Somali pirates hijack Maersk Alabama ship

Year
2009
Month Day
April 08

Pirates had not captured a ship sailing under the American flag since the 1820s until April 8, 2009, when the MV Maersk Alabama was hijacked off the coast of Somalia. The high-profile incident drew worldwide attention to the problem of piracy, commonly believed to be a thing of the past, in the waters off the Horn of Africa.

Decades of instability in Somalia and the accompanying lack of policing in its territorial waters led to a resurgence of piracy in the region that peaked in the late 2000s. Just a day before the attack, the Maersk Alabama received warning from the United States government to stay at least 600 miles off the coast of Somalia, but Captain Richard Phillips kept the ship about 240 miles from the coast, a decision which was later criticized by members of his crew. On April 8, the crew saw a skiff carrying four armed pirates approaching the ship and initiated the protocol for such an event. Chief Engineer Mike Perry got most of the crew to a safe room and managed to swamp the pirates’ craft by swinging his ship’s rudder, but the pirates were nonetheless able to board and take Phillips hostage. After one of their number was injured fighting with the ship’s crew, the other three pirates fled in a lifeboat, taking Phillips with them in the hopes of using him as a bargaining chip.

Early the next morning, the destroyer USS Bainbridge and another U.S. Navy vessel arrived on the scene. What followed was a three-day standoff, with the pirates holding Phillips in the lifeboat. Attempts to negotiate failed, and at one point the pirates fired (harmlessly) at the destroyer. Finally, on April 12, with authorization from recently inaugurated President Barack Obama, Navy SEAL snipers opened fire on the lifeboat. In a stunning display of accuracy, the SEALS firing from a ship’s deck through the windows of the tiny boat hit all three pirates in the head, killing them, while leaving Phillips unharmed.

The surviving pirate, Abduwali Muse, was taken into custody and later sentenced to over 33 years in U.S. prison—though he was tried as an adult, he and the other hijackers were reportedly all teenagers at the time of the attack. The incident received international attention, bringing the problem of modern-day piracy to many people’s attention for the first time. Phillips’ story was made into a movie starring Tom Hanks. Piracy remained an issue in the region—the Maersk Alabama herself was the target of four more pirate attacks between 2009 and 2011, each of which was repelled by armed security teams.

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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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Astronaut Ellen Ochoa becomes the first Hispanic woman in space

Year
1993
Month Day
April 08

On April 8, 1993, the space shuttle Discovery lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center. On board is astronaut Ellen Ochoa, soon to become the first Hispanic woman in space.

Ochoa started at NASA in 1988 after receiving a doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford University. Two years later, she was selected as an astronaut. On her first mission, Ochoa served as a Mission Specialist on a 9-day space flight, the primary mission of which was to study Earth’s ozone layer. She went on to fly three more space shuttle missions, one of which conducted further atmospheric research and two of which carried components to the International Space Station. Over the course of her four flights, Ochoa compiled a total time of 40 days, 19 hours, and 35 minutes in space.

In addition to her extra-planetary contributions, Ochoa has served the cause of space exploration in a number of ways from Earth. She holds several patents for technologies related to automated space exploration and served as Director of the Johnson Space Center—the first Hispanic director and the second woman to hold the position—from 2013 to 2018. Among numerous other awards, she has received NASA’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Medal.

READ MORE: When Sally Ride Took Her First Space Flight, Sexism Was the Norm

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Olympic Park bomber Eric Rudolph agrees to plead guilty

Year
2005
Month Day
April 08

Eric Rudolph agrees to plead guilty to a series of bombings, including the fatal bombing at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, in order to avoid the death penalty. He later cited his anti-abortion and anti-homosexual views as motivation for the bombings. 

Eric Robert Rudolph was born September 19, 1966, in Merritt Island, Florida. He served a brief stint in the U.S. Army and later supported himself by working as a carpenter. On July 27, 1996, a 40-pound pipe bomb exploded in Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park, killing one woman and injuring over 100 people. A security guard named Richard Jewell was initially considered the prime suspect in the case. Then, on January 16, 1997, two bombs went off at an Atlanta-area medical clinic that performed abortions, injuring seven people. In February of that same year, a bomb detonated at a lesbian nightclub in Atlanta, injuring four people. On January 29, 1998, a bomb exploded at a Birmingham, Alabama, women’s health clinic, killing a security guard and critically injuring a nurse.

