Three protestors die in the Orangeburg Massacre


Year
1968
Month Day
February 08

On the night of February 8, 1968, police officers in Orangeburg, South Carolina open fire on a crowd of young people during a protest against racial segregation, killing three and wounding around 30 others. The killing of three young African Americans by state officials, four years after racial discrimination had been outlawed by federal law, has gone down in history as the Orangeburg Massacre.

After decades of protests across the country, segregation was abolished in the United States by the Civil Rights Act of 1964. While its passage was a major victory, many racists throughout the South simply refused to obey it, knowing local police would not care to enforce. In early February of 1968, a group of activists in Orangeburg tried to convince one such man, Harry Floyd, to desegregate his bowling alley, but he refused. Several days of expanding protests followed, during which protesters damaged a window of the bowling alley, police responded with arrests and beatings, and unrest spread to the nearby campus of South Carolina State University, a historically black college.

The night of the 8th, officers of the South Carolina Highway Patrol responded to a bonfire on the campus. When a protester pried a banister from an abandoned house and threw it at an officer, the police opened fire. The Highway Patrol would subsequently claim, and newspapers would subsequently report, that the students had used firebombs and even sniper rifles to attack before the police fired; however, multiple investigations of the incident failed to turn up any evidence to support the claims. The police barrage claimed the lives of two SCSU students, Samuel Hammond, Jr. and Henry Smith, as well as a local high school student, Delano Middleton, who had been sitting near the protest waiting for his mother to get off work.

The killings sparked outrage across the nation, but the Governor of South Carolina blamed “black power advocates” rather than his police. The massacre is still commemorated by the university and others in South Carolina, but social commentators have noted that its place in America’s collective memory is not as prominent that of the similar Kent State and Jackson State Massacres, both of which occurred during anti-Vietnam War protests and which collectively claimed the lives of six white students in 1970. Shootings on college and high school campuses continue to plague the United States, as does police violence against African Americans—nearly 1,000 people are killed by police every year, and black people are 2.5 times more likely to die at the hands of law enforcement than white people.

READ MORE: Segregation in the United States

Source

“The Birth of A Nation” opens, glorifying the KKK


Year
1915
Month Day
February 08

On February 8, 1915, D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation, a landmark film in the history of cinema, premieres at Clune’s Auditorium in Los Angeles. The film was America’s first feature-length motion picture and a box-office smash, and during its unprecedented three hours Griffith popularized countless filmmaking techniques that remain central to the art today. However, because of its explicit racism, Birth of a Nation is also regarded as one of the most offensive films ever made. Actually titled The Clansman for its first month of release, the film provides a highly subjective history of the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. Studied today as a masterpiece of political propaganda, Birth of a Nation caused riots in several cities and was banned in others but was seen by millions.

David Wark Griffith was born in La Grange, Kentucky, in 1875, the son of an ex-Confederate colonel. His father died when he was seven, and he later dropped out of high school to help support his family. After holding various jobs, he began a successful career as a theater actor. He wrote several plays and, on the advice of a colleague, sent some scenarios for one-reel films to the Edison Film Company and the Biograph Company. In 1908, he was hired as an actor and writer for the Biograph studio and soon was promoted to a position as director.

READ MORE: How ‘The Birth of a Nation’ Revived the Ku Klux Klan

Between 1908 and 1913, Griffith made more than 400 short films for Biograph. With the assistance of his talented cinematographer, G W. “Billy” Bitzer, he invented or refined such important cinematic techniques as the close-up, the scenic long shot, the moving-camera shot, and the fade-in and fade-out. His contributions to the art of editing during this period include the flashback and parallel editing, in which two or more separate scenes are intermixed to give the impression that the separate actions are happening simultaneously. He also raised the standard on movie acting, initiating scene rehearsals before shooting and assembling a stock company of film professionals. Many of these actors, including Lillian and Dorothy Gish, Mary Pickford, Mae Marsh, and Lionel Barrymore, went on to become some of Hollywood’s first movie stars.

