"HISTORY SPEAKS" BLOG
Who was Saint Patrick?” Why do we celebrate his name today? His legacy is much more than festive green parties, green beer and shamrocks.
Patrick was born around 385 AD in Britain during a tumultuous time.
At the time, Britain was under Roman rule and his family lived in constant fear. Because the great Roman army was needed back home in Italy, Patrick’s homeland was abandoned and vulnerable to invading tribes.
One of the more feared and vicious tribes were the Irish Druids. These pagans were barbaric, malevolent and ruthless. They worshipped the dead, practiced dark magic and were known to collect human heads.
Around 405 AD, Patrick’s farm was invaded by the Druids.
They pillaged the area, raped women, burned homes and fields and captured slaves. The teenaged Patrick found himself in chains and headed to Ireland. For the next six years, the enslaved Patrick tended sheep. But that’s not all he did. He also prayed daily for peace, strength, protection…and freedom. Sometime during this captivity, Patrick converted to Christianity.
One night Patrick had a vision about a ship.
In a courageous act of faith, Patrick escaped his slave master and traveled two hundred miles to a port…only to find a ship waiting. It was a miracle. Patrick happily returned to Britain, reunited with family, and tried to regain normalcy. But now a new vision emerged in his heart. A dream not to shepherd animals but to pastor people. Around age 40, God called on Patrick again: “Please, holy boy, come and walk among us again.”
God put Ireland back into Patrick’s heart and he followed this Divine dream for the rest of his life.
Patrick returned as a free man to pastor, teach and evangelize. He targeted, of all people, the pagan Druids he once feared and despised. To aid his pastoral teachings about the Christian Triune nature of God, Patrick employed a three-leaf clover (the shamrock). Just like the shamrock is “three in one” so is God, Patrick taught fearlessly. He endured assault and assassination. He face deep discouragement, poverty and hardship. But Patrick never quit. He penned: “I am prepared to give even my life without hesitation and most gladly for His name, and it is there that I wish to spend it until I die.”
Patrick’s ministry is reportedly filled with miracles…and success.
Those who chronicled his work said Patrick healed the sick, scattered enemies, exorcised demons and even raised the dead. His walking stick reportedly grew into a living tree. Legend held that Patrick banished all the Irish snakes too! In his 30-year work in Ireland, Patrick baptized over 120,000 people and founded over 300 churches.
The irony? Patrick had great weaknesses. He was uneducated and struggled with his sinful self. Patrick stammered and stuttered. And he suffered from feelings of deep inferiority and terrible insecurity. But still Patrick worked, served, preached, taught and loved. He even advocated for the abolition of human slavery (unheard of in his time).
One biographer wrote: “He found Ireland all heathen and left it all Christian.” It’s true. When Patrick died on March 17, 461 the land that first imprisoned him in fear was now a citadel of faith.
Today, “St. Paddy’s Day” is reduced to green beer, shamrocks and Irish greetings but we best not forget the man (and his mission) who carved this date…even if some of the tales may be more myth than truth.
Oh, and one more thing. Patrick never fully exorcised Ireland of the Druids. In fact, many of their death celebrations, magic rituals and pagan traditions were tattooed to the Irish. And, centuries later, when they migrated to America the Irish brought not just “St. Patrick’s Day” but a holiday that Puritans, Catholics and other Protestants detested and originally outlawed: Halloween.
PATRICK. FORMER SLAVE. MISSIONARY TO IRELAND. SAINT.
And now you know the rest of HIStory.
Betsy Ross. Martha Washington. Dolly Madison.
These were all great women of the American Revolution.
But have you heard of Mary Ludwig Hays?
She might be the bravest, strongest and most patriotic woman of them all.
During the Revolution women were cut from a different cloth.
Many women refused to stay home, hide or run from the British armies. Rather, they joined their husbands as “camp followers” and moved with their spouses throughout the war. They served as cooks, laundresses, nurses, counselors, and pastors . Women loaded guns, sharpened swords and worked artillery. They carried water to quench thirst and cool hot cannon barrels. They dug graves.
Mary Ludwig Hays was one of those women.
Born October 13, 1754 in Trenton, New Jersey, she grew up in a modest butcher’s home. Because Mary was a poor girl, it’s possible she never learned to read or write. In 1777, she married a Pennsylvanian barber named William Hays, but their honeymoon was short. Her new husband joined George Washington’s army and moved to Valley Forge.
That’s where Mary met Martha…Martha Washington.
George’s wife was also a “camp follower.” Martha mentored younger women like Mary in matters of duty, work ethic and faith. They would need all three qualities in the brutal winter of 1777-1778. Many soldiers never made it through Valley Forge. Poorly equipped, many soldiers died from frostbite, hunger and sickness. It was strong women like Mary and Martha that kept the troops’ spirits up, attended to their needs and prayed for their souls.
The most menial, yet critical, responsibility for women was transporting water to thirsty troops (in a pitcher).
The ladies also transported water to cool cannon barrels heated by their firing. It’s how Mary picked up a new nickname. Whenever a soldier yelled “Molly Pitcher” that was Mary’s cue to bring water.
