Mexican-American voting rights advocate Willie Velasquez awarded Presidential Medal of Freedom

Year
1995
Month Day
September 29

On September 29, 1995, voting rights advocate Willie Velasquez is posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Velasquez and the organizations he founded are credited with dramatically increasing political awareness and participation among the Hispanic communities of the Southwestern United States.

The son of a union organizer, Velasquez was one of five founders of the Mexican-American Youth Organization, or MAYO. Beginning with voter registration drives and walkouts on college campuses around San Antonio, MAYO expanded to organizing high school students and even succeeded in electing several candidates to local school boards. Inspired by groups like the Black Panthers and leaders like Malcolm X, some of MAYO’s members went on to form the Raza Unida Party, a party that aimed to elect Hispanic candidates without relying on either the Republican or Democratic establishments.

Velasquez worked as a boycott coordinator for the United Farm Workers, a union that organized farm workers across the Southwest and drew national attention to their working conditions in the late 1960s. He then went to work for Raza before embarking upon the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project in 1972. SVREP, whose motto was “Su vota, su voz” (Your vote is your voice), sought to address the poor voter turnout, voter apathy, and institutional disenfranchisement that affected the Hispanic-American community—Velasquez believed that the Hispanic community had much to learn from the civil rights movement and sought to address many of the same systemic issues as prominent leaders like Martin Luther King, Jr.

READ MORE: When Millions of Americans Stopped Eating Grapes in Support of Farm Workers

Though he would not live to see the full effects of his work—he died suddenly of cancer at the age of 44—Willie Velazquez certainly achieved his goal of activating the Hispanic electorate. Today, SVREP claims to have registered over 2.7 million voters, trained over 150,000 political activists, and won over 100 civil rights lawsuits. Though Hispanic voter turnout is often significantly lower than turnout among whites, it has risen sharply in recent decades, increasing tenfold from 1.3 million in the 1994 general election to 13.5 million in 2016. In his White House speech honoring Velasquez, then-President Bill Clinton called Willie “a name synonymous with democracy in America.”

READ MORE: How JFK’s ‘Viva Kennedy’ Campaign Galvanized the Latino Vote

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Dow suffers largest single-day drop

Year
2008
Month Day
September 29

After Congress failed to pass a $700 billion bank bailout plan, the Dow Jones Industrial Average falls 777.68 points—at the time, the largest single-day point loss in its history.

Down 7 percent, a greater loss than the 684.81 skid on September 17, 2001 (the first trading day post-9/11), the S&P 500 also suffered its biggest one-day loss since the 1987 crash, dropping 8.8 percent, and the Nasdaq fell 9.1 percent, its biggest single-day point loss in eight years.

The huge decline followed the bankruptcies of Wall Street brokerage firm Lehman Brothers, Savings and Loan bank Washington Mutual, as well as the Fed’s announcement that it would provide an $85 billion bailout for insurance provider American International Group (better known as AIG) to keep it from going under.

Also playing into things was a housing slowdown that triggered homeowners to suffer subprime mortgage defaults, widespread job losses and the Fed’s intervention to bail out investment bank Bear Stearns, as well as government-sponsored Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Congress’s inability to pass the Bush administration’s bill led to fears that the nearly frozen credit markets wouldn’t be able to rebound quickly, causing sellers to shed their stocks. The Dow drop equaled a whopping $1.2 trillion loss in market value, contributing to the 18-month-long Great Recession.

Congress eventually did pass a bailout bill, with Bush signing the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. The Dow drop remained the largest single-day point loss until 2018. 

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Babi Yar massacre begins

Year
1941
Month Day
September 29

The Babi Yar massacre of nearly 34,000 Jewish men, women and children begins on the outskirts of Kiev in the Nazi-occupied Ukraine.

The German army took Kiev on September 19, and special SS squads prepared to carry out Nazi leader Adolf Hitler’s orders to exterminate all Jews and Soviet officials found there. Beginning on September 29, more than 30,000 Jews were marched in small groups to the Babi Yar ravine to the north of the city, ordered to strip naked, and then machine-gunned into the ravine. The massacre ended on September 30, and the dead and wounded alike were covered over with dirt and rock.

