I know you might be surprised to find out that the guy behind Mount Rushmore was a member of the KKK or that Charles Lindbergh had 3 secret families in Europe. But we have to acknowledge that our historical figures aren’t perfect. They’re just human beings in their own time like the rest of us. Besides, how many presidents were slave owners? Does this mean we should judge them as horrible people? Nevertheless, just because some historical figure may be racist that doesn’t mean we should take down certain monuments in honor of them, just as long they didn’t leave much of a negative legacy pertaining to race. For instance, while there were some students who wanted Woodrow Wilson’s statue removed from Princeton due to his deep seated racism and I can’t blame them for it, we have to acknowledge Wilson did do a lot of good things, many of which have a positive impact today such as his Fourteen Points and the Federal Reserve which our country needed. And that’s why I don’t think his statue should be removed. If there’s a famous American’s statue that should be removed, I’d recommend a more suitable candidate like Jefferson Davis or John C. Calhoun. Moving on, in this installment, I’ll bring you of my own Mount Rushmores from New Mexico to Ohio. First, in the southwest, we come to New Mexico where we’ll meet a noted frontiersman whose legend surpassed his stature, an artist known paintings with Freudian interpretations, a scientist who led a team building weapons of mass destruction, and the most famous teenage hoodlum. Second, it’s off to Empire State New York, where you’ll get to know 3 Roosevelts and a man who’s now the subject of a hit hip hop Broadway musical. Third, we come to North Carolina where we’ll get to see a legendary jazz musician, a legendary newscaster, an entertaining short story writer, and a First Lady who set the standards of a White House hostess. Then there’s North Dakota where we’ll meet a female jazz singer, a French adventurer, an overlooked Native American war hero, and a co-founder of a calculator company. Finally, we’re on to the Buckeye State of Ohio where you’ll find two brothers who learned to fly, a man on the moon, a general who saved the Union, and a lovable domestic terrorist.
31. New Mexico
Figure 1: Kit Carson– frontiersman who worked as a fur, wilderness guide, Indian agent, and army officer who became a frontier legend in his own lifetime via biographies and news articles as well as exaggerated versions exploits being subject to dime novels. His time as a fur trapper in the Rocky Mountains where he lived and married among the Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes led to John C. Fremont hiring him as a guide on an expedition that covered much of California, Oregon, and the Great Basin area. Through Fremont’s accounts, he’d achieve national fame. Also participated in the uprising against Mexican rule in California as well as served as a scout and courier in the Mexican-American War for his rescue mission after the Battle of San Pasqual and for his coast-to-coast journey from California to Washington, DC to deliver news of the conflict in California to the U.S. government. And during the American Civil War, he led a Union regiment of mostly Hispanic volunteers from New Mexico at the Battle of Valverde in 1862 and later led forces to suppress the Navajo, Mescalero Apache, and the Kiowa and Comanche Indians.
Figure 2: Georgia O’Keeffe– artist best known for her paintings of enlarged vaginalike flowers, New York skyscrapers, and New Mexico landscapes who’s been recognized as the “Mother of American modernism.” A lot of her work has been subject to Freudian interpretation as well as undertones pertaining to sex and death.
Figure 3: J. Robert Oppenheimer– theoretical physicist and professor who was the head of the Los Alamos Laboratory and is among those who are called “father of the atomic bomb” for their role in the Manhattan project which developed the first nuclear weapons used in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. After the war, he became chairman of the influential General Advisory Committee of the newly created United States Atomic Energy Commission, and used that position to lobby for international control of nuclear power to avert nuclear proliferation and a nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union. But after provoking ire from many politicians for his outspoken opinions during McCarthyism, he suffered the revocation of his security clearance in a much-publicized hearing in 1954, and was effectively stripped of his direct political influence. His achievements in physics include the Born–Oppenheimer approximation for molecular wavefunctions, work on the theory of electrons and positrons, the Oppenheimer–Phillips process in nuclear fusion, and the first prediction of quantum tunneling as well as made important contributions to the modern theory of neutron stars and black holes, as well as to quantum mechanics, quantum field theory, and the interactions of cosmic rays. Remembered as a founding father of the American school of theoretical physics that gained world prominence.
