Dick Button wins second Olympic figure skating gold

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/dick-button-wins-second-olympic-figure-skating-gold

On February 21, 1952, men’s figure skater Dick Button wins his second Olympic gold medal. Button captured his first gold prize at the 1948 Olympics, becoming the first American to ever take home the men’s title. After dominating men’s figure skating at the 1948 and 1952 Olympics, Button retired from amateur competition and later became one of the sport’s leading television analysts.

Richard Totten Button was born July 18, 1929, in Englewood, New Jersey. He began skating as a boy and went on to win numerous titles. At the 1948 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland, Button landed the first-ever double axel jump in competition and beat his Swiss rival Hans Gerschwiler to take the gold. He was the youngest man to capture Olympic gold in figure skating and the first American to do so.

Button dominated the sport that year, winning the U.S., North American, European and World championships in addition to the Olympics–the only person to accomplish this feat. On February 21, 1952, at the Olympic Games in Oslo, Norway, Button captured the gold again, landing the first-ever triple loop in competition and beating Austria’s Helmut Seibt. He won the national and world championships that year as well.

Button retired from amateur skating in 1952 and went on to perform with the Ice Capades as well as graduate from Harvard Law School. Additionally, he became a figure skating commentator and has covered the sport for ABC. Button was inducted into the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 1976.

Henry Kissinger begins secret negotiations with North Vietnamese

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/kissinger-begins-secret-negotiations-with-north-vietnamese

National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger begins secret peace talks with North Vietnamese representative Le Duc Tho, the fifth-ranking member of the Hanoi Politburo, at a villa outside Paris.

Le Duc Tho stated that the North Vietnamese position continued to require an unconditional U.S. withdrawal on a fixed date and the abandonment of the Thieu government as a precondition for further progress, which stalled the negotiations. The North Vietnamese rejected Kissinger’s proposals for a mutual withdrawal of military forces, the neutralization of Cambodia, and a mixed electoral commission to supervise elections in South Vietnam. The other two meetings, in which there was a similar lack of progress, were held on March 16 and April 4.

Malcolm X assassinated

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/malcolm-x-assassinated

February 21, 1965: In New York City, Malcolm X, an African American nationalist and religious leader, is assassinated by rival Black Muslims while addressing his Organization of Afro-American Unity at the Audubon Ballroom in Washington Heights.

Born Malcolm Little in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1925, Malcolm was the son of James Earl Little, a Baptist preacher who advocated the black nationalist ideals of Marcus Garvey. Threats from the Ku Klux Klan forced the family to move to Lansing, Michigan, where his father continued to preach his controversial sermons despite continuing threats. In 1931, Malcolm’s father was brutally murdered by the white supremacist Black Legion, and Michigan authorities refused to prosecute those responsible. In 1937, Malcolm was taken from his family by welfare caseworkers. By the time he reached high school age, he had dropped out of school and moved to Boston, where he became increasingly involved in criminal activities.

In 1946, at the age of 21, Malcolm was sent to prison on a burglary conviction. It was there he encountered the teachings of Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam, whose members are popularly known as Black Muslims. The Nation of Islam advocated black nationalism and racial separatism and condemned Americans of European descent as immoral “devils.” Muhammad’s teachings had a strong effect on Malcolm, who entered into an intense program of self-education and took the last name “X” to symbolize his stolen African identity.

READ MORE: The Explosive Chapter Left Out of Malcolm X’s Autobiography

After six years, Malcolm was released from prison and became a loyal and effective minister of the Nation of Islam in Harlem, New York. In contrast with civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X advocated self-defense and the liberation of African Americans “by any means necessary.” A fiery orator, Malcolm was admired by the African American community in New York and around the country.

In the early 1960s, he began to develop a more outspoken philosophy than that of Elijah Muhammad, whom he felt did not sufficiently support the civil rights movement. In late 1963, Malcolm’s suggestion that President John F. Kennedy’s assassination was a matter of the “chickens coming home to roost” provided Elijah Muhammad, who believed that Malcolm had become too powerful, with a convenient opportunity to suspend him from the Nation of Islam.

A few months later, Malcolm formally left the organization and made a Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, where he was profoundly affected by the lack of racial discord among orthodox Muslims. He returned to America as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz and in June 1964 founded the Organization of Afro-American Unity, which advocated black identity and held that racism, not the white race, was the greatest foe of the African American. Malcolm’s new movement steadily gained followers, and his more moderate philosophy became increasingly influential in the civil rights movement, especially among the leaders of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.