One hot day in June 1778 at the Battle of Monmouth, Mary “Molly Pitcher” Hays found glory.
According to one historian, fifty soldiers died of thirst alone on that day. Mary carried bucket after bucket of water to the front lines, bravely dodging bullets and cannon fire. Mary’s husband William was working the cannons until heat exhaustion got the best of him. When he collapsed in the searing sun, Mary was there to attend to him…and take his place on the firing line. She fearlessly grabbed the ramrod and started loading cannonballs while bullets whizzed around her.
At one point a British cannonball literally passed between Mary’s legs, tearing off part of her skirt. But she never flinched. She relentlessly loaded cannonballs, encouraging the troops and standing her ground. The inspired soldiers began to call her “Major Molly.”
Her bravery and bravado also caught the attention of her commander George Washington (whom she revered). All day long Washington watched Mary work those cannons and keep the troops motivated. It impressed George enough to issue an official battlefield commemoration and make Mary a non-commissioned officer–a notoriety few women in that day received. After the War, poets would recount her bravery in rhyme and verse. There was even a song sung to her honor:
“Moll Pitcher she stood by her gun,
and rammed the charges home, sir,
And thus on Monmouth’s bloody field,
a sergeant did become sir.”
From that day forward Mary had two new nicknames: Molly Pitcher and Sergeant Molly.
After the war, Mary and William returned to Carlisle, PA to raise their son. But that bliss also didn’t last. Mary’s life turned sour when her husband unexpectedly died in 1786. For the next 46 years, Mary faced poverty, hardship and pain. She remarried a man named John McCauley in 1793 but the marriage was bad. Her new husband was violent and abusive. After he persuaded Mary to sell her deceased husband’s land, he ran off with the money. This was her inheritance and it pushed Mary into poverty. Nevertheless, she didn’t let that theft steal her joy.
For the rest of her life, Mary lived lean as a general servant and civil volunteer.
Mary cheerfully cooked, cleaned, washed and painted. She cared for soldiers, sick people and wayward children. She faithfully attended the Lutheran church. In Carlisle, PA Mary was a legend, popular and respected. To her friends she was known as “Sergeant Molly,” the hero of Monmouth with “a kind word for everyone.” The U.S. government even recognized her Revolutionary War service with a modest pension.
Mary died in 1832. But her namesake “Molly” did not.
Her grave marker tagged her as “Molly McCauley.” But everyone else, including many early historians, dubbed her “Molly Pitcher.” To this day, a statue of “Molly Pitcher” working a cannon adorns her Carlisle cemetery. Her glorious story has now grown dusty. Few school children learn her tale or know her name. But where ever patriot men march to war, the Molly Pitchers still follow.
MARY “MOLLY PITCHER” HAYS. Revolutionary Hero. Beloved American Volunteer.
And now you know the rest of HERstory.
- “A Short History of Molly Pitcher: The Heroine of the Battle of Monmouth” (Carlisle, PA: The Cornman Printing Company, 1905).
- Humphrey, Grace. Women in American History (Indianapolis: The Bobbs-Merrill Company Publishers, 1919.
- Egle, William Henry. Some Pennsylvania Women During the War of the Revolution. (Harrisburg, PA: Harrisburg Publishing Company, 1898):
George Washington warned us in his Farewell Address of 1796. But we didn’t listen.
We’re still deaf to his final words.
George warned us of how political partisanship seeks to “acquire influence” and “misrepresent the opinions.”
Washington eloquently admonished that the “fatal tendency” of any democracy is replacing the national will with “the will of a party.”
It’s why George Washington refused to serve more than two terms as U.S. President (and would likely support term limits today). It’s why he resisted his countrymen’s wish to make him a “king” (or a professional politician). George was a man of impeccable integrity, respected wisdom and formidable strength–much of it due to his deep Christian faith.
Washington knew that “in the course of time and things” that men and women could “become potent engines” for America’s destruction.
Washington called these types “cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled” persons who “subvert the Power of the People.” He warned that political factions quickly devolve into jealousies, banality, dissension and “frightful despotism.”
Ultimately, Washington concluded, “party passions” lead to bribery, betrayal and treason, unlocking “the doors to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the Government.” Sound familiar? Most Americans would be surprised to learn how many politicians have their pockets lined by outside influence.
George Washington died December 14, 1799. The black pastor and friend Richard Allen (founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church) delivered Washington’s eulogy. He summarized his thoughts on George through four admonitions in the Farewell Address:
- LOVE YOUR COUNTRY
- OBEY ITS LAWS
- SEEK ITS PEACE
- KEEP YOURSELF FROM ATTACHMENT TO ANY FOREIGN NATION
George Washington was right in 1796 about political parties.
He’s still right today. Frankly, I think the “Father of our Country” would weep at what is presently happening in the city (and the U.S. state) that bears his name…not to mention the nation he courageously helped to free and found.
Washington D.C. has become a terrible “swamp.” It’s infested with venomous snakes, dangerous crocs and obnoxious insects. It’s became a bubble city that’s detached and insulated from most Americans. The word “politics?” Poly means “many” and “ticks” are blood-sucking objects. Pretty much sums up D.C.
