Viewing entries in
North America

Fred Rogers

Comment

Fred Rogers

Even in an increasingly noisy world, Fred Rogers proved you don't have to shout to make your voice heard. He demonstrated that you don’t have to be a president or a general or a Steve Jobs to improve the lives of others — for 30 years and 886 episodes! He made a difference to millions over the course of generations through his message that you are important just by being you.

Fred Rogers was a cultural pioneer. He recognized in the earliest days of television that it was going to have a major impact on the world. He wanted that impact to be positive. But he found that the first attempts at children's programming simply were not right: It was not age-appropriate. It was not respectful. It did not respond to children’s deepest fears nor answer their most pressing questions. He believed that young people were thoughtful people, too, who deserved the best programming possible.

Now, you may not recognize the name "Fred" Rogers, but most will have heard of "Mister" Rogers. And some of you reading this post may have had an intimate relationship with him and his neighborhood, as well as the neighborhood of Make-Believe.

Continue reading…

Comment

Harvey Milk

Comment

Harvey Milk

This is Gay Pride Week in London, where I currently reside. This coming Saturday, 7 June 2018, the city's ancient streets and notoriously gray skies will be awash in the light of thousands of rainbow flags. If you look at the Gay Pride Calendar -- as I just did -- you will see that celebrations of the LGBTQ community are happening all year round, all over the world, in cities both large and small. It's not possible to pin down a single day, week, or month when this community, and it's supporters, are not cheering their hard-earned rights to live their truth, openly and with acceptance from the general population. But it was not that long ago when discrimination and fear of homosexuality and bisexuality caused far too many people to retreat from their true identities to live unfulfilled, dishonest, but "acceptable" lives.

As I type this, I'm reminded of the line in the musical Hairspray when the main character, Tracy Turnblad, says, "Every day should be Negro day." Well, today's History Hero spent his life advocating that gay individuals be openly, publicly proud of their birthright. Sadly, he lost his life in the battle he waged for Gay Rights. But thanks to him everyday is Gay Pride day today.

Meet Harvey Milk...

Comment

Survivors of the US Indian Boarding School System

Comment

Survivors of the US Indian Boarding School System

From the vantage point of the 21st century, when we think or talk about “holocaust” – meaning slaughter on a mass scale – we think of Hitler’s extermination of 6 million Jews during World War II. But this was not history’s first genocide – and, sadly, it wasn't the last. In his book, Mein Kampf, Hitler states that he modeled his efforts on American’s treatment of slaves and native people. The approach hinged on breaking spirits by forcibly separating parents from children, rounding them up and making them live together in a concentrated way, and stripping them of the traditional signifiers of their culture and society.

Founding Father and US President, Thomas Jefferson, spoke of the need to “eliminate” or “extirpate” Native Americans. President Andrew Jackson promulgated the 1830 Indian Removal Act, resulting in the genocidal Trail of Tears. Civil War General, Philip Sheridan, was known for his slogan, “the only good Indian is a dead Indian.” 

This is the story of the unknown, unsung, nameless thousands who confronted the savage approach of their self-styled "civilizers." They are heroes simply because they endured.

Continue reading…

Comment

The Statue of Liberty

Comment

The Statue of Liberty

Some heroes can inspire through their mere existence, rather than by what they do. They are symbols, infused with a people's highest aspirations and most cherishes ideals.

That describes our hero today: Lady Liberty, the 225-ton statue that stands watch over New York harbour. She has greeted generations upon generations of despised and unwanted who made the New World their destination and who helped to build the America that many still revere today.

While she's now mainly a tourist attraction, Lady Liberty's biography harkens back to another battle over human rights that consumed the US for much of its history.

Continue reading…

Comment

Fred Korematsu

Comment

Fred Korematsu

Fred Korematsu is a civil rights hero. He’s also an American, though his government attempted to suggest otherwise. He preceded Rosa Parks by 15 years but his actions failed to have the same seismic impact because he didn't have a whole movement ready to rally around him. Indeed, US civil-rights leaders at the time refused to touch his case.

He pursued justice on his own. Patiently. And he got it. But it took four decades. Here’s his little known story…

Continue reading…

Comment

George Marshall

Comment

George Marshall

Most know that this week marks the anniversary of the June 6 US-led invasion of Europe known as "D-Day," which turned the tide against Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany, bringing about the end of WWII. Many don’t know, however, that the first week of June is also remembered as the time when the post-war peace in Europe was established. This is all thanks to George Marshall.

