The History of Rosa Parks for Kids

Rosa was born on February 4, 1913 in Tuskagee, Alabama. When she was a child she was often sick and sadly had to spend a lot of time in bed. Then when she was two their family moved to live with their grandparents on a farm in a town called Pine Level. Rosa loved being on the farm with her family. It gave her and her siblings lots of room to play and spend time with each other. They explored the woods and streams nearby and she enjoyed the school there. 

Rosa was safe in Pine Level, but this wasn’t the case in other places in Alabama. Rosa and her family were African American and this was a time when black people were treated poorly in Alabama. They were forced attend separate schools, used separate bathrooms, and to drink from different drinking fountains. This is called segregation. They were often called mean names or abused.

When Rosa was eleven, she moved to Montogomery, Alabama to go to a better school. It was called the Montgomery Industrial School for Girls. The head of the school was a white woman named Alice White. She didn’t go easy on the girls, but this wasn’t because she was mean, it was because she wanted them to learn and grow. Often people who love you, do this because they want to see you be your best you. This motivated Rosa to try her best in school and learn as much as she could. She wanted to become a teacher like Ms. Alice someday. 

Rosa stayed at the school until her grandmother became sick, so she moved back to Pine Level to help. There she found jobs to help earn money for her family. She worked very hard to support them. 

When Rosa was 28, she met a young man named Raymond. Raymond inspired her to take even more interest in the problems black people were facing in Alabama and other places in the South. He was part of the NAACP, the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People. Rosa was proud of Raymond’s interest in helping this cause. He often put himself in danger for it. Rosa and Raymond fell in love and were married in 1932.

In 1934 Rosa finished high school, then started working as a nurse’s assistant and later at an army air force base. On her way home from work she rode a bus, but like all African Americans at the time she had to ride in the back of the bus. It made her very upset to be treated differently. She didn’t say anything at the time, but she was very angry deep inside. 

Around this time Rosa joined the NAACP and helped as a secretary for several years. She also registered to vote. At the time the government in Alabama made it very hard for black people to vote. Rosa had to take a difficult test and pay a tax that was very expensive. When she was finally able to vote she was very happy but also upset that so many of her friends and family were prevented from voting.

Rosa worked very hard for her family through these years and continued to help the NAACP. She was never able to have her own children, but helped the youth through the NAACP. She wanted them to have good lives and took the time to care for them. 

To get to and from work, Rosa rode the bus every day. Like other buses in Alabama, this one was segregated which means anyone who was black had to enter the bus from the back and sit at the back of the bus. This day, Rosa took courage and got on the bus through the front. The driver told her to get off and get on through the back. Rosa refused! The driver told her to get off again. She said she would not. The driver grabbed her by the coat and pulled her toward the front of the bus. She sat down again. The driver continued to yell at her. Rosa finally got off the bus, but she had stood up for herself and made her point.

In 1954 Rosa made friends with a white woman named Virginia Durr, who wanted to help her and other African Americans. Virginia encouraged Rosa to attend a workshop in Tennessee that trained people to fight for equal rights for blacks and workers who were treated unfairly. People of all races and different states came together to learn how to make the world a better place. There she met Martin Luther King and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. a black congressman from New York City. There she began thinking about ways to fight racism in her own city.

On December 1st 1955, Rosa left home to catch the Cleveland Avenue bus to go to work. When she got on the bus she realized the driver was the same one who had forced her off the bus a few years earlier. Rosa went to the back of the bus and sat down. As the bus went drover further and more people got on the bus, the bus driver told Rosa and the others in the back up to stand up so the white passengers could sit down. Rosa refused to get up. The driver yelled at her to get up, but she did not. The driver threatened to have her arrested. “You may do that,” Rosa replied. Soon, the police officers arrived and took Rosa to jail! She was very afraid. Fortunately, her friends at the NAACP were able to pay to have her released until her trial. She was going to be put on trial for not giving up her seat. Can you believe that?

Rosa and lawyers at the NAACP decided they would sue the bus company for not letting her sit down. Suing is when lawyers use the law to try to punish a company like the bus company by getting money from them. If they won the lawsuit then hopefully the unfair laws would be done away with. 

Rosa and her friends also decided to boycott buses that treated them unfairly. A boycott is when you refuse to use something and pay for it, so it punishes the company. If no one paid for bus rides, the bus company would see how much it cost to treat African Americans unfairly. During the days leading up to the boycott, Rosa and others passed out notes urging others to not ride buses on December 5th. If enough people didn’t ride the buses it would send a message to the bus companies. Rosa was nervous about whether it would work.

On December 5, 1955, to Rosa’s excitement, she saw that the buses were empty and thousands of people were walking to work and school instead of riding the buses! They were inspired by Rosa’s actions! Rosa set the example by refusing to give in to the unfair treatment of the city and bus companies. And the boycott didn’t only happen for a day — it went on for an entire year! Never before had so many people in the community come together to fight for civil rights. And the bus companies lost money because very few people rode the buses. 

Rosa’s trial also started on December 5, 1955. She lost the trial, but didn’t mind because they wanted it to go to a higher court. People around the country were watching the boycott and knew about Rosa’s trial. They started to send money to her and to the NAACP to support their fight for equality. She began spending all of her time writing and speaking about civil rights. She met other famous leaders and Eleanor Roosevelt, the wife of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was also believed in her cause. 

On November 13, 1956 Rosa’s trial went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, the most important court in the country. The Supreme Court is located in Washington, D.C. The Supreme Court judges ruled that not allowing people sit where they want on a bus because of their race was against the Constitution — and not legal. Rosa Parks and her friends had scored a huge victory!

Soon after the trial, Rosa rode in the front of the bus and a famous photograph was taken of her to memorialize the event and her bravery in standing up to an unfair system. 

While there was still much work to do, Rosa’s act of courage and the result of the trial is often considered one of the first big events in the Civil Rights Movement. In August 1963 over 200,000 people marched in Washington, D.C. to show their support for Civil Rights. There Dr. Martin Luther King gave his famous “I Have a Dream Speech.” Rosa was excited to see so many others speaking out about Civil Rights. Then in 1964, the President signed the Civil Rights Act that made it illegal to treat people differently because of their race.

Eventually, Rosa and her husband moved to Detroit and lived a quiet life there. In 1966 Rosa was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton. She received many other awards over the years for her bravery. She wrote books and spoke about her life and passed away at the age of 92. 

Spend some time thinking about Rosa and her decision to stand up for herself and for her rights. She was afraid and knew that she might get in trouble for it, but doing what was right was more important than her feelings. She refused to move when the driver told her to move. She knew it was wrong and didn’t back down. There will be times in your life when you will have the chance to stand up for yourself and others. Take courage even when you are afraid. Speak up when something wrong is happening! If not you, then who? You can make a difference in the world by speaking up and taking action. 

History of Jackie Robinson for Kids

Close your eyes and imagine you’re in a baseball stadium and stepping up to bat. Dodger stadium is packed full of cheering fans. Some are cheering you on, others are calling you horrible names from the stands. You take a deep breath and try to ignore them. You hold up your bat and look at the pitcher, who is preparing to throw the ball. He pulls back, then throws the ball and it comes flying toward at full speed. You swing your bat and hit the ball. With a crack it flies high over the field as you sprint from first base, then on to second, third and home. It’s a homerun! Your teammates congratulate you, but some in the stands are still calling you mean names. This is what happened to Jackie Robinson, the famous baseball player. But who was Jackie Ronbinson? How did he end up playing for the Dodgers? And why was the crowd calling him horrible names? 

