Milestones: Tuesday, July 18, 2023
NADIA’S THEME — OLYMPIC HISTORY was made July 18, 1976, when Romanian gymnast Nadia Comăneci, competing at the Montreal Olympics, scored the first PERFECT SCORE, a “10” on the compulsory exercise on the uneven bars, one of four events in women’s gymnastics. (The other three are balance beam, vaulting, and floor exercise.) As the scoreboard had not been calibrated to reach “10”, it read “1.00.” The focused Comăneci, with her grace and joie de vivre, then scored six more perfect 10s, three of them on the balance beam. Comăneci won five medals at the 1976 Olympics, including gold for all-around performance, the uneven bars and the balance beam.
Two years earlier, the Associated Press named her “Athlete of the Year.” Comăneci wound up having to flee Romania in 1989 right before the Romanian Revolution, and now resides in the United States doing advocacy work.
DERAILED A PRESIDENTIAL RUN — Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts on July 18, 1969 accidentally drove off a bridge at Chappaquiddick Island. Although Kennedy was able to swim to safety, he reportedly did not try to rescue his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, a campaign worker, and he also waited more than 10 hours to even report the accident. Even more tragically for Kopechne, the cookout party that she and Kennedy had attended earlier that day was a reunion for her and five others who were part of Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign before his assassination that year. On July 25, Kennedy pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident, received a two-month suspended sentence, and had his driver license suspended for a year.
The scandal cost him any lead in the Democratic Presidential campaign for 1972. However, when he asked his constituents to help him decide whether to stay in politics, their response led him to serve as a Senator for four more decades. When he died, still in office, on August 25, 2009, Kennedy had been a Senator for 47 years.
FIRST AMERICAN ASTRONAUT IN ORBIT — JOHN GLENN, born July 18, 1921 at Cambridge, Ohio became both the first American to orbit the earth, aboard the Mercury 7, and then the first astronaut elected to Congress, when he won a Senate seat in 1974. Glenn, who had flown more than 149 missions in both World War II and the Korean War, earned the Distinguished Flying Cross six times. After his 1959 space mission aboard the Mercury 7, he returned home a hero, having helped the U.S. return to a lead role in the space program. Decades later, at age 77, Glenn had the opportunity to fly on Space Shuttle Discovery’s STS-95 nine-day mission, making him the oldest person to enter Earth orbit, and the only astronaut to fly in both the Mercury and the Space Shuttle programs. Before his death in December 2016, Glenn had been the oldest surviving member of the Mercury 7.
John Glenn, who served in the U.S. Senate for 25 years, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012.
SYMBOL OF HOPE — NELSON MANDELA, born July 18, 1918, was the son of a Tembu tribal chieftain in Mvezo in the Eastern Cape province of South Africa. His fight against apartheid – the societal separation of blacks from the ruling white class — led to his conviction on charges of sabotage. After being imprisoned for 28 years, Mandela was a symbol of hope for South Africa’s people of color. Civil rights activists persisted in calls for Mandela’s release, which finally happened on Feb. 11, 1990. Three years later Mandela was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize and the following year, in 1994, in South Africa’s first integrated election, Mandela was elected president of South Africa. Nelson Mandela Day was set up on his birthday as a global call to change the world for the better.
The Rev. Herbert Daughtry and his grandson, Lorenzo Daughtry-Chambers, religious and educational leaders in Brooklyn, were among those attending Mr. Mandela’s funeral. They presented a talk on their experiences at the service.
PARTS OF 1792 LAW REINSTATED — President Harry S. Truman on July 18, 1947 signed an executive order amending the line of succession in the event the U.S. President died in office or was temporarily incapacitated. Just two years prior, Truman himself had become President upon the death of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was just a couple of months into his unprecedented fourth term when he died of natural causes in April 1945. Truman’s executive order amended an 1886 revision by restoring the Speaker of the House and the president pro tempore of the Senate, the latter of whom presides over the Senate in the absence of the vice president (The president pro tempore is by tradition the longest-continuously serving Senator of the majority party.) However, Truman, partly because he was close friends with then-Speaker Sam Rayburn, raised the Speakership in priority. This line of succession became the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, which was ratified Feb. 10, 1967.
