Can you name them by just looking at their faces? You should be able to given their accomplishments. The twentieth century is not so long ago, but time is weird and history weirder. When you are living history in the way we are today it is difficult to find perspective. Everything seems so very new, but the human condition...it doesn't change as much.
If you read about the Roaring Twenties, there was so much excitement during the time period. There are huge technological leaps, but also some of the greatest social change of the 20th century. There is so much optimism and forward-looking energy at the beginning of the 20th century.
Every single American in the Roaring Twenties is looking to a future of great promise. The nineteenth century was in everyone’s rearview mirror. The horse and buggy era was long gone. There was nothing to be learned from that time when we were driving cars and flying in airplanes.
I detect a similar zeitgeist today. There is this belief in technology. A strong belief it can solve ALL our problems if it is just properly applied. It was similar in the 20th century though. Technology did NOT prevent the Great Depression or World War II. We learned about our human flaws again...as we often do.
In these times of strife, I am a little surprised that these three women get so little attention. However, like Harriet Tubman of the nineteenth century perhaps they are just seen as dinosaurs. Trapped in their times with nothing to offer the future. I fear we are about to learn about the extent of our human flaws again...
Despite that fear, there remains hope for a country which produces people like the three who follow. Three Americans from the 20th century who ought to be celebrated in the 21st century. They are trailblazers. They broke ground for all of us. A consideration of their lives may help us reduce some of our human flaws.
I will hazard a guess that few readers have heard of this woman. She died tragically young, but she was a real trailblazer. Chauvinists of the era might believe women could not operate mechanical things. Similarly, racists thought the indigenous peoples of North America AND Africa were similarly handicapped, if not more so. Yet Bessie Coleman was the first African-American woman and first Native-American to hold a pilot license. She earned her pilot license from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.
These are strong words. They are insightful words. Her tragic early death seems unfair. You see she was killed while her mechanic/agent/publicist was flying the damn plane. She was getting ready for a parachute jump and the dumbbell crashed the plane killing her and himself.
She died in 1926 at quite a young age. It is probably one of the reasons why she is not remembered. Still, to have died because a white male Texan had failed to secure his tools in the cockpit...
Subsequently, his wrench got lodged in the controls during flight causing the fatal crash. It seems a really stupid way to check out and a terrible irony for chauvinists and racists alike. Killed by dumb white male arrogance was certainly a legitimate interpretation of how she passed. It is tragic and sad.
When I was a child, this woman was making the late-night comedy circuit. Occasionally, I would see her when the adults would let me stay up late while they drank coffee and gossiped or whatever adults do while they ignore children. Goodness, she was quite funny. She also had a non-threatening grandmotherly air about her. Late in her life though, the fight for civil rights really heated up. Though Moms Mabley was near the end of her career, she was able to get traction with young people.
She even made jokes about being a lesbian during her stand-up, which had to be some kind of first somewhere/somehow in the LBGTQ community. I did not get the jokes at first, I was young. Eventually, I understood, but I wonder about the adults who were in the same room with me at the same time.
As I grew older, she appeared in more serious venues too. I saw her sing some songs. I saw her give some interviews. I learned who Moms Mabley really was. She had had quite a hard life.
She had been raped twice in her childhood, once by a family member and then by a white sheriff. Both these incidents led to pregnancies which she brought to term and then gave the baby up for adoption. It was then at the urging of her grandmother that she ran off at the age of 14 to join the vaudeville circuit.
As tough as that must have been be on the road at 14, it could not have been as tough as what she was fleeing. To learn of these things made me very sad. I cried a tear for Moms Mabley.
This woman’s life is so trailblazing in SOOO many ways, I am shocked she does not get more attention. I provided you with a link to some of her stand-up above, but she was so much more than that. You have to see her in a more relaxed setting to really appreciate what she was bringing to the table.
Here she is with Sammy Davis, Jr. In fact, even if you don't read the rest of this you really must watch this video of her rendition of Abraham, Martin and John.
I really had to save this woman for last. America needs someone like Shirley Chisholm right now. During the sixties and seventies, she was right there in my face of Establishment politics. She could articulate her political opinions with great flourish. When I hear Tyler Perry's Madea character enunciate certain words, I think of Shirley Chisholm. She had a similar way of speaking sometimes.
She ran for president in 1972. There is no way to call it a symbolic campaign either. She put up numbers at the convention, which I watched as a child. Her largest support overall came from Ohio, with 23 delegates with a total of 152 first ballot votes at the Democratic convention. Her total gave her fourth place in the roll call tally, behind McGovern’s winning total of 1,728 delegates.
Chisholm said she ran for the office “in spite of hopeless odds … to demonstrate the sheer will and refusal to accept the status quo”. BADASS!
Goodness, we need women like this today. I cannot believe I do not see this woman’s old speeches all over social media. It is shocking to me given today’s social climate that the name Shirley Chisholm is not on every activist’s lips.
If somehow and someway Shirley Chisholm could be resurrected, I feel she would be a shoe-in for the Presidency of the United States this time around.
Read this again - "in spite of hopeless odds … to demonstrate the sheer will and refusal to accept the status quo”. I don't think a person like Shirley Chisholm would not face hopeless odds today.
Unbought and unbossed, yeah!