Though a soldier in both the 1st and 2nd World Wars, George Marshall is best known to history as a man of peace. In fact, he's the only US soldier to have ever won the Nobel Peace Prize. Here's that story...

Continue reading…

Comment

Thurgood Marshall

Comment

Thurgood Marshall

This hero had a single life's goal: to tear down the legal structures that enabled and supported racism in the United States. His work not only served to re-engineer society, it provided a roadmap for lawyers everywhere dedicated to fighting institutionalized injustice.

Continue reading…

Comment

Julia Wilbur

Comment

Julia Wilbur

By Paula Tarnapol Whitacre

Between the U.S. Civil War’s battlefields and home front lay a middle place — the territory occupied by the northern, or Union, army that provided haven to escaped slaves. Julia Wilbur smoothed their transition to freedom.

Continue reading…

Comment

Queen Lili'uokalani

Comment

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...

Continue reading…

Comment

Tom Wolfe

Comment

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.

Continue reading…

Comment

E.B. White

Comment

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.

Continue Reading…

Comment

Carmen Yulín Cruz

Comment

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.  

Continue reading…

Comment

Benito Juarez

Comment

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.

Continue reading...

Comment

Man o' War

Comment

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.

Continue reading...

Comment

Viola Desmond

Comment

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.

Continue reading...

Comment

Heroes of the First U.S. School Shooting

Comment

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...

Comment

Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Comment

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...

Comment

Harriet Tubman

Comment

Harriet Tubman

She risked her life to escape from slavery. Once free, she risked her life again... and again... to help others gain their freedom as well.

No one knows exactly when Araminta “Minty” Ross was born. Few bothered to record the origins of the enslaved. We know only that her mother was named Rit, a cook on the Brodess family plantation in Maryland. Rit had nine children. Three of her daughters were sold into the Deep South by her master and never heard from again. When her master attempted to sell her youngest son Moses, Rit hid him in her cabin and promised to split the head of the first man who entered to take him. That time, the sale was called off.

As a child, Harriet did chores for local white families. She was beaten frequently for working too slowly. On one occasion, a white man she offended struck the five-foot slip of a girl in the head with a two-pound weight, fracturing her skull. After that, she suffered seizures, likely from epilepsy, the remainder of her life.

In her 20s, Minty could no longer bear life. She proclaimed that she feared life in captivity more than death. She decided to run away to the North, where slavery had been abolished. Unable to openly tell her mother goodbye, she bid adieu with a song: "I'll meet you in the morning … I'm bound for the promised land." That's also when she changed her first name to Harriet, her mother's full name, and adopted the last name Tubman.

Continue reading...

Comment

Helen Keller & Anne Sullivan

Comment

Helen Keller & Anne Sullivan

Though robbed of speech, along with her hearing and sight, Helen Keller learned how to make herself heard more clearly than most of us, all thanks to Anne Sullivan.

Helen Keller was born on June 27, 1880, in Tuscumbia, Alabama. A perfectly healthy and thoroughly precocious child, she is said to have started speaking at 6 months old and was already walking by 1. But when she was just 19 months old, Helen was stricken by an illness -- called "brain fever" by the family doctor, it was likely Scarlet Fever or Meningitis. Whatever it was, it ravaged poor Helen. She survived, but she was left permanently deaf and blind.

At the time, disabled Americans like Helen were labeled "deaf and dumb" and more often than not committed to asylums for life where they were treated like caged animals. Helen's parents, however, though not particularly wealthy, were proud. They refused to give up on their daughter. They knew in their hearts that she was intelligent. It was just a matter of unlocking it.

Continue reading...

Comment

Henrietta Lacks

Comment

Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks saved millions of lives. For more than 60 years, she has been credited for helping cure polio as well as developing treatments for cancer. 

The only thing is... she never knew about her contribution to medical science!

Loretta Pleasant (she later changed her name to Henrietta) was an African-American woman born in the US state of Virginia in 1920. When she was four-years-old, her mother died giving birth to her tenth child. Unable to care for his large family, Henrietta's father sent his children to live among various relatives. Henrietta went to live with her grandfather, who raised her in a log cabin that sixty years before had been the slave quarters of a Southern plantation.

Like most members of her family, Henrietta went to work rather than to school. She helped to farm acres of Virginia tobacco fields. Life was hard....

Continue reading...

Comment