood in 1850, was still largely cut off from the eastern part of the country. Letters sent from New York to the West Coast traveled by ship, which typically took at least a month, or by stagecoach on the recently established Butterfield Express overland route, which could take from three weeks to many months to arrive. Compared to the snail’s pace of the existing delivery methods, the Pony Express’ average delivery time of 10 days seemed like lightning speed.

The Pony Express Company, the brainchild of William H. Russell, William Bradford Waddell and Alexander Majors, owners of a freight business, was set up over 150 relay stations along a pioneer trail across the present-day states of Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, Nevada and California. Riders, who were paid approximately $25 per week and carried loads estimated at up to 20 pounds of mail, were changed every 75 to 100 miles, with horses switched out every 10 to 15 miles. Among the riders was the legendary frontiersman and showman William “Buffalo Bill” Cody (1846-1917), who reportedly signed on with the Pony Express at age 14. The company’s riders set their fastest time with Lincoln’s inaugural address, which was delivered in just less than eight days.

The initial cost of Pony Express delivery was $5 for every half-ounce of mail. The company began as a private enterprise and its owners hoped to gain a profitable delivery contract from the U.S. government, but that never happened. With the advent of the first transcontinental telegraph line in October 1861, the Pony Express ceased operations. However, the legend of the lone Pony Express rider galloping across the Old West frontier to deliver the mail lives on today.

READ MORE: Meet Stagecoach Mary, the Daring Black Pioneer Who Protected Wild West Stagecoaches

Bruno Hauptmann, convicted of kidnapping Lindbergh’s son, executed

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/bruno-hauptmann-executed

Bruno Richard Hauptmann, convicted in the 1932 kidnapping and murder of the 20-month-old son of Charles A. Lindbergh, is executed by electrocution.

On March 1, 1932, Charles Lindbergh Jr., the son of the famous American aviator who made the first solo, nonstop transatlantic flight in 1927, was kidnapped from the nursery of the Lindbergh home in Hopewell, New Jersey. A ransom note was found on the scene of the crime demanding $50,000 in payment for the return of Charles Jr. Three days later, the Lindberghs involved the authorities against the kidnapper’s advice, and the ransom was increased to $70,000. On April 2, at New Jersey’s St. Raymond’s Cemetery, John F. Condon, a friend of the Lindberghs, handed over the $70,000. The Lindbergh baby was not returned, however, and nearly six weeks later the infant’s battered and mostly decomposed body was found in the woods just a few miles from the Lindbergh home. The cause of death was determined to be a massive fracture of the skull occurring roughly two to three months before.

Following the tragic discovery, the Lindbergh kidnapping case became a sensational media event, and authorities launched an extensive manhunt for the guilty party. Using the serial numbers of the ransom money as a guide, investigators in September traced more than $11,000 of the ransom money to the Bronx, New York, apartment of Bruno Richard Hauptmann, a German carpenter. During the subsequent criminal trial, Hauptmann maintained his innocence, claiming that a business partner, Isador Fisch, gave him the money before returning to Germany, where he died in 1934. However, other evidence also implicated him, such as the discovery of Condon’s telephone number on a closet wall in Hauptmann’s home and eyewitness testimony from the night of the kidnapping. In February 1935, Hauptmann was convicted; and on April 3, 1936, after a series of appeals, he was executed by electrocution.

In the years following the kidnapping, a number of people began to question Hauptmann’s guilt and the quality of the criminal investigation; however, much of this criticism was likely motivated by opposition to Lindbergh following the public revelations of his Nazi sympathies.

Mob boss John Gotti convicted of murder

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/mob-boss-john-gotti-convicted-of-murder

A jury in New York finds mobster John Gotti, nicknamed the Teflon Don for his ability to elude conviction, guilty on 13 counts, including murder and racketeering. In the wake of the conviction, the assistant director of the FBI’s New York office, James Fox, was quoted as saying, “The don is covered in Velcro, and every charge stuck.” On June 23 of that year, Gotti was sentenced to life in prison, dealing a significant blow to organized crime.

John Joseph Gotti, Jr., was born in the Bronx, New York, on October 27, 1940. He rose through the ranks of the Gambino crime family and seized power after ordering the December 1985 murder of then-boss Paul Castellano outside a Manhattan steakhouse. Behind closed doors, Gotti was a ruthless, controlling figure. Publicly, he became a tabloid celebrity, famous for his swagger and expensive suits, which earned him another nickname, the Dapper Don.

During the 1980s, Gotti’s lawyer Bruce Cutler won him acquittals three times. A jury member in one of those trials was later convicted of accepting a bribe to acquit the mob boss. In December 1990, Gotti was arrested at the Ravenite Social Club, his headquarters in New York City’s Little Italy neighborhood. The ensuing trial, which started in January 1992, created a media frenzy. Salvatore “Sammy the Bull” Gravano, one of Gotti’s top soldiers, made a deal with the government and testified in court against his boss. Gravano admitted to committing 19 murders, 10 of them sanctioned by Gotti. 

In addition, prosecutors presented secret taped conversations that incriminated Gotti. After deliberating for 13 hours, the jury, which had been kept anonymous and sequestered during the trial, came back with a verdict on April 2, 1992, finding Gotti guilty on all counts. The mob boss was sent to the U.S. Penitentiary at Marion, Illinois, where he was held in virtual solitary confinement. On June 10, 2002, Gotti died of throat cancer at age 61 at a Springfield, Missouri, medical center for federal prisoners.

READ MORE: The Mafia in the United States