Rockefeller imposter and convicted felon born


Year
1961
Month Day
February 21

On February 21, 1961, Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter, a con man who went by the alias Clark Rockefeller and passed himself off as an American blueblood, is born in Germany. Gerhartsreiter gained the public spotlight in 2008, when he kidnapped his young daughter and became the target of an international manhunt. The attention the case sparked helped lead to Gerhartsreiter’s conviction in 2013 for the murder of a California man in the 1980s.

Gerhartsreiter, the son of a landscape painter and seamstress, was raised in Bergen, Germany, and came to America as a teenager on a tourist visa in 1978. By the early 1980s, he was living in San Marino, California, where he went by the name Christopher Mountbatten Chichester and claimed to be a movie producer, among other occupations, as well as a relative of Lord Mountbatten, the British statesman. He rented a small guesthouse from Didi Sohus, whose son and daughter-in-law, John and Linda Sohus, lived with her. In 1985, John and Linda Sohus disappeared. Soon after, Gerhartsreiter moved to Greenwich, Connecticut, where he presented himself as a wealthy individual named Christopher Crowe and used a fake social security number to land jobs with several firms on Wall Street.

By the early 1990s, he was passing himself off as Clark Rockefeller, a member of one of America’s most famous families, who made their fortune in the oil business. Living in New York City as Clark Rockefeller, Gerhartsreiter owned an impressive (but later believed to be fake) art collection, dined at private clubs, wore silk ascots and told people that he worked helping Third World countries manage their debt. He was described as intelligent and eccentric by those who knew him. In 1995, he married Sandra Boss, a Harvard-educated executive at a management consulting firm. After moving to Boston, the couple purchased a multi-million-dollar town house there, as well as an estate in Cornish, New Hampshire. When their daughter Reigh was born in 2001, Gerhartsreiter stayed home to raise her while Boss supported the family. After filing for divorce in 2007, Boss (who later stated she was unaware her husband was a fraud during their marriage) paid Gerhartsreiter an $800,000 settlement and gained custody of Reigh.

On July 27, 2008, during a court-supervised visit in Boston, Gerhartsreiter abducted his 7-year-old daughter and took her to Baltimore, Maryland, where he had already found a home and established a new identity as Chip Smith, a yacht captain. Following a highly publicized manhunt, Gerhartsreiter was captured by police on August 2 outside his Baltimore residence. His daughter was unharmed.

In June 2009, Gerhartsreiter was convicted of kidnapping his daughter and sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison. The spotlight on Gerhartsreiter brought renewed attention to the unsolved murder of John Sohus, whose dismembered remains were found buried in the backyard of his former house in San Marino in 1994. Sohus’ wife has never been found. In March 2011, Gerhartsreiter was charged in connection with John Sohus’ death. During the serial impostor’s trial, prosecutors presented an array of circumstantial evidence linking him to the crime, including the fact that two unearthed bags of Sohus’ remains had logos from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and the University of Southern California, schools Gerhartsreiter once attended. On April 10, 2013, a jury convicted Gerhartsreiter of first-degree murder, and he later was sentenced to 27 years to life in prison.

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U.S. figure skating team killed in plane crash


Year
1961
Month Day
February 15

On February 15, 1961, the entire 18-member U.S. figure skating team is killed in a plane crash in Berg-Kampenhout, Belgium. The team was on its way to the 1961 World Figure Skating Championships in Prague, Czechoslovakia.

Among those killed in the crash was 16-year-old Laurence Owen, who had won the U.S. Figure Skating Championship in the ladies’ division the previous month. She was featured on the February 13, 1961, cover of Sports Illustrated, which called her the “most exciting U.S. skater.” Bradley Long, the 1961 U.S. men’s champion, also perished in the crash, as did Maribel Owen (Laurence’s sister) and Dudley Richards, the 1961 U.S. pairs champions, and Diane Sherbloom and Larry Pierce, the 1961 U.S. ice dancing champions. Also killed was 49-year-old Maribel Vinson-Owen, a nine-time U.S. ladies’ champion and 1932 Olympic bronze medalist, who coached scores of skaters, including her daughters Maribel and Laurence. Vinson-Owen also coached Frank Carroll, who went on to coach the 2010 men’s Olympic gold medalist Evan Lysacek and nine-time U.S. champion Michelle Kwan.

