She became an orphan at 8. But when her mother was alive, she nicknamed Eleanor “granny” for having an old fashioned personality.
And Eleanor loved field hockey. So much so that as she reflected back on life, she remarked that her happiest day was when she made her high school field hockey team.
And when she got married, it was her uncle Teddy Roosevelt who walked her down the aisle.
And she stood up for equality. In one example, “in 1938, the Southern Conference for Human Welfare held its inaugural meeting in Alabama’s ‘Magic City.’ Upon her arrival, Roosevelt sat directly beside an African American associate, ignoring the designated whites-only section en route. After being told that Birmingham’s segregationist policies prohibited whites and blacks from sitting together at public functions, the first lady asked for a ruler.
‘Now measure the distance between this chair and that one,’ she said after somebody produced one. Upon examining this gap separating the white and black seating areas, the first lady placed her chair directly in its center. There she defiantly sat, in a racial no-man’s land, until the meeting concluded. ‘They were afraid to arrest her,’ one witness claimed.”
And she believed in a better world, or in her words, a world in which “the future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”
“It seems strange how our aversion to seeing suffering is overcome in war, how we are able to see the most sickening sights, such as men with their limbs blown off and mangled by the deadly shells, without a shudder; and instead of turning away, how we hurry to assist in alleviating their pain, bind up their wounds, and press the cool water to their parched lips, with feelings only of sympathy and pity.”
– Susie King Taylor, nurse during the U.S. Civil War
Photo source: Susie King Taylor, known as the first African American Army nurse. [Boston: published by the author, 1902 from a photograph taken between 1862 and 1866] Photograph. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <www.loc.gov/item/2018663038/>.
Hannah Szenes once wrote, “There are stars whose radiance is visible on Earth though they have long been extinct. There are people whose brilliance continues to light the world even though they are no longer among the living. These lights are particularly bright when the night is dark. They light the way for humankind.”
She was a playwright and a poet, and she was a Special Operations Executive (SOE) paratrooper, one “of 37 Jewish parachutists of Mandate Palestine parachuted by the British Army into Yugoslavia during the Second World War to assist in the rescue of Hungarian Jews about to be deported to the German death camp at Auschwitz.”
She was only in her early 20s then.
And so it was on March 14, 1944 that she was parachuted into Yugoslavia. At the Hungarian border she was arrested by Hungarian gendarmes, “who found her British military transmitter, used to communicate with the SOE and other partisans.
Hannah was taken to a prison, stripped, tied to a chair, then whipped and clubbed for three days. She lost several teeth as a result of the beating. The guards wanted to know the code for her transmitter so they could find out who the parachutists were and trap others. Transferred to a Budapest prison, Szenes was repeatedly interrogated and cruelly tortured, but she only revealed her name and refused to provide the transmitter code.”
She was tried for treason on October 28th, 1944 and executed by firing squad on November 7th, 1944.
Three years prior, she wrote:
so young to die.
No, no, not I,
I love the warm sunny skies,
light, song, shining eyes,
I want no war, no battle cry,
No, no, not I.”
She was a teenager visiting cousins in Los Angeles. They went to a local club where an impromptu singalong began. On a dare she got up on stage to sing. Soon she was the only one singing. The club owner offered her $25 to stay on stage. She needed the money to get home so she continued to perform.
This was the beginning of what would become a legendary career for Joyce Bryant. She became a top nightclub performer, famous for her voice and for her look.
But she also used her position to fight for civil rights, becoming the first African American to perform in many places around the U.S.
Joyce tired of the nightclub scene by her late 20s and so she walked away from her lucrative career. Eventually though she came back. But this time under her own rules as a classical vocalist. And just like her previous music career, she found success.
“Be it enacted by the general assembly of Virginia, That the State…prepare a form whereon the racial composition of any individual, as Caucasian, Negro, Mongolian, American Indian, Asiatic Indian, Malay…may be certified by such individual…
“It shall hereafter be unlawful for any white person in this State to marry any save a white person, or a person with no other admixture of blood than white…“
So declared Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924, which forbade marriage between interracial couples. Anti-interracial marriage laws were nothing new in Virginia, the state had some form of them in effect since the time of slavery (1600s). But this particular act was a direct consequence of the American eugenics movement of the early 1900s, which hoped to “improve the inborn qualities of a race” by way of immigration restrictions, anti-interracial marriage laws, forced sterilization, and even euthanasia programs to remove “defective genetic attributes” from the reproductive pool. It was this Racial Integrity Act of 1924 that Mildred and Richard Loving, an interracial couple from Virginia, brought down with their famous court case of Loving v. Virginia in 1967, and with it helped put an end to state sponsored implementation of white supremacy.