Jackie Roosevelt Robinson was born January 31, 1919 in Cairo, Georgia. His father left the family when he was little, leaving his mother, Mallie, to raise him and his four other siblings. Soon after this they moved to Pasadena, California. In California Jackie and his family lived in a neighborhood where they were treated differently. They had come from Georgia where most of the other families were African-American, but in California families in their new neighborhood were not and were white. This was a time when racial discrimination was common. Racial discrimination is when a group of people are treated differently because of their race and color of skin in this case. For example, they aren’t able to have the same jobs — or they are segregated, which means they have to go to different schools or use different bathrooms or restaurants. Jackie loved sports, but because he was black wasn’t able to play in the same leagues as the other kids.

But this didn’t keep Jackie from playing his favorite sports anyway. Two of his favorites were basketball and baseball. He spent a lot of time practicing and became better and better. 

In high school, Jackie’s older brothers Frank and Mack, saw how good Jackie’s was and urged him try out for the school teams. At his high school fortunately there was no segregation and Jackie was able to play alongside his white classmates. There Jackie ended up playing football, baseball, basketball and track and did very well in all of them. On the baseball team he was the catcher and in football he was the quarterback. For the basketball team he was a guard. In track and field his best skill was the broad jump. Oh, and he also played tennis. As you can tell, Jackie loved sports! 

After high school, Jackie moved onto junior college where he continued to play all of his favorite sports and do very well. He broke several records there, but later switched schools and moved to Los Angeles to attend UCLA. At UCLA the teams were also racially integrated, which means Jackie was able to play on the same teams as the white athletes. In football their team went undefeated. In track and field he won the national championship for long jump, jumping over 24 feet! He also played baseball at UCLA and there met his future wife, Rachel. 

After college, Jackie played semi-professional football for a short while, but his career was cut short when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. Soon after this Jackie joined the army and applied for Officer Candidate School. At the time Jackie and others who were black were not typically allowed to be officers, leadership in the military, but eventually they were accepted. He and his wife moved to Fort Hood, Texas to start Officer Training School. One day at Fort Hood, Jackie was waiting for the bus to arrive. When it did arrive, he climbed on the bus and sat at the front, but the driver told him he had to sit at the back because of the color of his skin. Jackie refused and would not move. He did these knowing he knew he might be hurt or put in jail for his actions. The driver called the police and they took Jackie away. Tragically, Jackie wasn’t able to continue Officer Training School, because of his choice to stand up against discrimination.

Jackie was transferred from Fort Hood to a base in Kentucky where he became a coach for the army until the war ended. 

A few years later, Jackie was at the airport and stood in a part of the airport that was segregated. He was asked to leave, but did not. This was another example where Jackie refused to be treated differently, defied the law and put himself in harm’s way by doing so.

One of Jackie Robinson’s famous quotes was: “I’m not concerned with your liking or disliking me… all I ask is that you respect me as a human being.” He also said: “There’s not an American in this country free until every one of us is free.” More than anything, Jackie wanted to be treated fairly and for segregation between people of different skin color to end. 

For a brief time, Jackie played for a segregated league, with other players who were black like himself, but more than anything he wanted to play for the Major Leagues, but most teams wouldn’t allow him because of segregation.

Fortunately, the Brooklyn Dodgers were interested in including black players. The manager of the Dodgers, Branch Rickey, called Jackie and met with him asking if he was interested and also whether he’d be able to be strong even when others treated him poorly. Jackie agreed and began playing for the Dodgers international team, the Montreal Royals. The Royals were a minor league, but a big step forward in his goal to play in the Major Leagues. Jackie traveled with the team and struggled at first, but began to improve and eventually became the MVP (or Most Valuable Player) in his league. 

April 18, 1946 was a momentous day when the Royals played against the Jersey City Giants making it the first time players of different skin color in a minor league competed against each other. 

In 1947 Jackie Robinson was finally invited to play for the Brooklyn Dodgers in the Major Leagues. He played first baseman to a crowd of more than 26,000 spectators which included spectators who were black and white. At first, Jackie’s own team was unsure whether they were ready to play with him. They had come from families who believed in segregation, so it was new for them to welcome and become teammates and friends with someone who was black. But over time they became close and eventually supported him. During one game when the other team was harassing Jackie, a teammate Pee Wee Reese saw what was happening and put his arm around Jackie to comfort him.

Jackie finished the season with the Dodgers with 151 games. He had a batting average of 297, an on-base percentage of 373, and a 427 slugging percentage. He had 175 hits (scoring 125 runs) including 31 doubles, 5 triples, and 12 home runs, driving in 48 runs for the year. Jackie also led the league in sacrifice hits, with 28, and in stolen bases, with 29.

He ended up winning the Major League Rookie of the Year award. A rookie is someone who is new to the major leagues. 

Over the years, Jackie continued to improve at his game and in 1949 joined the all-star team. In 1955 the Dodgers went to the world series and beat the Yankees for the championship. 

Later after retiring from baseball, Jackie Robinson was active in politics and later continued to speak out about equality in Major League baseball. He later had a baseball stadium named after him and the Rookie of the Year award was later called “The Jackie Robinson” award. In 1997 his jersey number “42” was retired, which means no one was able to use the same number because it would also be reserved for Jackie. 

Jackie once said: “”A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” Think about what that means for a moment. What does it mean to have an impact or make a difference in the lives of others for good? How can you make a difference in the lives of others for good? 

He also said: “Life is not a spectator sport. If you’re going to spend your whole life in the grandstand just watching what goes on, in my opinion you’re wasting your life.” A spectator means just watching others. It’s fun to watch others, but Jackie’s saying it’s even better to get out and play yourself. Think of something you like to watch? Have you ever considered doing it yourself? 

Spend some time thinking about what Jackie Robinson experienced in his life as he dealt with racial discrimination. Racial discrimination is when someone treats someone else differently due to their race, which means where they come from, the color of their skin, and what they look like. It was very hard for Jackie to be called names and treated poorly due to his race — to be forced to sit at the back of the bus, for example. But Jackie knew that all people are the same on the inside. We are all human, and all want to be treated equally and loved and cared for. We all have the same hopes and dreams and desires to lead a happy life. Jackie wasn’t afraid to stand up for himself and tell others that they were wrong. Often it takes time for people to change, but many people around Jackie did change. His teammates eventually accepted him and those watching baseball realized Jackie was the same as any other player and should be treated that way. Take the time to think about someone you know who might be a different race or appear to be different than you in other ways. As you get to know them you’ll realize you have more in common than is different. It’s also important to let others know they should be respectful of all people. If you hear someone say something mean about a different race or tell a joke, let them know those words can be hurtful and are not ok. 

The History of Harriet Tubman for Kids

Have you ever looked at money and wondered about the people whose pictures are on the bills in your country?  Most countries have images of important people from history on their coins and bills.  In America, most of the bills contain images of past presidents who did important things.  But as you know, from listening to this podcast, there are many people throughout history who have done important things that are not presidents!

This is why right now, in the United States, the government is working on plans to have the $20 bill redesigned.  The new version of the bill will have a picture of a woman that not everyone knows.  But she was an important person in American history.  Her name is Harriet Tubman.  When the bill goes into circulation, she will be the first African-American woman to be featured on American money. 

So who was Harriet Tubman?  Harriet Tubman was a human rights activist and former slave.  She fought during her lifetime for the end of slavery.  This is known as “abolition.”  She helped many people escape slavery during her lifetime.  She helped them get to freedom through a secret route called the “Underground Railroad.”  But let’s go back in time and see how she became such an amazing woman.

Harriet Tubman was born in 1820 in Maryland.  Her original name when she was born was Araminta Harriet Ross.  She had 8 brothers and sisters and her parents were slaves.  Her parents gave her the nickname “Minty” which was short for Araminta.  

Minty’s life as a child was hard because she lived in slave conditions.  A “slave” is legal property of another person and forced to obey them.  Minty loved her family, but they were separated when she was young.  Three of her sisters were sold to a different family and moved to the south to work on cotton plantation farms.  As slaves, Minty and her family often suffered violence.  Minty was beaten as a child by her “owners” which caused her to have injuries that lasted her whole life. 

