Category Archives: Biographies

Significant Events of a Generation: Million Man March

“We are standing in the place of those who couldn’t make it here today. We are standing on the blood of our ancestors.” –Louis Farrakhan

February is African American History month and so this month we are focusing on an event in history that has both a generational and African American connection.  On October 16, 1995 the Million Man March took place on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.  The event was intended to be a call for African American men from across the nation to gather together and draw attention to significant economic and political issues disproportionately affecting African Americans across the United States.  Organizers of the march were also hoping to redefine the public image of the African American male.  The march was the brainchild of Louis Farrakhan and was organized by the National African American Leadership Summit and the Nation of Islam as well as local chapters of the NAACP.

The march itself is an interesting event to examine from a generational perspective.  Louis Farrakhan, the main organizer, was born in 1933 and is a member of the Traditionalist generation, as were many of the other organizers.  Participants spanned all generations from Traditionalists to Gen Y.  The children that were brought along to the event were all members of Gen Y, as in 1995 the oldest members of Gen Y (1980 – 2000) were 15 years old and any child younger than that would have fallen within the Gen Y category.  Gen X (1965 – 1979) was solidly in their teens and 20s when the march took place – members of both generations no doubt both paid attention to news reports and participated in the march itself.  Older Gen X and Baby Boomers (1946 – 1964) were the adults and parents of the march, showing up in large numbers to support a cause they viewed as significant to both themselves and future generations.

The march began at 6 a.m., with busloads of attendees coming from all over the country. Community leaders, pastors, elected officials, and other public figures made up a long list of speakers who spoke powerful words to the crowd on the National Mall.  The agenda for the day included: voter registration, adoption, unemployment, poverty rates, law enforcement, education and health issues. The number of marchers was a topic of dispute, as organizers of the march claimed upwards of 800,000 and representatives of the National Parks Service claimed only 400,000 people showed up.  Regardless, even at its lowest estimate, the event was one of the top five largest events in terms of participants, to ever be held on the National Mall.

Certainly the Million Man March was a significant event in African American history and one that shaped the younger generations, Gen X and Y.  The year after the march took place there was an increase in black male voters in the 1996 presidential election, by over 1.7 million.  In addition, the march has inspired countless other “Million” marches such as: Million Worker March, Million Letter March, Million Mom Challenge and Million Hoodie March – to name a few.

Significant People of a Generation: Baby Boomers – Meryl Streep

   “Acting is not about being someone different. It’s finding the similarity in what is apparently different, then finding myself in there.” – Meryl Streep

Meryl Streep is considered to be one of the most talented and beloved actresses in the world. A member of the Baby-Boomer generation, she has been the quintessential Hollywood dame for nearly 35 years since she first gained prominence in 1978.  She is known for her incredible versatility, ability to immerse herself into roles, and great mastery of difficult accents.  Many of her iconic roles, such as Linda in the Vietnam War movie The Deer Hunter, express the attitudes and trials of her Boomer generation, who matured into adulthood watching her films.

On June 22, 1949, Meryl Streep (née Mary Louise Streep) was born in Summit, New Jersey. Her mother was a commercial artist and her father was a pharmaceutical executive. Streep was raised in Bernardsville, NJ, along with her two brothers. She attended Bernards High School, where she was a cheerleader, choir and drama club member, and was even voted Homecoming Queen senior year.  Streep went on to receive her B.A. in Drama from Vassar College in 1971 and her M.F.A. at the Yale School of Drama.

During the early 1970s, Meryl Streep acted predominantly in theater, performing standard Shakespearean repertory and starring on Broadway. Her first film debut was in the movie Julia (1977), which she played a small, but important role. In 1978, she landed a supporting role in The Deer Hunter and was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. During this time, she also met and married sculptor Don Gummer. They are still married and have four children together.

In 1979, Streep won her first Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for the movie Kramer vs. Kramer, where she played opposite Dustin Hoffman.  Streep was again nominated for an Oscar for her role opposite Jeremy Irons in the French Lieutenant’s Woman in 1981. The following year, she wins another Oscar, this time for Best Actress, for her emotional role in the holocaust movie Sophie’s Choice, a movie that required Streep to speak in German, Polish, and also perfect a Polish-American accent.  Continuing steadily in her work, Streep has had a very prolific career starring in such iconic films as: Out of Africa (1985), The River Wild  (1994), The Bridges of Madison County (1995), One True Thing (1998), Adaptation (2002), Angels in America (2003), The Manchurian Candidate (2004), The Devil Wears Prada (2006), Doubt (2008), Julie & Julia (2009), and The Iron Lady (2011).

Streep won her 3rd Oscar in 2011 for her portrayal of Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady, making her one of only six actors in film history to win three Oscars. Over the course of her career, Streep has been nominated for 17 Academy Awards and holds the record for the highest number of nominations for any actor.  Including other awards, such as BAFTA, Emmy, and Tony Awards, Streep has won 112 total and been nominated 215 times. She has honorary Doctorate degrees  from Yale, Harvard, Princeton,  and won the Life Achievement Award in 2004 from the American Film Institute. In 2010, President Barack Obama awarded her the National Medal for the Arts.  At age 64, Streep still has very active career, which is unique for women over 60. She is set to appear in two films in 2013 and a production of Into the Woods in 2014.

