Good News on This Day in History – May 17

50 years ago today, Thor Heyerdahl the Norwegian adventurer and researcher set sail from Africa on a papyrus reed boat to sail across the Atlantic Ocean. The boat, Ra II, was modeled after the ancient Egyptian design to demonstrate the possibility that widely separated cultures of ancient peoples could have made long sea voyages, creating contacts between societies.

With a background in zoology, botany, and geography, Heyerdahl had previously gained notoriety for his Kon-Tiki expedition of 1947, in which he sailed 5,000 miles (8,000 km) across the Pacific Ocean in a hand-built raft from South America.

Heyerdahl deliberately chose a Ra crew representing a great diversity in race, nationality, religion, and political viewpoint. LEARN more… (1970)

Ra II photo by Bahnfrend, CC license

He chose men from Egypt, Japan, Morocco, Mexico, Italy, the USSR and USA to demonstrate that on their own little floating island, people could co-operate and live peacefully.

Only Heyerdahl and American Norman Baker, had sailing and navigation experience, but they successfully sailed to Barbados using the Canary Current. The Ra II is now in the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo, Norway.

MORE Good News on This Day:

  • The first Kentucky Derby was run–a horse race in Louisville, Kentucky known in the U.S. as “The Most Exciting Two Minutes In Sports” (1875)
  • The Watergate hearings began in the United States Senate and were televised with gavel to gavel coverage by PBS (1973)
  • The World Health Organization took Homosexuality out of its list of mental illnesses (1992)
  • Marriage became legal for same-sex couples in Massachusetts (2004)
  • Trains from North and South Korea cross the 38th Parallel taking a small symbolic step towards a possible Korean reunification — the first time that trains have crossed the Demilitarized Zone since 1953 (2007)

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And, on this day in 1954, the US Supreme Court ruled in the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case, unanimously deciding (9-0) that US public schools could not be racially specific. The lawsuit was filed by the Brown family, black Americans in Topeka, Kansas, after their local public school district refused to enroll their daughter in the school closest to their home, instead requiring her to ride a bus to a blacks-only school further away. Their victorious lawyer, Thurgood Marshall, later became the first African-American justice of the Supreme Court. The final ruling stated that “separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,” and therefore violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

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Joan Baez and Dylan in 1963 – Rowland Scherman, CC license

And, on this day in 1963, the first Monterey Folk Festival opened in Monterey, California. The 3-day festival featured a 22-year-old Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Peter Paul and Mary. It later morphed into the Monterey Pop festival, which in 1967 showcased the first major live performance in America of Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Ravi Shankar, and Janis Joplin. This show was also the first time Otis Redding played to a huge predominantly-white audience.

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