Mildred Jeter, a skinny girl of African American and Native American descent, was born in 1939, six years after Richard Loving, who was of English and Irish ancestry. They both lived in Caroline County, Virginia, a place much friendlier towards racial mixing than other Southern communities of the time.
Mildred met Richard when she was eleven and he seventeen. She went to an all-black school, and he, having left his all-white high school after only a year, made a living as a construction worker. What started as a friendship eventually blossomed into love, and after Mildred became pregnant at age eighteen, they decided to get married.
Marrying in their home state of Virginia was impossible, so Mildred and Richard drove 90 miles north to Washington D.C. where interracial marriage was legal. Upon returning home the Lovings lived in peace for just a few weeks until in the middle of the night their house was raided by the local sheriff along with two deputies acting on a tip. The sheriff barged into the Loving’s bedroom at 2AM demanding to know of Richard,
“Who is this woman you’re sleeping with?”
“I am his wife,” Mildred answered.
Their marriage certificate hung on the wall.
“That’s no good here,” the sheriff proclaimed.
The Lovings were taken to jail. Richard was allowed to post bail the following day, but Mildred, despite being pregnant, was held longer. The Lovings were charged with violating Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act, a felony crime carrying a one to five year jail term. During the hearing the presiding judge, Judge Leon Bazile, stated,
“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”
The Lovings pled guilty to breaking Virginia’s anti-interracial marriage law and were given the minimum one year sentence. With the ruling came the stipulation that their sentence would be suspended if they left Virginia and did not return together for twenty five years. The Lovings agreed. They moved to Washington D.C., had three children, and lived there for five years, until the isolation from family and friends, as well as financial hardship, made them long to return to Virginia.
The year was 1963, and the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing. Mildred, inspired by the movement, got in touch with the American Civil Liberties Union who agreed to take on the Lovings’ case and help them return home. There was only one problem, since the Lovings had pled guilty to breaking Virginia law, they had no right to appeal the original ruling. So they contacted Judge Leon Bazile and asked him to void his verdict on the basis that Virginia’s anti-interracial marriage law was in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause. He declined. The Lovings appealed, and the case went to Virginia’s Supreme Court of Appeals, but that court upheld Judge Bazile’s decision, stating that Virginia’s anti-interracial marriage law didn’t in fact violate the Fourteenth Amendment because both whites and non-whites were punished equally for the crime of interracial marriage.
But the Lovings didn’t give up. They appealed the Virginia court’s decision to the United States Supreme Court. The court, at the time headed by Chief Justice Earl Warren who also presided over Brown v. Board of Education, examined the case and overturned Virginia court’s decision.
“Marriage is one of the ‘basic civil rights of man,’”, Warren stated, “fundamental to our very existence and survival… To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes…is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual, and cannot be infringed by the State.”
Interracial marriage was declared legal in Virginia and in the US as a whole. The Lovings, now legally married, were finally able to live in peace at home in Virginia.
Of Virginia’s anti-interracial marriage law in general, Justice Potter Stewart and Justice William O. Douglas, two of the associate Justices who were part of the Supreme Court’s ruling, stated,
“There is patently no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination which justifies this classification. The fact that Virginia prohibits only interracial marriages involving white persons demonstrates that the racial classifications must stand on their own justification, as measures designed to maintain White Supremacy.”
Loving v. Virginia became one of the Civil Rights Movement’s most important cases. The Lovings were hailed as heroes by their community and the country at large.
But when asked about their accomplishments in a Life magazine interview, Richard Loving humbly said,
“We have thought about other people, but we are not doing it just because somebody had to do it and we wanted to be the ones. We are doing it for us.”
“A group of black students stood in line at a whites-only movie theater in Baltimore in 1963, waiting to buy tickets but expecting to go to jail. Sure enough, the police arrived and began arresting the students for trespassing.
In the midst of the black students, the police were astonished to see a white man, William Lewis Moore. A puzzled officer asked Moore if he understood that he was in line to be arrested. Moore explained that if the others couldn’t see the movie because of the color of their skin, then he didn’t want to see it either. He spent that night in jail.”
