This Week in History — Week of April 25

Marcela Montufar Soria, Multimedia Editor

April 25, 1940: American actor Alfredo James “Al” Pacino was born.

Pacino was born to Italian-American parents in East Harlem, New York, and was raised in the Bronx by his mother and her parents, who were immigrants from Sicily, Italy. He made his Broadway debut in 1969 in the play “Does the Tiger Wear a Necktie?” and won his first Tony Award for the performance. His first leading role in a film was in 1971’s “The Panic in Needle Park,” and he went on to gain international recognition with “The Godfather” (1972), “Serpico” (1973), “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975) and “Scarface” (1983). Pacino won his first and only Academy Award for “Scent of a Woman” (1992) in 1993. He received the Kennedy Center Honors in 2016. Now aged 82, he is considered one of America’s most prolific and iconic actors. 

April 26, 1986: The Chernobyl Disaster occurred. 

The infamous accident in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the north of Ukraine, then part of the Soviet Union, resulted from a flawed reactor design and plant mismanagement that allowed for insufficient and inadequately trained personnel to manage the reactors. The Chernobyl four reactor explosion killed two plant workers the night of the accident, with 28 more deaths in the following three months as a result of Acute Radiation Syndrome (ARS). In total, 134 people were diagnosed with ARS. The long-term health impacts on the surrounding areas of the nuclear plant are still being studied. The disaster led to changes in safety culture and industry cooperation between the East and the West and is considered a prominent factor in the fall of the USSR. The area around the plant called the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone remains radioactive and almost completely abandoned. 

April 27, 1927: African-American author and activist Coretta Scott King was born. 

Scott King was born in Marion, Alabama. She graduated as the valedictorian from her high school and received a B.A. in Music and Education from Antioch College and a Bachelor of Music in Music Education from Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music. She met Martin Luther King, Jr. in Boston, and the two were married a year later, on June 18, 1953. Together, they had four children, and the family settled in Montgomery, Alabama. She was an active member of the civil rights movement alongside her husband while raising their children. She founded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta in 1968 following the death of her husband and the Coalition of Conscience in 1983, which brought together over 800 human rights organizations. An activist for Black American rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights and workers’ rights, Scott King died on Jan. 30, 2006, at age 78. 

April 28, 1967: American boxing champion Muhammad Ali refused induction into the U.S. Army. 

Born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. on Jan. 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky, Ali was an American boxer and social activist. He was the first man to win the world heavyweight championship on three separate occasions, the first being in 1964 against Sonny Liston. He was stripped of his championship in 1967 following his refusal to be inducted into the U.S. Army at the beginning of the Vietnam War. Ali was also convicted of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in prison, fined ten-thousand dollars and banned from boxing for three years. His case was appealed, and he avoided the prison sentence. Ali returned to boxing in 1970, and the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction the following year. He won the world heavyweight championship back in 1974 against Joe Frazier, lost it to Leon Spinks in 1978 and won it back seven months later. He retired from boxing in 1981 after losing to Trevor Berbick. Ali died on June 3, 2016, at age 74.

April 29, 1818: Tzar Alexander II was born.

Born to the Romanov Dynasty as the eldest son of Nicholas I and Alexandra Fyodorovna on April 29, 1818, Aleksandr Nikolayevich ascended to the Russian throne at age 36 in 1855 at the height of the Crimean War. The Crimean War lasted from 1853 to 1856 and was fought between Russia and allied Britain, France and the Ottomans. It revealed Russia’s lack of innovation and progress, which is why Alexander II spent his reign promoting domestic reform. His most notable achievement was the emancipation of the serfs in 1861. He was assassinated on March 13, 1881, in a bomb attack carried out by Narodnaya Volya from“People’s Will,” a revolutionary organization.

April 30, 1803: The United States purchased the Louisiana Territory from France.

Under President Thomas Jefferson, the United States purchased 828,000 square miles of land west of the Mississippi River from France, then, under the rule of First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte, doubled the size of the nation. Bonaparte sought funds to finance France’s wars in Europe and held no personal interest in settling the Louisiana Territory, which he sold to the U.S. for $15 million. Jefferson would then authorize the Lewis and Clark Expedition to venture westward into the Louisiana territory, although they actually traveled all the way to the Pacific Ocean. 

May 1, 1930: The name “Pluto” is adopted for the newly discovered planet. 

Pluto was discovered on Feb. 18, 1930, by American astronomer Clyde Tombaugh in the Kuiper belt, a ring of celestial bodies beyond Neptune. Originally considered the ninth planet, the name Pluto is attributed to Venetia Burney, an 11-year-old British schoolgirl who suggested the name to her grandfather, a librarian at the University of Oxford who forwarded the suggestion to astronomer Herbert Hall Turner, the Director of the Radcliffe Observatory at Oxford. The name became popular in the astronomy community, and the name was officially adopted on May 1, 1930. Burney went on to become an accountant and reach economics and math in England. She died on April 30, 2009, at age 90. 

May 2, 1360: The third emperor of the Ming dynasty, the Yongle Emperor, was born. 

Zhu Di was born in Nanjing, China, to the Hongwu Emperor, who defeated the Mongol Yuan Dynasty during his childhood and established the Ming Dynasty. Zhu Di rose to power after defeating his young nephew, the Jianwen Emperor, who had inherited the throne as the son of Zhu Di’s older brother. After taking the throne for himself, he chose the name “Yongle,” which means “perpetual happiness.” He reigned from 1402 until his death on August 5, 1424, at age 64. He brought the Ming Dynasty to the height of its power, and the most notable event of his reign was the movement of the Ming capital from Nanjing to Beijing, where he commissioned the building of the Forbidden City, which went on to act as China’s imperial palace for centuries.