Don’t look now, but this is a big week, and you’ve already missed most of it.
This is an important week — for me personally, but also in history.
The week didn’t start off so great what with the hangover from the weekend and April 8. Those of us who are divorced don’t like to be reminded of our wedding dates. But I know the week improves because my late grandmother’s birthday is April 14, and I like to think good thoughts on her day. And oftentimes, Easter lands around this week.
With that religious holiday on the horizon, let me say this. My Granny Johnson wasn’t just a good Christian, she was Christ-like. And if you aren’t sure what I mean by that, pick up your New Testament and read the parts in red. If you say you are a Christian, but don’t agree with the parts in red (comments reportedly spoken by Jesus himself), then you might need to do some soul searching.
For those of you who remember your U.S. history, this was a very big week in the 1860s. We had the War of Secession starting and stopping, and a president being shot.
Confederate troops under the command of General Pierre Beauregard opened fire April 12, 1861, at 4:30 a.m. on Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina.
Almost exactly four years later, the war effectively ended April 9, 1865, when General Robert E. Lee surrendered to General Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox.
(And don’t call it the Civil War; the South wasn’t trying to overthrow the North, just get its freedom the way the colonists did with Great Britain less than a century before.)
At least 600,000 soldiers died in the war because President Abraham Lincoln was determined to keep the nation in one piece. That didn’t sit well with a lot of folks, so five days after Appomattox, John Wilkes Booth shot Lincoln on April 14.
Decades later on that same April 14 in 1912 (my granny’s first birthday), the Titanic hit an iceberg shortly before midnight. Around 2:30 a.m. on April 15, the luxury boat sunk.
According to some historical accounts, only 13 survivors were pulled from the freezing water when the rescue ship arrived. One account said that a small man who spoke no English was pulled from the water. He frantically insisted that the lifeboats check other bodies in the water to see if anyone was still alive. The unidentified man was credited with rescuing half of those other 12 survivors.
These events I remembered from school, but many more significant events occurred in this same stretch of days.
April 8, 1913 — The 17th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified requiring direct popular election of U.S. senators. Previously, they had been chosen by state legislatures.
April 9, 1866 — Despite a veto by President Andrew Johnson, the Civil Rights Bill of 1866 was passed by Congress granting blacks the rights and privileges of U.S. citizenship.
April 11, 1968 — A century after that rights bill — and a week after the assassination of Martin Luther King — the Civil Rights Act of 1968 was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The law prohibited discrimination in housing, protected civil rights workers and expanded the rights of Native Americans.
April 11, 1970 — Apollo 13 was launched from Cape Kennedy at 2:13 p.m. Fifty-six hours into the flight an oxygen tank exploded in the service module. Astronaut John L. Swigert saw a warning light that accompanied the bang and said, “Houston, we’ve had a problem here.” Swigert, James A. Lovell and Fred W. Haise then transferred into the lunar module, using it as a “lifeboat” and began a perilous return trip to Earth, splashing down safely on April 17.
April 12, 1945 — President Franklin D. Roosevelt died suddenly at Warm Springs, Georgia, after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage. He had been president since March 4, 1933, elected to four consecutive terms and had guided America out of the Great Depression and nearly through World War II.
April 12, 1961 — Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space. He traveled aboard the Soviet spacecraft Vostok I to an altitude of 187 miles above the earth and completed a single orbit in a flight lasting 108 minutes. The Russian success intensified the space race between the Russians and Americans. Twenty-three days later, Alan Shepard became the first American in space. This was followed in 1962 by JFK’s open call to land an American on the moon before the decade’s end.
April 13, 1743 — Thomas Jefferson was born in Albermarle County, Virginia. One of the finest minds of the 1700s, he authored the Declaration of Independence and later served as the third U.S. President from 1801 to 1809. He died on July 4, 1826, the same day as his old friend and one-time political rival John Adams.
Jeff is the associate editor and can be reached at 415-4692.