February in History: A Month of Heroism

  • Post category:History

Greensboro Sit-Ins, Great Race of Mercy, and 15th Amendment

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The month of February contains many exciting events in American memory. This month, as we should every month, we honor the actions of Black patriots who sought to uphold the proposition that all men are created equal. Perhaps it is no coincidence that one of the greatest speakers and writers in our history was born during this month. His name is Frederick Douglass. Likewise, we remember the births of three great presidents: George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Ronald Reagan. Many other significant instances in our history are also present, including the Greensboro Sit-Ins, the passage of the 15th Amendment, and the completion of the Great Race of Mercy. Readers will soon learn there are also tragedies. I hope you enjoy learning about the story of us for the first half of this month.

February 1, 1960

The Greensboro Sit-Ins begin. In North Carolina town of Greensboro, David Richmond, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair Jr., and Joseph McNeil participated in a peaceful protest at the lunch counter in the Woolworth Department Store. These four African-American men were joined by many others on their second day. They included Clarence Henderson, whom the author interviewed on September 14, 2019. In the words of Henderson, their goal was to “put Jim Crow on trial.” The sit-ins resulted in the desegregation of the Woolworth chain and led to an increase in civil rights protests throughout the south. During his Independence Day speech, President Trump remarked, “Clarence Henderson was 18 years old when he took his place in history. Clarence, thank you for making this country a much better place.”

February 2, 1925

The Great Race of Mercy is completed. During the winter of 1925, a diphtheria outbreak occurred in the northwestern Alaskan town of Nome, which is next to the Bering Sea. Due to extreme weather conditions, airplanes were grounded and ice prevented the travel of ships. The medicine could be transported from Seward to Nenana by train. From there, a dog-team would retrieve it and that would begin a race against time. Several sled teams were responsible for hauling the medicine and the final team, led by Gunnar Kaassen and his husky Balto, made great timing. The longest distance, however, was traveled by Leonhard Seppala and his team led by Togo. All participants received praise from President Calvin Coolidge and a statue of Balto was dedicated to all who participated in the Great Race of Mercy in New York City’s Central Park.

February 3, 1870

The 15th Amendment to the US Constitution is ratified. The last of three Reconstruction amendments prohibits the federal and state governments from denying suffrage rights based on race or skin color. From 1890-1910, many southern states adopted new laws within their state constitutions which would prohibit Blacks from voting. Other new laws introducing poll taxes and literacy tests were also introduced. One literacy test in Alabama asked the question, “How many bubbles are in a bar of soap?” By 1966, all forms of voter discrimination were declared unconstitutional through various civil rights acts and Supreme Court decisions.

February 4, 1945

The Yalta Conference begins. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin, the leaders of the “Big Three” superpowers, met at the Livadia Palace in Crimea to discuss postwar division of Europe. Following the war, Britain’s superpower status would be lost, while the US and USSR would each claim half of Europe. NATO allies took responsibility for the West while the USSR secured the Eastern Bloc nations. One of the most famous of the World War II conferences, it ended on February 11.

February 6, 1911

Ronald Reagan is born in Tampico, Illinois. After moving to California at a fairly young age, he began a career in sports broadcasting. Not long after, he became a Hollywood actor. During this time, he would perform in movies such as “Bedtime for Bonzo,” in which he acted with a chimpanzee. A Democrat until 1962, he then switched to the Republican Party and became a leading voice for Barry Goldwater and the New Right during his tenure as Governor of California. He served as president from 1981-1989 and his greatest accomplishments were revitalizing America’s economy and bringing the Soviet Union to its knees with his “peace through strength” initiative. Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease in 1994 and passed away on June 5, 2004. He remains an icon of the Republican Party.

February 10, 1763

The Treaty of Paris ends the French and Indian War. Known outside of America as the Seven Years’ War, this was one of the largest conflicts of the 18th century. In America, the war was fought from 1754-1763, starting with the Battle of Jumonville Glen in Pennsylvania. The end result of the conflict was the expulsion of French forces and the expansion of the British Empire. The war also saw a rise in the military prominence of George Washington. From 1763-1775, American colonists and British Parliament would exchange bitter confrontations, many of which resulted from the enacting of taxes by Parliament, in an effort to pay for the costly French and Indian War.

