On May 4, 1961, a group of thirteen young people departs Washington, D.C.’s Greyhound Bus terminal, bound for the South. Their journey is peaceful at first, but the riders will meet with shocking violence on their way to New Orleans, eventually being forced to evacuate from Jackson, Mississippi but earning a place in history as the first Freedom Riders.
Two Supreme Court rulings, Morgan v. Virginia and Boynton v. Virginia, forbade the racial segregation of bus lines, and a 1955 ruling by the Interstate Commerce Commission outlawed the practice of using “separate but equal” buses. Nonetheless, bus lines in the South continued to abide by Jim Crow laws, ignoring the federal mandate to desegregate, for years. The Congress of Racial Equality, with assistance from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, decided to protest this practice by sending white and Black riders together into the South, drawing inspiration both from recent sit-ins and the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation, in which activists attempting to desegregate buses were imprisoned in North Carolina for violating Jim Crow laws.
The riders who boarded the buses on May 4 were mostly students, and several were teenagers. Among them was 21-year-old John Lewis, who would go on to co-organize the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and represent a Georgia district containing most of Atlanta in Congress for 33 years. Trained in nonviolence, they sat in mixed-race pairs on the buses in order to make a statement about integration while deterring violence. When they reached Rock Hill, South Carolina, however, Lewis was badly beaten, and things got worse as they approached Birmingham, Alabama. In Anniston, outside of Birmingham, a crowd of local Klansmen attacked one of the buses, setting it ablaze and sending several riders to the hospital. Local police fired warning shots in the air to dispel the riot, although it has since been revealed that they had privately assured the Klan they would give them time to carry out an attack before intervening. In Birmingham, more Klansmen beat the riders with baseball bats and bicycle chains as the local police, led by the notorious Bull Connor, stood down.
The original Freedom Riders finally abandoned their plan to reach New Orleans and were evacuated from Jackson, Mississippi, but even as the first ride came to an end more Freedom Riders were beginning theirs. Over the course of the summer, over 400 people took part in dozens of Freedom Rides followed in their footsteps. Like the first Riders, they were often met with violence and arrested, but their actions drew national attention to the brutality of white supremacy and the flagrance with which Southern states, businesses, and law enforcement continued to disregard federal law and finally won true desegregation of the buses.
On May 4, 1994, a groan-inducing moment on the floor of U.K. Parliament includes the first recorded use of a pun that will spawn its own holiday. Harry Cohen, Member of Parliament from Leyton, quotes his researcher as saying, “May the Fourth be with you,” a play on the date and the tagline “May the Force be with you” from the Star Wars series. The pun has been repeated countless times since, to the extent that May 4 is now recognized as Star Wars day by Lucasfilm, Disney and fans around the world.
A likely apocryphal story holds that the first use of the phrase in British politics came in 1979, in a congratulatory advertisement that the Conservative Party took out in a paper to honor Margaret Thatcher as she took office on May 4. The first recorded instance, however, came from Cohen, who rose to speak about a defense bill and made the following joke in reference to former U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s infamous “Star Wars” initiative:
“May the 4th is an appropriate date for a defense debate. My researcher, who is a bit of a wit, said that it should be called ‘National Star Wars Day.’ He was talking about the film Star Wars rather than President Reagan’s defense fantasy, and he added, ‘May the fourth be with you.’ That is a very bad joke. He deserves the sack for making it, but he is a good researcher.”
Cohen’s researcher escaped persecution for the pun, and a few decades later, his facetious suggestion had become a global phenomenon. With the advent of the internet, the pun rose in popularity and became a recurring meme, and fans began organizing “Star Wars Day” events in the 2010s—the first appears to have been at the Toronto Underground Cinema in 2011. Having acquired the rights to the Star Wars franchise in 2012, Disney began observing Star Wars Day the following year, with special events and releases marking the occasion. 2015 marked the first known celebration of Star Wars Day in space, when astronauts aboard the International Space Station watched Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith. Rather than limit their celebration to just one day, fans may choose to observe “Revenge of the Fifth” the day after Star Wars Day, although many hold that “Revenge of the Sixth” is a better pun.
