Greensboro Sit-In Protests Begin: February 1, 1960

On February 1, 1960, four young African-American men entered the Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina. They sat down at the segregated lunch counter and refused to leave after being denied service.

Joseph McNeil, David Richmond, Ezell Blair Jr. (later Jibreel Khazan), and Franklin McCain, all students at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University, were inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and his doctrine of using non-violent protests as a way to achieve social and political progress.

After purchasing a few small items at Woolworth’s, the young men proceeded to the lunch counter with receipt in hand. Instead of heading to the standing snack bar where they were normally relegated, they sat at the lunch counter designated “whites only.”

After taking a seat, the young men politely waited for service. Someone called the police, but segregation at the lunch counter was a social custom and not a law. The men were paying customers and couldn’t be arrested.

The next day the Greensboro Four returned to Woolworth’s again. This time accompanied by additional African-American students. In subsequent days the numbers of protestors increased. By the fifth day, some 1,000 protestors joined in. The sit-in protests made nationwide headlines. Similar protests spread across the country, occurring in nine states and 54 cities.

The bold actions of the Greensboro Four took courage. It had been six years since the Brown v. Board of Education ruling had passed, eliminating separate but equal – but little had changed. Their protest led to a student-led civil rights movement. As the movement spread, so did the need to organize.

In April, under the direction of Martin Luther King, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference organized a meeting for sit-in protestors. King told attendees that protests were a civil right and not a social privilege, and he urged protesters to refrain from violence. Sadly, the civil rights movement was marred by violence.  Felton Turner, 27, was abducted by four masked white men, strung up by his heels and beaten with a chain. His attackers carved letters into his chest with a penknife before he was able to escape. He was one of many who endured attacks.

Six months after the sit-ins started, protestors achieved a measure of success when on July 25th, the Greensboro Woolworth’s lunch counter opened to all diners – black or white.

In 2010, on the 50th anniversary of the original protest, the building that once housed the Greensboro Woolworth’s reopened as the International Civil Rights Center and Museum. Part of the original lunch counter where the Greensboro Four sat down in February 1960 is now housed in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

To read more articles about the sit-in protests or the civil rights movement, see our archives and visit our civil rights topic page on Newspapers.com.

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Homestead Act Takes Effect: January 1, 1863

On December 31, 1862, Daniel Freeman made his way to the land office in Brownville, Nebraska. It was just before midnight, but Freeman, a Civil War soldier on furlough, arranged for an obliging clerk to open the doors. He planned to file the first homestead claim under the newly enacted Homestead Act which took effect on January 1, 1863.

At 12:05 A.M., Freeman successfully filed his claim. He was awarded a tract of land in Nebraska that he lived on and cultivated until his death in 1908. Later, to celebrate the most progressive land redistribution in American history, Freeman’s property became the Homestead National Monument of America.

The Homestead Act was US legislation that granted 160 acres of unappropriated public land to any American citizen or immigrant who declared his intention to become a citizen, upon the receipt of a small fee. Applicants agreed to live on the land, improve it, and build a residence. Those applying were required to be 21-years-old or the head of a family. Women and freed slaves were also eligible to apply.

Enacting homestead laws did not come easy. Southern states regularly voted against homestead legislation, fearing it would create an agricultural alternative to the slave labor system. Others argued the legislation was inevitable. When the Homestead Act finally passed, it opened up the Great Plains and western United States to settlement.

Mary Myer and her husband Philipp were German immigrants to the United States. In 1860, they made their way to the Nebraska frontier and settled on a piece of land, planning to remain there until owners forced them to leave. Philipp died in 1861, and when the Homestead Act passed in 1862, Mary realized she could apply to own the land she and her three children already lived on. On January 20, 1863, Mary filled out application number 20 and received homestead rights, possibly becoming the first woman to own land under the Homestead Act.

Six months after legislators approved the Homestead Act, the Pacific Railroad Act passed. By May 1869, the transcontinental railroad provided easy transportation and lured homesteaders further West. As more homestead land became available, eager settlers snatched it up. By 1934, the government processed more than 1.6 million homestead applications and awarded 270 million acres of land to citizens. In 1988, 125 years after the first homestead claim, Kenneth Deardorff received the last grant of land under the Homestead Act for 80 acres in Alaska.

Did someone in your family file a homestead claim? Is the land still in your family? Learn more about the Homestead Act on our topic page and research your family’s homestead roots on Newspapers.com.

