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Historical Happenings in August 2023



Welcome back, teachers! We hope you enjoyed your summer break and feel refreshed and rejuvenated for a new school year. We’re kicking off the back-to-school season with a few celebratory monumental moments of courageous individuals who made the nation—and the world—a better place.


History at a Glance:

  • August 14, 2023: National Navajo Code Talkers Day

  • August 19, 2023: National Aviation Day

  • August 28, 1963: 60th Anniversary of the March on Washington


August 14, 2023: National Navajo Code Talkers Day

Navajo Code Talkers Henry Bake and George Kirk operate a radio while kneeling in a jungle.
Navajo Code Talkers Henry Bake and George Kirk operated a radio used to transmit codes in December 1943. Photo courtesy of the National Archives (ARC 593415).

Hundreds of America’s greatest World War II heroes went unrecognized until their operation was declassified in 1968.[1] Known as Navajo Code Talkers, these Indigenous servicemen helped create and implement an unbreakable code critical to relaying military information. Their bravery in battle and skill at decoding, encrypting, and transmitting radio messages in only two-and-a-half minutes has been celebrated annually by presidential proclamation since 1982 by President Ronald Reagan.[2]


The holiday doesn’t specifically refer to the Navajo Nation; rather, it references the Navajo Code, which was developed from the Navajo language and used by the U.S. military during WWII. Using Indigenous languages as codes dates back to World War I when the Choctaw language was utilized to create a code. Choctaw, Ho-Chunks, Eastern Cherokees, Comanches, Cheyennes, Yankton Sioux, and Osages service members were code talkers during WWI, and their code made an attack on the Germans successful.[3]


After WWI, German and Japanese linguists were sent to America to learn Indigenous languages.[4] The U.S. military knew that developing a new code was now necessary and began considering ways of inventing it. However, the idea for what would become the Navajo Code came from outside the military.


Philip Johnston, the son of missionaries who lived on Navajo reservations, was fluent in the Navajo language and believed the language would make an excellent code. The U.S. Marine Corps liked his idea and recruited Johnston and 29 members of various First Nations to develop the Navajo Code at Camp Elliott near San Diego, California.[5]


The Navajo language was chosen because of its complexity and rarity—only Navajo people and a few missionaries to the Navajo, like Johnston and his parents, knew the language. Using the Navajo language as its foundation, a word-substitution code and an alphabet system were developed to encrypt messages. Word association was also used by taking words from the Navajo language and using them to refer to military terms and objects.


"All the services, like the army, and divisions and companies, and battalions, regiments . . . we just gave them clan names. Airplanes, we named after birds . . . like the buzzard is bomber, and the hawk is a dive bomber, and the patrol plane is a crow, and the hummingbird is the fighter." – William McCabe, (Diné [Navajo]), United States Marine Corps

The Navajo Code began with 211 terms but grew to 411. The code had to be learned by code talkers, who were tested for speed and accuracy. In two and a half minutes, code talkers could decrypt, encrypt, and transmit a message via radio—a task that would take a soldier hours to complete without the code.[6]


Throughout the war, 534 Indigenous code talkers served in different regions. Comanche code talkers served in the European Theatre, specifically the D-Day invasion in France (June 6, 1944) and other campaigns against Germany. Approximately 420 code talkers who spoke the Navajo language were deployed to the Pacific Theatre.[7] At the Battle of Iwo Jima (February 19, 1945 – March 26, 1945), six Navajo Code Talkers successfully transmitted over 800 encrypted messages. Major Howard Connor, signal officer of the Navajo Code Talkers at the Battle of Iwo Jima, reflected, “Were it not for the Navajos, the Marines would never have taken Iwo Jima.”[8]


These code talkers were finally recognized in 2000 by President Bill Clinton, who awarded the Congressional Gold Medal to the first 29 Navajo Code Talkers who developed the code. President George W. Bush also awarded medals to code talkers in 2001.[9]


Celebrate the code talkers’ bravery, skills, and sacrifice with the resources below!


