Same-sex marriage is made legal nationwide with Obergefell v. Hodges decision

Year
2015
Month Day
June 26

June 26, 2015 marks a major milestone for civil rights in the United States, as the Supreme Court announces its decision in Obergefell v. Hodges. By one vote, the court rules that same-sex marriage cannot be banned in the United States and that all same-sex marriages must be recognized nationwide, finally granting same-sex couples equal rights to heterosexual couples under the law.

In 1971, just two years after the Stonewall Riots that unofficially marked the beginning of the struggle for gay rights and marriage equality, the Minnesota Supreme Court had found same-sex marriage bans constitutional, a precedent which the Supreme Court had never challenged. As homosexuality gradually became more accepted in American culture, the conservative backlash was strong enough to force President Bill Clinton to sign the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), prohibiting the recognition of same-sex marriages at the federal level, into law in 1996. 

READ MORE: The Supreme Court Rulings That Have Shaped Gay Rights in America

Over the next decade, many states banned same-sex marriage, while Vermont instituted same-sex civil unions in 2000 and Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2003. Gay marriage was the predominant “culture war” issue of George W. Bush‘s presidency, and even his successor Barack Obama, elected on a platform of liberal change in 2008, did not fully endorse same-sex marriage at the time of his election. Obama did state his opposition to DOMA and instructed his Justice Department to stop defending it in 2011. In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled DOMA unconstitutional and declined to rule on a case regarding a California ban, effectively legalizing same-sex marriage there.

Obergefell originated with a gay couple, Jim Obergefell and John Arthur, who were married in Maryland, where same-sex marriage was legal, but whose marriage was not recognized by Ohio authorities. As often happens with Supreme Court cases, a number of similar cases in Ohio and elsewhere were consolidated into what became Obergefell v. Hodges. The Supreme Court heard arguments on April 28, 2015. On June 26, the court ruled 5-4 in favor of the plaintiffs, stating that both bans on same-sex marriages and bans on recognizing same-sex marriages were unconstitutional. 

READ MORE: The Tragic Love Stories Behind the Supreme Court’s Landmark Same-Sex Marriage Rulings

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said, ““The right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same sex may not be deprived of that right and that liberty.” Chief Justice John Roberts and three Associate Justices—Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito—each wrote dissenting opinions. The ruling overturned the 13 statewide bans still in effect and effectively settled the issue at the federal level, although a few rogue counties ignored the ruling.

Explore the history of the LGBTQ movement in America here.

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Activist Bree Newsome removes Confederate flag from South Carolina State House

Year
2015
Month Day
June 27

On the morning of June 27, 2015, activists posing as joggers signal to one of their comrades that the police have momentarily turned their attention away from the flagpole outside the South Carolina State House. Having received the signal, Brittany “Bree” Newsome scales the pole, takes down the Confederate flag that was flying there and is placed under arrest. Newsome’s actions reverberated across the nation and eventually resulted in the state of South Carolina permanently removing the flag from its capitol.

Newsome’s civil disobedience came just ten days after a white supremacist murdered nine African Americans in a bible study at a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina. Newsome heard President Barack Obama‘s eulogy for one of the victims, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, as she drove to Columbia. In preparation, she practiced climbing and received advice from Greenpeace activists with experience scaling trees. As she held the flag in her hands, a police officer ordered her to come down, to which she responded, “You come against me with hatred and oppression and violence. I come against you in the name of God. This flag comes down today.” She recited Psalm 23 as she was taken to jail.

READ MORE: How the US Got So Many Confederate Monuments 

Although the flag was flying again within an hour, Newsome’s actions had an immediate and lasting effect. Civil rights leaders and other prominent cultural figures spoke out against the flag and in support of Newsome, with NBA star Dwayne Wade and filmmaker Michael Moore both offering to pay her bail. The protest drew attention to the many Confederate symbols that still held places of public prominence across the American South, and this attention ultimately forced the state of South Carolina to act. 