 

 

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Shackleton Sets Sail: December 5, 1914

On December 5, 1914, Ernest Shackleton, along with 27 crew members, set sail from the tiny whaling village of Grytviken on South Georgia Island. The expedition hoped to make the first crossing of the Antarctic continent. Instead, they encountered horrific gale winds and ice that destroyed their ship Endurance. The men spent nearly two years trekking across ice floes and struggling to stay alive. Miraculously, every man survived! This is the story of Shackleton’s expedition straight from the headlines as it happened.

Soon after leaving Grytviken in December, the Endurance entered the Antarctic ice pack and crossed the Antarctic Circle. In January, Shackleton spotted “200 miles of coastline and great glaciers discharging into the sea.” The crew had reached part of the Antarctic continent they named Caird Coast.

On January 18th, Endurance encountered gale force winds and ice closing in. Forced to take refuge behind a large iceberg, Endurance soon became stuck in ice. Unable to navigate, she drifted for 10 months. At one point, “the pack drove the ship towards a great stranded berg, and we were saved only by a sudden change in the drift,” wrote Shackleton.

Winter turned to spring, followed by summer. Still encased in ice, pressure mounted on Endurance. Her hull creaked and groaned, and by September her beams buckled. Unable to resist the pressure any longer, the sides of the ship opened up. Shackleton wrote, “Endurance hove bodily out the ice and was flung before the gale against masses of up-driven ice.”

Shackleton gave orders to abandon ship. Three lifeboats, dogs and provisions were lowered to the ice. The crew began a trek across the ice, but cracks and pressure ridges made travel precarious. The journey was “further endangered by the presence of killer whales, which would not hesitate to attack any man unfortunate enough to fall in,” wrote Shackleton.

On November 21st, the crew watched as Endurance sank. Relying on a series of camps, the men began a slow march toward open water. The crew survived subfreezing temperatures, hurricane force winds, and food shortages. By spring, Shackleton ordered the dogs shot and eaten. In March, they averted tragedy when a crack opened up separating the crew from their lifeboats. They managed to retrieve them.

After five more long months, they spotted land! Elephant Island appeared on the horizon. The men boarded lifeboats and reached the island after a horrendous seven-day journey. In a last-ditch attempt at rescue, Shackleton and five others set sail for South Georgia Island. They rowed and sailed 800 miles over two weeks in rough seas, bailing out water during the journey. Miraculously they made it. All attention then turned to the rescue of the men on Elephant Island. After three failed attempts, Shackleton’s fourth try was a success! On August 30, 1916, 634 days after leaving South Georgia, the remaining crew of the Endurance was rescued from Elephant Island.

To learn more about Shackleton’s Endurance expedition, search our archives on Newspapers.com!

 

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World War I Ends: November 11, 1918

WWI Ends!

WWI Ends! Mon, Nov 11, 1918 – 1 · Chicago Tribune

On the morning of November 11, 1918, at 1:55 A.M., the telephone rang at the offices of the Chicago Tribune. An Associated Press operator delivered a news flash with the short message, “Armistice Signed,” and then hung up. Fifty minutes later, the U.S. State Department released the official announcement: Effective this morning at 6:00 A.M. ET, the world war officially ends. An Armistice signed by Germany in the 11th month, on the 11th day, and in the 11th hour of 1918 brought an end to the fighting in WWI. 

In France, thousands of American heavy guns fired parting shots at that exact moment. WWI, also known as the Great War, resulted in more than 37 million military casualties and 8.5 million deaths worldwide. American Expeditionary Force (AEF) casualties numbered 323 thousand with nearly 117 thousand deaths. 

As the news broke, a sleepy nation woke to celebrate! In Chicago, US Navy men (nicknamed Jackies) poured into the streets cheering. News reached the West coast just before midnight. Fireworks summoned residents in Oakland, California, to a party downtown! 

With the fighting over, transporting troops home became the next big logistical challenge. Most soldiers made it home within a year, but a few thousand didn’t return until 1920. Every available ship, and a few seized German ships, helped to “bring the boys home!” 

All over the country, communities held celebrations. In Allentown, Pennsylvania, 50,000 citizens greeted returning soldiers with a confetti parade. 

Not all the boys were coming home whole. The physical and emotional trauma suffered by the sick and wounded was astonishing. Legislation like the Adjusted Compensation Act; the Soldier Rehabilitation Act of 1918 (that provided prostheses for those who lost limbs); and the organization of the American Legion sought to help returning soldiers. 

