February 4, 2020
Day 35 of 366
February 4th is the thirty-fifth day of the year. It is World Cancer Day, a day to raise awareness of the disease and encourage its prevention, detection, and treatment.
In the United States, it is “celebrated” as National Create a Vacuum Day, National Hemp Day, National Homemade Soup Day, National Thank a Mail Carrier Day, and Safer Internet Day. The last one is typically observed on the first Tuesday in February.
National Soup Day, eh? Perhaps it is a good day to experiment with my Zuppa Toscana recipe, especially since today is the approximate midpoint of the season.
Historical items of note:
- In 1454, during the Thirteen Years’ War, the Secret Council of the Prussian Confederation sent a formal act of disobedience to the Grand Master of the Teutonic Knights.
- In 1703, all but one of the Forty-Seven Rōnin committed seppuku (ritual suicide) in Edo (now known as Tokyo) as recompense for avenging their master’s death. The forty-seventh rōnin, Terasaka Kichiemon, eventually returned from his mission and was pardoned by the shōgun.
- In 1789, George Washington was unanimously elected as the first President of the United States by the U.S. Electoral College.
- In 1846, the first Mormon pioneers began their exodus from Nauvoo, Illinois, westward towards Salt Lake Valley.
- In 1861, delegates from six break-away U.S. states met in Montgomery, Alabama to form the Confederate States of America. Confederate Vice President Alexander H. Stephens would later describe the new republic’s ideology as being centrally based “upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition.”
- In 1902, pilot and explorer Charles Lindbergh was born.
- In 1906, Clyde Tombaugh was born. He was the astronomer who discovered Pluto in 1930.
- In 1920, voice actor Janet Waldo was born. Among other roles, she was Judy in The Jetsons and Josie in Josie and the Pussycats.
- In 1940, George A. Romero, director of 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, was born.
- In 1941, the United Service Organization (USO) was created to entertain American troops.
- In 1948, Ceylon (later renamed Sri Lanka) became independent within the British Commonwealth.
- In 1952, Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play in Major League Baseball, became the vice president and director of personnel for Chock full o’Nuts. That made him the first African-American vice president of a major American corporation.
- In 1970, Patton premiered in New York City. It won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1971.
- In 2004, Facebook was founded.
In 1913, American civil rights activist Rosa Parks was born. She was known for her pivotal role in the Montgomery bus boycott and has become known as the “the mother of the freedom movement”.
Around the turn of the 20th century, former Confederate states adopted new laws that disenfranchised black voters. Jim Crow laws also imposed racial segregation upon public facilities, retail stores, and public transportation in the American South. To that end, buses had separate seating sections for black customers and white customers, and whites took priority.
In 1932, Rosa married Montgomery barber Raymond Parks. At that time, the NAACP was collecting funds to support the defense of the Scottsboro Boys, a group of black men who were falsely accused of raping two white women. In 1943, Rosa Parks became active in the civil rights movement and joined the NAACP where she served as secretary until 1957. One day, she boarded a bus and paid the fare, but was forced to disembark by driver James F. Blake and enter the bus again using the back door per city rules. When she complied, Blake drove off and left her stranded in the rain.
Around 1944, she held a job at Maxwell Air Force Base, which was not segregated since it was federal property. She worked as a seamstress afterward, finally succeeding at being listed on voter rolls (on her third try due to heavy discrimination) in 1945.
On March 2, 1955, Claudette Colvin was arrested for failing to surrender her bus seat to a white man. Colvin was a student at Booker T. Washington High School and a member of the NAACP Youth Council, of which Parks was an advisor. Preceding this event, several others had attempted sit-in protests on buses, including Bayard Rustin, Irene Morgan, Lillie Mae Bradford, and Sarah Louise Keyes. Colvin was followed by Aurelia Browder, Susie McDonald, and Mary Louise Smith.
In August 1955, teenager Emmett Till was brutally murdered after reportedly flirting with a white woman in Mississippi. The murderers were acquitted, news that angered and saddened Parks.
All of that led to December 1, 1955. After working all day, Parks boarded the bus, paid her fare, and found an empty seat in the first row of the “colored” section. She did not notice that her driver was James Blake. As more passengers boarded, several white riders were left standing, so Blake moved the “colored” sign behind Parks and demanded that she surrender her seat.
Thinking of Emmett Till, Parks refused. She was arrested and charged with violation of the law.
On the night of her arrest, the Women’s Political Council printed and circulated a flyer through the black community. The following morning, the idea of boycotts started to circulate at a meeting led by Martin Luther King, Jr. Effectively, if the black community did not ride, the buses could not afford to operate. The Montgomery bus boycott began on December 5, 1955 with coordination and support throughout the black community. The boycott wasn’t resolved until December 20, 1956, and eventually led to a United States Supreme Court decision that declared the Alabama and Montgomery laws that segregated buses were unconstitutional.
After the boycott, Parks moved to Detroit and continued as an activist and organizer for the rest of her life. After retirement, she continued to insist that the struggle for justice was not over. She received national recognition, including the NAACP’s 1979 Spingarn Medal, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the Congressional Gold Medal, and a posthumous statue in the United States Capitol’s National Statuary Hall. She was the first woman to lie in honor in the Capitol Rotunda after her death in 2005, becoming the third of only four Americans to ever receive this honor.
Rosa Parks’s life was so much more than the historical eye-blink that was that night on the bus. She was a strong woman who fought for the right in everything she did. She published her autobiography, Rosa Parks: My Story, in 1992. She also published a memoir about her faith, Quiet Strength, in 1995. You owe it to yourself to learn about this amazing woman’s entire life and legacy.
In her honor, four states observe Rosa Parks Day. Ohio and Oregon commemorate her bravery on December 1st, but California and Missouri pay their respects on February 4th, the anniversary of her birthday.
The Thing About Today is an effort to look at each day of 2020 with respect to its historical context.
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