Good News in History, March 9

180 years ago today, The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in support of a group of Africans who had been kidnapped and sold into slavery. The Amistad case resulted from the rebellion on board the Spanish schooner La Amistad in 1839. It was an unusual freedom suit that involved international issues and parties, as well as US law, and was perhaps the most important court case involving slavery before Dred Scott 16 years later.

The schooner was traveling along the coast of Cuba with captives who were to be re-sold at the next port. The Mende people, who were taken against their will from Sierra Leone, escaped their shackles and took over the ship. They killed the captain and the cook and directed the two Spanish navigator survivors to return them to Africa. The crew tricked them, sailing north at night and the ship was apprehended by a U.S. coastal patrol near Long Island, New York. The court case became a beacon for the abolitionist anti-slavery movement, and it was dramatized in the Spielberg film starring Morgan Freeman, Matthew McConaughey, and Anthony Hopkins. LEARN more and WATCH the trailer… (1841)

Viewed under the terms of laws and treaties against international slave trade (which the US and Britain had been following for three decade), the captives were ruled to have acted as free men when they fought to escape their kidnapping and illegal confinement—entitled to take whatever legal measures necessary to secure their freedom, including the use of force.

Abolition activists arranged for temporary housing of the Africans in Farmington, Connecticut, and raised funds for their return voyage, and one year later the 35 who wanted to return to Sierra Leone set sail as free men.

MORE Good News on this Date:

  • Congress launched U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal in a special session, beginning the 100 days of legislating aimed at reversing the economic depression (1933)
  • The CBS news show See It Now, produced by Edward R. Murrow, aired a report critical of U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy, which led to the end of Communist ‘witch hunts’ on Capitol Hill (1954)
  • The first Ford Mustang rolled off the assembly line at Ford Motor Company, the first sports car produced for a mass market (1964)
  • The first-ever Adopt-a-Highway sign was erected on Highway 69 in Texas, promoting the Tyler Civitan Club in exchange for their promise to pick up litter along a two-mile stretch of the road (1985)
  • Dr. Antonia Novello was sworn in as Surgeon General of the United States, the first female and Hispanic American to serve in that position (1990)
  • The U.S. ban on using federal dollars for embryonic stem cell research was lifted (2009)
  • To prevent innocent men from being unjustly killed, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn abolished the death penalty in his state and commuted the sentences of all remaining death row inmates (2011)
  • Polish mountaineers Adam Bielecki and Janusz Gołąb made the first winter ascent of Gasherbrum I (or K5), the 11th highest peak on Earth, located on the Pakistan-China border (2012)

And 62 years ago today, the Barbie doll made her debut at the International Toy Festival


The lifelike doll that looked like a young adult made the Mattel company—and Barbie—a household name. After decades of criticism over the brand’s lack of physical diversity, the company rolled out Barbie dolls with a wide variety of body shapes and complexions—and a collection that honors prominent women heroes. They also offered a bald doll for kids whose hair falls out. (1959)

Also, 26 years ago today, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II made a symbolic visit to Northern Ireland, celebrating the peace that had been created one year earlier by a ceasefire between the IRA and Loyalists. Two years later, the Good Friday peace agreement would end decades of bloodshed. (1995)

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And, 61 years ago today, Belding Scribner implanted a breakthrough device which he invented that would, for the first time, make routine kidney dialysis a reality and save millions of lives. The ‘Scribner shunt’ saved people with end-stage kidney disease, including his first patient, Clyde Shields, who survived with chronic kidney failure for more than eleven years.

Made of Teflon, the shunt could be permanently installed in a patient’s arm, protecting their veins from the process of dialysis, which purifies the blood of a person when their kidneys stop functioning. Before Scribner’s invention, dialysis was a painful operation that could only be completed 5-7 times before damage to arteries and veins made future treatments impossible. “I literally woke up in the middle of the night with the idea of how we could save these people,” said Dr. Scribner.

A University of Washington medical professor and director for decades, the school’s alumni magazine tells his story this way: “A chance encounter in a stairwell with a UW surgeon introduced him to the idea of using Teflon as a material for the permanent implant. A U-shaped tube was sewn between an artery and a vein in the arm. An opening in the tube then provided a space where the dialysis machine could be plugged when in use. The material was later changed to silicone but the shunt flipped the disease from 90 percent fatal to 90 percent survivable”.

Not only did Scribner change kidney failure from a fatal disease to a treatable one, he created the world’s first community outpatient dialysis treatment center. To provide dialysis on a routine basis outside a research setting, Dr. Scribner turned to the King County Medical Society for sponsorship of a community-supported outpatient dialysis center. As a result, the Seattle Artificial Kidney Center was established in January 1962. Eventually renamed Northwest Kidney Centers, its outpatient care has been the standard dialysis delivery model worldwide ever since.

He wrote many papers and books after his retirement and died in 2003 at age 82. (1960)

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