Among the many injured were Pvt. Anthony Kulig, 24, who spent 19 months at Walter Reed Hospital recovering from an amputated arm, a knee injury, and 52 wounds on his body. First Lt. John W. McManigal chronicled his injuries and others he observed during his time as a POW in a dramatic five-part series printed in the Kansas Democrat in 1919. He recalled one soldier in a POW hospital having both legs amputated without any anesthetic. 

The development of an improved veteran healthcare system is just one of the legacies left to future military generations by WWI veterans. Do you have an interest in military history or have ancestors that fought in WWI? How did your hometown celebrate the Armistice? Tell us about it and search our archives at Newspapers.com!

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The Peshtigo Fire: October 8, 1871

The Peshtigo Fire: October 8, 1871

The deadliest forest fire in American history swept through Northeast Wisconsin on October 8, 1871. The Peshtigo fire, named after the small town it obliterated, claimed 1200 lives. The Peshtigo fire has been somewhat ignored by history because it started the same day as the great Chicago fire.

Painting from Peshtigo Fire Museum
It was an unusually dry summer that year. Small fires used to clear land for farming and railroads had been smoldering, but didn’t cause alarm. That all changed on the evening of October 8th. As parents tucked their children into bed, an ominous rumbling “like the distant roaring of the sea or like a coming storm” had them nervously scanning the horizon. In the distance they could see the glow of a fire. The winds were picking up, but residents still had no idea what was approaching.

About 10 p.m., hurricane force winds, accompanied by lightning, blew into town. Gusts that preceded the firestorm ripped roofs from houses and felled large trees. Alarmed residents ran to investigate and witnessed a huge inferno, described as a tornado of flame, bearing down.

The Guardian, reported that “The wind blew with such tremendous violence that people endeavoring to escape were lifted from their feet and blown into burning houses. The wind blew super-heated clouds of sand on to those running to escape. Each grain burning and blistering.”

Those that could, began a mad dash to the river. Mothers, unable to make it to the water, tried desperately to protect their children from the flames. The fire was an “oxygen-sucking firestorm” whose power has been compared to an atomic bomb. Residents, unable to outrun the fire, burst into flames. Those that did reach the river encountered frightened livestock that trampled over them. Burning logs floated on the river’s surface. Once immersed in the river, faces of those trying to escape were badly burned each time they surfaced for air. Some, unable to make it to the river, jumped in wells to escape the flames. The intense heat caused the water to boil, killing them. Within two hours the town was reduced to ashes.

When relief workers entered Peshtigo after the fire, they found the town and surrounding woods littered with burned bodies. As the magnitude of destruction became apparent, people from surrounding towns stepped up to care for survivors. Those who managed to survive the flames lost everything. Today, Peshtigo is rebuilt and thriving, and as the Green Bay Press-Gazette says, is “Truly reborn from the ashes.”

If you would like to learn more about the Peshtigo fire, or have ancestors from that area, search our archives at Newspapers.com to learn more!

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The Irish Potato Famine Begins: September 1845

Lake Nyos Disaster August 21, 1986

In September 1845, Irish farmers noticed the leaves on their potato plants starting to wilt and turn black. When the potatoes were dug up, they initially appeared to be fine, but then rotted within days. A fungus called Phytophthora infestans, accidentally brought from North America, was rapidly spreading. The cool, moist climate of Ireland allowed the spores to thrive. Virtually overnight, entire fields were infected.

Famine still pains the Irish
The Irish potato famine, also known as the Great Hunger, had begun. The 1851 Irish census recorded more than a million deaths between 1845-1849. A Dublin paper, The Freeman’s Journal, recorded individual parish deaths in 1847, including this parish that lost 240 members within months.

Even before the famine, Irish farmers lived in extreme poverty. They were tenant farmers, working land owned by the British. The absentee landlords collected rents, but rarely, if ever, visited their properties. Middlemen, who often managed the farms, sought to increase rents by dividing the farms into smaller parcels. The farms became too small to hire help, leaving many Irish unemployed. In order to survive, farmers had nothing to depend on but a small plot of potatoes to feed their families and livestock.

When the famine hit, farmers fell behind on rent. Some British landlords evicted starving peasants and burned their homes. The blight continued and peaked in 1847 (also known as Black ’47) because suffering was so extreme. Weakened by hunger, many Irish succumbed to starvation or diseases like dysentery, typhus, and infection.

