In Appomattox Court House, Virginia, Robert E. Lee surrendered his 28,000 Confederate troops to Union General Ulysses S. Grant. Forced to abandon the Confederate capital of Richmond, blocked from joining the surviving Confederate force in North Carolina, and harassed constantly by Union cavalry, Lee had no other option. Grant accepted Lee's terms which included all officers and men to be pardoned. Shushing a band that had begun to play in celebration, General Grant told his officers, “The war is over. The Rebels are our countrymen again.” Although scattered resistance continued for several weeks, for all practical purposes the Civil War had come to an end.
Puerto Rican actress Rita Moreno won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role of Anita in West Side Story (1961), becoming the first Hispanic woman to win an Oscar. While many of the actors, including leads Natalie Wood and Richard Beymer, did not perform their own singing parts, Moreno recorded most of Anita's songs herself. One such song was "America," a piece with heavy Latin influences in which characters both celebrate the experience of Puerto Rican immigrants and decry their adopted country's racism. West Side Story was an enormous success, winning ten Oscars including Best Picture. As she accepted her award, a bewildered Moreno kept her acceptance speech concise: "I can't believe it. Good Lord! I leave you with that."
Just three weeks into the invasion of Iraq, U.S. forces pulled down a bronze statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad’s Firdos Square, symbolizing the end of the Iraqi president’s long, often brutal reign, and a major early victory for the United States. Dramatic images of the toppled statue and celebrating citizens were instantly beamed around the world. With Hussein in hiding and much of the city now under U.S. control, the day’s events later became known as the Fall of Baghdad. The Iraq War was far from over, however. Hussein was captured by U.S. forces in December 2003 and executed in December 2006, but the US would not formally withdraw from Iraq until December 2011.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is founded in New York City by philanthropist and diplomat Henry Bergh, 54. Bergh had been appointed by President Abraham Lincoln to a diplomatic post at the Russian court of Czar Alexander II. It was there that he was horrified to witness work horses beaten by their peasant drivers. En route back to America, a June 1865 visit to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in London awakened his determination to secure a charter not only to incorporate the ASPCA but to exercise the power to arrest and prosecute violators of the law.
The USS Thresher, an atomic submarine, sank in the Atlantic Ocean. Built with new technology, it was the first submarine assembled as part of a new class that could run more quietly and dive deeper than any that had come before. Not long after 9am, sonar images showed the Thresher breaking apart as it fell to the bottom of the sea. Sixteen officers, 96 sailors and 17 civilians were on board. All were killed. A subsequent investigation revealed that a leak in a silver-brazed joint in the engine room had caused a short circuit in critical electrical systems. The disaster forced improvements in the design and quality control of submarines.
The U.S. table tennis team began a weeklong visit to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) at the invitation of China’s communist government. The well-publicized trip was part of the PRC’s attempt to build closer diplomatic relations with the United States, and was the beginning of what some pundits in the United States referred to as “ping-pong diplomacy.” The “ping-pong diplomacy” worked. In June 1972, President Richard Nixon made a historic visit to China to begin talks about re-establishing diplomatic relations. The Chinese table tennis team also toured America, causing a short-lived craze for table tennis.
In perhaps the most famous civilian-military confrontation in the history of the United States, President Harry S. Truman relieved General Douglas MacArthur of command of the U.S. forces in Korea. Problems with the flamboyant and egotistical General MacArthur had been brewing for months with Truman and MacArthur clashing on how to continue the war. The firing of MacArthur set off a brief uproar among the American public, but Truman remained committed to keeping the conflict in Korea a “limited war.” MacArthur returned to the United States to a hero’s welcome. Parades were held in his honor, and he was asked to speak before Congress (where he gave his famous “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away” speech).
Apollo 13, the 3rd lunar landing mission, was successfully launched from Cape Canaveral, carrying astronauts James A. Lovell, John L. Swigert and Fred W. Haise. On April 13th, an oxygen tank exploded, disabling the normal supply of oxygen, electricity, light, and water. Lovell reported to mission control: “Houston, we’ve had a problem here." All plans for a lunar landing were cancelled and the new objective was to get the crew home alive. For the next three days, Lovell, Haise and Swigert huddled in the freezing lunar module. On April 17th, the spacecraft reentered Earth’s atmosphere. Mission control feared that the CM’s heat shields were damaged in the accident, but after four minutes of radio silence Apollo 13‘s parachutes were spotted, and the astronauts splashed down safely into the Pacific Ocean.
President Barack Obama and Raúl Castro, President of Cuba and brother of Fidel Castro, with whom the United States broke off diplomatic contact in 1961, shook hands and expressed a willingness to put one of the world’s highest-profile diplomatic feuds in the past. It was the first time in over 50 years the presidents of the two countries had met. Both leaders stressed their desire to work together, but warned that their meeting was only the beginning of what would have to be a long dialogue. A short time later, the Obama administration removed Cuba from its list of state sponsors of terror, and the diplomatic relationship was officially re-established in July.
