Nine months after its subject’s assassination, The Autobiography of Malcolm X was first published. Through his work with the Nation of Islam and advocacy for Black power, Malcolm X became one of the most prominent figures in the civil rights movement. Written in collaboration with journalist Alex Haley, the future author of Roots, Malcolm X was initially skeptical of the project. During the course of its writing, he publicly broke with the Nation of Islam, gave his “The Ballot or the Bullet” speech, converted to Sunni Islam, and made a pilgrimage to Mecca. Already an icon, in death he became a martyr. The book has long been considered required reading for civil rights activists and continues to form the basis of Malcolm X’s enduring legacy.
Duane Allman, a slide guitarist and the leader of the Allman Brothers Band, was killed when he lost control of his motorcycle and drove into the side of a flatbed truck in Macon, Georgia. He was 24 years old. After Allman’s death, his band continued to tour and record. Duane Allman was born in Nashville and grew up in Florida. Before he formed the Allman Brothers Band with his brother Gregg, a singer and keyboard player, Duane had made a name for himself as a session musician playing with artists like Wilson Pickett, Clarence Carter, Aretha Franklin, King Curtis, John Hammond, Ronnie Hawkins, Boz Scaggs and Herbie Mann. In 1969, the Allmans put together their own band. In 2004, Rolling Stone declared that the Allman Brothers were the 52nd-greatest rock band of all time.
“The War of the Worlds”—Orson Welles's realistic radio dramatization of a Martian invasion of Earth—was broadcast on the radio. The broadcast was extremely realistic and has become famous for supposedly tricking some of its listeners into believing that a Martian invasion was taking place due to the "breaking news" style of storytelling employed in the first half of the show. The Federal Communications Commission investigated the unorthodox program but found no law was broken. Networks did agree to be more cautious in their programming in the future. The broadcast helped Orson Welles land a contract with a Hollywood studio, and in 1941 he directed, wrote, produced, and starred in Citizen Kane—a movie that many have called the greatest American film ever made.
32-year-old Muhammad Ali became the heavyweight champion of the world for the second time when he knocked out 25-year-old champ George Foreman in the eighth round of the “Rumble in the Jungle,” a match in Kinshasa, Zaire. It was the night Ali changed his narrative from pariah to prince of the world by stopping the unstoppable George Foreman. Seven years before, Ali had lost his title when the government accused him of draft-dodging and the boxing commission took away his license. His victory in Zaire made him only the second dethroned champ in history to regain his belt.
18-year-old basketball prodigy LeBron James played in his first NBA game. James scored 25 points, grabbed six rebounds and dished out nine assists, but his Cleveland Cavaliers lose to the more experienced Sacramento Kings, 106-92. His debut is one of the most impressive in league history—only months earlier, James had graduated from high school. James, an Akron, Ohio native who was selected with the first pick in the 2003 NBA draft, was considered the most-hyped prospect in NBA history. He appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a junior in high school, and was dubbed “The Chosen One.”
Anxious to have support of the Republican-dominated Nevada Territory for President Abraham Lincoln’s reelection, the U.S. Congress quickly admitted Nevada as the 36th state in the Union. At the time, Nevada had only 40,000 inhabitants, considerably short of the 60,000 normally required for statehood. But the 1859 discovery of the incredibly large and rich silver deposits at Virginia City had rapidly made the region one of the most important and wealthy in the West. The decisive factor in easing the path to Nevada’s statehood was President Lincoln’s proposed 13th Amendment banning slavery. Their speedy action paid off when Congress passed the amendment on January 31, 1865.
21-year-old Earl Lloyd became the first African American to play in an NBA game when he took the court in the season opener for the Washington Capitols. Lloyd grew up in Jim Crow Virginia and went to West Virginia State, where he was the star of the school's championship basketball team. After seven games with the Capitols, Lloyd was drafted into the military and sent to Korea for two years. When he returned to the United States he went to play for the Syracuse Nationals (who later became the Philadelphia 76ers). In 1970, Lloyd became the first full-time black head coach in the league and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003.
23-year-old actor River Phoenix, who appeared in such films as Stand by Me and My Own Private Idaho, died of a drug overdose outside the Viper Room, a West Hollywood night club partially owned at the time by the actor Johnny Depp. At the time of his death, Phoenix was considered one of the most promising actors of his generation and had received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his performance in 1988’s Running on Empty. Phoenix, who was born River Jude Bottom on August 23, 1970, had an unconventional childhood. His parents were members of a religious cult and worked as missionaries in South America. Phoenix began acting professionally as a teenager and made his big-screen debut, along with Ethan Hawke, in 1985’s Explorers.
In the face of widespread opposition in the American colonies, Parliament enacted the Stamp Act, a taxation measure designed to raise revenue for British military operations in America. The new tax required all legal documents, including commercial contracts, newspapers, wills, marriage licenses, diplomas, pamphlets, and playing cards, in the American colonies to carry a tax stamp. The direct tax on the colonists led to an uproar in America over an issue that was to be a major cause of the Revolution: taxation without representation.
Griselio Torresola and Oscar Collazo attempted to assassinate President Harry S. Truman at the Blair House in Washington, D.C. Truman escaped unscathed. The assailants never made it past the entry steps due to the quick reaction of police officers and guards. Secret Service Agent Leslie Coffelt was mortally wounded in the ensuing melee, but not before he managed to kill Torresola. Apparently unfazed by the attempt on his life, Truman kept his scheduled appointments for the day. “A President has to expect these things,” he remarked dryly. Oscar Collazo was sentenced to death, but in an admirable act of forgiveness on July 24, 1952, Truman commuted the sentence to life imprisonment.
