This Week In American History: June 12th - June 18th

June 12


A diverse crowd of one million people descended upon New York City’s Central Park, demanding nuclear disarmament and an end to the Cold War arms race. The US and the USSR had been locked in an arms race since WWII and President Reagan strongly opposed any disarmament treaty. Fearing that Reagan would prefer nuclear war to nuclear disarmament, the demonstration coincided with the United Nations Second Special Session on Disarmament. The 1982 rally and UN special session did not immediately lead to new disarmament treaties, but five years later the US and the USSR signed the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the first time in history that the superpowers had agreed to shrink their nuclear stockpiles.


Berlin was separated into repressive East Germany, controlled by the Soviets, and West Germany, controlled by the British, French and and the US, following Germany's WW2 defeat. The two countries were separated by the Berlin Wall, formed to prevent people from escaping East Germany. In one of his most famous Cold War speeches, President Ronald Reagan declared to a West Berlin crowd, “There is one sign the Soviets can make that would be unmistakable, that would advance dramatically the cause of freedom and peace.” He then called upon his Soviet counterpart: “Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.” Reagan then went on to ask Gorbachev to undertake serious arms reduction talks with the United States.


Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old University of Virginia student who was taken prisoner in North Korea 17 months earlier, returned home in a comatose state after suffering torture and abuse. During a school trip, he was arrested for allegedly taking a propaganda poster from a hotel room and sentenced 15 years hard labor. After one week home, he died from extensive brain damage. Known for its human-rights abuses, North Korea claimed Warmbier had contracted botulism and taken a sleeping pill. A month after Warmbier’s death, American citizens were banned from traveling to North Korea.

June 13


President Thomas Jefferson received a subpoena to testify in the treason trial of his former vice president, Aaron Burr. In the subpoena, Burr asked Jefferson to produce documents that might exonerate him. After killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel, Burr went into hiding and concocted a seditious plan to enlist the help of Britain and Spain to create a new nation in the southwest he would rule over. Jefferson refused to appear in Burr’s defense, invoking his presidential right to protect the public interest. If Jefferson’s intent was to help get Burr convicted, his refusal to supply documentation backfired. In the end, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall found Burr not guilty by lack of evidence.


The U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in Miranda v. Arizona, establishing the principle that all criminal suspects must be advised of their rights before interrogation. Now considered standard police procedure, “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can, and will, be used against you in court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford one, one will be appointed to you,” has been heard so many times in television and film dramas that it has become almost cliche.


President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed U.S. Court of Appeals Judge Thurgood Marshall to fill the seat of retiring Supreme Court Associate Justice Tom C. Clark. On August 30, after a heated debate, the Senate confirmed Marshall’s nomination by a vote of 69 to 11. Two days later, he was sworn in by Chief Justice Earl Warren, making him the first African American in history to sit on America’s highest court. During his 24 years on the high court, Associate Justice Marshall consistently challenged discrimination based on race or sex, opposed the death penalty, and supported the rights of criminal defendants. He also defended affirmative action and women’s right to reproductive freedom.

June 14


Anticipating the outbreak of war with Mexico, American settlers in California rebelled against the Mexican government and proclaimed the short-lived California Republic, starting the Bear Flag Revolt.. Though nominally controlled by Mexico, the majority of California was made of former US citizens who distrusted the Mexican government. Having won a few skirmishes, the rebels constructed a makeshift flag with a crude drawing of a grizzly bear. Three weeks after it had been proclaimed, the California Republic quietly faded away. Ironically, the Bear Flag itself proved far more enduring than the republic it represented: it became the official state flag when California joined the union in 1850.


President Warren G. Harding, while addressing a crowd at the dedication of a memorial site for the composer of the “Star Spangled Banner,” Francis Scott Key, became the first president to have his voice transmitted by radio. The broadcast heralded a revolutionary shift in how presidents addressed the American public. It was not until three years later, however, that a president would deliver a radio-specific address. That honor went to President Calvin Coolidge.


A Federal District Court jury in Boston convicted Dr. Benjamin Spock and three others, including Yale University Chaplain William Sloane Coffin, Jr., of conspiring to aid, abet and counsel draft registrants to violate the Selective Service Act. Spock, a physician and the famous author of The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care, was a ubiquitous figure at antiwar demonstrations. He was one of the original signers of A Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority, published in September 1967, which supported draft resistance and the right of servicemen to refuse to obey “illegal and immoral orders.” The 1968 convictions were overturned in 1969. Dr Spock was arrested several times, but he continued his antiwar activities.

June 15


Representatives of Great Britain and the United States signed the Oregon Treaty, which settles a long-standing dispute with Britain over who controlled the Oregon territory. The treaty established the 49th parallel from the Rocky Mountains to the Strait of Georgia as the boundary between the United States and British Canada. The United States gained formal control over the future states of Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Montana; and the British retained Vancouver Island and navigation rights to part of the Columbia River.


Henry Ossian Flipper, born into slavery in Thomasville, Georgia, in 1856, became the first African American cadet to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. After graduation, Flipper was appointed to serve as second lieutenant in the all-African American 10th Cavalry and stationed at Fort Sill in Oklahoma where he supervised engineering projects. He was relieved of duty in 1881 when he was accused of commissary funds and dishonorably discharged. He vehemently maintained his innocence and went on to a distinguished career as a civilian engineer and surveyor, And in 1999, President Bill Clinton granted Flipper a posthumous pardon, Saying, "Henry Flipper did all his country asked him to do."


