His father was a thoughtful man of few words. A man who learned to read in night school. And who then went into business for himself as a brick maker, where he was known to have a strong propensity for math. He could estimate the number of bricks needed for any size contract with amazing accuracy. And he was a righteous man. The men who worked for him never used profanity in his presence. Not because he forbade it, but because they held him in such high regard.
Then there was his maternal grandfather who was freed as a young man. “He was useless to his master because he viciously resisted his masters attempt to bend [his] will.” Slavery was not justifiable in his mind.
And then there was his paternal grandfather, a man who bought his and his wife’s freedom.
Nathan Francis Mossell came from a lineage of people who fought to overcome adversity. And he followed in their path. In 1882, he became the first African-American graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
Everyday at 9am, Susie King Taylor and her brother would walk half a mile to the small schoolhouse, their books wrapped in paper to prevent the police or white persons from seeing them. Her grandmother made sure of it – she wanted Susie to be able to read and write.
Susie was barely in her early teens when her family fled to St. Simons Island, a Union controlled area in Georgia, during the Civil War. With her inquisitive eyes and kind demeanor and her education, she impressed the army officers. They asked that she become a teacher for children and even some adults. “I would gladly do so, if I could have some books,” she replied. And so she became the first black teacher of freed black students to work in a freely operating freedmen’s school in Georgia.
Not long after, Susie married, and joined her husband and his regiment as they traveled. She became their teacher, teaching the illiterate men to read and write. It was also during this time that she became a nurse to the men, thus making her the first black army nurse in the Civil War.
All this she accomplished before the age of 18.
Looking back on her time as a nurse, she said that “I gave my service willingly for four years and three months without receiving a dollar. I was glad…to care for the sick and afflicted comrades.
“Dr. Ceriani begins to work soon after 8 o’clock and often continues far into the night. He serves as physician, surgeon, obstetrician, pediatrician, psychiatrist, dentist, oculist, and laboratory technician. Like most rural g.p.s [general practitioner] he has no vacations and takes few days off, although unlike them he has a small hospital in which to work…
Although he is only 32, he is already slightly stooped, leaning forward as he hurries from place to place as though heading into a strong wind. His income from covering a dozen fields is less than a city doctor makes by specializing in only one. But Ceriani is compensated by the affection of his patients and neighbors.”
Dr. Ernest Ceriani was the only doctor in the small community of Kremmling, Colorado in the middle of the 20th century. In this photograph, he’s taking a break after a long surgery.
This was her reply during a hearing of the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1951, to decline giving up names of friends who might have had involvement in the Communist Party.
Bella Lewitsky was “a small girl with heavy, dark hair and big eyes.” Born to a Russian Jewish family in Llano del Rio, a utopian socialist community in the Mojave Desert, she was raised in San Bernardino, which is where she discovered and nurtured her love for dancing.
With her “fiery personality,” she became “one of America’s great modern dancers.” And then a teacher, who was always concerned about the welfare of her group. “Her company members were always fully insured, and she paid them annual salaries even when they did not perform every month of a year.”
Bella was tough, fearless, and an ardent believer in the importance of modern dance as a major art form.
Miep and Jan Gies met while working together at a textile company in the Netherlands. She was a typist, he an accountant. They were friends first, but after spending many nights together listening to Mozart and going to the cinema, the two started to settle into a relationship. On July 16th, 1941, they married. This photograph, which captures them staring at each other with loving eyes is from their wedding day.
Not long after their wedding, they would be asked to hide Anne Frank and her family. Miep’s reply to the request was “of course.”
I’ve never met someone who is happy with parking meters. Meters are pesky and inconvenient, often caked with filth from weather or people, and as the conspiracy theory goes, designed to trap people into receiving those lovely parking tickets. And yet they’re prevalent in just about every city. And we the average peoples put up with them.
That though is nothing new. As an American society, we’ve been putting up with meters since 1935. That’s when they were introduced. 150 of them on a handful of downtown streets in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on July 16th.
But while many of us associate parking meters with city revenue, they were first introduced to solve a different problem. At the time cars were becoming popular, quite popular in fact. Between 1900 and 1935, 50 million cars were sold. America was evolving into a society of drivers and cities were trying to adjust to this new trend. And for most American cities the adjustment was difficult, as roads and infrastructure in general were never built to support cars.
So behavior of people with their cars was causing all sorts of problems for cities. In downtown areas of cities, people were leaving cars parked for hours and sometimes days. This lead to double parking becoming prevalent and congestion was a norm.
None of this was good for business owners who want turnover. Give customers enough time to shop, but then have them leave so that other customers can shop. To counter the problems, different cities used different methods — some let people park cars all day for free, others like Los Angeles banned cars completely during the day for a period of time. But it wasn’t until the introduction of parking meters that the congestion and turnover problem was solved.
When Oklahoma City first introduced meters, there was pushback from citizens. Free parking is a right the populace demanded. But business owners helped keep the meters in place. And of course the parking meters were good for the government too. It meant more revenue for the city.
Today, parking meters are becoming easier to use. With apps to help manage payments, the experience has definitely improved. All in good time for driverless cars to become popular.
Sneakers today are the norm to wear for much of America. Whether it’s going to school or going out, the vast majority of people we see are wearing one of the myriad fashions for kicks. But how did this come to be?
You can say the historical record started in 1908 when a 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 for tennis players, and in 1917 the company introduced the All-Star basketball shoe.
During this time, in Indiana, a basketball player at Columbus High by the name of Chuck Taylor fell in love with the All-Star basketball shoe. Chuck was a lanky white 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, and it became the shoe to wear for basketball players. In 1936, the sneakers were the official shoe for the US basketball team participating 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. It’s remarkable how influential just one person can be in driving cultural change.