1792 – Two dozen merchants and brokers established the New York Stock Exchange. In good weather they operated under a buttonwood tree on Wall Street. In bad weather they moved inside to a coffeehouse to conduct business.
May 17, 1875 – The first Kentucky Derby horse race took place at Churchill Downs in Louisville.
May 17, 1954 – In Brown v. Board of Education, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that segregation of public schools “solely on the basis of race” denies black children “equal educational opportunity” even though “physical facilities and other ‘tangible’ factors may have been equal. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” Thurgood Marshall had argued the case before the Court. He went to become the first African American appointed to the Supreme Court.
1980 – Mount St. Helens volcano erupted in southwestern Washington State spewing steam and ash over 11 miles into the sky. This was the first major eruption since 1857.
1998 – In one of the biggest antitrust lawsuits of the 20th century, American software giant Microsoft Corporation was sued by the U.S. Federal government and 20 state governments charging the company with using unfair tactics to crush competition and restrict choices for consumers. The lawsuits alleged Microsoft used illegal practices to deny personal computer owners the benefits of a free and competitive market and also alleged Microsoft extended its monopoly on operating systems to “develop a chokehold” on the Internet browser software market.
Birthday – Hollywood director Frank Capra (1897-1991) was born in Palermo, Sicily. His quintessential American films were affectionate portrayals of the common man and examined the strengths and foibles of American democracy. Best known for It’s a Wonderful Life (1946), Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), It Happened One Night (1934) and You Can’t Take It with You (1938).
Birthday – Pope John Paul II (1920-2005) was born (as Karol Wojtyla) in Wadowice, Poland. In 1978, he became 264th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church, the first non-Italian elected in 456 years and the first Polish Pope.
1943 – During World War II in Europe, Royal Air Force bombers successfully attacked dams in the German Ruhr Valley using innovative ball-shaped bouncing bombs that skipped along the water and exploded against the dams. The dams had provided drinking water for 4 million persons and supplied 75% of the electrical power for industry in the area.
Birthday – Black nationalist and civil rights activist Malcolm X (1925-1965) was born in Omaha, Nebraska (as Malcolm Little). While in prison he adopted the Islamic religion and after his release in 1952, changed his name to Malcolm X and worked for the Nation of Islam. He later made a pilgrimage to Mecca and became an orthodox Muslim. He was assassinated while addressing a meeting in the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem on February 21, 1965.
Birthday – African American playwright Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965) was born in Chicago, Illinois. She is best known for A Raisin in the Sun (1959) a play dealing with prejudice and black pride. The play was the first stage production written by a black woman to appear on Broadway. She died of cancer at the age of 34. A book of her writings entitled To Be Young, Gifted, and Black was published posthumously.
May 20, 325 A.D. – The Council of Nicaea, the first ecumenical council of Catholic Church was called by Constantine I, first Christian Emperor of the Roman Empire. With nearly 300 bishops in attendance at Nicaea in Asia Minor, the council condemned Arianism which denied Christ’s divinity, formulated the Nicene Creed and fixed the date of Easter.
May 20, 1862 – President Abraham Lincoln signed the Homestead Act opening millions of acres of government owned land in the West to “homesteaders” who could acquire up to 160 acres by living on the land and cultivating it for five years, paying just $1.25 per acre.
May 20, 1927 – Charles Lindbergh, a 25-year-old aviator, took off at 7:52 a.m. from Roosevelt Field, Long Island, in the Spirit of St. Louis attempting to win a $25,000 prize for the first solo nonstop flight between New York City and Paris. Thirty-three hours later, after a 3,600 mile journey, he landed at Le Bourget, Paris, earning the nickname “Lucky Lindy” and becoming an instant worldwide hero.
May 20, 1932 – Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. She departed Newfoundland, Canada, at 7 p.m. and landed near Londonderry, Ireland, completing a 2,026-mile flight in about 13 hours. Five years later, along with her navigator Fred Noonan, she disappeared while trying to fly her twin-engine plane around the equator.
May 21, 1881 – The American Red Cross was founded by Clara Barton. The organization today provides volunteer disaster relief in the U.S. and abroad. Community services include collecting and distributing donated blood, and teaching health and safety classes.
