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Today In History – March 06 – The Herald of Free Enterprise Ferry Sinks

1857: Supreme Court of the United States rules in the Dred Scott v. Sandford case: The United States Supreme Court issues a decision in the Dred Scott case, one of the most important cases in the court’s history. In the ruling, the court affirmed the right of slave owners to take their slaves into the western territories, negating the doctrine of popular sovereignty and severely undermining the platform of the newly created Republican Party.

At the heart of the case was the most important question of the 1850s: Should slavery be allowed in the West? As part of the Compromise of 1850, residents of newly created territories could decide the issue of slavery by vote, a process known as popular sovereignty. When popular sovereignty was applied in Kansas in 1854, however, violence erupted. Americans hoped that the Supreme Court could settle the issue that had eluded a Congressional solution. More here

1967: Joseph Stalin’s daughter Svetlana Alliluyeva defects to the United States: On March 6, 1967, Alliluyeva visited the Soviet and then the United States embassy in New Delhi. While at the United States embassy, she formally petitioned Ambassador Chester Bowles for political asylum. This was granted. Because the Indian government feared condemnation by the Soviet Union, she was immediately sent from India to Rome in Italy. When the Alitalia flight arrived in Rome, Alliluyeva immediately traveled onward to Geneva, Switzerland, where the government arranged a tourist visa and accommodation for six weeks. Alliluyeva then traveled to the United States. More here

1970: Blast at Weather Underground safe house in Greenwich Village kills three: On March 6, 1970, during preparations for the bombing of a Non-Commissioned Officers’ (NCO) dance at the Fort Dix U.S. Army base and for Butler Library at Columbia University, there was an explosion in a Greenwich Village safe house when the nail bomb being constructed prematurely detonated for unknown reasons. WUO members Diana Oughton, Ted Gold, and Terry Robbins died in the explosion. Cathy Wilkerson and Kathy Boudin escaped unharmed. It was an accident of history that the site of the Village explosion was the former residence of Merrill Lynch brokerage firm founder Charles Merrill and his son, the poet James Merrill. The younger Merrill subsequently recorded the event in his poem 18 West 11th Street, the title being the address of the house. An FBI report later stated that the group had possessed enough explosive to “level … both sides of the street”.

The bomb preparations have been pointed out by critics of the claim that the Weatherman group did not try to take lives with its bombings. Harvey Klehr, the Andrew W. Mellon professor of politics and history at Emory University in Atlanta, said in 2003, “The only reason they were not guilty of mass murder is mere incompetence. I don’t know what sort of defense that is.” More here

1983: The first United States Football League game is played: The United States Football League (USFL) was an American football league which was in active operation from 1983 to 1987. It played a spring/summer schedule in its first three seasons and a traditional autumn/winter schedule was set to commence before league operations ceased. More here

1987: The Herald of Free Enterprise ferry sinks: A British ferry leaving Zeebrugge, Belgium, capsizes, drowning 188 people, on this day in 1987. Shockingly poor safety procedures led directly to this deadly disaster. Lord Justice Barry Sheen, an investigator of the accident, later said of it, from top to bottom, the body corporate was affected with the disease of sloppiness.

The Herald of Free Enterprise ferry was an 8,000-ton ship owned by Townsend Car Ferries, Ltd. It usually carried passengers and vehicles from Dover, England, to Calais, France, and back. However, in March 1987, the ferry was transferred into service on the company’s Zeebrugge, Belgium, to Dover route. It made one of its first trips on the new route on a Friday morning with 543 people, 84 cars and 36 trucks on board as it headed across the English Channel to Dover. More here



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