This panel features individuals connected to social issues and popular culture in the United States, including writers, visual artists, civil rights activists, musicians, athletes, religious leaders, and business owners.
The Home Front
(1) Charles Eastman
Charles Alexander Eastman, also known as Hakadah and Ohiyesa, was born in Redwood Falls, Minnesota in 1858. After the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862, he left the state and spent his early childhood in Canada, learning traditional Dakota lifeways from his grandmother and uncle. His family thought his father had died in the U.S.-Dakota War, but discovered in 1873 that he had survived when he requested that his son come back to the United States with him and adopt white ways — including changing his name to Charles Alexander Eastman. Throughout the rest of his life, Eastman moved between American Indian and white American worlds while becoming a renowned author and lecturer. He took up the cause of granting citizenship to American Indians after WWI, arguing that their involvement in the war and the goals of peace after the war should be taken into account, saying “We ask nothing unreasonable - only the freedom and privileges for which your boy and mine have fought.”
Zitkala-Sa, whose name translates to “Red Bird” in Dakota, was a writer, editor, political activist, teacher and musician of the Yankton Dakota tribe. Zitkala-Sa struggled frequently throughout her life between assimilation and tradition, themes which are evident in much of her writing. These tensions also informed her early life, which was split between education at white boarding schools and universities and visits to her home on the Yankton Dakota Reservation. Zitkala-Sa identified these tensions as being one of the driving forces behind the dynamic quality of her work.
Her writing career was quite successful, with two major creative periods: 1900-1904 and 1916-1924. The first period was characterized by her publication of legends collected from Native American culture. This also included autobiographical narratives, many of which were featured in acclaimed publications such as Atlantic Monthly and Harper’s Monthly. For most readers, Zitkala-Sa’s work was the first time they had encountered the Native American vs. White American narrative as experienced and related directly by a Native American. The majority of these readers were white and of the classes which had caused so much of the misery about which Zitkala-Sa wrote.
Her second fruitful period of writing coincided with the political activism undertaken by Zitkala-Sa after moving to Washington, D.C. in 1916. Her husband – a member of the Ute tribe of Utah and Colorado – had just been dismissed from his post with the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Utah in response to his and Zitkala-Sa’s criticism of the bureau’s practices. During their time in Washington, Zitkala-Sa began lecturing to promote the cultural and tribal identities of Native Americans.
In 1924 the Indian Citizenship Act was passed, and in 1926 she and her husband founded the National Council of American Indians to further promote citizenship for all Native Americans that the legislation in 1924 had disregarded. From this point until her death in 1938, Zitkala-Sa would serve as president, major fundraiser, and speaker for the NCAI and was the major figure in those years. Her influence yielded improvements in the US government’s treatment of Native Americans, including the Indian Reorganization Act which was supported by the administration of FDR and passed by congress in 1934. Though her early work for the NACI was largely disregarded when the organization was revived in 1944 under male leadership, the writings and publications by Zitkala-Sa had a lasting affect on the reception and preservation of Native American culture and ways of life.
(3) Zora Neale Hurston
Zora Neale Hurston was an author and folklorist. She was born in the all-African American town of Eatonville, Florida, and both of her parents were formerly enslaved. Hurston traveled the country with a theater company during her teenage years, and eventually ended up at Howard University near the end of WWI. At Howard, Hurston cofounded the school’s student newspaper and graduated with an Associate’s Degree in 1920.
In 1924 she received a scholarship to Barnard College at Columbia University in New York. She was the only African American student at the college. It was during this time that she befriended the likes of Langston Hughes, among others, and it was said that her home was a popular spot for social gatherings. Hurston quickly became a major figure of the Harlem Renaissance, writing about the rural South.
In 1937 Hurston conducted ethnographic research in Jamaica and Haiti after being awarded the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship. It was during this time that she penned her masterwork, the novel Their Eyes Were Watching God. Though poorly received initially, Hurston’s novel is now regarded as a seminal work in both African-American and women’s literature. Through her writings Hurston “helped to remind the [Harlem] Renaissance–especially its more bourgeois members–of the richness in the racial heritage.”