Between 1941 and 1943, thousands more Jews, Soviet officials and Russian prisoners of war were executed at the Babi Yar ravine in a similar manner. As the German armies retreated from the USSR, the Nazis attempted to hide evidence of the massacres by exhuming the bodies and burning them in large pyres. Numerous eyewitnesses and other evidence, however, attest to the atrocities at Babi Yar, which became a symbol of Jewish suffering in the Holocaust.

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Stacy Allison becomes first American woman to reach summit of Mt. Everest

Year
1988
Month Day
September 29

Stacy Allison of Portland, Oregon, becomes the first American woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest, which at 29,035 feet above sea level is the highest point on earth. Allison, a member of the Northwest American Everest Expedition, climbed the Himalayan peak using the southeast ridge route.

Mount Everest sits on the crest of the Great Himalayas in Asia, lying on the border between Nepal and Tibet. Called Chomo-Lungma, or “Mother Goddess of the Land,” by the Tibetans, the English named the mountain after Sir George Everest, a 19th-century British surveyor of South Asia. The summit of Everest reaches two-thirds of the way through the air of the earth’s atmosphere–at about the cruising altitude of jet airliners–and oxygen levels there are very low, temperatures are extremely cold, and weather is unpredictable and dangerous.

In May 1953, climber and explorer Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Tenzing Norgay of Nepal made the first successful climb of the peak. Ten years later, James Whittaker of Redmond, Washington, became the first American to top the peak, reaching Everest’s summit with his Sherpa climbing partner Nawang Gombu. In 1975, Japanese mountaineer Junko Tabei became the first woman to conquer the mountain. Three years later, Reinhold Messner of Italy and Peter Habeler of Austria achieved what had been previously thought impossible: climbing to the Everest summit without oxygen. In 1988, American Stacy Allison successfully scaled Everest. About two dozen climbers died in attempts to reach the top of Everest in the 20th century.

READ MORE: 7 Things You Should Know About Mount Everest

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Reporter Judith Miller released from prison

Year
2005
Month Day
September 29

On September 29, 2005, New York Times reporter Judith Miller is released from a federal detention center in Alexandria, Virginia, after agreeing to testify in the investigation into the leaking of the identity of covert CIA officer Valerie Plame. Miller had been behind bars since July 6, 2005, for refusing to reveal a confidential source and testify before a grand jury that was looking into the so-called Plame Affair. She decided to testify after the source she had been protecting, I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, signed a waiver giving her permission to speak.

The Plame Affair dates back to a July 6, 2003 op-ed piece for the New York Times written by former U.S. diplomat Joseph Wilson, Plame’s husband. In it, Wilson questioned the Bush Administration’s reasons for going to war in Iraq. Later that month, on July 14, undercover agent Valerie Plame’s identity was revealed in a newspaper column by Robert Novak. Wilson’s claim that the disclosure was retaliation by the White House for his op-ed piece sparked an investigation in December 2003 led by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald. A 1982 law made it illegal to reveal information about a covert agent to anyone not authorized to receive such classified information.

Fitzgerald interviewed President George W. Bush, Vice President Cheney and other top administration officials, along with various journalists. Although Miller hadn’t written an article about Plame, she did meet with Libby shortly after Wilson’s op-ed piece was published and Fitzgerald believed Miller had information that was relevant to his investigation.

After 85 days in jail, Miller was released and testified before a grand jury that prior to the Novak column, she had several discussions with Scooter Libby in which he talked about Plame. On November 9 of that same year, Miller announced her retirement from the Times after a 28-year career with the newspaper.

On March 6, 2007, Scooter Libby was convicted of obstruction of justice, perjury and making false statements to federal investigators in the Plame investigation. In June, he was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison and fined $250,000. However, one month later, on July 2, President George W. Bush commuted Libby’s prison term before the ex-White House aide served any time.

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Nazis and communists divvy up Poland

Year
1939
Month Day
September 29

On September 29, 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union agree to divide control of occupied Poland roughly along the Bug River—the Germans taking everything west, the Soviets taking everything east.

