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After reading or listening to stories about famous Americans of different ethnic groups, faiths, and historical periods (e.g., Neil Armstrong, Cesar Chavez, Roberto Clemente, Thomas Edison, Bill Gates, Daniel Inouye, Thurgood Marshall, Rosa Parks, Colin Powell, Sacagawea, Jonas Salk, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Clarence Thomas, Booker T. Washington, and the Wright Brothers) describe their qualities or distinctive traits. (H, C)


Neil Armstrong

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    Neil Armstrong
    Born in Ohio in 1930
  • Armstrong loved flying from an early age, he got a student pilot's license at age 16
  • Studied aeronautical engineering at Purdue University
  • Served in the Korean War as a US Navy pilot
  • Joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA)
  • NACA became the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
  • He served as an engineer and test pilot for NASA
  • Launched into space in 1966, where he docked on the Gemini Agena
  • First time 2 vehicles docked in space
  • In 1969, he was part of a team that was sent to the moon
  • He was the mission commander of this team
  • It was on the moon that he stated his famous line: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."
  • Given a hero's welcome
  • Received the Medal of Freedom and Congressional Space Medal of Honor
  • Worked for NASA until 1971
  • Later became a professor at the University of Cincinnati
  • Helped lead a committee to investigate the explosion of the Challenger
Biography icon for wiki.pngClick here for his full biography
Multimedia.pngClick here for video of the the moon landing

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Cesar Chavez

  • Born in Arizona in 1927
  • His family owned a small farm and ran a country store
  • In 1937 his family lost the farm and store due to the Great Depression
  • The family moved to California
  • His family was homeless and frequently unemployed
  • Chavez went to 38 schools before dropping out in the 8th grade
  • While working on various farms, he saw the unjust farm systems
  • His father taught him the value of hard work and his mother taught him how to be compassionate
  • Family moved to Delano, CA
  • Chavez enlisted in the Navy, which he regretted
  • Chavez and his wife moved to San Jose
  • In San Jose, Chavez met a priest who introduced him to nonviolent activism
  • Created the National Farmworkers Association (NFWA)
  • Avoided calling it the NFWA a union because of many previous agricultural union failures
  • The Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) asked for his assistance when
    wages were cut during the grape harvest
  • The 2 organizations came together for a strike, which about 13 million Americans took part in
  • Resulted in contracts being signed between the grape company and the United Farmworkers Organizing Committee
  • Biography icon for wiki.pngClick here for his biography and other resources from PBS.
    lessonplan.jpgClick here for a lesson plan on Chavez

Roberto Clemente
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Roberto Clemente's Baseball Card
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  • Puerto Rican baseball player
  • Sometimes called "The Great One"
  • Born in 1934 in Puerto Rico
  • Youngest of 7 children
  • Family was poor, he worked odd jobs growing up to help out
  • Played baseball growing up in sandlots around his town
  • Spotted by a scout when he was 18
  • Signed with a professional team in Puerto Rico
  • Soon signed with the LA Dodgers
  • Played on their minor team
  • In 1955, was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates
  • Helped the Pirates win the World Series
  • Proud of his heritage
  • Outspoken supporter of minorities and the needy
  • Died in 1972 in a plane crash
  • He was on his way to deliver relief supplies to Nicaragua
  • He was on the plane to make sure that the relief supplies weren't stolen like they had been in the past
Biography icon for wiki.pngFor his biography, click here.
Multimedia.pngClick here to go to a PBS site on Roberto Clemente, which includes a video
Multimedia.pngClick here to watch Clemente's 3000th hit
Multimedia.pngClick here for a virtual exhibition on Clemente

Thomas Edison
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Thomas Edison

  • Born in Ohio in 1847
  • Held over 1000 patents for inventions in his life
  • Father was a political exile from Canada and his mother was a teacher
  • Had scarlet fever as a child, that damaged his hearing
  • He was almost fully deaf as an adult
  • Moved to Michigan as a child
  • Teachers thought he was difficult
  • His mother pulled him out of school
  • He started reading and researching independently
  • Became a telegraph operator at 15
  • Started studying electrical science
  • Officially became an inventor in 1869 with a new stock market ticker
  • Established a laboratory at Melno Park in 1876
  • Later developed the phonograph, light-bulb, motion picture camera, and alkaline battery
  • While he developed many items, he also failed frequently
  • He attempted over 10000 versions of the light-bulb before discovering one that worked
  • Died in 1931
Biography icon for wiki.pngClick here for his biography
lesson_plan_icon.jpgClick here and here for lesson plans on Edison and his inventions