(4) Jovita Idar
As a journalist, civil rights worker, and political activist, Jovita Idar fought for the rights of Mexican-Americans. Idar worked for La Chronica, a newspaper in Laredo, Texas, along with her two brothers. She wrote articles using a pseudonym, often highlighting the poor living conditions of Mexican-American workers. Idar also reported the Mexican Revolution in her articles, voicing support especially for the agrarian revolutionaries.
Idar served as the president of the League of Mexican Women which was founded to offer free education to Mexican children. Founded in 1911, the League also sought to “unify the Mexican intellectuals of Texas around the issues of protection of civil rights, bilingual education, lynching of Mexicans, labor organizations, and women’s rights.” Her efforts helped to educate, provide for, and organize vulnerable Mexican-Americans throughout Texas.
(5) Claude McKay
Claude McKay was a prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance, a social and artistic movement of the 1920s.
Born in rural Jamaica, he was raised to be proud of his black heritage. It wasn’t until he was a young man in Kingston, Jamaica, and later in America that he experienced prejudice. This became a favorite subject of his work. McKay’s writing also explored themes of homosexuality. He took part in the African American LGBTQ subculture that flourished in Harlem.
While he authored four novels, including a best-seller that won the Harmon Gold Award for Literature, McKay is known for his collections of poetry. His most famous poem, “If We Must Die,” was a powerful defense of black rights, even if that meant violence. “Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,” McKay wrote, “Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!”
It was published in a magazine McKay co-edited, The Liberator, during a racially tense period in 1919 called the Red Summer — so named for the hundreds of African Americans who were killed in race riots. Winston Churchill is said to have quoted the poem in the Second World War.
(6) T.S. Eliot
Though born in the U.S., writer Thomas Stearns Eliot moved to England in 1914 at the age of 25 — just as World War I was breaking out in Europe. Eliot wasn’t involved in the conflict, instead spending those years teaching and writing.
That writing turned into his first collection of poems, published in 1917, just as he took a position in finance with Lloyds Bank. The job sent him to Paris in 1920 where he met author James Joyce. Eventually, Eliot became the director of the publishing firm Faber and Faber and he remained there for the rest of his career, working with many young poets.
Eliot was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948 for his “outstanding, pioneer contribution to present-day poetry.” Eliot died in 1965 and was commemorated two years later by the installation of a stone in Poets Corner at Westminster Abbey.
(7) Margaret Sanger
Margaret Higgins Sanger’s work as a women’s reproductive rights activist may have been inspired by what she saw and experienced in her personal life. She witnessed her mother, Anne Higgins, endure 18 pregnancies with 11 live births before her death at 49. As a nurse, she cared for many working-class immigrant women who bore numerous children or died from self-induced abortions.
Whatever coaxed the flame, Margaret became America’s first sex educator by writing about birth control — a term she popularized. Her writings in the monthly magazine, The Woman Rebel, didn’t just raise eyebrows; it was unlawful to send out information about contraception through the mail.
Sanger went to Europe to avoid going to prison, but eventually returned and in 1916 she opened the first birth control clinic in the United States. Not surprisingly, she was arrested and sentenced to 30 days in a workhouse. In the appeals process, her verdict was not overturned but the court made an exception in the law that allowed doctors to prescribe contraception for medical reasons. Her arrest and its aftermath served as a catalyst for birth control activism across the United States.
(8) Ida B. Wells
Rosa Parks was not the first black woman to cause an uproar over public transportation. Some 71 years earlier, in 1884, journalist and activist Ida B. Wells was pulled from the first class seat she had purchased and made to go into a crowded smoking car. Although she won her court case against the railroad company, it was later overturned and Wells was ordered to pay court costs — fueling a lifelong quest for racial justice.