In addition to the skaters, 16 people accompanying them, including family, friends, coaches and officials, were killed. The other 38 passengers and crew aboard Sabena Flight 548, which left New York on the night of February 14, also died when the plane went down around 10 a.m. in clear weather while attempting to make a scheduled stopover landing at the Belgian National Airport in Brussels. One person on the ground, a farmer working in the field where the Boeing 707 crashed in Berg-Kampenhout, several miles from the airport, was killed by some shrapnel. Investigators were unable to determine the exact cause of the crash, although mechanical difficulties were suspected.

The tragedy devastated the U.S. figure skating program and meant the loss of the country’s top skating talent. Prior to the crash, the U.S. had won the men’s gold medal at every Olympics since 1948 (when Dick Button became the first American man to do so), while U.S. women had claimed Olympic gold in 1956 and 1960. After the crash, an American woman (Peggy Fleming) would not capture Olympic gold until 1968, while a U.S. man (Scott Hamilton) would not do so until 1984.

The incident was the worst air disaster involving a U.S. sports team until November 1970, when 37 players on the Marshall University football team were killed in a plane crash in West Virginia.

Shortly after the 1961 crash, the U.S. Figure Skating Memorial Fund was established; to date, it has provided financial assistance to thousands of elite American skaters. In 2011, the 50th anniversary of the tragedy, the 18 members of the 1961 figure skating team, along with the 16 people traveling with them to Prague, were inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

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President Kennedy establishes the Peace Corps


Year
1961
Month Day
March 01

On March 1, 1961, President John F. Kennedy issues Executive Order #10924, establishing the Peace Corps as a new agency within the Department of State. The same day, he sent a message to Congress asking for permanent funding for the agency, which would send trained American men and women to foreign nations to assist in development efforts. The Peace Corps captured the imagination of the U.S. public, and during the week after its creation thousands of letters poured into Washington from young Americans hoping to volunteer.

The immediate precursor of the Peace Corps–the Point Four Youth Corps–was proposed by Representative Henry Reuss of Wisconsin in the late 1950s. Senator Kennedy learned of the Reuss proposal during his 1960 presidential campaign and, sensing growing public enthusiasm for the idea, decided to add it to his platform. In early October 1960, he sent a message to the Young Democrats that called for the establishment of a “Youth Peace Corps,” and on October 14 he first publicly spoke of the Peace Corps idea at an early morning speech at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. The night before, he had engaged Vice President Richard Nixon in the third presidential debate and was surprised to find an estimated 10,000 students waiting up to hear him speak when he arrived at the university at 2 a.m. The assembled students heard the future president issue a challenge: How many of them, he asked, would be willing to serve their country and the cause of freedom by living and working in the developing world for years at a time?

The Peace Corps proposal gained momentum in the final days of Kennedy’s campaign, and on November 8 he was narrowly elected the 35th president of the United States. On January 20, 1961, in his famous inaugural address, he promised aid to the poor of the world. “To those peoples in the huts and villages of half the globe struggling to break the bonds of mass misery,” he said, “we pledge our best efforts to help them help themselves, for whatever period is required–not because the communists may be doing it, not because we seek their votes, but because it is right.” He also appealed to Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

After March 1, thousands of young Americans answered this call to duty by volunteering for the Peace Corps. The agency, which was headed by Kennedy’s brother-in-law, R. Sargent Shriver, eventually chose some 750 volunteers to serve in 13 nations in 1961. In August, Kennedy hosted a White House ceremony to honor the first Peace Corps volunteers. The 51 Americans who later landed in Accra, Ghana, for two years of service immediately made a favorable impression on their hosts when they gathered on the airport tarmac to sing the Ghanaian national anthem in Twi, the local language.

On September 22, 1961, Kennedy signed congressional legislation creating a permanent Peace Corps that would “promote world peace and friendship” through three goals: (1) to help the peoples of interested countries in meeting their need for trained men and women; (2) to help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served; and (3) to help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.

