This is a fascinating world we live in. When you step back and look at it, something historic has happened literally every single day. Sure, some events are bigger and more important than others, but think about it…history is made every day.
In this regular blog series, we’re going to look at world history by month, with two or three blog posts each month that list momentous events in the history of the world–and inspiration for lessons that you can teach your children at home!
February 1, 1960: The Greensboro Sit-in occurs inside a Woolworth’s in North Carolina. One of the hallmark events of the civil rights movement, the Greensboro Sit-in took place when four African American students sat down at a Woolworth’s lunch counter and ordered coffee. As per segregation policies at the time, they were refused service. Rather than getting up and leaving, the students sat…and kept on sitting. All day. Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, David Richmond, and Jibreel Khazan knew what was at stake. Similar acts of protest or defiance against the Southern White norms were not met kindly–this action could easily result in arrest, beatings, or even death. In fact, this wasn’t the first sit-in…it was simply the most important because it was treated uniquely and caused a spark. The students were asked politely by store managers to take their order to-go and leave, partially out of fear of what might happen. The four students just as politely declined. Diners watched this unfold in silence. The police were called but didn’t take action. Perhaps the most poignant moment came when an elderly White woman quietly sat down next to Franklin McCain at the counter. She told him she was disappointed in them. When trying to explain that he had every right to be served the same as anyone else, she put her hand on his shoulder and said, “I’m disappointed it took you so long to do this.” At that point, the four young Black men knew they were doing the right thing.
Their act of peaceful protest, or civil disobedience, served as an impetus for other similar protests that occurred over the next few days throughout the segregated Southern states. More than 1,600 people were arrested for participating in these sit-ins…but their arrests weren’t in vain. Their protest, with the help of that famous photo at the lunch counter, brought national publicity to the situation and served as a landmark of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. This is the perfect event to kick off February, which happens to be Black History Month! Take a look at other key events and figures of this movement, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, the Marches to Selma, the Birmingham demonstrations, and others.
February 2, 1848: The Mexican-American War ends with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. In March 1845, Mexico severed relations with the United States after the annexation of Texas. Once that happened, President James K. Polk ordered a secret mission to Mexico City to negotiate the Texas border, settle claims against Mexico, and purchase New Mexico. Upon hearing of this supposedly covert operation, Mexican President Jose Joaquin Herrera refused to allow the American representative in. Once President Polk got wind of this development, he had troops occupy the disputed area near the Rio Grande River. In May of 1846, Mexican troops attacked the American troops by the Rio Grande, leading to a declaration of war upon Mexico. By September of 1847, General Winfield Scott and his troops seized control of Mexico City, thus effectively ending the physical battle. The US suffered casualties but lost many more men (more than 10,000) to illnesses such as yellow fever, mumps, and measles than to warfare. The sides finally got together months later and signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. For $15 million, the United States received what is now California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Texas. Use this event to take a deeper look at US-Mexico relations over the years, up through present day and the border wall.
February 3, 1870 and 1913: The 15th and 16th Amendments to the US Constitution are ratified. Two amendments to the Constitution ratified on the same day, 43 years apart. Two very different goals. The 15th Amendment reads, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” This amendment granted Black men the right to vote, a huge step forward in the fight for civil rights. Unfortunately, by the end of the decade, discriminatory practices were being used to prevent African Americans from actually exercising their new right to vote–particularly in the South. This remained true until the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The 16th Amendment, on the other hand, gave Congress the authority to collect income taxes. So, there’s that. Now that you know about two of the Constitution’s amendments, take a look at other important amendments to find out how they help guide the law today.
February 4, 1902: Aviation pioneer Charles Lindbergh is born in Detroit, Michigan. From a young age, Charles Lindbergh had a passion for aviation–though he probably didn’t envision becoming one of the most famous pilots in history. During the early to mid 1920s, Charles flew as a daredevil pilot at carnivals and fairs and later became an airmail pilot with a regular route from St. Louis to Chicago. It was around this time that Lindbergh was made aware of a contest to see who could become the first pilot to make a nonstop trans-Atlantic flight…the winner would receive $25,000. Intrigued and determined, Charles Lindbergh took off from Roosevelt Field in Long Island, New York on May 20, 1927 in his monoplane, The Spirit of St. Louis. He landed nearly 34 hours later at Le Bourguet Field near Paris. Lindbergh had done it–he traveled 3,600 miles to become the first-ever trans-Atlantic pilot, and he was greeted as a hero by approximately 100,000 people in France. This would be just the first of many enormous crowds who came to see “Lindy” whenever he flew to different cities to promote aviation and make speeches. In 1927, “Lucky Lindy” was an international celebrity.