Whether you lean left or right, we should all heed the counsel of Franklin D. Roosevelt (10/28/1940) to “guard against the forces of anti-Christian aggression, which may attack us from without, and the forces of ignorance and fear which may corrupt us from within.”
America’s national and social media are no longer watchdogs, but lap dogs, primarily for a preferred political party.
It’s why ignorance and fear abounds. Who do you think benefits from keeping Americans in a constant state of confusion and panic? There is more censorship and misinformation today than ever in America’s history…and its coming from sources we used to trust.
Americans should also note any voice that mocks or misrepresents our true national story (and many do that today).
Lyman Beecher once wrote: “While most nations trace their origin to barbarians, the foundations of our nation were laid by civilized men, by Christians …Imperfect as they were, the world before had not seen their like, nor will it soon, we fear, behold their like again…to ridicule them is national suicide.”
Maybe it’s time to ask who will be our next George Washington? Who will be the Abraham Lincoln for this desperate hour? Who will be our Benjamin Franklin to lead us with wisdom into the future? Who will be the courageous patriot willing to keep America free in our generation?
I hear the growl of the wolves outside the door.
And I can no longer stay silent.
The late summer of 1814 was one of America’s darkest moments.
The British-American War of 1812 raged into its third year.
On July 25 the Battle of Lundy’s Lane near Niagara Falls proved a bloodbath victory for the British. On August 12 the USS Somers and Ontario warships were captured. Two weeks later Washington D.C was torched, including America’s Capitol, the White House and several federal buildings.
The war-weary Americans were hardly finished. And their Faith remained strong.
At the genesis of the War of 1812, President James Madison issued a National Day of Prayer to “acknowledge transgressions” and “seek [God’s] merciful forgiveness.” A year later, on July 23, 1813, Madison issued a second prayer decree. The entire United States, still less than a quarter century old, stopped to pray.
The Revolutionary Generation relied upon Divine Providence.
In early September of 1814 the British set their sights on Baltimore.
To house and feed their troops the Red Coat armies often occupied American homes, seeking to intercept American intelligence. On one such occasion, British operatives met Dr. William Beanes. Initially the elderly physician cooperated with the British. He obviously said too much, as the British soon suspected the good doctor of spying. Beanes was arrested and jailed on the British H.M.S. Tonant. He was likely headed for a noose.
But Dr. Beanes had friends in high places.
A group of Maryland friends, including a certain 33-year-old ambitious lawyer named Francis Scott Key, came to his defense. Key, using his connections to Madison, sought a prisoner exchange for Beanes. On a predetermined day, he and a military exchange agent named Col. John Skinner met the British on the Tonant. And while the negotiations were successful, a new problem emerged. The British planned to attack Baltimore that night. And now the Red Coats felt Key and Skinner could foil that plan. Consequently, the young lawyer, along with Col. Skinner and old Doc Beanes, were sequestered to a British ship–ironically called the H.M.S. Surprise–anchored outside Baltimore.
For the next 25 hours the British military bombarded Fort McHenry.
The detained Americans watched helplessly from the ship’s bow.
They witnessed the full power of the British navy, as nearly two thousand rockets, mortar shells and cannon balls rained down on their beloved Baltimore. When night fell, the locals snuffed every flame, to create utter darkness. Only in the black of night did the British struggled to aim their guns.
If Fort McHenry and Baltimore were to survive, it would take a miracle.
As always, the Americans turned to prayer for protection. And this part of the story is often missed…because God answered those prayers with a miracle.
During the night a violent early fall thunderstorm rumbled through Maryland. The lightning was particularly fierce, initially favoring the blind British firing into the dark. However, the torrential rain soon helped the Americans even more. Cannonballs are designed to “skip” and travel a distance (creating as much damage as possible). However, the pounding rain softened the Maryland ground, causing these heavy iron balls to sink, harmlessly, in the mud upon impact. Unless there was a direct hit, little damage was done.
Between the British bombardment and the terrible thunderstorm, it was one long night for the citizens of Baltimore.
It was even longer for Key, Doc Beans and Col. Skinner. Only when the faint light of dawn broke into the eastern sky did the tired Americans finally see the truth.
They leaned against the railings of the Surprise, and searched the horizon for signs Fort McHenry and Baltimore survived the terrible bombing. Was the fort and Baltimore still standing? Would a British flag fly over the great fort? Would Baltimore be captured and occupied?
It was September 14, 1814.
That’s when Francis Scott Key, a devout Christian, pulled out his journal and began to write a poem.
O say, can you see by the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hail’d at the twilight’s last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight
O’er the ramparts we watch’d were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket’s red glare, the bombs bursting in air
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there
Key penned four stanzas that day, and buried in the final verse was a Divinely Providential line that became America’s national motto:
O thus be it ever when free men shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation;
Blest with victory and peace, may the Heaven-rescued land,
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just;
And this be our motto ‘In God is our Trust!’
And the Star Spangled Banner in triumph shall wave
Over the land of the free and the home of the brave!
