This Day in History: December 20

This Day in History

Today is Monday, Dec. 20, the 354th day of 2021. There are 11 days left in the year.

Today’s Highlight in History:

On Dec. 20, 1987, more than 4,300 people were killed when the Dona Paz (DOHN’-yuh pahz), a Philippine passenger ship, collided with the tanker Vector off Mindoro island.

On this date:

In 1803, the Louisiana Purchase was completed as ownership of the territory was formally transferred from France to the United States.

In 1860, South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union as all 169 delegates to a special convention in Charleston voted in favor of separation.

In 1864, Confederate forces evacuated Savannah, Georgia, as Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman nearly completed his “March to the Sea.”

In 1924, Adolf Hitler was released from prison after serving nine months for his role in the Beer Hall Putsch.

In 1946, the Frank Capra film “It’s A Wonderful Life,” starring James Stewart and Donna Reed, had a preview showing for charity in New York, a day before its official world premiere.

In 1963, the Berlin Wall was opened for the first time to West Berliners, who were allowed one-day visits to relatives in the Eastern sector for the holidays.

In 1989, the United States launched Operation Just Cause, sending troops into Panama to topple the government of Gen. Manuel Noriega.

In 1995, an American Airlines Boeing 757 en route to Cali, Colombia, slammed into a mountain, killing all but four of the 163 people aboard. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, NATO began its peacekeeping mission, taking over from the United Nations.

In 1999, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that homosexual couples were entitled to the same benefits and protections as wedded heterosexual couples.

In 2002, Trent Lott resigned as Senate Republican leader two weeks after igniting a political firestorm with racially charged remarks.

In 2005, a federal judge ruled that “intelligent design” could not be mentioned in biology classes in a Pennsylvania public school district, delivering a stinging attack on the Dover Area School Board.

In 2017, Cardinal Bernard Law, the disgraced former archbishop of Boston, died in Rome at the age of 86; his failure to stop child molesters in the priesthood had triggered a crisis in American Catholicism.

Ten years ago: Lori Berenson, an American paroled after 15 years behind bars in Peru for aiding leftist guerrillas, arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport for her first visit home since her arrest in 1995. (After a 17-day visit, Berenson returned to Peru to serve out the rest of her parole; she was expelled from Peru on Dec. 2, 2015 and returned to the U.S.)

Five years ago: President Barack Obama designated the bulk of U.S.-owned waters in the Arctic Ocean and certain areas in the Atlantic Ocean as indefinitely off limits to future oil and gas leasing. A deadly chain-reaction explosion ripped through Mexico’s best-known fireworks market on the northern outskirts of the capital, killing at least 36 people. Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova was injured in her playing hand by a knife-wielding attacker at her Czech Republic home and underwent surgery. (The attacker was sentenced to 11 years in prison.)

One year ago: The Trump campaign continued with its unprecedented efforts to overturn the results of the November presidential election; a petition asked the Supreme Court to reverse a trio of Pennsylvania Supreme Court cases having to do with mail-in ballots, and also asked that the state General Assembly be allowed to pick its own slate of electors. Several European Union nations banned flights from the U.K. and others were considering such action, all in hopes of blocking a new strain of coronavirus sweeping across southern England from establishing a strong foothold on the continent.

Today’s Birthdays: Original Mouseketeer Tommy Cole (TV: “The Mickey Mouse Club”) is 80. R&B singer-musician Walter “Wolfman” Washington is 78. Rock musician-music producer Bobby Colomby is 77. Rock musician Peter Criss is 76. Former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is 75. Psychic/illusionist Uri Geller is 75. Producer Dick Wolf (“Law & Order”) is 75. Rock musician Alan Parsons is 73. Actor Jenny Agutter is 69. Actor Michael Badalucco is 67. Actor Blanche Baker is 65. Rock singer Billy Bragg is 64. Rock singer-musician Mike Watt (The Secondmen, Minutemen, fIREHOSE) is 64. Actor Joel Gretsch is 58. Country singer Kris Tyler is 57. Rock singer Chris Robinson is 55. Actor Nicole deBoer is 51. Movie director Todd Phillips is 51. Singer David Cook (“American Idol”) is 39. Actor Jonah Hill is 38. Actor Bob Morley is 37. Singer JoJo is 31. Actor Colin Woodell is 30.

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