April 21, 2022

#ThrowbackThursday – 21 April

Do you remember where you were when history was made? From the death of a president to the birth of a (near-)revolution, many people can claim to say they were present when history’s biggest events occurred.

If not, it’s equally important to learn from those events, and who knows? You might end up making history yourself!

On that note, here are three events that went down in history on 21 April:

1865 – Coming Home to Rest

Seven mournful days had passed since US President Abraham Lincoln was fatally shot at the Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC. Now, his remains were to go home.

At 12:30PM on Wednesday, a funeral train left the station at Washington, D.C. – it carried the remains of Lincoln, and that of his son, William, who passed away three years previously at the age of 11.

Several of his friends and family, including his brothers-in-law, Ninian Wirt Edwards and C. M. Smith, formed part of the accompanying honour guard. His wife, Mary Todd, was too far gone in her grief to go on the trip.

For several days, the train would make many stops along the way from Baltimore, Maryland to Chicago, Illinois, and members of the public in their thousands would be able to view Lincoln’s remains on display.

Ultimately, on 3 May – approximately 13 days of travelling – the train arrived in Lincoln’s hometown of Springfield, Illinois. He and his son would be interred the following day at Oak Ridge Cemetery.

1956 – A Time for a Big Hit (and for Hitting the Big Time)

Sixty-six years ago, a song by a rising US artist reached the top of the music charts. You may know the song and (most certainly) the artist in question: “Heartbreak Hotel” by Elvis Presley.

Presley was 21-years-old when he heard this particular song in January 1956; a markedly morbid song exploring themes of loneliness and broken love, “Heartbreak Hotel’” was presented as a demo to the singer, who instantly added the song to his live concert repertoire.

Confident that the song would catapult him to stardom, Presley recorded it for the RCA label in Nashville, Tennessee. Upon its release, he promoted it by performing it on “The Milton Berle Show”, and it was clear from the audience’s cheer-laden reaction that he had a hit on his hands.

Come 21 April, “Heartbreak Hotel” reached No.1 on no less than six U.S. Billboard pop and country charts. It was Presley’s first hit, and – as history tells us – it certainly wouldn’t be the last!

1989 – Hu, What, Where? At Tiananmen Square

At the height of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP’s) power, one of its key members could claim to have the love and respect of his countrymen, specifically university students – and it was in his memory that these same students took to Tiananmen Square to protest against the government’s strict, authoritarian policies.

Former CCP General Secretary Hu Yaobang was a man who was held in high esteem by students due to his open-mindedness about introducing liberalist reforms that would benefit his country. But on 15 April, he died after having a heart attack.

Hu’s death understandably stirred up strong feelings among students from one university campus to the next. Wanting to pay their respects, as well as voice their discontent with the current regime, nearly 100 000 students converged in Tiananmen Square on the evening of 21 April. After his funeral, the following day, the protests would begin full-force.

For the next few weeks, Tiananmen Square became the site of a near-revolution, with students, intellectuals and civil servants in their millions joining in demonstrating against the CCP. Unfortunately, it led to the loss of thousands of lives as Chinese troops killed thousands upon thousands of demonstrators, while dissenters were executed.

Additionally, in the aftermath of the demonstrations – which lasted until 4 June – the CCP strengthened its hold on the country, rescinding many freedoms and strengthening their own powers.

To this day, there are still restrictions and declining freedoms in China, very far from what these protestors – and perhaps Hu – ever visualised for their country’s future.

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