This Week in History

PHOTO: People outside Supreme Court
Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images

This week in history holds some incredible events, such as the founding of the Red Cross and the Great Emigration west to Oregon. From the revolutionary war onward, check out what happened this week in history.

PHOTO: People outside Supreme Court
Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images
May 20

1996: U.S. Supreme Court Rules on Gay Civil Rights In Romer v. Evans, the Supreme Court struck down an amendment to Colorado's state constitution that would have effectively prevented the state from protecting the civil rights of gay and lesbian residents. determine the amendment's constitutionality. The ruling was written by Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, and was praised by gay activists as the first constitutional a civil rights victory in favor of homosexuals.

1995: White House Closes Pennsylvania Avenue to Traffic Driving in downtown D.C. got a little more complicated on this day when the Clinton administration chose to close the two-block stretch of Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House to vehicular traffic. The closure occurred at the recommendation of the Secret Service, which expressed worry over potential drive-by car bomb attacks.

The worries were heightened earlier in 1994 when a drunken pilot crashed his plane into the South Lawn on the White House grounds, and another man attempted to fire a semiautomatic weapon at the White House but was tackled by a tourist. The Secret Service recognized that neither of these incidents would have been prevented if the road had been shut to traffic but carried out its recommendation as a precaution.

The two blocks remain closed today.

May 21

1881: American Red Cross Founded On this day in 1881, Clara Barton and Adolphus Solomons founded the American Red Cross as a means of providing humanitarian care in times of natural disasters and wars.

Founder Clara Barton was previously known for her humanitarian efforts during the American Civil War, and was widely known as the "Angel of the Battlefield" because of her work. Barton also worked for the International Red Cross during the Franco-Prussian war, which inspired her to open an American chapter of the organization.

The American Red Cross was federally chartered in 1900, and Barton continued to lead the organization until her death in 1912.

PHOTO: 'The Oregon Trail Beyond Devil's Gate'
MPI/Getty Images
May 22

1841: Oregon Trail Pioneers Depart From Missouri More than 1,000 pioneers departed Independence, Mo., and headed west to Oregon on this day in 1841. The trail comprised a 2000-mile journey, and travelers endured hazardous conditions as they made their way across the Rocky Mountains and faced attacks from Native Americans.

The departure would become known as the Great Emigration and would inspire many more expeditions to follow in its footsteps. By 1845, four more groups made the trip and the population in Oregon grew to more than 3,000 settlers. As railroads replaced wagons, the route became less used and was eventually abandoned by the 1870s.

PHOTO: East German border guard
Edwin Reichert/AP Photo
May 23

1949: Federal Republic of Germany Established On this day, the Federal Republic of Germany was established during the Cold War. The republic would be popularly be known as West Germany, and at the time its formation halted any possibilities of uniting the country as a whole.

Soviet leaders responded to the creation of West Germany by announcing the formation of the communist German Democratic Republic in 1949. From then on, for more than 40 years the two sides symbolized the divisiveness of the world during the Cold War. The fall of the Soviet Union and the eventual loss of communist power in East Germany gave way to the official reunion of the country as a whole in October 1990.

PHOTO: John Hancock's signature
Tetra Images/Corbis

1775: John Hancock Elected as the Second President of Congress Although he may be best known for his large signature on the Declaration of Independence, John Hancock was also elected as the second president of Congress on this day in 1775.

Before serving in Congress, Hancock was a wealthy merchant and played a crucial role in being a part of the radical Sons of Liberty group during the American Revolutionary War. He also served as president of the Philadelphia Continental Congress and was a major general in the Massachusetts state militia.

Hancock is also regarded as one of the nation's Founding Fathers, having helped craft the nation's constitution, before serving as the first governor of Massachusetts.

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