May 21, 1991 – Former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in the midst of a re-election campaign, killed by a bomb hidden in a bouquet of flowers. He had served as prime minister from 1984 to 1989, succeeding his mother, Indira Gandhi, who was assassinated in 1984.
May 22, 1972 – President Richard Nixon became the first American president to visit Moscow. Four days later, Nixon and Soviet Russia’s leader Leonid Brezhnev signed a pact pledging to freeze nuclear arsenals at current levels.
May 22, 1947 – Congress approved the Truman Doctrine, assuring U.S. support for Greece and Turkey to prevent the spread of Communism.
Birthday – Laurence Olivier (1907-1989) was born in Dorking, England. Considered one of the most influential actors of the 20th Century, he was honored with nine Academy Award nominations, three Oscars, five Emmy awards, and a host of other awards. His repertoire included most of the major Shakespearean roles, and films such as The Entertainer, Rebecca, Pride and Prejudice, The Boys from Brazil, Marathon Man and Wuthering Heights. He was knighted in 1947 and made a peer of the throne in 1970.
Birthday – The first American female attorney Arabella Mansfield (1846-1911) was born near Burlington, Iowa (as Belle Aurelia Babb). She was certified in 1869 as an attorney and admitted to the Iowa bar, but never practiced law. Instead she chose a career as a college educator and administrator. She was also instrumental in the founding of the Iowa Suffrage Society in 1870.
1844 – Telegraph inventor Samuel Morse sent the first official telegraph message, “What hath God wrought?” from the Capitol building in Washington, D.C., to Baltimore.
May 24, 1881 – A boating disaster occurred in Canada when Victoria, a small, double-decked stern-wheeler carrying over 600 passengers on the Thames River keeled over then sank, killing 182 persons.
1787 – The Constitutional Convention began in Philadelphia with delegates from seven states forming a quorum.
May 25, 1994 – After 20 years in exile, Russian author Alexander Solzhenitsyn returned to his homeland. He had been expelled from Soviet Russia in 1974 after his three-volume work exposing the Soviet prison camp system, The Gulag Archipelago, was published in the West.
Birthday – American author and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) was born in Boston, Massachusetts. His works include: Nature (1836), Essays, First Series (1841), Essays, Second Series (1844), Poems (1847, 1865), Representative Men (1850), English Traits (1856), The Conduct of Life (1860), and Society and Solitude (1870).
1940 – The Dunkirk evacuation began in order to save the British Expeditionary Force trapped by advancing German armies on the northern coast of France. Boats and vessels of all shapes and sizes ferried 200,000 British and 140,000 French and Belgian soldiers across the English Channel by June 2nd.
*Birthday – Interpretive dancer Isadora Duncan (1878-1927) was born in San Francisco. She revolutionized the entire concept of dance by developing a free-form style and rebelled against tradition, performing barefoot in a loose fitting tunic. She experienced worldwide acclaim as well as personal tragedy. Her two children drowned, her marriage failed, and she met a bizarre death in 1927 when a scarf she was wearing caught in the wheel of the open car in which she was riding, strangling her.
1937 – In San Francisco, 200,000 people celebrated the grand opening of the Golden Gate Bridge by strolling across it.
Birthday – Legendary Wild West figure Wild Bill Hickok (1837-1876) was born in Troy Grove, Illinois. He was a frontiersman, lawman, legendary marksman, army scout and gambler. On August 2, 1876, he was shot dead during a poker game by a drunk in the Number Ten saloon in Deadwood, in the Dakota Territory. In his hand he held a pair of eights and a pair of aces which became known as the ‘dead man’s hand.’
1961 – Amnesty International was founded by London lawyer Peter Berenson. He read about the arrest of a group of students in Portugal then launched a one-year campaign to free them called Appeal for Amnesty. Today Amnesty International has over a million members in 150 countries working to free prisoners of conscience, stop torture and the death penalty, and guarantee human rights for women.
Birthday – All-around athlete Jim Thorpe (1888-1953) was born near Prague, Oklahoma. He won the pentathlon and decathlon events at the 1912 Olympic Games and also played professional baseball and football.
