In our American culture, Mount Rushmore has become a national symbol of the United States since Gutzon Borglum carved the faces of 4 presidents on the mountain in the Black Hills of South Dakota. When I was in college, one of my roommates used to watch ESPN a lot. One time, the network was doing a feature on which sports figures they’d put on Mount Rushmore pertaining to each state. I didn’t think about it at the time. But now since recently I came up with the idea of whether to do a similar idea. But this time, instead of sports figures, it would pertain to people from American history and culture (even though I did include a couple of sports figures Jackie Robinson and Jim Thorpe). Because after all, the US does have a captivating history and there are plenty of famous Americans who’ve contributed to the nation as well as the world in unique ways. I know plenty of elementary schools tend to emphasize this by assigning students famous Americans. My famous American project in 3rd grade was Molly Pitcher said to give soldiers water and take over loading her husband’s cannon at the Battle of Monmouth. Now this woman sort of existed but there’s some evidence she didn’t but I was stuck with her. Another one I remember was a kid doing one on Virginia Dare who did exist since she was the first white child born in the Americas. But she was born on Roanoke Island that disappeared so who knows what happened to her. Then I remember another kid doing one on Albert Einstein who did exist and did reside in the US. But he was already famous for his Theory of Relatively when he came to the US in 1933 as a refugee from his native Germany. So considering him a famous American would be like saying the same about John Lennon who is best known for being one of the Beatles who all came from Liverpool in the UK. And of course, many tend to credit Betsy Ross who designed the first American flag even though this was cooked up bullshit her grandkids made up. So I bring my series on the idea that if each state had their very own Mount Rushmore, then these should be the people who should be on it based on this criteria:
- The celebrities depicted must be dead. (Because you don’t want highly partisan figures. However, this means that people like Bob Dylan, John Glenn, Kens Burns, Barack Obama, the Clintons, Oprah, Muhammad Ali, Stephen King, and others don’t make it on their respective states.)
- The celebrities pertaining to the state must have either been born or spent considerable time there. (For instance, though Edgar Allan Poe is associated with Maryland, he didn’t spend a lot of time there and really should be on for Virginia, Pennsylvania, or New York but those spots were taken. However, Dolley Madison was born in North Carolina but she was a rather significant First Lady while George M. Cohan gets in for Rhode Island for his immeasurable contributions to Broadway even though he was only born there.)
- Each celebrity can only be depicted on one state. (For instance, despite that Lincoln had lived in Kentucky and Indiana, he’s only depicted for Illinois because that’s where he spent most of his life. Then you have Mark Twain who was born in Missouri and spent some time in California but he spent the bulk of his life in Connecticut.)
- Has made a clear and considerable impact on American culture. (Reagan’s legacy is more or less debated among party lines and can either be a good or bad president depending on what your political views are. Not to mention, as far as California is concerned, his influence on the US doesn’t have nearly the cultural impact as Republicans say it does. Nixon by contrast, no matter what you think of him, will always be remembered with Watergate which will forever stain his legacy as well as American politics. This is why Reagan isn’t on for California and Nixon is. Same goes for John Muir, Jackie Robinson, and Caesar Chavez since they’re practically cultural icons.)
- Has to have verifiable account of accomplishments. (For instance, details in Calamity Jane’s autobiography are questionable. Same goes for John C. Fremont.)
- Impact can have positive, ambiguous, or negative effects on country. (For instance, Al Capone is on Illinois because his domination of Chicago’s organized crime scene during Prohibition made him the most famous US gangster of all time. Nevertheless, this rule allows inclusion of more infamous and controversial figures like legendary criminals or people with very negative legacies that are also very noteworthy.)
- State location has to be certain. (For instance, Chief Joseph and Crazy Horse don’t make it on there because they’re associated with multiple states while Sitting Bull died at the same place he was born so he makes it on South Dakota’s. Douglas MacArthur doesn’t get in since he was from a military family and didn’t stay in one place for long. And I had to leave Francis Hopkinson out since though he signed the Declaration of Independence as a delegate from New Jersey, he spent a lot of his life in Philadelphia.)