READ MORE: 7 Things You May Not Know About Malcolm X

Karl Marx publishes Communist Manifesto

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/marx-publishes-manifesto

On February 21, 1848, The Communist Manifesto, written by Karl Marx with the assistance of Friedrich Engels, is published in London by a group of German-born revolutionary socialists known as the Communist League. The political pamphlet–arguably the most influential in history–proclaimed that “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” and that the inevitable victory of the proletariat, or working class, would put an end to class society forever. Originally published in German as Manifest der Kommunistischen Partei (“Manifesto of the Communist Party”), the work had little immediate impact. Its ideas, however, reverberated with increasing force into the 20th century, and by 1950 nearly half the world’s population lived under Marxist governments.

READ MORE: How Are Socialism and Communism Different?

Karl Marx was born in Trier, Prussia, in 1818–the son of a Jewish lawyer who converted to Lutheranism. He studied law and philosophy at the universities of Berlin and Jena and initially was a follower of G.W.F. Hegel, the 19th-century German philosopher who sought a dialectical and all-embracing system of philosophy. In 1842, Marx became editor of the Rheinische Zeitung, a liberal democratic newspaper in Cologne. The newspaper grew considerably under his guidance, but in 1843 the Prussian authorities shut it down for being too outspoken. That year, Marx moved to Paris to co-edit a new political review.

Paris was at the time a center for socialist thought, and Marx adopted the more extreme form of socialism known as communism, which called for a revolution by the working class that would tear down the capitalist world. In Paris, Marx befriended Friedrich Engels, a fellow Prussian who shared his views and was to become a lifelong collaborator. In 1845, Marx was expelled from France and settled in Brussels, where he renounced his Prussian nationality and was joined by Engels.

During the next two years, Marx and Engels developed their philosophy of communism and became the intellectual leaders of the working-class movement. In 1847, the League of the Just, a secret society made up of revolutionary German workers living in London, asked Marx to join their organization. Marx obliged and with Engels renamed the group the Communist League and planned to unite it with other German worker committees across Europe. The pair were commissioned to draw up a manifesto summarizing the doctrines of the League.

Back in Brussels, Marx wrote The Communist Manifesto in January 1848, using as a model a tract Engels wrote for the League in 1847. In early February, Marx sent the work to London, and the League immediately adopted it as their manifesto. Many of the ideas in The Communist Manifesto were not new, but Marx had achieved a powerful synthesis of disparate ideas through his materialistic conception of history. The Manifesto opens with the dramatic words, “A spectre is haunting Europe–the spectre of communism,” and ends by declaring: “The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Workers of the world, unite!”

In The Communist Manifesto, Marx predicted imminent revolution in Europe. The pamphlet had hardly cooled after coming off the presses in London when revolution broke out in France on February 22 over the banning of political meetings held by socialists and other opposition groups. Isolated riots led to popular revolt, and on February 24 King Louis-Philippe was forced to abdicate. The revolution spread like brushfire across continental Europe. Marx was in Paris on the invitation of the provincial government when the Belgian government, fearful that the revolutionary tide would soon engulf Belgium, banished him. Later that year, he went to the Rhineland, where he agitated for armed revolt.

The bourgeoisie of Europe soon crushed the Revolution of 1848, and Marx would have to wait longer for his revolution. He went to London to live and continued to write with Engels as they further organized the international communist movement. In 1864, Marx helped found the International Workingmen’s Association–known as the First International–and in 1867 published the first volume of his monumental Das Kapital–the foundation work of communist theory. By his death in 1884, communism had become a movement to be reckoned with in Europe. Twenty-three years later, in 1917, Vladimir Lenin, a Marxist, led the world’s first successful communist revolution in Russia.

Rhode Island nightclub burns

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/rhode-island-nightclub-burns

A fire at a rock concert in a West Warwick, Rhode Island, nightclub kills 100 people and seriously injures almost 200 more on February 20, 2003. It was the deadliest such fire in the United States since 165 people were killed at the Beverly Hill Supper Club in Southgate, Kentucky, in 1977.

On the night of February 20, a local news crew was on hand at the Station nightclub to report on the issue of nightclub safety. (Four days earlier, 21 people had been killed during a stampede at a club in Chicago.) Helping out with the report was Jeffrey Derderian, who co-owned the Station with his brother Michael. That night, they were expecting a full house to see the heavy-metal band Great White.