Significant People of a Generation: Joesph McCarthy and The McCarthy Era

“The junior senator from Wisconsin, by his reckless charges, has so preyed upon the fears and hatreds and prejudices of the American people that he has started a prairie fire which neither he nor anyone else may be able to control.”
-Senator J. William. Fullbright

When most people today remember the Cold War, they think of the 1963 Cuban Missile Crisis and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.  However, the Cold War had a presence in the United States well before these events. Though it may come as a surprise, the majority of Baby-Boomers (born 1946-1964) were born into a world where the Cold War was already in full engagement, starting with events such as the 1948 Berlin Blockade and the 1950 Korean War. The “Red Scare,” a fear that was reflected in the McCarthy Investigations and Hearings during the early 1950s, surrounded their young lives.

Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin was elected into office in 1946 and had a relatively uncontroversial tenure, until his 1950 Wheeler speech. During the Wheeler speech, which gained McCarthy notoriety and fame, McCarthy claimed to possess a confirmed list of known Communist spies working at the State Department. McCarthy was called to the Tydings Committee hearing later the same month to give supportive evidence to his claim. During the hearings, McCarthy gave little to no evidence and made many slanderous and vicious verbal attacks against several supposed Communists on the list. Though the committee concluded that McCarthy’s list was fraudulent, his outrageous demagoguery had ruined the careers of several people. He had also garnered a strong national support, typically along partisan lines, driven by the fear of Communism.

After the committee, McCarthy continued his attack campaign with full fervor, claiming that the Truman administration was failing to deal with subversive Communists in its ranks. His national support continued to grow, particularly within the Republican Party. McCarthy campaigned for several Republican Senators during this time, and successfully helped them to win their campaigns by making false accusations that their opponents were “Communist sympathizers.” It was clear that underhanded campaign tactics and the fear of Communism made successful political allies for McCarthy, and amongst his fellow Senators, he began to be treated with deference and fear.

In 1952, McCarthy was re-elected to the Senate and was made chairman of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. He commissioned Roy Cohn and Robert F. Kennedy as counsels, and used the committee to investigate communists in the government. He investigated the Voices of America, a United States Information agency, making wild accusations on television in front of the press that destroyed the careers of many innocent people. One engineer even committed suicide. McCarthy then turned the International Information Angency international library program, demanding the removal of inappropriate Communist reading material (those books on the subject of Communism or authored by known and supposed Communists). The State Department complied with these requests and some of the libraries even had book burnings for the forbidden material. In response to these book burnings and in defiance of McCarthy, President Eisenhower implored Americans: “Don’t join the book burners … Don’t be afraid to go in your library and read every book.”

In 1953, McCarthy turned his investigation on the United States Army. In an ill-fated move, McCarthy summoned General Zwicker to a hearing for promoting supposed Communist sympathizer Irvin Pressing to the rank of General. During the hearing McCarthy verbal assaulted Zwicker, a decorated hero of World War II, resulting in an angry response of the Army, newspapers, and civilians. In retaliation, the U.S. Army accused McCarthy and Roy Cohn of using their political power to pressure the Army into give a personal friend, Private G. David Schine, preferential treatment.

The Army-McCarthy hearings began on April 22, 1954. They were led by McCarthy’s very own Subcommittee on Investigations, with Karl Mundt appointed as temporary chair of the committee. The hearings lasted for 36 days and were broadcasted on live T.V. While the hearings provided no evidence that McCarthy was guilty of coercion, they did change the opinion of many of the American audience that McCarthy was an aggressive, dishonest bully. According to a public opinion gallop pole, national support for McCarthy in March 1954 before the hearings had a Net Favorable Score of +10, where after April 1954 his Net score had dropped to -8. Many Democratic and Republican politicians, who had feared to speak up before, outwardly disapproved of McCarthy.

In December 1954, Senate hearings to “censure” and “condemn” McCarthy were held and passed by a significant majority vote.  Though McCarthy remained in office of the next 2.5 years, he was completely ignored by colleagues and the press; his outside speaking engagements were nearly empty. Essentially, his career was destroyed. He died May 2, 1957 of hepatitis that was believed to be the cause of heavy drinking. However, his legacy lives on in the term “McCarthyism, ”in the memories of those people adversely impacted by his witch-hunt, and in the young Baby-Boomer generation who learned from an early age to distrust the claims of dishonest politicians.

Significant People of a Generation: Betty Friedan and the Women’s Movement

“The feminine mystique has succeeded in burying millions of American women alive.”-Betty Friedan

Betty Friedan was born February 4, 1921, in Peoria, Illinois. Her birth name was Bettye Naomi Goldstein and her family came from Jewish descent in both Russia and Hungary. As she was growing up, her father got an illness that made it difficult for him to work, so her mother was forced to work  writing a society page in the newspaper.  Friedan noticed the positive impact this work seemed to have on her mother.

In 1938, Friedan attended the all female Smith College and in 1941, she became editor and chief for the college newspaper. She graduated in 1942 with a degree in psychology. Friedan moved to New York and worked for a brief period as a journalist. Here she met her husband Carl Friedan with whom she went on to have three children: Daniel (born 1948); Jonathan (born 1952); and Emily (born 1956).

She was fired from her job during her second pregnancy for being pregnant and lived at home as a homemaker. However, she did not feel fulfilled as a homemaker. Her restlessness led her to question whether other women felt the same way, and she conducted a survey of women at Smith College to answer this question. The result of the survey became the basis for her 1963 book The Feminine Mystic, which encouraged women to get out and look for career opportunities. The book was wildly popular and shed light on a need for a movement that would address the widespread oppression that women all over the country were feeling.