By the end of 1963, 7,000 volunteers were in the field, serving in 44 Third World countries. In 1966, Peace Corps enrollment peaked, with more than 15,000 volunteers in 52 countries. Budget cuts later reduced the number of Peace Corps volunteers, but today more than 7,000 Peace Corps volunteers are serving in over 60 countries. Since 1961, more than 240,000 Americans have joined the Peace Corps, serving in 142 nations.

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The Tokens earn a #1 hit with “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”


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Year
1961
Month Day
December 18

The song that topped the Billboard pop chart on December 18, 1961, was an instant classic that went on to become one of the most successful pop songs of all time, yet its true originator saw only a tiny fraction of the song’s enormous profits.

The story begins in Johannesburg, South Africa, where in 1938, a group of Zulu singers and dancers called Solomon Linda and the Evening Birds stepped into the first recording studio ever set up in sub-Saharan Africa and recorded a song called “Mbube”—Zulu for “the lion.”  “Mbube” was a regional hit, and it helped make Solomon Linda into a South African star. But the story might have ended there had a copy of the record not made its way to New York City in the early 1950s, where it was saved from the slush pile at Decca Records by the legendary folklorist Alan Lomax. Without actually hearing any of the records in a box sent from Africa, Lomax thought a friend of his might be interested in the box’s contents. That friend was the folksinger Pete Seeger.

Unable to understand the lyrics of “Mbube,” Seeger transcribed the central chant as “Wimoweh,” and that became the name of the song as recorded by the Weavers and released in early 1952, just as the group was about to be blacklisted thanks to the McCarthy hearings. Eventually, Jay Siegel, the teenage lead singer of the Tokens, would hear and fall in love with “Wimoweh” through the Kingston Trio’s cover version of the Weavers’ song. The Tokens’ label commissioned English-language lyrics for the song, which was re-titled “The Lion Sleeps Tonight” and went on to become not just a #1 song on this day in 1961, but one of the most-covered, most successful pop songs of all time.

In an excellent article for Rolling Stone magazine in 2000, South African journalist Rian Malan followed both the music and the money associated with “The Lion Sleeps Tonight,” exposing the sequence of business arrangements that ended up making millions for a handful of prominent U.S. music publishers while yielding only a $1,000 personal check from Pete Seeger to Solomon Linda during Linda’s lifetime. Because his composition was treated as public-domain “folk” material by Seeger and by the subsequent writer of the English-language lyrics in the Tokens’ version, Linda never participated in the royalty stream generated by either “Wimoweh” or “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” And prior to reaching an undisclosed settlement in 2006, his heirs received only a tiny fraction of the millions of dollars they might have been due had Linda retained his songwriting credit on what Malan rightly calls “The most famous melody ever to emerge from Africa.”

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John F. Kennedy inaugurated


Year
1961
Month Day
January 20

On January 20, 1961, on the newly renovated east front of the United States Capitol, John Fitzgerald Kennedy is inaugurated as the 35th president of the United States. It was a cold and clear day, and the nation’s capital was covered with a snowfall from the previous night. The ceremony began with a religious invocation and prayers, and then African-American opera singer Marian Anderson sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and Robert Frost recited his poem “The Gift Outright.” Kennedy was administered the oath of office by Chief Justice Earl Warren. During his famous inauguration address, Kennedy, the youngest candidate ever elected to the presidency and the country’s first Catholic president, declared that “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans” and appealed to Americans to “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

Born in Brookline, Massachusetts, in 1917, Kennedy was the son of Joseph Patrick Kennedy, a wealthy businessman. Both of his grandfathers were politicians, and his father served appointed positions in the Roosevelt administration, most prominently as U.S. ambassador to Britain. Kennedy volunteered to fight in World War II and was decorated for an August 1943 action in which he saved several of his men after the PT torpedo boat he was commanding was sunk in the South Pacific. In 1944, Kennedy’s older brother, Joseph, was killed in a bombing mission over Belgium. Joseph had planned to make a career in politics, and Kennedy, discharged and working as a reporter, decided to enter politics in his place.

READ MORE: How JFK Earned Two Medals in World War II

He won the Democratic nomination for the 11th Congressional District of Massachusetts, defeated his Republican opponent, and became a U.S. congressman at the age of 29. Twice reelected, he was known in Congress for his foreign policy expertise, often taking a bipartisan stance when it came to issues of national security. In the election of 1952, in which the Republicans won the White House and majorities in Congress, Kennedy captured the Senate seat of Republican Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. after an intensive campaign.

