March 21 – On this Day in History

March 21 stands as a beacon through the annals of history, illuminating a series of events that have shaped the world in profound ways.

From pivotal moments in political history and groundbreaking advancements in science and technology to significant cultural shifts and humanitarian milestones, this day has witnessed the best and the worst of human endeavors.

In this article, we journey through time to explore 20 notable events that occurred on March 21, each marking a distinct footprint on the path of human progress and civilization.

From the ancient restoration of the True Cross to Jerusalem to modern-day technological advancements and humanitarian crises, these stories reflect the enduring spirit and the complex tapestry of human history.

March 21st Events in History

630 – Byzantine Emperor Heraclius restores the True Cross to Jerusalem

In 630, after successful military campaigns against the Sassanian Empire, Byzantine Emperor Heraclius was able to retrieve the True Cross, a relic believed to be the actual cross upon which Jesus was crucified.

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The Sassanians had captured it during their invasion of Jerusalem in 614. Heraclius personally returned the cross to Jerusalem in a solemn ceremony, enhancing his reputation as a pious Christian ruler.

This event is commemorated in the Christian world, especially within the Eastern Orthodox Church, as a moment of significant religious importance.


1556 – Thomas Cranmer, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is burned at the stake for heresy

Thomas Cranmer, a leader of the English Reformation and the Archbishop of Canterbury, was declared a heretic and burned at the stake in 1556. Cranmer was a principal figure in the development of the Church of England and the author of its foundational texts, including the Book of Common Prayer.

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His execution was ordered by Mary I of England, known as “Bloody Mary,” who sought to reverse the Reformation’s progress and restore Roman Catholicism in England. Cranmer’s martyrdom is remembered as a pivotal moment in the history of English Protestantism.

1804 – The Napoleonic Code is adopted as French civil law

The Napoleonic Code, or Code Civil, was a comprehensive legal code established under Napoleon Bonaparte in 1804. It replaced various regional legal systems with a single set of laws applicable throughout France.

The code laid the foundation for modern legal systems in many parts of the world and emphasized clearly written and accessible law.

It covered areas such as property, civil rights, family law, and contract law, promoting principles like equality before the law, secularism, and the protection of property rights.

1844 – The Bahá’í calendar begins

The Bahá’í calendar, also known as the Badi calendar, was inaugurated in 1844, marking the year when the Báb, the forerunner of Bahá’u’lláh (the founder of the Bahá’í Faith), declared his mission in Shiraz, Persia (now Iran).

This day is observed as a holy day in the Bahá’í Faith and is called the Day of the Declaration of the Báb. The calendar consists of 19 months, each with 19 days, with extra days (intercalary days) added between the 18th and 19th months to adjust to the solar year. The Bahá’í New Year coincides with the spring equinox.

1861 – Alexander Stephens gives the Cornerstone Speech

Alexander Stephens, the Vice President of the Confederate States of America, delivered the Cornerstone Speech in Savannah, Georgia, in 1861.

In this speech, he stated that the Confederacy’s cornerstone rested upon the belief that the negro is not equal to the white man and that slavery—subordination to the superior race—is his natural and normal condition.

This speech has been cited as a clear articulation of the Confederate government’s ideology, directly linking the Confederacy to the institution of slavery and white supremacy, challenging later attempts to frame the Civil War as primarily about states’ rights rather than the preservation of slavery.

Otto von Bismarck

1871 – Otto von Bismarck is appointed Chancellor of the German Empire

In 1871, following the unification of Germany, Otto von Bismarck was appointed as the first Chancellor of the German Empire. Known as the “Iron Chancellor,” Bismarck was a master of complex politics and diplomacy.

Prior to his chancellorship, he served as the Prime Minister of Prussia, where he orchestrated the unification through a series of wars and diplomatic maneuvers, notably against Austria and France.

His leadership style and the policies he implemented, such as the Kulturkampf and the establishment of a social welfare system, significantly shaped German and European politics in the late 19th century.