Wells turned to writing and became known for her investigative journalism into the lynchings of black citizens. She often debunked charges justifying these murders and sparked a national anti-lynching campaign.
Speaking passionately on this issue, she raised money to continue to explore these mob-style executions and published her results. Wells found that while officially charged with rape, many blacks were killed for reasons such as failing to “give way” or competing economically with white persons.
Death threats caused Wells to flee from her home in Memphis and relocate to Chicago. She married Ferdinand L. Barnett there in 1895 and had four children, but continued to travel, write, and encourage organizing efforts. In 1913, she established the first black women’s suffrage club, called the Alpha Suffrage Club. During the years following WWI, she covered various race riots and published her reports in pamphlets and newspapers, including her own — the Conservator.
(9) Georgia O’Keeffe
Best known for her paintings of enlarged flowers, New York skyscrapers, and New Mexico landscapes, Georgia O’Keeffe is frequently called the “Mother of American modernism.” By the age of 10 O’Keeffe decided she wanted to be an artist, and at the age of 21 she received her first accolade for her work; the William Merritt Chase still-life prize for her oil painting Dead Rabbit with Copper Pot. Just one year after this, however, O’Keeffe gave up the idea of a career as an artist because she felt she would never distinguish herself through the traditions which were the basis of her formal art education. She worked in various commercial and educational capacities for the next ten years.
In 1916 renowned photographer Alfred Stieglitz was introduced by a mutual friend to several innovative charcoal drawings which O’Keeffe had made the year prior. He put them on exhibition as soon as he could, and came into frequent communication with O’Keeffe as a result. By 1918, Georgia moved to New York to focus full-time once again on her artwork. It was during her time in New York that O’Keeffe began working predominantly in oils, the medium in which her impressionistic work is most widely recognized.
Also during this time, Stieglitz – with whom O’Keeffe was by now living and deeply in love – organized annual exhibitions of her work, introducing her to many important early American modernists. By the mid-1920s it was O’Keeffe, however, who became known as one of the most important artists of the time. Her work influenced many and was highly regarded by the public as well, as evidenced by the high prices her paintings commanded at sale.
After more than ten years living in New York, O’Keeffe began searching for new inspiration for her artwork. She found it in the rugged landscapes of New Mexico on a summer vacation there in 1929. Throughout the next twenty years she made frequent visits to the state, inspired by its varicolored terrain and rugged way of life. She moved there permanently in 1949 after the death of Stieglitz in 1946. Throughout this period her reputation continued to grow, and she earned numerous commissions from across the country.
Her work was widely respected, and O’Keeffe continued painting until macular degeneration took all but her peripheral eyesight in 1972. In 1977, President Gerald R. Ford presented O’Keeffe with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor awarded to American civilians. In 1985, she was awarded the National Medal of Arts. O’Keeffe passed away at the age of 98, widely regarded as one of the most important artists of the 20th century.
(10) Oscar Micheaux
Sometimes called the Czar of Black Hollywood, Oscar Micheaux directed and produced more than 44 films. Micheaux started out shining shoes and worked as a railway porter. By the time he was a young man, he had homesteaded a farm in South Dakota — no small feat in an all white area — and began writing stories. Unable to find a publisher willing to work with a black man, Micheaux formed his own publishing company.
Soon motion pictures were all the rage and Micheaux was intrigued with this new storytelling medium. He formed his own movie production company and in 1919 became the first African-American to make a film.
His films stepped away from “Negro” stereotypes portrayed in movies of the day. Additionally, he was lauded for the movie, “Within Our Gates,” which was seen as a response to the racism depicted in D.W. Griffith’s film, “The Birth of a Nation,” and the widespread social instability following World War I.
(11) Frank Lloyd Wright
Frank Lloyd Wright (born Frank Lincoln Wright, June 8, 1867 – April 9, 1959) was a prolific American architect, designing more than 1,000 structures. Besides his eccentrics of wearing a cape and creating fodder for the papers with his notorious love triangle, Wright is known for the design philosophy called organic architecture. His idea was that a structure should look as though it naturally grew from the construction site.
