The Texas Revolution

On October 2, 1835, ongoing clashes between American settlers in Texas and the Mexican government escalated into an open rebellion called the Texas Revolution, or the War of Texas Independence. Texas colonists led by Sam Houston fought against Mexican forces led by Gen. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna of Mexico. The war resulted in Texas declaring independence from Mexico and the founding of the Republic of Texas which was later annexed by the United States.

The Richmond Enquirer October 23, 1835

In 1820, American Moses Austin asked the Spanish government in Mexico for permission to settle on a tract of land in Texas. Austin intended to establish a colony for 300 families to settle near the Brazos River. He died shortly after, and his son Stephen F. Austin took over the project. In 1821, Mexico won its independence from Spain and the Mexican government allowed American Colonists to occupy the land in its northern reaches that was primarily occupied by Native American tribes. They also suspended tariffs and taxes for the settlers under the Colonization Law of 1823.

In the following years, settlers poured into Texas until Americans outnumbered the Mexicans. Fearing the United States may want to annex Texas, the Mexican government sought to stem the tide of US citizens in Texas in 1830 by prohibiting any further immigration of US citizens. They also reinstated tariffs on the settlers already living there.

The Arkansas Gazette May 4, 1830

Unhappy with the new rules, in June 1832, American settlers clashed with Mexican military forces near modern-day Houston and the eastern bank of the Brazos River in the Battle of Velasco. They later organized conventions in 1832 and 1833 and asked the Mexican government to repeal the tariffs and immigration laws. During the conventions, Sam Houston was named commander-in-chief over Texan forces and David Burnet as provisional president. Americans were moving closer to a full-scale rebellion. Meanwhile, Gen. Santa Anna used heavy-handed tactics to suppress dissent and directed Mexican soldiers to move into Texas and retake a cannon that settlers had used in defense against Native Americans. When Mexican soldiers arrived, a skirmish ensued resulting in the first battle of the revolution, the Battle of Gonzales on October 2, 1835.

Additional battles were fought including the Battle of the Alamo, where Gen. Santa Anna’s forces overpowered a group of volunteer Texas soldiers occupying a mission near present-day San Antonio killing close to 200; and the Goliad Massacre, where more than 400 captured soldiers were executed by Santa Anna’s troops. The cruelty of the killings acted as a rallying cry for Texas troops who shouted, “Remember the Alamo!” and “Remember Goliad!” during the final battle of the revolution, the Battle of San Jacinto, fought on April 21, 1836. The battle lasted just 18 minutes. Texas soldiers captured Gen. Santa Anna as he tried to flee, and his army retreated south. Held prisoner, Santa Anna was forced to sign the Treaty of Velasco recognizing Texas as an independent republic. In 1845, the United States annexed Texas and it became the 28th state. If you would like to learn more about the Texas Revolution, search Newspapers.com today.

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The Development of the Polio Vaccine

In 1894, doctors in Vermont noticed a strange illness spreading throughout the state. Symptoms included fever, sore throat, aches, and difficulty breathing. In some instances, the disease caused paralysis or even death. The virus attacked the nervous system and seemed to hit small children especially hard. The outbreak resulted in 18 deaths and 132 cases of permanent paralysis in Vermont that year. After careful study, doctors finally identified the culprit as poliomyelitis – or polio. Polio ravaged the country and terrified Americans for more than fifty years until a 1955 vaccine promised an 80-90% success rate in preventing the disease. However, within two weeks of being inoculated with the new vaccine, six children developed paralysis and the vaccine was found defective. This incident, known as the Cutter incident, led to changes including increased government oversight in the manufacture and regulation of vaccines.

The 1894 polio outbreak shined a spotlight on polio, which was often referred to as infantile paralysis, and sparked scientists to search for a cure. In 1916, a large polio epidemic hit New York City infecting more than 9,000, resulting in more than 2,000 deaths. Perhaps the most public figure diagnosed with polio was Franklin D. Roosevelt. He contracted the disease in 1921 at the time when nearly 15,000 new cases were diagnosed each year.

