Twenty years after the United States was freed of Britain, America went to war, again–this time against the populous pirate population in the Mediterranean. Pocketed throughout Africa–in Morocco, Algeria, Tunis and Tripolitania [Libya], they ambushed U.S. merchant ships, seized cargoes, commandeered crews, and collected large ransoms. Hostilities got so heated that President Jefferson dispatched the Navy in 1801.
In October 1803, the Philadelphia, a part of an expeditionary force, ran aground off the coast of Tripoli, and was captured, causing concern that America’s proprietary know-how would be re-constituted in enemy warships.
On February 16, Lieutenant Stephen Decatur and 74 of his men–including nine marines–disguised themselves as Maltese sailors, crept into Tripolitan waters, boarded the Philadelphia, overpowered the crew, and torched the vessel.
The daring nature of their perfectly executed mission—without a single American casualty—was heralded around the world. Even British Admiral Horatio Nelson, arguably the most famous seafaring hero of the time, called it the “most daring act of the age.”
The Grateful American Book Prize recommends Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates: The Forgotten War That Changed American History by Brian Kilmeade and Don Yaeger.
On February 23, 1954, the students at Arsenal Elementary School in Pittsburgh, PA, were the first to receive a vaccine–developed by Dr. Jonas Salk–to repel the polio pandemic that was panicking the population.
Now, sixty-seven years later, scientists are hustling to disseminate various COVID-19 inoculations to control–or collapse– another ungovernable disease.
According to History.com, “Salk found that polio had as many as 125 strains of three basic types, and that an effective vaccine needed to combat all three. By growing samples of the polio virus and then deactivating, or ‘killing’ them by adding a chemical called formalin, Salk developed his vaccine, which was able to immunize without infecting the patient.”
It was eradicated in 1979.
For more information, the Grateful American Book Prize recommends Polio (Deadly Diseases & Epidemics) by Alan Hecht.
On February 25, 1964, a 22-year-old newcomer to boxing, by the name of Cassius Clay, catapulted to the world heavyweight champion. He snatched the title from Sonny Liston in the seventh round of a “David and Goliath” match in Miami Beach, FL. The odds were against Clay; Liston was the 8 to 1 favorite, but that didn’t faze the cocky challenger who predicted his victory in the eighth round, bragging that he would “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.”
It took him six rounds to win the title in the seventh–when Liston conceded defeat.
Young people might not “recognize” Cassius Clay; that’s because he became “Muhammed Ali”, after he joined the African American Muslim group, the Nation of Islam.
The Website Quora calls Ali “the greatest boxer ever,” having won 56 out of his 61 bouts during his 20-year career that ended abruptly in 1984 when he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. He has been called one of the most significant and celebrated figures of the 20th century and one of the greatest boxers of all time. Indeed, as President George W. Bush put it when he presented Ali with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in November of 2005, “Only a few athletes are ever known as the greatest in their sport, or in their time. But when you say, ‘The Greatest of All Time’ is in the room, everyone knows who you mean.”
Muhammad Ali, boxer, activist, entertainer and philanthropist, passed away on June 3, 2016.
The Grateful American Book Prize recommends The Greatest: Muhammad Ali by Walter Dean Myers.
History Matters is a biweekly feature courtesy of The Grateful American Book Prize