Lady Xian

Comment

Lady Xian

Have you ever noticed that the greatest leaders are those who bring lasting peace to their people, rather than the perils of war?

Lady Xian was one of them, still remembered and revered two millenia later.

In the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, there are more than 200 temples dedicated to the ancient queen, Lady Xian. Visitors burn incense beneath the statues of Xian and her husband Feng Bo, while young couples who quarrel pray to the statues for guidance on how to get along. With her phoenix crown and Bao, Xian still protects her people from harm.

Continue reading...

Comment

Sacheen Littlefeather

Comment

Sacheen Littlefeather

HistoryHero Portrait.png

How far would you go to fight for civil rights?

Sacheen Littlefeather went as far as the Academy Awards.

It was March 27, 1973. The world was rapt. Roger Moore – the new James Bond – and actress Liv Ulmann had just announced the nominees for Best Actor, the most celebrated accolade of the film industry. They chorused the iconic line: “and the winner is…”

It was Marlon Brando, and well deserved, for his role in The Godfather.

But instead of Brando, a diminutive young woman wearing traditional Apache dress took the stage on his behalf.

Her name was Sacheen Littlefeather, and she was there to raise awareness about the rights of Indigenous people.

Born Marie Cruz in Salinas California in 1946, she was from a mixed-race, Apache-Caucasian, family at a time when most felt embarrassed to be “Indian.” But the 1960s, influenced by the growing Civil Rights movement, more Native-American voices were joining the protest against racism and discrimination by reclaiming their indigenous ancestry. Marie was one such voice. She embraced her Apache roots, taking the name to Sacheen Littlefeather. 

Alcatraz_Occupation__Welcome_to_Indian_Land__graffiti.jpeg

In 1969, Sacheen joined a group of activists that piled onto boats in San Francisco en route to the defunct prison on Alcatraz Island. Their protest occupation, which lasted for fourteen months, was designed to force the government to acknowledge its treaties with native people, as well as its legacy of racism. The lack of fresh water and abusive government agents finally broke up the protest, but the Red Power movement had begun.

It peaked four years later, in 1973, in Wounded Knee, South Dakota. The occasion was the centennial anniversary of the genocidal massacre, when in 1873 the U.S. Cavalry murdered several hundred Lakota Sioux, half of them women and children. When the occupation went from peaceful to violent, the government banned the press from Wounded Knee, hoping the protest would go unnoticed by the nation.

But Marlon Brando noticed. He expressed support for the protest and offered his Oscar-bound ticket to the Native-American activist most willing to use the popular annual event as a platform to raise awareness about the historically despicable treatment of Indigenous people by the US government and authorities. Sacheen volunteered and was soon on her way to Los Angeles and her place in the history books.

Sacheen donned a traditional Apache outfit, rather than the stereotypical headdress of Hollywood movie fare. As she waited for her chance to speak, a male producer threatened to have her arrested if she spent more than 60 seconds on stage. When Brando's name was announced, Sacheen walked forward to politely decline the award on his behalf. She explained that Brando "very regretfully" refused the accolade because of "the treatment of American Indians today by the film industry" and the "recent happenings at Wounded Knee." The, she quietly left. 

Americans in the 1970s were not accustomed to being publicly challenged by women; even less so by women of color, no matter how polite. Indeed, actor John Wayne was pinned by security guards to prevent him from physically dragging Sacheen off the stage.

In the days that followed, Sacheen faced public humiliation for not being a "real Indian." Many people claimed she was a "Mexican actress" and had rented her Apache clothing from a costume store. Others labeled her a stripper: a year earlier, Sacheen, like so many aspiring young actresses in the 1970s, had posed for Playboy. Hollywood blacklisted, bringing an end to her movie career.

Coretta Scott King, widow of Martin Luther King Jr., and Cesar Chavez publicly supported Sacheen, however, telling her – and the world – that she had done the right thing.

