Posts tagged Civil Rights
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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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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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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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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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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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.

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Jesse Owens

He grew up in a society that deliberately separated blacks and whites while claiming they were equal. In reality, he and other African-Americans had few rights and even fewer opportunities. Despite this, our hero reached for the stars and achieved them… four times in a row! In so doing, he found acceptance -- albeit briefly -- in an unlikely place, offering hope that equality might one day become reality even in the United States.

The grandson of slaves, Jesse Owens and his parents joined the "great northward migration" of Southern blacks, fleeing the increasing threat of lynching by Southern whites. They landed in Ohio in 1922. Jesse was not quite 10 years old.

In secondary school, Jesse’s passion for running and jumping earned him a scholarship to Ohio State University. He won award after award for the Buckeyes, earning him the nickname: "Buckeye Bullet." Yet because of the color of his skin, when he traveled with the team, he could not enter restaurants or stay in the same hotel as his white mates. It didn't matter that he was their star performer. In Jim Crow America, “separate but equal" held sway, even in the North.

On May 25, 1935, Jesse set three world records for running and the long jump in a single day. This made him a shoe-in to represent the US at the 1936 Olympic Games. But there was a catch: the Games were being hosted in Berlin that year, no the capital of Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany. 

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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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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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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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