On July 9, the Republican-dominated legislature of South Carolina passed a bill permanently removing the flag from the capitol building, and Republican Governor Nikki Haley quickly signed it. Newsome later connected her actions to acts of civil disobedience from the first Civil Rights era, equating it to the way “that it demonstrated power and agency for the Greensboro Four to go and sit down at the Woolworth’s counter. ‘You’re saying we can’t sit here? We’re going to sit here.’ You’re saying we can’t lower this flag? We are going to lower this flag today. It was just a feeling of triumph.”

WATCH: Bree Newsome and Diane Nash in Conversation

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Zong slave ship trial

Year
1783
Month Day
June 22

Hearing arguments in the case of the Zong, a slave ship, the Chief Justice of the King’s Bench in London states that a massacre of African slaves “was the same as if Horses had been thrown over board” on June 22, 1783. The crew of the Zong had thrown at least 142 captive Africans into the sea, but the question before the court was not who had committed this atrocity but rather whether the lost “cargo” was covered by insurance. The trial laid bare the horror and inhumanity of the Atlantic slave trade and galvanized the nascent movement to abolish it.

The Zong left Accra in August of 1781, carrying 442 enslaved Africans and bound for the colonial plantations of Jamaica. As was common in the slave trade, the Zong was grossly overcrowded, carrying more than double the amount of people a ship its size could safely transport. Running low on water and having lengthened their journey due to a navigation error, the crew voted to jettison some of its human “cargo” in order to ensure the safe delivery of the rest, a loss for which the shipping company could be compensated under British law. Over the course of several days, the crew threw at least 122 Africans overboard. The Zong arrived in Black River, Jamaica with 208 enslaved people on board.

READ MORE: Details of Brutal First Slave Voyages Discovered 

The trial commenced in March of 1873, and the court found that the insurance company was liable for the damages, as enslaved people were the same as any other cargo. Two months later, the Chief Justice overturned the decision due to new evidence, but his statement that the enslaved were equivalent to horses remained the opinion of Britain’s highest court.

Formerly enslaved man and abolitionist Olaudah Equiano told the abolitionist Granville Sharp of the Zong affair, leading Sharp to explore the possibility of having the crew tried for murder. Nothing approaching that level of justice would ever touch those responsible for the massacre, but Sharp and Equiano’s efforts to publicize the story did build momentum for the abolitionist movement. A few months after the Zong trial, the Society of Friends began to campaign against slavery, and the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade was founded four years later. Thanks largely to their efforts, in which the story of the Zong featured prominently, Parliament outlawed the Atlantic slave trade in 1807 and abolished slavery throughout the British Empire in 1833.

READ MORE: U.S. Slavery: Timeline, Figures & Abolition 

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Construction on Global Seed Vault begins

Year
2006
Month Day
June 15

On June 15, 2006, on the remote island of Spitsbergen halfway between mainland Norway and the North Pole, the prime ministers of Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Iceland lay the ceremonial first stone of the Global Seed Vault. The vault, which now has the capacity to hold 2.25 billion seeds, is intended to “provide insurance against both incremental and catastrophic loss of crop diversity.”

Managed jointly by the Global Crop Diversity Trust (the Crop Trust), the Nordic Genetic Resource Center (NordGen), and the Norwegian government, the Seed Vault grew out of several different efforts to preserve specimens of the world’s plants. Its location, deep within a high mountain on an island covered by permafrost, is ideal for cold storage and will protect the seeds even in the event of a major rise in sea levels. The enormous vault, where seeds can be stored in such a way that they remain viable for decades or even centuries, opened in 2008.

According to the Crop Trust, the seed vault is meant to preserve crop diversity and contribute to the global struggle to end hunger. As rising temperatures and other aspects of climate change threaten the Earth’s plants, there is risk of not only losing species but also becoming overly reliant on those that remain, making humanity more vulnerable and increasing food insecurity. Scientists also strive to create newer, more resilient varieties of crops that already exist, and the seed bank functions as a reserve from which they can draw for experimental purposes. 

READ MORE: Climate Change History

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Robert Falcon Scott’s Terra Nova expedition begins

Year
1910
Month Day
June 15

Robert Falcon Scott’s ship, the Terra Nova, sets sail from Cardiff, Wales on June 15, 1910, bound for Antarctica. Though it will succeed in reaching its objective, the expedition will end in tragedy as Scott and his companions give up their lives in order to become the second party to reach the South Pole.

