Maxfield Parrish’s illustrations for The Arabian Nights (1909, 1923)
In truth, the Book of Camaralzaman,
Schemselnihar and Sinbad, Scheherezade
The peerless, Bedreddin, Badroulbadour,
Cairo and Serendib and Candahar,
And Caspian, and the dim, terrific bulk —
Ice-ribbed, fiend-visited, isled in spells and storms —
Of Kaf…. That centre of miracles
The sole, unparalleled Arabian Nights
June 16, 1963: Valentina Tereshkova becomes the first woman in space.
Two years after Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space, fellow cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, launched on the Vostok 6 spaceflight, became the first woman to do so. Prior to her recruitment as a cosmonaut, Tereshkova was an amateur parachutist, the daughter of a tractor driver and a textile worker (if anything, her humble background made her an even more qualified candidate to represent the women of the Soviet space program).
Tereshkova was relatively young when she ventured into space; at twenty-six, she was exactly ten years younger than the Mercury Seven’s youngest astronaut, Gordon Cooper. After several months of intensive and secretive training, she was nominated and confirmed by Nikita Khrushchev himself to become the first woman in space, and she did so flawlessly on June 16, 1963. She remained in orbit for nearly three days, performing the same tasks as her male counterparts (collecting photographic information, manning her craft), before returning to Earth on June 19. Tereshkova made no further spaceflights after her milestone first, and nearly two decades passed before the Soviet Union ever launched another woman into space. Despite the brevity of her space career, she was not forgotten in her country and received several awards and decorations for her accomplishments - almost immediately after her successful return from space, Tereshkova received the title of “Hero of the Soviet Union”, which was awarded for “heroic feats in service to the Soviet state and society”.
Other links: How Valentina Tereshkova’s spaceflight worked
June 15, 1888: Wilhelm II becomes German Emperor and King of Prussia.
On June 15, 1888, Wilhelm II succeeded his father Frederick III, whose rule lasted under 100 days, as Kaiser of the German Empire and King of Prussia. A grandchild of Queen Victoria and cousin to both Tsar Nicholas II and George V of Britain, Wilhelm was twenty-nine when his rule began, and fifty-nine when it ended at the close of World War I. One of his first significant acts as emperor was to dismiss Otto von Bismarck as chancellor and replace him with Leo von Caprivi, who was himself replaced by Chlodwig, Prince of Hohenloe, who was finally replaced by Bernhard von Bülow. As a leader, Wilhelm is generally regarded as impulsive and volatile, especially with regard to foreign policy - his well-publicized blunders alienated Great Britain, France, and other nations, as did Germany’s increased efforts to build and strengthen its overseas empire. And, despite his forceful personality, he was also reportedly easily influenced by his ministers and generals.
One goal which he pursued tirelessly was the expansion of the Imperial German Navy, which was to rival the British Royal Navy and help Germany become an indisputable military power. His attitude toward Britain (the country of his more liberal mother) was mixed and supposedly shifted back and forth between admiration and resentment. Although the Treaty of Versailles placed much of the blame for the outbreak of the war on Germany (and therefore on Wilhelm), more recent assessments have cast Wilhelm as less an instigator than an accomplice, guilty nonetheless, whose agenda and lack of tact fostered unstable conditions that eventually gave rise to world war.
June 12, 1963: Medgar Evers is assassinated.
Medgar Evers was a civil rights activist who, until his assassination on June 12, 1963 outside his home in Mississippi, worked with the NAACP in his home state to organize marches, lead protests and boycotts, and help disenfranchised African-Americans register to vote. Evers was not the first or only activist to be murdered while serving in the Deep South during this period, nor was he as publicly recognized as Malcolm X or Martin Luther King, Jr., but his murder remains one of the most infamous events of the Civil Rights Movement.