Advances in polio treatment led scientists to develop the iron lung in 1928. Some patients lost the ability to breathe on their own when polio paralyzed their chest muscles. The iron lung acted as a respirator using air pressure to expand and contract a patient’s diaphragm, essentially breathing for them at the rate of 16 times a minute. In 2008, America’s longest-living survivor in an iron lung passed away after a power outage shut down her iron lung and a backup generator failed.

In the 1930s, early efforts to create a polio vaccine were unsuccessful. By the 1950s, Dr. Jonas Salk experienced a breakthrough and successfully developed a vaccine using an inactivated strain of the poliovirus (IPV). His vaccine was based on three virulent strains of the virus that were inactivated using a formaldehyde solution. Salk was so confident in his work that in 1953, he vaccinated his own family. A larger trial began in 1954 that provided vaccinations for more than 1 million children, and in April 1955, authorities announced the trial was a success and mass vaccinations could begin. That meant the vaccine needed large scale production and the pharmaceutical industry stepped up to help.

The cheers and relief experienced by Americans quickly turned to shock when within two weeks of receiving the vaccine, six children became paralyzed. Officials discovered that all six children had been inoculated using a vaccine created by Cutter Laboratories in California. The Cutter vaccine was recalled but not before 380,000 of the company’s doses had been administered. It was discovered that the formaldehyde solution Cutter Laboratories used was defective and did not inactivate the virus. Instead, the vaccines administered contained the live poliovirus. The defective vaccine led to 220,000 new infections and caused 164 to become severely paralyzed. Ten children died. The Cutter incident led to a dramatic change in government oversight of vaccine production and also changed medical liability lawsuits when Cutter was found guilty and liable without fault during the trial. Despite the tragic Cutter incident, Salk’s vaccine was successful in the fight against polio. However, the Salk vaccine was replaced in the 1960s when Albert Sabin introduced an oral polio vaccine (OPV) that relied on a weakened poliovirus and proved highly effective.

Do you have family members that suffered from polio? Learn more about polio and the development of a polio vaccine on Newspapers.com.

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The Great Solar Storm of 1859

On September 2, 1859, a massive solar storm composed of subatomic charged particles slammed into the earth’s protective magnetosphere. It ignited countless fires and caused sparks to spew from telegraph machines, shocking their operators. It also created a dramatic show of aurora borealis, or northern lights, as far south as the Caribbean. Solar storms occur when enormous bubbles of superheated plasma are periodically ejected from the sun. Scientists believe that if a similar solar storm were to happen today, it would cause catastrophic damage by crippling power grids, satellites, GPS, and communications systems. Such an event could leave North American without power for months or years and could carry an economic impact as high as $2 trillion.

While conducting observations from his private observatory outside of London on the morning of September 1, 1859, British amateur astronomer Richard Carrington noticed patches of intense white light erupt from the sun. The eruptions lasted about five minutes before dissipating. Little did Carrington know the flare he observed sent solar wind shock waves carrying supercharged plasma racing towards the earth. Hours later, those particles slammed into the earth’s magnetic shield, creating auroral flashes and clouds in vivid colors of red, violet, pink, and green. This single solar storm carried the energy equivalent of 10 billion atomic bombs and is known as the Carrington Event.

The Cahaba Gazette, Alabama: Sept. 9, 1859

The colorful auroras of the Carrington Event were so bright that even in the middle of the night, birds began to chirp and California Gold Rush miners woke up to prepare breakfast. People in Missouri could read without any light source after midnight, and some assumed a great fire was burning on the horizon. Telegraph lines across the country experienced “one of the most startling as well as singular electrical phenomena,” when “a superabundance of electricity in the air” allowed telegraph machines to work without the aid of batteries. The Washington Star reported, “A series of currents of electricity, entirely independent of batteries, seem to have taken possession of the wires, and to such an extent that the National Telegraph was actually enabled to send messages from New York to Pittsburg, (Penn.) correctly.”

Our sun operates on solar cycles that last an average of 11 years. The Carrington Event occurred during Solar Cycle 10, which lasted from December 1855 until March 1867. Solar Cycle 24 began in December 2008 and is just wrapping up. The current forecast predicts Solar Cycle 25 will be relatively weak.