In God We Trust. It was the only path to freedom for a young American nation. The Americans battled the greatest army in the world and faced terrible odds. They endured horrific losses and needed an Anchor for the dark night of the soul. The patriots needed God’s Provision and Protection.
Key would later write: “Nothing but Christianity will give you the victory. Until a man believes in his heart that Jesus Christ is his Lord and Master… his course through life will be neither safe nor pleasant. My only regret is that I was so long blinded by my pleasures, my vices and pursuits, and the examples of others that I was kept from seeing, admiring, and adoring the marvelous light of the gospel.”
As for Key’s poem about the bombardment of Fort McHenry, it was eventually set to music. The tune, ironically, was by a British composer named John Stafford Smith. The Navy first played the song in 1889. Twenty-seven years later Woodrow Wilson officially used Key’s song as president. But it was baseball’s 1918 World Series that gave the song popular appeal.
On March 3, 1931, Congress made the song our national anthem.
Meanwhile, Key’s use of the phrase “In God We Trust” first found traction during the Civil War by Union soldiers. That’s when a two-cent coin carried first carried the motto. Nearly a century later, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed legislation making “In God We Trust” our national motto and printed on all U.S. currency.
And to think both the National Anthem and motto came from the same story and the same source. It was born from a miracle thunderstorm in a dark night of bombing. And it’s also the only national anthem that ends in a question mark.
Oh say can you see?
…In God is our trust.
He was among America’s first black preachers.
A fiery Methodist who converted thousands—blacks, Indians, whites—to Christianity in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
His life story–of only 35 years–has inspired millions.
John Marrant was born a free black June 15, 1755 in New York City.
When his father died, at four, his mother moved the family to Florida, then to Georgia, and finally to South Carolina. John learned to read and write and play the French horn. His musical talent landed several gigs.
At age 13, John joined a friend at a revival meeting featuring the legendary Great Awakening evangelist George Whitefield. As Whitefield preached, Marrant experienced a dramatic conversion to Christ. In the heat of spiritual fire, he collapsed to the floor, paralyzed and mute. It was no momentary experience. John couldn’t move nor talk. Friends had to carry him home. His family was shocked. Doctors tried to administer medication, but he refused.
In the days and weeks that followed, only one thing eased John’s condition: studying the Bible.
Although he eventually regained movement and could talk, his family still believed John went insane. All he wanted to do was read and study the Bible. When the fight with his family proved too much, Marrant left home to wander in the woods, alone, relying only upon God’s protection and provision.
One day a lone Cherokee found John, and they covenanted to work together. Hunting. Fishing. Trading furs. When the Indian took him to his tribal fort, John was viewed as a threat to the Cherokees and sentenced to death. Marrant began to pray to Jesus. His bold and incessant prayers not only converted his executioner, they convinced the chief to dismiss his death sentence. John lived with the tribe for the next two years, converting dozens of Cherokees to Christianity.
Marrant had no special credentials. Just a love for God and His people.
Eventually, John returned to his family (who didn’t recognize him initially) and found work on local plantations. He used the opportunity to evangelize and convert black slaves with whom he labored. During the Revolutionary War, the British captured Marrant and discovered his musical skills. They commissioned him as a musician in their Royal Navy then sent him to fight several British battles.
After the war, John moved to London to sell clothing. That’s when he reconnected with George Whitefield, the fiery English evangelist who radically converted him as a young teen.
Whitefield encouraged John to join the Methodist clergy and on May 15, 1785, he was ordained.
His first church was in Nova Scotia, ministering to blacks, Indians and interested whites. John’s passionate biblical messages drew crowds…and criticism. Methodist ministers were increasingly jealous that their white parishioners preferred Marrant’s black services.
Eventually John moved to Boston and found a new cause: abolishing slavery. In 1785, he published his autobiography: A Narrative of the Lord’s Wonderful Dealings with John Marrant, A Black. In his book, Marrant recounted his radical conversion, life with the Cherokees and the “wonderful dealings” and experiences he enjoyed. The book proved popular and sold well (17 editions), inspiring black readers for decades.
Three years later, John married. There’s some evidence he and Elizabeth had children, but it’s unverified. The rest of John’s life he preached and pastored, returning to London, where he died on April 15, 1791. Marrant was only 35 years old.
If it wasn’t for his book, John’s name and legacy as America’s first black preacher might be forever lost to time.
John Marrant. Free Black. Methodist Evangelist. Author. Abolitionist. Musician.
And now you know the rest of HIStory.
- “John Marrant” (Wikipedia): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Marrant
- Marrant, John. A Narrative of the Lord’s Wonderful Dealings with John Marrant, A Black (1785). Available as a Google book download.
Some people make things happen.
Some people watch things happen.
And some people wonder what happened.
And then there are people like Hiram Rhodes Revels (1827-1901). He’s a cut above. A leader’s leader. A highly-accomplished man.
One of black history’s dusty and oft-forgotten heroes.
Rhodes was a freeborn black in North Carolina. His family had been free for half a century. Hiram’s father pastored a Baptist church and his family tree included lawyers, politicians, educators and abolitionists. His cousin was one of John Brown’s raiders killed in the tragic 1859 Harper’s Ferry incident.