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February 11, 1861

Abraham Lincoln delivers his Farewell Address to Springfield, Illinois. Just before departing for Washington DC, Lincoln stood at the Great Western Railroad Station and addressed the townspeople. During his short oration, Lincoln invoked the guidance of God and described his task as “greater than that which rested upon Washington.” Prior to this date, Lincoln had resided in Springfield for roughly 25 years. He stated, “No one, not in my situation, can appreciate my feeling of sadness at this parting. To this place, and the kindness of these people, I owe everything.”

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February 11, 1953

President Dwight D. Eisenhower denies all appeals for clemency for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The Rosenbergs were American citizens who were convicted of spying for the Soviet Union, as well as providing the Soviets with top-secret information on nuclear weapon designs. They were executed on June 19, 1953. President Eisenhower said this of the Rosenbergs: “The execution of two human beings is a grave matter. But even graver is the thought of the millions of dead whose deaths may be directly attributable to what these spies have done.”

February 12, 1809

Abraham Lincoln is born at Sinking Spring Farm, Kentucky. In 1830, the Lincoln family moved to Springfield, Illinois where Lincoln himself would later begin work as an attorney. He served in the Illinois House of Representatives from 1834-1842 and then in the US House of Representatives from 1847-1849. Originally a member of the Whig Party, Lincoln switched to the Republican Party in 1854, which was founded largely on an anti-slavery tenet. He served as president from 1861-1865, during which time he guided the nation through the Civil War. This was the nation’s greatest moral and constitutional crisis, preserving the Union and abolishing slavery by its outcome. Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC on April 14, 1865 then died the next day. He is often ranked among America’s favorite presidents.

February 14, 1818

May we never forget Frederick Douglass’s timeless words: “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”

Frederick Douglass is born in Cordova, Maryland. One of the most influential orators and writers of the 19th century, Douglass authored several books on his experience with growing up in slavery, and also became a teacher of the New Testament. A Republican, he eventually broke from the radicals within the party, such as William Lloyd Garrison, to embrace the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. During his time as a statesman, he served as an advisor to several presidents and an Ambassador to Haiti. In 1872, he became the first African-American nominee for vice president under Victoria Woodhull of the Reform Party. She was the first female candidate for the presidency in American history. Throughout his life, Douglass dedicated himself working to ensure constitutional rights were upheld for all, regardless of race or gender. He passed away on February 20, 1895. May we never forget his timeless words: “I would unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”

February 14, 1929

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre occurs in Chicago, Illinois. This occurred as a result of a bitter rivalry between Bugs Moran’s Irish North Side Gang and the Italian South Side Gang led by Al Capone. Seven of Moran’s men were lined up at Lincoln Park Garage. The four perpetrators, dressed as police officers and armed with Thompson sub-machine guns and shotguns, killed all seven men. The perpetrators were never identified, but the primary suspects are thought to have been members of Egan’s Rats working for Capone. This became the most infamous mob hit in American history, and have been the subject of various movies.

February 15, 1898

The USS Maine explodes and sinks in Havana Harbor, Cuba. This was the catalyzing event that led to the US declaration of war on Spain. President William McKinley had hoped to avoid war, while his vice president, Theodore Roosevelt, pushed for it. Stationed in Cuba during the Cuban War for Independence, the USS Maine was originally thought to have been sunk at the hands of the Spanish. Two months later, President McKinley asked Congress for a war declaration. The explosion killed 260 men, with six more dying later. The Spanish-American War began on April 21, 1898 and lasted nearly four months. The sinking of the USS Maine triggered a boost in Yellow Journalism during the era. Even today, the cause of the sinking is debated.

Stay tuned for the second half of February’s historical events!

Garrett Smith
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