40 Years Ago
Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., 39, is assassinated on the balcony of his Memphis motel on the evening of April 4, 1968, while preparing for a march in support of the city's striking sanitation workers. Escaped convict James Earl Ray, captured in June, pleads guilty and is sentenced to 99 years. Ray then protests his innocence, with the eventual support of King's family, until his death at age 70 in 1998.
50 Years Ago
One Free Pound
Twelve years after being declared insane, poet Ezra Pound is released from a Washington, D.C. mental hospital in April 1958, incompetent to face treason charges for his pro-fascist, anti-American radio broadcasts in World War II. While confined, Pound, who had fostered the careers of Robert Frost, T. S. Eliot and James Joyce among others, wrote regularly, and in 1949 won the Bollingen poetry prize for his "Pisan Cantos." He moves to Venice, where he dies in 1972 at age 87.
375 Years Ago
Round and Round
Astronomer Galileo Galilei, 70, faces the Inquisition in Rome in April 1633, suspected of heresy for promoting in a 1632 book the Copernican idea that the earth revolves around the sun over the older geocentric view. Though he had bolstered that argument with his own telescopic observations, Galileo recants, saying he was speaking only hypothetically. Sentenced to house arrest, he lives near Florence until his death in 1642.
90 Years Ago
German World War I flying ace Manfred von Richthofen, 25, the "Red Baron," flying a red Fokker triplane low behind British lines in pursuit of an Allied Sopwith Camel, is shot down over France, April 21, 1918. Barraged by machine gun fire from ground and air, he is hit in the chest. Just who fired the fatal bullet is still debated, but the baron's record as the WWI ace with the most victories over enemy planes still stands.
25 Years Ago
Alice Walker, 39, wins the Pulitzer Prize for her third novel, The Color Purple, in April 1983, the first African-American woman to win for fiction. The story, told in letters, of a young black woman's struggles against racism, poverty and men, will also win an American Book Award and inspire both a movie and a Broadway musical.
25 Years Ago
On April 27, 1983, with the count at one ball and two strikes, Houston Astros pitcher Nolan Ryan, 36, throws Montreal Expos pinch-hitter Brad Mills a curve—and gets his 3,509th strikeout, breaking the 55-year-old record set by Walter Johnson in 1927. The Astros win, 4-2, and Ryan goes on to finish his career in 1993 with 5,714 strikeouts, still the record.