Minty was inspired by her father, who spoke out when their “owners” wanted to separate their family even further.  They were planning to sell Minty’s younger brother to a different family to work on their farm, by Minty’s dad didn’t want anymore of his children sent away.  Her father resisted this and was successful.  To “resist” means to stand up against an action that you don’t believe in. Watching her father stand up for his family set a strong example that inspired Minty. 

When she was a teenager, Minty was hurt very badly.  She had been sent to the store to buy supplies for the farm and she came across a slave that had left the fields where he worked without permission.  The man’s “overseer” told Minty to help him get the runaway slave back.  She would not help.  The man threw a large weight at her and it hit her in the head.  She had headaches and trouble sleeping for the rest of her life. 

These experiences as a child and seeing how African-American people around her were treated inspired Minty to want to help end slavery as an adult. 

In 1844, Minty met a free black man named John Tubman.  Around that time, around half of the  African-American people in Maryland were free.  There is not much that is known about John Tubman, but Minty married him and changed her name to Harriet Tubman when she did.  The couple lived together for a number of years and were together when Harriet began her work with the Underground Railway.

In 1849, Harriet’s owner died.  She decided that she would escape slavery in Maryland and move to Philadelphia.  Two of her brothers, Ben and Harry, decided to come with her.  Her husband did not decide to go along.  On their way to Philadelphia, the three siblings saw a “wanted” poster with their pictures on it.  It offered a $300 reward if anyone captured and returned the three of them.  

The brothers were scared by this poster and decided to return to their owners plantation.  Harriet, however, refused to go back to living as a slave.  Instead she continued heading north towards Pennsylvania.  

Harriet travelled along a network known as the Underground Railroad.  The Underground Railroad wasn’t an actual railroad for a train, it was a path that ran from states that had slavery to states where all people were free. Harriet travelled this path for nearly 90 miles to get to Philadelphia.  She is quoted as saying, “When I found I had crossed [the line into Pennsylvania], I looked at my hands to see if I was the same person.  There was such a glory over everything; the sun came like gold through the trees, and over the fields, and I felt like I was in Heaven.”

Harriet was truly happy to be free in a free state.  But rather than remaining safely in the North, Harriet decided that it was her mission in life to rescue her family and others living in slavery back home. 

In 1850, Harriet helped much of her family make the journey to Philadelphia via the Underground Railway. This was the first of many trips that Harriet made along the route to help guide others.  

Because of her work and leadership guiding others to safety and freedom, she was given the nickname “Moses” by the people that she helped.  This was a reference to the leader in the Old Testament who led the people of Israel out of slavery. Over time Harriet was able to help guide her parents, most of her siblings and approximately 60 other people to Pennsylvania where they could live free. 

Because so many slaves had escaped, the States passed laws allowing for former slaves that had escaped their home state to be captured and returned to slavery.  So Harriet changed the route of the Underground Railroad to Canada, where slavery was not allowed.

Harriet continued to help others during the Civil War in America.  She worked for the Union Army as a cook and a nurse, and later an armed scout and spy.  Harriet was the first woman to lead soldiers in the war. She led a raid at the Combahee River that liberated more than 700 slaves in South Carolina.  Liberated means freed from imprisonment or slavery.

In 1859, a Senator who was also an abolitionist sold Harriet a small piece of land in Auburn, New York. Harriet moved there after the war and got remarried and raised children there.  Much of her family came to live with her there as well. 

Even though Harriet became famous for her work to lead slaves to freedom, she did not have a lot of money.  Others who believed in her cause gave money to her to help her live and she shared this money generously with her family and others who needed help. 

When Harriet was an old woman, the head injuries she had gotten as a child became more painful.  She went to a hospital in Boston to get brain surgery to help relieve the pain and the “buzzing” that she had regularly in her ears.  Unfortunately she because sick with pneumonia following the surgery and died in 1913. Harriet was buried with military honours at Fort Hill Cemetery in Auburn.

Harriet was known very far and wide while she was alive and she became an American hero and icon after she died.  An icon is a person or thing that is regarded as a symbol. Today, she continues to inspire Americans struggling for civil rights and their allies with her bravery and actions.  Because of her amazing legacy, the U.S. Treasury Department announced in April 2016 that she would replace Andrew Jackson on the new $20 bill.  She was a freed slave and a freedom fighter, and for that, she emerged as the top choice for the first American woman to appear on U.S. currency. 

From Harriet Tubman, we can learn a great deal about overcoming hardships and the impact that an individual person can have.  Harriet dedicated her life to helping others.  She believed strongly in the cause she was working for, to free slaves, and took action and worked tirelessly to bring about her dream. 

Are there injustices that you have experienced or that you can see in the world around you?  What are some ways that you can take action to make the world a better place for all and to improve the lives of those who may be suffering?

History of Bessie Coleman for Kids

Imagine you’re a pilot, thousands of feet above the earth on an airplane. You look down from your cockpit at the patchwork of fields and tiny, Lego-sized houses below you. You’re planning your route, but you’re not trying to get from point A to point B. Instead of flying a straight line, you dive towards the ground, falling faster and faster until, just feet from the ground, you pull up the nose of the plane, thrilling the crowd of onlookers nearby. You corkscrew through the air, fly figure eights, and loop upside down as the crowds gasp and cheer below. You are a barnstormer, a stunt pilot in the 1920s, performing daredevil feats thousands of feet above your awestruck fans. 

Today we’re going to learn about a world-famous pilot, Bessie Coleman, who was remarkable but for many other reasons. She was not only a great pilot, she was also the first African American woman to earn a pilot’s license, and the first woman anywhere to have an international pilot’s license. Because her father was part Native American, she was also the first Native American female pilot. Not only that, she always tried to use her fame to help other black people and women. Sadly, at the time, both groups experienced a lot of discrimination in America. 

Bessie’s story begins before airplanes were even invented, and only 27 years after the end of slavery in the United States. She was born in 1892 to African American sharecroppers in Texas, one of nine children. As a child, and then teenager, she worked picking cotton and washing other people’s laundry. She attended segregated schools, but was a good student, especially in math. Under segregation, many states in the southern part of the United States had laws forcing blacks to go to different schools from whites, among other unfair rules. Even though she came from a poor background, and had to deal with unfair laws, Bessie had a goal of going to college, and as a young woman attended Langston University in Oklahoma. Unfortunately, she ran out of money and had to return home after one term. 

Soon after returning home, Bessie and two of her brothers decided to try to start a new life in Chicago. They moved north, where Bessie became a manicurist. She worked in a barber shop called the White Sox Barber Shop on the south side of Chicago. She became known for having the fastest hands in the city when it came to giving manicures.

She learned about piloting and airplanes from veterans, including her brothers, who had returned home from World War I. Bessie became fascinated by airplanes and flying. Her brothers would tease her though, saying she’d never be able to fly like some of the women they’d met in France during the war. 

But telling someone they can’t do something is often a sure-fire way to make them want to do it. So right then and there, Bessie decided she would become a pilot and prove her brothers wrong. But her brothers, weren’t the only people she’d have to prove wrong. At the time, there were no flight schools in the United States that would train women or African Americans. 

But there was France. Bessie didn’t have a lot of money, but she knew that if she could get to France, she could train as a pilot there. Her race and gender didn’t matter to the flight schools in France. To earn the money she would need, she began working a second job at a chili restaurant and learning French at night. She also began talking to some of the people who came to the barbershop. Many of the clients there were wealthy and influential.

