HIV-positive Ray brothers’ home burned down

On August 29, 1987, the home of the Ray brothers—three HIV-positive Florida boys—burns down in what was almost certainly a case of arson. The three brothers, who are not in the house at the time, have already faced intense discrimination due to their HIV status, and today their story serves as a reminder of the brutal reality of America’s reaction to the HIV/AIDS crisis.

Richard, Robert and Randy Ray, who were 10, 9 and 8 at the time, were all born with hemophilia, a condition that required them to receive blood transfusions. As was all too common in the 1980s, before the government and medical establishment had fully grappled with the scope of HIV/AIDS and how best to manage the epidemic, the brothers contracted HIV from HIV-positive blood donors. Although it was widely known by the late 80s that this was a common way of contracting HIV, and that HIV affected people of all sexual orientations, many Americans still considered the virus a “gay disease,” compounding the stigma of the illness with homophobia.

This was the case in the Rays’ hometown of Arcadia, Florida. When the boys’ HIV status became public knowledge, they were shunned from their church and their friends and barred from attending school due to widespread misconceptions around how the virus could be spread (attending the same school as someone with HIV poses virtually zero risk of becoming infected). The Rays’ parents took DeSoto County to federal court, demanding that their sons be allowed to attend, and eventually won the case. Locals responded with a partial boycott of the boys’ school and with threatening phone calls to the Rays, which prompted the family to stay over elsewhere. Although they avoided the fire, which reportedly started in the boys’ bedroom, they were forced to leave their hometown forever. “Arcadia is no longer our home,” their father, Clifford Ray, told the press the day after the fire. “That much was made clear to us last night.”

Ricky Ray died of an AIDS-related illness in 1992, at age 15. In 1998, Congress passed the Ricky Ray Relief Act, establishing a fund to help cover expenses for hemophiliacs who contracted HIV/AIDS. Robert Ray died in 2000 at age 22. 

READ MORE: AIDS Crisis Timeline

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First scientific report on AIDS is published

On June 5, 1981, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publishes an article in its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report describing five cases of a rare lung infection, PCP, in young, otherwise healthy gay men in Los Angeles. It was unknown at the time, but the article is describing the effects of AIDS. Today, the article’s publication is often cited as the beginning of the AIDS crisis.

The article prompted medical professionals around the country, particularly in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, to send the CDC information about similar, mysterious cases. Because it is first detected circulating among gay men, Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome, as it will be dubbed the following year, was colloquially referred to as “gay cancer” and formally dubbed Gay-Related Immune Deficiency before the term AIDS was coined in 1982. 

AIDS is not lethal in and of itself—rather, it severely impacts the immune system’s ability to fight off illness, leaving the patient vulnerable to all manner of infections, particularly “opportunistic infections.” PCP is one such opportunistic infection, and it was one of a handful of illnesses whose increased occurrence in the year 1981 revealed that there was an HIV/AIDS epidemic. Within a few years, the AIDS epidemic became the major public health crisis of the late 20th century, although many continued to believe it only affected gay men. Due largely to the misconception that it was a “gay disease,” it would be two years before the New York Times published its first front-page article about AIDS and four years before then-President Ronald Reagan first mentioned it publicly.

Two of the men mentioned in the study were dead by the time it was published, and the three others died a short time later. By the end of the millennium, nearly 775,000 Americans died of AIDS-related illnesses. 

READ MORE: How AIDS Remained an Unspoken—But Deadly—Epidemic

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1982 garment workers’ strike begins in New York City’s Chinatown

Over 20,000 garment workers, almost all of them Asian American women, pack into Columbus Park in New York City’s Chinatown on June 24, 1982. The rally and subsequent march demonstrate the workers’ power to the city and the entire garment industry, delivering a decisive victory for the striking workers.

