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Posted: March 21, 2010 12:00 a.m.

What a day

Sometimes the pace of life seems a bit too frenetic. When things I cannot control greatly outnumber things over which I think I have influence, I find it soothing to pause and examine what other folks were dealing with on this particular date throughout recorded history.

Misery just loves company, doesn't it?

Anyway, as it happens, March 21 through the eons turns out to have been quite a day. Causes for celebrations and lamentations abound.

For example, Johann Sebastian Bach was born on this day in 1685. So right off the bat, Bach's birthday is cause for a celebration. Musicians would be hard-pressed to imagine a world without Bach. It's amazing that his birth occurred 325 years ago, for his works remain unsurpassed.

One of the iconic sports announcers of the 1960s and '70s, Howard Cosell, was born on this date in 1918. Having made his name as a ringside boxing announcer, Cosell burst upon the national conscience as a member of a trio of announcers occupying the press booth for Monday Night Football back in that program's infancy. He turned his halting, opinionated, irascible delivery into a career, more or less, and few dared to cross him.

And, love her or loathe her, Rosie O'Donnell appeared on the scene on this day in 1962. The opinionated actress, never shy about voicing her opinion on everything to anyone within earshot, has done some nice work; "A League of Their Own" is a case in point. But proving that nobody's perfect, Rosie's done some purely rotten stuff, also. A particularly disgusting rendition of our National Anthem comes to mind as her low point.

1991 was the year in which, on this date, we said goodbye to a fellow by the name of Leo Fender. Leo built guitars which became so popular that many a rock and roll star gave up their trusty Gibson and went onstage with a Fender. And they cranked them through an amplifier that became a standard in the music industry, the Fender Twin Reverb.

Yeah, I know, I'm old. Contemporary guitars are cordless and players frolic all over the stage. But I pay attention when a guitar man pulls out an old beat-up Fender Telecaster or Stratocaster and ties it to a Twin Reverb pushing Marshall speakers. Hey, Leo's legacy was good enough for Duane Allman and Eric Clapton, and that's good enough for me.

You know, when it's all said and done, I believe folks will look back at the 20th century and be as amazed at the exponential progress made in technology, communications, medicine and transportation as I sometimes am when I look back at the Renaissance.
"Who were those folks?" they'll wonder out loud. "How could they have literally changed the world the way they did in just one century?"

Indeed. And how could it be that on this day in 1851 Yosemite Valley, now the second most heavily visited national park, was just being discovered?

Or that just 40 years later, in 1891, a Hatfield married a McCoy, thus ending one of the most famous family feuds in American lore? The Hatfields and McCoys started fighting over a pig-stealing incident just after the War Between the States, and it took a page right out of a Shakespeare play to bring it to an end.

In 1963 the Federal Penitentiary on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay was closed. "The Rock" was still pretty much inescapable, but had become too expensive to maintain. And does anyone remember that AIM - the American Indian Movement - seized the old jail, claiming that under terms of a treaty any federal land no longer needed would revert to tribal management? The Indians were ousted from Alcatraz after a lengthy siege, but the AIM shield still remains painted on the penitentiary entrance.

Ironically, civil rights moved to the forefront on this day in 1965, as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., began a march from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery. The time for civil rights for all her citizens had finally come to The United States of America, as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People proclaimed.

Well, except for the American Indian, that is.

And it was on March 21, 1975, that Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia, 34th descendent in a line of rulers tracing a dynasty back more than 3,000 years to King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, was deposed by a military junta backed by the Soviet Union. Haile Selassie was widely respected in the United Nations, where he'd given impassioned, beautiful speeches calling for enforcement of that body's lofty goals. But there was no rescue for the grand old man, and he died later that same year.

On a brighter note, in 1990 the nation of Namibia gained independence from South Africa. The home of one of the world's most fascinating deserts, the Namib, celebrates 20 years of self-rule today.

Today. March 21. What a day, indeed.

Nat Harwell is a long-time resident of Newton County. His columns appear regularly on Sundays.


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