Queen Lili'uokalani

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Queen Lili'uokalani

Today we make history on the #HistoryHero BLAST!

Behold our first-ever student-authored #HistoryHero post, fulfilling our original goal that the #HistoryHero BLAST be not simply for -- but by -- young people from all over the globe.

Special thanks to Harper Katherine Lower, age 13, from The Lowell School, in Maryland, USA, for being our first youth author!

Take it away, Harper...

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Tom Wolfe

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Tom Wolfe

Without Tom Wolfe's literary innovations you probably wouldn't be reading this...

In the 1960s and 70s, Tom Wolfe was a pioneer of what was then called New Journalism but which today is known as journalism by some, narrative, creative, or literary non-fiction by others. Tom married an incredible eye for detail with an ear for voice to capture an era — or a moment. There's nothing new anymore about wedding traditional reporting with the flair of a novelist, but when Tom and like-minded writers, such as Joan Didion and Hunter S. Thompson, burst on the scene, it was revolutionary.

In the decades to come, Tom Wolfe's characters — both real and invented — will outlast him. But first, let's take a moment to recall the great writer who died just last week, 14 May 2018.

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Seyran Ates

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Seyran Ates

To say that Seyran Ateş defies stereotypes is an understatement. For starters, she is a female Imam-in-training, a rarity in the Muslim world. In addition, she founded the world’s first “liberal mosque,” which opened its doors in Berlin’s Moabit district on June 17, 2017. It welcomes followers from all interpretations of Islam, including long-time Sunni-Shia antagonists. It allows men and women to worship together, not separated as in traditional practice. It encourages the participation of members of LBGTQ communities, who are banned from prayer gatherings under conservative Islam. Moreover, Ateş insists that women remove their burqas and niqabs inside her mosque for she believes that "full-face veils have nothing to do with religion, but rather are a political statement.”

Named after a Muslim philosopher who defended Greek philosophy and a German writer fascinated by the poetry of the Middle East, the mission of the Ibn Rushd-Goethe mosque is to be a bridge-builder and peace-maker. Yet, it is under attack. So is Seyran Ateş.

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E.B. White

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E.B. White

E.B. White wrote three of the finest works of literature ever produced in the English language. That they were directed at young people only heightens the achievement since children's book authors rarely get their due. It could be said, in fact, that he put children's literature on the map as a genre in its own right. He certainly opened up the world of reading for many a young imagination, including mine.

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Ada Lovelace

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Ada Lovelace

At the age of 14, Ada Lovelace (née Byron) wrote a book on flying machines, called Flyology, and constructed a pair of mechanical wings to help her take off. This may not sound spectacular today but it happened nearly a century before the Wright Brothers managed to get Kitty Hawk into the air. And that wasn’t even her most important intellectual legacy!

The privileged daughter of a famous British poet and a countess, she also invented the algorithm. If Alan Turing was the father of computing, Ada Lovelace was most certainly its grandmother…

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Simone de Beauvoir

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Simone de Beauvoir

A writer, philosopher, and political activist, Simone de Beauvoir inspired a revolution regarding the role of women in society, making her the grandmother of 20th-century -- or second-wave -- feminism. 

Simone de Beauvoir was born in Paris, France, in 1908, the daughter of a buttoned-up, bourgeois, middle-class family, which lost its wealth during World War I. She was raised a conservative Catholic but rebelled against her parents' values as a teenager, turning from religion to philosophy and literature. Her father regarded philosophy as gibberish; her mother worried -- correctly it would turn out -- that it would cause Simone to lose her faith. But with no money left for a marriage dowry, Simone knew she would not make a good catch. So off she went to the Sorbonne to read philosophy and pursue a career instead.

Simone was a famously successful student. Though one of very few women to win a place at the prestigious French University, she rose to the top of her class and was the youngest women ever to complete qualification exams to enter the teaching profession. And on a Monday morning in June, 1929, Simone crossed paths with another Sorbonne philosophy major: an intense young man by the name of Jean-Paul Sartre. She would spend the next 50 years by his side, although the two never lived together, often took other lovers, and had no children. 