After the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 did away with a racist quota system that dated back to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, a number of immigrants from China and Hong Kong made their way to New York. Many of the women who arrived in Chinatown after 1965 found work in the garment industry, where pay was bad and conditions were poor. Workers were paid based on how much they produced, rather than by the hour, which led to constant arguing with management and left many making less than minimum wage. The union representing these workers, the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union, was majority-Asian, but its leadership remained mostly white and did little to communicate with its Chinese-speaking members. Nevertheless, Katie Quan, a garment worker originally from San Francisco, developed her skills as an organizer, forging bonds with her fellow workers and organizing work stoppages to secure them higher wages.

READ MORE: When 20,000 Asian Americans Demanded Garment Workers’ Rights—And Won

In 1982, the contractors who served as middlemen between manufacturers and workers refused to renew their contract with the garment workers’ union, asking them to give up some of their medical and retirement benefits in addition to three holidays. Quan quickly began organizing her comrades and drawing media attention to the workers’ cause. Although the contractors, who were for the most part also Chinese, tried to play up their ethnic connection and frame the ILGW as indifferent to its Asian members, the workers stuck together. On June 24th, Quan and her fellow organizers called a strike and drew a crowd of over 20,000 workers to their rally. Their subsequent march through the streets was a show of force, and within a few days nearly every contractor had agreed to sign the union contract.

The strike was a major victory for the garment workers and a turning point for their union, which worked much more closely with its Asian American workers from then on. Many of those involved went on to become labor leaders, including Quan, who later served as vice president of the ILGW and formed the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance. Reflecting on the strike, Quan later wrote that it had proven the power of workers to force concessions not only from their managers but also from their unions: “only when the workers stand up and organize themselves will there be justice and lasting change.”

READ MORE: Asian American Milestones: A Timeline

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People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is founded

Year
1980
Month Day
August 21

On August 21, 1980, animal rights advocates Ingrid Newkirk and Alex Pacheco found People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Rising from humble beginnings, PETA will soon become the world’s foremost and most controversial animal rights organization.

Newkirk’s interest in protecting animals began 11 years prior, when she found some abandoned kittens and was appalled by the conditions that awaited them at a New York City animal shelter. She set aside her plans to become a stockbroker and instead focused on animals, eventually becoming the first female poundmaster in the history of the District of Columbia. In 1980 she began dating Pacheco, a graduate student and activist who had sailed aboard a whale-protection ship, and the two co-founded PETA a short time later. 

PETA’s first major campaign came the following year, when Pacheco got a job at a research facility in Silver Spring, Maryland in order to expose the experiments being conducted on monkeys there. PETA distributed photos of the monkeys being kept in horrific conditions, leading to a police raid and, eventually, the first-ever conviction of a researcher on animal-cruelty charges.

Having made a national name for itself, PETA continued to shine a spotlight on animal cruelty. PETA continued to conduct undercover operations and file lawsuits on behalf of animals, but is is perhaps best known for its marketing campaigns and stunts. An early-’90s ad campaign depicted bloody scenes from slaughterhouses with captions like “Do you want fries with that?” while another ad series featured a number of naked celebrities in protest of the fur industry. PETA activists have been known to wear elaborate costumes, body paint, or nothing at all to draw attention to their causes, and to throw red paint symbolizing blood on people wearing fur. 

PETA has been criticized from all sides—many believe them to be extremists and find their methods distasteful, while other activists criticize PETA’s willingness to work with corporations in industries like fast food or fashion to make incremental improvements to animal welfare. Still others within the animal rights movement argue that PETA plays an outsized role, focusing attention on media controversies instead of concrete changes.

Nonetheless, PETA has achieved a litany of animal-rights reforms: convincing some of the world’s largest fashion brands not to use fur, animal-testing bans by more than 4,6000 personal-care companies, ending the use of animals in automobile crash tests, closing the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey’s Circus and exposing thousands of instances of animal cruelty across the world are just a few of the organization’s accomplishments.