Teacher Resources:


  • Navajo Code Talkers’ Dictionary from the U.S. Navy: This dictionary was used by Navajo Code Talkers, but it wasn’t seen again after WWII until the Department of Defense declassified it. It shows the Navajo word and its English translation. As an activity for younger grade levels, students can draw the objects and write the Navajo word underneath to help them connect the code to the terms they describe.


August 19, 2023: National Aviation Day


Let your students’ imaginations soar this Aviation Day! August 19 was appointed National Aviation Day by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939. This date was chosen because it’s also Orville Wright’s birthday (August 19, 1871).[10] To commemorate Orville’s birthday and Aviation Day, strap on your pilot goggles and take to the skies as we fly back in time to discover the biographies of a few aviation pioneers.


Orville and Wilbur Wright

Orville Wright steers the glider while Wilbur Wright and Dan Tate hold the wings during a test run at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, on October 10, 1902.

These brothers revolutionized the world with their invention of the first powered airplane in 1903. Before accomplishing this incredible feat, they owned and operated a bicycle sales and repair shop. There, they manufactured bicycles and were always looking for ways to improve them.[11] Their understanding of the mechanics behind bicycles and their innovative spirit helped them as they turned their attention to aviation.


For four years, they created and tested gliders to better understand aerodynamics. Then, on December 17, 1903, they launched their powered airplane over the sands of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. It was the first airplane flight! Orville was at the helm of the Wright Flyer during the first flight, which was 12 seconds long and covered a distance of 180 feet. The brothers took turns flying the plane, and Wilbur flew the most successful flight of the day, traveling a length of 852 feet in 59 seconds.[12]


Bessie Coleman

“Brave Bessie” and “Queen Bess,” as she was known by fans for doing her famous figure 8 trick, was the first African American and Native American woman to earn her pilot’s license. After applying to flying schools in the U.S. and being rejected because of her race and gender, she was accepted into a flight school in France. There, she attended Caudron Brother’s School of Aviation. On June 15, 1921, she earned her international pilot’s license before returning to the U.S.[13]


Once back in America, Coleman earned money to fulfill her goal of owning a plane and founding a flight school by doing public speaking engagements and flying performances. She was the first Black and Indigenous woman to fly in a public performance in 1922.


Coleman stuck to her values and beliefs when appearing in public. She rejected offers for public speaking engagements that were held in segregated facilities. Coleman also told the managers of an upcoming show in her hometown in Texas that she would only perform at an air show if the entrance gate was desegregated. When the managers assented, Coleman agreed to perform.


Today, Coleman is remembered and celebrated for encouraging and inspiring women to become pilots and for unwaveringly upholding her beliefs.


Charles Lindbergh


Photo published by Bain News Service in 1920. Courtesy of Library of Congress (LC-B2- 5897-15 [P&P]).

Before successfully flying solo across the Atlantic Ocean, Charles “Luck Lindy” Lindbergh got his start in aviation as a barnstormer.[14] Barnstorming was an event that showcased airplanes and airmen performing stunts in fields in the countryside. Lindbergh performed parachute jumps and wing walking, which meant walking on the wings of an airplane mid-flight. He later learned how to fly airplanes and became a mailman pilot.


His stardom came from being the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.[15] He took off in his airplane, The Spirit of St. Louis, from San Diego, California, and landed in Long Island, New York, on May 12, 1927, earning him the new record for the fastest transcontinental flight in 21 hours and 40 minutes.[16] He broke another record a week later on May 20, 1927, when he flew from New York and landed in Paris on May 21. His nonstop flight covered a distance of more than 3,600 miles in 33.5 hours, earning him fame and renown in the world of aviation.[17]


Amelia Earhart


Amelia Earhart sits in the pilot's seat of a plane owned by the Department of Commerce.