- Can be very well known as well as relatively obscure. (For instance, a lot of these states have famous people who you may not have heard of like Delaware which consists of a founder of a major US corporation, the first black woman in North America to edit and own a newspaper, the man who built the Empire State Building, and the inventor of Kelvar.)
- Just because some famous person didn’t make it to their state Mount Rushmore doesn’t mean they’re less important. (For instance, I would’ve loved to have added Harvey Milk, Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Washington Irving, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Bonnie and Clyde, Edgar Allan Poe, Lewis and Clark, William Tecumseh Sherman, Robert E. Lee, Arthur Ashe, George C. Marshall, Betty Ford, Frances Willard, Margaret Sanger, Gifford Pinchot, Jim Morrison, Buddy Holly, Samuel Adams, John Hancock, Dorothy Day, Babe Ruth, George S. Patton, Jesse Owens, Henry Clay, Truman Capote, Clara Barton, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Goodyear, Sojourner Truth, John Steinbeck, Eugene O’Neill, Arthur Miller, Frances Perkins, John Ericson, Upton Sinclair, Andrew Carnegie, P. T. Barnum, Jesse James, Fred Rogers, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Bessie Smith, John D. Rockefeller, Mary Chestnut, Elisha Hunt Rhodes, and more but you can only fill 4 slots for each state.)
For this first selection, I bring you the figures I have in mind for the state Mount Rushmores from Alabama to California. From Alabama, you have an author who wrote a book that managed to convey the evils of racism in a way that’s accessible to almost anyone, a deafblind woman who was a leading activist and author in her day, a young Baptist minister who became the face of the Civil Rights Movement, and a scientist who devoted his life to finding alternative crops to cotton in order to help poor families in the South. From Alaska there’s a former Air Force sergeant who had a show about the joys of painting, a woman who was instrumental in creating the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, an explorer who wrote numerous articles about the Alaskan wilderness, and an Alaskan Native woman whose advocacy led to the passage of the first US anti-discrimination law. In Arizona, I bring you two great Native American warriors who’ve been elevated to iconic status, a politician who’s has a substantial influence in American conservatism, and a major figure in Latin music. From Arkansas comes a black woman who’s been a major literary figure in American literature in the latter half of the 20th century, a major country music superstar who always dressed in black, a man who founded the world’s largest retailer that now sets the way how the industry does business, and a civil rights activist who was involved in a school integration crisis. And finally, we get to California where you’ll meet a Scotsman who became a founding father of environmentalism, a man who would’ve become a great US president had he not gotten involved in a major political scandal, a baseball player whose career challenged the traditional basis of segregation, and a union organizer who’s become an icon among the Hispanic community.
Figure 1: Harper Lee – author of To Kill a Mockingbird which won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize and has become a classic in modern American literature as well as been cited as a factor in the success of the civil rights movement in the 1960s by giving white Southerners a way to understand racism that they’ve been brought up with and to find another way. Assisted her close friend Truman Capote in his research for the book In Cold Blood.
Figure 2: Helen Keller– author, political activist, and lecturer. First deafblind person to earn a bachelor’s degree. Member of the Socialist Party of America and Industrial Workers of the World as well as campaigned for women’s suffrage, labor rights, socialism, and other similar causes.
Figure 3: Martin Luther King Jr.– Baptist minister, activist, humanitarian, and leader of the Civil Rights Movement. Best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights using nonviolent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs. Delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington. Received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964. Also made speeches against poverty and opposed the Vietnam War. Has his own national holiday and very deservedly so.
Figure 4: George Washington Carver– botanist and inventor who based his research into and promotion of alternative crops to cotton such as peanuts and sweet potatoes as food for poor farmers and for products to improve their quality of life. Though he spent years promoting numerous peanut products, none were commercially successful. Was also a leader in promoting environmentalism.