1453 – The city of Constantinople was captured by the Turks, who renamed it Istanbul. This marked the end of the Byzantine Empire as Istanbul became the capital of the Ottoman Empire.
May 29, 1660 – The English monarchy was restored with Charles II on the throne after several years of a Commonwealth under Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell.
May 29, 1787 – At the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia the Virginia Plan was proposed calling for a new government consisting of a legislature with two houses, an executive chosen by the legislature and a judicial branch.
May 29, 1865 – Following the American Civil War, President Andrew Johnson issued a proclamation granting general amnesty to Confederates. The amnesty excluded high ranking Confederates and large property owners, who had to apply individually to the President for a pardon. Following an oath of allegiance, all former property rights, except slaves, were returned to the former owners.
Birthday – American revolutionary leader Patrick Henry (1736-1799) was born in Studley, Virginia. He is best remembered for his speech in 1775 declaring: “I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death.”
Birthday – John Fitzgerald Kennedy (1917-1963) the 35th U.S. President was born in Brookline, Massachusetts. He was the youngest man ever elected to the presidency and the first Roman Catholic. He was assassinated in Dallas, November 22, 1963, the fourth President to killed by an assassin.
May 30, 1922 – The Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., was dedicated. The Memorial was designed by architect Henry Bacon and features a compelling statue of “Seated Lincoln” by sculptor Daniel Chester French.
May 30, 1943 – During World War II in the Pacific, the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska were retaken by the U.S. 7th Infantry Division. The battle began on May 12 when an American force of 11,000 landed on Attu. In three weeks of fighting U.S. casualties numbered 552 killed and 1,140 wounded. Japanese killed numbered 2,352, with only 28 taken prisoner, as 500 chose suicide rather than be captured.
1862 – During the American Civil War, the Battle of Seven Pines occurred as Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston’s Army attacked Union General George McClellan’s troops in front of Richmond Virginia and nearly defeated them. Johnston was badly wounded. Confederate General Robert E. Lee then assumed command, replacing the wounded Johnston. Lee renamed his force the Army of Northern Virginia.
May 31, 1889 – Over 2,300 persons were killed in the Johnstown flood in Pennsylvania. Heavy rains throughout May caused the Connemaugh River Dam to burst sending a wall of water 75 feet high pouring down upon the city.
Birthday – American poet Walt Whitman (1819-1892) was born in Long Island, New York. His poem Leaves of Grass is considered an American classic. His poetry celebrated modern life and took on subjects considered taboo at the time.
(Photo and picture credits: Library of Congress and U.S. National Archives)
On May 17, 1954, Supreme Court under Chief Justice Earl Warren rendered a unanimous, landmark decision (9-0) declaring that state laws establishing separate public schools for black and white students and denying black children equal educational opportunities unconstitutional. The Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka ruling overturned previous “separate but equal” rulings, including the 1896 decision, Plessy v. Ferguson. In effect, separation by race de jure (by law) violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.
In 1951, thirteen Topeka parents filed the class action lawsuit on behalf of their 20 children in the United States District Court for the district of Kansas. Leaders of the Topeka NAACP recruited the plaintiffs with Oliver Brown as the named plaintiff in the suit. The contention was that the state of Kansas, essentially, did not comply with separate but equal facilities for black and white children. Oliver Brown’s daughter, Linda, had to walk 6 blocks to catch a school bus that took her to the black elementary school 1 mile from their neighborhood, while a white elementary school was only seven blocks from the Browns’ home. Brown tried to register Linda at the school but was rejected. The Brown lawsuit was presented before the Supreme Court on appeal along with other suits representing plaintiffs in Washington, D. C., Virginia, South Carolina and Delaware.
The plaintiffs by name are as follows: Oliver Brown, Darlene Brown, Lena Carper, Sadie Emmanuel, Marguerite Emerson, Shirley Fleming, Zelma Henderson, Shirley Hodison, Maude Lawton, Alma Lewis, Iona Richardson, and Lucinda Todd.
Chief counsel for the NAACP, Thurgood Marshall, argued the case before the Supreme Court.