Taking his cue from the longer spectacle films produced in Italy, in 1913 Griffith produced Judith of Bethulia, a biblical adaptation that, at four reels, was close to an hour long. It was his last Biograph film. Two years later, he released his epic 10-reel masterpiece, Birth of a Nation, for Mutual Films.

Birth of a Nation, based on Thomas Dixon’s novel The Clansman, tells the turbulent story of American history in the 1860s, as it followed the fictional lives of two families from the North and the South. Throughout its three hours, African Americans are portrayed as brutish, lazy, morally degenerate, and dangerous. In the film’s climax, the Ku Klux Klan rises up to save the South from the Reconstruction Era-prominence of African Americans in Southern public life.

Riots and protests broke out at screenings of Birth of a Nation in a number of Northern cities, and the recently formed National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) embarked on a major campaign to have the film banned. It eventually was censored in several cities, and Griffith agreed to change or cut out some of the film’s especially offensive scenes.

Nevertheless, millions of people paid to witness the spectacle of Birth of a Nation, which featured a cast of more 10,000 people and a dramatic story line far more sophisticated than anything released to that date. For all the gross historical inaccuracies, certain scenes, such as meetings of Congress, Civil War battles, and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, were meticulously recreated, lending the film an air of legitimacy that made it so effective as propaganda.

The Ku Klux Klan, suppressed by the federal government in the 1870s, was re-founded in Georgia in December 1915 by William J. Simmons. In addition to being anti-black, the new Klan was anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, and anti-immigrant, and by the early 1920s it had spread throughout the North as well as the South. At the peak of its strength in 1924, membership in the KKK is estimated to have been as high as three million. There is no doubt that Birth of a Nation played no small part in winning wide public acceptance for an organization that was originally founded as an anti-black and anti-federal terrorist group.

Of Griffith’s later films, Intolerance (1916) is the most important. Hailed by many as the finest achievement of the silent-film era, it pursues four story lines simultaneously, which cumulatively act to prove humanity’s propensity for persecution. Some regard it as an effort at atonement by Griffith for Birth of a Nation, while others believe he meant it as an answer to those who persecuted him for his political views. Intolerance was a commercial failure but had a significant influence on the development of film art.

Griffith went on to make 27 more films. In 1919, he founded United Artists with Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, and Charlie Chaplin.

Before D. W. Griffith’s time, motion pictures were short, uninspiring, and poorly produced, acted, and edited. Under his guidance, filmmaking became an art form. Despite the harm his Birth of a Nation inflicted on African Americans, he will forever be regarded as the father of cinema.

READ MORE: Ku Klux Klan

Source

First execution by lethal gas


Year
1924
Month Day
February 08

The first execution by lethal gas in American history is carried out in Carson City, Nevada. The executed man was Tong Lee, a member of a Chinese gang who was convicted of murdering a rival gang member. Lethal gas was adopted by Nevada in 1921 as a more humane method of carrying out its death sentences, as opposed to the traditional techniques of execution by hanging, firing squad, or electrocution.

During a lethal gas execution, the prisoner is sealed in an airtight chamber and either potassium cyanide or sodium cyanide is dropped into a pan of hydrochloric acid. This produces hydrocyanic gas, which destroys a human body’s ability to process blood hemoglobin. The prisoner falls unconscious within seconds and chokes to death, unless he or she holds his or her breath, in which case the prisoner often suffers violent convulsions for up to a minute before dying.

Lethal gas as a method of carrying out capital punishment was largely replaced by lethal injection in the late 20th century.

Source

The Russo-Japanese War begins


Year
1904
Month Day
February 08

Following the Russian rejection of a Japanese plan to divide Manchuria and Korea into spheres of influence, Japan launches a surprise naval attack against Port Arthur, a Russian naval base in China. The Russian fleet was decimated.