Figure 1: Bob Ross– painter, art instructor, and television host. Creator and host of The Joy of Painting on PBS. Coined the phrase, “happy little tree.” Started painting while serving as a sergeant at Eiselson Air Force Base.
Figure 2: Margaret Murie– naturalist, author, adventurer, and conservationist dubbed as “Grandmother of the Conservation Movement” by the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society. Helped in the passage of the Wilderness Act and was instrumental in creating the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (which is now subject to drilling controversies).
Figure 3: Bob Marshall– forester, writer, and wilderness activist. Was a scientist with doctorates in philosophy and plant physiology. Explored the Alaskan wilderness and wrote numerous articles and books, including his bestselling 1933 book The Arctic Village. Was chief of forestry in the Bureau of Indian Affairs and head of recreation management in the Forest Service during the FDR administration. Founded the Wilderness Society in 1935 and is considered largely responsible for the wilderness preservation movement. 25 years after his untimely death of a heart attack at 38, partly as a result of his efforts, The Wilderness Society fostered the Wilderness Act, which legally defined the wilderness of the US and protected some nine million acres of federal land.
Figure 4: Elizabeth Peratrovich– member of the Tlingit nation as well as an important civil rights activist who worked on behalf of equality of all Alaskan Natives as a leader in the Alaska Native Brotherhood and the Alaska Native Sisterhood. Credited with advocacy that gained passage of the then territory’s Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945, the first anti-discrimination law in the US.
Figure 1: Ira Hayes-Pima Native American and US Marine who was one of the 6 flag raisers immortalized in the iconic photograph of the flag raising on Iwo Jima during WWII. Instrumental in revealing the true identity of one of the pictured Marines who was later killed in action. However, he never really felt comfortable with his fame, descended into alcoholism, and was found dead on his reservation. He was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
Figure 2: Geronimo– leader of Chiricahua Apache who fought against encroachment of European settlers on Native American lands; hero of Native American fight for respect and independence. Wasn’t really a chief since only about 30-50 Apaches would be among his following but frequently led numbers larger than that. But while other Apache leaders conducted raids and carried on revenge warfare, he accumulated a record of effective resistance during this time that matched any of his contemporaries and his fighting ability extended to over 30 years. Said to “surrender” to reservation life 3 times between 1876-1886 but he led bands to “breakouts” each time. And the years after he surrendered for the last time, he spent as a prisoner of war. Among his tribe many Chiricahua had mixed feelings for him for while they respected him as a skilled and effective leader of raids or warfare, he wasn’t very likeable and wasn’t widely popular among the other Apache. He also hated Mexicans more than Americans, by the way.
Figure 3: Barry Goldwater-politician and businessman who’s often most credited with the resurgence of American conservative political movement of the 1960s as well as had a substantial impact in the libertarian movement. Rejected the legacy of the New Deal and fought through the conservative coalition against the New Deal coalition. His defeat in the 1964 presidential election allowed younger conservatives to mobilize even though he was a much less active leader afterwards. Urged Richard Nixon to resign during the Watergate scandal. Became a vocal opponent of the Religious Right in the 1980s. Was the first candidate of Jewish heritage to be nominated for President by a major American party.
Figure 4: Eduardo “Lalo” Guerrero– Mexican-American guitarist, singer, songwriter, and farm labor activist best known for his strong influence in today’s Latin musical artists that he’s called the “Father of Chicano Music.” Recorded and/or wrote over 700 songs from 1939 including ones about Caesar Chavez, other farm workers, and braceros. Also wrote for many famous artists. Worked closely with Chavez for farm workers’ rights.
Figure 1: Maya Angelou– poet, memoirist, and civil rights activist. Published 7 autobiographies, 3 books of essays, several books of poetry, and was credited with a list of plays, movies, and TV shows spanning 50 years. Best known for her memoir I Know When the Caged Bird Sings based on her childhood in Stamps which brought her fame and international acclaim.