Rudolph became a suspect in the Birmingham bombing after witnesses reported spotting his pickup truck near the clinic before the bomb went off. Authorities then launched a massive manhunt in North Carolina, where he was spotted stocking up on supplies. In February 1998, Rudolph was officially charged as a suspect in the Birmingham bombing. In March 1998, Rudolph’s brother Daniel cut off his hand to protest what he saw as the mistreatment of Eric by the F.B.I and the media. In May of that same year, Eric Rudolph was named to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list and a $1 million reward was offered for his capture. In July, a North Carolina health food store owner reported that Rudolph had taken six months’ of food and supplies from him, leaving $500 in exchange.

READ MORE: Why the Hunt for the Real Atlanta Bomber Took Nearly 7 Years

In October 1998, Rudolph was officially charged in the three Atlanta bombings. He continued to elude authorities, who believed he was hiding in the Appalachian wilderness and possibly getting assistance from supporters in the region. Then, on May 31, 2003, after over five years as a fugitive, Rudolph was arrested by a rookie police officer who found him digging through a grocery store Dumpster in Murphy, North Carolina. On April 8, 2005, just weeks before his trial was scheduled to begin, the Department of Justice announced that Rudolph would plead guilty to the charges against him in all four bombings. He was later sentenced to four life terms without parole and in August 2005 was sent to the supermax federal prison in Florence, Colorado.

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Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s first female prime minister, dies

Year
2013
Month Day
April 08

Margaret Thatcher, the first female prime minister of the United Kingdom, dies in London at age 87 from a stroke on April 8, 2013. Serving from 1979 to 1990, Thatcher was the longest-serving British prime minister of the 20th century. She curbed the power of Britain’s labor unions, privatized state-owned industries, led her nation to victory in the Falklands War and as a close ally of U.S. President Ronald Reagan played a pivotal role in ending the Cold War. A polarizing figure, Thatcher, nicknamed the Iron Lady, was credited by her admirers with championing free-market, conservative policies that revitalized the British economy, while critics charged these initiatives hurt the nation’s lower classes.

Margaret Hilda Roberts was born on October 23, 1925, in Grantham, a town in northeast England. Her family lived in an apartment above the grocery store owned by her father, who also was a local politician. After graduating from Oxford University in 1947, the future prime minister worked as a research chemist. In the early 1950s, she twice ran unsuccessfully for parliament as a Conservative Party candidate. After marrying Denis Thatcher (1915-2003), a well-off businessman, in 1951, she studied law and gave birth to twins in 1953. That same year, she qualified as a barrister.

In 1959, Thatcher was elected to the House of Commons from the Finchley district in north London. She rose through her party’s ranks, and when the Conservatives came to power under Edward Heath in 1970, she was named secretary for education. In that role, Thatcher was vilified by her Labour Party opponents as “Thatcher the Milk Snatcher” after she made cuts to a free-milk program for schoolchildren. In 1975, with Labour back in power, Thatcher, to the surprise of many, defeated Heath to become head of her party, as well as the first woman to serve as opposition leader in the House of Commons.

In 1979, with Britain’s economy in poor health and labor union strikes rampant, the Conservatives returned to power and Thatcher was elected prime minister. Her government lowered income taxes but increased taxes on good and services, slashed or eliminated government subsidies to businesses and implemented other austerity measures. Unemployment soared and Thatcher’s approval ratings plummeted. Then, after Argentina invaded the British-ruled Falkland Islands in April 1982, she sent troops there and by June the Falklands had been recaptured. The victory helped Thatcher win re-election as prime minister in 1983.

READ MORE: How the Falklands War Cemented Margaret Thatcher’s Reputation as the ‘Iron Lady’

During her second term, Thatcher’s government defeated a bitter, yearlong miner’s strike and passed legislation restricting the rights of trade unions, while also privatizing a number of state-owned enterprises, selling off public housing and de-regulating the financial industry. In 1984, Thatcher survived unscathed a bomb attack by the Irish Republican Army at a Conservative Party conference in Brighton, England; the blast killed five people and injured more than 30 others.

In foreign affairs, Thatcher, an opponent of communism, had a close relationship with Ronald Reagan, who served in the White House from 1981 to 1989, and with whom she shared a number of conservative views. Yet she also forged ties with Mikhail Gorbachev, who led the Soviet Union from 1985 to 1991. Thatcher famously said after meeting him, “I like Mr. Gorbachev. We can do business together,” and her leadership played an important role in helping to end Cold War tensions between America and the Soviets. In other foreign policy issues, Thatcher, controversially, spoke out initially against international efforts to impose economic sanctions on apartheid South Africa, arguing such sanctions wouldn’t work.