Hiram’s first job was cutting hair, but he eventually pursued clergy training.
In 1845 he was ordained in the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church.
Revels served in churches from Ohio to Kansas. He was once jailed for “preaching the gospel to Negroes.” His preaching was so powerful that slave owners feared he’d incite runaways. He preached often in Missouri even though it was illegal for free blacks to live there.
Eventually Revels headed east for more religious education and to serve as a preacher for an A.M.E. church and black school principal in Baltimore, MD. During the Civil War, Revels recruited two regiments of black soldiers and served as a chaplain, most notably at the Battle of Vicksburg. After the war, he returned west to start a freedmen’s school in St. Louis (1863-1864) and preach for a church in Leavenworth, KS (1865).
In 1866, Hiram was called to pastor a church in post-Civil War Mississippi.
He was 39 years old and ready to put down roots with his wife and five daughters. His new pastoral platform allowed him to establish multiple Reconstruction schools for black children, help in Methodist district leadership and serve in the Mississippi State Senate (1869).
One early biographer noted that to this point, Revels “had never voted [in Mississippi], had never attended a political meeting, and of course, had never made a political speech.” But Hiram was highly educated, a powerful communicator and unifying spirit. He was also a black Republican. His opening prayer for the 1870 Mississippi state legislature was “impressive and eloquent.”
The prayer also made Hiram R. Revels a rising political star for Republican Reconstruction in the South.
One of the first tasks for Mississippi legislators, with the state rejoining the Union, was to elect new U.S. senators. Prior to the 17th Amendment in 1913, national senators were appointed posts. And Magnolia state politicians now wanted Hiram. But there was a new problem. In Washington, D.C., Democrats opposed his appointment because he was black and, according to the Dred Scott decision of 1857, blacks weren’t citizens. Even though the 14th Amendment reversed (1868) reversed this decision, U.S. Senate rules required nine years of citizenship prior to appointment.
However, supporters argued Revels was a free black at birth and had long voted (as a citizen of Ohio). Nevertheless, the most persuasive argument was the Civil War, as well as the 13th and 14th Amendments had reversed the Dred Scott decision. It was null and void…and never existed. The Republican Charles Sumner (R-MA) later concluded:
All men are created equal, says the great Declaration, and now a great act attests this verity. Today we make the Declaration a reality. …The Declaration was only half established by Independence. The greatest duty remained behind. In assuring the equal rights of all we complete the work.
On February 25, 1870, Hiram R. Revels–with a strict party line vote of 48-8–was affirmed as the first black person seated as United States Senator.
Revels went right to work. He promoted racial equality and the capability of black leaders at the national level. He served on Education and Labor committees, often battling “Radical Republicans” who wanted to punish ex-Confederate, secessionist rebels. The North Carolina raised and Mississippian Hiram argued for more moderate approaches. He proposed amnesty and restoration of citizenship. Revels also argued against Democrat calls for segregated schools. He even nominated exceptional black men to the U.S. military academy.
But his political career was short-lived. His initial appointment was only for a year and, despite several offers to remain in D.C. on Grant’s work teams, Revels moved on.
Hiram served as president and philosophy professor for what’s now Alcorn State University (Lorman, MI), until his 1882 retirement.
But Revels still had fire in his belly too.
In 1875, Revels loudly protested “corrupt and dishonest” Republican “carpet baggers” working the GOP vote in Mississippi. He knew this wasn’t what the Republicans stood for. His letter of protest to President U.S. Grant found traction and wide circulation. It seeded the beginning of the end of Reconstruction in 1877.
Even in retirement, Revels continued to pastor churches, teach theology, write and edit for journals and newspapers. He died serving at a church conference on January 16, 1901, and was buried in Holly Springs, MS.
Revels greatest legacy is becoming the first U.S. black senator. But there’s one more twist to this incredible man’s story. Remember that Hiram was elected to fill a previously vacated one-year Senate term. Whose term did he finish out? None other than Jefferson Davis, the Mississippi senator who vacated his seat to lead as President of the new southern Confederacy in 1861.
Hiram R. Revels. Methodist Preacher. Reconstruction Politician. College President and Educator.
And now you know the rest of HIStory.
- “Hiram Rhodes Revels” (Wikipedia): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hiram_Rhodes_Revels
- Lynch, John R. The Facts of Reconstruction (New York: Neale Publishing Company, 1913): 38-47. Available for download at Google books.
- Nielsen, E. (2008, March 26). Hiram Rhodes Revels (1827-1901). BlackPast.org. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/revels-hiram-rhodes-1827-1901/
Did you know the Kamala Harris wasn’t the first U.S. Vice President of color? It’s true.
That honor goes to Charles Curtis who served as Herbert Hoover’s Vice President between 1929 and 1933.
Today this decorated politician is virtually unknown to Americans but Curtis’ legacy is rich and inspiring. He proved the perfect political pick. A Republican attorney from Kansas, Curtis represented his state in the House of Representatives (1893-1907) and U.S. Senate (1907-1913, 1915-1929). Prior to his stint as VP, Charles was the Majority Leader of the Senate.