As a follow-up to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, (also known as the Hitler-Stalin Pact), that created a non-aggression treaty between the two behemoth military powers of Germany and the U.S.S.R., Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German foreign minister, met with his Soviet counterpart, V.M. Molotov, to sign the German-Soviet Boundary and Friendship Treaty. The fine print of the original non-aggression pact had promised the Soviets a slice of eastern Poland; now it was merely a matter of agreeing where to draw the lines.

Joseph Stalin, Soviet premier and dictator, personally drew the line that partitioned Poland. Originally drawn at the River Vistula, just west of Warsaw, he agreed to pull it back east of the capital and Lublin, giving Germany control of most of Poland’s most heavily populated and industrialized regions. In return, Stalin wanted Lvov, and its rich oil wells, as well as Lithuania, which sits atop East Prussia. Germany now had 22 million Poles, “slaves of the Greater German Empire,” at its disposal; Russia had a western buffer zone.

On this same day, the Soviet Union also signed a Treaty of Mutual Assistance with the Baltic nation of Estonia, giving Stalin the right to occupy Estonian naval and air bases. A similar treaty would later be signed with Latvia. Soviet tanks eventually rolled across these borders, in the name of “mutual assistance,” placing the Baltic States into the hands of the U.S.S.R. for decades to come. These “treaties” were once again merely the realization of more fine print from the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact, giving Stalin more border states as buffer zones, and protecting Russian territory where the Bolshevik ideology had not been enthusiastically embraced from intrusion by its western neighbor, namely its non-aggression partner Germany. The highly vulnerable Baltic nations had little to say about any of these arrangements; they were merely annexed.

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The great singing cowboy, Gene Autry, is born in Texas

Year
1907
Month Day
September 29

Gene Autry, perhaps the greatest singing cowboy of all time, is born on September 29, 1907, in Tioga, Texas.

While still a boy, Autry moved with his family to a ranch in Oklahoma where he learned to play the guitar and sing. The young Autry was quickly attracted to a new style of music that was becoming popular at the time, which combined the traditional cowboy music popular in Texas and Oklahoma and the folk songs, ballads, and hymns of southern-style country music. Known as country-western, the new sound was popularized by musicians from the East Coast and the South who had never been near a horse and couldn’t tell a stirrup from a lariat. Donning cowboy hats and boots and affecting what they thought were western drawls, hundreds of these newly minted “cowboys” were soon crooning popular western ballads like “Tumbling Tumble Weeds” all around the nation.

While Autry was also no cowboy, he was, at least, a genuine westerner who had lived on a ranch. After a chance encounter with cowboy-humorist Will Rogers, who encouraged his dream of singing professionally, Autry made his first recording in 1929, and for several years performed as “Oklahoma’s Yodeling Cowboy” on a Tulsa radio program. Following a stint as the star of the Chicago-based National Barn Dance radio show, he signed a recording contract with the Sears label, which also marketed a Gene Autry guitar through its famous catalog.

Autry’s lasting fame, though, came from his career as the film industry’s favorite singing cowboy. His first movie, In Old Santa Fe, was eventually followed by nearly 100 other films that made him one of the most popular stars in America and vastly expanded the audience for country-western music around the world.

He died in October 1998 at the age of 91.

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School principal murdered by student in Wisconsin

Year
2006
Month Day
September 29

John Klang, the principal of Weston High School in Cazenovia, Wisconsin, is shot and killed by 15-year-old student Eric Hainstock on September 29, 2006. The incident takes place amidst a spate of school violence across North America, including a shooting rampage at a Canadian college on September 13 and a hostage situation at a Colorado high school on September 27.

Hainstock, who had recently had been given a disciplinary warning by his principal for bringing tobacco to school, took guns from his parents’ home in the small Wisconsin farming community of Cazenovia and brought the weapons to school. Before classes began on the morning of September 29, Hainstock pointed a gun at a teacher, but the weapon was grabbed away by a janitor. The student then ran into the hallway where he encountered the principal and shot him several times. Klang, who managed to wrestle Hainstock to the floor and move the gun away, died a few hours later. Hainstock was detained by other students and school personnel. He was apparently upset by a disciplinary warning he’d received from Klang the day before the shooting for bringing tobacco to school and also angered that teachers hadn’t stopped other students from bullying him. In August 2007, Hainstock was found guilty of first-degree intentional homicide and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years.

