February Historical Recap by Garrett Smith

The month of February is likely to be remembered by most as the “Love Month.” Husbands, wives, boyfriends, and girlfriends demonstrate to the world just how much they truly love each other. While couples flaunting romance may be enough to get your attention, it is worth noting that there are numerous significant historical events for the month of February that are worthy of notice as well. It is also important to remember that February is Black History Month, during which, we express gratitude to our Civil Rights leaders who fought tirelessly to uphold the phrase, “All men are created equal.” Let’s take a brief look at America’s significant events for this month. As with the previous two entries, the events will be in order by day of the month, rather than chronologically.

February 1, 1960

The Greensboro Sit-Ins begin. These were a series of non-violent protests carried out in Greensboro, North Carolina, started by four African-American men. Their actions were in response to the segregationist policies enacted by Woolworth Department Store chain, and the sit-ins would lead to this chain removing their racist policies. As a result, other sit-in protests began in various southern states, and lead to other store chains removing their policies of racial segregation. This has been regarded as one of the most significant instances in civil rights history. The names of the first four men were Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair Jr., Joseph McNeil, and David Richmond.

February 2, 1925

The Great Race of Mercy is completed. During this harsh winter, a diphtheria outbreak occurred in the town of Nome, located in northwestern Alaska. Due to extreme weather, there was no operation of planes or ships. Medicine could be sent by train to Nenana, near the central part of the state, and from there, it would be retrieved by a dog-sled team. Several teams were responsible for getting the medicine back safely, and the final teams, led by Siberian huskies Togo and Balto, made great timing. All participants received praise from President Calvin Coolidge, and Balto’s statue is located in Central Park, New York City, as a tribute to all who took part.

February 3, 1870

The 15th Amendment to the Constitution is ratified. The last of three Reconstruction amendments, this prohibits both the federal government and state governments from denying the right to vote based on race or skin color. From 1890 to the mid-1900s, various southern states adopted new state constitutions that contained discrimination laws in an attempt to bar Blacks from voting, and they also introduced poll taxes and literacy tests. By 1966, all forms of voter discrimination were ordered unconstitutional through numerous civil rights acts and Supreme Court cases.

February 4, 1945

The Yalta Conference begins. At the Livadia Palace in Crimea, the “Big Three” leaders – Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin – met to discuss the division and reorganization of Europe among the Allies. Of the conditions agreed upon by all three countries, unconditional surrender from Nazi Germany was one of the primary focuses. One of the primary outcomes of the conference was the acquisition of eastern Europe by the Soviet Union. The most famous of the World War II conferences, it ended on February 11.

February 6, 1911

President Ronald Reagan is born in Tampico, Illinois. After moving to California at a fairly young age, he began a career in sports broadcasting before becoming a Hollywood actor, starring in movies such as Bedtime for Bonzo. A Democrat until 1962, he then switched to the Republican Party and became a leading figure of the “New Right” during his tenure as Governor of California. He served as president from 1981-1989, during which time he revived America’s economy and helped end the Cold War using a “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 9, 1861

Jefferson Davis is elected to become the first (and only) president of the Confederate States of America. Born on June 3, 1808 in Fairview, Kentucky, Davis served as a representative from Mississippi in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1845-1846; Secretary of War from 1853-1857; and Senator from Mississippi from 1857-1861. Following the Confederate defeat at the end of the Civil War, Davis was captured by federal troops and imprisoned for several years, where he awaited a trial that never happened. After his release from prison, he wrote several memoirs, which were later combined and entitled, The Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government.

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, with fighting that occurred in North and South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. In America, it ended with the expulsion of the French and the expansion of the British Empire, also ceding Quebec to the British. Due to the tremendous cost of the war, Britain placed high taxes on the American colonies, which sparked outrage and would ultimately lead to the American Revolution.

February 11, 1953

President Dwight D. Eisenhower denies all appeals for clemency for Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. The Rosenbergs were American citizens who spied for the Soviet Union and provided top-secret information to the Soviets on radar and sonar. They were accused of transmitting nuclear weapon designs to the Soviet government and were executed on June 19, 1953. Eisenhower defended his denial of clemency for the duo by stating, “I can only say that, by immeasurably increasing the chances of atomic war, the Rosenbergs may have condemned to death tens of millions of innocent people all over the world. 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.” The Rosenbergs were the first American citizens to be executed for espionage.

February 12, 1809

President Abraham Lincoln is born at Sinking Spring Farm, Kentucky. In 1832, he served several months in the state militia, and later, he was outspokenly against the Mexican-American War. He served in the Illinois House of Representatives from 1834-1842 and then in the U.S. 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 platform. He served as president from 1861-1865, during which he guided the U.S. through the Civil War, its greatest moral and constitutional crisis, preserving the union and abolishing slavery in the process. Lincoln was shot at Ford’s Theater in Washington, D.C. on April 15, 1865, by John Wilkes Booth, and died the next day. He is usually considered the most beloved of American presidents.

February 14, 1929

The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre occurs in Chicago, Illinois. Following a bitter rival between the Irish North Side Gang (led by Bugs Moran) and the Italian South Side Gang (led by Al Capone), seven of Moran’s men were lined up at Lincoln Park Garage. Dressed as police officers and armed with Thompson submachine guns and shotguns, the four perpetrators killed all seven men. The perpetrators were never identified, but former members of Eagan’s Rats working for Capone are the primary suspects. This has become known as the most infamous mob hit in American history and has been the product of various movies and books.