During the subsequent Russo-Japanese War, Japan won a series of decisive victories over the Russians, who underestimated the military potential of its non-Western opponent. In January 1905, the strategic naval base of Port Arthur fell to Japanese naval forces under Admiral Heihachiro Togo; in March, Russian troops were defeated at Shenyang, China, by Japanese Field Marshal Iwao Oyama; and in May, the Russian Baltic fleet under Admiral Zinovi Rozhdestvenski was destroyed by Togo near the Tsushima Islands.

These three major defeats convinced Russia that further resistance against Japan’s imperial designs for East Asia was hopeless, and in August 1905 U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt mediated a peace treaty at Portsmouth, New Hampshire. (He was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for this achievement.) Japan emerged from the conflict as the first modern non-Western world power and set its sights on greater imperial expansion. However, for Russia, its military’s disastrous performance in the war was one of the immediate causes of the Russian Revolution of 1905.

Source

Peter the Great dies


Year
1725
Month Day
February 08

On February 8, 1725, Peter the Great, emperor of Russia, dies and is succeeded by his wife, Catherine.

The reign of Peter, who became sole czar in 1696, was characterized by a series of sweeping military, political, economic, and cultural reforms based on Western European models. Russian victories in major conflicts with Persia and the Ottoman Empire greatly expanded Peter’s empire, and the defeat of Sweden in the Great Northern War won Russia direct access to the Baltic Sea. Here, Peter founded the new Russian capital of St. Petersburg, and Russia became a major European power–politically, culturally, and geographically. In 1721, Peter abandoned the traditional Russian title of czar in favor of the European-influenced title of emperor. Four years later, he died.

READ MORE: Why Peter the Great Tortured and Killed His Own Son

Source

Mary, Queen of Scots beheaded

Year
1587
Month Day
February 08
Mary, Queen of Scots

After 19 years of imprisonment, Mary, Queen of Scots is beheaded at Fotheringhay Castle in England for her complicity in a plot to murder Queen Elizabeth I.

In 1542, while just six days old, Mary ascended to the Scottish throne upon the death of her father, King James V. Her mother sent her to be raised in the French court, and in 1558 she married the French dauphin, who became King Francis II of France in 1559 but died the following year. After Francis’ death, Mary returned to Scotland to assume her designated role as the country’s monarch.

In 1565, she married her English cousin Lord Darnley in order to reinforce her claim of succession to the English throne after Elizabeth’s death. In 1567, Darnley was mysteriously killed in an explosion at Kirk o’ Field, and Mary’s lover, the Earl of Bothwell, was the key suspect. Although Bothwell was acquitted of the charge, his marriage to Mary in the same year enraged the nobility. Mary brought an army against the nobles, but was defeated and imprisoned at Lochleven, Scotland, and forced to abdicate in favor of her son by Darnley, James.

In 1568, Mary escaped from captivity and raised a substantial army but was defeated and fled to England. Queen Elizabeth initially welcomed Mary but was soon forced to put her friend under house arrest after Mary became the focus of various English Catholic and Spanish plots to overthrow Elizabeth. Nineteen years later, in 1586, a major plot to murder Elizabeth was reported, and Mary was brought to trial. She was convicted for complicity and sentenced to death.

On February 8, 1587, Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded for treason. Her son, King James VI of Scotland, calmly accepted his mother’s execution, and upon Queen Elizabeth’s death in 1603 he became king of England, Scotland and Ireland.

READ MORE: The Wildly Different Childhoods of Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots

Source

Americans secure Guadalcanal


Year
1943
Month Day
February 08

On February 8, 1943, Japanese troops evacuate Guadalcanal, leaving the island in Allied possession after a prolonged campaign. The American victory paved the way for other Allied wins in the Solomon Islands.

Guadalcanal is the largest of the Solomons, a group of 992 islands and atolls, 347 of which are inhabited, in the South Pacific Ocean. The Solomons, which are located northeast of Australia and have 87 indigenous languages, were discovered in 1568 by the Spanish navigator Alvaro de Mendana de Neyra (1541-95). In 1893, the British annexed Guadalcanal, along with the other central and southern Solomons. The Germans took control of the northern Solomons in 1885, but transferred these islands, except for Bougainville and Buka (which eventually went to the Australians) to the British in 1900.