It was at the barber shop that she met a lawyer and newspaper owner named Robert Abbot. Abbot published the Chicago Defender, one of the largest black-owned newspapers in the country. When he learned about Bessie’s passion to become a pilot, he decided to help. He published a story about her in his paper. His newspaper had more readers than any other black-owned newspaper in the country at the time, so the story got a lot of attention. A banker named Jesse Binga stepped up, and he and The newspaper helped pay for Bessie’s travel to Paris for pilot training. 

Since airplanes were so new, it was still not possible to fly across the Atlantic ocean from the US to France, so Bessie took a boat. She had been accepted to a flight school there, and completed her training in a biplane called a Nieuport 80. A biplane had two sets of wings, one on top of the other.

When Bessie returned to the US with her pilot’s license, she made headlines in black newspapers and aviation magazines across the country. She told reporters that she wanted to open a flight school for women and people of color. 

However, since aviation was so new, there weren’t many jobs for pilots at the time. There were no major airlines that flew people around the country like there are now. Most packages and mail were still moved by trains or ships. And again, Bessie faced discrimination because of her race and gender. She was unable to get one of the few piloting jobs there were.  

Instead of flying for airlines or shipping companies like they do now, many pilots in the 1920s earned money as barnstormers. They would fly to a new town, land in a farm, and ask the farmer to let them perform using their fields as runways. They performed stunts such as loops, dives, and figure eights. They also offered rides to people for money. Bessie decided to become a stunt pilot, and returned to France for more training. 

After Bessie returned to the US this time, she traveled around the country performing daredevil stunts for crowds of people. The Defender newspaper called her “the world’s greatest woman flyer.” She was nicknamed “Queen Bess” and “Brave Bess.”

Bessie loved her job, and used her growing fame to fight racism. In the 1920s, segregation and discrimination were still widespread in America, and were part of the law in many states. Bessie worked with other activists and gave interviews and speeches about ending racism. She refused to participate in any air show that didn’t allow black people to attend. In her hometown in Texas, she had to argue with the producers of an airshow to allow blacks and whites to come in through the same gate, but even then, they were forced to sit in a separate section.

Bessie became so well known, she was asked to star in a movie about a female pilot. Though the movie was to be made by a black-owned production company, Bessie was not happy with how they wanted to portray her. They asked her to wear rags and act as though she was uneducated, negative stereotypes of black people that were very common at the time. Bessie refused. She walked off the set and didn’t return. She wasn’t interested in being famous just for attention. She wanted to use her fame to improve conditions for other African Americans, and she realized  that this movie would not help her do that. 

But other opportunities awaited Bessie. A company that made tires in Oakland, California reached out to her. They wanted her to be their spokesperson and fly over the city dropping messages on paper about their tires. Bessie accepted the offer and went to California. There she flew and appeared in newspaper ads for the tire company. 

It was also in California that Bessie experienced another setback, this time a more serious one. In February 1923, she crashed her plane after the engine stopped working suddenly. She survived with a broken leg and ribs, as well as some cuts. The injuries didn’t stop her though: She said that as soon as she could walk again, she would fly. After several months, she fully recovered and went back to stunt flying. 

Bessie moved to Florida, where a preacher and his wife had offered to give her a room. She opened a beauty salon, still trying to earn enough money to replace the plane that had crashed. She began performing new types of stunts such as wing-walking and parachute jumps. Wing-walkers stunned their audiences by leaving the cockpit while another pilot controlled the plane, and walking out on the wings!   

Finally, in 1926, Bessie had earned enough money to buy her own plane! She had worked hard performing in airshows, giving lectures, and working at her beauty parlor. The new plane wasn’t fancy: an old biplane called a Curtiss JN-4, or “Jenny.” She hired a mechanic named William Wills to fly it from Texas to Florida. Sadly, the plane was not in good condition. During a test flight with the mechanic, the plane stalled and crashed. Bessie did not survive the crash.

News of Queen Bess’s passing was carried widely in African American newspapers. Ten thousand people attended her funeral in Chicago, where Ida B. Wells, a famous black activist, led the service. 

Bessie continued to inspire black aviators in the 1920s and beyond. William J Powell, another African American aviator and civil rights activist, started Bessie Coleman Aero Club in Los Angeles, fulfilling her dream of opening a flight school for African Americans and women. Powell later wrote in his book, Black Wings, that because of Bessie, “we have overcome that which was worse than racial barriers. We have overcome the barriers within ourselves and dared to dream.” 

She was also an inspiration to many of the Tuskegee Airmen. The Tuskegee Airmen were the first group of black aviators to fly for the United States Army. In 1992, Mae Jemison took a portrait of Bessie Coleman with her when she became the first black woman in space, saying that Bessie “exemplifies and serves as a model for all humanity, the very definition of strength, dignity, courage, integrity, and beauty.” The US postal service issued a Bessie Coleman stamp in 1995, and in 2006, she was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame. 

Bessie Coleman once said that “the air is the only place free of prejudices.” But, in order to get there, she had to shatter many barriers that were placed in her path by a society that was unwelcoming to people of her race and gender. Instead of accepting the place she was offered in this society, Bessie decided to pursue her own path and make her own opportunities. She didn’t let the lack of training or jobs for black, female pilots keep her from her dream of flying. She forged ahead with determination and held onto her principles, knowing that her race and gender were not barriers to her ability; that she could lift others up by her example; and there was a place for everybody in the sky! 

Sources

https://thekidshouldseethis.com/post/bessie-coleman-the-first-female-african-american-pilot
https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/bessie-coleman
https://www.cradleofaviation.org/history/history/women-in-aviation/bessie-coleman.html

http://www.bessiecoleman.org/bio-bessie-coleman.php 

The Story of Grace Hopper for Kids

Has your curiosity ever gotten you in trouble? Maybe you took something apart or made a mess while you were trying to find out how it worked, or maybe you’ve asked a grown-up a question they didn’t know how to answer. If so, don’t feel bad about yourself! You have something in common with some of the smartest and most innovative people in history, including the subject of today’s episode, Grace Murray Hopper. 

Grace was born and raised in New York City, and she was a very curious child. Her family had a large summer home, which they shared with her many cousins. Each of the seven bedrooms in the house had an alarm clock, and every evening, Grace’s mother would set each alarm clock. This was the early twentieth century, so these weren’t the kind of alarm your parents might have on their phone, or even a digital alarm clock. These were old-fashioned clocks with gears in them and two bells on top. When the alarm rang, a small hammer would go back and forth, quickly hitting the bells and making a loud, high-pitched ring. This kind of ringing was impossible to sleep through! If you imagine what an old-fashioned fire alarm might sound like, it would be similar to that. 

Grace was fascinated by the alarm clocks, and wanted to know how they worked. So she took one apart! But looking at the pile of gears, springs, and hands, in front of her, she still wasn’t sure. 

So she took apart another. 

Then another. 

Eventually, Grace took apart all seven alarm clocks, trying to figure out how all the tiny, complicated pieces worked together. Her mother wasn’t exactly happy about all the alarm clocks in the house being broken, but she was understanding, and she let Grace keep one clock to study.

Grace’s father also supported Grace’s curiosity. He encouraged her and her sister to get as much education as they could so they could support themselves. This was not common for girls in the early 1900s. Grace especially loved math and geometry. She used geometry to draw pictures. This is a fun way to use math – try to see what you can draw some time just using the basic shapes like circles, squares, and triangles. If you look around, you’ll notice these shapes, along with angles, lines, curves, and other things that can be described with numbers, in many things you see every day.

Grace worked hard in school, and was almost able to start college when she was sixteen! Why almost? Her test scores in math were very high, but her scores in Latin were too low. But, just as she had done with the alarm clocks, Grace didn’t quit trying after one failure. She tried again, and was able to start college the next year at seventeen. She graduated with degrees in math and physics in 1928. She went on to get a PhD in math at Yale in 1934. Eventually, she became a math professor at Vassar College.