READ MORE: 5 Animals That Helped Change History 

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Discovery of Ozone Hole announced

Year
1985
Month Day
May 16

In the scientific journal Nature on May 16, 1985, three scientists from the British Antarctic Survey announce their detection of abnormally low levels of ozone over the South Pole. Their discovery, commonly known as the Ozone Hole, became a palpable example of mankind’s ability to damage the Earth’s atmosphere as well as one of the most famous success stories in the history of climate activism.

The ozone layer is a region of the Earth’s stratosphere containing high levels of trioxygen, which effectively blocks much of the sun’s most harmful ultraviolet radiation from reaching the planet’s surface. Since the 1970’s, scientists had pushed for the regulation of chlorofluorocarbons, chemicals found in everyday items like air conditioners and aerosol sprays, due to their adverse effects on this layer. The Environmental Protection Agency banned the production of CFCs in 1978. It was the Nature paper by Joe Farman, Brian Gardiner and Jonathan Shanklin, however, which specifically revealed annual depletion of ozone in a spot above the Arctic.

The international community was uncharacteristically quick to act, perhaps because the seemingly sudden appearance of a “hole” in the atmosphere made for such a compelling and easily understandable story. Within two years, in direct response to the Nature article and corroborating studies, 46 nations signed the Montreal Protocol, pledging to phase out substances known to cause ozone depletion. All 197 members of the United Nations would eventually ratify the treaty, and as a result scientists now predict that the ozone layer will return to its pre-1980 levels before the end of the 21st century. The relative speed and unanimous adoption of the treaty around the world led former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to call the Montreal Protocol “perhaps the single most successful international agreement to date.”

READ MORE: Climate Change History 

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Walter Cronkite signs off as anchorman of “CBS Evening News”


Year
1981
Month Day
March 06

On March 6, 1981, CBS Evening News anchor Walter Cronkite signs off with his trademark valediction, “And that’s the way it is,” for the final time. Over the previous 19 years, Cronkite had established himself not only as the nation’s leading newsman but as “the most trusted man in America,” a steady presence during two decades of social and political upheaval.

Cronkite had reported from the European front in World War II and anchored CBS’ coverage of the 1952 and 1956 elections, as well as the 1960 Olympics. He took over as the network’s premier news anchor in April of 1962, just in time to cover the most dramatic events of the 1960s. The Cuban Missile Crisis came six months into his tenure, and a year later Cronkite would break the news that President John F. Kennedy had been shot. The footage of Cronkite removing his glasses and composing himself as he read the official AP report of Kennedy’s death, which he did 38 minutes after the president was pronounced dead in Dallas, is one of the most enduring images of one of the most traumatic days in American history. Cronkite would cover the other assassinations that rocked the country over the coming years, including those of Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert F. Kennedy and John Lennon. He also reported on some of the most uplifting moments of the era, most famously the Moon Landing in 1969.

In 1968, at the invitation of the U.S. military, Cronkite traveled to Vietnam. In a televised special on the war, he said, “it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate.” “Uncle Walter” was already a household name and one of the most respected men in the country, and his pronouncement that the war was un-winnable is said to have contributed to President Lyndon Johnson’s decision not to run for re-election in 1968. Moments like these led to the perception that Cronkite was more straightforward with the American people than their own elected leaders, an attitude reflected in a 1972 poll that named him the most trusted person in the country. The next few years saw the unfolding of the Watergate Scandal, which further degraded public confidence in Washington and which Cronkite followed closely.

Cronkite relinquished the anchor’s chair at the age of 65 because CBS mandated that its employees retire at that age. He remained in public life for many years, writing a syndicated column and regularly hosting the Kennedy Center Honors. His replacement, Dan Rather, would hold the job even longer than Cronkite, anchoring the Evening News until 2005. Nonetheless, due both to his near-universally recognized credibility and to the century-defining events he reported to the nation, Cronkite remains a singular figure, quite possibly the most respected television news journalist in American history. He died in 2009. 