The 1982 strike led by immigrant women earned better working conditions and benefits for New York City’s garment workers.
It was an unlikely group to storm the streets of New York City’s Chinatown in the summer of 1982: Nearly 20,000 garment workers—mostly Asian American women—marched together in solidarity for better benefits. Clad in matching union caps, they carried signs in both English and Chinese, reading, “In union, there is strength,” and “Support the union contract.”
“The mood was so exciting!” says May Chen, a labor organizer who worked for the hotel union at the time and was “borrowed” to help with the picket lines and logistics. “Chinatown’s hierarchy was so male-dominated, and here came the women standing together and speaking out.”
The walkout succeeded in retaining critical benefits for garment workers who toiled long work days in often harsh conditions. The strike’ success also showed that Asian American women—even those with a language barrier—could amplify their voices, take action and be heard.
Conditions in Chinatown’s Garment Shops
In 1980, about 430 garment shops employed a total of 25,000 workers—80 percent of whom were female. Many had come to the United States when the discriminatory Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 was overturned by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, eliminating racial quotas. Some had come to reunite with their husbands, while others had fled turmoil in their home countries. Securing a job that didn’t require speaking English had provided these women with career independence, as well as a community of fellow immigrants.
But conditions in the packed factories were not always humane. The buildings were often decrepit and the workspaces packed together tightly, according to an account in the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. Being pricked by needles was so common, Katie Quan writes in Amerasia Journal, that some bosses checked for needle fragments in workers’ fingers and then congratulated them for reaching that right of passage.
On top of that, poor airflow and crowded quarters led to tuberculosis, as well as kidney and gastric issues. Works days commonly stretched on for more than 10 hours—in low-light conditions. And pay was earned by the piece—at meager rates. Garment workers in Chinatown’s shops earned 50 cents for a skirt and 50 cents for a jacket, according to an October 12, 1983 article in the New York Times. Experienced workers, according to the Times, said their daily earnings amounted to just $9 or $10 per day.
Benefits Were the Main Demand
Still, the women clung to the jobs, many drawn to benefits provided by the International Ladies’ Garment Workers’ Union (ILGWU), Local 23-25. The union protected wages, holiday pay, welfare payments and pension, it also offered access to a health center, with full coverage for the workers and partial benefits for their families. Every three years, the contract was renegotiated between the employers and union.
But in 1982, things changed. As overseas labor became more accessible, some employers tried to cut benefits by scaling back on vacation days as well as medical and retirement benefits. Many employers were willing to work with the union, but, Chen explains, a small group of them used “the Chinese press to rile up support against the union.”
A ‘Strong and Powerful’ Showing
Quan, who was working at Kin Yip Sportswear, one of the largest Chinatown shops at the time, wrote in the Chinese-language community paper Sing Tao Daily News that if the union said to strike, workers should follow suit—and included her phone number. Among the nonstop calls she received, one came from a worker’s anonymous husband who quoted a Chinese proverb, “When fire singes the hairs on the skin of the women workers, they will rise up like tigers.”
And, as Quan writes, that’s what happened. The garment workers started banding together, distributing union leaflets, answering phone calls, and spreading the word through the local media. “Workers were really concerned about protecting their benefits which was the main attraction of the union to them,” Chen says. “So most workers were positive about the union’s call to action.”
Despite increasing support for a strike, on June 24, some women hid in the shops’ bathrooms, afraid to participate. But as soon as the organizers knocked on doors, showing the power of the masses, they joined in. Their numbers swelled to 20,000 as they walked down New York City’s Mott Street to Columbus Park.
“Most of these women were really the backbone of their families so it was wonderful to see them feeling so strong and powerful,” Chen says.
Another rally was held five days later—again with a turnout of nearly 20,000—and the holdouts gave in. In the end, most employers signed with the union, marking a major victory for the garment workers and a turning point for the union, which would work closely with its Asian American workers.
While this may have been one of the loudest and effective labor rights strikes, Chen (who went on to work for the union after the strike) says the seeds had long been sown. “There had been a tradition in NY Chinatown of collective action by the huge number of Chinese community organizations,” she says.