Figure 4: Billy the Kid– Old West gunfighter and outlaw who participated in New Mexico’s Lincoln County War and is known to have killed eight men. An outlaw and fugitive since adolescence, his notoriety grew when the Las Vegas, New Mexico’s Las Vegas Gazette and the New York Sun carried stories about his crimes. Though captured by Sheriff Pat Garrett where he was convicted of killing Sheriff William J. Brady and sentenced to hang, he escaped from jail in April 1881, killing 2 sheriff’s deputies in the process evaded capture for more than 2 months before Garrett ultimately shot and killed him that July. His legend grew over the next several decades that he didn’t die that night with a number of men claiming to be him.
32. New York
Figure 1: Theodore Roosevelt– statesman, author, explorer, soldier, naturalist, and reformer who served as president from 1901-1909. Successfully overcame his childhood health problems by embracing a strenuous lifestyle as well as integrated his exuberant personality, vast range of interests, and world-famous achievements into a “cowboy” persona defined by robust masculinity. His first book of many The Naval War of 1812 established him as both a learned historian and a popular writer. Escaped to the wilderness of the American West and operated a cattle ranch for some time in the Dakotas. Gained national fame for courage during the Spanish–American War serving with the Rough Riders. As president, he led his party and country into the Progressive Era championing his “Square Deal” domestic policies, promising the average citizen fairness, breaking of trusts, regulation of railroads, and pure food and drugs. With conservation a top priority, he established myriad new national parks, forests, and monuments intended to preserve the nation’s natural resources. His foreign policy focused on Central America where he began construction of the Panama Canal, greatly expanded the US Navy, and sent the Great White Fleet on a world tour to project the United States’ naval power around the globe, and made an effort to end the Russo-Japanese War which won him the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize. After his presidency, went on a safari to Africa and toured Europe. Founded his Progressive “Bull Moose” Party in 1912 after failing to gain the Republican nomination for a third term as well as survived an assassination attempt that year in the most badass way imaginable. Later led a 2 year expedition in the Amazon Basin, nearly dying of tropical disease. Has been consistently ranked by scholars as one of the greatest US presidents while his colorful personality and interesting life has made him one of the most memorable. Catchphrase is “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” His family was also quite badass with his oldest son receiving the Medal of Honor for leading troops on the beaches of Normandy during WWII while his niece was none other than Eleanor Roosevelt herself.
Figure 2: Franklin Delano Roosevelt– president from 1933-1945 who won a record 4 presidential elections and dominated his party for many years as a central figure in world events during the mid-20th century, leading the US during a time of worldwide economic depression and total war. His program for relief, recovery, and reform known as the New Deal involved a great expansion of the role of federal government in the economy with major surviving programs including the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Wagner Act, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, and Social Security. As leader of the Democratic Party, he built the New Deal Coalition, bringing together and uniting labor unions, big city machines, white ethnics, African Americans, and rural Southern whites to support the party that significantly realigned the American politics after 1932, creating the Fifth Party System as well as defined American liberalism throughout the middle third of the 20th century. Key moments in his pre-presidential career include his marriage to Eleanor Roosevelt, opposing Tammany Hall, his time as Assistant Secretary of the Navy during WWI, trying to recover from debilitating polio that struck him in 1921, and his time as Governor of New York. Administration saw repeal of Prohibition, massive Supreme Court backlash on New Deal programs that resulted in his court packing scheme, the Dust Bowl, many public works projects like the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, WII, Japanese American internment camps, and the Yalta Conference. Often ranked by scholars as one of the top three U.S. Presidents, along with Abraham Lincoln and George Washington as well as possibly seen as the greatest US president of the 20th century.
