Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) signed into law

Year
1990
Month Day
July 26

On July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signs the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the most sweeping affirmation of rights for the disabled in American history at the time, into law.

As disability rights attorney Arlene Mayerson would later write, the story of the ADA began “when people with disabilities began to challenge societal barriers that excluded them from their communities, and when parents of children with disabilities began to fight against the exclusion and segregation of their children.” Activists explicitly compared their struggle to the Civil Rights movement, arguing that without federal requirements in place, the disabled faced discrimination both as patrons of public spaces and businesses and in seeking employment. In 1986, the National Council on Disability, an independent government agency, issued a report that reached the same conclusion, highlighting the many gaps in federal law that made full participation in society and equal opportunities for employment impossible for many disabled Americans.

Thanks largely to the lobbying efforts of Patrisha Wright, cofounder of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, federal legislation similar to a version of the Civil Rights Act for the disabled gained support in the late 80s. The eventual bill, the ADA, covered a wide range of physical and mental disabilities. The bulk of the act provides legal recourse against employers who discriminate against the disabled and set standards of access to public buildings and public accommodations (hotels, restaurants, etc.). It also established federal laws regarding service animals, among other things. 

In March of 1990, a group of disability rights activists staged the Capitol Crawl, in which disabled people pulled themselves up all 100 steps of the Capitol building in order to highlight the nation’s lack of accessibility. Despite pressure from some church groups, who felt the ADA unfairly burdened them, the bill passed the House by unanimous voice vote and the Senate 76-6, paving the way for its signing on July 26 by President Bush, who said, “Let the shameful wall of exclusion finally come tumbling down.”

READ MORE: When the ‘Capitol Crawl’ Dramatized the Need for Americans with Disabilities Act

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18-year-old Ryan White, national symbol of the AIDS crisis, dies

Year
1990
Month Day
April 08

On April 8, 1990, 18-year-old Ryan White dies of pneumonia, due to having contracted AIDS from a blood transfusion. He had been given six months to live in December of 1984 but defied expectations and lived for five more years, during which time his story helped educate the public and dispel widespread misconceptions about HIV/AIDS.

White suffered from hemophilia and thus required weekly blood transfusions. On December 17, 1984, just after his 13th birthday, he was diagnosed with AIDS, which he had contracted from one such transfusion. It was later revealed that roughly 90 percent of American hemophiliacs who had received similar treatments between 1979 and 1984 suffered the same fate. White was given six months to live, but recovered from the illness that had brought his disease to light and eventually felt healthy enough to return to school.

Though the scientific community knew that AIDS could only be transmitted through bodily fluids, the community around White’s Russiaville, Indiana school was paranoid that he would contaminate his classmates. White was denied entry to his school, and when the Indiana Department of Education ruled that he must be admitted the local school board unanimously voted to appeal the decision. From August of 1985 until the following June, White’s family and their opponents—who at one point held a fundraiser in the school gymnasium to support the cause of keeping him out—fought a legal battle that garnered national headlines. A diverse array of public figures appeared with White and spoke on his behalf, including Elton John, Michael Jackson, Alyssa Milano, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and former President Ronald Reagan.

White was eventually allowed to return to school and spent his remaining years living a relatively normal life, although he made regular media appearances in an effort to educate the public about his illness. By the time of his death, just months before he was to graduate high school, White had become one of the leading figures in the movement to destigmatize HIV/AIDS. Several months later, the Ryan White CARE Act became federal law, providing a dramatic boost in funding for the treatment of low-income and un-insured people with HIV/AIDS.

READ MORE: The History of AIDS

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“Pale Blue Dot” photo of Earth is taken

On Valentine’s Day, 1990, 3.7 billion miles away from the sun, the Voyager 1 spacecraft takes a photograph of Earth. The picture, known as Pale Blue Dot, depicts our planet as a nearly indiscernible speck roughly the size of a pixel.

Launched on September 5, 1977, Voyagers 1 and 2 were charged with exploring the outer reaches of our solar system. It passed by Jupiter in March of 1979 and Saturn the following year. The gaps between the outer planets are so vast that it was another decade before it passed by Neptune and arrived at the spot where it was to take a series of images of the planets, known as the “Family Portrait” of our solar system.