President Woodrow Wilson signed a unanimously approved bill into law that granted federal incorporation to the Boy Scouts of America and protected the BSA’s name and insignia. In 1916, the 6-year-old Boy Scouts of America faced increasing competition from other organizations — groups that wished to capitalize on the growing interest in all things Scouting generated by the BSA. The BSA was granted a rare Title 36 congressional charter, which is presented to select patriotic and national organizations. President Wilson stated at the time that “every nation depends for its future upon the proper training and development of its youth.”

June 16


The first roller coaster in American opened at Coney Island, in Brooklyn, New York. Known as a Switchback Railway, it traveled six miles per hour and cost a nickel to ride. The new entertainment was an instant success and by the turn of the century there were hundreds of roller coasters around the country. By the mid-1960s, the major amusement parks at Coney Island had shut down and the area acquired a seedy image. In recent decades it has been revitalized, however, and remains a popular tourist attraction. The Cyclone, a wooden coaster, was built in 1927 on the same site as the original Switchback Railway. Capable of speeds of 60 mph and with an 85-foot drop, the Cyclone is one of the country’s oldest coasters in operation today.



Kathleen Ann Soliah, a former member of the Symbionese Liberation Army (SLA), was arrested near her home in St. Paul, Minnesota. Soliah, calling herself Sara Jane Olson, had been evading authorities for more than 20 years until her case was featured on America's Most Wanted. In the mid-1970s, the SLA, a small, radical American paramilitary group, made a name for itself with a series of murders, robberies and other violent acts. They were most well-known for the 1974 kidnapping of heiress Patty Hearst, who became a member of the group. In 2002, as part of a plea bargain, she pled guilty to two counts of planting bombs and was sentenced to five years and four months in jail.


Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester, 23, of Bowling Green, Kentucky, became the first female soldier to receive the Silver Star for bravery in combat in the Iraq war and the first ever to be cited for valor in close quarters combat. On March 20th, 2005, she was scanning and clearing a route for a supply convoy near Baghdad when her squad was ambushed by enemy fire. She was initially directing fire, then began fighting on foot. Sgt. Hester displayed incredible bravery as she had walked directly into the line of fire to kill at least three enemy combatants at close range, resulting in numerous convoy members lives saved. With thirty-three insurgents killed or wounded and one captured, every member of her unit survived.

June 17


The Battle of Bunker Hill began when British General Thomas Gage and his troops landed on the Charlestown Peninsula overlooking Boston, Massachusetts, and led them against Breed’s Hill, a fortified American position just below Bunker Hill. As the British advanced in columns against the Americans, American General William Prescott reportedly told his men, “Don’t one of you fire until you see the whites of their eyes!” The British had won the so-called Battle of Bunker Hill, and Breed’s Hill and the Charlestown Peninsula fell firmly under British control. Despite losing their strategic positions, the battle was a morale-builder for the Americans, convincing them that patriotic dedication could overcome superior British military might.


President Franklin D. Roosevelt's secretary of war, Henry Stimson, phoned then Missouri Senator Harry S. Truman and politely asked him not to make inquiries about a defense plant in Pasco, Washington Truman had stumbled upon while investigating war-production expenditures. Truman asked the plant managers to testify in front of Senators. Unbeknownst to Truman, this particular plant was secretly connected with a program to develop an atomic bomb—”the  Manhattan Project.” When Stimson, one of a handful of people who knew about the highly classified Manhattan Project, heard about Truman’s line of questioning, he immediately acted to protect the biggest military secret in world history.



A mass shooter took the lives of nine African American people at a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The massacre at a historic Black church deeply shook a nation already jaded by frequent gun violence and heralded the return of violent white nationalism in America. Among the victims was the activist and state senator Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the church's senior pastor. The shooter, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, joined Pinckney and members of his congregation for a Bible study session before taking their lives.

June 18


The day after the Senate followed the House of Representatives in voting to declare war against Great Britain, President James Madison signed the declaration into law—and the War of 1812 began. The American war declaration, opposed by a sizable minority in Congress, had been called in response to the British economic blockade of France, the induction of American seaman into the British Royal Navy against their will, and the British support of Indian tribes along the Great Lakes frontier. A faction of Congress known as the “War Hawks” had been advocating war with Britain for several years and had not hidden their hopes that a U.S. invasion of Canada might result in significant territorial land gains for the United States.


Arnold Palmer won the U.S. Open at Cherry Hills Country Club in Denver, Colorado. After three rounds, Palmer was tied for 15th. Down but not out, he started the last round with an amazing four birdies in a row on his way to a record-tying 30 on the front nine. Palmer parred the last four holes for a 35 on the back nine and a total score of 65 to win his first and only U.S. Open title. Palmer was named PGA Player of the Year in 1960, and again in 1962. Over the course of his career, he won the Masters four times and the British Open twice. In 1968, Palmer became the first golfer to earn $1 million in a year. He remained one of the richest athletes in the world well into his 70s because of sound investments and a variety of profitable endorsements.



The Monterey Pop Festival, organized by John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas, came to a close after three days of superstar making musical performances by Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, The Who, The Grateful Dead, and many more. The festival was a groundbreaking even that not only pioneered the basic idea of a large-scale, multi-day rock festival, but it also provided the creative template that such festivals still follow to this day. The Summer of Love that followed Monterey may have failed to usher in a lasting era of peace and love, but the festival introduced much of the music that has come to define that particular place and time.