Historical Figures in the US

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History Makers


This purpose of this paper is to identify the contributions of a variety of notable figures throughout history.  All of the history makers discussed made profound changes during their time in the public eye.  From Thurgood Marshall, to Sojourner Truth, to Rosa Parks, who we are as a country is built on the monumental milestones of this famous Americans.  In order to appreciate where we are, we have to know where we’ve been.  Race relationships and gender relationships, retrospectively, appear to have come a long way, but most days, it feels as if we are stagnant or regressing.  Who is responsible for improving race- and gender-relations?  Every single citizen of our country is!  History is not pretty-it bears the brunt of loss and scars, but it is necessary to remember and reflect, in order to thrive; necessary to recount in order to prevent history from repeating itself.  

Keywords: notable, relationships, history


Although we as a society and a people would like to think that we are far more cultured and civilized than other countries and even our own country, compared to a few decades ago, the truth is, we are not.  George Santayana is quoted as saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it; and repeating it, we are! In fact, thanks to social media, we are far less social than we have ever been and due to the lack of tone and intentionality, and being behind a keyboard screen in the comfort of our own homes, we are fearless, ready to take up the fight of whatever the current trending topic is.  We have lost the art of diplomacy and tact.  Somewhere along the way, we have forgotten that in order to fully pay homage to our forefathers, we must re-learn or in some cases, learn, to appreciate the sacrifices, blood, sweat, and tears of those who fought to increase the quality and quantity of life for those future generations.  Many of the historic figures that are discussed below broke the glass ceiling, with respect to gender, culture, and race.  But because there is not a hashtag in front of their names in an encyclopedia no one uses anymore, there is a generational disconnect.  To bridge the gap, this paper will serve as an effort to re-acquaint the younger generation with the trail blazers of yesteryear.  “History Makers” in the North Carolina Essential Standards under 2.H.1.2 will help identify contributions of historical figures (community, state, nation and world) through various genres.  (North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, 2013). Every generation, gender, and race have their poster child-their pioneer, if you will-that represents success and progression for them, both personally and professionally.  The men and women listed below were not overpaid athletes or celebrities.  No, those listed below were committed to making a positive difference in the lives of others.  And they did!

With Liberty And Justice For All

Most millennials, and even some from the generation before that, would have to Google Thurgood Marshall these days, but that was not always the case during the 20th century.  No, in fact, Thurgood Marshall was really a household name (Adelman, 2013).  Thurgood Marshall was the nation’s first African-American Supreme Court Justice, but his race didn’t make him famous; his character and convictions did.  Prior to him being appointed and confirmed to the Supreme Court, Thurgood Marshall was the head of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, serving as chief attorney for the plaintiffs in Brown vs. Board of Education, the landmark case that sought to change segregation laws.  Marshall was the grandson of a slave who knew all too well the bondage of slavery.  Marshall himself would experience the effects of racism when he applied to the University of Maryland but was denied because he was black.  That single decision would affect Marshall in such a profound way.  In fact, in 1933, Marshall successfully sued the University of Maryland to admit a young African American Amherst University graduate named Donald Gaines Murray.

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Plessy versus. Ferguson was a Supreme Court case that helped to start the civil rights movement that Thurgood Marshall would later play a prominent role in.  In 1892, Homer Plessy purchased a train ticket from New Orleans on the East Louisiana Railway.  Mr. Plessy was of multi-racial descent and, after informing the train conductor of his racial background, sat in the whites-only car. He refused to move to the “coloreds only” car which resulted in him being arrested for violating Louisiana’s Separate Car Act.  Louisiana’s Separate Car Act required railways to provide separate accommodations for whites, blacks, and coloreds (or people of mixed black and white ancestry). The case, Plessy versus Ferguson, worked its way up to the Supreme Court. Eventually, the Court ruled that in order to be constitutional, separate facilities for black and white citizens must be equal in quality to one another

Thurgood Marshall understood multi-racial descent better than most, as some of Marshall’s harshest critics would call him “half white,” due to Marshall’s light skin, straight hair, and pointed nose.  Marshall once said, “I wish I could say that racism and prejudice were only distant memories. We must dissent from the indifference. We must dissent from the apathy. We must dissent from the fear, the hatred and the mistrust…We must dissent because America can do better, because America has no choice but to do better.” (Adelman, L., 2013).

Juan Williams, famous journalist and author, began studying race relations in the 20th century.  He kept coming across the name Thurgood Marshall, in an inconspicuous way.  So, Williams began to study Marshall, who had become rather untrusting of the media.  Additionally, a “one-man play” about the life of Thurgood Marshall, appropriately named “Thurgood,” was written in 2006 by George Stevens. 