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Stock markets have the largest-ever one-day crash on “Black Monday”

Year
1987
Month Day
October 19

The largest-ever one-day percentage decline in the Dow Jones Industrial Average comes not in 1929 but on October 19, 1987. As a number of unrelated events conspired to tank global markets, the Dow dropped 508 points—22.6 percent—in a panic that foreshadowed larger systemic issues.

Confidence on Wall Street had grown throughout the 1980s as the economy pulled out of a slump and President Ronald Reagan implemented business-friendly policies. In October 1987, however, indicators began to suggest that the bull market of the last five years was coming to an end. The government reported a surprisingly large trade deficit, precipitating a decline in the U.S. Dollar. Congress revealed it was considering closing tax loopholes for corporate mergers, worrying investors who were used to loose regulation.

As these concerns grew, Iran attacked two oil tankers off of Kuwait and a freak storm paralyzed England, closing British markets early on the Friday before the crash. The following Monday, U.S. investors awoke to news of turmoil in Asian and European markets, and the Dow began to tumble.

Further compounding the crash was the practice of program trading, the programming of computers to automatically execute trades under certain conditions. Once the rush to sell began, matters were quite literally out of traders’ hands and machines escalated the damage to the market.

Despite looking like the beginning of another Great Depression—the L.A. Times’ headline read “Bedlam on Wall St.” while the New York Daily News’ simply read “PANIC!,” Black Monday has been largely forgotten by Americans not versed in financial history. As it would again in 2008, the federal government took a number of measures to “correct” the market, resulting in immediate gains over the next few weeks. By 1989, the market appeared to have made a full recovery. 

Some now interpret the events surrounding Black Monday as proof that boom-and-bust cycles are natural and healthy aspects of modern economics, while others believe it was a missed opportunity to examine and regulate the kind of risky behaviors that led to the crash of 2008.

READ MORE: The Warning Signs Investors Missed Before the 1929 Crash

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Gas leak kills 23 at plastics factory

Year
1989
Month Day
October 23

On October 23, 1989, 23 people die in a series of explosions sparked by an ethylene leak at a factory in Pasadena, Texas. The blasts, which took place at a Phillips Petroleum Company plant, were caused by inadequate safety procedures.

A polyethylene reactor at the Phillips 66 Chemical Complex in Pasadena created chemical compounds necessary for the production of plastics. The plant produced millions of pounds of plastics daily for use in toys and containers.

In an effort to cut costs, Phillips subcontracted much of the necessary maintenance work in the plant. Fish Engineering and Construction, the primary subcontractor, did not enjoy a stellar reputation even prior to the October 23 disaster. In August, a Fish employee opened gas piping for maintenance without isolating the line. This caused flammable solvents and gas to be sent into a work area where they ignited, killing one worker and injuring four others.

Fish was undertaking maintenance work on the plant’s polyethylene reactor on October 23 when, once again, problems arose. A valve was not secured properly, and at approximately 1 p.m., 85,000 pounds of highly flammable ethylene-isobutane gas were released into the plant. There were no detectors or warning systems in place to give notice of the impending disaster. Within two minutes, the large gas cloud ignited with the power of two-and-a-half tons of dynamite.

The explosion could be heard for miles in every direction and the resulting fireball was visible at least 15 miles away. Twenty-three workers at Phillips were killed and another 130 were seriously injured as the first explosion set off a chain reaction of blasts.

A subsequent investigation found that although the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) had cited Phillips for several serious safety violations in previous years, it had not done a comprehensive inspection of the plant since 1975. Other testimony revealed that inadequate safety procedures used during the maintenance process had left the plant vulnerable to disaster. However, no criminal charges were filed against Phillips or its managers.

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Truck explosion kills 3,000 in Afghanistan

Year
1982
Month Day
November 02

On November 2, 1982, a truck explodes in the Salang Tunnel in Afghanistan, killing an estimated 3,000 people, mostly Soviet soldiers traveling to Kabul.