Theirs would have been looked upon as an unconventional relationship, even today:

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Carmen Yulín Cruz

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Carmen Yulín Cruz

It should have been the sitting president’s Hurricane Katrina. Like Bush before him, Trump should have been held accountable for his failure to act in the face of human tragedy. Fortunately, for the residents of Puerto Rico, they had a strong voice in Carmen Yulín Cruz.

On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico. In roughly 30 hours, the category 5 hurricane tore the island apart. Some say it was the worst natural disaster in the history of the Caribbean. Others characterize it as a “catastrophic event,” more devastating by definition than a “disaster” as it lay to waste the infrastructure that once served its 3.4 million inhabitants.

Without warning, Maria left Puerto Ricans without power and water. Hospitals swelled with the wounded and dying. But weeks later, health practitioners were still forced to operate by the light of mobile phones. Puerto Rico was in crisis. It needed help. Fast. Yet, its nearest, richest, and most powerful neighbor, the United States of America failed to come to the rescue.

The indifference may not have been so shocking were it not for the fact that Puerto Rico is an official commonwealth of the US. It has been since the end of the Spanish-American War of 1898.  

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Helvi Sipilä

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Helvi Sipilä

If you believe that women hold up half the sky – at least – then you're going to love Helvi Sipilä. Little known outside her home country of Finland, she took her cues from past suffragette leaders as Frances Barker Gage and Sylvia Pankhurst and helped pave the way for the generation of female leadership typified by such powerhouses as Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Michelle Obama.

In 1972, a new Assistant Secretary-General walked onto the floor of the United Nations. Unlike any other member of the UN senior management team up to that point, this Assistant Secretary-General wore a skirt and heels. Her name was Helvi Sipilä and she was the first female high-level UN official, ever. When she took the position, the UN management team was then 97% male.

Being a woman in local politics – nevermind in a global politics – was then considered an extraordinary accomplishment. But it was time for this to change. And Helvi was ready to lead the charge.

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The Disobedient Daughter who Married a Skull

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The Disobedient Daughter who Married a Skull

Of the roughly 108 billion people who have ever lived over the course of human history, most left behind no record of their existence. We therefore have no means by which to remember them. Nearly all the everyday heroes – the brave, empathetic, spirited, and devoted people we like to celebrate in the #HistoryHero BLAST – are lost to us. This loss is especially heavy when it comes women and members of pre-literate cultures: those who did not have access to the written word until fairly recently (in historical terms) and whose stories were not considered worthy of being recorded by those who did.

Sometimes, however, we find traces of these lost worlds not in histories, but in stories, particularly in folk tales. Even though these are fictional fables, they provide us glimpses into the values, hopes, and dreams of the peoples and cultures that preceded us. Real or not, the characters of such stories continue to live and breathe with each retelling. Here is one version of one such tale, from southern Nigeria, and the history hero that can be viewed inside it: the Disobedient Daughter who Married a Skull.

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Deitrich Bonhoeffer

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Deitrich Bonhoeffer

The study of History most often focuses on the rise and fall of demagogues and dictators. But you can be sure that behind each one there are stories – some little known, others perhaps never told – of the brave individuals who made it their life's work to stop them. Even at their own peril.

This is one such story.

In the early 1930s in Germany, there arose to national prominence a man with very peculiar views. His name was Adolf Hitler and he blamed Germany’s post-WWI humiliation and economic failure on the Jews and the communists.

The country's economic distress was more realistically due to the harsh punishment Germany received for being on the losing side of “the war to end all wars” – a nickname for WWI. But paybacks imposed by the victors were so excessive they bankrupted the country and plunged its people into abject, crushing poverty. This created a witch’s brew of bitterness and pain: the perfect environment for a demagogue – a leader who seeks support through prejudice rather than rational argument – to exploit.

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William Barak

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William Barak

In public museums as well as private art galleries all over Australia, you will find the highly prized works of William Barak. With good reason: they are beautiful. They also tell the story of the culture of Australia's indigenous Kulin people before, during, and after the arrival of white European colonizers. It's a story Barak knew well because he lived it. 

