Posts in North America
Aretha Franklin

Nina Simone is remembered as the “High Priestess of Soul” because, the consummate musical storyteller, she could weave a spell so hypnotic your heart would pound and you would lose track of time listening to her. But she never liked that moniker.

“…I was playing popular songs in a classical style with a…technique influenced by cocktail jazz…I included spirituals and children’s song in my performances, and those sorts of songs…identified with the folk movement.”

Simone could not be easily classified, nor did she want to be. She was a musical revolutionary with more than 40 albums of original songs in her discography.

Still, you may not have heard of her until now. And that is because her lyrics were so honest and so uncompromising, she was feared by the very monster she stood up to: Jim Crow America. With her songs, Nina Simone became a spokeswoman for a culture in upheaval.

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Nina Simone

Nina Simone is remembered as the “High Priestess of Soul” because, the consummate musical storyteller, she could weave a spell so hypnotic your heart would pound and you would lose track of time listening to her. But she never liked that moniker.

“…I was playing popular songs in a classical style with a…technique influenced by cocktail jazz…I included spirituals and children’s song in my performances, and those sorts of songs…identified with the folk movement.”

Simone could not be easily classified, nor did she want to be. She was a musical revolutionary with more than 40 albums of original songs in her discography.

Still, you may not have heard of her until now. And that is because her lyrics were so honest and so uncompromising, she was feared by the very monster she stood up to: Jim Crow America. With her songs, Nina Simone became a spokeswoman for a culture in upheaval.

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Frank Church

Frank Church was a United States lawyer and politician from the western state of Idaho. He was something of a boy wonder, being sent to Washington as a member of the 100-chair Senate at the age of 32. This made him one of the youngest individuals ever to serve the congressional chamber that calls itself "the world's greatest deliberative body." It was 1956. And even though he came from a sparsely populated and largely White rural state, Church was an early and fierce proponent of Civil Rights legislation; that is, the equal protection of rights for all US citizens, irrespective of gender, race, or creed, under the law.

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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.

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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...

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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...

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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

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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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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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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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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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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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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