From deep inside the slave trade, she resisted. And through her resistance, Nzinga became a symbol of freedom.
It was the 1570s, the beginning of the Atlantic Slave Trade. Portuguese soldiers and missionaries raided central Africa in search of slaves to send to the sugar plantations and gold mines of the New World. With firearms, they slaughtered Africans who resisted, cutting off their noses to present to the King of Portugal as tribute. They bribed African leaders with gold and guns to help them enslave their own people to feed an insatiable market.
The Kingdom of Ndongo, under the brave leadership of Ngola (king) Kasenda, refused to hand over its people to the Portuguese. As revenge, the Portuguese plundered Ndonga and kidnapped 50,000 villagers, killing many more. The invaders sacked the Ndongo capitol city, Kabasa, where King Kasenda lived, in 1584. He fled with his family just as slave traders prowled the streets of Kabasa in search of them. Among the royal refugees was an infant girl named Nzinga.
Rebecca Lee Crumpler had one aim in life: to relieve the sufferings of others.
And no amount of prejudice was going to stop her.
Yet, for too long no one has known her name, nor anything about what she accomplished despite seemingly insurmountable odds.
Rebecca Lee was born in Delaware in 1831, the daughter of Absolum Davis and Matilda Webber, but she would be raised by her aunt in Pennsylvania. These were the decades before the Civil War and Emancipation Proclamation, and while Pennsylvania was then a Northern "free state" -- meaning it did not allow slavery -- most white doctors refused to see black patients. Rebecca's aunt was a sought-after healer and nurse for her local African-American community. Rebecca, it appears, wished to follow her aunt’s example.. But she aspired to a higher goal: she wanted to be a doctor.
Sometimes, in order to make history, you have to be "scandalous."
Victoria Woodhull was about as scandalous as them come. She had to be. For her mission was far from simple. Indeed, it continues to this day.
In 1800s USA, respectable women were expected to marry early, raise children, and remain silent about most things, but especially about politics. The idea of women having the "vote" or running for office was considered by most to be ridiculous and undignified.
Victoria Woodhull was neither dignified nor respectable, and was not afraid to appear ridiculous when it came to her rights.
Have you ever thought about making your voice heard by concealing social critique in some common, everyday thing, like food?
That's how the poet and gastronome, Yuan Mei, found a way to criticize the anti-intellectualism of a haughty, deceitful, and unjust government.
Born in 1716 in Hangzhou, China, the son of a poor clerk, Yuan Mei was raised by his aunt, who taught him to read poetry. He became so obsessed with words and books, he'd idle outside of bookshops just to be near them. But he had no money to buy them. Mei worked very hard at school. So hard, in fact, that he was able to pass his national exam at the age of 11 -- a test that many 17-year olds repeatedly failed. This allowed him to go on to higher education.
Starting in primary school, Mei saved every poem he ever wrote. They told the story of his life. By the time he died, at the age of 82, he had amassed several thousand poems. They still survive today. But writing poetry was no way to make a living in the China of his day. After finishing school, Mei spent all his time tutoring to make ends meet. His ambition was to win a position as a government official. In 1743, Mei finally gained a job as a Prefect to the city of Nanjing. For the next fifteen years, he worked in various government positions, gaining wealth and prestige as an insightful and caring governor of his people. However, he found little fulfillment in his work.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.