Beruk Barak was born near what is now Melbourne, Australia, in 1823, roughly 40 years after the British sailed into Melbourne Harbor. It wasn't long before the white settlers started pushing the native aboriginal people around, scamming them out of their land.

Barak's Wurundjeri clan was one of five tribes to form an alliance called the Kulin Nation. The Kulins referred to the land that had fed their people for millennia  60,000 to 100,000 years  as the "Yarra." To them, the Yarra was sacred. At the time of Barak's birth, it was deeply under threat. So too, therefore, was Kulin culture.

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Benito Juarez

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Benito Juarez

From a childhood of backbreaking work in the cornfields to Cinco de Mayo, this indigenous peasant grew up to become a symbol of freedom and national pride for the Mexican people.

Benito Juárez was born to the Zapotec Indian tribe in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 1806. His parents were poor peasants who’d died by the time he was three. At 12, Benito worked in the cornfields to feed himself. But when he wasn't working, he walked, every day, to the city of Oaxaca to attend school. He learned to read, write, and speak in Spanish. In his 20s, the brilliant young mind turned its attention to the study of law.

Like elsewhere in the world, Mexico was then undergoing tremendous change. For centuries, politics had been dominated by European-descended landowners and the Catholic Church. This "conservative" faction owned nearly all the country's land and wealth. They now feared the grassroots power of the peasant classes. To maintain the status quo, they supported a repressive dictatorship, ruled by General Antonio López de Santa Anna, who had no qualms about using violence to oppress the peasant and indigenous peoples.

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Antonio Gramsci

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Antonio Gramsci

Written in obscurity from a prison cell, this hero's ideas about power and the roots of social inequality would change the world. 

In 1925 the Prime Minister of Italy, who ruled constitutionally from 1922, dropped all pretense of democracy and established a dictatorship. His name was Benito Mussolini. And if he didn't like the way you thought or what you believed, he had his goons eliminate you or throw you in prison on the remote island of Ustica. 

This is where our story of Antonio Gramsci begins. Mussolini had him arrested in 1926, not for his actions but his words and ideas. Gramsci's vocal point of view was simply too dangerous to allow him to walk free. He was a threat to Mussolini's power.

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Man o' War

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Man o' War

Like Jesse Owens, Man 'o War was fast. He loved to run and he loved to win. Unlike Jesse Owens – or Louise Stokes or Usain Bolt – Man o’ War was a horse, but one more human in will and determination. And no animal in the history of sports – before or since – has been compared to the greatest human athletes as often as he has.

Man o’ War’s original breeder, August Belmont (yes, of The Belmont Stakes fame), had high hopes for the fiery chestnut colt that kicked and fought with his handlers from his birth in 1917. But global events conspired against their partnership. At age 65, August volunteered to serve the US Army in WWI.

August’s wife named Man o' War in honor of her husband and the armed effort overseas. But wartime brought money trouble. The Belmont’s sold their entire 1918 yearling crop to make ends meet. Man o’ War went to the highest bidder: Samuel Riddle walked away with the offspring of champions for only $5,000. It was the greatest deal in the history of thoroughbred horse racing.

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Rani Durgavati

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Rani Durgavati

She rose, unexpectedly, to be queen of a doomed people. But in her veins flowed the blood of heroes. And she knew it.

Rani Durgavati was born in 1524 in what is now central India. Her father, Keerat Raj, was then a king of the ancient and powerful Chandel Dynasty, which 500 years earlier had brought advanced art and architecture to its region. 

To cement his position of power, Keerat Raj arranged for Rani to marry the eldest son of the King of a nearby kingdom called Gond. Upon the marriage of Rani to Dalpat Shah in 1542, the Chandel and Gond were united into the single kingdom of Gondwana. As was the custom in ancient dynasties, theirs was as much political alliance as marriage.

Rani soon gave birth to a son named Vir. The dynastic lineage Raj imaged was thus secured. However, Dalpat Shah sickened and died in 1550. Indian queens were rarely called on to rule, but because Vir was just a child, Rani had no choice but to take up the reigns of power. She was just 26. She soon made a name for herself as a fair and just leader of her people.