In 1966, Betty Friedan founded the National Organization for Women. She became the figurehead of the second-wave feminist movement of the 60s and 70s. As well as promoting equal opportunities in the workplace, she also fought for abortion rights and for women to have a greater role in the political process. In 1967, NOW successfully lobbied for the Executive Order extending affirmative action rights to women.  On August 26, 1970, the 50th Anniversary of the Women’s Suffrage Amendment, Friedan organized the “Women’s Strike for Equality,” which brought together 20,000 women, the largest gathering that had ever come together on behalf of women at that time.  In 1982, she wrote another book for called The Second Stage for the future generations of women.

Through the 90s, Betty Friedan continued to write, publishing two more books about getting older and gender in the new era called The Fountain of Age and Beyond Gender. Her final work was Life So Far, which she wrote in the year 2000. Her original and most famous work, the Feminine Mystique, has sold more than 3 million copies and has become a staple work in the feminist canon. Betty Friedan died on February 4, 2006, on her 85th birthday.

Generational Quotes

“It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world.”
-Thomas Jefferson

“We have the power to make this the best generation of mankind in the history of the world or to make it the last.”
-John F. Kennedy

“Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.”
-George Orwell

“The generations of men run on in the tide of time, but leave their destined lineaments permanent for ever and ever.”
-William Blake, Poet

“The dead might as well try to speak to the living as the old to the young.”
-Willa Cather, Author

Significant People of a Generation: Gen Y – Jackie Joyner-Kersee

“Age is no barrier. It’s a limitation you put on your mind.”-Jackie Joyner-Kersee

Most Millennials, Gen X, and Baby-Boomers remember watching the amazing career of track and field star Jackie Joyner-Kersee as she excelled in the Summer Olympics of 1984, 1988, 1992, and 1996. A striking 5’ 10” and pure muscle, she was a vision of athletic prestige and power. She became an icon to the young women and men of the Millennial generation, who grew up watching as her astounding accomplishments unfolded and she broke the barrier for women and African Americans the world over.

Jacqueline Joyner was born March 3, 1962, in East St. Louis, Illinois.  As a high-school student, Joyner-Kersee was very talented at track, basketball, and volleyball. However, she excelled in track and field and in her junior year, set the Illinois high-school record for long jump. She attended UCLA on a full scholarship and began serious training for the Olympic heptathlon at the age of 19. The women’s heptathlon consists of seven track and field events: 100 meter hurdles; high jump; shot put; 200 meter run; long jump; javelin; and 800 meter run. At her Olympic debut in 1984, she won the silver medal in this event. In 1986, Jackie Joyner married her long-time track coach Bob Kersee.

At the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Korea, Joyner-Kersee won gold for the heptathlon and successfully set the world record for the women’s heptathlon. Her score of 7, 219 points still holds as the world and Olympic record today. The same year, she also won a gold medal in long jump. During the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, she again won the gold medal for the women’s heptathlon. During her whole career, she won a total of: 3 gold, 1 silver, and 2 bronze Olympic medals, as well as 5 gold World Championship medals and 1 gold Pan American Games medal.  She has been named the Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th century by Sports Illustrated for Women.

After pulling a hamstring in the 1996 Summer Olympics, Joyner-Kersee’s career as an Olympic athlete was over. However, at the 1998 Goodwill Games, she had a brief comeback and won the heptathlon. In 2000, after placing 6th on the women’s Olympic long jump trials, she declared her retirement from track and field.  In 2007, Jackie Joyner-Kersee founded the philanthropic Athletes for Hope Foundation, along with other famous athletes such as Muhammad Ali, Mia Hamm, Tony Hawk, and Andre Agassi. The foundation encourages and aids professional athletes in being active in charitable work, as well as inspiring non-athlete members of the community to support and volunteer for sports.

Significant People of a Generation: Muhammad Ali

During the height of his career through the 1960s and 1970s, Muhammad Ali was (and remains) an iconic figure and sports legend.  For the Baby-Boomers coming of age at this time, Muhammad Ali was both a hero and a controversial figure, whose actions and fearless bravado voiced the opinions of many of their generation.

Ali was born to the name Cassius Clay on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, KY.  At the age of 12, he started boxing after thieves stole his bicycle and he wanted to learn the skills to “whoop” them.  At only 18 years old, he won the Light Heavyweight Gold Medal at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. In his 1975 biography, Ali claims that shortly after receiving the medal, he threw it into the Ohio River after he was refused service at a “whites-only” restaurant.  In 1964, Clay fought Sonny Liston to earn the title of Heavyweight Champion, as the youngest boxer to claim the title. In the same year, Clay converted to Nation of Islam, a religious and political movement aimed to improve the condition of African Americans, and was renamed Muhammad Ali.  For many in the mainstream community, the change made Ali a controversial figure, as Nation of Islam was associated with Malcolm X and the Black Power movements and was often looked at with suspicion and hostility. Ali was very vocal about his beliefs, at times promoting separatist ideas that were considered to be radical.