Of the Family Portrait series, Pale Blue Dot was certainly the most memorable. The furthest image ever taken of Earth, it lent its name to popular astronomer Carl Sagan’s 1994 book. Sagan, who advised the Voyager mission and had suggested the photo, wrote the following: “Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there—on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.”

Voyager 1’s journey continues. In 1998, it became the most distant human-made object in space, and on August 25, 2012, it left the furthest reaches of the sun’s magnetic field and solar winds, becoming the first man-made object in interstellar space. 

READ MORE: 6 Fascinating Facts About Space Probe Voyager 1

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Douglas Wilder of Virginia becomes the nation’s first African American governor


Year
1990
Month Day
January 13

Douglas Wilder, the first African American to be elected governor of an American state, takes office as Governor of Virginia on January 13, 1990. Wilder broke a number of color barriers in Virginia politics and remains an enduring and controversial figure in the state’s political scene.

Born in 1931 in Church Hill, a poor and segregated neighborhood of Richmond, Wilder is the grandson of slaves and is named for Frederick Douglass. He grew up in the Jim Crow era, graduating from Richmond’s Virginia Union University in 1951. Wilder fought in the Korean War, earning the Bronze Star, before studying law at Howard University and returning to Richmond to practice.

Wilder entered politics by way of a special election to the State Senate in 1969, becoming the state’s first African American state senator since Reconstruction. A Democrat, he developed a reputation for taking on other members of his party. In 1982, he threatened to run for Senate as an independent after the presumptive Democratic nominee gave a speech praising the Byrd Organization, the powerful and formerly pro-segregation political machine that had long dominated the Virginia Democratic Party. In 1986, Wilder became the first African American to win a statewide election in Virginia when he was elected Lieutenant Governor. Four years later, in an extremely narrow race that triggered an automatic recount, he was elected Governor.

Some political scientists have speculated that the race was unexpectedly close due to the “Bradley Effect,” the effect on polls of racist voters lying about their willingness to vote for non-white candidates. Though Republicans had painted him as a liberal due to his pro-choice stance on abortion, Wilder governed as a “tough on crime” centrist. Bills aimed at reducing crime and gun violence, as well as infrastructure spending in the rapidly expanding suburbs of Northern Virginia, were hallmarks of his tenure. Wilder also divested all state institutions from the apartheid government of South Africa, making it the first Southern state to do so.

Virginia law prohibits governors from running for re-election, but Wilder remained active in state politics. In the 2000s, he was one of the leaders of a movement to directly elect the Mayor of Richmond—at the time, the City Council chose one of its members to serve as mayor. In 2003, an overwhelming majority of Richmonders approved the direct-election measure, and Wilder was elected mayor the following year with 79 percent of the vote. Wilder supported then-Senator Barack Obama‘s first run for president, although he declined to endorse him in 2012. Since leaving office in 2008, Wilder has taught at Virginia Commonwealth University’s school of public affairs, which is named for him, and has worked to establish museums and memorials in remembrance of slavery.

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Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega surrenders to U.S.


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Year
1990
Month Day
January 03

On January 3, 1990, Panama’s General Manuel Antonio Noriega, after holing up for 10 days at the Vatican embassy in Panama City, surrenders to U.S. military troops to face charges of drug trafficking. Noriega was flown to Miami the following day and crowds of citizens on the streets of Panama City rejoiced. On July 10, 1992, the former dictator was convicted of drug trafficking, money laundering and racketeering and sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Noriega, who was born in Panama in 1938, was a loyal soldier to General Omar Torrijos, who seized power in a 1968 coup. Under Torrijos, Noriega headed up the notorious G-2 intelligence service, which harassed and terrorized people who criticized the Torrijos regime. Noriega also became a C.I.A. operative, while at the same time getting rich smuggling drugs.

In 1981, Omar Torrijos died in a plane crash and after a two-year power struggle, Noriega emerged as general of Panama’s military forces. He became the country’s de facto leader, fixing presidential elections so he could install his own puppet officials. Noriega’s rule was marked by corruption and violence. He also became a double agent, selling American intelligence secrets to Cuba and Eastern European governments. In 1987, when Panamanians organized protests against Noriega and demanded his ouster, he declared a national emergency, shut down radio stations and newspapers and forced his political enemies into exile.