When World War II started, Grace tried to join the Navy, which had just started accepting women. Her grandfather had been in the Navy, and she wanted to follow in his footsteps. But the Navy wouldn’t take Grace! Their reasons for rejecting her were not what you might think: they said she was valuable to the war effort as a math professor; she was too thin for her height; and she was too old at 34. This shows us another important lesson: people often don’t say no to you because they don’t like you. They might say no because of rules they have to follow, or because you’re too important! Not a bad reason to be rejected, right?

But knowing Grace, you can probably guess that this rejection didn’t hold her back. She tried again. Grace took a leave of absence from her job as a professor and volunteered for the Naval Reserves. She had to get special permission due to her weight being too low, but she got to serve in the Navy and support the war effort, just like she wanted. Not only that, she was at the top of her class in the training program! The Navy sent her to Harvard University to work on the first computer made in the United States, the Mark I.

Grace worked on programming the Mark I to help the navy solve problems on their ships. Programming a computer means giving it instructions so it will do what you want it to do. You might be wondering why Grace was given a job programming computers. But, have you ever thought about why a computer is called a computer? Well, it’s because their original purpose was to compute things, to do complex math that humans can’t do quickly. The navy used the Mark I to help them track the location of enemy ships and submarines. It could perform math quickly, and never made mistakes like human mathematicians sometimes do. But, the Mark I did need humans to tell it exactly what math to do, and that was Grace’s job. 

Early computers were programmed using numbers and symbols. You had to understand a lot of mathematics to program a computer, which is why many early programmers like Grace, had degrees in math. Programming was complicated and it was easy to make mistakes, even for an expert. So Grace would save pieces of programs that did specific things so she could use them again in new programs. She also developed a system that allowed the computer to find these pieces of code without her having to input all of it again.

After the war, in 1949, Grace went to work at Eckert-Mauchly Computer Corporation. Here, she worked on Univac, the first computer in the United States to be sold to businesses for general purposes. This got her thinking about what people were trying to do with computers, and she realized not everyone could get their job done using only the language of math, numbers and symbols. Grace thought there should be computer programming languages that were based on the English language. This would make it easier for more people to learn to program and use computers to help them do their jobs. But, in order to create this kind of programming language, she also needed to invent the technology to translate English-based commands into the mathematical language that computers understood.

And that’s exactly what Grace did! She called her translator a compiler. If you want to imagine what a compiler does, think of all the word problems you’ve seen in your math books. You might have a problem like:

“Dan has seven apples. He gives three of them to Isaac. How many apples does Dan have left?”

The English words in this sentence give us clues about what kind of math problem we need to do. We know that the special words seven and three are numbers. We know if someone gives something away, they will have fewer of that thing. This gives us a clue that we need to subtract to find the answer. Once we think it through a bit, we can figure out that we need to write a math problem, “seven minus three equals” and then compute the answer. A compiler does something similar: it has a set of rules it uses to take the commands and translate them into numbers. The rules are more complicated than the subtraction word problem we just talked about, but the idea is similar.   

At first, the men Grace worked with thought this idea was crazy. But she kept working on her ideas for years, and eventually, others who worked with computers accepted them. Grace also reached her goal of inventing the first programming language based on English words, rather than numbers and symbols. This new language became known as COBOL. It was used for decades, and is even still used today. More importantly, COBOL inspired many other computer scientists to invent new programming languages based on human language to solve different types of problems. Today there are dozens of languages, and millions of people who learn and use them everyday. 

Later Grace returned to working for the Navy. After a long career, she reached the rank of rear admiral. At the time, she was one of the highest ranking women in the Navy. She retired in 1986 at the age of 80, but even after retiring, she continued to work. She was always eager to help young people learn about computers and programming, and aside from inventing the compiler, she said this was one of her greatest accomplishments.

Grace used to have a clock on her office wall. It was the kind of clock with hands that tick off the hours, seconds and minutes, just like the alarm clocks she took apart as a child. But this clock was unique: its hands went around in the opposite direction from other clocks. Instead of going clockwise, her clock went counter-clockwise! Even though the clock went backwards, it still ticked off the hours and minutes reliably, and gave the right time. 

Grace said this clock was a reminder that you don’t have to do things the same way everyone else is doing them. If you think you have a different or better way to do something, you should try it, even if others don’t understand at first. And as she showed so many times in her life, don’t just try once. Try over and over again until you get it! If you have a good idea and work hard to make it a reality, other people will eventually notice. 

Grace never gave up when she had a goal or a  great idea, even when others around her didn’t support her. She kept working on her ideas, and showing her work to others, until they had to listen, and, often, had to admit she’d been right all along! She knew that good ideas didn’t always fit the way people had done things in the past. They might even seem a little crazy at first. But without crazy new ideas we wouldn’t make any progress.

Sources

https://stories.vassar.edu/2017/assets/images/170706-legacy-of-grace-hopper-hopperpdf.pdf

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grace_Hopper

The History of Martin Luther King, Jr. for Kids

So this coming month, February, is “Black History Month” in the United States and Canada.  Black History Month is a time for us to remember important people and events in the history of people of African descent around the world and in our countries. Black History Month can be traced back to 1926 when Carter G. Woodson founded Negro History Week to recognize the achievements made by African Americans.  Carter Woodson was a Harvard university graduate and he chose February as the month to celebrate black history because the birthdays of Frederick Douglas and Abraham Lincoln were both in February.  

We thought that for this month’s first episode of Bedtime History, we would focus on one of the great black rights activists and civil rights leaders of American history, Martin Luther King Jr.  Civil rights are the rights of citizens to political and social freedom and equality. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on January 15, 1929, in Atlanta, Georgia.  His dad was a pastor and his mother was a school teacher.  A pastor is a minister in charge of a Christian church or congregation.  Martin also had an older sister named Cristine and a younger brother named Alfred.  They grew up in a wealthy area of Atlanta called “Sweet Auburn” where many black families lived at the time.

Martin knew from a young age that he enjoyed a great childhood and a good education that not many black children in America at the time had access to.  It inspired him to want to help other black children have the same opportunities to live a good life.  He was also inspired by his father, who worked hard on activities to try to improve the lives of black people and achieve equality.

Martin was a very good student and he worked hard to get good grades.  Because of his hard work, he got into a good college when he was 15 to study law and medicine.  It was called Morehouse College and was the same college that his father and his grandfather had attended.

Even though Martin did not originally plan to become a pastor like his father, he became more and more interested in religious studies and politics during his time at college.  Martin decided to finish a Bachelor of Divinity degree so that he could become a pastor too.  

Martin was a popular student, even though he was one of the only black students in a mostly white student college.  He finished his degree in 1948 and was elected president of his class in his final year of college.

After he graduated, Martin moved to Boston to attend Boston University when he was 24.  While he was there and studying for a higher level degree, he met Coretta Scott.  Coretta was a singer from Alabama who was also in college in Boston.  She was studying music at the New England Conservatory of Music. 

Martin and Coretta fell in love and got married in 1953.  After Martin’s studies were finished, they moved to Montgomery, Alabama.  Martin became the pastor of a church there called the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church.  He was a great pastor and had a special gift of being a very good public speaker.  People always paid attention to what he had to say because he was well spoken and delivered his sermons in a very convincing style.

Martin and Coretta had been living in Montgomery for a short time when they started to have children.  At the time, the city of Montgomery also became the centre for the civil rights struggle in America.  The city was very segregated.  This means that black and white people were divided and expected to live apart from each other.  Some people challenged the rules that forced them to live apart.  This led to a court decision about segregation of students in schools.  The court decision decided that while black and white kids had been separated in the past, they were now allowed to go to school together. 

The decision was a great victory for those who wanted equality for all people and the end of segregation.  However, the decision made some people who disagreed with these changes very angry. At the time, there was a lot of racism in the area. Racism means to have negative thoughts and actions towards people of a different race based on the belief that your own race is better.  

