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This Day In History – February 1st

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THE FIRST OF THE GREENSBORO SIT-INS OF 1960 – FEBRUARY 1, 1960

 
The Greensboro sit-ins were a series of nonviolent protests which led to the Woolworth’s department store chain reversing its policy of racial segregation in the Southern United States. While not the first sit-ins of the African-American Civil Rights Movement, the Greensboro sit-ins were an instrumental action, leading to increased national sentiment at a crucial period in US history. The primary event took place at the Greensboro, North Carolina Woolworth’s store, now the International Civil Rights Center and Museum.

On February 1, 1960, four students sat down at the lunch counter inside the Woolworth’s store at 132 South Elm Street in Greensboro, North Carolina. The men, later known as the Greensboro Four, ordered coffee. Following store policy, the lunch counter staff refused to serve the African American men at the “whites only” counter and the store’s manager asked them to leave. The four university freshmen stayed until the store closed.

The next day, more than twenty African American students who had been recruited from other campus groups came to the store to join the sit-in. On the third day, more than 60 people came to the Woolworth’s store. A statement issued by Woolworth’s national headquarters said the company would “abide by local custom” and maintain its segregated policy.

More than 300 people took part on the fourth day. Organizers agreed to spread the sit-in protests to include the lunch counter at Greensboro’s Kress store. As early as one week after the Greensboro sit-in had begun, students in other North Carolina towns launched their own sit-ins. As the sit-ins continued, tensions grew in Greensboro and students began a far-reaching boycott of stores that had segregated lunch counters. Sales at the boycotted stores dropped by a third, leading the stores’ owners to abandon their segregation policies.[1] Black employees of Greensboro’s Woolworth’s store were the first to be served at the store’s lunch counter, on July 25, 1960. The next day, the entire Woolworth’s chain was desegregated, serving blacks and whites alike.

The media picked up this issue and covered it nationwide, beginning with lunch counters and spreading to other forms of public accommodation, including transport facilities, art galleries, beaches, parks, swimming pools, libraries, and even museums around the South. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 mandated desegregation in public accommodations. [Source]
 

A section of lunch counter from the Greensboro, North Carolina Woolworth’s where the Greensboro sit-ins began is now preserved in the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of American History. Photograph by Mark Pellegrini

EXECUTION OF NGUYEN VAN LEM IS SEEN AROUND THE WORLD, GALVANIZING THE ANTI-WAR MOVEMENT – FEBRUARY 1, 1968

 

Photograph by EDDIE ADAMS

Nguyen Van Lem (referred to as Captain Bay Lop) (died 1 February 1968 in Saigon) was a member of the Viet Cong who was summarily executed in Saigon during the Tet Offensive. The execution was captured on film by photojournalist Eddie Adams, and the momentous image became a symbol of the inhumanity of war. The execution was explained at the time as being the consequence of Lem’s suspected guerrilla activity and war crimes, and otherwise due to a general “wartime mentality.”

On the second day of Tet, amid fierce street fighting, Lem was captured and brought to Brigadier General Nguyen Ngoc Loan, then Chief of the Republic of Vietnam National Police. Using his personal sidearm, General Loan summarily executed Lem in front of AP photographer Eddie Adams and NBC television cameraman Vo Suu. The photograph and footage were broadcast worldwide, galvanizing the anti-war movement; Adams won a 1969 Pulitzer Prize for his photograph. [Source]

On Nguyen Ngoc Loan and his famous photograph, Adams wrote in Time:

The general killed the Viet Cong; I killed the general with my camera. Still photographs are the most powerful weapon in the world. People believe them; but photographs do lie, even without manipulation. They are only half-truths. … What the photograph didn’t say was, ‘What would you do if you were the general at that time and place on that hot day, and you caught the so-called bad guy after he blew away one, two or three American people?

Adams later apologized in person to General Nguyen and his family for the irreparable damage it did to the General’s honor while he was alive. When Nguyen died, Adams praised him as a “hero” of a “just cause”.