In 1966, Ali was informed that he was eligible to be drafted for the Vietnam War. Famously, Ali declared that he would refuse to serve, saying he was a conscientious objector because it was against his religion to fight a war that was not in the name of Allah. Muhammad Ali faced criticism from many for being unpatriotic and was charged with draft eviction. However, he also had support from many as a figure for the peace movement that had been growing in the US since 1964. While on trial for draft eviction, Ali famously explained his reason for opposing the war: “Man, I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong.” It was a reason that resonated with many Baby-Boomers who felt that the war was an abuse of government authority. He was stripped of his heavyweight title and exiled from the boxing community for 5 years. During this time, he spoke at peace rallies at colleges and schools in favor of ending the Vietnam War.

With his return to boxing in 1970, Muhammad Ali came back with increased swagger and boasting to reclaim his title. In 1974, Ali fought George Foreman in the epic  “Rumble in the Jungle Fight” where Ali, projected as the underdog, reclaimed the heavyweight title. He used his “Rope-a-Dope” technique to tire Foreman out before finishing him with a heavy rain of blows. This fight was followed by the famous 1975 “Thrilla in Manila” fight against Joe Frazier, where Ali, after 14 grueling rounds of fighting, was again victorious. This time the fight was a close call and both fighters were in very poor shape by the end of the fight. The fight has been marked as one of the Top 5 Sporting Events of the 20th Century and was viewed by 700 million people worldwide.

During the height of his career, Muhammad Ali was also prevalent in the mainstream media. He appeared in commercials and did many interviews, offering his opinions loudly and without shame, claiming he was “the greatest.” Although he was a controversial figure, many Baby-Boomers of very different backgrounds could agree that he was a hero and a champion.  He was supported and revered by the peace movement; by African-Americans who aligned with his beliefs or those who were proud of his example; by the white population that shared his beliefs or valued him greatly as a sports hero and public personality. Many of his ideas challenged the ideas of the mainstream, which resonated with many Baby-Boomers who were seeking to overturn and progress government institutions and laws.

Muhammad Ali officially retired from boxing in 1981. In 1984, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He would go on to open the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center. He has continued to engage in many philanthropic pursuits, such as in 1991 when he met with Saddam Hussein to negotiate the release of American hostages and his 2001 peace talks in Afghanistan. In 1996 Ali famously lit the giant Olympic torch in Atlanta to kick off the start of the Summer Olympic Games.  He currently resides with his family in Arizona.

Significant People of a Generation: Gen X – Michael Jackson

   “Think about the generations and to say we want to make it a better world for our children and our children’s children. So that they know it’s a better world for them; and think if they can make it a better place.”  Intro lyrics to “Heal the World” from Jackson’s 1991 album Dangerous

Michael Jackson is an American music icon, who rose to unbelievable fame during the 1980s. Know as the “King of Pop,” Jackson was an inspiration to people of many races and generations, but particularly to the Gen X generation, who were coming of age during the height of his career. If Generation X was the MTV generation, Michael Jackson is accredited as being the first artist to use the music video genre to break racial barriers and produce a stylized art form.

Michael Jackson was born on August 29, 1958 in Gary, Indiana. He was the eighth child out of ten children: Maureen “Rebbie,” Sigmund “Jackie,” Toriano “Tito,” Jermaine, La Toya, Marlon, Brandon, Michael, Steven “Randy,” and Janet. The Jacksons were a working-class family, sharing a three-bedroom house. In 1964, Michael, Marlon, Jackie, Tito and Jermaine formed a band called the “Jackson Brothers” later called the “ The Jackson 5.” Their father, Joseph, was known for using abusive and brutal tactics during rehearsals. Later in life, Jackson attributed many of his psychological issues to the abuse he received as a child, but he also argued that his father’s strict discipline contributed greatly to his success.

At the age of eight, Michael Jackson began to share the lead vocals with his brother Jermaine. In 1966, the “Jackson 5” won a major talent contest in the Mid-West and recorded several songs for the local Steeltown label in 1967, followed by a contract with Motown Records in 1968.  The group set a record when their first four singles (“I Want You Back,” “ABC,” “The Love You Save,” and “I’ll Be There”) all skyrocketed to number one. As lead vocalist, Michael was praised as being a prodigy and his charismatic and magnetic personality on stage made him a nationwide star.

In 1975, the Jackson 5 left Motown and Michael separated to pursue a solo career. In 1978, he partnered up with songwriter Quincy Jones, a musical collaboration that would last for the rest of Jackson’s life. Together they produced several albums that skyrocketed Michael Jackson’s into the position of pop superstar. Off the Wall, their first album recorded in 1979, included contributions from famous artists such as Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney and won Jackson three awards at the AMAs. In 1982, his album Thriller was released, and quickly became the best-selling album of all time, selling 42.3 million copies. The album included such hits as “Billie Jean,” “Beat It,” “Thriller,” and “P.Y.T” and earned Jackson seven Grammys and eight AMAs. The music video for Thriller was the first and only music video ever to be inducted into the National Film Registry.

In 1983, Michael Jackson performed at the Motown 25: Yesterday, Today, Forever TV special. The legendary performance debuted Jackson in the iconic sequined black jacket, single rhinestone glove, and introduced his moonwalk dance move to the world.  The impact of the performance has been compared to the Beatles performance on the Ed Sullivan show.  Michael Jackson was famous not only for his catchy songs and singing voice, but also for being one of the most talented dancers, choreographers, and overall performers of all time. Many considered Michael Jackson’s music videos and stage productions to be works of art.

