Windsor Castle catches fire

On November 20, 1992, Windsor Castle, the historic English royal residence and home to Queen Elizabeth II, catches fire. The blaze comes during a particularly difficult year for the royal family.

At around 11:30 in the morning, a fire broke out in the Queen’s Private Chapel at Windsor Castle. From there, it spread to more than 100 rooms, including St. George’s Hall and Brunswick Tower. The blaze took fifteen hours and more than 220 firefighters to extinguish. Staff and soldiers, along with Prince Andrew, Duke of York, worked to remove precious artworks from the castle as the fire spread. Ultimately the fire destroyed only a handful of pieces from the castle’s valuable art collection, though several firefighters were injured. The castle was restored as close to its original condition as possible, with renovation works concluding on the five-year anniversary of the fire, in 1997. 

READ MORE: ‘Annus Horribilis’: Why Queen Elizabeth II Called 1992 a Horrible Year

Windsor Castle, which overlooks the River Thames near London, was first built in the 11th century by William the Conqueror. It has served as a royal residence for almost 1,000 years, spanning 39 monarchs, and is the oldest and largest inhabited castle in the world.

The fire at Windsor Castle occurred near the end of a year in which the royal family struggled with its public image. Speaking a few days after the fire, Queen Elizabeth acknowledged that 1992 “turned out to be an ‘annus horribilis’“, or horrible year. Prince Charles, Prince Andrew and Princess Anne all announced the ends of their respective marriages. 

On top of these royal scandals, the damage to Windsor Castle raised questions about the cost of the British monarchy. Prime Minister John Major suggested that parliament pay for the restoration of the castle, but this provoked a public outcry. Windsor Castle and its contents were too expensive to insure, so the Crown had to pay for the repairs without the help of insurance or funds from parliament. Queen Elizabeth decided to open Buckingham Palace to visitors for the first time in history, and used the admission fees to pay for most of Windsor Castle’s restorations. The price tag of the work totaled nearly 36.5 million pounds over five years. 

As a result of increased scrutiny of the Crown and its mysterious finances, Queen Elizabeth announced that she would begin paying taxes on her personal income, although the sovereign is not legally bound to do so. King Charles III has confirmed that he will do the same. 

READ MORE: Queen Elizabeth II: 15 Key Moments in Her Reign 


The term “global warming” appears for the first time

The term “global warming” appears for the first time in print on August 8, 1975, with the publication of Wallace Smith Broecker’s paper “Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?” in the journal Science

Five years earlier, in 1970, Broecker, a researcher at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, published a study of ocean sediment cores that revealed the Ice Age had seen rapid transitions in its climate, with ice sheets taking tens of thousands of years to develop in freezing temperatures, followed by sudden warm periods that melted the ice.

Broecker built on this discovery in his 1975 paper, which hypothesized that the Ice Age’s rapid fluctuations had been caused by changes in “thermohaline circulation”: the ocean currents and wind systems that move heat from the equator up north towards the poles and transport cold water toward the equator. Broecker later named this the “Great Ocean Conveyor.” He believed that rapid changes in climate were once again possible if this conveyor belt were changed or “turned off.”

Broecker argued that there was an increasingly likely scenario for this to happen: the ongoing rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide content created by fossil fuel emissions would soon begin to warm the planet, in turn warming surface waters in the ocean and melting ice into fresh water. This would reduce the waters’ density, thereby preventing cold water from sinking, altering ocean currents and effectively shutting off the conveyor belt. If that were to happen, he postulated, Europe would grow cooler as it did during the Ice Age. The more disruptive effect would come from unpredictable “on-and-off flickers” in global temperature. As Broecker put it in 1998, “the climate system is an angry beast and we are poking it with sticks.”

His assessment of global warming trends remains relevant today. In 2017, a Columbia University publication found that as the planet was warming, fresh water was entering oceans at a higher rate. 

Broecker died in 2019.

