Year
1896

Supreme Court rules in Plessy v. Ferguson

In a major victory for supporters of racial segregation, the U.S. Supreme Court rules seven to one that a Louisiana law providing for “equal but separate accommodations for the white and colored races” on its railroad cars is constitutional. The high court held that as long as equal accommodations were provided, segregation was not discrimination and thus did not deprive African Americans of equal protection under the law as guaranteed by the 14th Amendment.

The Plessy v. Ferguson ruling, which indicated that the federal government would officially tolerate the “separate but equal” doctrine, was eventually used to justify segregating all public facilities, including railroad cars, restaurants, hospitals, and schools. However, “colored” facilities were never equal to their white counterparts in actuality, and African Americans suffered through decades of debilitating discrimination in the South and elsewhere because of the ruling. In 1954, Plessy v. Ferguson was struck down by the Supreme Court in their unanimous ruling in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Mount St. Helens erupts

At 8:32 a.m. PDT, Mount St. Helens, a volcanic peak in southwestern Washington, suffers a massive eruption, killing 57 people and devastating some 210 square miles of wilderness.Called Louwala-Clough, or “the Smoking Mountain,” by Native Americans, Mount St. Helens is located in ...read more

Lincoln nominated for presidency

Abraham Lincoln, a one-time U.S. representative from Illinois, is nominated for the U.S. presidency by the Republican National Convention meeting in Chicago, Illinois. Hannibal Hamlin of Maine was nominated for the vice presidency.Lincoln, a Kentucky-born lawyer and former Whig ...read more

India joins the nuclear club

In the Rajasthan Desert in the state of Pokhran, India successfully detonates its first nuclear weapon, a fission bomb similar in explosive power to the U.S. atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. The test fell on the traditional anniversary of the Buddha’s enlightenment, and ...read more

Polish Corps takes Monte Cassino

On this day in 1944, the Polish Corps, part of a multinational Allied Eighth Army offensive in southern Italy, finally pushes into Monte Cassino as the battle to break German Field Marshal Albert Kesselring’s defensive Gustav Line nears its end.The Allied push northward to Rome ...read more

Pope John Paul II born

On May 18, 1920, Karol Jozef Wojtyla is born in the Polish town of Wadowice, 35 miles southwest of Krakow.Wojtyla went on to become Pope John Paul II, history’s most well-traveled pope and the first non-Italian to hold the position since the 16th century. After high school, the ...read more

Laird charges

U.S. Representative Melvin Laird (R-Wisconsin) states that because the Johnson administration is not providing the American public with precise information on planned troop deployments to Vietnam, a “credibility gap” is developing. Informed sources reported that 254,000 U.S. ...read more

Communists attack Xuan Loc

More than 1,500 communist troops attack U.S. and South Vietnamese camps near Xuan Loc, located 38 miles east of Saigon. After five hours of intense fighting, the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces were driven off. At the U.S. camp, 14 Americans were killed and 39 wounded; 24 ...read more

Randy Johnson throws perfect game at 40

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Newspaper report criticizes Mrs. Lincoln

An obscure California newspaper casts first lady Mary Todd Lincoln in an unflattering light on this day in 1861. Quoting a report in the Sacramento Union, the Humboldt Times recounted a tale of how Mrs. Lincoln had usurped her husband’s presidential duty of appointing federal ...read more

Chief Satanta massacres teamsters

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Ian Curtis of Joy Division commits suicide

On the evening of May 18, 1980, Ian Curtis, lead singer and lyricist of the British group Joy Division, hangs himself in his Manchester kitchen. He was only 23 years old.Joy Division was one of four hugely important British post-punk bands that could trace its origins to a ...read more

Shrek released

On this day in 2001, the fledgling movie studio Dreamworks SKG, founded by Hollywood heavyweights Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen, releases what will become its most successful film to date: the animated feature Shrek.Based on William Steig’s 1990 children’s ...read more

Mount St. Helens erupts

Mount St. Helens in Washington erupts, causing a massive avalanche and killing 57 people on this day in 1980. Ash from the volcanic eruption fell as far away as Minnesota.Seismic activity at Mount St. Helens, which is 96 miles south of Seattle, began on March 16. A ...read more