“I would have rather been known more for the series of photographs I shot of 48 Vietnamese refugees who managed to sail to Thailand in a 30-foot boat, only to be towed back to the open seas by Thai marines.” The photographs, and accompanying reports, helped persuade then President Jimmy Carter to grant the nearly 200,000 Vietnamese boat people asylum. He won the Robert Capa Gold Medal from the Overseas Press Club in 1977 for this series of photographs in his photo essay, “The Boat of No Smiles” (Published by AP). Adams remarked, “It did some good and nobody got hurt.” [Source]

DIRECTOR ROMAN POLANSKI SKIPS BAIL AND FLEES U.S.
FEBRUARY 1, 1978

Roman Polanski (born 18 August 1933) is a French-Polish film director, producer, writer and actor. Having made films in Poland, Britain, France and the USA, he is considered one of the few “truly international filmmakers.” He survived the Holocaust and was educated in Poland and became a director of both art house and commercial films. Polanski’s first feature-length film, Knife in the Water (1962), made in Poland, was nominated for a United States Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film but was beaten by Federico Fellini’s 8½. He has since received five more Oscar nominations, along with two Baftas, four Césars, a Golden Globe Award and the Palme d’Or of the Cannes Film Festival in France. In 1968 he moved to the United States, and cemented his status by directing the Oscar-winning horror film Rosemary’s Baby (1968). In 1969, Polanski’s pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was murdered by members of the Manson Family while staying at Polanski’s Benedict Canyon home above Los Angeles.

On 11 March 1977, Polanski, then 43 years old, was arrested for the sexual assault of 13-year-old Samantha Geimer during a photo shoot for French Vogue magazine. Soon after he was indicted on six counts of criminal behavior, including rape. At his arraignment Polanski pled not guilty to all charges. Geimer’s attorney next arranged a plea bargain, which Polanski accepted, in which five of the six charges would be dismissed. As a result, Polanski pled guilty to the charge of “Unlawful Sexual Intercourse with a minor,”[67][68] and was ordered to undergo 90 days of psychiatric evaluation at Chino State Prison.

On release from prison after 42 days, Polanski expected that at final sentencing he would be put on probation, but the judge, Laurence J. Rittenband, had apparently changed his mind in the interim and now “suggested” to Polanski’s attorney, Douglas Dalton, that more jail time and possible deportation were in order. Upon learning of the judge’s plans Polanski fled to France on 1 February 1978, just hours before sentencing by the judge. As a French citizen, he has been protected from extradition and has lived mostly in France since then. [Source]

AYATOLLAH KHOMEINI RETURNS TO TEHRAN, IRAN AFTER 15 YEARS OF EXILE – FEBRUARY 1, 1979

 

Grand Ayatollah Sayyed Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini (24 September 1902 – 3 June 1989) was an Iranian religious leader and politician, and leader of the 1979 Iranian Revolution which saw the overthrow of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran. Following the revolution, Khomeini became the country’s Supreme Leader — a position created in the constitution as the highest ranking political and religious authority of the nation — until his death.
Khomeini was a marja (“source of emulation”, also known as a Grand Ayatollah) in Twelver Shi’a Islam, author of more than forty books, but is primarily known for his political activities. He spent more than 15 years in exile for his opposition to the last Shah. In his writings and preachings he expanded the Shi’a Usuli theory of velayat-e faqih, the “guardianship of the jurisconsult (clerical authority)” to include theocratic political rule by the Islamic jurists. This principle (though not known to the wider public before the revolution) was installed in the new Iranian constitution after being put to a referendum.

He was named Man of the Year in 1979 by American newsmagazine TIME for his international influence and has been described as the “virtual face of Islam in Western popular culture.” He was known for his support of the hostage takers during the Iran hostage crisis and his fatwa calling for the death of British Indian novelist Salman Rushdie. Khomeini has been criticized for these acts and for human rights violations of Iranians (including his ordering of execution of thousands of political prisoners) but also lauded as a “charismatic leader of immense popularity”, and a “champion of Islamic revival” by Shia scholars. Khomeini is revered by many Iranians, independent of their social class, ethnic background or religion.

Amidst the Iranian Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Tehran on February 1, 1979, in a chartered Air France Boeing 747. The welcoming crowd of several million Iranians was so large he was forced to take a helicopter after the car he was being transported in from the airport was overwhelmed by an enthusiastic welcoming crowd. Khomeini was now not only the undisputed leader of the revolution, he had become what some called a “semi-divine” figure. This period, from February 1 to 11, is celebrated every year in Iran as the “Decade of Fajr.” February 11 is “Islamic Revolution’s Victory Day”, a national holiday with state sponsored demonstrations in every city. [Source]

THE SPACE SHUTTLE COLUMBIA DISASTER – FEBRUARY 1, 2003

The Space Shuttle Columbia disaster occurred on February 1, 2003, when shortly before it was scheduled to conclude its 28th mission, STS-107, the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas and Louisiana during re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, resulting in the death of all seven crew members. Debris from Columbia fell to Earth in Texas along a path stretching from Trophy Club to Tyler, as well as into parts of Louisiana.

