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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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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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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Nelson Mandela released from prison

Year
1990
Month Day
February 11

Nelson Mandela, leader of the movement to end South African apartheid, is released from prison after 27 years on February 11, 1990.

In 1944, Mandela, a lawyer, joined the African National Congress (ANC), the oldest black political organization in South Africa, where he became a leader of Johannesburg’s youth wing of the ANC. In 1952, he became deputy national president of the ANC, advocating nonviolent resistance to apartheid–South Africa’s institutionalized system of white supremacy and racial segregation. However, after the massacre of peaceful black demonstrators at Sharpeville in 1960, Nelson helped organize a paramilitary branch of the ANC to engage in guerrilla warfare against the white minority government.

In 1961, he was arrested for treason, and although acquitted he was arrested again in 1962 for illegally leaving the country. Convicted and sentenced to five years at Robben Island Prison, he was put on trial again in 1964 on charges of sabotage. In June 1964, he was convicted along with several other ANC leaders and sentenced to life in prison.

READ MORE: The Harsh Reality of Life Under Apartheid in South Africa

Mandela spent the first 18 of his 27 years in jail at the brutal Robben Island Prison. Confined to a small cell without a bed or plumbing, he was forced to do hard labor in a quarry. He could write and receive a letter once every six months, and once a year he was allowed to meet with a visitor for 30 minutes. However, Mandela’s resolve remained unbroken, and while remaining the symbolic leader of the anti-apartheid movement, he led a movement of civil disobedience at the prison that coerced South African officials into drastically improving conditions on Robben Island. He was later moved to another location, where he lived under house arrest.

In 1989, F.W. de Klerk became South African president and set about dismantling apartheid. De Klerk lifted the ban on the ANC, suspended executions, and in February 1990 ordered the release of Nelson Mandela.

Mandela subsequently led the ANC in its negotiations with the minority government for an end to apartheid and the establishment of a multiracial government. In 1993, Mandela and de Klerk were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. One year later, the ANC won an electoral majority in the country’s first free elections, and Mandela was elected South Africa’s president.

Mandela retired from politics in 1999, but remained a global advocate for peace and social justice until his death in December 2013.

READ MORE: Nelson Mandela: His Written Legacy

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Skeleton of Tyrannosaurus rex discovered

Year
1990
Month Day
August 12

On August 12, 1990, fossil hunter Susan Hendrickson discovers three huge bones jutting out of a cliff near Faith, South Dakota. They turn out to be part of the largest-ever Tyrannosaurus rex skeleton ever discovered, a 65 million-year-old specimen dubbed Sue, after its discoverer.

Amazingly, Sue’s skeleton was over 90 percent complete, and the bones were extremely well-preserved. Hendrickson’s employer, the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research, paid $5,000 to the land owner, Maurice Williams, for the right to excavate the dinosaur skeleton, which was cleaned and transported to the company headquarters in Hill City. The institute’s president, Peter Larson, announced plans to build a non-profit museum to display Sue along with other fossils of the Cretaceous period.

In 1992, a long legal battle began over Sue. The U.S. Attorney’s Office claimed Sue’s bones had been seized from federal land and were therefore government property. It was eventually found that Williams, a part-Native American and member of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe, had traded his land to the tribe two decades earlier to avoid paying property taxes, and thus his sale of excavation rights to Black Hills had been invalid. In October 1997, Chicago’s Field Museum purchased Sue at public auction at Sotheby’s in New York City for $8.36 million, financed in part by the McDonald’s and Disney corporations.

Sue’s skeleton went on display at the Field Museum in May 2000. The tremendous T.rex skeleton–13 feet high at the hips and 42 feet long from head to toe, with a 2,000-pound skull and 58 teeth–is displayed in a special exhibition space.

Sue’s extraordinarily well-preserved bones have allowed scientists to determine many things about the life of T.rex. They have determined that the carnivorous dinosaur had an incredible sense of smell, as the olfactory bulbs were each bigger than the cerebrum, the thinking part of the brain. In addition, Sue was the first T.rex skeleton to be discovered with a wishbone, a crucial discovery that provided support for scientists’ theory that birds are a type of living dinosaur. 

READ MORE: How T. Rex Got Its Ferocious Bite

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