Charles Curtis was widely lauded for his ability to work across the aisle.
That was no easy task with the volatile Democratic Party–which, at the time, was steeped in Jim Crow racism, segregation and lynching (of Blacks and Republicans). Idaho Senator William Borah praised Curtis as “a great reconciler, a walking political encyclopedia and one of the best political poker players in America.”
Curtis became the first colored Vice President in U.S. history.
Along with Hoover, he was elected in a 1929 landslide victory. He was the highest ranking Indian–a member of the Kaw Nation–to serve in D.C. He grew up on a Kansas Indian reservation. Ironically, Curtis worked in Congress two decades before Indians finally won their full citizenship and right to vote (in 1924 Indian Citizenship Act).
But do you know who else spent time on an Indian reservation? Curtis’ boss and 31st U.S. President, Herbert Hoover. As a young boy, Hoover lived with his Indian agent uncle for several months on the Osage Nation reservation in Oklahoma (the only U.S. president to do so). On the reservation, Hoover attended Indian Sunday School and developed a lifelong appreciation for the Indian way of life.
It’s no wonder that as president and vice president, Hoover and Curtis fought for greater Indian rights in America.
Under their administration, funding increased for better reservation schools and hospitals. They helped pass the Leavitt Act to cancel Indian debt. They also encouraged Indian assimilation rather than segregation.
CHARLES CURTIS (1860-1936). The Kaw Indian who went from a Kansas reservation to the U.S. Capitol. Curtis was even featured TWICE on the cover of Time magazine. He remains the most successful and influential Indian politician in U.S. history.
And he’s virtually unknown to Americans today.
- “Charles Curtis” (Wikipedia): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Curtis
- “Herbert Hoover: Only US President to Have Lived on Indian Reservation” by Alysa Landry, Indian Country Today website, 9/13/2018: https://indiancountrytoday.com/…/herbert-hoover-only-us….
He’s on a very short list of highly influential Black Americans. He was a prolific author, outstanding orator, influential educator and inspiring leader. He was among the last Black American generation born into slavery.
His name was Booker T. Washington (1856-1915).
Booker was born into slavery in Virginia, sometime in 1856. After Lincoln emancipated the slaves, his family moved to the free state of West Virginia. His name was only “Booker” for years. However, for school registration he needed a last name and he chose “Washington” (after his stepfather). He later added the middle name of “Taliaferro” (his original last name through his mother).
He was now Booker T. Washington.
His first name fit him well. Booker loved books.
He also enjoyed school. He’d eventually study at the Hampton Institute and Wayland Seminary. At 25 years of age, he was named principal of a brand-new Black school that would eventually be known as Tuskegee University. His students built the first campus facilities, under his direction. They made and laid the bricks, constructed and painted the buildings, grew the crops and raised livestock (for their meals).
Washington led the Tuskegee Institute for 34 years.
It was his only job. By 1915, the school employed 200 faculty, teaching 38 disciplines, to over 1500 students in 100 buildings. President McKinley was so impressed he brought his entire cabinet to experience the school. Booker routinely preached the best way for Blacks to gain equal rights was through their “industry, thrift, intelligence and property.”
Washington believed Blacks could (and should) work equally with Whites.
However, to do so they needed business, farming, trade and social skills. Consequently, he helped start other Black schools, including the West Virginia Colored Institute (now known as West Virginia State University). He developed relationships with deep-pocketed philanthropists (Rockefeller, Carnegie) and industry leaders (Standard Oil, Sears and Roebuck, Eastman Kodak). Booker also developed a national network of Black businessmen, clergy, editors and educators.
In 1901, President Teddy Roosevelt invited Booker (a fellow Republican) to dine with him in the White House. It was the first time such an intimate dinner was held inside the President’s quarters…and it caused outrage and controversy. In many places, segregation was the law and the optics of a Black man enjoying a meal with a White man wasn’t good.
Booker’s speaking and writing career changed the world.
He penned 14 books, including his autobiography “Up From Slavery” (1901). It’s a work that remains a literary classic. Booker spoke at large venues, including Madison Square Garden and Carnegie Hall. His oratorical skills inspired both Black and White audiences, and Booker’s fame spread across America. He was particularly popular among Southern Blacks.
Booker’s 1895 “Atlanta Address” or “Atlanta Compromise”—as critics renamed it—became a national story.
Former supporter W.E.B. Dubois, founder of the N.A.A.C.P., criticized Booker for “compromising” to “white political rule.” Essentially, Booker desired to create bridges whereas Dubois preferred tearing down walls. Booker embraced a slower approach to full civil rights for Blacks, whereas Dubois argued for those rights immediately (through political activism). Dubois viewed Washington as “The Great Accommodator,” but Booker continued to reason that confrontational racial politics would only agitate, frustrate and backfire. The irony? Despite Washington’s accommodations, he still contributed “secretly and substantially” to activist Blacks attempting to end segregation politically.
Washington’s success was only clouded by his private despair.
Booker married three times. First to Fannie (1882), then to Olivia (1885) and, finally, to Margaret (1893). His first two wives bore him a daughter and two sons. And both of them died within 2-4 years of their wedding day to Booker.
