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Monday, February 29, 2016

February 29, 1940

Hey, everybody!  Welcome to the final day of February!

You know, February 29 is a very special day.  It's a day that only comes around once every four years in most cases.  Believe it or not, February 29 is a day that occurs every four years except for in years that are not divisible by 400.  So, in 1900, there was no February 29, but in 2000 there was.  That being said, there will be no February 29 in the year 2100...but that really doesn't matter since only a small fraction of us will be alive to see 2100 in - unless I happen to live to be 118, that is.

So, since it is the 29th, I thought that I would a special Monday Timeline for all of you.  Normally I would have waited until Tuesday, but since the next time February 29 will fall on a Tuesday won't be until 2028 and I don't know if this blog will last until then, I'm doing one today.

So, here's some of the events that have taken place on this special day.

1504 - Christopher Columbus convinces Native Americans to give him supplies using his knowledge of the lunar eclipse in his favour

1712 - As a result of Sweden wanting to go back to the Old Style calendar, a February 30 is added to the calendar in Sweden.

1796 - The Jay Treaty between Great Britain and the United States comes into force

1892 - The community of St. Petersburg, Florida is incorporated

1904 - Saxophonist/bandleader Jimmy Dorsey (d. 1957) is born in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania

1912 - The Piedra Movediza of Tandil falls and breaks

1916 - Singer/actress Dinah Shore (d. 1994) is born in Winchester, Tennessee

1936 - Actor Alex Rocco (d. 2015) is born in Cambridge, Massachusetts

1940 - During World War II, Finland initiates Winter War peace negotiations

1944 - The Admiralty Islands are invaded in Operation Brewer

1960 - An earthquake destroys the city of Agadir, Morocco, killing 12,000

1964 - Australian swimmer Dawn Fraser swims the 100-meter freestyle competition in 58.9 seconds - a new world record

1972 - South Korea withdraws 11,000 of its 48,000 troops from Vietnam

1980 - Gordie Howe scores his 800th goal

1988 - Desmond Tutu is arrested with 100 clergymen in South Africa for anti-apartheid protests

1996 - 123 people are killed following the crash of Faucett Flight 251 in the Andes Mountains

2012 - Monkees singer Davy Jones passes away at the age of 66

Now for celebrity birthdays, we don't really have a whole lot of them, but turning one year (or is it four years) older and actually getting an honest to goodness birthday this year are Joss Ackland, Tempest Storm, Hermione Lee, Patricia A. McKillip, Al Autry, Jonathan Coleman, J. Randy Tarraborelli, Tony Robbins, Frank Woodley, Antonio Sabato Jr., Zoe Baker, Ja Rule, Chris Conley, Simon Gagne, Rakhee Thakrar, Cam Ward, Mark Foster, Majesty Rose, and Claudia Williams.

So, given that February 29 is a special day, I thought I would choose a very special date to focus on.

That date is February 29, 1940.

Okay, so as we close out the month of February, a couple of major events have just concluded.

February happens to be "Black History Month", and despite what Stacey Dash has said about it, is a celebration of all of the contributions of people who are African, African-American, African-Canadian, etc, as well as some of the hardships that these people have had to endure for centuries.  It's an important piece of the history curriculum that should be focused on, and a lot of people from Rosa Parks to Nelson Mandela, and even Oprah Winfrey have made their mark in the history books.  February 29 happens to be the conclusion of Black History month, and today's subject is a name that definitely belongs in that category.

As well, the Academy Awards aired its 88th ceremony last night, and while all of the winners were celebrated last night, the actual nominations caused controversy with the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag.  And, yes, I did do a blog post issuing my thoughts about it.  If you click HERE, you can read it.  Well, this Tuesday Timeline subject is also about the Oscars as well.

In fact, I may as well go ahead and tell you what the subject is.  Today marks the 76th anniversary of the day that a woman made history because on February 29, 1940, the first African-American won an Academy Award.

That person was actress Hattie McDaniel, who at the time was thirty-four years old.  She was born June 10, 1895 as the thirteenth child of two former slaves, and she had an interest in performing, writing songs, and acting.  And during the 1920s and 1930s, she did everything she could to satisfy her love of the arts, all while facing the hardships of discrimination and poverty.

But it wouldn't be until 1939 that McDaniel would gain notoriety for the film role that would earn her that Academy Award.

The film, of course, was "Gone with the Wind", a 1939 drama that became the highest grossing film that year - even making more money than "The Wizard of Oz"!  And while the competition was fierce regarding the coveted roles of Scarlett O'Hara and Rhett Butler, there was just as much competition for the role of Mammy, the maid of the O'Hara manor.  Initially, Eleanor Roosevelt had suggested that her own maid, Elizabeth McDuffie be given the part, but that suggestion was denied.  And even Hattie McDaniel had reservations about even auditioning for the role of Mammy.  She was by all accounts a comic actress, and she didn't think she quite fit in for a role in a serious historical romance like "Gone with the Wind". 

However, McDaniel wasn't about to walk away without a fight, and she reportedly showed up to audition for the part in an authentic maid uniform.  It seemed to do the trick, as McDaniel was soon cast in the role, although a popular tale that seems to have made the rounds was that actor Clark Gabel had made the suggestion to producers to hire McDaniel as Mammy.  I don't know if we'll ever know the real truth, although Gabel and McDaniel had become close.  In fact, when the film was being premiered in Atlanta, Georgia, and executives from MGM had been told to exclude all black actors from attending the function, Gable had been so disgusted by this decision that he almost boycotted the premiere.  It was McDaniel herself who convinced him to go.

It actually makes me really sad to know that the woman who became a huge star in that film was never considered worthy enough to attend the Atlanta premiere because of the colour of her skin.  Could you imagine something like that happening in 2016?  There would be so much outrage!  It is to McDaniel's credit that she stayed classy through the whole ordeal.  She had every reason not to, mind you, but she took the high road during the whole thing, which may have swayed the Academy Awards committee to vote for her to win.

Not only was she the first African-American to win an Academy Award, she was also the first African-American to even be nominated!  And even though the Atlanta premiere turned out to be a complete debacle, she was allowed to attend the Hollywood premiere (at the insistence of studio head David Selznick) where her image was restored onto all movie posters and programs.

And to close off this piece, have a look at Hattie McDaniel's acceptance speech, as given on February 29, 1940...

Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, fellow members of the motion picture industry and honored guests: This is one of the happiest moments of my life, and I want to thank each one of you who had a part in selecting me for one of their awards, for your kindness. It has made me feel very, very humble; and I shall always hold it as a beacon for anything that I may be able to do in the future. I sincerely hope I shall always be a credit to my race and to the motion picture industry. My heart is too full to tell you just how I feel, and may I say thank you and God bless you.

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