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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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...
Do you dream of changing the course of history forever?
Frederick Douglass did more than dream. He acted.
Frederick Douglass was born a slave in 1818, the property of a prosperous family in the US state of Maryland. Enslaved for life, he was forbidden an education – anything to hamper him from running away. But even as a child, Frederick could be very persuasive: He bribed the indentured servants in his neighborhood with morsels of bread in exchange for lessons on how to read and write.
“Have not I as good a right to be free as you have?" he asked the "hungry little urchins" (his words) who by law would gain their freedom at the age of 21 simply because they were white. Frederick did not understand why they could learn while he, and other blacks, could not. In his teens, he secretly organized classes to educate his fellow slaves, despite the threat of retribution by white men with clubs.
What would you do if suddenly your language, culture, and people were told they no longer had the right to exist?
Louis Riel organized. He would be martyred for his efforts.
Louis Riel was Métis. Have you ever heard of such people? Well, neither had I until Louis was nominated as a #HistoryHero.
The Métis were the descendants of French fur-trappers and indigenous Native American tribes who had trapped and farmed the Canadian Prairies (the mostly grassland area now comprising the southern regions of what is now Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba) since the 17th century. While the Métis spoke French and were devoted Catholics, they were ruled autocratically by the London-based Hudson's Bay Company on behalf of Britain until 1869. That’s when the Company sold the vast region to the new Dominion of Canada without consulting or even informing the local inhabitants. This left the status of Métis farms and language rights unclear.
Do you believe we are stronger united than divided?
So did King Kamehameha.
Every June, locals on Hawai’i Island offer mele prayers, hula dances, and lei wreaths to a radiantly painted, eight-foot sculpture of Hawai’i’s first king. Kamehameha Day honors the Hawaiian past as an independent nation, a history entwined with the legendary life of its greatest leader. Some locals believe that their offerings to the Kamehameha statue keep the statue alive as a protector of the Aloha Spirit, and that Kamehameha continues to watch over Hawai’i from atop his splendid pedestal...
Do you believe that everyone should have access to books and education, regardless of financial circumstances?
Benjamin Franklin did. And he helped make it possible.
Though perhaps best known for his work as a Founding Father of the United States, statesmen, and inventor, Benjamin Franklin also made significant contributions to the fields of publishing, journalism, education, and literary access.
Would you stand up for what you think is right, even against a powerful monarch living across the sea?
José Rizal did.
José Rizal was born in 1861 in the Spanish-ruled Philippines. He was a gifted student, and during his school years became especially skilled in science and languages. He went on to study medicine in Manila and later traveled to Spain to finish his degree.
While in Europe, Rizal began to question Spanish colonialism. He met other like-minded Filipinos intent on rectifying the evils of the then three-centuries-old Spanish colonial system. He formed Los Indios Bravos, an association of Filipino writers whose poems, stories, and newspaper articles demonstrated the current condition of the Philippines at the hands of the Spanish. Their goal was to raise awareness of their cruel and terrible treatment of Filipinos. Los Indios Bravos quickly formed the basis of the Propaganda Movement: a peaceful crusade for social, political, and economic reform in the Philippines.
Rizal wrote his first book at this time, Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not), which highlighted the role of Spanish Catholic Friars in the colonization of the Philippines. But back home, his book was banned...