Just after 11 p.m., near the beginning of the show, Daniel Biechele, Great White’s tour manager, set off some pyrotechnics behind the performers, which set fire to the soundproofing foam on the ceiling. For a short time, no one realized the severity of the situation. As the fire spread rapidly, though, panic ensued. Most of the 400 people at the concert attempted to leave the club through the front entrance.

As black smoke filled the club’s interior, the desperate rush of people to the front entrance caused a pile-up, trapping people where they stood. Though firefighters, who responded within minutes, worked hard to pull people to safety through the front door, 96 people died in the smoke and flames. Most of the bodies were found near the front entrance. Among the dead was Great White’s guitarist, Ty Longley. Another 35 people were left in critical condition, including four who would later die from their injuries.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, Daniel Biechele was indicted for setting off the pyrotechnics without a permit. He pled guilty to 100 counts of involuntary manslaughter and received a sentence of four years in prison with 11 more years suspended. Michael Derderian pled guilty for his role in maintaining the Station and received a 15-year sentence (four years to serve, and 11 years suspended). His brother Jeffrey got a 10-year suspended sentence.

Tara Lipinski becomes youngest Olympic figure skating gold medalist

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/tara-lipinski-becomes-youngest-olympic-figure-skating-gold-medalist

On February 20, 1998, 15-year-old Tara Lipinski wins the gold medal in women’s figure skating at the Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, and becomes the youngest gold medalist in her sport.

Lipinski donned her first pair of skates at age six. In 1994, at age 12, she won a gold medal at the U.S. Olympic Festival, a junior-level competition. In 1997, Lipinski, then 14, took first place at both the national and world figure skating championships, beating out her American rival and perennial fan favorite, Michelle Kwan. Lipinski was the youngest person ever to take home either title. 

At the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Lipinski and teammate Michelle Kwan were both considered favorites for the gold medal. Earlier that season, the diminutive Lipinski, known for her energetic jumps, had been defeated twice in competition by Kwan, who was considered the more artistic skater of the two. Both Kwan and Lipinski turned in strong performances; however, Lipinski’s program was considered more technically difficult and she was awarded the gold medal. Kwan took home the silver medal and China’s Chen Lu won the bronze. Lipinski, then 15, was the youngest person in figure skating history to capture Olympic gold. (At the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, 16-year-old Oksana Baiul from Ukraine won the gold in women’s figure skating.)

In April 1998, Lipinski announced she was turning professional. She went on to perform in skating shows such as “Stars on Ice” and also pursued an acting career. She retired from figure skating in 2002. In 2006, she was inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame.

Pilot Edward O’Hare becomes first American WWII flying ace

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/pilot-ohare-becomes-first-american-wwii-flying-ace

Lt. Edward O’Hare takes off from the aircraft carrier Lexington in a raid against the Japanese position at Rabaul-and minutes later becomes America’s first WWII flying ace.

In mid-February 1942, the Lexington sailed into the Coral Sea. Rabaul, a town at the very tip of New Britain, one of the islands that comprised the Bismarck Archipelago, had been invaded in January by the Japanese and transformed into a stronghold–in fact, one huge airbase. The Japanese were now in prime striking position for the Solomon Islands, next on the agenda for expanding their ever-growing Pacific empire. The Lexington‘s mission was to destabilize the Japanese position on Rabaul with a bombing raid.

Aboard the Lexington was U.S. Navy fighter pilot Lt. Edward O’Hare, attached to Fighting Squadron 3 when the United States entered the war. As the Lexington left Bougainville, the largest of the Solomon Islands in the South Pacific (and still free from Japanese control), for Rabaul, ship radar picked up Japanese bombers headed straight for the carrier. O’Hare and his team went into action, piloting F4F Wildcats. In a mere four minutes, O’Hare shot down five Japanese G4M1 Betty bombers–bringing a swift end to the Japanese attack and earning O’Hare the designation “ace” (given to any pilot who had five or more downed enemy planes to his credit).

Although the Lexington blew back the Japanese bombers, the element of surprise was gone, and the attempt to raid Rabaul was aborted for the time being. O’Hare was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery–and excellent aim. In 1949, Chicago officials named the O’Hare International Airport after him.

