February 1, 2020
Day 32 of 366
February 1st is the thirty-second day of the year. It is celebrated as Imbolc, Imbolg, and Saint Brigid’s Day in Ireland and Scotland, as well as among certain neopagan groups. It is one of the four Gaelic seasonal festivals – joined with Beltane, Lughnasadh, and Samhain – and marks the beginning of spring between the winter solstice and the vernal equinox.
Historical items of note:
- In 1884, the first volume of the Oxford English Dictionary was published. It covered topics from A to Ant.
- In 1893, Thomas Edison finished construction of the first motion picture studio. It was the Black Maria, located in West Orange, New Jersey.
- In 1896, Giacomo Puccini’s La bohème premiered in Turin at the Teatro Regio.
- In 1918, Russia adopted the Gregorian calendar.
- In 1924, the United Kingdom recognized the USSR.
- In 1942, Voice of America began broadcasting. It was the official external radio and television service of the United States government and broadcasted programs aimed at areas controlled by the Axis powers.
- Also in 1942, actress Bibi Besch was born.
- In 1946, Elisabeth Sladen was born. She portrayed the iconic Sarah Jane Smith on Doctor Who.
- In 1954, actor Billy Mumy was born.
- In 1960, four black students staged the first of the Greensboro sit-ins at a lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina.
- In 1964, The Beatles had their first number one hit in the United States: “I Want to Hold Your Hand”.
- In 1968, Canada’s three military services – the Royal Canadian Navy, the Canadian Army, and the Royal Canadian Air Force – were unified into the Canadian Forces.
- In 1998, Rear Admiral Lillian E. Fishburne became the first female African American to be promoted to rear admiral in the United States Navy.
- In 2003, Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated during atmospheric reentry during mission STS-107, killing all seven astronauts aboard.
In 1865, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. It was not ratified by the states until later, but at this point, the signed resolution passed by Congress made slavery illegal within the United States.
Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.
Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation
Major Richard Robert Wright Sr, a former slave and the first African American to serve as a U.S. Army paymaster, believed that there should be a day to celebrate the freedoms of all Americans. He began to formulate this plan and in 1947, one year after his death, Congress passed a bill to make National Freedom Day on February 1st. The official holiday proclamation was signed into law on June 30, 1948, by President Harry Truman.
National Freedom Day was the forerunner to Black History Month.
A precursor to Black History Month was celebrated as early as 1926 when historian Carter G. Woodson and the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History proclaimed the second week of February to be “Negro History Week”. This was chosen since it coincided with Abraham Lincoln’s and Frederick Douglass’s birthdays. The thought process boiled down to the concepts of recognition and importance, and while the first celebration was met with a lukewarm response, future celebrations generated a great deal of enthusiasm.
It prompted the creation of black history clubs, an increase in interest among teachers, and interest from progressive whites. It grew in popularity throughout the following decades, with mayors across the United States endorsing it as a holiday.
Black History Month was first proposed by black educators and the Black United Students at Kent State University in February 1969, with the first celebration in the following year. Six years later, Black History Month was being celebrated all across the country in educational institutions, centers of Black culture and community centers. President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month during the celebration of the United States Bicentennial in 1976.
In the Bicentennial year of our Independence, we can review with admiration the impressive contributions of black Americans to our national life and culture.
One hundred years ago, to help highlight these achievements, Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History. We are grateful to him today for his initiative, and we are richer for the work of his organization.
Freedom and the recognition of individual rights are what our Revolution was all about. They were ideals that inspired our fight for Independence: ideals that we have been striving to live up to ever since. Yet it took many years before ideals became a reality for black citizens.
The last quarter-century has finally witnessed significant strides in the full integration of black people into every area of national life. In celebrating Black History Month, we can take satisfaction from this recent progress in the realization of the ideals envisioned by our Founding Fathers. But, even more than this, we can seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.
I urge my fellow citizens to join me in tribute to Black History Month and the message of courage and perseverance it brings to all of us.
The Thing About Today is an effort to look at each day of 2020 with respect to its historical context.
For more creativity with a critical eye, visit Creative Criticality.