Scott had previously led the Discovery expedition, one of the first major explorations of the Antarctic, from 1901 to 1904. He recruited 65 men to aid him on his quest “to reach the South Pole, and to secure for The British Empire the honour of this achievement.” Upon reaching Melbourne, Australia, Scott learned that a Norwegian expedition led by Roald Amundsen, who had claimed to be heading to the North Pole, was in fact racing South in an attempt to beat Scott. Upon arriving in the Antarctic, Scott’s team spent most of the next year preparing for the journey South, stocking depots to be used during the polar journey, and conducting scientific research as they waited for the Antarctic summer.

READ MORE: The Treacherous Race to the South Pole 

Finally setting out in late September, Scott employed several teams, 28 men in total, as well as motorized sledges, ponies, and dogs in his push to the pole. As the expedition neared its target, Scott selected chief scientist Edward Wilson, Army captain Lawrence Oates, Royal Indian Marine Lieutenant Henry Bowers, and Discovery veteran Edgar Evans to join him in the final approach. On January 16, 1912, the party spotted Amundsen’s flag at the South Pole and were crushed to realize they had been beaten. The next day, having arrived and planted his own flag, Scott wrote, “Great God! This is an awful place and terrible enough for us to have laboured to it without the reward of priority.”

Dismayed, they began the return journey hoping to at least be the first to report that they had reached the pole, but they would never make it back to the Terra Nova. Evans died on February 17, suffering from multiple injuries after repeated falls. Severely frostbitten and convinced he was slowing his companions down, Oates walked out of his tent and into a blizzard in an apparent act of self-sacrifice on March 16. A few days later, just 11 miles shy of the nearest depot, the rest of the team was stopped by a storm and took to their tent, from which they would never emerge. The bodies of Wilson, Bowers, and Scott were found on November 12, along with their farewell letters and records of their expedition. Though historians have recently begun to question Scott’s overbearing leadership style and many of his tactical decisions, he instantly became regarded as a tragic hero in Britain upon his death.

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Charleston church shooting

Year
2015
Month Day
June 17

On the evening of June 17, 2015, a mass shooter took the lives of nine African American people at a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. The massacre at a historic black church deeply shook a nation already jaded by frequent gun violence and heralded the return of violent white nationalism in America.

Among the victims was the activist and state senator Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the church’s senior pastor. Carrying on Emanuel AME’s legacy as a center of civil rights organizing, Pinckney was a vocal advocate for police accountability who had made national headlines for his response to the murder of Walter Scott by a police officer in North Charleston the previous April. The shooter, 21-year-old Dylann Roof, joined Pinckney and members of his congregation for a Bible study session on the night of June 17, before drawing a gun, telling the others that African Americans were “taking over the country,” and opening fire. According to one survivor, Roof tried to shoot himself but had run out of ammunition and fled instead. He was arrested the following morning in North Carolina and, after an investigation and trial that brought to light his radicalization and intense white supremacist beliefs, sentenced to death.

Mass shootings were common in the United States by 2015, but the Charleston massacre was a clear act of white supremacist violence that came as the nation slowly realized its racism problem was getting worse, not better. Then-president Barack Obama, who knew Pinckney, delivered the eulogy at his funeral, leading the assembly in the singing of “Amazing Grace.”

The next several years would be marked by more horrific white nationalist violence in America, including the murder of Heather Heyer during a right-wing rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017 and a 2018 shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue that claimed eleven lives.

READ MORE: Charleston’s Emanuel 9 Memorial: Balancing Education With Healing

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Zoot Suit Riots begin in Los Angeles

On June 3, 1943, a group of U.S. sailors marches through downtown Los Angeles, carrying clubs and other makeshift weapons and attacking anyone wearing a “zoot suit”—the baggy wool pants, oversized coats and porkpie hats favored by many young men of color at the time.