1906 – The first successful radio broadcast of human speech is made by Reginald Fessenden

On Christmas Eve of 1906, Canadian inventor Reginald Fessenden achieved a groundbreaking milestone in the development of radio technology by successfully transmitting the first radio broadcast of human speech.

Broadcasting from Brant Rock, Massachusetts, Fessenden transmitted a short program that included a speech by himself, music, and the reading of a passage from the Bible.

This event marked a significant departure from the morse code transmissions that had dominated wireless communication, paving the way for the development of modern radio broadcasting.

1918 – During World War I, the German Spring Offensive begins near the Somme River in France

The German Spring Offensive, also known as the Ludendorff Offensive, began on March 21, 1918, during World War I. This series of attacks along the Western Front was Germany’s attempt to break the stalemate and secure a decisive victory before the full force of American troops could be deployed.

Despite initial gains, the offensive ultimately failed to achieve its strategic objectives, leading to significant German losses which contributed to the weakening of their fighting capability and morale, setting the stage for the Allied counter-offensives that would eventually lead to the end of the war.

1925 – The Butler Act prohibits the teaching of human evolution in Tennessee

The Butler Act was a 1925 Tennessee law that made it unlawful for public school teachers to deny the Biblical account of man’s origin by teaching the evolution of man from lower orders of beings. This law reflected the widespread debate between modern science and religious beliefs at the time.

The Act led to the infamous Scopes Trial, where high school teacher John T. Scopes was tried and found guilty for teaching evolution, a case that drew national attention and sparked a profound discussion on science, religion, and education in America. The Butler Act remained in effect until it was repealed in 1967.

1935 – Persia is officially renamed Iran

In 1935, the government of Persia requested that all countries with which it had diplomatic relations refer to it by its native name, Iran, which means “Land of the Aryans.” This change was part of a broader set of reforms under Reza Shah Pahlavi aimed at modernizing the country and strengthening national identity.

The name change also sought to distance the nation from previous periods of foreign influence and domination, reflecting a new era in its history.

Today, “Iran” is used internationally to refer to the country located in the Middle East, though “Persia” and “Persian” are still commonly used in historical contexts and cultural references.

British Fourteenth Army

1945 – World War II: British troops liberate Mandalay, Burma

In the context of World War II, the liberation of Mandalay by British troops in March 1945 was a significant milestone in the Burma Campaign. The city had been under Japanese control since 1942, serving as a major logistical and administrative hub.

The British Fourteenth Army, under the command of General William Slim, executed a series of military maneuvers that successfully outflanked Japanese forces, leading to the recapture of Mandalay.

This victory was crucial not only for its strategic value but also for its symbolic significance, signaling the beginning of the end of Japanese occupation in Burma.

1960 – The Sharpeville massacre in South Africa leaves 69 dead and 180 injured

The Sharpeville Massacre occurred on March 21, 1960, when South African police opened fire on a crowd of black South Africans who were protesting against the pass laws, regulations that controlled the movement of black people in areas designated as “white.”

The event took place in the township of Sharpeville, near Johannesburg. The massacre resulted in the deaths of 69 people, with over 180 wounded.

This tragic incident marked a turning point in South African history, leading to increased national and international condemnation of the apartheid regime. It also signaled a shift in the anti-apartheid movement towards armed resistance.

1963 – Alcatraz, a U.S. federal prison on an island in San Francisco Bay, closes

Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, located on Alcatraz Island in the middle of San Francisco Bay, was closed on March 21, 1963. Known as “The Rock,” the prison was infamous for housing some of the most notorious criminals in American history, including Al Capone and Robert Stroud, the “Birdman of Alcatraz.”

The decision to close Alcatraz was due to the high costs of operation and the facility’s deteriorating structure. Today, Alcatraz is a popular tourist attraction, known for its historical significance and the many legends surrounding its inmates and their escape attempts.

1965 – Martin Luther King Jr. leads the third and final march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama

The third march from Selma to Montgomery, led by Martin Luther King Jr., began on March 21, 1965. This event was part of a series of civil rights protests that sought to demonstrate the need for federal voting rights legislation to protect African Americans from discriminatory voting practices.