The loss of Columbia was a result of damage sustained during launch when a piece of foam insulation the size of a small briefcase broke off from the Space Shuttle external tank (the ‘ET’ main propellant tank) under the aerodynamic forces of launch. The debris struck the leading edge of the left wing, damaging the Shuttle’s thermal protection system (TPS), which shields it from the intense heat generated from atmospheric friction during re-entry. While Columbia was still in orbit, some engineers suspected damage, but NASA managers limited the investigation, on the grounds that little could be done even if problems were found. [Source]

Crew of the final ill-fated flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia, mission STS-107. This is the official crew photo from Mission STS-107 on theSpace Shuttle Columbia. From left to right are Mission Specialist David Brown, Commander Rick Husband, MissionSpecialist Laurel Clark, Mission Specialist Kalpana Chawla,Mission Specialist Michael Anderson, Pilot William McCool,and Israeli Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon. Photograph by NASA

Commander: Rick D. Husband, a U.S. Air Force colonel and mechanical engineer, who piloted a previous shuttle during the first docking with the International Space Station (STS-96).
Pilot: William C. McCool, a U.S. Navy commander
Payload Commander: Michael P. Anderson, a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel and physicist who was in charge of the science mission.
Payload Specialist: Ilan Ramon, a colonel in the Israeli Air Force and the first Israeli astronaut.
Mission Specialist: Kalpana Chawla, an Indian-born aerospace engineer was on her second space mission.
Mission Specialist: David M. Brown, a U.S. Navy captain trained as an aviator and flight surgeon. Brown worked on a number of scientific experiments.
Mission Specialist: Laurel Clark, a U.S. Navy captain and flight surgeon. Clark worked on a number of biological experiments.

SUPER BOWL XXXVIII HALFTIME SHOW CONTROVERSY
FEBRUARY 1, 2004

Super Bowl XXXVIII, which was broadcast live on February 1, 2004 from Houston, Texas on the CBS television network in the United States, was noted for a controversial halftime show in which Janet Jackson’s breast, adorned with a nipple shield, was exposed by Justin Timberlake for about half a second, in what was later referred to as a “wardrobe malfunction”. The incident, sometimes referred to as Nipplegate, was widely discussed. Along with the rest of the halftime show, it led to an immediate crackdown and widespread debate on perceived indecency in broadcasting, and resulted in a record $550,000 fine levied by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) against CBS, as well as an increase of the FCC fine per indecency violation from $27,500 to $325,000.

The incident was ridiculed both abroad and within the United States, with some American commentators seeing the incident as a sign of decreasing morality in the national culture. The show was produced by MTV and was supposedly themed around the network’s Rock the Vote campaign, though the theme was quickly dispensed within the first minute of the show without any mentions after that point. Following the wardrobe incident, the NFL announced that MTV, which also produced the halftime show for Super Bowl XXXV, would never be involved in another halftime show. [Source]

JOHANNA SIGUROARDOTTIR BECOMES FIRST FEMALE PRIME MINISTER OF ICELAND AND FIRST OPENLY GAY HEAD OF GOVERNMENT IN THE MODERN WORLD – FEBRUARY 1, 2009

Johanna Siguroardottir (born 4 October 1942), is the Prime Minister of Iceland. Many years a politician, she was previously Iceland’s Minister of Social Affairs and Social Security from 1987–1994 and 2007–2009. She has been a member of the Althing (Iceland’s parliament) for Reykjavík constituencies since 1978, winning re-election on eight successive occasions. She became Iceland’s first female Prime Minister and the world’s first openly lesbian head of government on 1 February 2009.

Johanna is a social democrat and Iceland’s longest-serving member of Parliament. In the 1990s, when she lost a bid to head the party, she lifted her fist and declared “Minn timi mun koma!” (“My time will come!”), a phrase that became a popular Icelandic expression. In 2009, Forbes listed her among the 100 Most Powerful Women in the world. [Source]