Milestones: Monday, August 21, 2023
HAWAII BECOMES 50TH STATE — PRESIDENT Dwight D. Eisenhower on Aug. 21, 1959 signed a proclamation admitting Hawaii (Native spelling: Hawai‘i) into the Union as the 50th state. However, Hawaii’s road to statehood was fraught with a loss of indigenous identity, coups that toppled the monarchy, and a surprise attack from the Japanese that catapulted the United States into World War II. The first known settlers of the Hawaiian Islands were Polynesian voyagers who arrived sometime in the eighth century. The early 18th century brought American traders to Hawaii; they exploited the islands’ sandalwood, which was much valued in China at the time. By the mid-19th century, the sugar industry, brought to Hawaii during the 1830s, had become well-established, bringing in more Americans with an appetite for building sugar plantations and evangelizing the indigenous folk. The upheaval in Hawaiian life came to a head when Hawaiian Queen Liliuokalani was deposed in a coup that a group of U.S. expatriates — with support from the Marines engineered in tandem with sugar planters.
During the Spanish-American War, the military recognized Hawaii’s strategic and geographic importance; and the region became U.S. territory. Hawaii also played a central role in the Pacific Theater during World War II, starting with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.
CIVIL WAR MASSACRE IN KANSAS — An invasion and bloody massacre of citizens in Lawrence, Kansas broke out at dawn on Aug. 21, 1863, when a militia gang that William Quantrill was leading invaded and terrorized the town and murdered civilians. They ignored an ancient and unwritten rule of war that soldiers do not harm the innocent, particularly women and children. Quantrill organized the massacre in retaliation for the Union Army’s having arrested the outlaws’ wives and sisters. The prior week, the building that housed the imprisoned women collapsed, killing all. Among the militiamen were future Western outlaws, such as the Younger brothers and Frank and Jesse James. The gang kidnapped the farmers to use as guides, then murdered them, dragged the men in Lawrence from their homes, and murdered them in front of their families. The Union cavalry went after them.
The tensions between Missouri, a slave state, and Kansas, a free state whose constitution forbade slavery fueled the hostilities. The International Humanitarian Law was established also in 1963.
CLASSES IN ONE’S MOTHER TONGUE — The Equal Educational Opportunities Act, which took effect on Aug. 21, 1974, addressed civil rights issues in education, barred states from discriminating against students based on gender, race, color or nationality, and required public schools to provide for students who do not speak English. In many ways, the EEOA was an extension of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which banned racial discrimination and outlawed school segregation. The EEOA mandated that schools accommodate students regardless of nationality and that they provide adequate resources for students who did not speak English. This included offering classes like math or science in the students’ native languages until they gained proficiency in English.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1982 that, based on the Equal Educational Opportunities Act, undocumented students had the right and were also obligated to attend public schools, along with all American children.
FOUGHT TO END ANIMAL EXPLOITATION — Animal rights advocates Ingrid Newkirk and Alex Pacheco founded the organization People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) on Aug. 21, 1980. Starting as a grassroots movement, PETA became the world’s leading — and also controversial — animal rights organization. Ingrid Newkirk’s discovery a decade earlier of some abandoned and badly-neglected kittens sparked her passion for protecting animals. PETA’s first major campaign arising the next year. Co-founder Alex Pacheco’s job at a research facility enabled him to expose experimentation being done on monkeys, who were being kept in a horrendous environment. PETA distributed photo proof of the monkeys’ abuse, and the police raided the facility and did an unprecedented arrest of a researcher on charges of animal cruelty.
Among PETA’s successful reforms were persuading major fashion brands to stop using fur, bans on animal testing by personal care (soap and cosmetic) companies, banning the use of animals in crash tests, and ending Ringling Brothers Barnum & Bailey Circus’ use of animals. The circus closed down in 2017 over this, but revived its act earlier in 2023 with human performers only.
