1961 – Patrice Lumumba dies

A Congolese freedom fighter, Patrice Lumumba was one of the leaders of the independence movement that overthrew Belgian colonial rule in 1960, a struggle in which he faced physical and legal dangers constantly, and was arrested repeatedly by colonial authorities. The struggle was eventually successful, however, and shortly after victory was achieved, Lumumba became the first legally elected leader of a free and independent Congo republic.

His time as head of state was cut short by a Belgian-sponsored counter-coup, which saw Lumumba and other members of his government imprisoned and later executed a mere twelve weeks into their rule.

Referenced in:
Done Too Soon — Neil Diamond

1967 — The County Borough of Blackburn reports on its potholes

The County Borough of Blackburn was, in 1967, the governing body of the Blackburn area. Blackburn is an industrial town in Lancashire, but one that was declining as a result of the cotton industry’s slow fading away. Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise, therefore, that in that year, the roads in the borough had 4000 potholes in them – one for every 26 people living in the affected area.

The newspaper story about this incident, extrapolating from these figures, calculated that there must be two million such potholes in Britain’s roads, with 15% of them (300,000) in London. The fact that there are 4000 holes there is probably the single most widely-known fact about Blackburn, although presumably at least some of them have been repaired in the nearly 5 decades since John Lennon drew them to our attention.

Referenced in:
A Day in the Life — The Beatles

1971 — Marvin Gaye releases “What’s Going On?”

A number two US chart hit for Marvin Gaye, “What’s Going On?” was a departure from his previous Motown sound into a more personal and introspective direction. Inspired by the rising tide of racial and social unrest in the United States in the late Sixties, and more personally by events like the death of Gaye’s cousin (a soldier in Vietnam), “What’s Going On?” was a plea to everyone to just stop and take a look around at the world, and to ask themselves why it was like that.

The song was nominated for two Grammy awards, and ranked by Rolling Stone Magazine as number 4 on the “500 Greatest Songs of All Time” in 2004, and again when the list was revised in 2010. They may actually have been under-rating it.

Referenced in:
Black Tie White Noise — David Bowie

1977 — Spree killer Gary Gilmore is executed by firing squad

Gary Mark Gilmore was the first person to be executed after the Supreme Court decision of Gregg vs Georgia in 1976. He was convicted of two murders in the state of Utah, and acheived notoriety for insisting on being sentenced to death. At that time, the state of Utah had two different methods of execution, and Judge Bullock (who heard the case) permitted Gilmore to choose between the noose and the firing squad. Gilmore chose the latter, forbade his attorneys to appeal his sentence, and insisted on donating his eyes for use in transplants.

Although Utah traditionally used a five man firing squad, four of whom would be given live rounds and one a blank, Gilmore’s brother Mikal claimed to have found five bullet holes in Gary’s chest after his death. Per his request, Gilmore’s eyes were removed, and used in transplant operations later that same day.

Referenced in:
Bring On The Night — The Police
Gary Gilmore’s Eyes — The Adverts

1991 — Operation Desert Storm commences

Operation Desert Storm began after the expiry of the deadline for Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. The first component of the operation was a series of airstrikes, with the first large scale deployment of so-called “smart bombs”. US Air Force planes launched from bases in Saudi Arabia and carriers in the Persian Gulf and Red Sea to strike at targets in Kuwait and Iraq.

The first priority was the neutralization of the Iraqi Air Force, a goal that was successfully completed on the first day of the war. After that, priority was given to military and communications targets. The ground assault began weeks later, after the coalition forces had established absolute aerial dominance – by the time the tanks were rolling, the war was almost already over.

Referenced in:
Hand of Fools — The Cross