In 1956, he nearly became the running mate of Democratic presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson, winning Kennedy wide national exposure and leading him to consider a bid for the 1960 presidential nomination. In 1957, he won the Pulitzer Prize for his book of biographical essays, Profiles in Courage, and in 1958, he was reelected to the Senate by the largest margin in Massachusetts history. By that time, Kennedy’s presidential campaign was in full swing.

The press embraced the young, idealistic senator and his glamorous wife, Jackie, and Kennedy’s father bought a 40-passenger aircraft to transport the candidate and his staff around the country. By the time the 1960 Democratic National Convention convened, Kennedy had won seven primary victories. On July 13, he was nominated on the first ballot, and the next day Senate majority leader Lyndon Johnson was chosen as his running mate. Opposed by Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., Kennedy performed well in televised debates with Nixon, a new addition to presidential politics. On November 8, he was elected president.

Kennedy, his wife, and family seemed fitting representatives of the youthful spirit of America during the early 1960s, and the Kennedy White House was idealized by admirers as a modern-day “Camelot.” In foreign policy, Kennedy actively fought communism in the world, ordering the controversial Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba and sending thousands of U.S. military “advisors” to Vietnam. During the Cuban Missile Crisis, he displayed firmness and restraint, exercising an unyielding opposition to the placement of Soviet missiles in Cuba but also demonstrating a level-headedness during negotiations for their removal. On the domestic front, he introduced his “New Frontier” social legislation, calling for a rigorous federal desegregation policy and a sweeping new civil rights bill. On November 22, 1963, after less than three years in office, Kennedy was assassinated while riding in an open-car motorcade with his wife in Dallas, Texas.

READ MORE: Assassination of John F. Kennedy

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Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin becomes the first man in space

Year
1961
Month Day
April 12

On April 12, 1961, aboard the spacecraft Vostok 1, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin becomes the first human being to travel into space. During the flight, the 27-year-old test pilot and industrial technician also became the first man to orbit the planet, a feat accomplished by his space capsule in 89 minutes. Vostok 1 orbited Earth at a maximum altitude of 187 miles and was guided entirely by an automatic control system. The only statement attributed to Gagarin during his one hour and 48 minutes in space was, “Flight is proceeding normally; I am well.”

After his historic feat was announced, the attractive and unassuming Gagarin became an instant worldwide celebrity. He was awarded the Order of Lenin and given the title of Hero of the Soviet Union. Monuments were raised to him across the Soviet Union and streets renamed in his honor.

The triumph of the Soviet space program in putting the first man into space was a great blow to the United States, which had scheduled its first space flight for May 1961. Moreover, Gagarin had orbited Earth, a feat that eluded the U.S. space program until February 1962, when astronaut John Glenn made three orbits in Friendship 7. By that time, the Soviet Union had already made another leap ahead in the “space race” with the August 1961 flight of cosmonaut Gherman Titov in Vostok 2. Titov made 17 orbits and spent more than 25 hours in space.

READ MORE: What Really Happened to Yuri Gagarin, the First Man in Space?

To Soviet propagandists, the Soviet conquest of space was evidence of the supremacy of communism over capitalism. However, to those who worked on the Vostok program and earlier on Sputnik (which launched the first satellite into space in 1957), the successes were attributable chiefly to the brilliance of one man: Sergei Pavlovich Korolev. Because of his controversial past, Chief Designer Korolev was unknown in the West and to all but insiders in the USSR until his death in 1966.

Born in the Ukraine in 1906, Korolev was part of a scientific team that launched the first Soviet liquid-fueled rocket in 1933. In 1938, his military sponsor fell prey to Soviet leader Joseph Stalin’s purges, and Korolev and his colleagues were also put on trial. Convicted of treason and sabotage, Korolev was sentenced to 10 years in a labor camp. The Soviet authorities came to fear German rocket advances, however, and after only a year Korolev was put in charge of a prison design bureau and ordered to continue his rocketry work.