Over the next week, the so-called Zoot Suit Riots spread throughout the city, including the largely Mexican-American neighborhood of East Los Angeles and the largely black neighborhood of Watts. The riots marked the culmination of simmering racial tensions in Los Angeles, set against the backdrop of World War II

After originating in Harlem jazz clubs in the 1930s, the zoot suit style had become popular with young men in black and Latino communities across the country. In Los Angeles, which had a large Mexican-American population, many more conservative citizens (including both older Mexican Americans and whites) objected to the young zoot-suiters who called themselves “pachucos,” associating them not only with cultural rebellion but also with criminality and gangsterism.

These negative views only increased during World War II, when the rationing of wool in early 1942 led the manufacturing of zoot suits to be banned and the wearing of them to be seen as unpatriotic. The Los Angeles news media in particular devoted itself to portraying pachucos as dangerous, especially after the so-called Sleepy Lagoon Murder of August 1942. In thatnotorious case, hundreds of Mexican-American youths were rounded up and 22 of them tried and convicted in the murder of another young Mexican-American man, Jose Diaz—a decision that was later overturned, and viewed as a major miscarriage of justice.

READ MORE: What Were the Zoot Suit Riots? 

On May 30, 1943, a verbal confrontation between a group of U.S. sailors and a group of zoot-suiters ended in the beating of one of the sailors. In retaliation, about 50 sailors left the local U.S. Navy Reserve Armory on the evening of June 3, armed with makeshift weapons and targeting zoot-suiters (even those as young as 12 or 13 years old). On the second night of rioting, the sailors headed into the city’s Mexican-American communities, barging into cafes, bars and theaters to seek out and attack their victims.

Military personnel and civilians joined in the violence, some traveling to Los Angeles from elsewhere to take part. While news reports portrayed such rioters as heroes fighting against a supposed Mexican crime wave, many of their attacks were clearly racist in nature, targeting Latinos, African Americans and other minorities even when they weren’t wearing zoot suits. Meanwhile, police arrested hundreds of young Mexican Americans—many of whom had been attacked themselves—compared with comparatively few sailors or civilians involved in the rioting.

The Zoot Suit Riots finally died down after June 8, when military officials banned all military personnel from Los Angeles and called on military police to patrol the city. The L.A. City Council subsequently passed a resolution prohibiting the wearing of zoot suits on city streets.

No one was killed during the Zoot Suit Riots, though many people were injured. In the aftermath, Governor Earl Warren tasked an independent citizens’ committee with investigating the riots and determining their cause. Though several factors were involved, the committee concluded that racism was the central cause, exacerbated by inflammatory, biased media coverage and an uneven response by the Los Angeles Police Department. 

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Teddy Roosevelt’s trip to San Francisco is captured on film

Year
1903
Month Day
May 12

On May 12, 1903, President Theodore Roosevelt’s trip to San Francisco is captured on moving-picture film, making him the first president to have an official activity recorded in that medium.

READ MORE: 7 Little-Known Legacies of Teddy Roosevelt 

A cameraman named H.J. Miles filmed the president while riding in a parade in his honor. The resulting short move was titled The President’s Carriage and was later played on “nickelodeons” in arcades across America. The film showed Roosevelt riding in a carriage and escorted by the Ninth U.S. Cavalry Regiment, which was unusual for the time, according to the Library of Congress and contemporary newspapers, because it was an all-black company.

Roosevelt was the first president to take advantage of the impact motion pictures could have on the presidency. The photogenic president encouraged filmmakers to document his official duties and post-presidential personal activities until his death in 1919. He purposely played directly to the camera with huge gestures and thundering speeches. The Library of Congress holds much of the original film footage, including that of his second inaugural ceremony in 1905, a visit to Panama in 1906 and an African safari in 1909. Roosevelt appeared on camera with many notable people of his time, including European kings and queens, as well as Hopi Indians and Masai warriors in Africa. In 1912, Roosevelt’s unsuccessful campaign for president on the Progressive ticket was also captured on film. Later that year, Roosevelt again made two presidential “firsts.” On October 11, 1910, he became the first (former) president to not only fly in an airplane but also to be filmed while flying in an airplane.