READ MORE: Key Moments That Forced Americans to Confront Climate Change


Pluto is demoted

In Prague on August 24, 2006, the International Astronomical Union votes to demote Pluto from the ninth planet from the Sun to one of dozens of known dwarf planets.

The vote followed a week of debate by the IAU, who voted on multiple proposals including one that kept not just Pluto as a planet but added two new planets—the asteroid Ceres and Pluto’s moon Charon. The ultimate proposal defined the word “planets” (which comes from the Greek word planets, or “wanderers”) supposedly once and for all: planets are celestial objects large enough to be made rounded by their gravitational orbit around the Sun and to have pushed away nearby planetary objects and debris. Two years later, the IAU decided on a name for dwarf planets similar to Pluto—“plutoid”—grouping Pluto with Eris.

Some influential astronomers were caught off guard by the procedure, questioning the final proposal’s logic and pointing to the low turnout of voters (424 astronomers out of about 10,000 professional astronomers worldwide) at the IAU conference. One astronomer pointed to the contradiction that Earth, Mars, Jupiter and Neptune all have nearby asteroids. “I’m embarrassed for astronomy,” he said. “Less than 5 percent of the world’s astronomers voted.”

This scientific reclassification has had a worldwide cultural impact, as suggested by the American Dialect Society’s choice of “plutoed” as 2006’s Word of the Year—meaning “to demote or devalue someone or something. “Our members believe the great emotional reaction of the public to the demotion of Pluto shows the importance of Pluto as a name,” the society’s president said. Some state legislatures have even named March 13 Pluto Day, in stubborn dismissal of Pluto’s demotion.

READ MORE: The Rise and Fall of Planet Pluto


Tea Party protest draws thousands to Washington, D.C.

On September 12, 2009, thousands of protesters participate in the “Taxpayer March on Washington,” one of the earliest and biggest Tea Party movement events. Marchers in the nation’s capital clogged streets near the Capitol, railing against President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform proposals, federal spending, taxes and support for women’s reproductive rights, among other issues.

Organizers touted the protest as the largest outpouring of political conservatives. Estimates of the number of protesters varied wildly, from 75,000 to more than one million. No official crowd estimates were issued. The event was widely promoted on blogs, TV and talk radio. The Wall Street Journal reported organizers believed protesters came from all 50 states.

Simultaneous protests were held in Denver, Dallas and elsewhere.

Marchers in Washington waved American flags and held signs that read “Go Green Recycle Congress,” “Please wake up and save America,” “Obama Bin Lyin’” and “We The People.” Referring to the president’s healthcare plan, protesters used slogans such as “Obamacare makes me sick” and “I’m not your ATM.”

Republican politicians largely embraced the event. “The coming weeks and months may well set the course for this nation for a generation,” said Indiana Representative Mike Pence, the No. 3 GOP leader. Pence served as President Donald Trump‘s vice president from 2016-2020.

Later, on November 5, 2009, several thousand Tea Party Movement protesters rallied in Washington against healthcare reform. In Washington on March 24, 2012, several hundred Tea Party activists called on the U.S. Supreme Court to repeal Obamacare, which did not happen.


Harlem Cultural Festival begins

On the afternoon of June 29, 1969, a crowd consisting mostly of Black people from the nearby area packs Harlem’s Mt. Morris Park (now Marcus Garvey Park). Over the course of this afternoon and the next five Sunday afternoons, Black performers from many different genres and eras appear on the park’s brightly-colored, sunlit stage in a dazzling series of shows known as the Harlem Cultural Festival. The festival will draw a total of over 300,000 people.

