Charles Drew

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Charles Drew

Even before Winston Churchill coined the “special relationship” between the U.S. and Great Britain, this unsung hero of medicine established blood ties between the two countries.

Charles Drew was born in Washington D.C. in 1904. An African American, Charles was raised in a segregated city where black people had few opportunities for economic advancement. Yet Charles had one advantage: he was gifted at sports. By winning medals as a swimmer, Charles gained entrance into Dunbar High School, the only black school in the District of Columbia that paid its teachers as well as their white counterparts.

His athletic skill went on to earn him a scholarship to New England's prestigious Amherst College, where Charles was indeed a star – of both the track and American football teams. But sports was not Charles' only talent. He also dreamed of becoming a medical doctor.

 

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Louise Stokes

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Louise Stokes

Imagine this: You're one of the best athletes in the world. You train and you train and you qualify to represent your nation in the Olympic Games. You raise the money to afford the travel costs just to get there -- the next step in the long journey toward the gold. But when you arrive, you find you've been replaced by an athlete who didn't qualify because her skin color is less offensive to the fans than yours. 

Now, imagine that happening to you twice.

This is a true story. It's the story of Louise Stokes.

Even as a child, Louise was fast. By the time she was 15, in 1928, she dominated the track team at her high school in Malden, Massachusetts. She was unbeatable. An all-rounder, she was also star center of the school basketball team. And she still made time to sing with her church choir.

Though Louise was black, her high school leadership team saw past the color of her skin, for she was a tremendously talented athlete: a true natural. By the time she graduated, Louise had set the New England record for the 100-meter dash. She'd also tied the world's highest standing broad jump when she leapt 8 feet, 5 inches (more than 2 1/2 meters) into the air. When the International Olympic Committee announced not long after that they would include women's track and field events at the 1932 Los Angeles Games, hope ignited in the heart of Louise Stokes.

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Booker T. Washington

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Booker T. Washington

He overcame enslavement and abject poverty and went on to help lift others up through the power of education. What was his recipe? Hard work, discipline, patience, and a long tail view.

Both beloved and controversial, Booker T. Washington was undeniably one of the greatest Americans of his generation. He had a vision for the future that he knew was unachievable in his own lifetime. But he did not let that stop him from constructing a foundation for a more equitable and just nation, one brick -- or educated African-American -- at a time.

Booker T. began life on a Virginia plantation in 1856. His youth coincided with the final years of institutionalized slavery in the United States; the succession of the southern "slave states" from the nation as northern states moved to abolish the practice; and the eruption of a brutal Civil War as a result of this moral and ideological division.

It was a critical time in history of the United States. Would the country finally make good on the promise set forth by its own constitution over 100 years before: to treat all "men" as equals? Or would it continue to traffic and trade people of color?

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Michelle Obama

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Michelle Obama

On the unveiling of her official portrait, we feel it appropriate and timely to continue our tribute to Black History month with a hero who continues to make history. She has been nominated by more people than any other figure featured thus far on the #HistoryHero BLAST, second only in nominations to her husband, Barack Obama. Indeed, as incredible as her achievements are already, we're fairly certain she has yet to make her most indelible mark. 

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Toussaint L'Ouverture

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Toussaint L'Ouverture

He spent his life fighting for a liberty he would not survive to enjoy. Yet because of his bravery and determination, millions remain free.

As the 18th century came to a close, the French Caribbean colony of Saint-Dominque, known as Haiti by the indigenous islanders, was the richest colony in the world. It produced 60% of the world's coffee and 40% of its sugar. But its wealth was fed by the blood, sweat, and tears of the people enslaved and worked to death on the disease-ridden plantations of the island's white masters.

Toussaint Bréda was one such slave. He was born on a plantation, but as an adult was able to earn his freedom. At that time, one in 12 slaves managed to buy their way out of slavery. These were les gens de couleur libres, or free men of color. Ironically, once free, they were at liberty to perpetuate their society’s social conventions, which is to say, they too could own slaves. This created a precarious social caste system on the island the white slavers were happy to exploit.

Toussaint received an education, likely with the help of his family. As a free man, he eventually bought a small coffee plantation. It was worked by about a dozen slaves. But Toussaint knew that owning other humans was wrong. Events would soon lead him to turn this understanding into action.

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Sojourner Truth

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Sojourner Truth

What would you do if you looked out at the world and saw that it was not right? Sojourner Truth traveled the land and called injustice out. Folks listened.

In 1851, in Akron, Ohio, feminists from all over the United States gathered for a "women's rights" convention. The most prominent white female speakers of the day shared the dais and, one after another, advocated for women's suffrage – the right to vote. Then, unexpectedly, a short, middle-aged black woman took the stage. She'd been invited by Time Traveler Tours #HistoryHero Frances Dana Barker Gage, one of the organizers of the event. 

Murmurs throughout the hall betrayed that many in the audience were incredulous: What could an old black woman, surely illiterate and uneducated, contribute to the meeting? Yet, the moment Sojourner Truth began to speak, the audience fell silent.

"I have plowed and reaped and husked and chopped and mowed, and can any man do more than that?" Sojourner asked. "I can carry as much as any man, and can eat as much too, if I can get it."

The world had been introduced to the power and presence of Sojourner Truth.

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Abraham Lincoln

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Abraham Lincoln

History remembers him as Honest Abe. But did you know that few world leaders navigated the most treacherous political rapids as skillfully as Abraham Lincoln?