Sacheen responded to the barrage of bigotry and opposition with increased activism. In the 1980s, she helped Mother Theresa minister to AIDS victims. She was one of the founding members of American Indian AIDS Institute of San Francisco. She wrote for many Indigenous newspapers, and became a producer of Native American films, winning an Emmy in 1984.

Sacheen Littlefeather continues to stand up for the rights of Native Americans today. She has done so, in and outside of the spotlight, her whole life. That's why she's a Time Traveler Tours #HistoryHero. Many thanks to Becca McCarthy of Gatineau, Quebec, Canada, for bringing her to our attention.

Twitter Quote.png

Who's your #HistoryHero?

Tell us in the comments below, or message us the name of your #HistoryHero here, so we can get a conversation going right away, and feature him or her more quickly right on this blog. 


Comment

Chinua Achebe

Comment

Chinua Achebe

Does Africa has a history? Of course it does! But before Chinua Achebe, few outside the "dark continent" believed that it did.

Achebe ignited a revolution and brought his people to the world...

...with words.

In 1974, an older white man asked Chinua Achebe what he studied. Achebe answered, "African Literature." The white man thought that was funny. He had never thought of Africa as having literature, or a history. 

Chinua Achebe spent his whole life proving that man wrong. Africa had a long history, and numerous stories to tell.

Chinualumogu Achebe, better known as Chinua, was born in the Igbo town on Ogidi on November 16, 1930, in what was then the British Colony of Nigeria. The Igbo had inhabited villages around the Niger River for thousands of years. In 1901, the British conquered the Igbo people, burning much of their land in the name of “pacification.” The Igbo survived as best as they could. But when missionaries converted most of the locals into Christians, schools taught only English, and the Igbo were made to follow the British system of law, their culture was all but decimated.

Continue reading...

Comment

Rosa Parks

Comment

Rosa Parks

Sometimes it is only when you can suffer injustice no longer that you find the strength to change the world.

On December 1, 1955, 42-year-old Rosa Parks boarded a city bus in downtown Montgomery, Alabama. She took an empty seat and settled in for the long journey home.

What happened next initiated a revolution.

Continue reading...

Comment

Zenobia

Comment

Zenobia

In an era when men believed women weren't fit for war or politics, Zenobia nearly brought the Roman Empire to its knees.

It was 240 A.D. The Roman Empire, in power now for almost three centuries, stretched from what is modern-day Iraq, throughout the Middle East, northward into Europe and across the Channel into Britain. Syria was one of many provinces that the Romans annexed, ruled, and taxed...heavily.

This was the world Zenobia of Palmyra was born into. Though the daughter of a family of shepherds, she was allowed an education. She grew up speaking four languages, including Greek and Latin as well as the languages of her people. 

Outside school, she learned how to ride horses and command her family's flocks. All these skills would serve her well in the years to come.

Continue reading...

Comment

Christina of Sweden

Comment

Christina of Sweden

Have you ever defied the expectations other people have of you just by being you?

Cristina of Sweden did. Though a Queen, she loved to be “unladylike.”

Born in 1626, Cristina became queen when she was just six years old after her famous father, King Gustavus Adolphus, died in battle at the age of 37. The Swedish nobles, unhappy about serving a female leader, expected Cristina to dutifully get married as early as possible and produce a male heir to the throne.

 But she had her own plans.

Continue reading...

Comment

Louis Braille

Comment

Louis Braille

What do you do when you perceive a problem that needs solving? 

As a teenager in 19th Century France, this #HistoryHero invented a whole new language that helped to empower millions of people just like him.

His name was Louis Braille. He was born with sight in the humble French village of Coupvray in 1809. His father was a leatherer and as a toddler, Louis learned to help in his dad’s workshop. When he was just three, tragedy struck. Louis was hit in the eye with a sharp awl, and the injury became infected. By the age of five, Louis was completely blind.

Continue reading...

Comment

Ruby Bridges

Comment

Ruby Bridges

Some of life's greatest learnings come from the most unexpected teachers.

It took a six-year-old, for example, to prove to Americans that segregation was evil.