February 17, 1864

The H.L. Hunley becomes the first submarine to sink a ship. Developed by Horace L. Hunley, this was a Confederate submarine, operated by a hand-cranked propeller. The American Civil War is often considered to be the dawn of modern warfare, as it introduced the submarine, Gatling Gun, repeating rifle, grenade, ironclad ship, and other modern military concepts. After finding its target, the USS Housatonic, in Charleston Harbor, the Hunley, operated by eight men, attacked. Although it sunk its target, it was too close to the blast, sinking itself in the process and killing all eight crewmen, resulting in a pyrrhic victory for Confederate forces.

February 18 – Presidents’ Day

Originally celebrated to commemorate the birthdays of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, Presidents’ Day was officially established in 1971. Occurring on the third Monday in February, it is a celebrated as a holiday in most states. Mount Rushmore is a monument closely associated with this day of celebration, and all four presidents on the mountain are representative of something unique about American history. George Washington represents the birth of America, as he is known as the father of the country. Thomas Jefferson doubled the size of the nation through the Louisiana Purchase, and represents the growth of America. Theodore Roosevelt paved the way for the modern working class with his sensible reforms and therefore represents the development of America. Abraham Lincoln, the president who reunited the union and abolished slavery, represents the preservation of America.[ Whether Washington, Jefferson, Teddy, Lincoln, Reagan, FDR, Kennedy, Obama, Trump, or any other president, all deserve our respect for having the courage to hold the highest God-appointed office in the world.

February 20, 1942

Edward O’Hare becomes the first American World War II flying ace. Gaining this title after single-handedly attacking a formation of nine heavy bombers, O’Hare was also the first naval recipient of the Medal of Honor in World War II. He died in action on November 26, 1943, near the Gilbert Islands, after being shot down by Japanese forces. The USS O’Hare was later named in his honor.

February 21, 1965

Malcolm X is assassinated in New York City. A member of the Nation of Islam and the Pan-African Movement, he is often considered to be one of the most controversial civil rights activists. While activists such as Martin Luther King, Jr. called for nonviolent protests, Malcom X called for African-Americans to arm themselves, and he was a proponent of Black separatism. Malcolm X continues to be admired by many and rejected by many others.

February 22, 1732

President George Washington is born near Popes Creek, Virginia. Before becoming president, he served under General Edward Braddock during the French and Indian War, starting his fame as a revered military leader. He then served as a delegate to the Continental Congress from May 10 – June 15, 1775 and as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army from 1775-1783. He served as president from 1789-1797, during which time he was an Independent, avoiding political parties to prevent division of the nation. Washington was unanimously elected president at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and has been renowned as the “Father of the Country.” He passed away on December 14, 1799.

February 23, 1945

The U.S. flag is raised on Mount Suribachi, Iwo Jima. The photographer, Joe Rosenthal, captured what would become one of the most iconic American images of all time. The soldiers who raised the flag were (from left to right) Ira Hayes, Harold Schultz, Michael Strank, Franklin Sousley, Rene Gagnon, and Harlon Block. Few images in American history have captured the heart and imagination of American endurance and persistence, and the flag-raising signaled that the long-awaited ending to the most destructive conflict in human history was near. The memorial in dedication to this event is located in Arlington, Virginia.

February 24, 1803

Judicial Review is established in the U.S. Supreme Court Case, Marbury v. Madison. The issue began when President John Adams, just two days before the end of his term in March 1801, appointed several dozen Federalist Party members as judges. The Senate confirmed the judges, but several of them were not commissioned as Thomas Jefferson’s presidency began. One of them – William Marbury – filed a lawsuit. Jefferson stated that the judges should have been appointed sooner, and his secretary of state, James Madison, took on Marbury in court. This was the first major decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, and has been considered one of the most important, as the court ruled that they had the right to limit congressional power, therefore striking down Adams’ decision.

February 25, 1870

Hiram Rhodes Revels becomes the first African-American U.S. Senator. Born in Fayetteville, North Carolina and a member of the Republican Party, Revels represented Mississippi from 1870-1871, during the Reconstruction Era. During this period in American history, which lasted from 1865-1877, southern states enacted various Black codes and Jim Crow laws, which were attempts to reduce the status of newly-freed African-Americans to second-class citizens. Revels was also a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and passed away on January 16, 1901.

February 27, 1860

Abraham Lincoln delivers his Cooper Union Speech in New York City. Thought to be the speech that helped win him the presidency, Lincoln used this opportunity to explain that slavery should not be extended to the newly-acquired western territories and claimed that the founders would have agreed (they almost certainly would have, as they outlawed the expansion of slavery in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787). Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune stated, “No man ever made such an impression on his first appeal to a New York audience.”

February 28, 1991

The Gulf War comes to an end. Though the war began in August 1990, Operation Desert Storm (the largest phase of the war) began in January 1991, during which the largest Allied coalition since World War II came to Kuwait’s defense. The operation was a major success, ending the war with a Coalition victory and crushing Hussein’s army, while reclaiming Kuwaiti territory.

February is filled with extraordinary historical events. We celebrate the actions of our heroic Civil Rights leaders; we remember the birthdays of three of our most beloved presidents; we celebrate the annual observance of the day in which we honor the legacy of all of our presidents; and we remember that iconic image of American troops raising our flag during the final days of the largest conflict known to humanity. Each of these events deserve a place in our hearts and minds, and all should be shared to our future generations.

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