Ireland allows sale of contraceptives

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/ireland-allows-sale-of-contraceptives

In a highly controversial vote on February 20, 1985, the Irish government defies the powerful Catholic Church and approves the sale of contraceptives.

Up until 1979, Irish law prohibited the importation and sale of contraceptives. In a 1973 case, McGee v. The Attorney General, the Irish Supreme Court found that a constitutional right to marital privacy covered the use of contraceptives. Pressured by strong conservative forces in Irish society, particularly the Roman Catholic Church, the government was slow to change the law to reflect the court’s decision, and a number of proposed bills failed before reaching the books.

In 1979, the Irish health minister, Charles Haughey, introduced a bill limiting the legal provision of contraceptives to “bona fide family planning purposes.” Signed into law in November 1980, the Health (Family Planning) Act ensured that contraceptives could be sold by a registered pharmacist to customers with a valid medical prescription. Still, many people saw the law as too strict. Over the next several years, a movement began to make contraceptives more easily available, causing bitter divisions inside and outside of the Dail, Ireland’s main house of Parliament.

As the government debated the changes, Catholic Church leaders railed against them, warning that increased access to contraceptives would encourage the moral decay of Ireland, leading to more illegitimate children and increased rates of abortion and venereal disease. On the eve of the vote in early 1985, the Dublin archbishop claimed the legislation would send Ireland down a “slippery slope of moral degradation.” Some politicians were even threatened with violence if they voted for the legislation.

On February 20, 1985, a coalition of the Fine Gael and Labour parties led by Dr. Garret FitzGerald defeated the opposition of the conservative Fianna Fail party by an 83-80 vote. The new legislation made non-medical contraceptives (condoms and spermicides) available without prescriptions to people over 18 at pharmacies; it also allowed for the distribution of these contraceptives at doctors’ offices, hospitals and family planning clinics. Though it was still illegal to advertise contraceptives and use of the birth control pill remained restricted, the vote marked a major turning point in Irish history—the first-ever defeat of the Catholic Church in a head-to-head battle with the government on social legislation.

READ MORE: Ireland grants a divorce for the first time in the country’s history

United States calls situation in El Salvador a communist plot

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/united-states-calls-situation-in-el-salvador-a-communist-plot

The U.S. government releases a report detailing how the “insurgency in El Salvador has been progressively transformed into a textbook case of indirect armed aggression by communist powers.” The report was another step indicating that the new administration of Ronald Reagan was prepared to take strong measures against what it perceived to be the communist threat to Central America.

When the Reagan administration took office in 1981, it faced two particularly serious problems in Central America. In Nicaragua, the Reagan administration was worried about the Sandinista regime, a leftist government that took power in 1979 after the fall of long-time dictator Anastacio Somoza. In El Salvador, the administration was concerned about a growing civil war between government forces and leftist rebels. Brutal violence on the part of the Salvadoran military–offenses that included the 1980 rape and murder of four U.S. missionaries–had caused the Jimmy Carter administration to cut off aid to the country.

In both nations, Reagan officials were convinced that the Soviet Union was the catalyst for the troubles. To address the situation in Nicaragua, the Reagan administration began to covertly assist the so-called Contras-rebel forces that opposed the Sandinista regime and were based primarily in Honduras and Costa Rica. For El Salvador, the February 19 report was the first volley. The State Department memorandum indicated that the “political direction, organization and arming of the Salvadoran insurgency is coordinated and heavily influenced by Cuba with the active support of the Soviet Union, East Germany, Vietnam and other communist states.” It thereupon provided a “chronology” of the communist involvement in El Salvador.

In response to this perceived threat, the United States dramatically increased its military assistance to the government of El Salvador, provided U.S. advisors to the Salvadoran armed forces, and began a series of National Guard “training exercises” in and around El Salvador. To no one’s surprise, the conflict in El Salvador escalated quickly and charges of torture, kidnapping, and assassination flew from both sides of the civil war. During the 1980s, U.S. military assistance to El Salvador topped nearly $5 billion, but the violence and instability continued unabated. In 1992, the United Nations and President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica arbitrated an agreement between the warring factions in El Salvador. A U.N. commission also condemned U.S. complicity in atrocities committed by the Salvadoran military. President George Bush (who served as Reagan’s vice-president in the previous administration) discounted the U.N. accusations, but claimed that peace in El Salvador was the product of a vigorous U.S. response to communist subversion in the western hemisphere.