Tony Lawrence, the eccentric lounge singer, concert promoter, and youth director of a local church, was chosen to organize and emcee the Harlem Cultural Festival by the New York Parks Department. The festival began in 1967 and drew big crowds in its first two years, convincing Lawrence to make the 1969 edition the biggest yet. In the wake of 1968, when the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. (and subsequent assassination of Robert Kennedy) had led to massive unrest in Harlem, the administration of Mayor John Lindsay felt compelled to offer cultural programing to the city’s Black residents, perhaps in an effort to keep the peace. Despite the city’s support and the sponsorship of Maxwell House coffee, the budget was tight: without enough money to pay for proper lighting, organizers situated the stage facing West to take advantage of sunlight. A steep cliff opposite the stage would serve as a makeshift grandstand as more and more people crowded into the park. The Black Panthers provided security for the concert series, some appearing in the crowd in uniform, some undercover, and some perched in the trees.

The 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival featured some of the most popular acts in the United States. Sly and the Family Stone’s set included “Everyday People,” a number-one hit at the time, and Gladys Knight and the Pips performed “Heard it Through the Grapevine” which had recently reached No. 2 on the charts. The acts were eclectic, showcasing talented Black artists from across a spectrum of genres. Jazz icon B.B. King, a young Stevie Wonder, Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji, psychedelic-influenced acts like the 5th Dimension, and legendary comedienne Moms Mabley were just a few of the acts that took the stage over the course of six Sundays. Critics have long pointed to the festival as a crucial point in American musical history, a coming-together of the sounds that were defining Black music at the time and would set the tone for American popular music for the next decade.

READ MORE: 11 Anthems of Black Pride and Protest Through American History

It was also an important moment for Harlem’s Black community, a chance to collectively mourn Dr. King and others lost in recent years while also celebrating Black pride and Black power. Nina Simone performed her yet-to-be-released “To Be Young, Gifted, and Black,” an uplifting message to Black youths, and closed her set by reciting a poem that asked the audience, “Are you ready to smash white things? …to build Black things? …Are you ready to kill if necessary?” That same day, when the show was interrupted by the announcement that American astronauts had landed on the moon, the crowd booed the news — “Cash they wasted, as far as I’m concerned, in getting to the moon, could’ve been used to feed poor Black people in Harlem” one attendee told the evening news.

In one particularly meaningful moment, the legendary gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, whose grandparents were enslaved, signaled to a young Mavis Staples to join her in a duet. The pair sang a raw, moving rendition of “Precious Lord, Take My Hand,” MLK’s favorite song. Before the performance, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was with King when he was shot, told the audience that MLK had mentioned it immediately before his death, and that King had “died asking the Lord to lead his hand, to help him lead us.”

The Harlem Cultural Festival was an unqualified success, but it would not return in 1970 and the footage languished in obscurity. Lawrence had hoped to tour the country with a similar show, and to put on another the following year, but neither idea came to fruition. He eventually began to accuse white investors and even the mafia of scuttling his efforts. As some Black observers correctly predicted, the festival was immediately overshadowed in America’s collective memory by Woodstock, which took place between August 15 and 18 in upstate New York. Although attempts to turn footage from the festival into a “Black Woodstock” film began as soon as the concert series ended, it would not be until the 2021 release of Questlove’s documentary, Summer of Soul, that footage of the Harlem Music Festival became easily accessible to the public. 

READ MORE: Why the Watershed 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival Was Overshadowed for 50 Years


Greensboro sit-in begins

On February 1, 1960, in Greensboro, North Carolina, four Black college students spark a nationwide civil rights movement by refusing to leave a “whites-only” lunch counter at a popular retail store after they are denied service. The North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State students—Ezell Blair Jr., Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil and David Richmond—become known as the “Greensboro Four.”

The students sat at the Woolworth counter until the store closed, promising they would be back the next day. By the end of the first week, 200 protested at the store.

The demonstration in Greensboro continued for six months, until Woolworth gave in and integrated the lunch counter.

Although not the first sit-in, the non-violent Greensboro protest became the best known. Local television provided extensive coverage, and in subsequent days, similar sit-ins occurred in more than 30 other cities.

The initial protest was a result of extensive planning by the students, who received guidance from mentor activists and others.