Will a future solar cycle bring a repeat of the Carrington Event? Scientists say it’s not only possible but inevitable. According to a 2008 report from the National Academy of Sciences, a similar-sized solar storm would include, “disruption of the transportation, communication, banking and finance systems, and government services; the breakdown of distribution of potable water owing to pump failure, and the loss of perishable foods and medications because of the lack of refrigeration.” Researchers studying evidence of historic solar storms say a large solar storm “would be a threat to modern society.”

To read more personal accounts of the Carrington Event in 1859, and to learn more about solar storms, search Newspapers.com today.

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Hawaii Becomes A State: August 21, 1959

On the morning of August 21, 1959, nearly 100 people crammed into the Governor’s office in Iolani Palace in Honolulu, Hawaii. They arrived long before 10:00 a.m., the scheduled time for the anticipated phone call. Minutes ticked by and a nervous hush permeated the room. At 10:08, a string of firecrackers ignited within earshot of the palace, followed by the blaring of car horns – but the phone remained silent. Finally, at 10:15 a.m., the Governor’s phone rang, and the room let out a collective sigh of relief. The call from Washington relayed the news. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had just signed the proclamation making Hawaii the 50th state. Governor William F. Quinn made the announcement to the cheering crowd, “Ladies and gentlemen, Hawaii is now a state!” The announcement came from the same palace where 66 years earlier, Hawaii’s final monarch was ousted during a coup that led to Hawaii’s annexation as a US territory. 

Hawaii’s journey to statehood was long and bumpy. The Hawaiian Islands were originally settled by Polynesian voyagers centuries ago. In 1778, British explorer Capt. James Cook came upon the islands while searching for the Northwest Passage. He named his discovery the Sandwich Islands. He named his discovery the Sandwich Islands.

The islands were originally comprised of warring factions, but united under a single monarchy in 1810 under King Kamehameha I. In 1818, Kamehameha was reportedly unhappy with the name Sandwich Islands, saying that each island should have its own name and the chain of islands should be known as the “Islands of the King of Hawaii.”

During the 1830s, the first sugar cane plantations were established in Hawaii bringing immigrants and trade. The rise of steamship travel in the 1840s opened the door to reliable transportation to the islands. With increased commerce, a group of white businessmen and landowners associated with sugar and pineapple plantations, and cattle ranches developed considerable power in the islands.

In 1887, they forced King David Kalakaua to sign the Constitution of the Kingdom of Hawaii, which limited the power of the monarchy. It became known as the Bayonet Constitution. After Kalakaua’s death in 1891, his sister Queen Liliuokalani became Hawaii’s last reigning monarch. Just two years after her accession and amid attempts to adopt a new constitution to restore power to the monarchy, she was overthrown in a coup at Iolani Palace. The coup was organized by powerful white residents with the help of US Marines.

Around the time of the Spanish-American War, the US realized the strategic military importance of Hawaii and established a military outpost that later became Pearl Harbor naval station. In 1898, Hawaii was annexed and became a US territory. Sanford B. Dole was named the president of the Provisional Government of Hawaii. The territory had no voice in the US government and rich plantation owners benefited by allowing plantation owners to import cheap labor and export products to the mainland with low tariffs.

For the next 60 years, there were many petitions for statehood. In June 1959, Hawaiians’ voted overwhelmingly in favor of joining the Union. Months later, Eisenhower, who had advocated for Hawaii’s statehood during his campaign, signed the proclamation admitting Hawaii as the 50th state.

If you would like to learn more about Hawaii’s road to statehood, search Newspapers.com today!

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The 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing: July 20, 1969

On July 20, 1969, the world collectively held its breath as astronaut Neil A. Armstrong slowly backed out of the Lunar Module Eagle and cautiously climbed down a nine-rung ladder before stepping foot on the surface of the moon. “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” were Armstrong’s now immortalized words.

Just four decades earlier, Charles Lindbergh made history when he flew the Spirit of St. Louis 3,600 miles across the Atlantic. Stunning advances in aviation technology followed. In 1962, amidst the Cold War and Space Race, President John F. Kennedy proclaimed, “We choose to go to the moon!”