The British response to the deepening crisis was slow. Parliament passed the Soup Kitchen Act which led to nearly 3 million people lining up each day for a bowl of soup, often their only meal of the day. Unable to keep up with demand, many of the soup kitchens went bankrupt and the government shut down the program. It wasn’t until 1997 that Britain apologized for their response to the famine, saying they had “failed their people.”

Desperate to escape the crisis, a flood of emigrants loaded in Canadian timber ships bound for North America. Passage was cheap because the ships were not intended for human cargo, and conditions were horrific. They became known as “coffin ships” because so many died during the voyage.

Starving and desperate, more than 1.5 million Irish sought refuge in the United States. Today many Americans of Irish descent can trace their heritage back to this pivotal time in history.

Do you have Irish immigrants in your family tree? Tell us their story! To learn more about the Irish Potato Famine, search our archives!

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Lake Nyos Disaster: August 21, 1986

Lake Nyos Disaster August 21, 1986

On August 21, 1986, a rare natural disaster occurred in the West African country of Cameroon when a large cloud of carbon dioxide gas spewed from Lake Nyos and blanketed nearby villages killing 1,746 people and 3,500 livestock while they slept.

The event, known as a limnic eruption, occurs when carbon dioxide builds in colder, deep lake water creating a heavy layer on the bottom. The weight of the warmer, upper layer of water forms a lid that keeps the gas down — much like a cork on a bottle.

Carbon dioxide cloud kills 1746 people in Cameroon
Eventually the gas in Lake Nyos built up to a point that it was released in a massive eruption that created a 330-foot high column of water and a 200-foot wave. Scientists wondered what caused the cork to pop.

Sule Umare, a cattle herder from Cameroon described the event that killed 99% of the people in his village. “We thought that rain was coming,” he recalled. “I went out and saw the moon shining. I wondered how rain could come without clouds.” Sule was enveloped in a flood of carbon dioxide before he lost consciousness.

Another survivor, Margaret Wandia remembers she was, “breathing very hard and had no strength.” She woke to find three of her four daughters dead beside her.

Some scientists concluded that an underwater landslide disrupted the layers and caused the gas to bubble up that fateful day. Others wondered if volcanic magma below the lake caused the release.

While studying the lake, scientists realized gas levels were rising again. They concluded that gas was gradually leaking into the lake from deep in the earth. In order to prevent a future explosion, scientists started venting the gas with a 672-foot pipe, that when lowered to the bottom, performed like a big straw – sucking the gas upward where it vented gradually into the air.

A second Cameroon lake experienced a similar, but smaller eruption in 1984 and 37 people died.

If you’d like to learn more about the disaster at Lake Nyos, search our archives!

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July 5th: First Casualty of the Korean War

Robert F. Kennedy Fatally Shot: June 5, 1968

If your understanding of the Korean War comes from watching the TV show M*A*S*H, you’re not alone. The Korean War has been referred to as the forgotten war. July 5th marks the 68th anniversary of the first American casualty of the war. With North Korea dominating headlines again, we’ve explored our archives to give you a brief overview of the Korean War from the headlines as it happened.

Korean War Ends
At the end of WWII, Korea was divided into zones. The Soviets occupied North Korea where communism reigned, and the US occupied South Korea. Both Koreas longed for unification —but each on their own terms. The communist leader of the North, Kim II Sung, attempted to unify the Koreas by force when on June 25, 1950, he ordered 75,000 soldiers to spill over the 38th parallel line into the South. Five days later, President Harry S. Truman ordered US troops into action as America sought to stop the spread of communism.

By August, North Korean troops had taken control of Seoul and much of the country. In September, under General Douglas MacArthur, the US launched a major counter-offensive and drove Northern troops back to the 38th parallel line and continued across it until troops nearly reached the Chinese border. The Chinese government fearing invasion sent 200,000 soldiers to bolster North Korea.

With the help of China, and support from the Soviets, North Korea pushed US troops back across the 38th parallel again. Fighting was intense. Among significant battles were the Battle of Inchon and the Battle of Chosin. US losses and a disagreement in strategy spurred President Truman to fire General MacArthur. General Matthew B. Ridgway took over command.