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Alexis de Tocqueville

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Alexis de Tocqueville

Alexis de Tocqueville was the outsider who explained what made an adolescent United States tick. His book, Democracy in America, was a sensation on both sides of the Atlantic. Two centuries later, de Tocqueville's observations ring truer than ever.

In the late 18th century, France and the United States had one thing in common: Revolution. Both nations fought – with each other’s help – to overcome despotic, feudal rule. Both revolutions sought to create societies marked by liberty, equality, and fairness under the law. Both societies communicated these ideals in similar defining documents, both made public in 1789: The Bill of Rights and the Déclaration des droits de l'homme et du citoyen (Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen). Both documents led to the creation of constitutions, which defined processes for governance by rotating elected representation rather than by an absolute monarch who ruled for life.

But as 1789 drew to a close, while the US was busy electing its first president, the French Revolution had been hijacked by extremist factions on both the radical left and ultra-conservative right, plunging its short-lived experiment in republicanism into chaos. The chaos was called The Reign of Terror. Frenchman fought Frenchman, their weapons: imprisonment, sham trials, and the guillotine. Basically, if you didn’t agree with those in power, they took your head.

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Viola Desmond

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Viola Desmond

You've heard the story of how Rosa Parks, sparked the US Civil Rights movement in 1955 by refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man? Well, get ready to meet Canada's Rosa Parks, who stood up to the injustices of racial segregation 10 years before...

In June 1945, Canada joined 49 other national governments to sign the Charter of the United Nations (UN). Established after World War II and the defeat of Nazi Germany, the UN was established with the aim of preventing another such conflict by promoting international cooperation and order.

The UN Charter is the foundational document of the now famous intergovernmental institution. It responded to the genocide fueled by Hitler’s racist ideology of Aryan supremacy by articulating a commitment among member nations to uphold human rights “for all,” irrespective of race, gender, language, or religion. 

Yet in the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, hundreds of thousands of black citizens lived in slums and suffered intense discrimination within a legally sanctioned system of segregation not unlike that which was alive and well in the deep south of it's southern neighbor: the United “Jim Crow” States.

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Heroes of the First U.S. School Shooting

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Heroes of the First U.S. School Shooting

Today, we shine a light on ordinary people doing extraordinary things in the face of terror brought on by gun violence, while simultaneously tipping our hat to the youth now on the front lines of the #NeverAgain movement.

Enough is indeed enough. We applaud you. We stand by you. And to put the struggle for sensible gun control measures in greater context, we offer you the story of the first school shooting in US history...

...52 years ago.

Far too long for this deathly epidemic not to have been eradicated.

At first, no one realized what was happening...

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg

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Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Hers was a long-tail plan: Chip away at the manifestations of social inequality one case at a time, plant “seeds” of social progress with powerful words, and provide ground-up support to the movements effecting positive change, all as a means toward constructing an unshakeable legal foundation for women’s rights and gender equality.

Celia Bader (née Amster) was brilliant. So smart, she graduated from high school at 15. But it was the early 1900s and her parents, unable to afford to further educate all their children, supported her brother’s future instead. Celia went to work to help put her brother through college. But she never forgot her love of learning or her dream of having a career. When it was her turn to be a mother, she took an active role in the education of her daughter, Joan Ruth, instilling in the girl a love of reading, and setting her on the path to becoming a teacher.

Ruth would not disappoint...

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Qiu Jin

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Qiu Jin

A feminist poet and revolutionary, Qui Jin refused to compromise her dreams for liberation, becoming a symbol of – and hero to – modern China.

Qui Jin was born into a China on the brink of collapse. In 1875, the country had suffered two back-to-back conflicts on its own soil. Collectively referred to as the Opium Wars, they had rapidly undermined the ruling Qing Dynasty, which had been in power since 1644. Opium is a highly addictive substance -- one try and you're hooked -- which made dealers rich. But the traders were mostly British and French, and their importation of opium from India into China was largely illegal.

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