The bloodiest four years in American history began when Confederate shore batteries under General P.G.T. Beauregard open fire on Union-held Fort Sumter in South Carolina’s Charleston Harbor. During the next 34 hours, 50 Confederate guns and mortars launched more than 4,000 rounds at the poorly supplied fort. On April 13, U.S. Major Robert Anderson surrendered the fort. Two days later, U.S. President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for 75,000 volunteer soldiers to quell the Southern “insurrection.” Four years after the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, the Confederacy was defeated at the total cost of 620,000 Union and Confederate soldiers dead.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt passed away of a massive cerebral hemorrhage after four momentous terms in office, leaving Vice President Harry S. Truman in charge. Truman had rather large shoes to fill. FDR had presided over the Great Depression and most of World War II, leaving an indelible stamp on American politics for several decades. He also left Truman with the difficult decision of whether or not to continue to develop and, ultimately, use the atomic bomb. Shockingly, FDR had kept his vice president in the dark about the bomb’s development and it was not until Roosevelt died that Truman learned of the Manhattan Project. After a solemn state funeral, he was buried at his family’s home in Hyde Park, New York.
The U.S. Navy evacuated Americans from the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, as part of Operation Eagle Pull. The evacuation came as the communist Khmer Rouge seized the capital city to end a five-year war. Marine and Air Force helicopters carried 276 evacuees—including 82 Americans, 159 Cambodians, and 35 foreign nationals—to the safety of U.S. Navy assault carriers in the Gulf of Thailand without any casualties. The victorious Khmer Rouge evacuated Phnom Penh and set about to reorder Cambodian society, which resulted in a killing spree and the notorious “killing fields.” Eventually, hundreds of thousands of Cambodians were murdered or died from exhaustion, hunger, and disease.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art was officially incorporated in New York City. The brainchild of American expatriates in Paris and a number of wealthy New Yorkers, the Met would not put on an exhibition until 1872, but it quickly blossomed into one of the world’s premier repositories of fine art. The Met continues to display some of the world’s largest collections of European and Antique art, and has expanded to include works from every continent and nearly every medium. Today, the Met is not only one of the leading artistic and social institutions in New York but one of the best-known and most-visited museums in the world, hosting around 7 million visitors a year.
Sidney Poitier became the first African American to win the Academy Award for Best Actor, for his role as a construction worker who helps build a chapel in Lilies of the Field (1963). By consistently refusing to play the stereotypical roles that were offered to him as a Black actor, Poitier blazed a trail for himself and the performers who followed him. By the time he earned a Best Actor Oscar nomination for The Defiant Ones (1958), his work in such films as The Blackboard Jungle (1955) had made him America’s first prominent Black film star.
21-year-old Tiger Woods won the prestigious Masters Tournament by a record 12 strokes in Augusta, Georgia. It was Woods’ first victory in one of golf’s four major championships and the greatest performance by a professional golfer in more than a century. It also made him the youngest golfer by two years to win the Masters and the first person of Asian or African heritage to win a major. His margin of victory–12 strokes–was the largest in the 20th century, and second only to Old Tom Morris’ 13-shot margin at the 1862 British Open. His score of 18-under-par 270 broke Jack Nicklaus’ 32-year-old Masters record of 17-under-par 271.
President Abraham Lincoln was shot in the head at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C. The assassin, actor John Wilkes Booth, shouted, “Sic semper tyrannis! (Ever thus to tyrants!) The South is avenged,” as he jumped onto the stage and fled on horseback. Lincoln died the next morning.
President William Howard Taft became the first president to throw out the ceremonial first pitch at a MLB game. The historic toss on opening day was to star Walter Johnson, the Washington Senators' starting pitcher against the Philadelphia Athletics at National Park in the nation's capital. Senators owner Clark Griffith had wanted a U.S. president to throw out the first pitch for years. Taft was a genuine sports fan and willing participant in an ingenious public relations move. By convincing him to throw out the ceremonial first pitch of the season, Griffith hoped to permanently fix the presidential seal of approval on baseball as the national pastime once and for all.
In what came to be known as “Black Sunday,” one of the most devastating storms of the 1930s Dust Bowl era swept across the region. High winds kicked up clouds of millions of tons of dirt and dust so dense and dark that some eyewitnesses believed the world was coming to an end. The term “dust bowl” was reportedly coined by a reporter and referred to the plains of western Kansas, southeastern Colorado, the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, and northeastern New Mexico. The grassy plains of this region had been over-plowed by farmers and overgrazed by cattle and sheep. The resulting soil erosion, combined with an eight-year drought which began in 1931, created a dire situation for farmers and ranchers.
Jackie Robinson, age 28, became the first African American player in Major League Baseball when he stepped onto Ebbets Field in Brooklyn to compete for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Robinson broke the color barrier in a sport that had been segregated for more than 50 years. Exactly 50 years later, on April 15, 1997, Robinson’s groundbreaking career was honored and his uniform number, 42, was retired from Major League Baseball by Commissioner Bud Selig in a ceremony attended by over 50,000 fans at New York City’s Shea Stadium. Robinson’s was the first-ever number retired by all teams in the league.
In Living Color premiered on Fox. The sketch comedy television series was created by Keenan Ivory Wayans and starred several previously unknown comedians and actors, including Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Lopez, Jim Carrey, David Alan Grier, Tommy Davidson and more. Though lasting only four short seasons, the series was influential for its decision to portray Black humor from a raw and uncut perspective in a time when mainstream American tastes regarding Black comedy had been set by shows such as The Cosby Show. The series won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series in 1990.
Two bombs went off near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three spectators and wounding more than 260 other people in attendance. Four days later, after an intense manhunt that shut down the Boston area, police captured one of the bombing suspects, 19-year-old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev; his older brother and fellow suspect, 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev, died following a shootout with law enforcement earlier that same day. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev went on trial in January 2015 and was found guilty on all 30 counts, including the use of a weapon of mass destruction. He was sentenced to death but appealed the decision. Tsarnaev is currently being held at a supermax prison in Colorado.