The fight over civil rights grew greater in 1955.  That year, a black woman named Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a bus and she was arrested. The rules at the time said that she was supposed to sit in the back of the bus in the segregated section for black people.  However, Rosa Parks refused to go to the back of the bus to protest this rule. To protest means to do something to show you are against a rule or law.

Rosa Parks’ arrest made a number of people angry.  A group of activists got together and decided to stop using the bus as a protest.  An activist is someone who works to bring about political or social change. Activist groups started taking more and more actions to try to change the rules that limited equality for black people and separated blacks and whites. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. became the leader and spokesman of the activist group at the time. Martin started speaking as the leader of a group trying to fight racism and bring about equality peacefully.  Martin admired Mahatma Ghandi and other peaceful activists from around the world and history.  Ghandi and others were people who taught that the way to bring about real change in society was to protest but not to be violent.

Even though Martin was trying to change things peacefully, many people disagreed with him. Many of these people threatened him and his family. Some even tried to set his house on fire. This was very scary for Martin and his family, especially now that they had four young children. Even though it was a scary time for Martin and his family, they were proud of the success of their protests and how many people had joined the cause for equality.

Next Martin began traveling across America and giving talks to big groups on civil rights and nonviolent protest.  His messages were becoming more and more popular, but also causing more and more people to be angry with him. 

Many people fought very hard for equality and the rights of black people and many people fought against these ideas.  Most of the protests were peaceful but some became violent when protesters and those against them became heated.

In 1963, Martin and his friends protested segregation in Birmingham, Alabama, which was one of the most racially divided cities in the United States. Martin was arrested and had to spend time in jail. It was a sad time for him because he was away from his family, but he used this time to write letters to those who opposed him, peacefully trying to convince them of why equality was right and good.

Later that year, when he got out of prison, Martin organized a March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.  A march is a type of protest in which people walk along public roads in an organized way to protest about something.  The march was peaceful and it was attended by around 250,000 people!  

At the March on Washington, Martin gave his famous speech, known as the “I Have a Dream” speech.  It called for a peaceful world in which all people are treated as equals.  Many people around the world watched Martin Luther King, Jr. give this speech in person and on TV.  Later that year, he was named “Man of the Year” by TIME magazine. 

In 1964, Martin Luther King, Jr. also became the youngest person ever to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  He was only 35 years old. And in August 1965, the US Congress passed a law that gave all black Americans the right to vote. This was a big step and would not have come about at that time if not for the hard work of Martin and his fellow activists.

Unfortunately a few years later, Martin’s life and work were cut short when he was shot and killed.  He was standing on the balcony of a motel in Memphis, Tennessee when someone shot him. The killer was a man that had escaped prison.  He was later caught and sent to prison.

People across the country were saddened by Martin’s death. The president at the time declared a national day of mourning, which was meant to be a time for the entire country to express sorrow over Martin’s death.  Later, in 1983, the US created a federal holiday in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. It is known as Martin Luther King Day and is on the third Monday of January each year. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a brave and hardworking man.  He fought hard for the things that he believed in and to help others.  He believed in equality and human rights for all people, regardless of race, ethnicity, skin colour or how rich or poor someone is. And he did so by always being peaceful.  He was truly an incredible man.

There is still much work to be done as society works towards Martin’s dream of “full equality”.  But by learning about Martin and his life and work, you can join the conversation and become part of the efforts that are still underway in your country to bring about full and meaningful equality to all people. And the ways in which you can help society become a more peaceful, equal and loving place. 

If you haven’t already heard it, I would recommend that you listen to the full audio of Martin’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  It is one of the most famous and amazing speeches of all time. 

The History of Michael Jordan for Kids

Close your eyes and imagine you are a basketball player racing down the court with your team. From the stands a huge crowd is watching and cheering and millions more are watching you on TV. You’ve played hard all night. You’re sweating and breathing heavy. Your legs ache and you want to take a break, but you know you’ve got to keep going. It’s the championship game for all colleges across the United States. The game is tied, there are only a few seconds left, and your team is losing by one point! The clock is running. You dodge your opponent to an open spot on the court. The point guard sees you open. The ball is flying across the court toward you. You grab it, jump, take aim for the basket, and shoot. The ball spins gracefully through the air and falls through hoop! You made the shot! The crowd goes wild! With seventeen second left your team wins the game. Your teammates pick you up and carry you off the court in celebration. 

This was the winning moment that made North Carolina freshman Mike Jordan into Michael Jordan, who became the most famous basketball player of all time.  

Michael Jordan was born on February 17, 1963 in Brooklyn, New York.  He was the fourth of five children in his family.  When he was just a toddler, his family moved to Wilmington, North Carolina. When Michael tried out for the school’s basketball team they said his was too short to play and he didn’t make the team.

Instead of feeling bad for himself, Michael worked harder.  He practiced every day and made the team the next year. Eventually he became the star of his basketball team.  He trained very hard and by the time he was in his final year of high school colleges were asking him to come play for them. 

After receiving many offers, Michael accepted a basketball scholarship to North Carolina university. A scholarship is where a college pays for all of your schooling. In college Michael studied geography and played on the basketball team.  He helped his team make it to the championship game. During the final seventeen seconds his team was losing but Michael took a jump shot and won the game! Scoring the winning shot made Michael famous, and after college he joined the Chicago Bulls, a professional basketball team.

From the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, everyone loved to watch Michael Jordan play basketball. Because he could jump so high, he earned the nicknames “Air Jordan”, “His Airness” or just “MJ.” He had amazing leaping abilities and could do slam dunks from the free throw line in slam dunk contests. During games he was known for doing trick dunks and dunking over other players. He also used other trick moves like the reverse layup.

During the summer of 1984, Jordan played for the U.S. Olympic basketball team. The team won the gold medal at the games that year, which were held in Los Angeles. In the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona Spain Jordan and his team became known as the “Dream Team” and won their second gold medal there.

Over the years, Michael worked with a number of large brands in their advertisements, including Nike, Hanes, Upper Deck, Gatorade, Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Chevrolet and Wheaties. He even acted in a few movies like Michael Jordan’s Playground and Space Jam. The movie mixed live action and animation and had Michael act with cartoon legends Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck on screen.  Nike created a whole line of shoes and sports clothes named “Air Jordan” after him. Many kids at the time wanted to be like Michael Jordan and wear the shoes with his name.

In 1985, even though he was a very wealthy basketball player, Jordan knew school was important so made sure he finished the college degree in geography he had started. 

During his second season he tore his ACL and was hurt badly, but after this went on to become the first player since Wilt Chamberlin to score more than 3,000 points in a single season.

In 1989, Michael Jordan was married and later had three children. He was close with his children and taught them to play basketball too. Many years later Michael’s oldest son, Jeffrey, made the basketball team at the University of Illinois. Michael always tried to help his children do their own thing and not feel they needed to be as successful as he was or successful in the same way.  He said that the thing that he has tried to tell his children is that they should set their own expectations. Expectations are strong beliefs of something you want for yourself in the future.

By the late 1980s, the Chicago Bulls were becoming the team to beat and Jordan was a huge part of the team’s success. The Bulls made it to the Eastern Conference Finals in 1990 and won their first NBA championship the following year by beating the Los Angeles Lakers. A NBA superstar, Jordan became known for his power and agility on the court as well as for his leadership abilities.

During his time on the Chicago Bulls team, Michael Jordan led his team to six NBA championships and he won the Most Valuable Player Award in the tournament five times. He became the most famous basketball player in the world and kids everywhere were inspired to play basketball like Michael Jordan and dress like him and wear his number, 23. 

At one game Michael Jordan wore a nameless no. 12 jersey because his no. 23 jersey had been stolen! One funny fact about Michael is he was known for sticking his tongue out when driving to the basket or dunking a ball. 

