This Week in History, Apr 20 - Apr 26
Apr 20, 1980
Castro announces Mariel Boat-lift. On April 20, 1980, the Castro regime announces that all Cubans wishing to emigrate to the U.S. are free to board boats at the port of Mariel west of Havana, launching the Mariel Boatlift. The first of 125,000 Cuban refugees from Mariel reached Florida the next day. The boatlift was precipitated by housing and job shortages caused by the ailing Cuban economy, leading to simmering internal tensions on the island. On April 1, Hector Sanyustiz and four others drove a bus through a fence at the Peruvian embassy and were granted political asylum. Cuban guards on the street opened fire. One guard was killed in the crossfire.
Apr 21, 753 B.C.
Rome founded. According to tradition, on April 21, 753 B.C., Romulus and his twin brother, Remus, found Rome on the site where they were suckled by a she-wolf as orphaned infants. Actually, the Romulus and Remus myth originated sometime in the fourth century B.C., and the exact date of Rome's founding was set by the Roman scholar Marcus Terentius Varro in the first century B.C. According to the legend, Romulus and Remus were the sons of Rhea Silvia, the daughter of King Numitor of Alba Longa. Alba Longa was a mythical city located in the Alban Hills southeast of what would become Rome. Before the birth of the twins, Numitor was deposed by his younger brother Amulius, who forced Rhea to become a vestal virgin so that she would not give birth to rival claimants to his title. However, Rhea was impregnated by the war god Mars and gave birth to Romulus and Remus. Amulius ordered the infants drowned in the Tiber, but they survived and washed ashore at the foot of the Palatine hill, where they were suckled by a she-wolf until they were found by the shepherd Faustulus.
Apr 22, 1970
The first Earth Day. Earth Day, an event to increase public awareness of the world's environmental problems, is celebrated in the United States for the first time. Millions of Americans, including students from thousands of colleges and universities, participated in rallies, marches, and educational programs. Earth Day was the brainchild of Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, a staunch environmentalist who hoped to provide unity to the grassroots environmental movement and increase ecological awareness. "The objective was to get a nationwide demonstration of concern for the environment so large that it would shake the political establishment out of its lethargy," Senator Nelson said, "and, finally, force this issue permanently onto the national political agenda." Earth Day indeed increased environmental awareness in America, and in July of that year the Environmental Protection Agency was established by special executive order to regulate and enforce national pollution legislation.
Apr 23, 1564
William Shakespeare born. According to tradition, the great English dramatist and poet William Shakespeare is born in Stratford-on-Avon on April 23, 1564. It is impossible to be certain the exact day on which he was born, but church records show that he was baptized on April 26, and three days was a customary amount of time to wait before baptizing a newborn. Shakespeare's date of death is conclusively known, however: it was April 23, 1616. He was 52 years old and had retired to Stratford three years before. Although few plays have been performed or analyzed as extensively as the 38 plays ascribed to William Shakespeare, there are few surviving details about the playwright's life. This dearth of biographical information is due primarily to his station in life; he was not a noble, but the son of John Shakespeare, a leather trader and the town bailiff. The events of William Shakespeare's early life can only be gleaned from official records, such as baptism and marriage records.
Apr 24, 1916
Easter Rebellion begins. On this day in 1916, on Easter Monday in Dublin, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a secret organization of Irish nationalists led by Patrick Pearse, launches the so-called Easter Rebellion, an armed uprising against British rule. Assisted by militant Irish socialists under James Connolly, Pearse and his fellow Republicans rioted and attacked British provincial government headquarters across Dublin and seized the Irish capital's General Post Office. Following these successes, they proclaimed the independence of Ireland, which had been under the repressive thumb of the United Kingdom for centuries, and by the next morning were in control of much of the city. Later that day, however, British authorities launched a counteroffensive, and by April 29 the uprising had been crushed. Nevertheless, the Easter Rebellion is considered a significant marker on the road to establishing an independent Irish republic.
Apr 25, 1983
Andropov writes to U.S. student. On this day in 1983, the Soviet Union releases a letter that Russian leader Yuri Andropov wrote to Samantha Smith, an American fifth-grader from Manchester, Maine, inviting her to visit his country. Andropov's letter came in response to a note Smith had sent him in December 1982, asking if the Soviets were planning to start a nuclear war. At the time, the United States and Soviet Union were Cold War enemies. President Ronald Reagan, a passionate anti-communist, had dubbed the Soviet Union the "evil empire" and called for massive increases in U.S. defense spending to meet the perceived Soviet threat. In his public relations duel with Reagan, known as the "Great Communicator," Andropov, who had succeeded longtime Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev in 1982, assumed a folksy, almost grandfatherly approach that was incongruous with the negative image most Americans had of the Soviets.
Apr 26, 1954
Polio vaccine trials begin. On this day in 1954, the Salk polio vaccine field trials, involving 1.8 million children, begin at the Franklin Sherman Elementary School in McLean, Virginia. Children in the United States, Canada and Finland participated in the trials, which used for the first time the now-standard double-blind method, whereby neither the patient nor attending doctor knew if the inoculation was the vaccine or a placebo. On April 12, 1955, researchers announced the vaccine was safe and effective and it quickly became a standard part of childhood immunizations in America. In the ensuing decades, polio vaccines would all but wipe out the highly contagious disease in the Western Hemisphere.