This Month in History: January

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image of hands in chains and Abraham Lincoln statue

January 1, 1863 - The Emancipation Proclamation 

President Abraham Lincoln issued a proclamation during the Civil War that all persons held as slaves in the rebellious states were to be free. Although the proclamation had its limitations, it did transform the war, allowing Black men to join the Union Army and Navy. Slaves who had been working to insure their own liberty knew that the war for the Union must become a war for freedom. The proclamation became a historical document for human freedom and the original is housed in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. The biggest celebration of the abolishment of slavery is called Juneteenth. It wasn't until June 19, 1865, that word of the emancipation reached Texas. Juneteenth became an official federal holiday in 2021.

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gold bars and coins, California Gold Rush 1849 postage stamp, pan with gold dust

January 24, 1848 - California Gold Rush begins

The California Gold Rush began when James Wilson Marshall discovered gold flakes in the American River while building a water-powered sawmill for landowner John Sutter. Sutter tried keeping the discovery a secret, but word got out, and within six months, most of the male population of San Francisco had left for the gold mines. In December 1848, President Polk spoke of the discovery of gold in California, and men traveled by land and sea to find their fortunes. In 1849, the non-native population of California went from 20,000 to 100,000. This massive migration resulted in the miners being dubbed 49ers – hence the San Francisco 49ers football team. The gold rush peaked in 1852 with $81 million pulled from the earth. Hydraulic mining began in 1853, resulting in the destruction of the region’s landscape and independent miners forced into wage labor with big mines.

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railroad tracks into Auschwitz, barbed wire barracks, entrance to Auschwitz

January 27, 1945 - Liberation of Auschwitz

At Auschwitz, the largest extermination and concentration camp run by the Nazis, over 1 million people were murdered, mostly Jews. The Red Army liberated the Auschwitz camps after defeating German forces in Krakow, Poland. Shortly before the Russians arrived, SS soldiers ordered 65,000 prisoners on death marches toward German territory. When the army entered the camp, there were about 7000 people in dire health and warehouses full of other people’s belongings. There was evidence that the German soldiers tried to cover up their crimes by destroying buildings and burning plundered possessions and paper records. Auschwitz consisted of three main camps with many smaller sub-camps. Auschwitz I was a concentration camp, Auschwitz II – Birkenau, was for extermination, and Auschwitz III – Monowice, was a forced labor camp. After the war, former prisoners and the Polish government turned the camp into a museum and memorial. The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum was created in 1947 and receives more than 1 million visitors each year.

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background of baseballs, image of Baseball Hall of Fame wall plaques

January 29, 1936 -  The Baseball Hall of Fame inducts its first members

The Baseball Hall of Fame has elected new members annually since 1936. The first members were Babe Ruth, Christy Matthewson, Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, and Walter Johnson. On June 12, 1939, the Hall of Fame building opened in Cooperstown, N.Y. and the first four Hall of Fame classes were inducted. Today there is the Hall of Fame Classic held each Memorial Day weekend, featuring Hall of Famers and players representing each of the 30 Major League Baseball teams. The induction ceremony for new members is held each year during Hall of Fame Weekend in July. The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum consists of five buildings holding more than 40,000 three-dimensional objects. It has preserved more than 3 million documents and 250,000 baseball photographs and images. The Museum has as many as 3,000 visitors a day. (National Baseball Hall of Fame image from Wikipedia Commons)

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Factual information adapted from: The National Archives MuseumHistory: California Gold Rush, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum, and the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

By BethN on January 2, 2023