In 1993 Michael’s father died and this was a very hard time for him and his family. After many years of success playing basketball, Michael retired and decided to play minor league baseball. He played for a team called the Birmingham Barons, as an outfielder. 

In March 1995, after a short time playing baseball, Michael returned to the basketball court, and re-joined the Chicago Bulls.  He eventually helped them win the championship against the Seattle Sonics in the 1995 to 96 season.

In 1997 during the NBA Finals, Michael became sick with the flu. Many didn’t know if he would play this very important game against the Utah Jazz. His trainers told him he should take a break and get feeling better. But Michael wanted to help his team and played anyway. There were many times where he could barely stand during the game, but he ended up scoring 38 baskets and helped his team win the game.

The next year was 1998 and Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls were in the last game of the NBA Finals again. This would be Jordan’s last game playing for The Bulls. The Bulls were losing to the Utah Jazz by one point and there were only 5 seconds left before the game was over. Jordan maneuvered back and forth, then took a jump shot and made the basket! The Bulls won the game thanks to Michael! 

After retiring from the Bulls, Jordan played a few years later for the Washington Wizards. He donated all of the money he made to families and those who suffered during the September 11th attacks.

In April 2009, Jordan received one of basketball’s greatest honors: He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Attending the induction ceremony was a happy but sad time for Jordan because being at the event meant “your basketball career is completely over,” he explained.

In 2003, Michael retired from basketball for a second time.  He decided to focus on his businesses, including owning a basketball team.

Michael Jordan is still considered a basketball legend.  He was known for his competitiveness and his very strong work-ethic.  He spent hours watching videos of his opponents so that he could learn how to defend them. He also had a special “Love of the Game Clause” written into his basketball contracts that said he was allowed to play basketball against anyone at any time, anywhere. This was rare and unusual for a player to request, but Michael loved basketball so much that he didn’t want to be limited by his contract from what he could do.

Michael Jordan was successful because he had natural talent and a drive to succeed.  He worked hard every day at his goal of becoming the best basketball player in the world.  People respected his work ethic and his drive helped him become one of the greatest basketball players of all time.  Remember, he didn’t make the basketball team the first time, but kept working at it until he became better despite being short at the time.  

One of the Michael Jordan’s most famous quotes is: “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Even if you fail at something, that is okay, because you tried. Everyone who is good at anything has failed many times, but they kept trying and trying and getting better. Not doing something right the first time is okay. You’ll never become better at anything if you aren’t afraid to mess up sometimes.

Is there something that you love to do that you would like to become even better at?  Is there a sport or activity that you would like to turn into a career when you are older?  Practice those things that are interesting to you and focus on becoming the best that you can.  The important thing, as Michael Jordan said to his own kids, is to set your own goals and your own expectations for yourself.

History of Chuck Berry for Kids

Imagine you are inside of a music hall.  The room is dark and a stage light is projecting down onto a red curtain.  As you sit looking at the stage, a drum beat starts up.  It’s loud and it’s fast and has a rhythm and blues beat.  Next you hear an electric guitar start in with some rocking chords.  Finally the curtain bursts open and a man in a blue suit whips around and grabs the microphone.  He starts singing the lyrics to one of the most famous rock n’ roll songs in history, “Deep down in Louisiana close to New Orleans, Way back up in the woods amongst the evergreens…”  The singer is Chuck Berry.

Chuck Berry was one of the most famous rock ‘n’ roll performers in music history. He is known for his upbeat songs including “Johnny B. Goode” and “Maybellene.”  Chuck’s music was so good that it had an influence, or impacted the behaviour, on many future musicians.  He was even given the nickname the “father of rock ‘n’ roll.”  But how did Chuck Berry become such a good musician and songwriter?

Chuck Berry was born in 1926 in St. Louis, Missouri.  His name when he was born was Charles Edward Anderson Berry.  But everyone started calling him “Chuck.”  Chuck’s parents, Martha and Henry Berry, were the grandchildren of enslaved people, which means that they used to be slaves.

Martha and Henry were some of the many African Americans who moved from the Southern United States to St. Louis to look for work during World War I. Martha was one of the few Black women of that time to go to college and earn a degree.  Henry was a carpenter, which means someone who buildings things out of wood.  Henry was also a deacon, or pastor, at a local Baptist Church.

When Chuck was born, St. Louis was a very segregated city.  Segregated means that Black and white people lived apart in different neighbourhoods from each other.  Chuck grew up in a neighbourhood in northern St. Louis that was mainly where middle-class Black people lived.  Middle-class means the group of people in society that aren’t rich but also aren’t poor.  The neighbourhood was so segregated that Chuck had never actually met a white person in real life until he was three years old. 

Chuck grew up in a big family with six children.  He was one of the youngest and he enjoyed being part of a lively crew of kids.  Chuck had a lot of interests and hobbies as a kid.  He liked helping with his dad’s carpentry work and learning how to take photographs with his uncle, who was a professional photographer.  Chuck also showed an early interest in music and was quite talented.  Talented means to have a special ability or gift.  Chuck began singing in his church choir when he was only six years old. 

When he was a teenager, Chuck applied and got into a very good private high school.   When he was in high school, Chuck continued to grow his music and performance skills.  He entered his school’s talent show and sang a song while his friend played guitar.  The performance was a huge hit with all of the students that were there listening.  The cheers and applause that they got inspired Chuck to continue with music.  He decided that he wanted to learn to play guitar himself and so he asked his parents if he could take lessons.  They said yes, and soon after that, Chuck started taking guitar lessons with a famous local jazz musician named Ira Harris.

In high school, Chuck was more interested in playing music than studying and learning.  He felt like his classes were boring and his teachers were too strict. When Chuck was only 17 years old, he and two of his friends dropped out of high school.  They decided that they were going to drive together across the country to visit California.

Unfortunately Chuck and his friends got into trouble. They robbed some stores for money and were arrested [Breck: he and his friends found a gun and robbed a couple stores before getting caught.  I didn’t think we needed to set out those details, but obviously edit as you see fit.] Chuck ended up in a prison for young men in Missouri where he spent 3 years.  He was released for good behaviour in October 1947 on his 21st birthday. 

Chuck’s parents picked him up and he headed back home to St. Louis to live with them.  Chuck got a job working at his dad’s construction business.  He helped his dad build things and he also worked part time as  a photographer and part time as a janitor, or someone who cleans up things, at a local car-making factory.

In 1948, when Chuck was 22 years old, he married Themetta Suggs, whose nickname was “Toddy”.  Chuck and Toddy were happy together and had four children.  Chuck also started playing guitar again.  In 1951, when Chuck was 25, his old school classmate Tommy Stevens asked him to join his band.  They played at local nightclubs in St. Louis that Black people visited.  Chuck said yes and he started playing in the band in the evenings. 

Chuck was very lively on stage and people liked the way he sang, danced and played music.  Every time he performed, Chuck brought a lot of energy to the stage and people just wanted to get up and dance. 

About a year later, Chuck met a local jazz pianist, Jonnie Jackson.  The two hit it off and Chuck left his first band to join Jonnie’s band, called the Sir John’s Trio.  The group played at a fancy Black nightclub in East St. Louis.  The music was so good that it started attracting, or drawing in, white customers. 

Chuck started writing some of his own songs around this time.  He knew that if he wanted to make it big, he was going to have to come up with his own material. Chuck also started taking road trips to Chicago fairly regularly.  Chicago was the main city that Black music was recorded in back then.  Chuck went up trying to meet with recording executives, or business people, in the hopes that one of them would want to make a contract to buy his music.  