By the early 1930s, he’d had enough of the spotlight and moved with his wife to New Jersey. There they started a family with the birth of Charles Augustus Lindbergh, Jr. He was only 20 months old when he was kidnapped from the Lindbergh home in 1932, a crime that made international headlines. The couple paid the $50,000 ransom in hopes that this would bring Charles Jr. back home. Tragically, that was not to be. The baby’s body was found three weeks later in nearby woods. The Lindberghs were in enough pain from this horrible incident, but it would become even worse as the trial of accused killer Bruno Hauptmann turned into a media circus. Hauptmann would be found guilty and executed in 1936. The Lindberghs moved to Europe, where Charles served on the board of directors for Pan-American World Airways. During this time, he was invited by Nazi leader Hermann Goring to tour German aviation facilities and walked away quite impressed. From this meeting, he advised the US government to stay neutral in World War II. Believing that this stance showed obvious Nazi sympathies, the public turned away from Lindbergh in disgust. He did change his position on the war after the Pearl Harbor attacks, however. After the war, Charles wrote several books, and even won the Pulitzer Prize in 1954 for his 1953 book, The Spirit of St. Louis. He passed away in Hawaii in 1974 at the age of 72. Use Lindbergh’s famous flight as the starting point for other lessons on the history of aviation (the Wright Brothers, for example) and famous pilots like Amelia Earhart.
February 6, 1895: Baseball legend George Herman “Babe” Ruth is born in Baltimore, Maryland. If baseball is America’s national pastime, it has Babe Ruth to thank for that distinction. While baseball was popular before Ruth burst onto the scene, he took it to another level with his outsized personality, zest for life, and absolutely phenomenal baseball skills. Ruth discovered his passion for baseball while a student at St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys in Baltimore, under the tutelage of Brother Matthias, a monk at the school. He worked with young George to hone his abilities, which grew to be so impressive that they caught the eye of Baltimore Orioles owner Jack Dunn. After mere minutes of watching him play, Dunn offered him a contract at the age of 19. Once his new Orioles teammates got a look at Ruth, they called him “Jack’s newest babe,” and from there the most famous nickname in sports history was born. Babe performed well enough for Baltimore that he was sold to the Boston Red Sox, where he made his Major League Baseball debut in 1914. And while Babe earned his reputation as baseball’s greatest slugger, he began his career as a pitcher–an excellent pitcher.
In 1915, his first full year, Babe won 18 games and compiled an impressive 2.44 ERA. The following year was even better, Babe winning 23 games and leading the league with a 1.75 ERA. In 1917, Babe won another 24 games with a 2.01 ERA and a ridiculous 35 complete games in 38 starts. But by this time, he was opening eyes with his hitting ability. So, in 1918, the Red Sox made Babe an everyday player, and he rewarded the team by tying for the league lead with 11 home runs. In 1919, Ruth obliterated the previous single-season home run record with 29. And this would be his final season in Boston. He was about to make some serious noise with the New York Yankees. His first season in the Bronx, he broke his own home run record. Forget 29. How about 54? These were power numbers no one had ever seen before. And he wasn’t done. In 1921, Babe put together arguably the greatest offensive season in baseball history, hitting 59 home runs, driving in 171 runs, scoring 177 runs, and batting .376. And with that, the Yankees became the focal point of the baseball world, dominating the competition and setting attendance records that led the team to move to Yankee Stadium in 1923–also known as “The House That Ruth Built.” In 1927, Babe yet again broke his own home run record, swatting 60–a record that would stand until Roger Maris broke it (albeit in more games played) in 1961. Babe’s time with the Yankees was possibly the greatest dynasty any sport has ever witnessed–with Ruth, the Yankees won seven American League pennants and four World Series titles. When he finally retired in 1935, Babe owned 56 Major League Baseball records, including the big one–714 career home runs, which wouldn’t be broken until Hank Aaron surpassed him in 1974. Babe was one of the National Baseball Hall of Fame’s first five inductees in 1936. Ten years later, doctors discovered a malignant tumor in Ruth’s neck, and he would pass away at the early age of 53 in 1948. His larger-than-life play on the field and equally spectacular celebrity off the field made Babe Ruth so much more than a baseball player. He was a pop culture icon, one who kids, even 70-plus years after his death, know quite well.