Two years after the 9/11 attacks, Congress again debated amending the line of succession, questioning in particular the wisdom of the House Speaker and President Pro Tempore, arguing that it would be wiser for cabinet members to be prioritized.
THREE DIFFERENT DEATH DATES? — JOHN RUTLEDGE, the elder brother of Founding Father Edward Rutledge who, at age 26 had been the youngest signer of the Declaration of Independence, died on July 18, 1800. Both John and Edward served in the Second Continental Congress during the American Revolution. Afterward, John was appointed an associate justice on the newly-formed Supreme Court and was nominated to be the second chief justice to succeed John Jay. Indeed, John Rutledge did serve as acting chief justice but his confirmation was denied because of his opposition to the Jay Treaty (the one that John Jay brokered with Great Britain in 1794, resolving issues from the war and re-establishing friendship between the two nations). However, in the U.S., the Jay Treaty proved rancorous and divisive; and it particularly angered France, which had provided money and fought alongside the colonies. The Jay Treaty also made enemies of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, the latter wanting to maintain the alliance with France.
According to some historical archives, including from the Supreme Court Historical Society, John Rutledge died on July 18, 1800. Other sources give June 21, 1800 as his death date. A third source, the Mount Pleasant, South Carolina web page, gives July 23 of that year as the death date and makes it clear that the bio pertains to the same John Rutledge, not his father or son. North America switched from the old Julian Calendar to the new Gregorian calendar in 1752, the adjustments might account for these discrepancies.
BLUEPRINT FOR WORLD DOMINATION — Volume One of Adolf Hitler’s philosophical autobiography, “Mein Kampf,” was published on July 18, 1925. Written while he was serving a prison sentence for his role in the Beer Hall Putsch, the failed Nazi coup of Bavaria, became a blueprint of his agenda for a Third Reich and a clear presaging of the nightmare that fell over Europe from 1939 to 1945. Translated as “My Struggle,” “Mein Kampf” gives a view into Hitler’s mental processes for becoming antisemitic, and that first volume Kampf sold a total of 9,473 copies in its first year. There are historical records showing that Hitler asked his lawyer to “investigate” rumors of Jewish ancestry, particularly from a grandfather who had been born illegitimate. The question has arisen again, since the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, whether “Mein Kampf” could still be considered a dangerous book.
Although Hitler was sentenced to five years, he would wind up serving just nine months, and his imprisonment within the old Landsberg fortress hardly matched the brutal and cruel conditions that he inflicted on those whom he sent to the concentration camps: He was allowed guests, gifts and celebrity status.
FUTURE PRESIDENT’S BOOK — Exactly seven decades after “Mein Kampf,” on July 18, 1995, another groundbreaking book was published, this one by a little-known law professor in Chicago by the name of Barack Obama. (At the time, he would be reaching his 34th birthday in three weeks.) Titled “Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance,” the book unfolds “a boy’s search for his father, and through that a search for a workable meaning for his life as a Black American,” as he writes in the introduction. Obama also covers his youth in Hawaii (which had already become a state the year before his birth), his upbringing by white grandparents and his visit to Kenya to visit his late father’s relatives. The book also covers his experiences after college as a community organizer.
Barack Obama later was elected to the Senate from Illinois, and in the groundbreaking 2008 election, as the first Black President of the United States. Since “Dreams from My Father,” Obama has written other books, including The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream” (2006); “Of Thee I Sing, Letters to My Daughters” (published in 2010 during his first term as President; and “A Promised Land,” which was a deeply personal account of history and was released following the 2020 Presidential Election.
See previous milestones, here.
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