Booker T. Washington died November 14, 1915 in Tuskegee. His exhausting personal schedule, speaking and travel proved a contributing factor to the rapid decline of health. He was only 59 years old. His funeral was held at the Tuskegee Institute with nearly 8,000 in attendance. At his death the Institute’s endowment fund was $2 million ($55.6 million today). He not only built a great school…he gave it a solid financial future.
Washington has been memorialized on stamps, coins, airplanes, ships, state parks and several schools. Harvard and Dartmouth awarded him honorary degrees. In the center of Tuskegee University a monument was built to commemorate Booker with the inscription: He lifted the veil of ignorance from his people and pointed the way to progress through education and industry.
Booker T. Washington. Educator. Author. Orator.
And now you know the rest of HIStory.
- “Booker T. Washington” (Wikipedia): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Booker_T._Washington
- Washington, Booker T. Up From Slavery: An Autobiography (New York: Doubleday, Page and Co., 1901).
- My Larger Education: Being Chapters From My Experience (New York: Doubleday, Page and Co., 1911).
“When you can do the common things of life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.”
These weren’t just words to George Washington Carver (1864-1943). They were his legacy. Few Americans lived bigger and better lives. Carver was born a slave, but eventually became a botanist, educator, conservationist, and artist. He was also a devout Christian who fought for racial harmony and graciously served everyone he met.
Carver’s story is what made America great…and still “commands the attention of the world.”
Carver was born a slave in Missouri, sometime around 1864. His parents were slaves. When George was a newborn baby, he and his mother and sister were kidnapped. The slave raiders transported his family to Arkansas and sold them in Kentucky. However, Carver’s Missouri owner was a kind and caring Christian. He searched the country for the Carver family, but only found George. From that day forward, he raised George as one of his sons. As a result, Carver was encouraged to read, write, and draw. His favorite subject was botany, but what he really loved was art.
At age 11, Carver moved to Neosho, MO to enroll in a school for Black children.
That’s when he met Mariah Watkins, a Black woman and devout Christian. She boarded the boy, taught him Christianity and encouraged his schooling in order to “give…learning back to [his] people.” And that’s exactly what Carver did. He had a relentless drive to learn as much as possible. Despite experiencing hardship, prejudice and poverty, Carver continued to learn, no matter where it led him. He moved to Kansas (where he graduated high school) and to Iowa ( to study art and painting at Simpson College). That’s where his art teacher discovered George’s love for botany…and encouraged him to change degrees…and schools.
In 1890, Carver transferred to Iowa State Agricultural College (now Iowa State University) to study agriculture.
He was Iowa State’s first Black student. He earned a bachelor’s (1894) and then a master’s (1896). Carver’s high intelligence, positive attitude and impressive agricultural skills soon landed him a faculty job at Iowa State (their first Black professor).
But George Washington Carver would receive a higher call.
Booker T. Washington, the principal of the esteemed Tuskegee Institute in Alabama wanted Carver desperately on his faculty. He knew an agricultural school would distinguish Tuskegee and George was the only Black with a masters in the discipline. Booker offered a higher-than-average salary to George and then gave the bachelor Carver his own two-room campus apartment (one just for his plants).
This favored accommodation, however, sparked jealousy with single Tuskegee instructors (who shared rooms and enjoyed more meager salaries), as well as other faculty members. The relocation from “free” Iowa to the Jim Crow South also proved a difficult transition for George. The Ku Klux Klan. Lynching. Black vote suppression. Segregation. It was something he never got used to.
For the next 47 years, George was a fixture at Tuskegee.
Carver developed the Agriculture Department, taught a full load of classes, managed the school’s farms, mentored and counseled students, handled janitorial duties, served on multiple committees and worked with area farmers.
Carver was an introvert. He preferred working his plants more than teaching his students (despite being a beloved professor). His work load, along with faculty resentment, Booker’s expectations and Southern living often discouraged Carver, but he never showed it. George optimistically dedicated himself to teaching, friendships and supporting the Tuskegee’s mission to educate the Black race.
Carver’s greatest contributions involved his work with poor Alabama sharecroppers.
George taught them how to rotate crops, fertilize with “swamp muck,” and feed their livestock better. He encouraged farmers to stop growing cotton and plant different crops (like peanuts, sweet potatoes, soybeans) to infuse the soil with nitrogen. Crop rotation allowed the soil to rest and rejuvenate. It was a new technique that the Midwest would learn too late (during the Dust Bowl years). Consequently, one of the South’s highest yielding crops soon became peanuts.
And that forced Carver to experiment and explore new uses for the legume. George W. Carver literally became “The Peanut Man.” In his labs, he developed over 300 food, commercial and industrial “peanut” products (including milk, sauces, oils and soaps). He also invented cosmetics, paper and medications using peanuts.
By 1910, Carver was famous for his agricultural science, not just in America but around the world.
The introverted Carver parlayed his rising celebrity platform to promote peanuts, Tuskegee and racial harmony. Carver was a prolific writer. He contributed to magazines, newspapers and journals. George wrote tens of thousands of personal letters. He became friends with U.S. Presidents (Teddy Roosevelt) and captains of industry (Henry Ford). After his death, his life savings funded a Tuskegee foundation and museum. Carver also displayed more of his personal art in his elder years. He was multi-talented.