Click here to read about some of Edison's inventions and here to read about some of his failures


Bill Gates
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Bill Gates

  • American businessman
  • Born in Washington in 1955
  • Started reading reference books around 11 years old
  • Became interested in computers at around 13 years old
  • Excelled in math and science
  • Worked in the school computer lab
  • At 15, Gates and his friend, Paul Allen, developed a system to monitor Seattle's traffic
  • Their program grossed $20,000
  • Enrolled in Harvard University
  • Left Harvard to start Microsoft with Allen in 1975
  • Gates was the head of the company, but still worked writing codes
  • Microsoft had made $2.5 million in 1978
  • By 1983, it was a global company
  • Was a billionaire by 1987
  • Is a philanthropist
  • Created the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Has pledged to give away 95% of his wealth in his life
Biography icon for wiki.pngClick here to read his full biography

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Daniel Inouye

  • Born in Hawaii in 1924
  • Son of Japanese immigrants
  • Grew up in Hawaii before it became a state
  • Decided to be a surgeon when he grew up
  • Started volunteering for the Red Cross when he was in high school
  • Was 17 when Pearl Harbor was attacked
  • He was one of the first people to help the wounded
  • Wanted to join the US military but was denied because he was Japanese
  • Only admitted after he and others petitioned the White House
  • Was exempt from military service as a medical aide
  • Decided to join a combat unit
  • Became a lieutenant
  • Awarded the Bronze Star after a 2 week mission to save trapped Texans
  • Shot but survived because of silver dollars in his pocket
  • Hit by a grenade in 1945 and lost his right arm
  • Given the Distinguished Service Cross for his service
  • Discharged in 1947 as a captain
  • Attended University of Hawaii and studied government and economics
  • Attended George Washington University Law school
  • After earning his law degree, he went back to Hawaii
  • Served in government
  • Became the state's 1st Representative when Hawaii became a state
  • Member of the committee investigating Watergate
  • Campaigned for fair treatment of minorities, especially veterans who were denied benefits
  • Awarded a Medal of Honor in 2000 for his service in WWII, along with his battalion
Biography icon for wiki.pngClick here for his full biography

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Thurgood Marshall

  • Born in Maryland in 1908
  • His father was the grandson of a slave
  • His father liked to go to the courthouse, listen to the cases, and discuss them with his family
  • Was on the debate team in high school
  • Attended Lincoln University
  • After graduating, applied to University of Maryland Law School
  • He met academic standards to get in, but denied because of his race
  • Instead, he attended Howard Law School
  • Tried to start his own law office in Baltimore but failed because lack of experience
  • Started working for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
  • For the NAACP, he argued in cases that started to establish the unfairness of segregation
  • Marshall is most famous for arguing in Brown v. Board
  • He was able to prove that separate is not equal
  • JFK appointed him a judge for the US Second Circuit Court of Appeals
  • During this time, he issued over 100 decisions, the Supreme Court overturned none of them
  • LBJ appointed him as the US solicitor general, who argued for the government in the Supreme Court
  • He was the first African American to hold this position
  • He won 14/19 cases in this role
  • In 1967, Marshall was nominated to be a judge on the Supreme Court
  • He became the first African American Supreme Court judge
  • As a Supreme Court judge, he protected rights as an individual
Biography icon for wiki.pngClick here for his full biography
lessonplan.jpgClick here for a lesson plan on Thurgood Marshall

external image Agregateur_Poietique.gifFor more on the Civil Rights Movement, see United States History II.25 and United States History II.26

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Rosa Parks

  • Born in Alabama in 1913
  • Her parents were former slaves
  • Attended a segregated 1 room schoolhouse that lacked funding and supplies
  • African American students walked to this schoolhouse
  • White students traveled to new schools on buses
  • Left school in 11th grade to care for her sick grandmother and mother
  • Got a job in a factory and did not return to school
  • Finished her high school degree in 1933
  • Joined the NAACP
  • In Montgomery, buses were segregated
  • African Americans were sent to the back of the bus and expected to stand if a white person needed a seat
  • One day, she refused to give up her seat
  • Was arrested for violating Montgomery city codes
  • NAACP started a boycott of the buses
  • During her trial, she was fined $10 plus a $4 court fee
  • The bus boycott continued and was very successful
  • However, African American members of the community were attacked
  • Sparked a Civil Rights movement
  • Given a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1996
Biography icon for wiki.pngClick here for her full biography
lessonplan.jpgClick here for a lesson plan on Rosa Parks