In 1945, Korolev was sent to Germany to learn about the V-2 rocket, which had been used to devastating effect by the Nazis against the British. The Americans had captured the rocket’s designer, Wernher von Braun, who later became head of the U.S. space program, but the Soviets acquired a fair amount of V-2 resources, including rockets, launch facilities, blueprints, and a few German V-2 technicians. By employing this technology and his own considerable engineering talents, by 1954 Korolev had built a rocket that could carry a five-ton nuclear warhead and in 1957 launched the first intercontinental ballistic missile.

That year, Korolev’s plan to launch a satellite into space was approved, and on October 4, 1957, Sputnik 1 was fired into Earth’s orbit. It was the first Soviet victory of the space race, and Korolev, still technically a prisoner, was officially rehabilitated. The Soviet space program under Korolev would go on to numerous space firsts in the late 1950s and early ’60s: first animal in orbit, first large scientific satellite, first man, first woman, first three men, first space walk, first spacecraft to impact the moon, first to orbit the moon, first to impact Venus, and first craft to soft-land on the moon. Throughout this time, Korolev remained anonymous, known only as the “Chief Designer.” His dream of sending cosmonauts to the moon eventually ended in failure, primarily because the Soviet lunar program received just one-tenth the funding allocated to America’s successful Apollo lunar landing program.

Korolev died in 1966. Upon his death, his identity was finally revealed to the world, and he was awarded a burial in the Kremlin wall as a hero of the Soviet Union. Yuri Gagarin was killed in a routine jet-aircraft test flight in 1968. His ashes were also placed in the Kremlin wall.

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Architect of the Holocaust sentenced to die


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Year
1961
Month Day
December 15

In Tel Aviv, Israel, Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi SS officer who organized Adolf Hitler’s “final solution of the Jewish question,” is condemned to death by an Israeli war crimes tribunal.

Eichmann was born in Solingen, Germany, in 1906. In November 1932, he joined the Nazi’s elite SS (Schutzstaffel) organization, whose members came to have broad responsibilities in Nazi Germany, including policing, intelligence, and the enforcement of Adolf Hitler’s anti-Semitic policies. Eichmann steadily rose in the SS hierarchy, and with the German annexation of Austria in 1938 he was sent to Vienna with the mission of ridding the city of Jews. He set up an efficient Jewish deportment center and in 1939 was sent to Prague on a similar mission. That year, Eichmann was appointed to the Jewish section of the SS central security office in Berlin.

In January 1942, Eichmann met with top Nazi officials at the Wannsee Conference near Berlin for the purpose of planning a “final solution of the Jewish question,” as Nazi leader Hermann Goering put it. The Nazis decided to exterminate Europe’s Jewish population. Eichmann was appointed to coordinate the identification, assembly, and transportation of millions of Jews from occupied Europe to the Nazi death camps, where Jews were gassed or worked to death. He carried this duty out with horrifying efficiency, and between three to four million Jews perished in the extermination camps before the end of World War II. Close to two million were executed elsewhere.

Following the war, Eichmann was captured by U.S. troops, but he escaped a prison camp in 1946 before having to face the Nuremberg International War Crimes Tribunal. Eichmann traveled under an assumed identity between Europe and the Middle East, and in 1950 he arrived in Argentina, which maintained lax immigration policies and was a safe haven for many Nazi war criminals. In 1957, a German prosecutor secretly informed Israel that Eichmann was living in Argentina. Agents from Israel’s intelligence service, the Mossad, were deployed to Argentina, and in early 1960 they located Eichmann living in the San Fernando section of Buenos Aires under the name of Ricardo Klement.

In May 1960, Argentina was celebrating the 150th anniversary of its revolution against Spain, and many tourists were traveling to Argentina from abroad to attend the festivities. The Mossad used the opportunity to smuggle more agents into the country. Israel, knowing that Argentina might never extradite Eichmann for trial, had decided to abduct him and take him to Israel illegally. On May 11, Mossad operatives descended on Garibaldi Street in San Fernando and snatched Eichmann away as he was walking from the bus to his home. His family called local hospitals but not the police, and Argentina knew nothing of the operation. On May 20, a drugged Eichmann was flown out of Argentina disguised as an Israeli airline worker who had suffered head trauma in an accident. Three days later, Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion announced that Eichmann was in Israeli custody.

