What Happened on May 21 in American History?

by oaeen
1881 – The American Red Cross Founded

May 21 is a day that has witnessed several pivotal events in American history, spanning legal milestones, social movements, technological advancements, and cultural developments. This comprehensive article explores these significant occurrences, delving into their contexts and lasting impacts on the United States.

1832 – The First Democratic National Convention

On May 21, 1832, the Democratic Party held its first national convention in Baltimore, Maryland. This event marked a significant development in American political history, as it introduced the system of using national conventions to nominate presidential candidates, a practice that continues today. The convention nominated Andrew Jackson for a second term and Martin Van Buren as his vice-presidential running mate. This new approach to the nominating process democratized candidate selection, reducing the influence of Congressional caucuses and increasing party members’ involvement nationwide.

1863 – The Siege of Port Hudson Begins

On May 21, 1863, Union forces initiated the Siege of Port Hudson in Louisiana during the American Civil War. This confrontation was part of the Union’s strategy to gain control of the Mississippi River and split the Confederacy. The siege lasted for 48 days, making it one of the longest in American history. The eventual Union victory on July 9, 1863, after the surrender of Confederate forces, was pivotal in achieving Union dominance over the Mississippi River, significantly weakening the Confederate war effort and enhancing the Union’s strategic position.

1881 – The American Red Cross Founded

Clara Barton and Adolphus Solomons founded the American Red Cross on May 21, 1881, in Washington, D.C. Inspired by Barton’s experiences during the Civil War and her work with the International Red Cross, the American Red Cross aimed to provide emergency assistance, disaster relief, and education. The organization quickly became essential in responding to natural disasters, epidemics, and wartime needs. The founding of the American Red Cross marked a significant advancement in the nation’s humanitarian efforts, emphasizing the importance of organized volunteerism and emergency response.

1927 – Charles Lindbergh’s Historic Flight

On May 21, 1927, Charles Lindbergh completed the first solo nonstop transatlantic flight, landing at Le Bourget Field near Paris, France, after departing from Roosevelt Field in New York on May 20. His aircraft, the Spirit of St. Louis, made the 33.5-hour journey, capturing global attention and marking a monumental achievement in aviation history. Lindbergh’s flight demonstrated the potential for long-distance air travel, paving the way for future advancements in aviation technology and establishing him as an iconic American hero.

1932 – Amelia Earhart’s Solo Transatlantic Flight

On the same date five years later, May 21, 1932, Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly solo nonstop across the Atlantic Ocean. She landed in a pasture near Derry, Northern Ireland, after departing from Harbour Grace, Newfoundland, completing the flight in approximately 15 hours. Earhart’s achievement was a significant milestone for women in aviation, challenging gender norms and inspiring future generations of female aviators. Her success highlighted the evolving role of women in fields traditionally dominated by men and underscored the growing importance of aviation in modern transportation.

1961 – Freedom Riders Attacked in Montgomery, Alabama

On May 21, 1961, a group of Freedom Riders, civil rights activists challenging segregation in interstate bus travel, were viciously attacked by a mob in Montgomery, Alabama. The Freedom Riders, both black and white, were testing the enforcement of the Supreme Court’s decision in Boynton v. Virginia (1960), which declared segregation in interstate bus and rail stations unconstitutional. The violent response they encountered underscored the deep-seated resistance to desegregation in the South and highlighted the dangers faced by those fighting for civil rights. The incident drew national attention and increased federal involvement in protecting civil rights activists, significantly impacting the movement’s momentum.

1966 – Ulster Volunteer Force Declares War on the IRA

On May 21, 1966, the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), a loyalist paramilitary group in Northern Ireland, declared war on the Irish Republican Army (IRA). While this event occurred overseas, its repercussions were felt in America, particularly among Irish-American communities and political organizations. The UVF’s declaration marked an escalation in the sectarian conflict known as the Troubles, which influenced American foreign policy and diaspora politics. The conflict’s complexities and the involvement of American individuals and organizations in supporting different sides underscored the interconnectedness of global and domestic political landscapes.

1991 – Assassination of Rajiv Gandhi

On May 21, 1991, Rajiv Gandhi, the former Prime Minister of India, was assassinated by a suicide bomber affiliated with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Gandhi’s death had significant international repercussions, including in the United States, where it impacted foreign policy and the South Asian diaspora community. The assassination underscored the global nature of terrorism and political violence, influencing American counterterrorism strategies and highlighting the interconnectedness of global political events.

1998 – Indonesian President Suharto Resigns

Indonesian President Suharto resigned on May 21, 1998, after 31 years in power. His resignation amid economic crisis and widespread protests marked a significant moment in global politics, resonating in the United States due to its geopolitical interests in Southeast Asia. Suharto’s departure signaled the end of an authoritarian regime and the beginning of Indonesia’s democratic transition, highlighting the challenges and opportunities in fostering democracy and stability in a diverse and populous nation.

1904 – Birth of Fats Waller

Jazz pianist, organist, composer, and singer Thomas “Fats” Waller was born on May 21, 1904. A major figure in the Harlem Renaissance, Waller’s contributions to jazz include classics such as “Ain’t Misbehavin’” and “Honeysuckle Rose.” His vibrant personality and virtuosic skills made him an influential artist in the jazz world. Waller’s music continues to be celebrated for its creativity and enduring appeal, reflecting the rich cultural heritage of the Harlem Renaissance.

1952 – Birth of Mr. T

Born Lawrence Tureaud on May 21, 1952, Mr. T is an American actor, wrestler, and television personality best known for his roles as B.A. Baracus in “The A-Team” and Clubber Lang in “Rocky III.” His distinctive appearance, characterized by a mohawk hairstyle and gold chains, and his catchphrase, “I pity the fool,” have made him a cultural icon. Mr. T’s career spans various entertainment fields, and his larger-than-life persona continues to resonate in popular culture.


May 21 has been a day of profound historical significance in American history, encompassing a wide range of events that have shaped the nation’s political, social, and cultural landscapes. From the establishment of the American Red Cross to landmark achievements in aviation and pivotal moments in the civil rights movement, the events of this day reflect the diverse and dynamic nature of American history. The legacy of these occurrences continues to influence contemporary society, offering valuable insights into the complexities and achievements of the United States. As we remember these moments, we gain a deeper appreciation for the rich tapestry of experiences that have contributed to the nation’s development and identity.

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