As well as becoming a superstar during the 1980s, Michael Jackson devoted much of his influence to philanthropic causes. He donated $1.5 million to the creation of the “Michael Jackson Burn Center” in Culver City, California, after a pyrotechnics accident left him with second-degree burns on his scalp. In 1985, Jackson and Lionel Richie released “We Are the World,” a charity single created to raise awareness and money for people suffering from poverty in the U.S. and Africa.  Other songs, such as “Man in the Mirror” 1988, “Heal the World” 1991, and “Black or White” 1991 are examples of Michael Jackson’s inspirational musical contributions towards social equality and change.  In 1992, Michael Jackson founded the Heal the World Foundation, which donated millions of dollars to help children in poverty around the world. He was also one of the first major celebrities and public figure to speak about AIDs/HIV and to publicly promote charities and research in a time when the stigma surrounding the topic was very controversial.

Along with his great musical and philanthropic successes, Michael Jackson suffered many personal controversies towards the end of his career. Rumors and speculations about his bizarre private life, plastic surgery, and skin color, painted Jackson as mentally unstable. Allegations of pedophilia arose during the 90s, and reemerged in the 2003 People vs. Jackson trial, which found Jackson unanimously not-guilty on all counts. However, despite his health issues and unfavorable public image, Jackson planned on completing his final world tour This is It in 2009. The concert had record-breaking ticket sales, selling over one million tickets in less than two hours.  However, on June 25, 2009, Michael Jackson died suddenly of cardiac arrest in his bed in a rented mansion in L.A.

When news of Michael Jackson’s death surfaced, the immediate response of fans and media worldwide was monumental. The overload of simultaneous website searches resulted in crashes for major media sources such as twitter, Wikipedia, TMZ, and the LA Times. News coverage lasted for weeks, tribute concerts popped up all over the world, and over 31 million people tuned in to watch Jackson’s memorial service. Posthumously in 2009, Jackson became the best-selling album artist and was the first artist to sell over 1 million song downloads in a week.

Over his career, he was awarded the World Music Award’s Best-Selling Pop Male Artist of the Millennium, 13 Grammy Awards (as well as the Grammy Legend and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Awards), and has earned 31 Guinness World Records. Many fans and critics believe that Jackson was a genius and one of the most influential artists of all time. For the Gen X generation that witnessed his amazing accomplishments and listened to his messages of hope, he was a beloved and mysterious icon, linked intrinsically with their coming-of-age.

Generational Quotes

“Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations. All this is put in your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it on to your children.”
-Albert Einstein

“Anyone who stops is old, whether at 20 or at 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”
-Henry Ford

“If future generations are to remember
us more with gratitude than sorrow,
we must achieve more than just the miracles of technology. We must also leave them a glimpse of the world as
it was created, not just as it looked
when we got through with it.”
-Lyndon B. Johnson, 36th US President

“Use your lives wisely, my friends, and conserve these precious freedoms for future generations.”
-Ted Nugent, Musician

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them
to do the same.”
-Ronald Reagan, 40th US President

African American Biography Spotlight: Jan Ernst Matzeliger (1852 -1889)

Inventor who revolutionized the shoe industry

Jan Ernst Matzeliger: Inventer who revolutionized the shoe industry

Jan Ernst Matzeliger: Inventer who revolutionized the shoe industry

Jan Ernst Matzeliger was born in Paramaribo, Surinam (Dutch Guiana), South America. His father was a Dutch engineer who married a native Black Surinamese woman. At the age of ten, young Jan worked in the machine shops supervised by his father, where his talents and mechanical aptitude were nurtured. In 1871, at the age of 19, he sailed the world and settled in Philadelphia 2 years later.

Hearing about the rapid growth of the shoe industry in Massachusetts, Matzeliger went to Lynn in 1877 in search of a better job. He taught himself English and he eventually landed a job as an apprentice in a shoe factory operating various shoe making machinery during a time when most white people would look down on him because of his race. He was a devout Christian, teaching Sunday school at The North Congregational Church, one of the few churches in the area that would accept African-Americans.

In the early days of shoe making, shoes were made mainly by hand. For proper fit, the customer’s feet had to be duplicated in size and form by creating a stone or wooden mold called a “last” from which the shoes were sized and shaped. Since the greatest difficulty in shoe making was the actual assembly of the soles to the upper shoe, it required great skill to tack and sew the two components together. It was thought that such intricate work could only be done by skilled human hands. As a result, shoe-lasters held great power over the shoe industry. They would hold work stop-pages without regard for their fellow workers’ desires, resulting in long periods of unemployment for them.

Matzelinger set out to try to solve the problem of this stranglehold by developing an automatic method for lasting shoes. Over the course of ten years, facing much derision and sacrifice, he came up with a prototype for an automated shoe-laster. Matzeliger’s machine was able to turn out from 150 to 700 pairs of shoes a day compared to the 45 maximum limit completed by the expert hand lasters. By 1889 the demand of the shoe lasting machine was overwhelming. A company was formed, The Consolidated Lasting Machine Company, where Matzelinger was given huge blocks of stock for his invention. His machine had revolutionized the entire shoe industry in the U.S. and around the world.

Unfortunately, Jan Matzelinger didn’t live to see the fruits of his labor. Because he had sacrificed his health working exhausting hours on his invention and not eating over long periods of time, he caught a cold, which quickly developed into tuberculosis. He died at age 37 on August 24, 1887.