Just weeks after his inauguration as the 16th president of the United States, Lincoln confronted a crisis that would result in war but also change the course of history. The Great Civil War was a test of values. When it ended, over 600,000 people were dead, but so was his country's reliance on the institutional enslavement of blacks for economic benefit.

We therefore kick off a month of posts focused on Black History by honoring the man many believe to be the greatest US president who ever lived. 

It was April 1861. Abe had been in the White House for only 30 days and seven US southern states had seceded from the Union to form the Confederacy, a renegade government determined to shed blood to preserve the right to enslave and own African-Americans. Seven other states were poised to follow. Meanwhile, at Fort Sumter in South Carolina, 85 Union soldiers were under siege by 5,000 Confederate conscripts ready to pick a fight.

It was heretofore the greatest calamity in the history of the United States. But before we finish that story, let's look back...

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Maria Montessori

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Maria Montessori

Some people will go to extraordinary lengths and do whatever it takes to ensure that others succeed. That was Maria Montessori's hallmark.

Born in Italy in 1870, Maria Montessori spent her life challenging expectations -- from the sexism embedded in a country and culture with strictly defined gender roles to the prevailing notions of how children learn.

Maria was one of Italy’s first female doctors. She endured years of hostility, harassment, and outright rejection on the part of her male teacher and peers. But she persevered. And focusing on pediatrics and psychiatry, she became an expert in pediatric medicine.

She began to practice privately in 1896. But the priority she placed on learning and education -- inherited from her parents who sent her to the best institutions Rome then had to offer -- was never too far away.

In the 1890s, most doctors believed that “mentally disabled” children were incapable of being educated. Sadly, many young people, who today would be regarded merely as “learning challenged,” were confined to asylums for life. But Maria disagreed.

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Mother Teresa

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Mother Teresa

How can one person change the world? Mother Teresa did it by example.

Anjezë Gonxhe, the daughter of an Albanian entrepreneur, was born in 1911 the city of Skopje, now the capital of Macedonia. As a child, Anjezë prayed at the shrine of the Black Madonna, a pilgrimage site visited by many devout Albanians. God spoke to Anjezë there, at the age of 8; and at 18 she left home to become a nun.

After a year of preparation in Ireland, Anjezë began her novitiate in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas. She took her vows at 21, choosing for herself the name of Teresa, the patron saint of missionaries. She would soon live up to that name.

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Muhammad Ali

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Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali spent his life not counting the days, but making them count.

On February 25, 1964, a little-known 22-year-old boxer named Cassius Clay entered the ring in Miami Beach to face Sonny Liston, the reigning heavyweight-boxing champion. Clay was a fast-talking, brash young man. No one believed he stood a chance. Yet Clay gracefully dodged Liston's blow after blow until the larger man gave up in Round 7.

Clay rushed to the ropes declaring, "I am the champion of the world."

Cassius Clay was born in Louisville, Kentucky in 1942. Like many young black men growing up the US's racially segregated south, Clay had few options. He turned to sports, becoming an amateur boxer by the age of 12. Even then, he was determined to excel in a world stacked against him.

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Bill W.

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Bill W.

By overcoming his own addiction, then teaching others how to do so as well, this man helped not only to save himself, but also renew the lives of millions of others. In addition, he changed social perceptions on the both the roots and treatment of addiction.

In the 1930s United States, alcoholism was not viewed as a disease, but a moral failing. People who drank heavily were seen as weaklings and troublemakers. Serious alcoholics were labeled insane and admitted into asylums where they were often subjected to electric shock treatments and lobotomies that rendered them catatonic.

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Galen

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Galen

Sometimes the drive to discover and record your observations can outlive you.

For more than a thousand years, doctors from Spain to Persia looked to one man to define what it meant to practice medicine: Galen.

Galen of Pergamum was born around 129 A.D. He was Greek but grew up in Anatolia, in modern-day Turkey. Descendants of Plato and Aristotle, the Greeks were renowned in the Ancient World for their skill in science and art.

Galen's father was a wealthy architect. He saw to it that Galen received the finest education in philosophy, literature and medicine. As a boy, Galen studied the renowned work of the Greek doctor Hippocrates who, already 500 years before, had established medicine as a profession. His famous Hippocratic Oath -- a promise taken by physicians throughout history to uphold specific principles of medical ethics -- remains of paramount significance in the health professions to this day.

When Galen was 19 his father passed away. Galen decided to use his inheritance to follow the advice of his hero...

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Sylvia Pankhurst

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Sylvia Pankhurst

What would you do if you were treated unfairly and denied your basic social rights? Sylvia Pankhurst stood up and was heard -- not only for her rights, but for those of others.

Born in 1882, Sylvia Pankhurst grew up in the shadow of history’s “radical suffragettes,” the women who, after fighting for their right to vote since the 1870s, lost hope in diplomacy and turned to more extreme means to ensure their voices be heard. Sylvia's mother, Emmeline Pankhurst, was one of them. Founder of the British Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), Emmeline was committed to winning woman's suffrage at any cost.

Sylvia, a talented and precocious writer, joined the women’s suffrage movement in 1906, at the age of 24. That’s when she launched the Woman’s Dreadnought journal in which she would write and publish on issues of women’s’ rights for most of her life.

In 1908, when Britain's Prime Minister refused women the right to vote… again….

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Nzinga

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Nzinga

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.

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Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler

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Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler

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.

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Victoria Woodhull

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Victoria Woodhull

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.

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Yuan Mei

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Yuan Mei

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. 

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Lady Xian

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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.

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Sacheen Littlefeather

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Sacheen Littlefeather

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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. 

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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.

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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. 


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Chinua Achebe

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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.

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