This Week in History

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This Week in History, May 13 - May 19

May 13, 1846
President Polk declares war on Mexico. U.S. Congress overwhelmingly votes in favor of President James K. Polk's request to declare war on Mexico in a dispute over Texas.
Under the threat of war, the United States had refrained from annexing Texas after the latter won independence from Mexico in 1836. But in 1844, President John Tyler restarted negotiations with the Republic of Texas, culminating with a Treaty of Annexation.

May 14, 1804
Lewis and Clark depart. It was one year after US doubled its territory with the Louisiana Purchase, the Lewis and Clark expedition leaves St. Louis, Missouri, on a mission to explore the Northwest from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. Even before the U.S. government concluded purchase negotiations with France, President Thomas Jefferson commissioned his private secretary Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, an army captain, to lead an expedition into what is now the U.S. Northwest. On May 14, the "Corps of Discovery"--featuring approximately 45 men (although only an approximate 33 men would make the full journey)--left St. Louis for the American interior.

May 15, 1937
Madeleine Albright is born. Madeleine Albright grew up to serve as America's first female secretary of state. She was born Maria Jana Korbelova in Prague, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic). The daughter of Czech diplomat Josef Korbel, Albright fled to England with her family after the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia in 1939. Though Albright long believed they had fled for political reasons, she learned as an adult that her family was Jewish and that three of her grandparents had died in Nazi concentration camps. The family returned home after World War II ended but immigrated to the United States in 1948 after a Soviet-sponsored Communist coup seized power in Prague. Josef Korbel became dean of the school of international relations at the University of Denver, where he would later train another female secretary of state, Condoleeza Rice.

May 16, 1929
First Academy Awards ceremony. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences handed out its first awards, at a dinner party for around 250 people held in the Blossom Room of the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood, California. The brainchild of Louis B. Mayer, head of the powerful MGM film studio, the Academy was organized in May 1927 as a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement and improvement of the film industry. Its first president and the host of the May 1929 ceremony was the actor Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. Unlike today, the winners of the first Oscars--as the coveted gold-plated statuettes later became known--were announced before the awards ceremony itself.

May 17, 1954
Brown v. Board of Ed is decided. It was hailed as a major civil rights victory, the U.S. Supreme Court hands down an unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, ruling that racial segregation in public educational facilities is unconstitutional. The historic decision, which brought an end to federal tolerance of racial segregation, specifically dealt with Linda Brown, a young African American girl who had been denied admission to her local elementary school in Topeka, Kansas, because of the color of her skin.

May 18, 1920
Pope John Paul II born. His birth name was Karol Jozef Wojtyla is born in the Polish town of Wadowice, 35 miles southwest of Krakow. Wojtyla went on to become Pope John Paul II, history's most well-traveled pope and the first non-Italian to hold the position since the 16th century. After high school, the future pope enrolled at Krakow's Jagiellonian University, where he studied philosophy and literature and performed in a theater group. During World War II, Nazis occupied Krakow and closed the university, forcing Wojtyla to seek work in a quarry and, later, a chemical factory. By 1941, his mother, father, and only brother had all died, leaving him the sole surviving member of his family.

May 19, 1935
Lawrence of Arabia dies. T.E. Lawrence, known to the world as Lawrence of Arabia, dies as a retired Royal Air Force mechanic living under an assumed name. The legendary war hero, author, and archaeological scholar succumbed to injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident six days before. Thomas Edward Lawrence was born in Tremadoc, Wales, in 1888. In 1896, his family moved to Oxford. Lawrence studied architecture and archaeology, for which he made a trip to Ottoman (Turkish)-controlled Syria and Palestine in 1909. In 1911, he won a fellowship to join an expedition excavating an ancient Hittite settlement on the Euphrates River. He worked there for three years and in his free time traveled and learned Arabic. In 1914, he explored the Sinai, near the frontier of Ottoman-controlled Arabia and British-controlled Egypt. The maps Lawrence and his associates made had immediate strategic value upon the outbreak of war between Britain and the Ottoman Empire in October 1914.