Nearly three years after the war started, it ended right where it started – at the 38th parallel line. The US lost 36,500 soldiers. There was no clear winner and no peace treaty established. An armistice was adopted designating a DMZ (Demilitarized Zone) that separated North from South. Nearly 70 years later, the Korean peninsula remains divided.

Kim II Sung remained the North’s leader until his death in 1994 when his son Kim Jong II took over. After Kim Jong II’s death in 2011, Kim Jong Un, the son of Kim Jong II and grandson of Kim Sung II was named Supreme Commander.

Do you have a relative that fought in the Korean War? Tell us about it! You can search our archives to find more articles about the war! You can also access Korean War casualty records on Fold3.com.

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Robert F. Kennedy Fatally Shot: June 5, 1968

Robert F. Kennedy Fatally Shot: June 5, 1968

Fifty years ago this month, Robert F. “Bobby” Kennedy was shot at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles moments after stepping off the stage where he claimed victory in the California presidential primary election. Kennedy died the next day. The gunman was 22-year-old Palestinian Sirhan Sirhan who later confessed to the crime.

Senate pays tribute to Robert F. Kennedy
The news stunned the world. Senators paid tribute to Kennedy, and religious leaders exclaimed, “Something’s wrong with us!” When word of the shooting made its way to Vietnam, one American soldier responded saying, “What the hell is going on back there?”

Kennedy campaigned aggressively in California, crisscrossing the state. He won with a narrow victory. The mood was celebratory the night of June 5, 1968 at the Ambassador Hotel. Kennedy addressed the crowd shortly after midnight and exited the ballroom through a kitchen. Sirhan rushed towards him in a narrow corridor and shot him at close range.

The gun was wrestled away as Sirhan continued firing resulting in five others being wounded including William Weisel, Paul Schrade, Elizabeth Evans, Ira Goldstein, and Irwin Stroll. The cheers and applause heard seconds before quickly turned to screams and panic when the shots rang out.

Kennedy was rushed to Good Samaritan Hospital where doctors performed surgery but were unable to save him. At the time of Kennedy’s assassination, presidential candidates did not have Secret Service security. His death stirred Congress to pass a law providing that protection for future candidates.

Kennedy’s death came just five years after that of his brother, President John F. Kennedy. Robert Kennedy’s body was flown to New York, where he lay in repose at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral before burial. The nation mourned with Kennedy’s widow Ethel and his 10 young children. An eleventh child was born after Kennedy’s death.

In 2016, Sirhan was denied parole for the 15th time and remains in prison today. What do you remember about the day Robert F. Kennedy was shot? You can search our archives to find more articles on his life and death. You can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for trending news and updates!

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Haymarket Riot: May 4, 1886

Haymarket Riot: May 4, 1886

On May 4, 1886, a bomb was detonated during a peaceful labor demonstration in Chicago’s Haymarket Square. The bomb and ensuing violence left seven policemen and a number of civilians dead and many others wounded.

Headline about the Haymarket Riot
The day before the incident at Haymarket Square, two striking workers had been killed at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company during an altercation with police. The following day, thousands of people gathered in Haymarket Square to protest the police violence and to listen to a number of labor leaders speak in support of better working conditions.

The gathering was peaceful and, due to poor weather, eventually dwindled to about three hundred people. When 180 policemen were dispatched to disperse the crowd, someone threw a bomb at the police. The police (as well as some in the crowd) responded by opening fire, and when things finally calmed down, one policeman and at least four civilians had been killed (six other policemen would later die of their injuries); numerous other policemen and bystanders were wounded.

Although the person who threw the bomb was never identified, eight labor activists were arrested and put on trial. Seven received death sentences, and the other was given 15 years in prison. Of the seven who were sentenced to death, four of them were hanged in 1887, one committed suicide, and two had their sentences commuted to life in prison. In 1893, the surviving three were pardoned by the governor based on the unfairness of the original trial.

Public opinion immediately following the Haymarket Riot generally landed on the side of the police. Because the eight defendants (and others involved with the labor movement) were immigrants and socialists or anarchists, the public increasingly saw the labor movement as a hotbed of foreign-born radicals. Anti-anarchist hysteria grew, spurred by the exaggerated accounts of many newspapers. However, for those within the labor movement, the Haymarket Riot came to represent the struggle for workers’ rights, and the event inspired many future labor activists.

Do you have any family stories about the Haymarket Riot or the labor movement? Share them with us! Or learn more about the event by searching Newspapers.com.

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