It’s the birthday of journalist Hunter S. Thompson, born in Louisville, Kentucky (1937). After the California attorney general issued a report in 1964 on a dangerous new motorcycle gang known as the Hell’s Angels, Thompson was hired by The Nation magazine to write a brief investigative article about the gang.
Thompson bought a motorcycle with his book advance and began driving around the country, meeting bikers and writing about them. He almost died doing his research one day when five Hell’s Angels suddenly turned on him and beat him senseless. But he survived, and in 1967, he published his book Hell’s Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs. The experience of writing the book inspired Thompson to become a kind of outlaw journalist of the counter culture, writing about his own adventures beyond the boundaries of normal society.
Thompson went on to become one of the most prominent journalists of his generation. In 1971, he published his most famous book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, about a trip he took to that that city, how it almost drove him crazy, and his realization that idealism of the 1960s had disappeared for good.
It’s the birthday of political activist and leader Nelson Mandela, born in Umtata, Cape of Good Hope, South Africa (1918). He joined the African National Congress, a civil rights movement fighting against South Africa’s apartheid policies and with a colleague established the first black law partnership in South Africa. In 1961, all opposition movements, including the ANC, were banned, and Mandela became a fugitive from the law.
He spent 18 months disguised as a laborer, a janitor, and a garage worker, but was finally arrested in 1962 and sentenced to five years in prison. The following year, police invaded ANC headquarters, where they discovered large quantities of arms and ammunition. Mandela was subsequently sentenced to life in prison. Finally, after nearly 28 years, President F.W. de Klerk released Mandela from prison. In 1993, Mandela and de Klerk received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to end apartheid and to bring about democratic rule in South Africa. Mandela was elected president of that country in 1994, where he served until 1999.