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Community History Archives: This Week in History: May 6th – May 12th

Get ready for a trip around the world, because this week in history brings us events from all over the globe! Our first destination will take us back a year to a Royal Coronation. From there, we will make stops in South Africa, New Jersey, and Europe as we cover some of the most important historical events that happened during this week all those years ago. As always, complimentary search tips will be provided!

(2000s – Present) A Royal Celebration: King Charles III Crowned, 2023

A historic moment in European History happened just a year ago, with the first British Royal Coronation in 70 years. After his mother’s death, King Charles III and his wife Camilla were crowned on May 6th, 2023 in Westminster Abbey. His predecessor, Queen Elizabeth II, was crowned in 1953 and ruled until her death in September of 2022. In attendance at their coronation were over 2,000 guests from 203 different countries. Some guests include members of royal families from around the world and other leaders such as First Lady Jill Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. There were even some celebrities in attendance, including singer Lionel Richie. 

To find a piece about this event, I eventually returned to the Cedar Rapids Public Library CHA because of how recent this event was. I was able to find pieces talking about King Charles’s coronation, describing him as “crowned with regal pomp”.

(1980s – 2000s) Changing Tides: Nelson Mandela Becomes South Africa’s First Black Head of State, 1994

Nelson Mandela, a famous anti-apartheid activist, was inaugurated as South Africa’s first black head of state on May 10th, 1994. Mandela spent most of his life protesting apartheid in South Africa and served 27 years in prison for his activism. His presidency was a part of a switch to democracy in South Africa. The year before, he received a Nobel Prize for ending apartheid in South Africa. As president, he helped the country flourish and develop economically. While he did not seek a second term, he left a lasting legacy in South Africa. After his retirement, he continued to be a social justice advocate. He created the Nelson Mandela Foundation, which is a non-profit organization that participates in many social justice projects.

I found reports covering his election in the Quincy Herald-Whig, published on May 9th, 1994. They report his election victory, as well as provide a recap of the steps it took for him to reach that point. I thought it gave helpful insight into how long of a fight this was for Mandela and for democracy in South Africa.

(1945 – 1980s) The End of the War in Europe: VE Day, 1945

May 8th, 1945. Victory in Europe. 

After a long and deadly war, Germany unconditionally surrendered to the Allies, ending the conflict in Europe. There were two surrender signings, one on May 7th by German Colonel General Alfred Jodl, and another on May 8th by German Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel. Jodl marked Germany’s surrender on all fronts, while Kietels was to surrender the soviet forces. 

As news of Germany’s surrender spread, people flooded the streets to celebrate the Allied victory. From New York to New Orleans, to London and Australia, people celebrated the end of the fighting in Europe. There were huge celebrations in France, which some US troops even attended. The war was not over yet though. The world now looked to the conflict in Japan, awaiting another victory anxiously to officially end the war. 

You can find pieces celebrating V-E day in almost every archive. I found one in the Ashland Daily Tidings from the Hannon Library at Southern Oregon University, published on May 8th, 1945, that had “VICTORY” and “GERMANY QUITS” in huge letters across the front page. Another interesting piece I found was in the Sullivan Daily Times from the Sullivan County Public Library CHA. On May 8th, 1945, they published that in Sullivan, Indiana, they would be celebrating V-E day quietly. They let schools out early and held church services in the afternoon to celebrate instead. I thought this perspective was interesting because it was quite different from the way everyone else chose to celebrate. 

Here’s where my search tip of the week comes in. When looking for pieces about this day, I had to use different search terms than I initially thought. I started by looking for all “V-E Day”, but that turned up any result that had the word day in it, which you can imagine is quite a few. I then tried to use “V-E Day” as an exact phrase, but that limited the results too much. While I did find one piece from the Portland Evening Express that used the term, it wasn’t always written exactly as “V-E Day. A lot of times it was referred to as “Victory” or some other headline about how the war was over. When searching for an event, don’t always use the name we call it now. Instead, search for what they would have called it when it happened. I ended up searching for “Victory in Europe” and then adding a bunch of keywords like “VE” and “Germans”, which presented me with a lot more relevant results.

(1915 – 1945) Transatlantic Travesty: Hindenburg Disaster, 1937

The Hindenburg Zeppelin was the largest airship ever made. The ship was over 800 feet long and could reach top speeds of 85 miles per hour. Airships were becoming another way to travel, and the Hindenburg was the star. Despite the many other safe journeys taken previously, disaster struck as the Hindenburg was attempting to dock in the United States on May 6th, 1937. 

Crowds of people were at the Lakehurst Naval Air Station in New Jersey, anticipating the arrival of the legendary airship. It was the first transatlantic passenger flight in 1937, and its arrival was surrounded by media buzz. The ship was made to be filled with helium, but due to export restrictions the United States had put in place for World War II they had to fill it with hydrogen for this flight. Hydrogen is extremely flammable, so when a leak sprung and was exposed to a discharge of atmospheric electricity, the Hindenburg burst into flames. 35 passengers on the airship were killed, as one as one person working on the ground. 

This incident was covered by lots of news channels and reporters, as they were all anxiously awaiting the Hindenburg’s arrival. In fact, many pieces covering the events are available in one of Advantages’ recently completed CHA, the Newark Public Library in Newark, New Jersey. They have a bunch of interesting reports in the Newark Evening News, including suspicion of sabotage, interviews from passengers of the Hindenburg’s maiden voyage, and a heartwarming story of a sister finding her brother safe and alive after the disaster. If you are interested in any of these stories, I encourage you to check them out here

(1824 – 1915) Controversial Decisions: Lusitania Sinks, 1915

 

At the start of the First World War, Americans generally wanted to stay uninvolved. They didn’t want to get involved in a war that, at that point, had nothing to do with them. That all changed on May 7th, 1915, when a German U Boat caused over a hundred American deaths. 

The RMS Lusitania was a British ocean liner that was traveling from New York to Liverpool, England. It weighed about 32,000 tons and was carrying just under 2,000 people. 

A German U Boat torpedoes the ship, causing it to sink. In total, 1,195 people died, 123 of whom were American citizens. The response was an outcry from many countries. Germany denied any wrongdoing, saying that since the Lusitania was carrying military cargo they were justified in sinking the ship. However, the British argued that because the ship was not armed and there were passengers aboard, they were not. 

Historians commonly attribute the sinking of the Lusitania as one of the main reasons the United States decided to enter World War 1. While the US didn’t join the conflict until almost two years later, the American population began to support US involvement, because they were now getting caught up in the crossfire. 

I found two different pieces that interested me reporting on this event. One was in the Newark Evening News from the Newark Public Library CHA, which published a list of passengers from New Jersey who had been saved on May 8th, 1915. 36 known citizens of New Jersey were reportedly on board, and they reported that only 5 had been known to be saved. Interestingly, 3 of the passengers from New Jersey were from Newark. Another piece I found was from the Holmes County Farmer, published in Millersburg Ohio on May 13th, 1915. Here, they reported on many different topics surrounding the sinking, including allegations that the ship wasn’t taking appropriate precautions, and responses to President Wilson’s speech. 

 

This week marked so many events that changed the course of history. While most people know general information about them, pairing this knowledge with additional archival content helps us to paint a more colorful picture of the past. Join me again next week to discover more of history’s hidden gems and timeless tales!

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