Evers was shot and killed in his own driveway, in front of his children, as he exited his car the morning after President John F. Kennedy delivered an address in support of civil rights, which urged the American public to stand behind a piece of legislation which would later become the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964. As a prominent black civil rights leader within his own community, Evers and his family were targeted by militant white supremacists with threats of violence and with violent acts up until his assassination. The man who shot at Evers and killed him with a single bullet to the back in the early hours of June 12 was one of these supremacists, a member of the White Citizens’ Council (and later of the KKK) named Byron De La Beckwith, who was tried twice — and acquitted twice, by all-white, all-male juries — for Evers’ murder. De La Beckwith was finally convicted thirty-one years later in 1994 and sentenced to life in prison; Evers, a US Army sergeant who served for three years in the European Theatre of World War II, was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The week after Evers’ death, President Kennedy submitted to Congress his promised civil rights bill.
June 11, 1963: Thich Quang Duc self-immolates as an act of protest.
Thich Quang Duc was a Buddhist monk who, fifty years ago on this day, set himself alight on a street intersection in Saigon. His act of self-immolation was performed in protest of Ngô Đình Diệm’s regime and its repressive religious policies against Buddhists, who made up a majority of his country’s population (Diệm himself was a Catholic). During the Buddhist crisis of 1963, nonviolent protests among Buddhists and led by Buddhist monks broke out, leading to sometimes violent responses from the Diệm government.
Duc, surrounded by a throng of Buddhist monks in addition to horrified onlookers, did not move during the burning. David Halberstam, writing for The New York Times, described the scene in detail:
Flames were coming from a human being; his body was slowly withering and shriveling up, his head blackening and charring. In the air was the smell of burning human flesh; human beings burn surprisingly quickly. Behind me I could hear the sobbing of the Vietnamese who were now gathering. I was too shocked to cry, too confused to take notes or ask questions, too bewildered to even think … As he burned he never moved a muscle, never uttered a sound, his outward composure in sharp contrast to the wailing people around him.
Halberstam was later awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his war reporting, and Malcolm Browne, who took the iconic photograph of Duc’s self-immolation (pictured above), also won a Pulitzer Prize. Duc’s self-immolation made international headlines and it, along with similar incidents, compelled the United States government to express its frustration with Diệm’s policies and with the resulting unpopularity of his regime in Vietnam and in the United States. Discord over Diệm’s handling of the Buddhist crisis and the threat posed by the Vietcong eventually led to a coup, initiated by ARVN officers, that led to the president’s removal from office and assassination.
June 8, 1972: Nick Ut photographs Phan Thị Kim Phúc in his Pulitzer Prize-winning image.
Associated Press photographer Nick Ut, born Huỳnh Công Út in Long Ang, Vietnam, was twenty-one when he captured one of the most iconic war photographs in history: “The Terror of War”, which depicts Vietnamese children, ARVN soldiers, and press photographers fleeing a misdirected South Vietnamese napalm bombing of the South Vietnamese village of Trảng Bàng, which had been attacked and occupied by North Vietnamese forces. The focal point of this famous image is Kim Phuc Phan Thi, at the time a child of nine, whose clothes had caught fire during the attack, forcing her to strip them off; the burns inflicted upon her body were nevertheless severe - Kim Phuc spent fourteen months in a hospital in Saigon and underwent seventeen surgical procedures for her injuries.
The bombing was carried out by a South Vietnamese pilot who conducted the attack on what he mistakenly believed was a group of occupying enemy forces. This accidental attack killed four residents of Trảng Bàng, including two cousins of Kim Phuc. The horrifying result of the bombing shocked Ut, who afterward transported the injured civilians to a hospital in Saigon and kept in contact with Kim Phuc until his departure from Vietnam during the fall of Saigon in 1975. When Ut’s photograph appeared in the New York Times, President Nixon remarked to his chief of staff that the photo might have been “fixed”, to which Ut replied (when audiotapes of Nixon’s office conversations were released): “The photo was as authentic as the Vietnam War itself. The horror of the Vietnam War recorded by me did not have to be fixed.”
Kim Phuc later attended the University of Havana, became a Canadian citizen, and established the Kim Foundation International, an organization dedicated to aiding child victims of war.