The United States detonated the world’s first thermonuclear weapon, the hydrogen bomb, on Eniwetok atoll in the Pacific. The test gave the United States a short-lived advantage in the nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union. Popularly known as the hydrogen bomb, this new weapon was approximately 1,000 times more powerful than conventional nuclear devices. Opponents of development of the hydrogen bomb argued that little would be accomplished except the speeding up of the arms race, since it was assumed that the Soviets would quickly follow suit. The Soviet Union exploded a thermonuclear device the following year and by the late 1970s, seven nations had constructed hydrogen bombs. The nuclear arms race had taken a fearful step forward.
In one of the greatest upsets in presidential election history, Democratic incumbent Harry S. Truman defeated his Republican challenger, Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York, by just over two million popular votes. In the days preceding the vote, political analysts and polls were so behind Dewey that on election night the Chicago Tribune published an early edition with the banner headline “DEWEY DEFEATS TRUMAN.” In the last weeks before the election, Truman embarked on a “whistle-stop” campaign across the United States in defiance of his consistently poor showings in the polls. He traveled to America’s cities and towns, fighting to win over undecided voters by portraying himself as an outsider contending with a “do-nothing” Congress.
"Michael Jackson's "Thriller" single was released worldwide. The hit single's music video, directed by John Landis of An American Werewolf in London, contains many elements that have had a lasting impact on popular culture, such as the zombie dance and Jackson's red jacket. The Library of Congress described it as "the most famous music video of all time" and it became the first music video inducted into the National Film Registry as "culturally, historically or aesthetically" significant in 2009.
The first residential crew arrived aboard the International Space Station. The arrival of Expedition 1 marked the beginning of a new era of international cooperation in space and of the longest continuous human habitation in low Earth orbit, which continues to this day. The space agencies of the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and Europe agreed to cooperate on the ISS in 1998, and its first components were launched into orbit later that year. Two Russians, Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev, accompanied by NASA’s Bill Shepherd, were selected as the crew of Expedition 1.
Residents of the District of Columbia cast their ballots in a presidential election for the first time. The passage of the 23rd Amendment in 1961 gave citizens of the nation’s capital the right to vote for a commander in chief and vice president. They went on to help Democrat Lyndon Johnson defeat Republican Barry Goldwater in 1964, the next presidential election. In 1970, Congress gave Washington, D.C., one non-voting delegate to the House of Representatives and with the passage of 1973’s Home Rule Act, Washingtonians got their first elected mayor and city council. In 1978, a proposed amendment would have given D.C. the right to select electors, representatives and senators, just like a state, but it failed to pass, as have subsequent calls for D.C. statehood.
Former professional wrestler Jesse “The Body” Ventura was elected governor of Minnesota with 37 percent of the vote. Ventura, the Reform-Party candidate, spent $250,000 on his campaign—money he raised by selling $22 t-shirts and accepting $50 donations from his supporters. Some of his accomplishments as governor were popular: He managed to pass a light-rail plan for the Twin Cities, drafted a novel property-tax reform package and sent tax rebates, called “Jesse Checks,” to voters every year for three years. Then the state ran into economic problems. In 2002, Ventura decided that he would not run for office again. Ventura has since hosted TV talk shows and taught a class at Harvard. He occasionally discusses running as a Green Party candidate in presidential elections.
One World Trade Center officially opened in Manhattan. The new tower, along with the rest of the World Trade Center complex, replaced the Twin Towers and surrounding complex, which were destroyed by terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Though its cornerstone was laid in 2004, construction on One World Trade did not begin until the summer of 2006. At 1,776 feet tall, One World Trade Center (WTC) is not only the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. Its sheer size, geographic constraints, and operational necessities make it easily one of the region’s — if not the nation’s — most complex projects ever built.
Student followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini sent shock waves across America when they stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and took 90 hostages. The students were enraged that the deposed Shah had been allowed to enter the United States for medical treatment and they threatened to murder hostages if any rescue was attempted. On January 20, 1981—the day of Reagan’s inauguration—the United States freed almost $3 billion in frozen Iranian assets and promised $5 billion more in financial aid. Minutes after Reagan was sworn in, the hostages flew out of Iran on an Algerian airliner, ending their 444-day ordeal.
Dances with Wolves premiered in Los Angeles. The film, which stars Kevin Costner and marks his directorial debut, is about an American Civil War-era soldier and a group of Sioux Native Americans. Dances with Wolves was a surprise box-office success and earned 12 Academy Award nominations, including Best Actor for Costner. Dances with Wolves took home seven Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Director, and solidified Costner’s place on Hollywood’s A-list. Costner played the Union Army’s Lieutenant John Dunbar, who travels to a desolate Western post, befriends his Sioux neighbors and eventually becomes an honorary member of their tribe. Based on a novel by Michael Blake, the film was shot on location, primarily in South Dakota, and contained Lakota dialogue with English-language subtitles.
Senator Barack Obama of Illinois defeated Senator John McCain of Arizona to become the 44th U.S. president, and the first African American elected to the White House. The 47-year-old Democrat garnered 365 electoral votes and nearly 53 percent of the popular vote. President Obama's campaign was notable for its unprecedented use of the Internet for organizing constituents and fundraising. According to The Washington Post: “3 million donors made a total of 6.5 million donations online adding up to more than $500 million. Of those 6.5 million donations, 6 million were in increments of $100 or less.” Obama was inaugurated on January 20, 2009. On November 6, 2012, he defeated Republican challenger Mitt Romney to win a second term in the White House. He left office in January, 2017.