That year the United States cut off aid to Panama and tried to get Noriega to resign; in 1988, the U.S. began considering the use of military action to put an end to his drug trafficking. Noriega voided the May 1989 presidential election, which included a U.S.-backed candidate, and in December of that year he declared his country to be in a state of war with the United States. Shortly afterward, an American marine was killed by Panamanian soldiers. President George H.W. Bush authorized “Operation Just Cause,” and on December 20, 1989, 13,000 U.S. troops were sent to occupy Panama City, along with the 12,000 already there, and seize Noriega. During the invasion, 23 U.S. troops were killed in action and over 300 were wounded. Approximately 450 Panamanian troops were killed; estimates for the number of civilians who died range from several hundred to several thousand, with thousands more injured.

Noriega, derogatorily nicknamed “Pineapple Face” in reference to his pockmarked skin, died in Panama City, Panama, on May 29, 2017.

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Willie Nelson’s assets are seized by the IRS

Year
1990
Month Day
November 09

“We try to work with taxpayers,” Internal Revenue Service spokeswoman Valerie Thornton told The New York Times in the autumn of 1991, “[a]nd if we have to come up with some creative payment plan, that’s what we’re going to do, because it’s in everyone’s best interest.” The creative payment plan to which Ms. Thornton was referring in her statement to the Times involved a unique revenue-sharing agreement negotiated between the IRS and the beloved country singer Willie Nelson, who was then struggling to repay a $16.7 million dollar tax debt that had led the federal government to seize all of his assets one year earlier, on November 9, 1990

Willie Nelson landed himself in tax trouble as a result of investments he made in the early 1980s in a tax shelter later ruled illegal by the IRS. With interest and penalties on top of his original unpaid taxes, Nelson was facing a tax bill in excess of $16 million, and though his lawyers convinced the IRS to accept a $6 million cash payment to settle the entire debt, even this was more than Nelson was able to pay, despite being perhaps the most bankable country-music star of the day. “He didn’t have $1 million—he probably didn’t have $30,000,” his daughter, Lana Nelson, told Texas Monthly magazine of her famously generous and free-spending father. In anticipation of negotiations with the IRS breaking down, Willie Nelson had his daughter remove his beloved guitar, Trigger, from his Texas home and ship it to him in Hawaii, where he was golfing when the feds raided his home on November 9, 1990. “As long as I got my guitar,” Willie Nelson said, “I’ll be fine.”

Ultimately, Nelson did get to keep his guitar and even got his Texas ranch back, but not before the government auctioned his home to the highest bidder in January 1991. That bidder, however, was a Nelson fan who purchased the ranch at the behest of a group of farmers who threw their support behind Nelson in thanks for his work in organizing the Farm Aid charitable concerts.

In June 1991, Nelson released a compilation album entitled The IRS Tapes: Who’ll Buy My Memories?, the first and perhaps last major-label record album ever released under a strict revenue-sharing agreement with the Internal Revenue Service. While the revenues generated by The IRS Tapes did not come close to settling the debt on its own, Nelson did manage to retire his debt to the federal government by 1993.

READ MORE: All the Weird Ways People Have Tried to Avoid Paying Taxes

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Walesa elected president of Poland


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Year
1990
Month Day
December 09

In Poland, Lech Walesa, founder of the Solidarity trade union, wins a landslide election victory, becoming the first directly elected Polish leader.

Walesa, born in 1943, was an electrician at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk when he was fired for union agitation in 1976. When protests broke out in the Gdansk shipyard over an increase in food prices in August 1980, Walesa climbed the shipyard fence and joined the thousands of workers inside. He was elected leader of the strike committee, and three days later the strikers’ demands were met. Walesa then helped coordinate other strikes in Gdansk and demanded that the Polish government allow the free formation of trade unions and the right to strike. On August 30, the government conceded to the strikers’ demands, legalizing trade unionism and granting greater freedom of religious and political expression.