Jan Ernst Matzeliger’s invention was perhaps “the most important invention for New England because it increased shoemaking speed by 900%.” His invention was “the greatest forward step in the shoe industry,” according to the church bulletin of The First Church of Christ (the same church that took him as a member) as part of a commemoration held in 1967 in his honor. In 1992, the U.S. made a postage stamp in honor of Matzeliger.

Countdown to Black History Month: Happy Birthday Jackie Robinson

This post on Jackie Robinson is part of our blog series, “Countdown to Black History Month.”  Each blog post will cover one significant event or person in black history that we are highlighting as a lead in to Black History Month.

Jackie Robinson was born in Georgia in 1919, the youngest of five children to a family of rural sharecroppers. However, his poor upbringing did not stop him from become the first African-American Major League Baseball (MLB) player of modern times. Robinson is most well known for having “broken the color barrier” in 1947 when he played his first game for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Jackie’s talents on the field challenged the basis for segregation head on, contributing to the efforts of the Civil Rights Movement.

Jackie Robinson was considered a great athlete early on in high school, excelling in four sports:

Happy Birthday Jackie Robinson January 31

Black History Month Biography: Jackie Robinson

basketball, track, baseball, and football. At the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Robinson became the first student in the school’s history to achieve four varsity letters in four different sports. However, before he was able to graduate, Robinson left the university due to financial struggles and moved to Honolulu, Hawaii to play football for a semi-professional team before being drafting into the US Army during the Second World War.

While serving in the Army from 1942 to 1944, Jackie Robinson was arrested and court-martialed during basic training for having refused to sit in the back of the bus where the soldiers of color were placed. Later acquitted of these charges, Robinson’s courage and determination shown during these events would later prove useful in his experience as the leader in desegregating baseball’s highest ranks.

At the end of the war, Jackie Robinson began playing baseball professionally in the segregated Negro league. However, his talent on field was evident when the vice president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, Branch Rickey, selected him to join his organization. After a brief stint in the minor leagues, Jackie Robinson appeared in a Dodger’s uniform for the first time on April 15, 1947.

Many, including his own teammates, did not welcome his debut. Crowds jeered him, and he and his family received constant death threats. During games, opposing players and managers would shout derogatory terms at him from their dugouts. However, Robinson rose above the prejudice he encountered and showed why he was capable of playing on the team in the first place. In his first year, Jackie Robinson was selected as Rookie of the Year for leading the Dodgers to the National League Pennant with 12 home runs while leading the league in stolen bases. Two years later he was selected as the league’s Most Valuable Player (MVP) with an exceptional .342 batting average.

Jackie Robinson’s success on the field made him the highest-paid player at the time in the history of the Brooklyn Dodgers. His success and courage on the field also opened up new opportunities for other African-American baseball players such as Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, and Ernie Banks.

Keep an eye out for upcoming blog posts that are a part of the “Countdown to Black History Month ” series. Black History Month provides a significant opportunity for organizations to have conversations around the history and contributions of African Americans.  Please visit our Black History Month Page for more information about Black History Month as well as ways to engage your employees or volunteers.

 

Countdown to Black History Month: January 17 – Muhammad Ali’s Birthday

This post is part of our blog series, “Countdown to Black History Month”  Each blog post will cover one significant event or person in black history that we are highlighting as a lead in to Black History Month.

January 17, 1942 – Muhammad Ali’s Birthday

Muhammad Ali: Person in Focus for Black History Month 2013

Muhammad Ali, Source: Public Domain

During the height of his career through the 1960s and 1970s, Muhammad Ali was (and remains) an iconic figure and sports legend.  For the Baby-Boomers coming of age at this time, Muhammad Ali was both a hero and a controversial figure, whose actions and fearless bravado voiced the opinions of many of their generation.

Ali was born to the name Cassius Clay on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, KY.  At the age of 12, he started boxing after thieves stole his bicycle and he wanted to learn the skills to “whoop” them.  At only 18 years old, he won the Light Heavyweight Gold Medal at the 1960 Olympics in Rome. In his 1975 biography, Ali claims that shortly after receiving the medal, he threw it into the Ohio River after he was refused service at a “whites-only” restaurant.  In 1964, Clay fought Sonny Liston to earn the title of Heavyweight Champion, as the youngest boxer to claim the title.

In the same year, Clay converted to Nation of Islam, a religious and political movement aimed to improve the condition of African Americans, and was renamed Muhammad Ali.  For many in the mainstream community, the change made Ali a controversial figure, as Nation of Islam was associated with Malcolm X and the Black Power movements and was often looked at with suspicion and hostility. Ali was very vocal about his beliefs, at times promoting separatist ideas that were considered to be radical.

In 1966, Ali was informed that he was eligible to be drafted for the Vietnam War. Famously, Ali declared that he would refuse to serve, saying he was a conscientious objector because it was against his religion to fight a war that was not in the name of Allah. Muhammad Ali faced criticism from many for being unpatriotic and was charged with draft eviction. However, he also had support from many as a figure for the peace movement that had been growing in the US since 1964. While on trial for draft eviction, Ali famously explained his reason for opposing the war: “Man, I ain’t got no quarrel with them Vietcong.” It was a reason that resonated with many young activists who felt that the war was an abuse of government authority. He was stripped of his heavyweight title and exiled from the boxing community for 5 years. During this time, he spoke at peace rallies at colleges and schools in favor of ending the Vietnam War.