Argentina demanded Eichmann’s return, but Israel argued that his status as an international war criminal gave them the right to proceed with a trial. On April 11, 1961, Eichmann’s trial began in Jerusalem. It was the first televised trial in history. Eichmann faced 15 charges, including crimes against humanity, crimes against the Jewish people, and war crimes. He claimed he was just following orders, but the judges disagreed, finding him guilty on all counts on December 15 and sentencing him to die. On May 31, 1962, he was hanged near Tel Aviv. His body was cremated and his ashes thrown into the sea.

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Alan Shepard becomes the first American in space

From Cape Canaveral, Florida, Navy Commander Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr. is launched into space aboard the Freedom 7 space capsule, becoming the first American astronaut to travel into space. The suborbital flight, which lasted 15 minutes and reached a height of 116 miles into the atmosphere, was a major triumph for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

NASA was established in 1958 to keep U.S. space efforts abreast of recent Soviet achievements, such as the launching of the world’s first artificial satellite–Sputnik 1–in 1957. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the two superpowers raced to become the first country to put a man in space and return him to Earth. On April 12, 1961, the Soviet space program won the race when cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin was launched into space, put in orbit around the planet, and safely returned to Earth. One month later, Shepard’s suborbital flight restored faith in the U.S. space program.

NASA continued to trail the Soviets closely until the late 1960s and the successes of the Apollo lunar program. In July 1969, the Americans took a giant leap forward with Apollo 11, a three-stage spacecraft that took U.S. astronauts to the surface of the moon and returned them to Earth. On February 5, 1971, Alan Shepard, the first American in space, became the fifth astronaut to walk on the moon as part of the Apollo 14 lunar landing mission.

READ MORE: Space Exploration: Timeline and Technologies 

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Appeal for Amnesty campaign launches

Year
1961
Month Day
May 28

On May 28, 1961, the British newspaper The London Observer publishes British lawyer Peter Benenson’s article “The Forgotten Prisoners” on its front page, launching the Appeal for Amnesty 1961—a campaign calling for the release of all people imprisoned in various parts of the world because of the peaceful expression of their beliefs. The movement later became Amnesty International

Benenson was inspired to write the appeal after reading an article about two Portuguese students who were jailed after raising their glasses in a toast to freedom in a public restaurant. At the time, Portugal was a dictatorship ruled by Antonio de Oliveira Salazar. Outraged, Benenson penned the Observer article making the case for the students’ release and urging readers to write letters of protest to the Portuguese government. The article also drew attention to the variety of human rights violations taking place around the world, and coined the term “prisoners of conscience” to describe “any person who is physically restrained (by imprisonment or otherwise) from expressing … any opinion which he honestly holds and does not advocate or condone personal violence.”

“The Forgotten Prisoners” was soon reprinted in newspapers across the globe, and Berenson’s amnesty campaign received hundreds of offers of support. In July, delegates from Belgium, the United Kingdom, France, the United States, Germany, Ireland and Switzerland met to begin “a permanent international movement in defense of freedom of opinion and religion.” The following year, this movement would officially become the human rights organization Amnesty International.

Amnesty International took its mandate from the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which holds that all people have fundamental rights that transcend national, cultural, religious and ideological boundaries. By the 10th anniversary of the Appeal for Amnesty 1961, the organization it spawned numbered over 1,000 voluntary groups in 28 countries, with those figures rising steadily. In 1977, the organization received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Amnesty International owes much of its success in promoting human rights to its impartiality and its focus on individuals rather than political systems. Today, Amnesty International continues to work toward its goals of ensuring prompt and fair trials for all prisoners, ending torture and capital punishment and securing the release of “prisoners of conscience” around the globe.

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President Kennedy orders more troops to South Vietnam

Year
1961
Month Day
May 11

President Kennedy approves sending 400 Special Forces troops and 100 other U.S. military advisers to South Vietnam. On the same day, he orders the start of clandestine warfare against North Vietnam to be conducted by South Vietnamese agents under the direction and training of the CIA and U.S. Special Forces troops. Kennedy’s orders also called for South Vietnamese forces to infiltrate Laos to locate and disrupt communist bases and supply lines there.

READ MORE: How the Vietnam War Ratcheted Up Under 5 U.S. Presidents

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