Often when he’d design a home for clients, Wright would also draw up its furnishings. Displaying the pieces in their intended rooms did not feel optional to homeowners.
Wright’s influence was felt across oceans, not just in his popular lectures, but in the honoring of his style. Post-World War I European architects have referred to Wright’s Robie House, with its 110-foot cantilevered rooflines, as the cornerstone of modernism and incorporated its character into their own design work.
(12) Madam C.J. Walker
Sarah Breedlove was the first child in her family to be born free on a Louisiana cotton plantation. Orphaned by age eight and picking cotton, this girl would storm the world as Madam CJ Walker: first self-made woman millionaire. It was working as a washerwoman in St. Louis that Sarah met advertising man Charles J. Walker. He would become her second husband — and promoter of her future enterprise.
Sarah’s own hair loss led to a business opportunity; she worked on a home remedy, which she perfected into a line of hair care products for African Americans. Her husband developed an advertisement campaign featuring the hair products of “Madam CJ Walker,” a persona Sarah embraced. Her savvy business acumen led her to wealth and philanthropy. She made large donations to the NAACP and other organizations improving the lives of African-Americans.
(13) Bessie Smith
Bessie Smith was a championship roller skater in her home state of Tennessee, but her fame came from her extraordinary singing voice. The public would crown her the “Empress of the Blues.”
When her parents died, she and her brother turned to street busking. This led to work in various tent shows. The singer/dancer married young, and her husband died in action while serving in World War I. Throughout her life, Smith pursued love affairs with both men and women.
In the decades after WWI, Smith would become the nation’s most popular female blues singer, recording hits such as “Downhearted Blues.” She is credited for popularizing the blues and jazz genres. While preparing to record songs in the newly-popular swing style in 1937, she was killed in a car accident.
(14) Duke Ellington
During World War I, Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was a high school musician. By 1917, he organized groups to play for dances, using his day job as a freelance sign painter to build his music business. When a customer asked him to paint a sign for a dance party, Duke would offer to play.
In 1923, Ellington got his big break at the Hollywood Club in New York City that would end up lasting four years. His success was slowed during the 1940s and the early 1950s with legislative restrictions such as club owners having to pay for a permit to allow dancing. In 1956, however, Duke and his orchestra met resounding success following their appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival. This festival introduced him to a new generation of fans and helped to spur Ellington’s popularity. Duke Ellington is widely regarded as one of the greatest composers of the 20th Century.
(15) Mary McLeod Bethune
Mary Jane McLeod Bethune started working in the field with her parents, freed-slaves, when she was a small child. Perhaps wanting more from life than the next row of cotton, she expressed interest in education. It took the help of a sponsor, but Bethune graduated from college.
Instead of following her plan to become a missionary, Bethune started a private school for African-American girls. It would later merge with an African-American boys school and become Bethune-Cookman University.
With Bethune as college president, high standards were maintained in order to attract donors, but also to demonstrate to the greater society what educated African Americans could do.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt sought out Bethune to be a member of his Black Cabinet. She advised the president on concerns of black people and in turn shared his message and positive achievements with blacks. Bethune’s commitment to bettering the lives of African Americans earned her the honorable moniker, “The First Lady of The Struggle.”
(16) Owen Young
It was not at all certain that Owen D. Young— bookish though he was— would ever go to high school, much less law school. It took the mortgaging of his grandfather’s farm (and the needling of a university president) for Owen to complete his education.
It proved a good investment. Owen’s skill at litigation got the attention of General Electric where he became their chief counsel. Within ten years he was president of the company and moving the manufacturing giant into a leader in home electrical appliances.
In 1919, Uncle Sam called on him to help the country’s flagging radio communication industry. Young brought America to the radio technology forefront.
