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 5, 1968: Robert F. Kennedy is assassinated.
Five years after the assassination of his older brother in 1963, Robert Kennedy was himself gunned down in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles shortly after winning California’s Democratic presidential primary. Kennedy’s assassin was one Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian Christian who, according to his personal journals, held every American politician who expressed support for Israel in contempt but reserved a particular hatred for Senator Kennedy.
Because of what Sirhan perceived as Kennedy’s betrayal of the “underdog”, he obsessively planned to murder him on or before the eve of the first anniversary of the Six Day War, June 5, 1968. That evening, Sirhan smuggled a revolver into the hotel, followed Kennedy and his three security guards into the hotel’s kitchen and pantry area, and shot the senator several times (and injured five other people) as he shook hands with Juan Romero, a busboy who appears alongside Kennedy in the iconic photograph of the assassination (pictured above). Romero reportedly handed Kennedy a crucifix and told him “everything is going to be okay”. Unlike his brother, who had been shot in such a way that he had no chance of survival upon his arrival at the hospital, Robert Kennedy underwent extensive surgery for his wounds, remained in critical condition for the remainder of his hospital stay, and died over a day after the shooting. He was forty-two, and one of only two sitting senators to be assassinated in U.S. history.
May 15, 1536: Anne Boleyn is found guilty of treason.
Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second wife after Catharine of Aragon and the wife for whom the king broke away from the Catholic Church, was arrested in May of 1536 and charged with adultery, incest, and treason. Her arrest took place only three years after her marriage to Henry, which had so far produced no male heirs and only one healthy child; the king had meanwhile taken Jane Seymour, who was to become his third wife just weeks after Anne Boleyn’s execution, as a mistress. Anne was, according to contemporary accounts, intelligent, witty, and anything but submissive. all traits that Henry found desirable, even exciting, in a mistress, but not in a wife; her confrontational nature combined with her failure to bear male heirs healthy enough to survive past infancy caused their marriage to crumble.
Anne Boleyn’s arrest was based on accusations of her illicit sexual relationships with a court musician, several aristocrats, and Anne’s own brother George; she was charged with both adultery (a form of treason when committed by a queen) and plotting the death of the king (another form of treason). Of her accused lovers, five were found guilty of treason, including George Boleyn, and executed by decapitation on May 17, 1536. Anne was held in the Tower of London and remained there until her own execution on May 19, 1536; her final words were reportedly a prayer:
To Jesus Christ I commend my soul; Lord Jesus receive my soul.
Anne Boleyn was survived by one child, who was the only one of her siblings to survive birth and infancy, who was declared illegitimate and deprived of her birthright not long after her mother’s execution in order to clear the way for her father’s male heirs, and who eventually became one of England’s most famous, most influential monarchs.
April 27, 1945: Benito Mussolini is captured.
On this day in 1945, Italy’s former father of fascism, who had adopted the title Il Duce and a dictatorship over his country from the late 1920s until 1943, was captured by Italian communist partisans, along with his mistress Clara Petacci.
In mid-1943, Mussolini was ousted by the Grand Council of Fascism during the eventually successful Allied invasion of Sicily, but he remained in power through the intervention of his German allies, who rescued him and set up under his name a new puppet regime headquartered in Salò, in northern Italy. By this time, Mussolini, his health in a poor state and his characteristic confidence blighted by constant failure, was no longer the bombastic leader who had once marched on Rome, by his own admittance - in an early 1945 interview, he said most uncharacteristically:
I have no fight left in me. I work and I try, yet know that all is but a farce … I await the end of the tragedy and – strangely detached from everything – I do not feel any more an actor. I feel I am the last of spectators.
Allied forces liberated Rome in July 1944, while partisan resistance fought Axis forces from within the country. Amidst this fighting and German retreat, Mussolini, his mistress, and officials of his puppet government made an escape attempt to Switzerland, and then to Spain, but were stopped by communist partisans and then executed the next day in a village in northern Italy. Their bodies were brought to Milan and dumped in the Piazzale Loreto, where civilians hung them upside down on meathooks - and stoned them, shot at them, and spat on them.
Other links: mutilated corpses of Mussolini and Petacci (graphic)
April 14, 1865: Abraham Lincoln is assassinated.
Five days after the surrender and deactivation of the Army of Northern Virginia at Appomattox Court House (the effective end of the war), Abraham Lincoln was shot in the head by John Wilkes Booth, a stage actor and Confederate sympathizer. The demise of the Confederacy pushed Booth, a strongly pro-South, anti-Lincoln Maryland native, over the edge, and he abandoned a kidnapping plot that he and co-conspirators Lewis Powell, George Atzerodt, David Herold, Samuel Arnold, Michael O’Laughlen and John Surratt had been formulating since 1864 in favor of simple assassination.
On April 14, they learned that President Lincoln would be attending a performance of the play Our American Cousin at Ford’s Theatre, in Washington, D.C., later that evening. He and the conspirators gathered once more, and it was decided that Lewis Powell and David Herold would attack Secretary of State William Seward, that George Atzerodt would carry out an assassination attempt on Vice President Andrew Johnson, and that Booth himself would kill Lincoln. The only attack of these that resulted in a death was Booth’s. He entered the Lincolns’ private theatre box during a particularly humorous moment in the play and shot the President once in the head, before leaping onto the stage, where he yelled either the Virginia state motto - “Sic semper tyrannis” - or “the South is avenged!” Booth broke his leg sometime between the fall and his escape, and he went on the run before being shot outside a barn in Virginia on April 26.
Lincoln, meanwhile, was moved to a house across the street from the theatre; he was pronounced dead early the next morning, the day before Easter Sunday. Utterly divisive as a leader in life, Lincoln was nevertheless mourned by millions in both the North and South in death.
Thank you for going on this journey with me. I’ll see you at the movies.