Figure 2: Johnny Cash– singer-songwriter, guitarist, actor, and author who’s widely considered one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century and one of the best-selling musical artists of all time, selling 90 million records worldwide. Though primarily a country music icon, songs also spanned rock and roll, rockabilly, blues, folk, and gospel. Known for his deep, calm baritone-bass voice, distinctive sound of his Tennessee Three backing band, rebelliousness, increasingly somber and humble demeanor, free prison concerts, and a trademark look which earned him the nickname, “The Man in Black.”
Figure 3: Sam Walton– businessman and entrepreneur best known for founding Wal Mart and Sam’s Club which have forever changed the nature of retail business, if not capitalism for better or worse with predatory pricing, treating workers like commodities that they’re forced to rely on government programs for basic needs, union busting, importing products made from slave labor, ideological censorship, and not giving a shit about local communities. While his chain may boast always low prices in order to live better, it has brought a very high price for communities, consumers, workers, competitors and others. Today, Wal Mart is the world’s largest retailer and sets the standards on how the rest of the industry does business while his heirs are among the richest people in the country.
Figure 4: Daisy Bates– civil rights activist, publisher, journalist, and lecturer who as publisher of the Arkansas State Press and president of her state’s NAACP, played a critical role in the Little Rock Nine Integration Crisis of 1957 at Central High School when 9 black students attempted to enroll in an all-white school but were stopped by the Arkansas National Guard under the governor’s orders. Her memoir recounting the crisis, The Long Shadow of Little Rock, won the 1988 National Book Award.
Figure 1: John Muir– naturalist, author, environmental philosopher, and early advocate of wilderness preservation in the US. His letters, essays, and books telling of his adventures have been read by millions that continued to be discussed today. Published 12 books and 300 articles. Activism helped preserve the Yosemite Valley, Sequoia National Park, and other wilderness areas. Founded the Sierra Club. Referred to as the “Father of the National Parks” and is a patron saint of 20th century American environmentalism.
Figure 2: Richard Nixon– US president from 1969-1974 who could’ve been great man of our times if he wasn’t so morally lacking. Rose to national prominence as a leading anti-communist with his pursuit of the Alger Hiss case while his “Checkers Speech” led Eisenhower choose him as his vice president. His presidency saw the end of American involvement in Vietnam, end of the military draft, opening diplomatic relations with China, initiation of détente with the Soviet Union, founding of the Environmental Protection Agency, the Apollo 11 moon landing, Arab oil embargo, and enforced desegregation of Southern schools. Brought down by revelations pertaining to his involvement in the Watergate scandals which cost him political support and led him to resign the presidency in disgrace in the face of certain impeachment and removal from office. His actions pertaining to the Watergate scandal have caused a permanent stain on the presidency, his legacy, and American politics ever since.
Figure 3: Jackie Robinson– Major League Baseball second baseman for the Brooklyn Dodgers who became the first African American to play in the major leagues in the modern era. Through his exceptional 10 year career, his character, his use of nonviolence, and his unquestionable talent challenged the traditional basis of segregation which then marked many aspects of American life. Had an impact on the culture and contributed significantly to the Civil Rights Movement. Was also the first black TV analyst in MLB and first black vice president of a major American corporation. In 1997, the MLB universally retired his uniform number across all major leagues, being the first athlete in any sport to be so honored as well as adopted the tradition of “Jackie Robinson Day” in 2004 with every player on every team wearing his No. 42.
Figure 4: Caesar Chavez– farm worker, labor leader, and civil rights activist who with Dolores Huerta, co-founded what is known as the United Farm Workers. His public relations approach to unionism and aggressive but nonviolent tactics made the farm workers’ struggle a moral cause with nationwide support. Has become a major historical icon for the Latino community, organized labor, and leftist politics as well as symbolizes support for workers and for Hispanic empowerment based on grass roots organizing. Catchphrase “Si se puede” (“Yes, it can be done.”) His birthday is a state holiday in California.