On September 13, two weeks before the violence in Cazenovia, Kimveer Gill, 25, went on a shooting rampage at Dawson College in Quebec, Canada. One female student was killed and 19 others were injured before Gill turned the gun on himself after being shot by police. Then, on September 27, drifter Duane Morrison, 53, took six female students hostage at Platte Canyon High School in Bailey, Colorado. Morrison sexually assaulted some of the students and later shot and killed 16-year-old Emily Keyes when a SWAT team burst into the room where he was holding her and another student. Morrison then shot himself in the head and died at the scene. School violence continued when less than a week later, on October 2, milk-truck driver Charles Roberts, 32, killed five girls at a one-room Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. Roberts turned his gun on himself and died by suicide when police arrived.

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Cyanide-laced Tylenol kills six

Flight attendant Paula Prince buys a bottle of cyanide-laced Tylenol. Prince was found dead on October 1, becoming the final victim of a mysterious ailment in Chicago, Illinois. Over the previous 24 hours, six other people had suddenly died of unknown causes in northwest Chicago. After Prince’s death, Richard Keyworth and Philip Cappitelli, firefighters in the Windy City, realized that all seven victims had ingested Extra-Strength Tylenol prior to becoming ill. Further investigation revealed that several bottles of the Tylenol capsules had been poisoned with cyanide.

Mary Ann Kellerman, a seventh grader, was the first to die after ingesting the over-the-counter pain reliever. The next victim, Adam Janus, ended up in the emergency room in critical condition. After visiting his older brother in the hospital, Stanley Janus went back to Adam’s house with his wife, Theresa. To alleviate their stress-induced headaches, they both took capsules from the open Tylenol bottle that was sitting on the counter. They too were poisoned—Stanley died and Theresa lapsed into a coma. That same day, Mary Reiner, who had a headache after giving birth, took the tainted pills. A woman named Mary McFarland was also poisoned.

While bottles of Extra-Strength Tylenol were recalled nationwide, the only contaminated capsules were found in the Chicago area. The culprit was never caught, but the mass murder led to new tamper-proof medicine containers. It also led to a string of copycat crimes, as others sought to blackmail companies with alleged poisoning schemes, most of which proved to be false alarms.

READ MORE: How Americans Became Convinced Their Halloween Candy was Poisoned

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Cyanide-laced Tylenol kills seven

Flight attendant Paula Prince buys a bottle of cyanide-laced Tylenol. Prince was found dead on October 1, becoming the final victim of a mysterious ailment in Chicago, Illinois. Over the previous few days, six other people had died of unknown causes in northwest Chicago. After Prince’s death, Richard Keyworth and Philip Cappitelli, firefighters in the Windy City, realized that all seven victims had ingested Extra-Strength Tylenol prior to becoming ill. Further investigation revealed that several bottles of the Tylenol capsules had been poisoned with cyanide.

Mary Ann Kellerman, a seventh grader, was the first to die after ingesting the over-the-counter pain reliever. The next victim, Adam Janus, ended up in the emergency room in critical condition. After visiting his older brother in the hospital, Stanley Janus went back to Adam’s house with his wife, Theresa. To alleviate their stress-induced headaches, they both took capsules from the open Tylenol bottle that was sitting on the counter. They too were poisoned—Stanley died and Theresa lapsed into a coma and later died. That same day, Mary Reiner, who had a headache after giving birth, took the tainted pills. A woman named Mary McFarland was also poisoned.

While bottles of Extra-Strength Tylenol were recalled nationwide, the only contaminated capsules were found in the Chicago area. The culprit was never caught, but the mass murder led to new tamper-proof medicine containers. It also led to a string of copycat crimes, as others sought to blackmail companies with alleged poisoning schemes, most of which proved to be false alarms.

READ MORE: How Americans Became Convinced Their Halloween Candy was Poisoned

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