Figure 3: Eleanor Roosevelt– politician, diplomat, and activist as well as the longest-serving First Lady who later served as US Delegate to the United Nations General Assembly from 1945-1952. Was called by Harry S. Truman as “First Lady of the World” in tribute to her human rights achievements. As a teenager, she overcame a very unhappy childhood losing a father who was womanizing alcoholic and a mother disappointed in her because she wasn’t pretty enough along with a younger brother as well as who knows what she went through at her grandma’s before she blossomed while attending finishing school in England. While her marriage to her fifth cousin Franklin was complicated with his affair with Lucy Mercer and his controlling mother, she found a way to fulfill herself by taking up social work and social causes as well as ultimately persuaded her husband to stay in politics and began regularly making public appearances on his behalf throughout his public career in government. As First Lady, she significantly reshaped and redefined the role of that office during her tenure and beyond for future First Ladies. While widely respected in later years, she was controversial for her outspokenness, particularly for her stance on racial issues. Was the first presidential spouse to hold press conferences, write a syndicated newspaper column, and speak at a national convention. Publicly disagreed with her husband’s policies on a few occasions. Advocated for expanded roles for women in the workplace, the civil rights of African Americans and Asian Americans, and the rights of World War II refugees. Remained active in politics after her husband’s death and for the rest of her life. Pressed the US to join the United Nations where she became its first US delegate serving as the first chair of the UN Commission on Human Rights, and oversaw the drafting of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. By the time of her death, was regarded as “one of the most esteemed women in the world”; she was called “the object of almost universal respect” in her New York Times obituary.
Figure 4: Alexander Hamilton– Founding Father who rose to chief staff aide to General George Washington during the American Revolution, one of the most influential interpreters and promoters of the U.S. Constitution, founder of the first voter-based political party called the Federalist Party, Father of the US Coast Guard, and first Secretary of the Treasury. Born out of wedlock and orphaned at a young age in the West Indies, he came to New York as a student at King’s College (now Columbia University), rose to captain during the American Revolution, and becoming Washington’s most senior aide after being sent on numerous important missions to tell generals what his boss wanted. Helped achieve ratification of the US Constitution by writing 51 of the 85 installments of The Federalist Papers, which to this day are the single most important reference for Constitutional interpretation as well as set precedents for federal authority that are still used by the courts. As Treasury Secretary, he made immeasurable contributions to the nation’s financial system by having the Federal government assume states’ debts, payment of war bonds, the establishment of a national bank, a system of tariffs, creation of a mechanism to collect taxes, and friendly trade relations with Britain. His monetary policy saved the fledgling US from financial ruin. Could’ve risen to the presidency had he not have been involved in a sex scandal that came out in 1797 that ruined his reputation. Opposed John Adams’ reelection in 1800 which led to a tie between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr and later lobbied his fellow Federalist congressmen to side with Jefferson despite philosophical differences mainly because he saw Burr as an unprincipled opportunist. Burr later killed him in a duel.
33. North Carolina
Figure 1: John Coltrane– jazz saxophonist and composer who helped pioneer the use of modes in jazz and was later at the forefront of free jazz. Led at least 50 recording sessions during his career and appeared as a sideman on many albums of other musicians including Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk. His music took on an increasingly spiritual dimension influencing innumerable musicians, and remains one of the most significant saxophonists in music history. Posthumous honors include canonization by the African Orthodox Church and a special Pulitzer Prize in 2007.
Figure 2: Edward R. Murrow– broadcast journalist who first came to prominence with a series of radio broadcasts for the news division of CBS during WWII which were followed by millions of listeners in the US as well as assembled a team of foreign correspondents as the Murrow Boys. As a pioneer in TV news broadcasting, he produced a series of reports that helped lead to the censure of Senator Joseph McCarthy. However, his hard-hitting approach to the news and willingness to cover controversial subjects cost him influence in the world of television as well as eventually got his show canceled. Considered one of journalism’s greatest figures for his honesty and integrity in delivering the news by many except the sensationalist cable news networks, particularly Fox News.
