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 April 17 in History

 Today's birthday

For the week of Apr. 13, 2014

Samuel Beckett (1906-1989): Irish. Playwright and novelist. The winner of the 1969 Nobel Prize for literature, Beckett is best known for his novels and plays in which characters are confronted with mysterious situations in bizarre, timeless settings.

Founding of the University of Mexico (1551): Mexico. The University of Mexico was the first university to be founded in the Western Hemisphere.

New Year: Cambodia and Laos. This is one of the most important holidays. In the morning food is brought to Buddhist temples, and in the evening more secular celebrations with food and music are held. The holiday continues through April 15.

Baisakhi (New Year): Sikh. This is the date based on the Bikarami calendar, and April 14 on the Nanakshahi calendar for the beginning of the new year for the Sikhs, one of the largest religious groups in India. It commemorates Guru Gobind Singhis founding of Khalsa, the ritual of bringing all those who become Sikhs into a community of equals.

Vaisakhi (New Year): Hindu. This celebrates the new year based on the Hindu calendar.

Pan American Day: Latin America. Pan American Day has been observed each year since 1931 on April 14 by the twenty-one American republics. The holiday honors the bonds of friendship between the United States and the nations of Latin America.

A(sa) Philip Randolph (1889-1982) : African American. Labor leader and civil rights activist. Randolph organized the first major union of African American workers, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, in 1925 and became its first president. Throughout his long life he was a leader in the movement to improve job opportunities and working conditions for African Americans. He was one of the chief organizers of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Jose de Diego (1866-1918): Puerto Rico. Attorney, poet, and patriot. A public holiday honoring this eloquent orator and accomplished poet. Jose de Diego wrote and spoke in support of the independence of his homeland. He served as Secretary of Justice in the short-lived government of 1897, after Spain had granted autonomy to the island and before the United *States reimposed its governance. He later became first president of the Puerto Rican House of Representatives. As a prominent political figure, he opposed the Jones Act establishing Puerto Rico as a commonwealth of the United States.

Mahavir Jayanti: Jain. Jainism is a religious system practiced by approximately 2 million people in India. It arose in the 6th century B.C.E. as a protest against some aspects of Hinduism. This festival is dedicated to the birthday of Jain, the religionis twenty-fourth Guru. It is celebrated with prayer and visits to shrines.

Independence Day: Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe, formerly called Rhodesia, gained independence from Great Britain on this day in 1980.

Glenn Seaborg (1912-1999): Scandinavian American. Scientist and governmental advisor. Although a chemist by training, Dr. Seaborg did much of his work in nuclear physics, leading the research that created nine artificial elements, including plutonium. In 1951, he shared the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for these achievements. Dr. Seaborg became the director of the Lawrence Berkley Laboratory and remained emeritus director after he retired. He was a scientific advisor to a number of presidents, serving as chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission for 10 years. He also served as chancellor of the University of California.

Tito Puente (1923-2000): Puerto Rican. Musician and bandleader. A pioneer in bringing Latin music to lead the United States, Puente brought percussion to the center of his orchestral presentations with the Tito Puente Orchestra. He became known as the iMambo King.i Puente was also a leader in fusing Latin rhythms with jazz and other forms of music. He recorded over 120 albums, including Cuban Carnival, Mamborama, The Legend, and Tito Puente Live at Birdland Dancemania i99.