Even Roosevelt’s funeral in Oyster Bay, New York, in 1919 was memorialized on camera. The filmmaker documented the procession and memorial service, and included shots of Roosevelt’s successor, William Howard Taft.

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President Nixon meets with anti-war protestors at the Lincoln Memorial

Year
1970
Month Day
May 09

In the early hours of May 9, 1970, a frazzled President Richard Nixon embarks upon what his Chief of Staff will describe as “the weirdest day so far” of his presidency. Preoccupied with the recent Kent State shootings and the unrest that has spread to college campuses across the country, Nixon makes an impromptu and bizarre visit to a group of anti-war protesters at the Lincoln Memorial.

On the Friday after the Kent State massacre, in which Ohio National Guard killed four students and wounded nine during an anti-war protest, Nixon was unable to sleep. Around 4 in the morning, after spending several hours making phone calls, he roused his personal valet, Manolo Sanchez, and asked him if he had ever seen the Lincoln Memorial at night. Knowing he would encounter a crowd of student protesters that had camped out on the National Mall, Nixon set off with Sanchez, his physician and a Secret Service team.

READ MORE: How Nixon’s Presidency Became Increasingly Erratic After Kent State

Nixon’s account of the event differs greatly from that of the protesters, although both confirm it was a strange moment. Nixon described the students he met there as “overawed” and portrayed the conversation as a civil one. He told the protesters that he understood their hatred of the war, saying, “I know probably most of you think I’m an SOB. But I want you to know that I understand just how you feel.” Trying to start a friendly conversation, he asked where they went to school, and when some replied that they had come from Syracuse the president responded by talking about the school’s football team. “Here we had come from a university that’s completely uptight, on strike,” one student recalled, “and when we told him where we were from, he talked about the football team.” Nixon opined on the benefits of travel, particularly to Prague, Warsaw and Asia, but his audience struggled to follow along. “As far as sentence structure,” one of them later told a reporter, “there was none.”

The conversation lasted over an hour and both sides at least managed to explain their views on the war, although neither convinced the other. Nixon did not sleep that night, instead insisting he take Sanchez to see the floor of the House of Representatives before eating breakfast at the Mayflower Hotel. A diary entry written later that day by H.R. Haldeman, Nixon’s Chief of Staff, corroborates the students’ version of events: “I am concerned about his condition … he has had very little sleep for a long time and his judgment, temper and mood suffer badly as a result.”

READ MORE: Vietnam War Protests

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Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 debuts

Year
1824
Month Day
May 04

On May 4, 1824, Ludwig van Beethoven’s ninth and final symphony debuts at Vienna’s Theater am Kärntnertor. Having lost his hearing years earlier, the celebrated composer nonetheless “conducts” the first performance of his Ninth Symphony, now widely considered to be one of the greatest pieces of music ever written.

LISTEN ON APPLE PODCASTS: Beethoven’s Silent Symphony 

Having established himself as one of the greatest composers of the era in the early 1800s, Beethoven had almost completely lost his hearing by 1814 but continued to compose. The Ninth Symphony required the largest orchestra ever employed by Beethoven, and was unusual at the time for its use of voices in addition to instruments. Beethoven hand-picked two young singers, 18-year-old Henriette Sontag and 20-year-old Caroline Unger, for the soprano and alto parts. He stood on stage and appeared to conduct the orchestra when the Ninth debuted, although due to his deafness the players were instructed to ignore the composer and instead follow Michael Umlauf, the actual conductor. Beethoven was several bars off from the actual music by the time the piece concluded. As he could not hear the applause, Unger had to turn him to face the audience as they hailed him with five standing ovations, raising their hats and handkerchiefs in the air.

Critics consider the Ninth one of Beethoven’s crowning achievements. The choral section, adapted from the Friedrich Schiller poem “Ode to Joy,” has transcended the world of classical music and become one of the most often-played and easily recognizable pieces of music of all time. The “Ode to Joy” has been interpreted in almost every way imaginable, and has been employed as an official or unofficial anthem by an enormous range of entities, including the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the Nazi Party, the East-West German Olympic Team and the European Union.

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