Marshall’s influence extends beyond that of the African-American community.  In fact, in 1991, the year Marshall retired from the Court, Supreme Court Justice William Brennan said, “Of no other lawyer can it so truly be said that all Americans owe him an enormous debt of gratitude.”  And we do!  President Barack Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder are current political examples of the tireless efforts to deem the constituents of this great country as simple “equal, not separate but equal.”  Still, all one has to do is turn on the nightly news to confirm that although “we’ve come a long way, baby,” the answer to the proverbial question, “Are we there yet?” is a resounding, “No!”


Sacajawea, whose name actually means, “bird woman,” or “boat puller,” was and remains an enigma.  Supposedly, she did not know English nor French, yet she was a bilingual translator.  She was also well-versed in the lay of the land; she could locate edible plants and was very knowledgeable of rough terrain.  She was diplomatic-having had a reputation for demonstrating a calming presence with both the expeditioners and Native Americans.  Because she was a woman, she was treated less suspiciously, which made her a valuable asset. 

She is rumored to have charted a route for the Lewis and Clark expedition to the Pacific and back, but a rumor it is!  She did, in fact, meet Lewis and Clark, however.  In the early 1800’s, at the age of 12, Sacajawea actually became the property of French-Canadian fur trader Toussaint Charbonneau, who was a polygamist.  Later, Sacajawea became one of his two wives (Anderson, I. W. 1993).  Although she almost died in childbirth, Sacajawea gave birth to a son, Jean Baptiste Charbonneau, in 1805. 

Charbonneau and Sacajawea were recognized by Lewis and Clark for their valuable combined language skills.  Her opinion was sought-after and valued.  In 1805, after reaching the Pacific coast, she was allowed to vote as to where she and the other members of the expedition would remain for the winter.  During the expedition, Clark developed a fondness for Sacajawea’s son Jean Baptiste, giving him a nickname, and offering to help with Jean Baptiste’s education.  Some years later, after the expedition, Sacajawea would leave Jean Baptiste with Clark in St. Louis.  Sacajawea gave birth to her second child, a daughter, named Lisette in 1812.  Within a few months of giving birth to her daughter, Sacajawea died from putrid fever. 

After she died, Clark began looking after both of her children and eventually adopted them both, too.  Like her predecessor, Susan B. Anthony, Sacajawea was commemorated with a gold dollar coin.  Sacajawea lives on in the hearts and minds of young women of the past, present, and future, even if they do have trouble pronouncing her name. 
 The name Daniel Boone is one with which this area is very well acquainted.  But the name Daniel Boone is far more significant than simply being on the sign out in front of the Dan’l Boone Inn, a family-style restaurant on the corner of King Street in downtown Boone, NC.  Long before he was ours, Daniel Boone was Kentucky’s.  In fact, he was instrumental in the exploration and development of Kentucky.  Daniel Boone’s literal and figurative footprint was and remains a visible artifact on the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountains. 

Boone was born into a very large Quaker family.  He was the sixth child of eleven.  He was no academic scholar, but he did know basic reading and writing skills.  He was less interested in formal education but instead was obsessed with life in the great outdoors.  In 1750, he and his family moved to North Carolina, near the Yadkin River.  Although it was not his life’s ambition, Boone joined the military to help the Native Americans who were tired of their land being encroached upon.  His militia experience would serve him well as later he would join the French and Indian war.  During this time, Boone met General Edward Braddock who kept telling Boone about a land called Kentucke, which later come to be known as Kentucky.  Boone’s exploration of Kentucky, as well as the Cumberland Gap, is very well known.  In addition to not being very intellectually proficient, Boone also lacked the knowledge necessary to be a scrupulous business man.  He did, however, occasionally resort to flexing his muscle to obtain property.  In his later years, Boone would move with his family to Missouri, which would eventually become property owned by Spain.  Almost an octogenarian, Boone volunteered to be in the war of 1812 but because he was 78, his services weren’t wanted.  But he remains a vibrant piece of the patchwork quilt known as America!

Up, Up, And Away
 Talk about shattering the glass ceiling, Amelia Earhart did just that.  She worked two jobs to put herself through flight lessons, only to have others ask her if she was a pilot.  She often hid behind her name, shortening it to Amy to be “less recognizable.”  She was a weather and traffic reporter by trade but she loved flying and been a pilot for ten years.  She even flew to Switzerland. 

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 The first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, the first woman to fly across the Pacific Ocean, she was a courageous pilot who disappeared mysteriously during an around-the-world flight in 1937.  Amelia Earhart was a woman of many “firsts.” In 1932, she became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean. In 1935, she also became the first woman to fly across the Pacific. From her early years to her mysterious 1937 disappearance while attempting a flight around the world, readers will find Amelia Earhart’s life a fascinating story (Jerome, K., 2002). 

Before she became a household name, Earhart saw her first place when she was in elementary school at the state fair.  She wasn’t particularly interested or impressed but that would all change almost a decade later when she attended a stunt exhibition.  In December of 1920, Earhart met Frank Hawks, a pilot who would fly her in his plane and ultimately change Earhart’s opinion of aviation.