In 2002, a monument to the “Greensboro Four” was dedicated at North Carolina A&T. The Woolworth’s store, which closed in 1993, became home to the International Civil Rights Center & Museum

READ MORE: Civil Rights Movement Timeline


Journalist Daniel Pearl is murdered

On February 1, 2002, 38-year-old American journalist Daniel Pearl, the Southeast Asia bureau chief of the Wall Street Journal, is murdered by a terror group in Pakistan. Weeks later, a videotape of Pearl’s beheading was released, shocking millions and underscoring the threat of terrorism less than a year after the 9/11 attacks on the United States.

On January 23, 2002, Pearl, who was Jewish, was on his way to what he thought was an interview with a Pakistani religious leader in Karachi as part of his research into Islamist militants. But he was kidnapped near a hotel by terrorists, who claimed he was a spy. The group—which called itself the National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty—demanded the United States free all Pakistani terror detainees.

The terrorists released photos of a handcuffed Pearl with a gun at his head and holding up a newspaper. The group did not respond to public pleas for his release from his family or others.

U.S. intelligence failed to track down the kidnappers of Pearl, whose remains were discovered weeks later in Pakistan. The journalist’s kidnapping and death received widespread media coverage.

In 2002, British national Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh was convicted of Pearl’s murder. (The Pakistani Supreme Court ordered his release in 2021.) In 2007, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed of the al-Qaeda global terror network claimed responsibility for Pearl’s murder. Others have been connected to the journalist’s death, including an Egyptian with ties to al-Qaeda.

Pearl’s widow, also a journalist, wrote a book about her husband’s life titled A Mighty Heart. In 2007, the movie version of the book was co-produced by Brad Pitt and starred Angelina Jolie.


Amadou Diallo killed by police

Plainclothes officers of the New York Police Department’s Street Crime Unit fire 41 shots at unarmed Amadou Diallo, an immigrant from Guinea, killing him on the steps of his apartment building shortly after midnight on February 4, 1999. Diallo’s killing sparked a public outcry and eventually resulted in the shuttering of the SCU, but the four officers who shot him were found not guilty of his murder.

Officers Sean Carroll, Edward McMellon, Kenneth Boss and Richard Murphy were all members of the SCU, a special plainclothes unit of the NYPD that had earned plaudits from others in law enforcement. At the time of the shooting, the SCU was already involved in controversy: in January, two SCU officers had fired eight shots at Russell “Ol’ Dirty Bastard” Jones of the Wu Tang Clan, falsely accusing him of having fired at them when it was later revealed he had been holding a cell phone, not a gun. 

The Diallo incident was similar: as he stood on the stoop of his building in the Bronx, the four officers mistakenly identified Diallo as a suspect—they claimed to have confused him for a serial rapist, but at other times suggested they had identified him as a mugger or drug dealer. Whatever their reasoning, the officers, who were dressed as civilians, shouted at Diallo to show his hands. Diallo apparently reached into his pocket instead, pulling out his wallet as he attempted to run for the safety of his building. Carroll shouted to his fellow officers that Diallo had a gun. The officers later stated that they warned Diallo before opening fire on him; however, a witness testified that they did not give warning before firing at him 41 times, and that many of the shots were fired after he had already fallen to the ground. 19 shots hit Diallo, who died within minutes.

The killing incensed much of the public, to the extent that the officer’s trial for reckless endangerment and second-degree murder was moved to Albany. On February 25, 2000, the jury found the four officers not guilty of all charges. Diallo’s father, Saikou Diallo, called the verdict “the second killing” of his son, while former New York City Mayor David Dinkins warned “This will send the wrong message to those members of the Street Crime Unit who walk around saying, ‘We own the night.’” The killing did lead to an investigation of the SCU and its subsequent disbandment. Diallo’s family filled a civil wrongful death suit against the city and eventually received $3 million. 