With his return to boxing in 1970, Muhammad Ali came back with increased swagger and boasting to reclaim his title. In 1974, Ali fought George Foreman in the epic  “Rumble in the Jungle Fight” where Ali, projected as the underdog, reclaimed the heavyweight title. He used his “Rope-a-Dope” technique to tire Foreman out before finishing him with a heavy rain of blows. This fight was followed by the famous 1975 “Thrilla in Manila” fight against Joe Frazier, where Ali, after 14 grueling rounds of fighting, was again victorious. This time the fight was a close call and both fighters were in very poor shape by the end of the fight. The fight has been marked as one of the Top 5 Sporting Events of the 20th Century and was viewed by 700 million people worldwide.

During the height of his career, Muhammad Ali was also prevalent in the mainstream media. He appeared in commercials and did many interviews, offering his opinions loudly and without shame, claiming he was “the greatest.” Although he was a controversial figure, many Baby-Boomers of very different backgrounds could agree that he was a hero and a champion.  He was supported and revered by the peace movement; by African-Americans who aligned with his beliefs or those who were proud of his example; by the white population that shared his beliefs or valued him greatly as a sports hero and public personality. Many of his ideas challenged the ideas of the mainstream, which resonated with people who were seeking to overturn and progress government institutions and laws.

Muhammad Ali officially retired from boxing in 1981. In 1984, he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. He would go on to open the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center. He has continued to engage in many philanthropic pursuits, such as in 1991 when he met with Saddam Hussein to negotiate the release of American hostages and his 2001 peace talks in Afghanistan. In 1996 Ali famously lit the giant Olympic torch in Atlanta to kick off the start of the Summer Olympic Games.  He currently resides with his family in Arizona.

Click here to watch a full-length interview of Ali: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5m2chT8HKs8

Click here to read famous quotes by Muhammad Ali: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/m/muhammad_ali.html

Keep an eye out for upcoming blog posts that are a part of the “Countdown to Black History Month” series. Black History Month provides a significant opportunity for organizations to have conversations around the history and contributions of African Americans.  Please visit our Black History Month Page for more information about Black History Month as well as ways to engage your employees or volunteers.

August 21: Ninoy Aquino Day – Philippines

August 21: Ninoy Aquino Day – Philippines

Ninoy Aquino Day is a special non-working day in the Philippines to commemorate the assassination of politician Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. on August 21, 1983. The assassination of Benigno Aquino sparked a series of political rallies in the Philippines, which grew into the “People Power Revolution”. This series of rallies and revolution eventually led to the collapse of the Marcos’ backed Philippines government in 1986.

Ninoy Aquino – Young Politician

Benigno Aquino was an ambitious and democratically inclined politician who served as Mayor, Governor, and Senator within the Philippines. Ninoy Aquino opposed the suppressive government led by President Ferdinand Marcos. Through the formation of the Lakas Ng Bayan, otherwise known as the LABAN party, Aquino actively criticized the way President Marcos ruled the country. After President Marcos established Martial Law in 1972, Aquino was imprisoned for seven years and sentenced to death by firing squad.

Ninoy Aquino – Imprisonment and Failing Health

While imprisoned Aquino suffered a heart attack, after which he was allowed to travel to the US for medical treatment. After three years in the US, during which time he continued to speak out against Marcos’ leadership, Aquino returned to the Philippines to challenge President Marcos in the 1984 election. Aquino was shot to death when he arrived at Manila International Airport as he disembarked.

Ninoy Aquino Day

People in the Philippines observe Ninoy Aquino Day on the anniversary of Benigno Aquino’s assassination date every year. Since Ninoy Aquino Day is a special non-working day, many Filipinos use the day to gather with family. Some people commemorate the day solemnly by recalling and honoring what people have done to establish democracy in the Philippines.

Countdown to Black History Month 2013: January 15 – Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday

This post is part of our blog series, “Countdown to Black History Month 2013.”  Each blog post will cover one significant event or person in black history that we are highlighting as a lead in to Black History Month 2013: At the Crossroads of Freedom and Equality.  This year is a particularly significant Black History Month as it is both the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation as well as the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday – January 15, 1929

 On January 15, 1929, Martin Luther King Jr.  was born in Atlanta, GA to the name Michael Luther King, after his father. Michael Luther King Sr., a successful minister by profession, later changed his name to Martin Luther to honor the German Protestant spiritual leader.  Martin Luther King, Jr. would eventually follow in his father’s footsteps both in career and name choice.

Black History Month 2013: Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King

Martin Luther King, Jr. with his wife, Coretta Scott King

Martin Luther King, Jr. attended Booker T. Washington High School, the first all African-American public school in Atlanta, GA, where he was a very successful student. Skipping both 9th and 11th grade, King entered Morehouse College in 1944 at only 15 years old. There, he earned a sociology degree and continued his education in seminary school in Pennsylvania, where he became valedictorian and class president. King continued his Doctoral studies in Theology at Boston University, during which time he met Coretta Scott, an aspiring singer at the New England Conservatory.  They married in 1953, and eventually had four children. King completed his PhD in 1955 at only 25 years old.

That same year, Rosa Parks was arrested in Montgomery, Alabama for refusing to give up her seat on the public city bus. The NAACP and local civil rights leaders elected King to be the spokesperson for the Montgomery Bus Boycott because he was a young, well-educated, family-oriented man, who had no past controversies and a gift for rhetoric. MLK’s inspirational rhetoric succeeded in alighting new passion into the protest, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott was successful in overturning the public transit segregation law.