Carver was also a devout Christian.
In fact, many biographers credit his humility, gentleness, compassion and joy to his deep Christian faith. Although he never married, George kept many close friendships with his church. He believed only Christianity could eradicate racism and social disharmony. He was also a Bible scholar and popular Sunday School teacher.
George W. Carver died January 5, 1943. He was buried next to Booker T. Washington on the Tuskegee campus. His gravestone reads: “He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world.” It’s a humble sentiment.
And yet Carver has been “famously” memorialized as one of Black America’s greatest persons. His likeness adorns stamps, coins and medals. Carver’s name appears on schools, bridges and streets. He has state parks and botanical gardens named for him. George’s Missouri birthplace is a National Monument. Since 1943, January 5 has been George Washington Carver Day. He’s been elected to multiple “halls of fame” and awarded several honorary degrees.
From slavery to peanuts to presidents. Carver packed a lot of life into his 79 years.
George Washington Carver.
Scientist. Educator. Conservationist. Inventor. Artist. Christian.
And now you know the rest of HIStory.
- “George Washington Carver” (Wikipedia): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_Washington_Carver
- “George Washington Carver: An Uncommon Life” Documentary (Iowa Public Broadcasting): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_3CVmluYFtI
- “George Washington Carver” (History.com): A&E Television Networks. https://www.history.com/topics/black-history/george-washington-carver Accessed February 17, 2022
“Biddy” spent nearly forty years as a slave for a Mississippi slave master. She never learned to read or write. And yet she saved her midwife salary to become a wealthy Black real estate magnate…and revered philanthropist.
It’s quite the story. It’s also an inspiring tale that proves it’s not how you start life that matters as much as how you finish it.
Her name was “Biddy.”
But her real name was Bridget Mason. She was born into slavery in August 1818 and had several masters. She was eventually sold to Robert and Rebecca Smith in Mississippi. Biddy proved highly useful for her knowledge of childcare, livestock and medicine.
In 1847, the entire Smith family converted to Mormonism and pulled up stakes to move West with Brigham Young. Biddy traveled with her slave owners from Mississippi to eastern Illinois, on to Colorado, and eventually Salt Lake City, Utah. She was among 34 slaves in the wagon train and she walked the entire 1700 miles, arriving in 1848.
Three years later, Brigham Young commissioned some Mormons to emigrate to California to birth a new Mormon outpost. The Smith family, along with Biddy, were part of that 1851 wagon train, but there was a problem.
California was a free state.
Once Biddy crossed into the Golden State, she was no longer a slave. But that fact didn’t matter to her master. He ignored the California law. Besides, Biddy was illiterate so the Smiths could easily keep her unaware…and so she remained enslaved.
In 1856, Smith decided to move again…this time to Texas (a slave state). That’s when Biddy spoke up. The move would mean separation from her children. She confessed these fears to two free Black men who informed her of California law. That’s when Biddy sued Robert Smith for emancipation.
During the court hearings, her master proved ruthless. He gave false testimony and claimed Biddy wanted to relocate to Texas. He bribed her lawyer to miss court dates. Biddy was also unable to personally testify due to a California law that prohibited Blacks from speaking in court against Whites.
But justice for Biddy (and her family) still came. The judge liberated her from Smith after 38 years of slavery.
Biddy was still in the prime of life. A free Black woman with three daughters. She immediately found work as a nurse and midwife. She lived lean and saved every penny she earned. With her savings she bought some land.
Biddy was one of the first Black women to own real estate in Los Angeles.
Over time, her real estate investments grew, and Biddy became rich. She used her great wealth to shelter and feed the impoverished and imprisoned. Mason funded a “traveler’s aid center,” day cares and schools for children. She also helped found (and build) the first African Methodist Episcopal Church of Los Angeles. Biddy once paid the grocery bill for an entire community made homeless by a flood. Every day people lined up at her home, seeking her financial assistance…and she helped as she could.
Biddy often confessed, “If you hold your hand closed, nothing good can come in. The open hand is blessed, for it gives in abundance, even as it receives.” That’s how she lived every day of her life.
Biddy’s generous charity made her a rich woman.
In her final years of life, Mason’s financial holdings exceeded $300,000 (around $9.2 million today).
Biddy died January 15, 1891. She passed as a revered citizen of Los Angeles and was awarded several distinctions, including memorial parks, murals, and even a day (November 16) named in her honor.
Bridget “Biddy” Mason. Former Slave. Real Estate Entrepreneur. Christian Philanthropist.
And now you know the rest of HERstory.
- “Biddy Mason” (Wikipedia): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biddy_Mason
- Beasely, Delilah L. The Negro Trail Blazers of California (Los Angeles: 1919): 90, 109, 110, 117. Available for download at Google books.
- Martineau Wagner, T. (2007, July 12). Bridget “Biddy” Mason (1818-1891). BlackPast.org. https://www.blackpast.org/african-american-history/mason-bridget-biddy-1818-1891/