As a woman of many firsts in aviation, Amelia Earhart is also recognized for her bravery. She was the first woman passenger to make the transatlantic flight in 1928.[18] She followed in Lindbergh’s “flight-steps” five years after he made his flight across the Atlantic Ocean. On May 20, 1932 (the anniversary of Lindbergh’s takeoff for his flight), Earhart departed from Newfoundland, Canada. She had to make an unplanned landing in Ireland, but her transatlantic flight was a success and earned her the title of the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. She was given the Distinguished Flying Cross, which was another first for a woman!


Earhart turned her attention to flying through more glass ceilings and became the first person to fly solo across the Pacific Ocean in 1935.[19] Later that year, she made another milestone as the first individual to fly solo from Mexico City to Newark.


Her next goal was to be the first woman to fly around the world. Accompanied by Fred Noonan, her navigator, the pair departed from Miami, Florida, on June 1, 1937. On July 2, they lost radio connection on their way to their next stop, Howland Island. Her last radio transmission before losing connection was, “We are running north and south.”[20] They were never heard from again.


A search and rescue party was deployed, but it was called off after weeks of searching without finding anything. While Earhart’s life ended in uncertainty and tragedy, her memory as a fearless record-breaker lives on!


Teacher Resources:


  • The Spirit of St. Louis from the National Air and Space Museum: Another important aircraft that made history is the Spirit of St. Louis. Charles Lindbergh’s plane carried him across the Atlantic Ocean and is now on display at the National Air and Space Museum. This photo gallery is a fantastic way for your students to view the exterior and interior of the airplane.


August 28, 1963: 60th Anniversary of the March on Washington


A crowd of people stand on the National Mall. The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool and the Washington Monument are in the background.
Thousands of people gathered at the National Mall during the March on Washington. Photo by Warren K. Leffler, courtesy of the Library of Congress (LOC, LC-U9- 10360-5).

The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (as it was officially known) was a civil rights protest and rally held in Washington, D.C. It was the brainchild of A. Philip Randolph, the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the Negro Council (NALC) founder. Leaders from various civil rights organizations joined Randolph to form the “Big Six.” These leaders included Roy Wilkins of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Whitney Young of the National Urban League (NUL), Martin Luther King, Jr. of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), James Farmer of Congress On Racial Equality, and John Lewis of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).[21]


The organizers of the March on Washington sought to bring attention to civil rights injustices, job discrimination, and the Civil Rights Act that had yet to be passed by Congress. Concerned that the march would jeopardize the Civil Rights Act, President John F. Kennedy met with the march’s organizers on June 22. He wanted them to consider waiting to hold the march and said, “We want success in the Congress, not just a big show at the Capitol.” To which King replied, “Frankly, I have never engaged in any direct-action movement which did not seem ill-timed.”[22]


After his meeting, President Kennedy lent his support to the march’s organizers and put his brother, Robert F. Kennedy, in charge of helping the leaders ensure security safeguards were in place. These security measures included training marshals in nonviolent approaches to maintain crowds. Their actions worked; the march was peaceful, with no incidents and no police reports.[23]


Approximately 250,000 people participated. Over 3,000 people from the press were there to report on the march and televise the speeches and musical performances that were held.[24] The last speaker of the day was King, who delivered his now-famous “I Have a Dream” speech. His final words of the speech are just as powerful today as they were when spoken 60 years ago:


“And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, Black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: Free at last. Free at last. Thank God almighty, we are free at last.”

Teacher Resources:



For more historical tidbits, lesson plan ideas, and free activities, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Also, be sure to check out our other blogs for even more resources!


 

Sources:


[1] “Navajo Code Talkers Day.” Veteran.com, 23 December 2022, https://veteran.com/navajo-code-talkers-day/. Accessed 4 August 2023.

[2] “Navajo Code Talkers Day.” Veteran.com, 23 December 2022, https://veteran.com/navajo-code-talkers-day/. Accessed 4 August 2023.

[3] “Code Talkers.” Why We Serve: Native Americans in the United States Armed Forces, National Museum of the American Indian | Smithsonian, https://americanindian.si.edu/why-we-serve/topics/code-talkers/. Accessed 4 August 2023.

