[This article by Graham Russell Gao Hodges, George Dorland Langdon Jr. Professor of History and Africana & Latin American Studies, Colgate University first appeared in the February 2011 issue of The Readex Report.]
One hundred years ago this month, Ronald Reagan was born in the Illinois village of Tampico. Other prominent Americans born in 1911 include Lucille Ball, Romare Bearden, Elizabeth Bishop, Hank Greenberg, Spike Jones and Tennessee Williams.
What else happened in 1911? Here’s a brief look at six memorable events from a century ago.
An early mention of Valentine’s Day in an American newspaper comes from the Farmers' Register (Lansingburgh, NY). This article, reprinted from an unnamed British paper, notes the increase in Valentine’s Day letters passing through the London post office from 60,000 in 1804 to 80,000 in 1805. Clearly, the practice of sending notes to a lover was growing noticeably.
Connecticut Herald (14 May 1811)
In May 1811, the Connecticut Herald (Hartford, CT) quoted a London paper reporting “the love stricken of both sexes thought fit to send to the respective objects of their passion…” not “less than 300,000 of these inflammatory packets…through the post office, within forty-eight hours.” Jumping ahead to February 1844, the Boston Evening Transcript printed a document from the New York Post Office indicating “that the Postmaster of Great Gotham does not intend to be beaten in his arrangements for distributing the missives suggested by the anniversary of St. Valentine, whatever may have been his ill fortune with the foreign mails.”
Maybe you missed it, or perhaps you weren’t yet born. But imagine for just a moment that you’d made the trip from Seattle, Washington, to Max Yasgur’s Bethel, New York, farm in the late summer of 1969. You were one of the half-million people attending the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. One of your traveling companions embarked on the trip to protest the war in Vietnam. Another tagged along for the three-day party. You however came for the music. And moreover, you’d endured three hungry days of rain, long Porta-John lines, and National Guard rations for this singular moment. The opening riff to Jimi Hendrix’s “Message to Love” brings you out of your tent, and onto your feet. He’s your hometown hero. His white Fender Stratocaster, manufactured for a right-handed player, is strung upside-down for his deft left-handed manipulation. He’s working the fret-board furiously with long, spindly fingers. And just then, you flash back.
Washington Crossing the Delaware (1851) by American painter Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze (Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art)
No Christmas celebration would be complete without Santa Claus, carols and George Washington. Wait, George Washington? What does he have to do with Christmas, you might ask? Well, quite a bit if you live near the site where General George Washington and his soldiers crossed the Delaware River on Christmas night in 1776. Each year at Pennsylvania’s Washington Crossing Historic Park, a group of dedicated Revolutionary War re-enactors and history enthusiasts gather to recreate Washington’s famous Christmas-night river crossing. The participants brave the cold dressed in authentic reproduction clothing and use replicas of the same kind of boats Washington and his men would have used. This year will mark the 234th anniversary of their daring crossing and pivotal victory the next day at the Battle of Trenton.
The 1988 return to flight launch of the Space Shuttle Discovery (Source: NASA Images)
The highly anticipated launch of space shuttle Discovery later this month will mark the beginning of an end. The United States’ era of launching manned space vehicles is almost over, or, at least, nearing a lengthy pause.
Following the final Discovery launch, only one remaining shuttle mission is planned. After that, government funding looks likely—but not definite—for one more launch.
Once the space shuttles are retired, the U.S. will relinquish its position as one of three countries with manned flight capability; only China and Russia will continue to have the capability to launch manned space vehicles.
The shuttle program kicked off a novel concept in space flight: reusable space vehicles. No longer would single-use rockets carry man and machinery into the final frontier. Instead, a craft capable of take off (albeit propelled by external fuel tanks), maneuverability in space, and re-entry and landing would revolutionize the industry.
In this issue: how digitized newspapers shine a brilliant light on past lives; the profound impact of religion on African-American identity; the Boston Tea Party as perceived by both Colonialists and those loyal to the Crown; and the humor, hype and horror behind the mysterious minced pie.
What do the following seven people have in common: Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah, Peter Ayodele Curtis Joseph, Modibo Keita, Shafie Ahmed el-Sheikh, Samora Machel, Agostinho Neto, Sam Nujoma and Nelson Mandela?
Well surely many things indeed. For example, if you said they were all important African leaders in the second half of the twentieth century, you would be correct. Each, however, in addition to any other commonalities, received the Lenin Peace Prize—the Soviet Union’s counterpart to the Nobel Peace Prize.
Articles and radio broadcasts monitored, translated, and published in the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) Daily Reports discuss the Lenin Peace Prize awards. By searching on the phrase “Lenin Peace Prize” and limiting results to items from Africa, one gets 22 results in the Readex digital edition of FBIS Daily Reports and Annexes, 1941-1996. Searching for “Lenin Peace Prize” in the Readex database without limiting results by location retrieves some 268 results.
Here is one example from the Accra Ghana Domestic Service on how the award was perceived in that country in 1962.