In 1960, Ruby Bridges was ready to start school. Her parents wanted her to have the best possible education, so they enrolled her in the state-of-the-art William Frantz Elementary School, one of the best schools in the US southern state of Louisiana. There was one problem, however. Ruby Bridges was black.

Continue reading...

Comment

Wojtek the Polish Artillery Bear

Comment

Wojtek the Polish Artillery Bear

Has an animal ever given you the courage to carry on, or helped ease the grief that comes when you're far too far from home?

In August 1939, the Soviet Union (modern-day Russia) and Nazi Germany made a secret pact to conquer and divide the nation of Poland, located smack-dab in the center of Europe. In a matter of weeks, while Britain and France looked helplessly on, Poland was wiped off the face of the map. The Soviets deported over 300,000 Poles to forced labor camps, called gulags, in Siberia, while the Germans sent even more to their infamous concentration camps. The exiled Poles had little hope of ever seeing their homeland again.

Then in 1941, Nazi Germany turned on its former ally, the Soviet Union.

Continue reading...

Comment

Yi Sun-sin

Comment

Yi Sun-sin

Where do you look for solutions to life's most insurmountable problems?

Yi Sun-sin found his inspiration in nature.

In 1592, hordes of Japanese samurai poured forth from ships into Korea. Then King Seonjo, who was as corrupt as they come, panicked and fled. He left his countrymen defenseless. In a matter of months, hundreds of thousands of Korean civilians were enslaved or killed. Most of the rest fled into the mountains and prayed for a miracle.

The future of their kingdom was in doubt. How could a small nation now bereft of leadership defeat a military superpower like Japan?

Continue reading...

Comment

Gail Halvorsen, "The Candy Bomber"

Comment

Gail Halvorsen, "The Candy Bomber"

Have you ever experienced an act of kindness that changed the course of history?

“Fulfillment in life comes from service,” Gail Halvorsen told an interviewer in 2013. And he would know, for almost 70 years ago, in 1948, as the Cold War was just heating up, he performed a simple act of service that was felt around the world.

Continue reading...

Comment

Olympe de Gouges

Comment

Olympe de Gouges

Would you stand up for your rights, even at the cost of your head?

It was 3 November 1793. The Reign of Terror was at its height, claiming 36 souls a day in Paris. The French Revolution, which had begun as a movement of liberty, fraternity, and equality for all, had descended into horror. Power-hungry extremists, known as the Jacobins, had seized authority and control. Those who stood with the monarchy were either dead or had fled. Those who dared to criticize the new regime were arrested and thrown in the Conciergerie prison – the antechamber to the guillotine. Even King Louis XVI, who'd agreed to trade his crown for a constitution in August 1789, would be guillotined on 21 January 1793.

Olympe de Gouges was about to follow him to the guillotine scaffold. Why? Because she believed women should have rights and a voice equal to men.

Continue reading...

Comment

Jackie Robinson

Comment

Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson wasn't just any great athlete. He was a hero because he stood up for what was right, even in the face of hate.

Before Jackie Robinson ever went to bat for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 at Ebbets Field, several of his Major League Baseball teammates threatened to strike. When he finally stepped up to the plate, in front more than 25,000 spectators, his team’s own fans booed and shouted blood-curdling insults. Many echoed a player, who, egged on by his manager, shouted at the 28-year-old rookie:

“Why don’t you go back to the cottonfield where you belong?”

The venom arose from the fact that Jackie was black. And for 60 years, since it began, Major League Baseball had been an all-white sport. That was about to change, for in 1945 Branch Rickey, General Manager of the Dodgers, recruited a brilliant young black player he knew would carry the Brooklyn Dodgers to glory.

Continue reading...

Comment

Ziryab

Comment

Ziryab

Do you ever stop to think how your everyday life has been shaped by people from the distant past?

Well, chances are better than good that you've been influenced by Ziryab.

If you play the guitar, brush your teeth, or eat dessert after a meal, you owe a debt of gratitude to this Muslim musician who lived 1,200 years ago.