[4] “Navajo Code Talkers and the Unbreakable Code.” Central Intelligence Agency, 6 November 2008, https://www.cia.gov/stories/story/navajo-code-talkers-and-the-unbreakable-code/. Accessed 4 August 2023.

[5] “Navajo Code Talkers and the Unbreakable Code.” Central Intelligence Agency, 6 November 2008, https://www.cia.gov/stories/story/navajo-code-talkers-and-the-unbreakable-code/. Accessed 4 August 2023.

[6] “Navajo Code Talkers and the Unbreakable Code.” Central Intelligence Agency, 6 November 2008, https://www.cia.gov/stories/story/navajo-code-talkers-and-the-unbreakable-code/. Accessed 4 August 2023.

[7] “Code Talkers.” Why We Serve: Native Americans in the United States Armed Forces, National Museum of the American Indian | Smithsonian, https://americanindian.si.edu/why-we-serve/topics/code-talkers/. Accessed 4 August 2023.

[8] “Navajo Code Talkers and the Unbreakable Code.” Central Intelligence Agency, 6 November 2008, https://www.cia.gov/stories/story/navajo-code-talkers-and-the-unbreakable-code/. Accessed 4 August 2023.

[9] “Navajo Code Talkers Day.” Veteran.com, 23 December 2022, https://veteran.com/navajo-code-talkers-day/. Accessed 4 August 2023.

[10] Banke, Jim. “Spread Your Wings on National Aviation Day.” NASA, 29 July 2021, https://www.nasa.gov/feature/spread-your-wings-on-national-aviation-day. Accessed 4 August 2023.

[11] “Wright Bicycles.” Wright Brothers Aeroplane Company, https://www.wright-brothers.org/Information_Desk/Just_the_Facts/Bicycles/Wright_Bicycles.htm. Accessed 9 August 2023.

[12] “1903 Wright Flyer.” National Air and Space Museum | Smithsonian, https://airandspace.si.edu/collection-objects/1903-wright-flyer/nasm_A19610048000. Accessed 10 August 2023.

[13] Alexander, Kerri Lee. “Bessie Coleman.” National Women’s History Museum, https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/bessie-coleman. Accessed 8 August 2023.

[14] “Daredevil.” American Experience, Public Broadcasting Service, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/lindbergh-daredevil/. Accessed 8 August 2023.

[15] “The First Solo, Nonstop Transatlantic Flight.” Barron Hilton Pioneers of Flight Gallery, National Air and Space Museum, https://pioneersofflight.si.edu/content/first-solo-nonstop-transatlantic-flight. Accessed 8 August 2023.

[16] “The Spirit of St. Louis.” American Experience, Public Broadcasting Service, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/lindbergh-spirit-st-louis/. Accessed 8 August 2023.

[17] “This day in history: Lindbergh and the Spirit of St. Louis make first solo transatlantic flight.” Space Center Houston, 20 May 2019, https://spacecenter.org/first-solo-transatlantic-flight/. Accessed 8 August 2023.

[18] “Biography.” Amelia Earhart, http://100.26.43.141/biography/. Accessed 8 August 2023.

[19] Rizzo, Johnna. “Amelia Earhart.” National Geographic Kids, https://kids.nationalgeographic.com/history/article/amelia-earhart. Accessed 8 August 2023.

[20] “Biography.” Amelia Earhart, http://100.26.43.141/biography/. Accessed 8 August 2023.

[21] “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/articles/march-on-washington.htm. Accessed 8 August 2023.

[22] History.com Editors. “March on Washington.” HISTORY, https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/march-on-washington. Accessed 8 August 2023.

[23] “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” National Park Service, https://www.nps.gov/articles/march-on-washington.htm. Accessed 8 August 2023.

[24] History.com Editors. “March on Washington.” HISTORY, https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/march-on-washington. Accessed 8 August 2023.

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