The 1982 strike was unique, however, in that it was powered by a group of people who had historically been expected to simply put up with inequities.
As Chen says, “The community came to respect the women and the power of collective action to win rights.”
Top women’s tennis player Monica Seles is stabbed by a deranged German man during a match in Hamburg. The assailant, a fan of German tennis star Steffi Graf, apparently hoped that by injuring Seles his idol Graf would be able to regain her No. 1 ranking.
Seles became the youngest woman to win the French Open in 1990 when she defeated No. 1-ranked Steffi Graff in the finals. In 1991, Seles, a power player with a habit of grunting loudly during matches, replaced Graf as the top-ranked women’s player. At the time of the 1993 attack, she had won eight Grand Slam titles and was ranked No. 1 in the world. On April 30, 1993, Seles, then 19, was sitting on a courtside seat during a changeover in her match against Magdalena Maleeva at the Hamburg Open when 38-year-old Gunter Parche leaned over a fence and stabbed her between the shoulder blades with a knife. Parche was quickly apprehended by security officials and Seles was taken to the hospital. She recovered from her physical injuries but was left with deep emotional scars and didn’t play again professionally for another two years.
Parche, who was described as a mentally unbalanced loner, contended he was only trying to hurt Seles, not kill her. A German court convicted him of grievous bodily harm in October 1993 and he received a two-year suspended sentence. Seles, along with many others, was angered by the lenient verdict and prosecutors eventually won the right to a re-trial. However, the judge at Parche’s second trial in 1995 upheld the suspended sentence.
In August 1995, Seles, who became a U.S. citizen the previous year, made her tennis comeback by winning the Canadian Open. The next month, she lost the U.S. Open finals to Steffi Graf. In January 1996, she won her fourth Australian Open and final Grand Slam title. In 2003, a foot injury forced Seles out of competition, and she played only sporadically. In February 2008, Seles officially retired.
The South Vietnamese stronghold of Saigon (now known as Ho Chi Minh City) falls to People’s Army of Vietnam and the Viet Cong on April 30, 1975. The South Vietnamese forces had collapsed under the rapid advancement of the North Vietnamese. The most recent fighting had begun in December 1974, when the North Vietnamese had launched a major attack against the lightly defended province of Phuoc Long, located due north of Saigon along the Cambodian border, overrunning the provincial capital at Phuoc Binh on January 6, 1975. Despite previous presidential promises to provide aid in such a scenario, the United States did nothing. By this time, Nixon had resigned from office and his successor, Gerald Ford, was unable to convince a hostile Congress to make good on Nixon’s earlier promises to rescue Saigon from communist takeover.
This situation emboldened the North Vietnamese, who launched a new campaign in March 1975. The South Vietnamese forces fell back in total disarray, and once again, the United States did nothing. The South Vietnamese abandoned Pleiku and Kontum in the Highlands with very little fighting. Then Quang Tri, Hue, and Da Nang fell to the communist onslaught. The North Vietnamese continued to attack south along the coast toward Saigon, defeating the South Vietnamese forces at each encounter.
The South Vietnamese 18th Division had fought a valiant battle at Xuan Loc, just to the east of Saigon, destroying three North Vietnamese divisions in the process. However, it proved to be the last battle in the defense of the Republic of South Vietnam. The South Vietnamese forces held out against the attackers until they ran out of tactical air support and weapons, finally abandoning Xuan Loc to the communists on April 21.
Having crushed the last major organized opposition before Saigon, the North Vietnamese got into position for the final assault. In Saigon, South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu resigned and transferred authority to Vice President Tran Van Huong before fleeing the city on April 25. By April 27, the North Vietnamese had completely encircled Saigon and began to maneuver for a complete takeover.
When they attacked at dawn on April 30, they met little resistance. North Vietnamese tanks crashed through the gates of the Presidential Palace and the war came to an end. North Vietnamese Col. Bui Tin accepted the surrender from Gen. Duong Van Minh, who had taken over after Tran Van Huong spent only one day in power. Tin explained to Minh, “You have nothing to fear. Between Vietnamese there are no victors and no vanquished. Only the Americans have been beaten. If you are patriots, consider this a moment of joy. The war for our country is over.”