This week in history


Cat Madish, Editor-in-Chief

  • On April 5, 1614, Matoaka married John Rolfe. Also known as Pocahontas, she was Chief Powhatan’s 13-year-old daughter. This name is actually a childhood nickname and has been translated as “Little Playful One” or “Little Mischief” As the 1607 legend goes, John Smith was captured and nearly clubbed to death when Matoaka saved him. However, this is largely believed to be false as Algonquian culture wouldn’t have participated in such a ceremony. Additionally, Matoaka was only 10 or 11 at the time. In fact, Jamestown settlers didn’t trust Smith’s tales. Despite this, Matoaka often went to Jamestown as an emissary of her father bearing gifts until 1609 when war broke out. In 1613, she was captured, forced to convert to Christianity, and marry Rolfe to get her freedom back. Matoaka died on March 21, 1617, shortly after beginning the trip back to the Americas. While most believe she died from smallpox or tuberculosis, the relatives that accompanied her to England reported that she was poisoned.
  • On April 4, 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated while standing outside on a second-floor balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. The day before, he gave his last sermon, saying, “We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop … And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.” Looking back now, it was almost as if he knew something was going to happen. King’s death caused riots in cities all across America;on April 9th, tens of thousands of people paid their respects as King was laid to rest in his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia. James Earl Ray was found to be King’s murderer even after the case was reexamined. Despite this, the King family believes that Ray was framed and/or did not work alone.
  • On April 8, 1990, a national symbol of the AIDS crisis died. Ryan White was an 18-year-old with hemophilia and required weekly blood transfusions — which is where he contracted AIDS. Just after his 13th birthday, White was diagnosed with AIDS and given six months to live. About 90% of American hemophiliacs between 1979 and 1984 had the same fate. Unfortunately, not everyone was as fortunate as White who exceeded expectations and lived another five years before contracting pneumonia and dying. Despite knowing that AIDS could only be spread through bodily fluids, people were so scared of White that his school board unanimously voted to keep him out of school when he was healthy enough to return. This brought about a legal battle which many famous public figures weighed in on. Eventually, White was able to return to school, but he remained a leading spokesperson in the movement to destigmatize HIV/AIDS. White spent the rest of his life educating others on social media. Due to the role he played, there is now a federal law called the Ryan White CARE Act which provided funding for the treatment of low-income and uninsured people with HIV/AIDS.