That goal became a reality when on July 16, 1969, Armstrong and fellow astronauts Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. and Michael Collins strapped into Apollo 11 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Apollo 11 was a 363-foot tall Saturn V rocket containing the Command Module Columbia that housed the astronauts; a Service Module; and the Lunar Module Eagle. At 9:32 a.m. the rocket blasted off for a 240,000-mile journey that would bring them into a lunar orbit by July 19th. On July 20th, Armstrong and Aldrin transferred to the Eagle and descended to the surface of the moon. Collins remained in lunar orbit manning Columbia.

The Eagle has landed,” proclaimed Armstrong as an estimated worldwide audience of 500 million watched the landing. The call sign for Eagle immediately changed to Tranquility Baseonce the lunar module touched down.

Armstrong was first to the lunar surface, joined by Aldrin a short time later. The astronauts spent about two hours accomplishing a series of tasks including collecting samples, taking photographs and planting an American flag before entering back into the lunar module to sleep. After a rest period, and more than 21 hours on the surface of the moon, they returned to Columbia for the journey home.

With all three astronauts safely reunited in Columbia, the crew maneuvered into a trajectory that would return them to earth. On July 24, 1969, the USS Hornet which had been practicing recovery efforts for weeks off the coast of Hawaii moved into position to recover the crew of Apollo 11 after splashdown in the Pacific. On board the Hornet, all eyes scanned the horizon anxiously. Just before 7:00 a.m. (Hawaii time), Columbia splashed down in relatively calm seas. A smoking marine marker was dropped to mark the location and Navy swimmers jumped from a helicopter to attach inflatable flotation collars to the capsule. The astronauts were loaded in a raft, transferred to a basket, and hoisted up to the helicopter. The astronauts and crew members donned clean biological isolation garments in case the astronauts were contaminated with biological hazards.

Back on the Hornet, a cheering crowd that included President Richard Nixon, greeted the returning astronauts. They were ushered into a mobile quarantine facility where President Nixon congratulated them through a window as the three smiling astronauts peered out from behind the glass. Where were you the day men walked on the moon? If you would like to see more of the headlines and stories from the historic Apollo 11 mission, search Newspapers.com today!

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The Federal-Aid Highway Act Signed: June 29, 1956

On June 29, 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed the Federal-Aid Highway Act, also known as the National Interstate Defense Highways Act, creating a 41,000-mile system of interstate highways that would forever change travel in the country! The highways would make travel more efficient and create key routes to evacuate urban centers in the event of an atomic attack.

An interstate highway system was a far cry from the rutted dirt roads that existed when Henry Ford introduced the Model T in 1908. Wet weather presented a challenge for drivers, turning dirt roads into muddy quagmires. As the number of households that owned a car increased, so did the need for safe roads. Building roads was expensive and the costs were often covered by private companies that invested in the infrastructure in order to reap long term rewards.

The State of Texas Builds Rest Stops

While serving in the military, Eisenhower noted Germany’s smooth and efficient autobahn. Even though an interstate highway system had been discussed for years, it became one of Eisenhower’s top priorities after he was elected President. The highway system would allow citizens to travel quickly and efficiently in the event of a nuclear strike. It could also provide a network of highways to transport military troops and goods efficiently if needed. The federal government would pick up 90% of the tab and states would be responsible for 10%. The project would be financed with revenue from a federal gasoline tax. A statute prohibited commercial facilities along the new highways, so officials planned “safety rest areas,” or rest stops. Rest stops would provide motorists with clean bathrooms, water, and picnic areas and would be placed about every half hour along the highway. They were designed to offer a respite for weary travelers and sometimes offered a colorful glimpse into the history and traditions of the area.

Historic Sign on Route 66

As the interstate highways opened, some communities experienced a negative impact when cars bypassed their towns in favor of modern four-lane highways. Roads like the Lincoln Highway and Route 66, popular when driving was still an adventure, fell out of favor. Families opted for speed along the interstate rather than meandering along the old roads where colorful signs and local businesses services competed for travel dollars. In some cases, the interstate cut through the middle of towns and displaced citizens. However, the time-saving ease and convenience of travel using the interstate highway system propelled the project forward. By 1970, a person driving from New York to Los Angeles could complete the 2,830-mile drive 17 hours faster than in 1956.   