February 7, 1812: Author Charles Dickens is born in Portsmouth, England. A Christmas Carol. A Tale of Two Cities. David Copperfield. Oliver Twist. Great Expectations. Odds are you’re familiar with at least a couple of these novels, each written by the great British novelist, Charles Dickens. Considered one of the most important and influential writers of the 19th century (and arguably ever), Dickens grew up in a poor family–so poor, in fact, that his father went to jail for prison debt when Charles was only 12 years old. This event shaped the rest of his life and his later works–his family’s poverty forced Charles to drop out of school and work at a boot-blacking factory for a pittance each week. The young Dickens viewed this point in his life as the end of his childhood and innocence and harbored a sense of abandonment and resentment toward adults who he was supposed to be able to rely on. These became prominent themes in his novels. The family’s fortunes suddenly changed, however, when his father was awarded a family inheritance–unfortunately, these more prosperous times were fleeting, and Charles had to leave school once again at the age of 15, this time working as an office boy. This job would prove to be a major turning point in his life.
Within a year at the office, Mr. Dickens was doing reporting at the law courts in London; just a few years later, he was writing for two major London newspapers. By 1837, he began to write novels, his first being the beloved Oliver Twist, inspired by his own experiences as a poor child. His next novel followed a year later, as The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby was published in 1838. Perhaps his most famous novel, A Christmas Carol, was written in a mere six weeks and published just in time for the holiday season in 1843. The book was a commercial success both in England and America, which led to international acclaim. Among his next works were David Copperfield, considered innovative at that time as the story literally follows a man through his day-to-day life, something that had never been done before; well-known novels such as Hard Times, A Tale of Two Cities, and Great Expectations would be published every few years through the 1850s and into the early 1860s. Many believe Great Expectations to be Dickens’ best work. After touring America for speaking engagements, his celebrity grew to the point that he was instantly recognizable wherever he went, especially in his home country of England. Sadly, he would not be able to bask in his fame for long. He was involved in a train accident in 1865 and never made a full recovery. Charles Dickens suffered a stroke five years later and passed away at the age of 58 in 1870. His work still lives on, especially at Christmastime, thanks to A Christmas Carol, which (along with some of his other novels) has been adapted into television series and movies countless times. Pick a few of Dickens’ novels and explore them in detail, looking at their themes and how they relate to his own experiences.
February 9, 1773: William Henry Harrison is born in Berkeley, Virginia. If you’ve never heard of William Henry Harrison, you’re not alone. He was actually the ninth president of the United States. So, why haven’t many people heard of him? Because he was in office for only 32 days, the shortest stint of any American president. But Mr. Harrison did have a lengthy political career before his election. After serving in the army, Harrison became Secretary of the Northwest Territory and its first delegate to Congress. During that time, he helped divide that territory into the Northwest and Indiana Territories. In 1801, he was appointed as Governor of the Indiana Territory, a position he held for 12 years. His primary responsibility in this role was to get the titles to Indian lands so settlers could keep moving forward. If and when the Native Americans retaliated, his job was to defend the settlements. This part of the job would be put to the test when Tecumseh, a chieftain, and his religious brother the Prophet began assembling an Indian confederation to prevent further advance. In 1811, Harrison received permission to attack this confederacy and shortly after led about 1,000 troops toward the Prophet’s town. Unbeknownst to Harrison, however, the Natives were prepared and surprised his troops with an attack on their camp along the Tippecanoe River. Heavy fighting ensued, and Harrison’s men were able to fend off the confederacy, but not before losing nearly 20 percent of his troops in the process. Still, the Battle of Tippecanoe represented a victory for Harrison and he was rewarded by being placed in command of the Army of the Northwest during the War of 1812. In October of 1813, Harrison’s army defeated combined British and Indian forces and killed Tecumseh during the Battle of the Thames. After this defeat, the Natives scattered and never really settled in this area again.
After retiring to civilian life, Harrison was nominated for president in 1840 and won the election to become the ninth president of the United States. Shortly after, President Harrison caught a cold, which turned into a serious case of pneumonia. Within a month, he was dead…just 32 days after taking office. He was the first president to die while in office. After only a month as president, it’s difficult to predict what kind of legacy William Henry Harrison would have left behind. But you can use this lesson to take a longer look at the War of 1812 and the impact it had on Native Americans.
That does it for the first of three parts of historical figures and events for February. Stay tuned for the next part, coming soon! In the meantime, check out our partner site, Elephango.com, for more fun and factual lessons!