Figure 3: O. Henry– short story writer whose tales were known for their wit, wordplay, warm characterization, and surprise endings. Writing career took off while he was serving a 5 year prison sentence for embezzlement where he had 14 stories published under various pseudonyms but was later released good behavior after 3. Based many of his stories in his own time in New York City and mostly deal with ordinary people though his characters can be roaming the cattle-lands of Texas, exploring the art of the con-man, or investigating the tensions of class and wealth in turn-of-the-century New York. Had an inimitable hand for isolating some element of society and describing it with an incredible economy and grace of language. Best known works are “The Gift of the Magi,” “The Ransom of Red Chief,” “The Cop and the Anthem,” “A Retrieved Reformation,” “The Duplicity of Hargraves,” and “The Caballero’s Way.” Coined the term, “banana republic.”
Figure 4: Dolley Madison– First Lady and wife of James Madison who was noted for her social graces which boosted her husband’s popularity during his presidency and did much to define the role of the President’s spouse. Also helped to furnish the newly constructed White House and is credited with saving the classic portrait of George Washington when the British set fire to the White House in 1814 during the War of 1812. Before her husband’s presidency, she sometimes served as First Lady to Thomas Jefferson for official ceremonial functions.
34. North Dakota
Figure 1: Peggy Lee– jazz and popular music singer, songwriter, composer, and actress in a career spanning 6 decades. From her beginning as local radio vocalist to singing with Benny Goodman’s band, she forged a sophisticated persona, evolving into a multi-faceted artist and performer. Wrote music for films, acted, and created conceptual record albums-encompassing jazz, chamber, pop, and art songs. Was among the first of the “old guard” to recognized rock n’roll and recorded with The Beatles, Randy Newman, Carole King, and James Taylor and others. Was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Pete Kelly’s Blues. But is better known for her work in Lady and the Tramp where she wrote songs, supplied the singing, and did the speaking voices of 4 characters.
Figure 2: Marquis de Mores– famous duelist, frontier ranchman in the Badlands of Dakota Territory during the final years of the American Old West era, a railroad pioneer in Vietnam, and an anti-Semitic politician in his native France. Tried to revolutionize the ranching industry by shipping refrigerated meat to Chicago by railroad, thus bypassing the Chicago stockyards by building a meat packing plant for this purpose in a town he founded in 1883 and named after his wife Medora (which failed, by the way). Notoriously sent Theodore Roosevelt what the latter interpreted as a challenge to a duel though nothing came of it. Was called the “Emperor of the Bad Lands.” After he left the Dakota Territory, was embroiled in political controversies for the remainder of his life before being assassinated in North Africa which prompted no enquiries or serious attempts to put his murderers to justice.
Figure 3: Woodrow W. Keeble– member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate of the Lake Traverse Reservation who was a US Army National Guard combat veteran of both WWII and the Korean War. Following a long campaign by his family and the congressional delegations of both North and South Dakota he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on October 20, 1951 in which he single-handedly destroyed three enemy machine-gun bunkers and killed an additional seven enemy soldiers in nearby trenches. Had he been white, not only would he have received a Medal of Honor in his own lifetime, but also get his own Hollywood movie.
Figure 4: Patrick E. Haggerty– engineer and businessman who co-founded Texas Instruments where he served as president and chairman as well as was most responsible for turning a small Texas oil exploration company into the leader in semiconductors that it is today. Under his influence, the company invested in transistors when their commercial value was still much in question but ended up creating the first silicon transistor, the first commercial transistor radio, and the first integrated circuit.
Figure 1: The Wright Brothers– inventors and aviation pioneers who are credited with building the world’s first successful airplane and making the first controlled, powered and sustained heavier-than-air human flight, on December 17, 1903 near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Developed their flying machine into the first practical fixed-wing aircraft within the next 2 years. But their fundamental breakthrough was their invention of three-axis control, which enabled the pilot to steer the aircraft effectively and to maintain its equilibrium, a method that became and remains standard on fixed-wing aircraft of all kinds. Gained the mechanical skills essential for their success by working for years in their shop in Dayton, Ohio with printing presses, bicycles, motors, and other machinery. And it was their work with bicycles in particular that influenced their belief that an unstable vehicle like a flying machine could be controlled and balanced with practice. Their extensive glider tests would help them develop their skills as pilots while their shop employee built the first airplane engine. Their status as inventors of the airplane has been subject to counter-claims by various parties with much controversy persisting over the many competing claims of early aviators.