The marchers were protected by federal troops and Alabama National Guard forces federalized by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The event drew widespread attention to the struggle for civil rights and significantly contributed to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, a landmark piece of federal legislation that prohibited racial discrimination in voting.

1980 – The United States announces its intention to sell arms to China

In 1980, the United States, under President Jimmy Carter, announced its intention to sell arms to the People’s Republic of China. This decision marked a significant shift in U.S. foreign policy, reflecting the normalization of diplomatic relations between the two countries that had begun in 1979.

The move was also strategic, aimed at countering Soviet influence in Asia during the Cold War. The announcement underscored the changing dynamics of global politics, as the U.S. sought to engage with China not only as a trading partner but also as a potential ally in balancing Soviet power.

1989 – Sports Illustrated reports allegations tying baseball player Pete Rose to baseball gambling

In March 1989, Sports Illustrated published a report that brought to light allegations against Pete Rose, one of Major League Baseball’s (MLB) most celebrated figures, accusing him of betting on baseball games, including those of the Cincinnati Reds, the team he was managing at the time.

This report led to an investigation by MLB, which eventually culminated in Rose being placed on baseball’s ineligible list in August 1989 by Commissioner A. Bartlett Giamatti.

This decision effectively banned Rose from the sport, including eligibility for the Baseball Hall of Fame, due to the strict rules against gambling. Despite years of denial, Rose eventually admitted to betting on baseball games, though he continued to assert that he never bet against his own team.

1999 – Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones become the first to circumnavigate the Earth in a hot air balloon

On March 21, 1999, Bertrand Piccard from Switzerland and Brian Jones from Britain became the first people to complete a non-stop circumnavigation of the globe in a hot air balloon.

The journey started on March 1, 1999, from Château-d’Oex in Switzerland and ended in Egypt, covering a distance of 40,814 kilometers (approximately 25,360 miles).

The balloon, named Breitling Orbiter 3, traveled at altitudes up to 11,000 meters (about 36,000 feet) and the trip took 20 days to complete. This historic flight broke new ground in the field of aviation and demonstrated the possibilities of long-distance balloon travel, as well as the endurance and skill of the pilots.

2006 – The social media site Twitter is founded

Twitter was officially launched on March 21, 2006, by Jack Dorsey, Biz Stone, and Evan Williams. The platform quickly evolved from a small project into one of the world’s most influential social media networks.

Twitter’s unique format allows users to post “tweets,” short messages limited to a certain number of characters, enabling rapid and broad communication.

It has become a significant platform for real-time news, social discourse, entertainment, and political activism. Twitter’s impact on communication, media, and public opinion has been profound, reshaping how information is shared and consumed globally.

2012 – A school shooting in Toulouse, France, kills four

On March 19, 2012, a tragic school shooting occurred at the Ozar Hatorah Jewish day school in Toulouse, France. A gunman, later identified as Mohammed Merah, targeted the school, killing four people, including three children and a teacher.

This attack was part of a series of shootings in the area that targeted soldiers and civilians alike, stirring nationwide horror and leading to an extensive manhunt.

The incidents sparked debates on domestic security, radicalization, and anti-Semitism in France, leading to increased security measures around religious institutions and schools.

2019 – Cyclone Idai makes landfall in Mozambique, causing over 1000 deaths

Cyclone Idai was one of the deadliest tropical cyclones to hit Africa, making landfall near Beira, Mozambique, on March 14, 2019. The cyclone brought extreme winds and heavy rainfall, causing widespread flooding in Mozambique, Zimbabwe, and Malawi.

The United Nations described Cyclone Idai as one of the worst weather-related disasters to hit the southern hemisphere. The disaster caused catastrophic damage, with more than 1,000 people confirmed dead, thousands more missing, and millions affected.

The cyclone’s impact was devastating, leading to a humanitarian crisis with widespread homelessness, famine, and outbreaks of diseases such as cholera.