The Japanese invaded the Solomons in 1942 during World War II and began building a strategic airfield on Guadalcanal. On August 7 of that year, U.S. Marines landed on the island, signaling the Allies’ first major offensive against Japanese-held positions in the Pacific. The Japanese responded quickly with sea and air attacks. A series of bloody battles ensued in the debilitating tropical heat as Marines sparred with Japanese troops on land, while in the waters surrounding Guadalcanal, the U.S. Navy fought six major engagements with the Japanese between August 24 and November 30. In mid-November 1942, the five Sullivan brothers from Waterloo, Iowa, died together when the Japanese sank their ship, the USS Juneau.

Both sides suffered heavy losses of men, warships and planes in the battle for Guadalcanal. An estimated 1,600 U.S. troops were killed, over 4,000 were wounded and several thousand more died from disease. The Japanese lost 24,000 soldiers. On December 31, 1942, Emperor Hirohito told Japanese troops they could withdraw from the area; the Americans secured Guadalcanal about five weeks later.

The Solomons gained their independence from Britain in 1978. In the late 1990s, fighting broke out between rival ethnic groups on Guadalcanal and continued until an Australian-led international peacekeeping mission restored order in 2003. Today, with a population of over half a million people, the Solomons are known as a scuba diver and fisherman’s paradise.

Source

Spud Webb wins dunk contest


Year
1986
Month Day
February 08

On February 8, 1986, Spud Webb, who at 5’7” was one of the shortest players in the history of professional basketball, wins the NBA slam dunk contest, beating his Atlanta Hawks teammate and 1985 dunk champ, the 6’8” Dominique Wilkins.

Anthony Jerome “Spud” Webb was born July 13, 1963, in Dallas, Texas. Throughout his life, Webb had to prove himself as a basketball player due to his relatively small stature. As a high school player, he averaged 26 points per game and was one of 10 students out of 5,000 selected to the All-State team; however, his size prevented him from being recruited for Division 1-A colleges. Instead, he attended Midland Junior College in Texas, where he led his team to victory in the 1982 junior college championship. He then caught the attention of the coaches at North Carolina State University, where he went on to play for two years.

Despite a strong college career, his size initially kept him from making the NBA and after graduation he played in the U.S. Basketball League. In 1985, he had a successful tryout with the Atlanta Hawks and joined the team. Webb played six seasons with the Hawks, followed by stints with the Sacramento Kings, the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Orlando Magic.

One of the most memorable events of Webb’s career was his dunk contest win, which took place on February 8, 1986, at the NBA All-Star Game Weekend in Dallas. Webb, the shortest player to ever participate in the competition to that time, went up against men who were, in some cases, a foot taller. In the end, size didn’t matter. Webb dazzled the crowd with his soaring dunks and bested teammate Dominique Wilkins, who had won the 1985 contest by beating Michael Jordan. (The NBA’s first slam dunk competition was held in 1984.)

Webb retired from basketball in 1998, after 12 seasons in the NBA. He was said to have paved the way for other height-challenged NBA players, including 5’5” Earl Boykins and 5’3” Muggsy Bogues. 

Source

Cleveland signs the Dawes Severalty Act


Year
1887
Month Day
February 08

In a well-meaning but ultimately flawed attempt to assimilate Native Americans, President Grover Cleveland signs an act to end tribal control of reservations and divide their land into individual holdings.

Named for its chief author, Senator Henry Laurens Dawes from Massachusetts, the Dawes Severalty Act reversed the long-standing American policy of allowing Indian tribes to maintain their traditional practice of communal use and control of their lands. Instead, the Dawes Act gave the president the power to divide Indian reservations into individual, privately owned plots. The act dictated that men with families would receive 160 acres, single adult men were given 80 acres, and boys received 40 acres. Women received no land.