Figure 2: Neil Armstrong– aerospace engineer, naval aviator, test pilot, university professor, and astronaut who was the first person to walk on the moon. Joining NASA in 1962, he made his first space flight as command pilot of Gemini 8 in March 1966, becoming the organization’s first civilian astronaut to fly in space as well as performed the first space docking with David Scott. But the mission was aborted after he used some of his reentry control fuel to prevent a dangerous spin caused by a stuck thruster, in the first in-flight space emergency. Was commander of Apollo 11, the first manned Moon landing mission in July 1969 where he and Buzz Aldrin descended onto the lunar surface and spent 2 ½ hours outside the spacecraft while Michael Collins remained in lunar orbit in the Command/Service Module. Later served on two accident investigations pertaining to Apollo 13 and the Challenger disaster and taught at the University of Cincinnati. Said, ”That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Figure 3: Ulysses S. Grant– president from 1869-1877 who’s better known as Commanding General of the United States Army during the American Civil War in which he worked closely with Lincoln to lead the Union Army to victory over the Confederacy. Earned his reputation as an aggressive commander early in the war by taking control of Kentucky and most of Tennessee and led Union forces to victory in the Battle of Shiloh. Earned the nickname “Unconditional Surrender Grant,” because his generous surrender terms allowed his enemies to lose with dignity. Though some said that he was a drunk (which is hard to prove) or was just a butcher who only won because he had superior numbers (which wasn’t the whole story as you’ve seen with some of Lincoln’s other generals, particularly George B. McClellan). After a series of coordinated battles by July 1863, he defeated Confederate armies and seized control of Vicksburg which gave full Union control of the Mississippi River and divided the Confederacy into two. Was promoted to Lieutenant General after his victories of the Chattanooga Campaign. Confronted Robert E. Lee in a series of bloody battles trapping the latter’s army in their defense of Richmond that led to Lee’s Appomattox surrender which effectively ended the war. And since he let Lee surrender with dignity, Lee would never tolerate a bad word about the man in his face. As president, he stabilized the nation during the turbulent Reconstruction, prosecuted the Klu Klux Klan, established Yellowstone as the world’s first national park as well as the National Park system, and enforced civil and voting rights laws using the army and the Department of Justice. Responded to charges of corruption in executive offices more than any other 19th century president but appointed the first Civil Service Commission and signed legislation ending the corrupt moiety system. And while his presidency was marred by a severe economic depression, he remained highly popular for the rest of the 19th century. Embarked on a widely praised 2 year world tour after he left office wrote his memoirs that proved to be a financial and critical success. Hailed for his military genius and his strategies featured in military history books, scholars have rated his presidency as mixed but his reputation has significantly improved in recent years.
Figure 4: John Brown– abolitionist who believed armed insurrection was the only way to overthrow the institution of slavery in the United States and saw himself as the instrument of God’s wrath in punishing men for the sin of owning slaves. Commanded forces at the Battle of Black Jack and the Battle of Osawatomie during the 1856 conflict in Kansas with his followers killing 5 slavery supporters at Pottawatomie. Yet he’s best known for leading an unsuccessful raid on the federal armory at Harper’s Ferry that killed 7 people which ended in the group’s capture as well as resulted in his conviction and death sentence by hanging. But not without electrifying the nation and escalating the tensions that would lead to secession and the American Civil War. His actions prior to the Civil War as an abolitionist, and the tactics he chose, still make him a controversial figure today that he’s sometimes memorialized as a heroic martyr and a visionary and sometimes vilified as a madman and terrorist. And it doesn’t help that historians remain divided on whether it’s accurate to refer him as “America’s first domestic terrorist.”