The Soviet Union’s military foray into Afghanistan was disastrous by nearly every measure, but perhaps the worst single incident was the Salang Tunnel explosion in 1982. A long army convoy was traveling from Russia to Kabul through the border city of Hairotum. The route took the convoy through the Salang Tunnel, which is 1.7 miles long, 25 feet high and approximately 17 feet wide. The tunnel, one of the world’s highest at an altitude of 11,000 feet, was built by the Soviets in the 1970s.

The Soviet army kept a tight lid on the story, but it is believed that an army vehicle collided with a fuel truck midway through the long tunnel. About 30 buses carrying soldiers were immediately blown up in the resulting explosion. Fire in the tunnel spread quickly as survivors began to panic. Believing the explosion to be part of an attack, the military stationed at both ends of the tunnel stopped traffic from exiting. As cars idled in the tunnel, the levels of carbon monoxide in the air increased drastically and the fire continued to spread. Exacerbating the situation, the tunnel’s ventilation system had broken down a couple of days earlier, resulting in further casualties from burns and carbon monoxide poisoning.

It took several days for workers to reach all the bodies in the tunnel. Because the Soviet army limited the information released about the disaster, the full extent of the tragedy may never be known.

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Da Vinci notebook sells for over $5M


Updated:
Original:
Year
1980
Month Day
December 12

On December 12, 1980, American oil tycoon Armand Hammer pays $5,126,000 at auction for a notebook containing writings by the legendary artist Leonardo da Vinci.

The manuscript, written around 1508, was one of some 30 similar books da Vinci produced during his lifetime on a variety of subjects. It contained 72 loose pages featuring some 300 notes and detailed drawings, all relating to the common theme of water and how it moved. Experts have said that da Vinci drew on it to paint the background of his masterwork, the Mona Lisa. The text, written in brown ink and chalk, read from right to left, an example of da Vinci’s favored mirror-writing technique. The painter Giuseppi Ghezzi discovered the notebook in 1690 in a chest of papers belonging to Guglielmo della Porto, a 16th-century Milanese sculptor who had studied Leonardo’s work. In 1717, Thomas Coke, the first earl of Leicester, bought the manuscript and installed it among his impressive collection of art at his family estate in England.

More than two centuries later, the notebook–by now known as the Leicester Codex–showed up on the auction block at Christie’s in London when the current Lord Coke was forced to sell it to cover inheritance taxes on the estate and art collection. In the days before the sale, art experts and the press speculated that the notebook would go for $7 to $20 million. In fact, the bidding started at $1.4 million and lasted less than two minutes, as Hammer and at least two or three other bidders competed to raise the price $100,000 at a time. The $5.12 million price tag was the highest ever paid for a manuscript at that time; a copy of the legendary Gutenberg Bible had gone for only $2 million in 1978. “I’m very happy with the price. I expected to pay more,” Hammer said later. “There is no work of art in the world I wanted more than this.” Lord Coke, on the other hand, was only “reasonably happy” with the sale; he claimed the proceeds would not be sufficient to cover the taxes he owed.

Hammer, the president of Occidental Petroleum Corporation, renamed his prize the Hammer Codex and added it to his valuable collection of art. When Hammer died in 1990, he left the notebook and other works to the Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Several years later, the museum offered the manuscript for sale, claiming it was forced to take this action to cover legal costs incurred when the niece and sole heir of Hammer’s late wife, Frances, sued the estate claiming Hammer had cheated Frances out of her rightful share of his fortune. On November 11, 1994, the Hammer Codex was sold to an anonymous bidder–soon identified as Bill Gates, the billionaire founder of Microsoft–at a New York auction for a new record high price of $30.8 million. Gates restored the title of Leicester Codex and has since loaned the manuscript to a number of museums for public display.

READ MORE: How Leonardo da Vinci’s Surprising Family Roots May Have Influenced His Work

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