To honor his memory, in 1990 a law passed changing the official name of the interstate freeway system to “The Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways.”

If you would like to learn more about the history of the interstate highway system including the 1956 Federal-Aid Highway Act and subsequent acts over the years, search Newspapers.com today!

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The 150th Anniversary of the Transcontinental Railroad

On May 10, 1869, a golden spike was ceremoniously driven at Promontory Point in the Utah Territory. The spike joined the rails of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railroad and created the country’s first transcontinental railroad.  

Before this, a journey to the west could take six months by land; or six weeks by water either by sailing around Cape Horn; or by sailing to Central America and then crossing the Isthmus of Panama by train. It was also expensive, costing more than $1,000. After the completion of the railroad, the same trip took seven days and cost less than $150.

The idea of a transcontinental railroad dated back to the early 1800s. In 1845, New York merchant Asa Whitney asked Congress for a grant to purchase public lands to expand the railroad to the Pacific. Initially, his proposal received a lukewarm welcome. After the US acquired California following the Mexican War in 1848, it started to gain momentum. Whitney did his best to keep the issue at the forefront of public discussion by publishing a pamphlet called “Project for a Railroad to the Mississippi,” where he outlined possible rail routes.

In 1862, Congress passed the Railroad Act granting land and government bonds to the Central Pacific Railroad and the Union Pacific Railroad. 

The first track for the Central Pacific line was laid in Sacramento in October 1863. Their workers consisted primarily of Chinese laborers who managed to reach the summit of the Sierra Nevada Mountains by 1867. Meanwhile, the Union Pacific Railroad started building west from Omaha, Nebraska in 1865. Its workforce primarily consisted of soldiers from the recently ended Civil War, many of whom were Irish immigrants. Construction of the rail lines was swift, due in part to the fact that Congress offered bonds valued between $16,000 and $48,000, depending on terrain, for each mile of railroad completed. The enticement of land grants and government bonds led both railroads to work as quickly as possible. The two companies could have joined rails as early as January 1869, but the incentives kept them going and they laid 225 miles of parallel track before agreeing to halt construction.  

Just before noon on May 10, 1869, two trains, one from Central Pacific from the West and a Union Pacific train from the east, moved into position for the formal golden spike ceremony and the joining of the rails. After remarks from dignitaries, officials drove the ceremonial golden spike into in the rail. Telegraph lines carried the sounds of the spike being driven across the nation. The crowds cheered and a band played “Star Spangled Banner.”

Some have characterized the transcontinental railroad as one of the greatest achievements of the 19th century. If you would like to learn more about the transcontinental railroad or the golden spike ceremony, visit our topic page and search Newspapers.com today!

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The Pony Express Begins: April 3, 1860

On April 3, 1860, the Pony Express began delivering mail across the overland route to California. Young men riding horses at breakneck speed carried the mail utilizing rest stations along the way where fresh riders and horses could relieve tired ones. The Pony Express enabled mail to travel faster than ever before – nearly 2,000 miles in 10 days.

A series of events in the mid-1800s including the Mormon pioneers westward trek to Utah, the California Gold Rush of 1849, and thousands of travelers heading west on the Oregon Trail created a need for faster communication between east and west.

In 1859, California Senator William Gwin persuaded the firm of Russell, Majors & Waddle to develop a service to quickly deliver mail to the Pacific Coast. They agreed and selected the city of St. Joseph, Missouri as the eastern terminus for the route. St. Joseph connected to eastern cities with railroad lines and telegraphs allowing messages and mail to quickly transfer to the Pony Express where they were loaded into special leather saddlebags called mochilas, and carried in one of the twice-weekly Pony Express runs to Sacramento, California.

The evening of April 3, 1860, a crowd gathered at the Pony Express station in St. Joseph. They were anxiously awaiting a delayed train that was bringing mail for the Pony Express. As soon as it arrived, the mail was quickly transferred to the Pony Express station. A cannon sounded and the crowd cheered as 20-year-old Johnny Fry spurred his horse to a gallop. This high-speed mail service did not come cheap! Initially, it cost $5 per half-ounce to send a letter (the equivalent of roughly $150 today). Later the price was later lowered to $1 per half-ounce.