Following World War I, he was again called to serve. This time it was on the Second Industrial Conference by President Woodrow Wilson. He coauthored a plan to help Germany avoid default on reparations (and international unrest), earning him Time magazine’s Man of the Year award. Young would go on to counsel five U.S. presidents in matters of technology and international affairs.
(17) William Boeing
Like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg, William E. Boeing was an ivy league school drop out. He left Yale University in 1903 for a risky venture in the Northwest timber industry. Boeing was fortunate and made enough money to start another business — aviation.
By the time of World War I, Boeing’s company made one airplane model. The fledgling business got an order to build 50 planes for the United States Navy and by war’s end, Boeing had entered the commercial aviation business by creating mail service planes and later a passenger airline called United Airlines.
Though Boeing later sold his business, he never lost his love for flight. He returned to serve as an aviation consultant during World War II for his former company.
(18) Henry Ford
Henry Ford may be the founder of the Ford Motor Company, but he did not invent the automobile or the assembly line. He figured out ways to make them more efficient. Ford’s excellence at mass production made it so middle class Americans could afford their first cars. Taking vehicles out of the realm of extreme luxury items to everyday conveyance greatly impacted the 20th century.
During World War I, his focus went from the road to the open sky and ocean. Ford converted his automobile manufacturing to building engines for planes and anti-submarine boats. Plants in the United Kingdom were re-tooled to produce tractors to help with the British food supply.
Ford was a great supporter of the League of Nations, a proposed coalition to prevent wars through disarmament and diplomacy. When President Wilson toured the country to promote its creation, Ford helped fund a publicity campaign. In January 1920, the league was founded as part of the Paris Peace Conference.
(19) Albert Einstein
Born into the German Empire in 1879, Einstein was not much of a student. In fact, he loathed school and dropped out of high school. However, due to his excellent entrance exams, he was admitted into the renowned Swiss Federal Polytechnic School in Zurich.
By 1905, Einstein was a graduate, working as a third class technician at a Swiss Patent office. In his spare time, he wrote scientific papers which “radically changed human understanding of the universe” and earned him a PhD. He was 26.
During WWI, Einstein supported the anti-war movement and campaigned for a German democracy. He was certain he could get German rulers to see reason; he was wrong.
By 1919, the young physicist had made a name for himself with his theory of relativity. Einstein was visiting the US in 1933, just as Hitler took over Germany, so he remained stateside until becoming a United States citizen in the 1940s. On the brink of WWII, Einstein contacted President Roosevelt about a “powerful bomb of a new type” that the Germans were developing. This was the beginning of the Manhattan Project and the era of nuclear weapons.
(20) Babe Ruth
At the age of seven, George Herman Ruth Jr. was sent to St. Mary’s Industrial School for Orphans, Delinquent, Incorrigible and Wayward Boys in Baltimore — but the boy called Babe wasn’t an orphan. Rather he was just delinquent, incorrigible and wayward. It was at the Catholic school that he learned to love baseball. Brother Matthias Boutlier, the school’s disciplinarian, coached the young player who was soon signed to play professional baseball.
While Ruth is well known for his 714 home runs and impressive .690 slugging average (still a major-league record), he also won 89 games and helped bring the Boston Red Sox to three World Series…as a left-handed pitcher.
After breaking the single-season home run record in 1919, the Red Sox sold Ruth to the Yankees. Babe Ruth led the New York team to four World Series wins, but the Boston Red Sox did not win a World Series for 86 years, leading some to believe the Sox were cursed.
(21) Jim Thorpe
He would be called the greatest athlete of the 20th century. Born of European and Native American descent, Jim Thorpe frequently ran away from his Indian boarding school. Thorpe later attended the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania where his football prowess was recognized. A West Point cadet succinctly recalled watching Thorpe tear up the Army team — it was a performance Dwight Eisenhower never forgot.
But it was at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm that Thorpe’s gifts were seen by the world. He brought home gold for his decathlon and pentathlon events.