Earhart was not a “girlie girl;” she was rather tomboyish.  She climbed trees, hunted, and collected newspaper articles about females in male dominated professions.  About a week after the flight with pilot Frank Hawks, she took flying lessons and six months later was able to save up enough money to be able to purchase her first plane-a used bright yellow plane she dubbed, “Canary!”  She was beyond obsessed with her new acquisition.   
Mother Teresa
 Another powerful woman in the public eye was Mother Teresa.   Mother Teresa was a nun and missionary who did not say much, but when she did, it spoke volumes.  She was the standard by which others measured themselves.  She has been deceased for 21-years now, but she still remains of vibrant character all these many years later.  In addition to her love of Jesus, she had her hands and heart working for all God’s people.  As her small frame began to wither more and more, she became more of a powerhouse; a veritable force with which to be reckoned. 

And Nothing But The Truth

 Sojourner Truth was an African-American female who was a pioneer for women’s rights in the 19th century.  Her tireless devotion would ultimately afford her the opportunity to meet President Abraham Lincoln.  But she was not born with her quirky name; no, she was previously known as Isabella Bomfree.  She was born into slavery and was bought and sold four times.  Eventually, she would be reunited with another slave she knew and together they would have five children.  Truth had to fight to get her children back, as they were sold, too.  She moved to New York and eventually met abolitionist Frederick Douglass. 

 Truth was not especially learned as she could neither read nor write.  But in her later years, she would dictate her biography.  She would find herself in good company, meeting Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, both pioneers in women’s suffrage.  Truth would come to be known for a famous speech titled, “Ain’t I a Woman?”  In addition to women’s rights, she pioneered and petitioned for rights for slaves, as well.  Near the end of her life, she was nearly deaf and blind.  

The Wheels On The Bus

 With her death only being in 2005, it is quite likely that this generation may have heard about another history maker by the name of Rosa Parks.  Rosa had actually been picked on quite a bit during her formative years.  She holds a prominent place in history as she has been dubbed by Congress as “The First Lady of Civil Rights.”  She was small in stature but was a giant when it came to standing up for her rights.  The simple stance of not giving up her seat to a white man essentially prompted the civil rights movement and thus began the Montgomery Bust Boycott.  She did not move to the back of the bus, but instead, insisted upon retaining her seat up at the front of the bus, where she rightfully belonged. 

 Rosa Parks was determined to be victorious but was able to do this in a peaceful way.  But Parks was not new to standing up for social justice; her husband, Raymond, had begun collecting funds to help provide an attorney for the Scottsboro boys, a group of black men who had been falsely accused of raping two white women.  Parks was later quoted as saying, “I’d see the bus pass every day… But to me, that was a way of life; we had no choice but to accept what was the custom. The bus was among the first ways I realized there was a black world and a white world.”  Rosa Parks might not have blazed the trail for racial equality, but with the help of those who came before her, she certainly helped pave the way. 


The “Glass” Is Half-Full

 Frederick Douglass wasn’t just a public speaker, author, and activist; no, he was a former slave.  His lineage was diverse, as his mother was of Native American descent and his father was both African and European.  Douglass taught himself to read and write and he taught other slaves to read and write by using the Bible.  He was determined to educate his fellow slaves.  But there were plenty of folks out there that did not want slaves to be educated.  In fact, at the age of ten or eleven, Douglass was sent to live in Baltimore with Hugh and Sophia Auld. Douglass overheard a conversation between them and learned that whites maintain power over black slaves by keeping them uneducated. Douglass resolved to educate himself and escape from slavery. He was later taken from the Aulds and placed with Edward Covey, a slave “breaker,” for a year. Under Covey’s brutal treatment, Douglass lost his desire to learn and escape.  As a result, Frederick Douglass endured several beatdowns.  One such beatdown resulted in Douglass sustaining a broken hand from which he would never fully recover. 

Douglass would travel internationally visiting Europe.  He could not get over how differently he was treated over there.  Douglass worked tirelessly for the rights of blacks to be able to vote.  In later years, Douglass held political office.  Additionally, after his first wife died, he married a white activist named Helen Pitts.  Douglass became not only an activist for slaves, but for women’s rights as well-a true advocate during the suffrage movement.  He was lauded not only for what he said, but how he said it; he was an incredible orator. 

In 1866, along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony he founded the American Equal Rights Association.  The organization demanded universal suffrage.  At the Woman’s Rights Convention held at Seneca Falls in 1848, Douglass was one of less than three dozen who signed the Declaration of Sentiments.  This declaration sough to gain civil, social, political, and religious rights for women. Douglass was also the only African-American at the convention.  He spoke during the convention about how women were born with equal rights.  Douglass remained vigilant in the suffrage movement until his death in 1895 (Collins, G., 2010).



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