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3 February: On this day in history

What events happened on 3 February in history? Dominic Sandbrook rounds up the events, births and deaths…

Published: February 3, 2022 at 5:05 am
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3 February 1870: Black Americans are guaranteed the vote

The 15th Amendment cements fundamental rights

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Although the American Civil War ended in 1865, the principal disagreements rumbled on for years. The formerly Confederate South was under military occupation and political focus turned to the future of the black men and women who had been enslaved. Now citizens, were they truly treated as equals of their former oppressors? Could they vote, and serve as legislators themselves?

And if attempts were made to stop them, how would the government react?

Amid rising violence in the South, some anti-slavery Republicans demanded greater protections for black voters. In February 1869, the House of Representatives drafted a 15th Amendment to the Constitution, stating that “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude”. To enter law, though, the amendment had to be ratified by three-quarters of the states – and that was no small order.

Incoming president, former Union general Ulysses S Grant, insisted that the proposed amendment was “a measure of grander importance than any other one act of the kind from the foundation of our free government to the present day”. One by one, the states fell into line. At last, on 3 February 1870, the 15th Amendment became law. Black communities exploded with joy. Alas, their struggle for equal rights was far from over.

Julian Humphrys rounds up smaller anniversaries

3 February 1488
Portuguese navigator Bartolomeu Dias lands at what is now called Mossel Bay on the southern coast of Africa after unknowingly sailing with his expedition around the Cape of Good Hope.
3 February 1807 
General Sir Samuel Auchmuty and Rear-Admiral Charles Stirling capture Montevideo.
3 February 1809
Composer Felix Mendelssohn is born in Hamburg. He wrote 12 symphonies by the age of 14 but is best known for the 1842 Wedding March, composed for William Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream.
3 February 1832
Aldeburgh-born poet and minister George Crabbe died in Trowbridge where he was rector of St James's church. The story of Peter Grimes in his 1810 work The Borough was the basis of the opera by Benjamin Britten.
3 February 1863 
Writer Samuel L Clemens first used the pen name ‘Mark Twain’ in an article for Virginia City, Nevada newspaper, the Territorial Enterprise.
3 February 1931
The Hawke's Bay region of the north island of New Zealand was hit by an earthquake that devastated the cities of Napier and Hastings, and killed more than 250 people.

3 February 1959: Buddy Holly dies in Clear Lake plane crash

Tragedy strikes one of America’s brightest music stars on ‘the day the music died’

The evening of 2 February 1959 found Buddy Holly at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa. Having left the Crickets a few months earlier, Holly had joined the Winter Dance Party, a three-week tour across the American Midwest. The tour was not going well. The bus was rudimentary, the distances vast and the weather was freezing. When the bus’s heater broke down, the drummer even got frostbite.

By the time Holly arrived at the Surf Ballroom, he had come up with an idea to lighten the mood. Instead of getting the bus to Minnesota, he suggested, they should charter a plane to Fargo, North Dakota. The ballroom’s manager called a local firm, which offered them a small single-engine plane, with room for three passengers at $36 a head.

The three men who boarded the plane that night were Holly himself, ‘Big Bopper’ Richardson and Ritchie Valens, who took his seat after a coin toss. Richardson was only flying because he had flu; originally his seat had been promised to Waylon Jennings. As they left, Holly joked to Jennings: “I hope your ol’ bus freezes up.” “Well, I hope your ol’ plane crashes,” replied Jennings.

It did. In the early hours of 3 February, disoriented by the poor weather and unfamiliar controls, the 21-year-old pilot lost control. The plane smashed into a frozen field outside Clear Lake; all aboard were killed instantly. Immortalised in Don McLean’s song ‘American Pie’, the tragedy is remembered as ‘the day the music died’.

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3 February 1961

In Portuguese Angola, a strike by agricultural workers escalates into a general uprising. Despite bloody Portuguese reprisals, the conflict triggers Angola’s long war for independence.

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Authors

Dominic SandbrookHistorian and presenter

Dominic Sandbrook is historian and presenter, and a regular contributor to BBC History Magazine

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