In order to minimize the weight, riders were often small and lean. They took a loyalty oath requiring them to refrain from profanity, drinking and fighting as they rode at top speed in between relay stations built about 15 miles apart, where they mounted a fresh horse; and home stations, 75-100 miles apart, where fresh riders would take over. During the journey, riders were vulnerable to extreme weather, bandits, and hostilities with Native Americans. The risks did not go unrewarded. Riders’ made around $100/month – about triple the average monthly salary for the time.

Pony Express News – Lincoln Elected President!

Newspapers relied on the Pony Express to deliver the latest headlines like when Abraham Lincoln was elected president or when the City of San Francisco opened its first railway that ferried passengers around the city on horse-drawn streetcars. The Pony Express also helped deliver international news. Headlines that traveled over the ocean by ship could reach the opposite coast in just 18 days!

‘Bronco Charlie’ Miller was only 11-years-old when he filled in one day for a missing rider. He was later hired and became the youngest regular rider. He also lived longer than other riders, dying at age 105 in 1955.

In October 1861, the completion of the transcontinental telegraph made the Pony Express obsolete after just 18 months. If you would like to learn more about the Pony Express and see fun clippings from this historic time, search Newspapers.com today!

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Orphan Trains Head West

In 1853 Charles Loring Brace formed the Children’s Aid Society to develop programs for the growing population of orphaned children in New York City. In the mid-1800s, a wave of immigration brought newcomers to America. Without an extended family to fall back on, immigrants often crowded into unsanitary living conditions where illness spread creating high mortality rates. Other factors that contributed to the orphan population were disease, unsafe working conditions, poverty, and the Civil War. At one point an estimated 30,000 orphans roamed the streets of New York City. The Children’s Aid Society aimed to change that. From 1854 to 1929 an estimated 250,000 children were loaded onto Orphan Trains and transported from eastern cities to the rural Midwest hoping to find adoptive homes. At the time, there was no federal government program to oversee child welfare.  

Children board the Orphan Train

For some, the Orphan Trains resulted in children being placed in loving, adoptive homes. Others were paraded before prospective adoptive families and treated like indentured servants.  

Little 3-year-old Louise Anderson rode the Orphan Train and got adopted by a family whose daughter had died. She remembered her adoptive mother commenting, “We lost a little girl; she was so smart, and this one was a dummy.” Louise’s adoptive home was not a happy one. By the age of 12, she spent nights alone outside minding the cattle. She never attended school and was illiterate as a child. She married at 17 and learned to read and write alongside her young children.

Alice Ayler was one of the last to ride the Orphan Train in 1929. She was living in a tent in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York with very little to eat. Her mother would often disappear for days at a time and eventually signed papers relinquishing her to the Children’s Aid Society. Ayler took the Orphan Train to Kansas and was adopted. “I was one of the luckier ones because I know my heritage,” Ayler said. “They took away the identity of the younger riders by not allowing contact with the past.”

Most children sent west on Orphan Trains retained few memories and no documentation about their birth families. Siblings were often separated and never saw each other again. Seven-year-old Clara was an exception. Her parents and a sister died while trying to cross a river in New York state. She and her two younger brothers boarded an Orphan Train to Kansas where they were adopted by three different loving families. They remained in contact with one another throughout their lives. 

Two silk ribbons with the number 9 printed on them were the identification pieces worn by young girl who rode the Orphan Train

Nettie Enns remembers boarding the Orphan train with her twin sister Nellie. They were given blankets, name tags and sack lunches for the four-day journey to Kansas. After arriving, the sisters were adopted but their first home was abusive. Nettie remembers her sister being hit with a horsewhip after falling and breaking a dish. The girls were eventually removed from the home and taken in by a woman they considered their mother, though she never officially adopted the girls. Later in life Nettie and Nellie both married and lived across the street from each other.

Discovering information about family members who rode Orphan Trains is difficult, but sometimes possible. Begin with newspaper clippings in the city where they were adopted and branch outwards. Head over to Newspapers.com to learn more about Orphan Trains today!

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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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