Continue reading...

Comment

Eleanor Roosevelt

Comment

Eleanor Roosevelt

Have you ever felt that the world expected you to remain silent?

So did Eleanor Roosevelt. And she didn't like it. But she found a way to make her voice heard.

When Eleanor Roosevelt became First Lady of the United States in 1933, most Americans believed that women had no place in politics. Even First Ladies were expected to “set a good example” by staying home, raising children, and serving as a backdrop for their Presidential husbands.

But Eleanor was no typical lady.

Continue reading...

Comment

Frederick Douglass

Comment

Frederick Douglass

Do you dream of changing the course of history forever?

Frederick Douglass did more than dream. He acted.

Frederick Douglass was born a slave in 1818, the property of a prosperous family in the US state of Maryland. Enslaved for life, he was forbidden an education – anything to hamper him from running away. But even as a child, Frederick could be very persuasive: He bribed the indentured servants in his neighborhood with morsels of bread in exchange for lessons on how to read and write.

“Have not I as good a right to be free as you have?" he asked the "hungry little urchins" (his words) who by law would gain their freedom at the age of 21 simply because they were white. Frederick did not understand why they could learn while he, and other blacks, could not. In his teens, he secretly organized classes to educate his fellow slaves, despite the threat of retribution by white men with clubs.

Continue reading...

Comment

Lawrence of Arabia

Comment

Lawrence of Arabia

Have you ever wondered how far your curiosity for history can take you?

T.E. Lawrence's took him on a whirlwind adventure.

As a boy, Thomas Edward Lawrence was a dreamy eccentric. Born in 1888, he spent his teenage years bicycling around medieval churches to copy engravings. Caught in the grips of the Industrial Revolution, the Victorian England of his childhood was fixated on progress. Yet he looked back in time. He studied archeology at Oxford, then fled England for Syria at the age of 22 to learn Arabic.

No one ever dreamed this gawky boy from Wales would become one of the most famous strategists and diplomats in British history.

Read more...

Comment

Jeanne d'Arc

Comment

Jeanne d'Arc

It was 1429. She was an illiterate French peasant, born in midst of the most notable conflict of the Middle Ages, the 100 Years War, in which five generations of kings from two rival kingdoms, England and France, fought over who should rule Western Europe.

Henry V of England at this point claimed the French crown and occupied northern France, including Paris, the most populous city, and Reims, a city of huge symbolic importance for the French: its kings had been crowned there since there were kings. In 1429 the rightful pretender to the throne, Charles VII, was holed up south of Loire River.

His military and political luck were about to change in the form of a teenage girl dressed as a man.

Continue reading...

Comment

Louis Riel

Comment

Louis Riel

What would you do if suddenly your language, culture, and people were told they no longer had the right to exist?

Louis Riel organized. He would be martyred for his efforts.

Louis Riel was Métis. Have you ever heard of such people? Well, neither had I until Louis was nominated as a #HistoryHero.

The Métis were the descendants of French fur-trappers and indigenous Native American tribes who had trapped and farmed the Canadian Prairies (the mostly grassland area now comprising the southern regions of what is now Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba) since the 17th century. While the Métis spoke French and were devoted Catholics, they were ruled autocratically by the London-based Hudson's Bay Company on behalf of Britain until 1869. That’s when the Company sold the vast region to the new Dominion of Canada without consulting or even informing the local inhabitants. This left the status of Métis farms and language rights unclear.

Continue reading...

Comment

Frances Dana Barker Gage

Comment

Frances Dana Barker Gage

What would you do if your father told you, “What a pity you were not born a boy so that you could be good for something?”

Frances Dana Barker Gage harnessed it to demand equal rights for women.

Gage believed in the US Bill of Rights' promise of individual liberties. She was a fierce abolitionist as well, before, during, and after the Civil War. She gave her entire life, from the very first escaping slave she assisted as a girl, to agitating for the rights of those people her country's white founding fathers conveniently forgot, including herself.

Continue reading...

Comment