Prior to the Olympics, Thorpe also had been a baseball barnstormer, traveling city-to-city for games. He had taken the small customary payments for playing. However, this was a violation of the Games’ amateur status rules and he was stripped of his medals — though some feel it was his ethnicity rather than a rule violation that led to this humbling event. Thorpe went on to play professional baseball and football during the WWI years, and into the 1920s. Thorpe’s medals were restored to him posthumously in 1982.
(22) Robert Goddard
Robert Hutchings Goddard (October 5, 1882 – August 10, 1945) was to rockets and space as the Wright brothers were to airplanes and flight. Goddard was said to have “ushered in the Space Age” with the first liquid-fueled rocket.
Despite the importance of this work, Goddard was not made rich by it — nor did the public respect him. The press made a game of ridiculing his “foolish” ideas of spaceflight. He received modest grants from the Smithsonian, but often self-funded his work from his pay as a professor.
While many academics supported World War l with their expertise, Goddard looked for military applications of his rocketry. The Signal Corps eventually sponsored the scientist’s work by helping to fund the development of a tube-based rocket launcher for light infantry use.
A successful demonstration of the rocket occurred on November 6, 1918, just days before the Compiègne Armistice was signed. The research was not wasted. It was applied in WWII and used to further the dream of a successful rocket to the moon.
(23) George Washington Carver
The man often praised for saving the economy of the South was born into slavery in 1865. As a child, George Washington Carver worked in the garden, and his knack for it led him to be called the “plant doctor.”
Carver left home to pursue an education, becoming the first African American to graduate from present-day Iowa State University — and later became faculty.
Booker T. Washington, the president of the Tuskegee Institute, recruited Carver to head its Agriculture Department. Carver taught there for 47 years and did critical research on innovative farm methods, including soil conservation and crop diversification.
When pests destroyed the cotton crop, he encouraged farmers to try peanuts. Carver wrote a booklet, “How to Grow the Peanut and 105 Ways of Preparing it For Human Consumption.” These breakthrough ideas saved many farms, while also promoting environmentally sound practices.
Time magazine praised Carver in 1941 for his inventiveness, calling him the “Black Leonardo.”
(24) Charles “Chief” Bender
Charles Bender was the “greatest money pitcher of all time,” according to his Philadelphia Athletics manager Connie Mack. The future Baseball Hall of Famer was a member of the Ojibwe tribe and grew up in Minnesota’s Crow Wing County. He was discovered in 1900 at age 16, studying at Pennsylvania’s Carlisle Indian School.
By 1903, he was in the major leagues and compiled a record at age 19 that has yet to be broken. That was the same year in which he bested Cy Young in a pitching duel ending with a score of 2-1, often called one of the best-pitched games in MLB history. The young man called “Chief” had five wins in three World Series and in 1910 earned a spectacular 23-5 record. He is credited with inventing the nickel curve, also known as the slider. In 1918, he put baseball on hold to work in a shipyard as part of the American war effort. After several seasons of decreased effectiveness as a pitcher, Bender retired in 1925. He remained in baseball, however, and went on to manage, coach and scout in various leagues. His career 212-127 record helped launch him into the hall of fame in 1953. Despite the discrimination facing Native Americans in his era, teammates said he was one of the kindest men they’d ever played with. In 1981 he was named to a book chronicling the 100 Greatest Baseball Players of All Time.
(25) Andrew “Rube” Foster
Known as the “Father of Black Baseball,” Andrew “Rube” Foster was an American player and pioneer of the Negro Leagues. Rube pitched in the Negro leagues for 15 years, until 1917 when at age 35 he arrived at his best career: baseball manager and executive.
He created the New Negro League team in Detroit, luring many of his veteran players to join. The NNL was the first long-lasting league for African-American baseball players from 1920 to 1931. In 1926 Rube was hospitalized from effects of near asphyxiation from a gas leak. The NNL withered without his leadership, and just one year after he passed away in 1930, the league officially disbanded.