After being elected to an unprecedented third term in 1987, the hardheaded Thatcher experienced dissent in her own party over her opposition to further economic integration between Britain and the rest of Europe, and her introduction of a widely unpopular poll tax system. In November 1990, at the urging of her fellow party members, she resigned as prime minister and was succeeded by John Major. When she departed 10 Downing Street, Thatcher was the longest continuously serving prime minister in more than 150 years.

She left the House of Commons in 1992, and was appointed to the House of Lords, with the title Baroness Thatcher of Kesteven. She went on to pen her memoirs and travel the world giving lectures. Following a series of minor strokes in the early 2000s, Thatcher largely retreated from public view. Meryl Streep earned an Oscar for her portrayal of the former prime minister in the 2011 biopic “The Iron Lady,” which generated criticism from some Conservative politicians for its depiction of Thatcher’s decline into dementia during her later years. After Thatcher died in April 2013, more than 2,000 guests from around the world attended her funeral at London’s St. Paul’s Cathedral, which in 1965 was the site of Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s funeral.

READ MORE: 10 Things You May Not Know About Margaret Thatcher

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Works Progress Administration established by Congress as part of FDR’s “New Deal”

Year
1935
Month Day
April 08

On April 8, 1935, Congress votes to approve the Works Progress Administration (WPA), a central part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.

In November 1932, at the height of the Great Depression, Governor Roosevelt of New York was elected the 32nd president of the United States. In his inaugural address on March 4, 1933, Roosevelt promised Americans that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself” and outlined his New Deal—an expansion of the federal government as an instrument of employment opportunity and welfare.

In April 1935, the WPA was established under the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act, as a means of creating government jobs for some of the nation’s many unemployed. Under the direction of Harry L. Hopkins, the WPA employed more than 8.5 million persons on 1.4 million public projects before it was disbanded in 1943. The program chose work that would not interfere with private enterprise, especially vast public building projects like the construction of highways, bridges and dams. However, the WPA also provided federal funding for students, who were given work under the National Youth Administration. 

The careers of several important American artists, including Jackson Pollack and Willem de Kooning, were also launched thanks to WPA endowments. Although its scale was unprecedented, the WPA never managed to serve more than a quarter of the nation’s unemployed. Its programs were extremely popular, though, and contributed significantly to Roosevelt’s landslide reelection in 1936.

READ MORE: Did New Deal Programs Help End the Great Depression?

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Jomo Kenyatta jailed for Mau Mau uprising in Kenya

Year
1953
Month Day
April 08

Jomo Kenyatta, leader of the Kenyan independence movement, is convicted by Kenya’s British rulers of leading the extremist Mau Mau in their violence against white settlers and the colonial government. An advocate of nonviolence and conservatism, he pleaded innocent in the highly politicized trial.

One of modern Africa’s first nationalist leaders, Kenyatta was a great defender of Kenyan and African culture, and wrote eloquently on the plight of Kenyans under colonial rule. He played little part in the Mau Mau uprising of 1952 but was imprisoned for nine years along with other nationalist leaders. Upon his release in 1961, Kenyatta became president of the Kenya African National Union and led negotiations with the British for self-rule. In 1963, Kenya won independence, and in 1964 Kenyatta was elected president. He served in this post until his death in 1978.

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Buddhists celebrate birth of Gautama Buddha

Year
563
Month Day
April 08

On April 8, Buddhists celebrate the commemoration of the birth of Gautama Buddha, the founder of Buddhism, thought to have lived in India from 563 B.C. to 483 B.C. Actually, the Buddhist tradition that celebrates his birthday on April 8 originally placed his birth in the 11th century B.C., and it was not until the modern era that scholars determined that he was more likely born in the sixth century B.C., and possibly in May rather than April.

According to the Tripitaka, which is recognized by scholars as the earliest existing record of the Buddha’s life and discourses, Gautama Buddha was born as Prince Siddhartha, the son of the king of the Sakya people. The kingdom of the Sakyas was situated on the borders of present-day Nepal and India. Siddhartha’s family was of the Gautama clan. His mother, Queen Mahamaya, gave birth to him in the park of Lumbini, in what is now southern Nepal. A pillar placed there in commemoration of the event by an Indian emperor in the third century B.C. still stands.

