June 17, 2021

#ThrowbackThursday – 17 June

Some things in life we take for granted. Whether it’s because we deem them as “only the little things”, or because they become so entrenched in our everyday lives that we come to view them as mundane, we may not appreciate them fully or even begin to question them.

Indeed, the stitches that make up the fabric of history – and not the least, the hands that placed them there – often go ignored. But, as these five historical events that took place on 17 June show, one must critically examine and learn to appreciate them so that more stitches can be made (and prevent others from coming loose):

1631 – The Death of the Taj Mahal’s Muse

It was a day of heartbreak for India’s Mughal emperor when his wife passed away.

Born Arjumand Banu Begum, the Persian noblewoman was married to Shah Jahan, who conferred upon his beloved wife the title “Mumtaz Mahal”, which means “Beloved ornament of the palace”. For 19 years, the couple were inseparable companions, even when Shah Jahan took on other wives.

Alas, Mumtaz Mahal, aged 38, passed away while giving birth to their 14th child. It sent Shah Jahan into a state of grief and mourning for approximately a year, but not before he commissioned a mausoleum-cum-monument for his wife to be constructed.

And so, starting from 1632 and ending in 1653, the Taj Mahal – meaning “Crown of the palace” – was built in the honour, memory and love of Mumtaz Mahal, whose body lies entombed alongside her husband’s. Today, it is considered one of the wonders of the world.

1885 – Lady Liberty Arrives on US Shores

One hundred and thirty-six years ago, the United States of America welcomed its largest immigrant.

Travelling from France aboard a steamer, the disassembled pieces of La Liberté éclairant le monde – French for “Liberty Enlightening the World” – safely arrived at New York City’s harbour. A gift from the French people as a token of friendship, the statue was designed by Frederic Auguste Bartholdi and based on the Roman liberty goddess, Libertas.

It was only after its pedestal was completed in April 1886 that the statue pieces were finally reassembled on what was then called Bedloe’s Island. Six months later, the Statue of Liberty was finally unveiled during a dedication ceremony.

The statue has become a major symbol of freedom, human rights and opportunity. Over 12 million immigrants who arrived at New York City’s harbour were greeted by “Lady Liberty”; no doubt they would have been heartened by the sight of the 93-metre-tall behemoth, whose pedestal was inscribed: “Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

1953 – East German Citizens Rise Up

Following strike action by construction workers in East Berlin the day before, one million people across East Germany took to the streets in protest.

Protesting against declining living standards and unpopular Sovietisation policies – which included an increase in work quotas, taxes and prices – demonstrators called for the reinstatement of the old work quotas, price decreases, and free and fair elections.

In East Berlin alone, tens of thousands of people converged on the city centre to make their ire known. However, the East German police force, along with Soviet troops, violently cracked down on the protests by opening fire on the crowds. Fifty-five people are said to have died, although other sources say it was 125. Many others were arrested and sent to penal camps.

Until Germany was reunified in 1990, the “Day of German Unity” was celebrated on 17 June in commemoration of the historic uprising.

1994 – The Chase is On

Up until 16 June 1994, O. J. Simpson was an esteemed former footballing legend. The next day, he became a fugitive of the law.

After his ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend, Ronald Goldman, were found killed outside her home on 12 June in Los Angeles, California, Simpson was suspected of involvement by the police. Seemingly without options, he fled in a white Ford Bronco driven by his friend, Al Cowlings. Police cars and helicopters were immediately dispatched to pursue the vehicle.

For hours, Cowlings drove an apparently suicidal Simpson along the Los Angeles highway system. The low-speed pursuit was broadcast nationwide, and 95 million people paused in their daily activities to watch it unfold. Finally, the Bronco ended up at Simpson’s Rockingham Avenue estate, thus ending the chase.

Simpson would go on to be trialled for (and acquitted of) Brown and Goldman’s murders, although he would find himself running into legal troubles for the next couple of years.

2005 – UK’s First Black Archbishop

From lawyer to theologian, John Sentamu made history when he became the first black archbishop in the Church of England.

On this day, it was announced by the prime minister’s office that John Sentamu, 56, would be appointed as the 97th Archbishop of York. Taking over the position from David Hope, who quit his position in order to serve as a parish priest, his enthronement took place four months later.

Born in Uganda, Sentamu trained as a lawyer and was a vocal critic of dictator Idi Amin. After a brief imprisonment, he fled to the United Kingdom in 1974, where he began to study theology. Rising through the ranks, Sentamu later became the bishop of Stepney and of Birmingham.

Now retired, Sentamu was recently made a life peer, and is officially titled John Tucker Mugabi Sentamu, Baron Sentamu, of Lindisfarne in the County of Northumberland and of Masooli in the Republic of Uganda.

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