Foster was the first representative from the Negro Leagues to be elected an executive to the baseball Hall of Fame. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum hosts the Andrew “Rube” Foster Lecture annually each September.
(26) Anna Wessel Williams
Anna Williams’s sister, Millie, had a harrowing childbirth in which she lost her baby and nearly died. Anna felt it was the inexperienced caregiver that resulted in the sad outcome. Just months later, in 1887, she enrolled in the Woman’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary.
As a physician, Williams came to work at the first diagnostic lab in the country for the New York Department of Health. There she was able to isolate a crucial strain of diphtheria, which led to the creation of its antitoxin. She graciously shared credit with her colleagues and was known for her collaborative nature. In 1914 Williams was elected president of the Woman’s Medical Society of New York. During WWI she headed a commission on the influenza outbreak and taught classes at NYU on how to handle local outbreaks of the pandemic.
Williams led efforts to discover a treatment for the pathogen responsible for the devastating illness that killed an estimated 50 million people across the globe in the years of 1918 and 1919. While the efforts of Williams and her teams didn’t isolate the pathogen, her work to understand the illness helped slow transmission of it, potentially saving tens of thousands of Americans from the deadly virus.
(27) Robert Yerkes
Robert Yerkes pioneered modern intelligence testing and theories in comparative psychology. During World War I, Yerkes’ team designed the famous Army Alpha and Army Beta tests in which the results determined suitability for special positions. By the time the war ended, some two million men had been tested. Although Yerkes believed that the test measured native intelligence, later findings found that education, training, and acculturation played an important role in performance.
The first primate research laboratory in the United States was founded by Yerkes, adding to the body of research of comparative psychology. He was the lab’s director from 1929 until 1941.
Later as a proponent of the eugenics movement, Yerkes sought immigration restrictions to prevent what he saw as “race deterioration.”
(28) Grace Humiston
Grace Humiston reigned as the probably most famous investigator in early 20th-century America. A graduate of the Law School of New York University, she worked as a lawyer and investigator and was the woman to attain a senior position in the Department of Justice in 1907.
In 1917, the disappearance of 18-year-old Ruth Cruger in Harlem had gained front page coverage in many newspapers. After a police investigation had gone cold, the girl’s father hired Humiston to investigate. Following several interviews and her deciphering of a blurred message on a blotter, Humiston led NYPD to the basement of Alfredo Cocci. Cocci had been an early suspect in the case but was not investigated deeply. After the police found the body of Ruth Cruger in his basement, Ruth’s father accused the NYPD of negligence. An inquiry soon followed and unearthed a kickback scheme between Cocci and the local police. Humiston was subsequently named special investigator to the NYPD in charge of tracing missing girls. As a result of her investigative skill – and the massive interest in the Cruger case – Humiston quickly became known as ‘Mrs. Sherlock Holmes.’
(29) Charles A. Lindbergh
Lindbergh’s interest in aviation tempted him away from his mechanical engineering studies at the University of Wisconsin. He mastered solo flight and took off as a wild barnstormer, performing at public events.
As a publicity stunt in 1919, a hotel owner offered $25,000 to the first person to fly nonstop between New York and Paris. By 1927, after multiple deaths, it had still not been won. On May 20th of that year, Lindbergh lifted off from Long Island, New York, traveling 33.5 hours to Le Bourguet Field, Paris. More than a 100,000 people came out to witness the historic landing of this daring pilot.
Lindbergh was so beloved in Paris that US Ambassador Myron Herrick brought the young man to as many meetings and events as he could in attempts to garner goodwill from crowds and state leaders alike. Rather than continue around the world as he had hoped in his now iconic Spirit of St. Louis, Lindbergh was asked to return home to the United States. Upon his arrival, Lindbergh was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross medal from President Calvin Coolidge.
