50 Years Ago
Wheels of Change
Thirteen civil rights activists, black and white, board two buses in Washington, D.C. on May 4, 1961, headed to New Orleans to put a 1960 Supreme Court ruling barring segregation in interstate terminals to the test. Though the Freedom Riders, as they are known, meet violent resistance, more rides follow. Over seven months, more than 400 Freedom Riders focus national attention on segregation. In November, the Interstate Commerce Commission enacts new regulations to integrate bus stations.
60 Years Ago
Alabama native Willie Mays, 20, makes his major-league debut with the New York Giants against the Philadelphia Phillies at Shibe Park, May 25, 1951. The right-handed center fielder goes hitless that day—the Giants win 8 to 5—but takes the 1951 National League Rookie of the Year award. Hailed as the game’s total star, after 3,283 hits, 660 home runs, 2 MVP awards and “the catch” in the 1954 World Series, Mays is voted into the Hall of Fame in 1979. “I had no sorrows about baseball,” he says.
70 Years Ago
Citizen Kane, directed by and starring Orson Welles, premières at New York City’s Palace Theater May 1, 1941. The film’s combination of lighting effects, odd camera angles, flashbacks, layered sound and other innovations earns critical kudos for the tale of newspaper tycoon Charles Foster Kane—based in part on William Randolph Hearst—and a perennial place atop best-movie lists.
130 Years Ago
Leading the Charge
Clara Barton, 60, and a group of friends found the American Red Cross in Washington, D.C. on May 21, 1881. Known as the “angel of the battlefield” for providing aid to wounded soldiers in the Civil War, Barton brings the Red Cross to the U.S.—she had been a volunteer in Europe—to provide relief in times of “war, pestilence, famine and other calamities” and to get the government to ratify the first Geneva Convention. (It does, in 1882.) Barton serves as president for 23 years; she dies in 1912. Today the American Red Cross responds to some 70,000 disasters annually.
310 Years Ago
Captain William Kidd is hanged in London on May 23, 1701, and his body is tarred and displayed on a gibbet for two years. The 50-ish Kidd, a career privateer for England and New York, is convicted of killing a member of his crew—by hitting him in the head with a bucket—and crossing the murky line between privateering and piracy by capturing the ship Quedagh Merchant for his own benefit. Though the extent of his guilt will be debated by historians, his reputation as a notorious pirate is secured by stories of a hidden treasure, whose location he unsuccessfully tries to barter for mercy. A sunken ship believed to be the Quedagh Merchant is discovered in 2007.