Black History Month 2013: Martin Luther King at the March on Washington

Martin Luther King, Jr. gave over 350 speeches in his short lifetime

In 1957, Martin Luther King, Jr. co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference with 60 ministers and civil rights leaders. The group’s goal was to promote peaceful protests and non-violent sit-ins to make advancements in the civil rights of African-Americans and Blacks in the United States. Their first order of business was to enfranchise the poor black population in the south, and began education programs and registration opportunities for black voters.  In 1959, King visited Gandhi’s birthplace in India, as he was greatly inspired by Gandhi’s successful application of peaceful protest. The trip greatly influenced King’s decision to devote himself to the civil rights movement.  Over the next decade, he became the public face of the non-violent protest civil rights movement, giving speeches and lectures all over the United States, developing relationships with other civil rights leaders, and appearing at protests and sites of social injustice.

Black History Month 2013: 50th Anniversary of the I Have a Dream Speech

March on Washington, August 28, 1963, Over 200,000 people gathered at the Lincoln Mermorial in Washington, D.C. to support the civil rights movement and heard King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

In 1963, King and the SCLC led a large demonstration in Birmingham, Alabama that lasted for 6 days.  Everyday, large numbers of protesters were arrested and Martin Luther King, Jr. was put into solitary confinement. There he penned the “Letter from Birmingham Jail” on the margin of an old newspaper and toilet paper, in which he famously wrote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The protest drew national attention when police turned fire hoses and dogs on a group of young student protesters. After Birmingham, King and his supporters felt the groundwork had been laid for an even bigger demonstration. On August 28, 1963, the March on Washington protest, held in front of the Lincoln memorial, rallied over 200,000 people from all over the country.  It was here that Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous “I have a Dream” speech, a beautiful and powerful piece of rhetoric declaring: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”

In 1964, the government passed the monumental Civil Rights Act, outlawing segregation of public facilities and accommodations. The same year, at age 35, Martin Luther King, Jr. was the youngest recipient ever awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the proceeds of which he donated to the furtherance of the civil rights movement. Through out the late 1960s, King continued his civil rights efforts, but started to receive criticism for his non-violent tactics from the younger generations of African-Americans inspired by the black power movements.  In response, King started linking the African-American civil rights cause to the anti-Vietnam War cause, and successfully broadened his base of supporters to include those in poverty and those disillusioned with government control of personal freedoms.

After attending a labor strike in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated while standing on his motel room balcony. Cities all over the country broke out in riots and protests and somewhere between 10,00 to 100,000 people lined the streets and mourned as his funeral procession passed through the city of Atlanta.

Today, Martin Luther King would have turned 84 years old.  While he did not live to see the America that was born of his civil rights efforts, his presence is felt in a legacy of equal rights that holds a powerful place in the history and culture of the United States and beyond.  With all that is happening in the world today, we can still benefit from the lesson behind the words Martin Luther King penned in the Birmingham jail: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Read more facts and watch videos about MLK at: http://www.biography.com/people/martin-luther-king-jr-9365086

Listen to the entire “I Have a Dream Speech”: http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm

Keep an eye out for upcoming blog posts that are a part of the “Countdown to Black History Month 2013” series. Black History Month provides a significant opportunity for organizations to have conversations around the history and contributions of African Americans.  Please visit our Black History Month Page for more information about Black History Month as well as ways to engage your employees or volunteers.

Diversity in America – Biography of Estee Lauder

Estee Lauder
1906 – 2004
Pioneering American Businesswoman & Cosmetic Company Mogul

From time to time here a Culture Coach, we like to post a biography of an inspirational person from a diversity perspective whose inventions or ideas have made this country a richer place. This week, Estee Lauder is that person. She was one of few women self made millionaires at in the early 20th century, and is also known for not only establishing several cosmetics industry trends, but also marketing trends as well. One such example is the taking home a free gift with purchase of a product. Read more about her fascinating story below.

Photo of Estee Lauder, CC 2.0

Born as Josephine Esther Mentzer in Queens, New York to Hungarian Jewish immigrants in 1906, Estee Lauder is best known for her rise to dominance in the cosmetics industry in the United States. She was listed as one of the 20 most influential business geniuses of the 20th century by Time magazine in 1998, and had also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

While working with her brothers and sisters in the family hardware store, Lauder was introduced to the entrepreneurial aspect of business and what it would take to become a successful leader in the retail business. Later on in her career Lauder would become a sales representative for her uncle’s Laboratories by selling beauty products to friends and family, and later selling her creams to clubs, resorts, and beauty parlors.

The Estee Lauder Company was officially formed in 1935, but her big break did not come until Florence Morris, a salon owner, asked her about her beautiful skin. Lauder would soon return with creams from her uncle’s laboratory to show Morris. Impressed with the results, Morris would go on to sell her products in her salons.

As her name grew across the city, so did her determination to make it big. She persuaded department stores to offer her products on their store shelves, eventually landing shelf space with Saks Fifth Avenue. Within two days her products had sold out of the store, and her success was secured. The breakthrough product, Youth Dew, was introduced in 1953. Originally sold as a bath oil and a perfume, the product went on to sell over 50,000 units in the first year. By 1980, she was selling over one hundred million bottles per year. She made sure everyone she knew had a sample of her products to take with them and show new clients.

Estee Lauder died in 2004, leaving behind a brand that is recognized in over 118 countries with $3.6 billion in annual sales.