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Colin Powell

  • Born in New York in 1937
  • Son of Jamaican immigrants
  • Grew up in the Bronx
  • In college, joined the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC)
  • Became commander of his ROTC unit
  • Joined the Army as a 2nd lieutenant after graduating college
  • Sent to Vietnam in 1962 and 1968
  • Investigated My Lai massacre, denied any wrongdoing
  • Saved his comrades after a helicopter crash
  • Has a total of 11 military decorations
  • Attended George Washington University and received a MBA
  • Won a White House fellowship
  • Served in Korea in 1973
  • Became national security adviser in 1987
  • In 1989, President George HW Bush named him Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staffs
  • First African American in that title
  • In 2000, President George Bush named him Secretary of State
  • Highest office held by an African American at the time
  • Created America's Promise Alliance, a charity to help children succeed in life
Biography icon for wiki.pngClick here for his full biography

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Sacagawea statue in Portland, Oregon

  • Born in Idaho around 1788
  • Daughter of a Shoshone chief
  • Captured at age 12 by enemy tribe
  • Sold to a French-Canadian trapper, who she married
  • She lived around the upper Missouri River
  • In 1804 Lewis and Clark arrived in this area
  • They were searching for a route to the Pacific Ocean
  • They asked Sacagawea and her husband to accompany them
  • They believed her knowledge of the Shoshone could help them
  • At this time, she was pregnant with her 1st child
  • Gave birth to her child on the way, who she then carried on her back
  • Helped identify safe plants for the expedition
  • Saved important documents when a boat capsized
  • Sacagawea and her child also provided the group with trust from outsiders
  • Met her brother, who was a Shoshone leader along the way
  • She was able to buy horses from his tribe to help the expedition
  • They finally reached the Pacific in November of 1805
  • They stayed the winter in present day Oregon
  • Sacagawea and her family stayed with the expedition on their return trip until they reached their home
  • She had another child a few years after the expedition
  • She died only a few months after, and Clark took custody of her two children
Biography icon for wiki.pngClick here for her full biography
lessonplan.jpgClick here for a link to a PBS site on Lewis an Clark, which includes lesson plans
lesson_plan_icon.jpgClick here or here for lesson plans on Sacagawea

Jonas Salk
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Jonas Salk

  • Born in New York in 1914
  • Attended City College of New York, where he received a degree in science
  • Earned his MD from New York University
  • Interned at Mount Sinai Hospital for 2 years
  • Went to University of Michigan on a fellowship to study flu viruses
  • Did research on polio in 1947 at University of Pittsburgh
  • Developed a vaccine by 1951
  • Testing of the vaccine started in 1952 and lasted 2 years
  • Over 2 million children vaccinated
  • Largest trial in medical history
  • Vaccine was approved in 1955
  • President Eisenhower honored him in a special ceremony
  • 1952: over 57,000 cases of polio
  • 1962: less than 1,000 cases of polio
  • Salk also started a research organization (Salk Center for Biological Sciences)
  • Studied cancer, multiple sclerosis, HIV, and AIDs
Biography icon for wiki.pngClick here for his full biography
lessonplan.jpgClick here for a lesson plan on Jonas Salk

Harriet Beecher Stowe
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Harriet Beecher Stowe

  • Born in Connecticut in 1811
  • One of 13 children
  • Was taught by her sister, Catherine, who gave her the male curriculum
  • Her father was a strong abolitionist and taught his children to be abolitionists as well
  • Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Law in 1850
  • Stowe was disgusted by this action
  • She wrote Uncle Tom's Cabin
  • The book was based on the life of Josiah Henson and observations she had
  • Her book showed the impact of slavery on the slaves and their children and families
  • Became best seller
  • Praised in the North, but outraged the South
  • Made Queen Victoria of England cry
  • Met President Lincoln after the Civil War started
  • He said, "So you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war"
  • She continued to write and publish works on social and political causes
  • None of her later works had an impact like Uncle Tom's Cabin
Biography icon for wiki.pngClick here for her full biography