PRISONER TO PRIME MINISTER — Jomo Kenyatta, leader of the Kenyan independence movement, was formally released from prison, on Aug. 21, 1961, by British colonial authorities after nearly nine years of imprisonment and detention. Two years later, Kenya achieved independence and Kenyatta became prime minister. Kenyatta, who had been born in the 1890s and witnessed the British colonizing his homeland, joined the African nationalist organizations that were fighting Europeans’ seizure of tribal lands. He went to London to protest colonialism and its refusal to allow Black people a significant role in their government, but the authorities refused a meeting. When the Mau Mau extremist group launched a guerilla war against the colonists, Kenyatta was implicated, even though he didn’t really play a role. The Kikuyu people were interned, and Kenyatta was tried and found guilty in a politicized trial and imprisoned for seven years.
Although he had been called a menacing symbol of African nationalism, Kenyatta brought stability to the country during his leadership, and he defended Western interests.
ECLIPSE WAS TURNER’S GO-AHEAD — Nat Turner (1800-1831) an enslaved man, led a rebellion of enslaved people on Aug. 21, 1831. Nat Turner’s surname came from the owner of a Virginia plantation, Benjamin Turner, who allowed the young slave to receive instruction in reading, writing and religion. Nat Turner became an eloquent and fiery preacher who inspired his people to fight back. The uprising consequently ignited further actions against Black people — a massacre of up to 200 people. The uprising hurt the slaves in other ways, also: The government cracked down, ended the movement toward emancipation, inflicted harsher laws, forbade the education of slaves, entrenched pro-slavery views more firmly in the South, and led to a new wave of oppressive legislation prohibiting the education, movement and assembly of enslaved people.
A deeply religious man, Nat Turner believed the Feb. 12, 1831 solar eclipse to be a sign from God that he should proceed with plans for his uprising. The sky had a strange appearance also six months later, on Aug. 13, a week before the uprising.
LINCOLN-DOUGLAS DEBATES — Sen. Stephen Douglas of Illinois and Abraham Lincoln, a Kentucky-born lawyer and one-time U.S. representative from Illinois, on Aug. 21, 1858 began a series of famous public encounters on the issue of slavery. The two politicians, the former a Northern Democrat and the latter a Republican, were competing for the U.S. Senate seat that was held by Douglass. Over the course of the seven Lincoln-Douglas debates Lincoln argued against the spread of slavery, while Douglas insisted that each territory should have the right to decide whether it would become free or allow slavery. Although Douglas was re-elected, Lincoln gained prominence. His campaign placed the fledgling Republican Party on the national stage.
Abraham Lincoln’s victory in the 1860 presidential election triggered the secession of the Southern states. By the time of his March 4 inauguration (the January date was established later) seven states had created the Confederacy, with Jefferson Davis as its president. A month later, the Confederate Army opened fire on Fort Sumter, which the Union Army had controlled, and the Civil War began.
‘ART HEIST OF THE CENTURY’ — Vincenzo Peruggia, an Italian immigrant who had once worked at the Louvre as a handyman, hid in a storage closet at the museum overnight from Aug. 20-21, 1911. In the morning, dressed in the white uniform of the employees, he removed the masterpiece from its glass frame and made off with it. Security was so lax that nobody noticed at first that the painting had vanished until a visiting artist asked where it had been placed. After a search, authorities found the empty glass frame.
Some sympathized with Peruggia’s belief that the Mona Lisa belonged in Italy, since the artist who painted her was none other than Leonardo da Vinci. Peruggia’s problems began when he attempted to sell the painting with which he had fallen in love. The Florentine art dealers agreed to the price, but upon recognizing the missing artwork, they alerted the police.
TIED FOR MOST MEDALS AT AN OLYMPICS — American swimmer Michael Phelps won his eighth medal in the 2004 Athens Olympics on Aug. 21, 2004. An obstacle arose in his quest for more gold when he had to sit out his eighth scheduled event, the final of the 4 x 100-meter medley relay. But Phelps, who entered that Olympics with the goal of surpassing Mark Spitz’s record in the same sport, left Athens with six gold and two bronze medals — tying him with Soviet gymnast Aleksandr Dityatin for the most medals ever won by a competitor at a single Olympic Games.
Phelps won gold medals at the 2008, 2012, and 2016 Olympics.
See previous milestones, here.
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