On this day in 1855, adventurer William Walker sets off from San Francisco with about 60 men and a plan to conquer the Central American nation of Nicaragua. This time, contrary to his numerous previous attempts, he actually succeeds! Without too much violence, Walker installs himself as "President of the Republic of Nicaragua." His rule lasted for less than two years, at which point his junta was defeated by a coalition of Central American militias. Walker was eventually executed in Honduras in 1860.
On this day in 1904, the United States begins construction of the Panama Canal, a civil engineering project that would turn out to be a global game-changer, both politically and economically.
On this day in 1961, the first 13 Freedom Riders begin their bus trip through the American South, in an effort to end segregation of the public transportation system. After training in non-violent civil disobedience techniques, black and white volunteers sit next to each other as they travel by bus through the Deep South. In Anniston, Alabama, one bus is destroyed, and riders on another are attacked by men armed with clubs, bricks, iron pipes and knives. In response to these acts of violence, Attorney General Robert Kennedy sends DOJ official John Seigenthaler to accompany the Freedom Riders. In Birmingham, the passengers are greeted by the Ku Klux Klan, and further acts of violence. At Montgomery, the state capital, a white mob beats the riders with chains and ax handles. When local authorities make it clear that they will make no effort to protect the Riders, President John F. Kennedy sends federal marshals from the North to do the job. Despite the escalating violence, over a thousand volunteers take part in Freedom Rides during the ensuing months.
On this day in 1970, at Ohio's Kent State University, thirteen seconds of rifle fire by a contingent of 28 National Guardsmen leaves four students (Allison Krause,Jeffrey Miller, Sandra Scheuer, and William Schroeder) dead, one permanently paralyzed, and eight others wounded. A "special" state grand jury exonerates the Guardsmen, but indicts 25 students for a variety of offenses such as bleeding on public property, excessive weeping, and attempting to avoid being shot.
On this day in 1979, Margaret Thatcher becomes the first female Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
On this day in 1989, former White House aide Oliver North is convicted of three crimes and acquitted of nine other charges in connection with the Iran-Contra Affair, still one of the most poorly understood scandals in recent American history. These convictions are later overturned on appeal.
On this day in 1994, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signs a peace accord with PLO leader Yasser Arafat regarding Palestinian autonomy granting self-rule in the Gaza Strip and Jericho. Consequently, he would soon become the victim of the most transparently conspiratorial political assassination in the history of Mideast politics. And brother, that is saying something.
On this day in 1998, Theodore "Unabomber" Kaczynski is sentenced to four life sentences (plus 30 years) by a California court after accepting a plea agreement which spares him from the death penalty. Check out this Useless Eater Blog post from a few days back for a detailed look at the Unabomber case, and its connections to the creation of the Internet, the spread of LSD across college campuses in the 60's, the rise of Game Theory and the Cybernetic Model of mind-control, among many, many other things.