William Lewis Moore spent much of his adult life fighting for the rights of others. First for the mentally ill, after he himself was hospitalized for a year and a half for schizophrenia while a graduate student at Johns Hopkins. And then later for civil rights.
In his fight for civil rights, his form of protest was to stage one man marches. And on one such march, on April 23, 1963, William, who was raised in Mississippi, who loved Mississippi, who was walking to deliver a letter to Ross Barnett, the Governor of Mississippi, was shot and killed. William was one week shy of 36 years old.
Moore’s letter was found. The letter was opened.
To quote a couple parts, William said, “Do not go down in infamy as one who fought the democracy for all which you have not the power to prevent. Be gracious. Give more than is immediately demanded of you.” And he said, “the white man cannot be truly free himself until all men have their rights.”
If you look closely at the photo, you can see he’s wearing different socks and shoes. This was not a fashion statement.
The year was 1912. The place, Stockholm for the 1912 Olympics. Jim, a Native American from Oklahoma was representing the U.S. in track and field.
On the morning of one of his events, he discovered his track spikes were stolen. Without an option for getting a new pair, Jim and his coach went scouring. They found found two shoes in a garbage bin. But the shoes weren’t a pair.
One shoe fit fine, the other was too big. There were no other shoes to choose from. So Jim wore an extra sock on the foot with the big shoe.
Jim ended up winning two gold medals. Wearing these shoes.
On March 16th, 1965, Viola Liuzzo “called her husband to tell him she would be traveling to Selma after hearing the Rev Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. call for people of all faiths to come and help, saying that the struggle ‘was everybody’s fight.'”
She was 39 at the time, living in Detroit. A housewife, a mother of five kids.
She had already taken part in the fight for civil rights. But her fight had always been in Michigan. Now she was heading to the south.
On Sunday, March 21, 1965 over 3,000 people began the march from Selma to Montgomery. There were blacks and whites, doctors and nurses, wealthy and working class, priests and nuns and rabbis, students and housewives, and there was Viola.
And it was there that four days later, after the march had ended and she was helping shuttle marchers home, that Viola was stopped at a red light. With her in the car a young black protester also helping shuttle marchers.
A car of local KKK members pulled up beside her. And when they saw a white woman and a black man in the car together they followed her. She tried to outrun, but she couldn’t. They caught up to her. They shot her. Twice in the head.
Sneakers today are the norm to wear. But how did they become popular?
You can say the historical record started in 1908 when 47 year old Marquis Mills Converse, a well groomed and lifelong respected manager started his own company, Converse Shoes. They made rubber soled shoes for winter first. Then in 1915 sneakers for tennis players, and in 1917 the company introduced the All-Star basketball shoe.
During this time, a basketball player at Columbus High in Indiana by the name of Chuck Taylor fell in love with the All-Star basketball shoe. Chuck was a lanky kid with a prominent nose and insightful eyes. By most accounts he was a good basketball player at best. But he was likable and he understood the footwear needs of basketball players. He was also a gifted salesman who knew how to pitch himself and his ideas. In 1921 Converse hired Chuck Taylor after he arrived unannouced at their Chicago office.
With his drive and passion, Converse introduced the Chuck Taylor sneaker. Soon after, it was the shoe to wear for basketball players. And in 1936 the sneakers became the official shoe for the US basketball team in the Olympics.
Then “during WWII, Taylor became a fitness consultant for the US military. GIs were soon doing calisthenics while wearing Chuck Taylor sneakers that had become the official sneaker of the US Armed Forces (Wikipedia).”
In the 1950’s, sneakers extended beyond sportswear and became the norm for daily wear. Much of this was the result of James Dean and his love for the Jack Purcell’s, a sneaker designed by a former world badminton champion (and which was later acquired by Converse). The Jack Purcell sneakers were similar to Chuck Taylor’s, but appealed to a different segment of society. These sneakers were prominent in the rebellious rock culture of the time, broadening the overall appeal of sneakers.
Stories such as the rise of sneakers as a cultural norm remind me of the Harriet Tubman quote, “All dreams begin with a dreamer.” Chuck Taylor wasn’t the only reason sneakers became popular, but he was certainly the catalyst to usher in the change. And as a result, more than 600 million pairs of Chuck Taylor’s have been sold.