Diallo’s killing has inspired and been referenced in works by a number of musicians and artists, including Public Enemy, Wyclef Jean, Bruce Springsteen and the Strokes. All four officers remained with the NYPD. Boss, who had previously shot another Black suspect dead in 1997, was promoted to sergeant in 2015.


Kamala Harris becomes first female vice president

Kamala Harris makes history when she is sworn in as the 49th U.S. vice president on January 20, 2021, becoming the first woman, the first Black American and the first Asian American to occupy the office.

When Harris was chosen as Joe Biden’s running mate in August 2020, the former California senator and attorney general, the daughter of Jamaican and Indian immigrants, became the third woman to be named on a major political party’s ticket, following Geraldine Ferraro (chosen by Walter Mondale) in 1984 and Sarah Palin (chosen by John McCain) in 2008. Harris made her own presidential bid in the 2020 Democratic Party’s primary before suspending her campaign and endorsing Biden. Together, they defeated incumbents Donald Trump and Mike Pence.

“In many ways, this moment embodies our character as a nation,” Harris said on the evening of her inauguration. “It demonstrates who we are. Even in dark times—we not only dream. We do. We not only see what has been, we see what can be.”

As second in line for the U.S. presidency, Harris has come closer than any woman before her to breaking what Hillary Clinton famously called “the highest, hardest glass ceiling.” 


U.S. Capitol riot

On the afternoon of January 6, 2021, a mob of President Donald Trump’s supporters descend on the U.S. Capitol, attempting to interfere with the certification of electoral votes from the 2020 presidential election.

The rioters assaulted the Capitol police force and ransacked the complex, destroying property and sending members of Congress and their staff into hiding in officers and bunkers. Five people, including a Capitol police officer and a protester who was shot by police, died in the attack, and more than 100 members of the police were injured.

At noon on January 6, at a rally on the Ellipse one mile from the Capitol in Washington, D.C., Trump claimed election fraud and called on Vice President Pence to overturn the 2020 election results by refusing to certify certain electoral votes. Trump told his assembled supporters, “We’re going to walk down to the Capitol” and “if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”

Near the conclusion of his speech, several thousand attendees began marching towards the U.S. Capitol, where a crowd had assembled and was clashing with police. By 2 p.m., the rioters broke through the police barricades. The mob then entered the Capitol building, with some rioters smashing through windows and doors. Soon after, both the Senate and House of Representatives—which were in the middle of debating a Republican objection to Arizona’s electoral votes—adjourned. Vice President Pence and his family were immediately evacuated from the Senate chambers. Some members of Congress were escorted to an underground bunker while others barricaded themselves in offices or sheltered in place in the House chamber.

For several hours, rioters looted and ransacked congressional offices, including the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; invaded the Senate chamber; and posed for pictures.

At around 2 p.m., Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller called up 1,100 members of the D.C. National Guard, according to a statement from the National Guard. Guard members eventually secured the perimeter, allowing law enforcement and FBI to clear the chambers and offices of the U.S. Capitol. Around 4 p.m., President Trump, who was in the White House, posted a video message on social media in which he repeated his false claims of election fraud, but told his supporters to “go home in peace.”

By 8 p.m., the Capitol complex was declared free of rioters, and Vice President Pence called the Senate back into session. At 9 p.m., Speaker Pelosi did the same in the House. Congress voted to confirm Joe Biden‘s electoral college win at 3:24 a.m. the following morning.

One week later, on January 13, President Trump was impeached for incitement of insurrection. Unlike his first impeachment, 10 House Republicans joined Democrats in voting in favor of impeachment. Trump was found not guilty in the Senate trial, though seven Republican senators joined Democrats in voting to convict. In July of 2021, Speaker Pelosi formed a bipartisan House select committee, modeled after the commission formed in the wake of the September 11 attacks, to investigate the January 6 riot.

As of the one-year anniversary of the attack, more than 700 individuals have been charged with crimes, making it the largest criminal investigation in U.S. history.