Millions of Polish workers and farmers came together to form unions, and Solidarity was formed as a national federation of unions, with Walesa as its chairman. Under Walesa’s charismatic leadership, the organization grew in size and political influence, soon becoming a major threat to the authority of the Polish government. On December 13, 1981, martial law was declared in Poland, Solidarity was outlawed, and Walesa and other labor leaders were arrested.

In November 1982, overwhelming public outcry forced Walesa’s release, but Solidarity remained illegal. In 1983, Walesa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Fearing involuntary exile, he declined to travel to Norway to accept the award. Walesa continued as leader of the now-underground Solidarity movement, and he was subjected to continual monitoring and harassment by the Communist authorities.

In 1988, deteriorating economic conditions led to a new wave of labor strikes across Poland, and the government was forced to negotiate with Walesa. In April 1989, Solidarity was again legalized, and its members were allowed to enter a limited number of candidates in upcoming elections. By September, a Solidarity-led government coalition was in place, with Walesa’s colleague Tadeusz Mazowiecki as premier. In 1990, Poland’s first direct presidential election was held, and Walesa won by a landslide.

President Walesa successfully implemented free-market reforms, but unfortunately he was a far more effective labor leader than president. In 1995, he was narrowly defeated in his reelection by former communist Aleksander Kwasniewski, head of the Democratic Left Alliance.

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South Yemen and North Yemen are unified as the Republic of Yemen

Year
1990
Month Day
May 22

After 150 years apart, Marxist South Yemen and conservative North Yemen are unified as the Republic of Yemen. Ali Abdullah, president of North Yemen, became the new country’s president, and Ali Salem Al-Baidh, leader of the South Yemeni Socialist Party, vice president. The first free elections were held in 1993.

Situated at the southern tip of the Arabian Peninsula, Yemen was divided between the British and the Ottomans in the mid-19th century. The Turks were expelled from the north in 1918, but the British continued to dominate the south until 1967, when the Arab world’s first and only Marxist state, the People’s Republic of South Yemen, was established.

The unification of Yemen in 1990 did not go as smoothly as hoped; economic troubles in 1991 brought Yemen to the brink of collapse, and a civil war in 1994 between southern secessionists and Yemen’s northern-based government temporarily dissolved the Yemeni union. Free elections resumed in 1997. 

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George H.W. Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev agree to end production of chemical weapons

Year
1990
Month Day
June 01

At a superpowers summit meeting in Washington, D.C., U.S. President George H.W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev sign a historic agreement to end production of chemical weapons and begin the destruction of both nations’ sizable reserves of them. According to the agreement, on-site inspectors from both countries would observe the destruction process.

The treaty, which called for an 80 percent reduction of their chemical weapon arsenals, was part of an effort to create a climate of change that would discourage smaller nations from stockpiling and using the lethal weapons. First developed during World War I, most countries in the world were in possession of the technology needed to build chemical weapons by 1990, and some, such as Iraq, had engaged in chemical warfare in preceding years. The United States and Russia began destroying their chemical weapons arsenals in the early 1990s. In 1993, the U.S., Russia, and 150 other nations signed a comprehensive treaty banning chemical weapons. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty in 1997.

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Hubble Space Telescope placed in orbit

Year
1990
Month Day
April 25

The crew of the U.S. space shuttle Discovery places the Hubble Space Telescope, a long-term space-based observatory, into a low orbit around Earth.

The space telescope, conceived in the 1940s, designed in the 1970s, and built in the 1980s, was designed to give astronomers an unparalleled view of the solar system, the galaxy, and the universe. Initially, Hubble’s operators suffered a setback when a lens aberration was discovered, but a repair mission by space-walking astronauts in December 1993 successfully fixed the problem, and Hubble began sending back its first breathtaking images of the universe.

Free of atmospheric distortions, Hubble has a resolution 10 times that of ground-based observatories. About the size of a bus, the telescope is solar-powered and orbits Earth once every 97 minutes. Among its many astronomical achievements, Hubble has been used to record a comet’s collision with Jupiter, provide a direct look at the surface of Pluto, view distant galaxies, gas clouds and black holes, and see billions of years into the universe’s past.

READ MORE: 10 Fascinating Facts About the Hubble Space Telescope 

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