The most important motivation for the Dawes Act was Anglo-American hunger for Indian lands. The act provided that after the government had doled out land allotments to the Indians, the sizeable remainder of the reservation properties would be opened for sale to whites. Consequently, Indians eventually lost 86 million acres of land, or 62 percent of their total pre-1887 holdings.

Still, the Dawes Act was not solely a product of greed. Many religious and humanitarian “friends of the Indian” supported the act as a necessary step toward fully assimilating the Indians into American culture. Reformers believed that Indians would never bridge the chasm between “barbarism and civilization” if they maintained their tribal cohesion and traditional ways. J.D.C. Atkins, commissioner of Indian affairs, argued that the Dawes Act was the first step toward transforming, “Idleness, improvidence, ignorance, and superstition… into industry, thrift, intelligence, and Christianity.”

READ MORE: When Native Americans Were Slaughtered in the Name of ‘Civilization’

In reality, the Dawes Severalty Act proved a very effective tool for taking lands from Indians and giving it to Anglos, but the promised benefits to the Indians never materialized. Racism, bureaucratic bungling, and inherent weaknesses in the law deprived the Indians of the strengths of tribal ownership, while severely limiting the economic viability of individual ownership. Many tribes also deeply resented and resisted the government’s heavy-handed attempt to destroy their traditional cultures.

Despite these flaws, the Dawes Severalty Act remained in force for more than four decades. In 1934, the Wheeler-Howard Act repudiated the policy and attempted to revive the centrality of tribal control and cultural autonomy on the reservations. The Wheeler-Howard Act ended further transfer of Indian lands to Anglos and provided for a return to voluntary communal Indian ownership, but considerable damage had already been done.

Source

Del Shannon, a ‘60s songwriter, dies of a self-inflicted gunshot wound


Year
1990
Month Day
February 08

Born Charles Westover in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1934, the singer-songwriter known as Del Shannon dies by suicide on February 8, 1990. In a period when the American pop charts were dominated by cookie-cutter teen idols and novelty acts, he stood out as an all-too-rare example of an American pop star whose work reflected real originality. His heyday as a chart-friendly star in the United States may have been brief, but on the strength of his biggest hit alone he deserves to be regarded as one of rock and roll’s greatest.

Legend has it that while on stage one night at the Hi-Lo Lounge in Battle Creek, Michigan, in 1960, the young and unknown Del Shannon stopped his band mid-song to have his organ player repeat, over and over, an unusual chord sequence he had just ad-libbed: A-minor to G. Charlie went to work the next day in his job as a carpet salesman with those chords stuck in his mind, and by the time he took the stage that night, he’d written a song called “Little Runaway” around them—(A-minor) As I walk along I (G) wonder, what went wrong…”. It would be three more months before Shannon and his band could make it to a New York recording studio to record the song that Shannon now saw as his best, and possibly last, shot at stardom. As he told Billboard magazine years later, “I just said to myself, if this record isn’t a hit, I’m going back into the carpet business.” Del Shannon sold his last carpet a few months later, as “Runaway” roared up the pop charts on its way to #1 in April 1961.

“Hats Off To Larry” and “Keep Searchin’ (We’ll Follow The Sun)” were Shannon’s only other top-10 hits in the United States, but he enjoyed a much bigger career in the UK, where he placed five more songs in the top 10 over the next two years. Like most stars of his generation, Shannon was primarily regarded as an Oldies act through the 70s and 80s, but he was in the midst of a concerted comeback effort in early 1990, with a Jeff Lynne-produced album of original material already completed and rumors swirling of his taking the late Roy Orbison’s place in The Traveling Wilburys. This only added to the shock experienced by many when Shannon shot himself in his Santa Clarita, California, home on February 3, 1990. Shannon’s widow would later file a high-profile lawsuit against Eli Lilly, the manufacturer of the antidepressant Prozac, which Shannon had begun taking shortly before his suicide. That suit was eventually dropped, but the case brought early attention to the still-unresolved question of the possible connection between suicidal ideation and SSRIs, the class of drugs to which Prozac belongs.

Source