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Clarence Thomas

  • Born in Georgia in 1948
  • Grew up in a poor African American community
  • Father left his family when Thomas was very young
  • Mother was struggling to support the family
  • She sent Thomas and his brother to Savannah to live with her father and stepmother
  • Attended high school at a seminary, hoping to become a priest
  • After graduating, he continued to study to be a priest
  • The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr horrified him
  • Left the seminary after he heard a student making fun of King and his cause
  • He moved to MA where he attended Holy Cross College and majored in English
  • Was very active in student life at Holy Cross
  • He lead protests against Vietnam and started a Black Student Union
  • Attended University of Virginia Law School
  • Worked as an assistant to a Missouri Attorney General
  • Moved to Washington, DC
  • President Reagan appointed him to several posts, including chair of the Equal Employment Commission
  • President George HW Bush appointed him to US Circuit Court of Appeals
  • In 1991, George HW Bush nominated him to replace Thurgood Marshall on the Supreme Court
  • This was controversial, Marshall as very liberal and Thomas was very conservative
  • He was accused of sexual harassment, but after hearings, was still appointed to the court
Biography icon for wiki.pngClick here for his full biography

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Booker T. Washington

  • Born in Virginia in the 1850s
  • His mother was a slave and his father was an unknown white man
  • Since his mother was a slave, he was as well
  • He and his mother lived in a 1 room log cabin, the plantation's kitchen
  • His job was to carry sacks of grain to the mill on the plantation
  • Washington started this as a very small child and the grain was very heavy
  • He was often beaten for struggling with his job
  • He saw the white children attending school and wanted to attend, but it was illegal to educate slaves
  • After the Civil War, he and his mother moved to West Virginia
  • His mother married a freedman, but they were a very poor family
  • Washington worked in the salt mines with his stepfather to support the family
  • His mother got him a book to teach him the alphabet, and basic reading and writing
  • He later got a job as a houseboy for a family that owned a coal mine
  • The wife of the family saw how badly he wanted to learn and allowed him to attend 1 hour of school during the winter
  • In 1872, Washington left for the Hampton Normal Agricultural Institute in VA
  • He was a janitor for the school to pay for tuition
  • He was soon given a scholarship by a white man, General Samuel Armstrong, who became his mentor
  • After graduating, he worked as a teacher
  • Alabama approved $2,000 for a African American school
  • This school was the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute
  • Armstrong recommended Washington to run the school
  • The school was very successful, taught 38 trades, had 200 faculty, and 1,500 students
  • Washington's goal was to teach African Americans patience, enterprise, and thirft
  • He believed that African Americans should accept their position in society
  • Eventually, they would prove their abilities and advance in society
  • This caused a lot of controversy among African American leaders
  • Presidents Theodore Roosevelt and William Taft used him as an adviser on racial issues
Biography icon for wiki.pngClick here for his full biography
lessonplan.jpgClick here for a lesson plan on Washington

The Wright Brothers
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The Wright Brothers

Wilbur Wright
  • Born in Indiana in 1867
  • He was a bright child and excelled in school
  • Was set to attend Yale after high school
  • In 1885 or 1886 he was injured during a hockey game after being hit in the face
  • He recovered but became depressed
  • He dropped out of high school and did not go to Yale
  • He stayed home and cared for his sick mother
Orville Wright
  • Born in Ohio in 1871
  • He was not interested in school
  • He preferred working, so he dropped out of school his senior year
  • In 1889, he opened a print shop and began printing his own newspaper, West Side News
  • Wilbur was the editor of the newspaper
The Airplane
  • In 1892, the brothers opened a bicycle shop
  • They repaired bikes and sold their own designs
  • They were very interested in mechanical designs
  • They followed Otto Lilienthal's research on aviation
  • After Lilienthal died, the Wright Brothers decided to try aviation
  • They moved to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina because it had very strong winds
  • The Wright Brothers studied birds and how they flew
  • One of their observations was that birds angled their wings for balance and control
  • As a result, the Brothers added a moveable rudder to their model
  • On December 17, 1903 they succeeded in flying a controllable power driven plane
  • Their plane flew 852 feet in 59 seconds
  • The American public was skeptical of their plane
  • The Brothers went to Europe, were they became celebrities
  • The Brothers became wealthy, selling airplanes in Europe and later America
Biography icon for wiki.pngClick here for Wilbur's biography and here for Orville's.

Click here for a link to a PBS site on the Wright Brothers

Multimedia.pngClick here for a video of the Wright Brothers demonstrating their airplane in France.
lessonplan.jpgClick here for a lesson plan on the Wright Brothers