At his birth, it was predicted that the prince would either become a great world monarch or a Buddha–a supremely enlightened teacher. The Brahmans told his father, King Suddhodana, that Siddhartha would become a ruler if he were kept isolated from the outside world. The king took pains to shelter his son from misery and anything else that might influence him toward the religious life. Siddhartha was brought up in great luxury, and he married and fathered a son. At age 29, he decided to see more of the world and began excursions off the palace grounds in his chariot. In successive trips, he saw an old man, a sick man, and a corpse, and since he had been protected from the miseries of aging, sickness, and death, his charioteer had to explain what they were. Finally, Siddhartha saw a monk, and, impressed with the man’s peaceful demeanor, he decided to go into the world to discover how the man could be so serene in the midst of such suffering.

Siddhartha secretly left the palace and became a wandering ascetic. He traveled south, where the centers of learning were, and studied meditation under the teachers Alara Kalama and Udraka Ramaputra. He soon mastered their systems, reaching high states of mystical realization, but was unsatisfied and went out again in search of nirvana, the highest level of enlightenment. For nearly six years, he undertook fasting and other austerities, but these techniques proved ineffectual and he abandoned them. After regaining his strength, he seated himself under a pipal tree at what is now Bodh Gaya in west-central India and promised not to rise until he had attained the supreme enlightenment. After fighting off Mara, an evil spirit who tempted him with worldly comforts and desires, Siddhartha reached enlightenment, becoming a Buddha at the age of 35.

The Gautama Buddha then traveled to the deer park near Benares, India, where he gave his first sermon and outlined the basic doctrines of Buddhism. According to Buddhism, there are “four noble truths”: (1) existence is suffering; (2) this suffering is caused by human craving; (3) there is a cessation of the suffering, which is nirvana; and (4) nirvana can be achieved, in this or future lives, though the “eightfold path” of right views, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration.

For the rest of his life, the Buddha taught and gathered disciples to his sangha, or community of monks. He died at age 80, telling his monks to continue working for their spiritual liberation by following his teachings. Buddhism eventually spread from India to Central and Southeast Asia, China, Korea, Japan, and, in the 20th century, to the West. 

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Hank Aaron breaks Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record

Year
1974
Month Day
April 08

On April 8, 1974, Hank Aaron of the Atlanta Braves hits his 715th career home run, breaking Babe Ruth’s legendary record of 714 homers. A crowd of 53,775 people, the largest in the history of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, was with Aaron that night to cheer when he hit a 4th inning pitch off the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Al Downing. However, as Aaron was an African American who had received death threats and racist hate mail during his pursuit of one of baseball’s most distinguished records, the achievement was bittersweet.

Henry Louis Aaron Jr., born in Mobile, Alabama, on February 5, 1934, made his Major League debut in 1954 with the Milwaukee Braves, just seven years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier and became the first African American to play in the majors. Aaron, known as hard working and quiet, was the last Negro league player to also compete in the Major Leagues. In 1957, with characteristically little fanfare, Aaron, who primarily played right field, was named the National League’s Most Valuable Player as the Milwaukee Braves won the pennant. A few weeks later, his three home runs in the World Series helped his team triumph over the heavily favored New York Yankees. Although “Hammerin’ Hank” specialized in home runs, he was also an extremely dependable batter, and by the end of his career he held baseball’s career record for most runs batted in: 2,297.

Aaron spent his 23-year big league career with two organizations. He was with the Braves from 1954 to 1974—first in Milwaukee and then in Atlanta, when the franchise moved in 1966—and closed it out with two seasons back in Milwaukee for the Brewers. 

Aaron hung up his cleats in 1976 with 755 career home runs—a record that stood until 2007, when it was broken by controversial slugger Barry Bonds (Bonds admitted to using steroids in 2011). Aaron’s achievements didn’t end when his career did, though. He went on to become one of baseball’s first African American executives, with the Atlanta Braves, and a leading spokesperson for minority hiring. Hank Aaron was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982.

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Russians attack Germans in drive to expel them from Crimea

Year
1944
Month Day
April 08

On April 8, 1944, Russian forces led by Marshal Fyodor Tolbukhin attack the German army in an attempt to win back Crimea, in the southern Ukraine, occupied by the Axis power. The attack would result in the breaking of German defensive lines in just four days, eventually sending the Germans retreating.

Crimea was the territorial plaything of many great powers, from the Ottoman Turks to the Russia of Ivan III. It had declared its independence in 1918 but was occupied again by Germany in 1941. It was “liberated” by the Russians, only to find itself trapped within the greater Soviet Union. It once again declared itself an independent republic in the 1990s.

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