Notable events from our shared experience
Rockabilly guitarist and singer Carl Perkins (“Blue Suede Shoes”) is at Sun Studios in Memphis on Dec. 4, 1956, to record with pianist Jerry Lee Lewis (“Great Balls of Fire”). When Elvis Presley (at left) and Johnny Cash drop in, the four musicians — the “ Million Dollar Quartet,” a Memphis paper dubs them — start a jam session for the ages. Recordings of 46 (mostly incomplete) songs from the session don’t begin to appear until 1981.
South African surgeon Christiaan Barnard performs the first human heart transplant on Dec. 3, 1967, in Cape Town, South Africa. The recipient is Lewis Washkansky, 53; the donor, Denise Darvall, is a 25-year-old woman fatally injured in an auto accident. Washkansky dies 18 days later from double pneumonia.
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In Montgomery, Ala., Rosa Parks refuses to give up her seat on a city bus for a white passenger on Dec. 1, 1955. Four days later, 90 percent of black residents stay off city buses in a one-day boycott, and organizers led by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. decide to continue the protest; it lasts more than a year. The Montgomery bus boycott eventually yields a U.S. Supreme Court decision affirming that segregation on the city’s buses is illegal.
Lerner and Loewe’s musical Camelot opens on Broadway Dec. 3, 1960. The show about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table comes to be associated with John F. Kennedy when, a week after his assassination, Jacqueline Kennedy tells Life magazine that her husband loved the show, especially the lyric: “Don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot.”
A pesticide plant in Bhopal, India, begins releasing toxic gas on Dec. 2, 1984, in the worst industrial accident in history. The toll is still disputed 30 years later, but between 4,000 and 16,000 people died; more than 500,000 were exposed to the gas; and many thousands suffered severe, lifelong injuries.
To fill out the military ranks in Vietnam, the U.S. Selective Service system on Dec. 1, 1969, conducts a draft lottery, the first since 1942. Birth dates determine which men born between 1944 and 1950 will be called first to serve. Each day of the year is written on a piece of paper, and they are placed in individual plastic capsules that are mixed in a shoebox, dumped into a deep glass container and drawn one at a time. Those with birthdays picked earliest are called up as need demands. Drawings for different birth years continue through 1975.
Hugh Hefner publishes the first edition of Playboy magazine on or about Dec. 1, 1953. About 50,000 copies exhibit Marilyn Monroe smiling and waving on the cover and sultry and nude inside.
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Images — Elvis, Photo from Graceland: Steve Mencher; Rosa Parks statue: Flickr/Stab at Sleep; Playboy: Mark Lennihan/AP
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