Throughout his life, “Lucky Lindy” used his international renown to promote the field of aviation. He dedicated his days to the continued development of aircraft and the promotion of science and technology. Most of all, Lindbergh is credited with helping to usher in the age of commercial aviation and world travel.
(30) Elijah Muhammad
Elijah Muhammad was born Elijah Poole in 1897 in Sandersville, Georgia. Forced to quit school in the third grade in order to help his family financially, Poole’s sister taught him to read in lieu of a formal education. After spending his youth working in brickyards he became a preacher for rural Baptist churches in Georgia. In 1917 he married Clara Evans, and by 1923 he and his family joined thousands of other black families in The Great Migration. He recounted years later that by the age of 20 he had “seen enough of the white man’s brutality to last 26,000 years.”
Much like the estimated 1.6 million other black families that made up the First Great Migration, Poole left his rural environs in the South for the industrial, upwardly-mobile cities in the North. He soon found work at an automobile plant in Detroit, MI. There he became involved in various Black Nationalist movements within the city, most prominent of which was the Universal Negro Improvement Association started by Marcus Garvey. Following Garvey’s deportation and the decline of the UNIA, Poole attended a speech in 1931 by Wallace Fard. Fard’s conviction that Islam was the most powerful means toward black empowerment enraptured Poole, and Fard soon gave his new follower the name Muhammad.
Upon Fard’s disappearance in 1934, the leadership of the Nation of Islam (which Fard had founded on July 4, 1930) was left in question. This highly contentious power vacuum within the organization resulted in several threats on Muhammad’s life. To escape potential danger he moved his family to Chicago, IL in 1935, and later Milwaukee, WI and Washington, D.C.
Through each of these moves Muhammad established new temples and expanded membership in the NOI. Some of his most influential recruits included Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X. Though often embroiled in controversy because of his black separatist beliefs and political dissent, Elijah Muhammad nevertheless demonstrated that African-Americans were capable of self-support to break the cycle of poverty and racial violence which plagued much of their population. Under Muhammad’s leadership the NOI established a newspaper; set up businesses such as grocery stores, barber shops and bakeries; founded schools in 47 cities; and purchased thousands of agricultural land – all for the improvement of the lives of its African-American membership.
(31) Al Capone
Thrown out of Catholic school at age 14, Al Capone grew to lead an infamous bootlegging gang in Chicago during the Prohibition era. He earned his nickname “Scarface,” after inadvertently slighting a woman while working at a New York nightclub. Her brother slashed Capone’s face leaving him with a scarred left face. Capone would propagate the lie that the injury was from World War I. He later hired his assailant as his own bodyguard.
Capone’s influence was so great, he “owned” many members of the government and police departments. Although his crimes of racketeering were well known, the FBI was only able to send him to prison on a case of tax evasion. This was after having to ready a “fresh” jury to try the mobster after Capone’s henchman had bribed and threatened the first seated jury.
Capone was sentenced to 11 years in jail. Two years into his sentence, he was caught bribing guards and was sent to the island prison of Alcatraz. Isolated there, he began suffering from poor health and after serving six-and-a-half years, he was released to a mental hospital in Baltimore. He died in Miami in 1947.
(32) Aimee Semple McPherson
Long before televangelists graced cable stations, Aimee Semple McPherson — better known as Sister Aimee — rocked the then-modern medium of radio. She was the most popular Christian preacher in America, overflowing lecture halls for her faith healing sessions. McPherson’s preaching style was said to put people in “near hysteria” with audiences sometimes numbering in the tens of thousands.
After World War I, another battle emerged between the fundamentalists and what were known as modernists, people seeking less conservative religious faiths. Sister Aimee was a staunch fundamentalist and believed that faith should be infused into every aspect of one’s life. She saw modernism and secularism as the true enemy.
In 1926, the country became obsessed with her alleged kidnapping which made headlines for months — as did the accusations that it was faked to create sympathy and momentum for the fundamentalist cause. The case was investigated and almost went to trial, but in the end it was determined that there was a lack of evidence.