In 1955, Chuck met a well-known blues musician named Muddy Waters.  Muddy heard some of Chuck’s music and thought he had a lot of talent.  He told Chuck that he should go meet with a company called Chess Records.  On Muddy’s recommendation, Chuck was able to meet with the businessmen at Chess Records.  He had quickly written and recorded a new song and played it for the Chess Records people.  The song was called “Maybellene” which is now a very famous rock and roll song.  The Chess executives loved the song and signed a contract with Chuck.  They helped the song get played on the radio stations and within a couple of months, “Maybellene” was one of the top songs in the country!

“Maybellene” was a mix of a bunch of different types of music, including a rhythm and blues drum beat and country guitar sounds as well as some blues chords and storytelling.  Because this was the first time that anyone had ever recorded this blend of sounds together, many people who study music history believe that “Maybellene” is the first true rock n’ roll song.

Chuck continued to write many famous rock n’ roll songs that you have heard before, including “Roll Over, Beethoven,” “Johnny B. Goode,” and “Sweet Little Sixteen”.  Chuck was one of the first Black artists to have white and Black fans because of his mix of sounds and the storytelling in his songs that talked about things that all teenagers felt.  Many of Chuck’s songs recorded throughout the 1950s became top songs in the country. 

Chuck continued to write and record music all the way to the 1970s.  Even his late albums are quite good, though he is always remembered for his early music in the 1950s which really changed the type of music that everyone in the country listened to. 

In 1985, Chuck was given a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and he was the first person to ever be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when it first opened in 1986.  One of the main ways that you can tell how important Chuck’s music was is that so many other famous musicians have said that they were influenced by his music.  Famous bands that have said they loved Chuck’s music and it influenced theirs include the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Beach Boys.

When Chuck was 90 years old, he announced that he was going to write and release a new album of music dedicated to his wife Toddy, whom he had been married to for 68 years.  Chuck died on March 18, 2017 at the age of 90.  

What are some things that we can learn from Chuck Berry?  He was inspired at a young age to sing through his involvement at church.  And once he had the chance to perform, he loved it.  He followed his passion and realized that if he wanted to keep performing, he needed to learn to play guitar.  Chuck showed courage in learning a new instrument as well as patience and perseverance.  This means to carry on trying at something even if it is difficult. 

Chuck also showed resilience, or the courage to continue with something even when you experience difficulties.  His years performing were tiring at times and he likely faced racism due to being Black at a time when society was not as accepting.  But Chuck carried on with his dreams and worked hard to make them a reality.  

Chuck also showed love and loyalty, to his wife Toddy, whom he was married to for 68 years, and to his music which he loved. 

Is there something that you enjoy doing and would like to get better at?  Have you ever thought of learning to write some of your own songs?  Like most things in life, it can be done with learning and practice and dedication.  

When you have some time this week, listen to some Chuck Berry songs.  You will find that there are many that you have probably heard before that will have you tapping your feet to the beat.  One of Chuck’s main messages through his songs is that it’s good to have fun and to have passion for life.  

The Maya Angelou Story for Kids

Performing “On the Pulse of Morning” at Bill Clinton’s Inauguration:

“Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou

“Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou

“Harlem Hopscotch” by Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou was born on April 4, 1928 in St. Louis Missouri. Her full name was Margeurite, but her older brother had trouble saying her name so he started calling her “Maya” for short. Maya’s parents had trouble getting along and when she was three they divorced. Her parents thought it would be better for her grandmother raised them instead, so they sent Maya and her brother on a train to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. They called their grandma Henderson “Momma.” Most of the people in Stamps were black and it was a segregated town. “Segregated” means that everyone who was black attended a different school, ate at their own restaurants, and lived in their own neighborhood. Maya’s grandmother and her son, Uncle Willy, owned a store in Stamps, and Maya and her brother, Bailey, lived in a room in the back of the store. 

Momma loved her grandchildren and took good care of them. She also wanted them to be responsible, so she taught them good manners and made them help at the store. Often Maya’s job was to sweep the floors. Their Uncle Willy taught them to read and believed they should have an education. It was at this time that Maya fell in love with words as she read new books. One of her favorite authors was William Shakespeare. Charles Dickens was another favorite.

While living in Stamps, Maya’s brother, Bailey, was her best friend. They spent all of their time working and playing and learning together. They loved to run in the woods and had lots of freedom. Bailey always stood up for Maya when people teased her or said mean things. She loved her older brother very much. 

In 1935 Maya’s father came to Stamps to bring them back to the city where he lived, St. Louis, Missouri. They weren’t used to the city but were glad to see their mother again who also lived there. St. Louis had a big library and Maya spent her free time checking out books and reading them at the library. Before this time Maya had a safe childhood, but when she was 7 she was hurt by her mother’s boyfriend. This horrible experience caused her to stop talking. No one knew what to do. Eventually, Maya and Baily moved back to Stamps to be with her Grandmother and Uncle Willy again. For five years Maya didn’t speak. Instead, she spent most of her time reading and writing.

In 1941 Maya’s Grandmother decided they needed to move back in with their mother who now lived in San Francisco, California, because the schools were better there. She and Bailey were now 13 and 14 and enjoyed the new city with the amazing Golden Gate Bridge and the cable cars. Maya liked her new school and did well there. She spent her free time writing poems and her own stories. She also started taking singing and dancing lessons. But Bailey had a harder time in San Francisco and often got into trouble and ran away from home. Maya missed Bailey and this caused her to struggle in school. She decided to take a break and look for a job. In San Francisco people used cable cars on tracks to move all around the city. Maya applied to be a cable car conductor, the person who takes people’s tickets and helps them on the cable car. She ended up becoming the first African American cable conductor! After a semester of working, she decided to back to school. She also learned that Bailey joined the Navy and they wrote letters back and forth. She was happy to hear from her brother again.

In 1945, during her last year of high school, Maya had her first baby and named him Clyde Bailey after her brother. She and the father didn’t end up getting married, so Maya was left to raise Clyde on her own. For the next several years she worked as a waitress to earn enough money to take care of Clyde. She also worked at a music store and later as a Calypso dancer at a club called The Purple Onion. There she sang and danced for the audience. Performing before an audience made Maya very nervous, but she did it anyway and found she had a talent for it and got better and better as she continued to practice and improve her skill.

Soon people all over San Francisco were waiting in lines at The Purple Onion to watch Maya perform. Her name started showing up in the newspapers and on the radio. Her next big break was joining a touring group that performed a musical called Porgy and Bess. They traveled all over Europe and Africa, visiting 22 different countries to perform. Maya loved visiting foreign countries and while traveling began to learn other languages and write about the places she visited.

When the tour was done she returned home to be with her son and continued working as a dancer. But Maya knew her real love was writing poems and stories. She had many experiences in her life she wanted to share with others. While living in Los Angeles, she met a famous author, John Oliver Killens, who read some of her stories and encouraged her to move to New York, so she could share her own stories.

In New York City Maya joined the Harlem City Writer’s Guild, where writers met to share their stories and give each other advice. In New York Maya went to listen to a speech given by Martin Luther King, Jr. He spoke about how people should be treated the same, no matter the color of their skin. Maya liked Martin Luther King, Jr. and helped put on a show to raise money for him and his cause, which was called the Civil Rights Movement. They believed that all people should be equal and treated the same. They wanted to end segregation. 

Maya continued to help with the Civil Rights Movements by writing and helping earn money for the cause. She later moved to Egypt to help with Civil Rights in Africa. There she wrote for a newspaper and met other famous Civil Rights Leaders like Malcolm X. 

Maya moved back to New York to continue writing and speaking about Civil Rights. There a famous black author and friend, James Baldwin, encouraged Maya to write her life’s story. This is called an autobiography. When Maya finished her autobiography in 1969 she gave it the title “I Know Why A Caged Bird Sings.” She gave it this title because many times in her life she felt like she was living in a cage, not always free to live and act the way she wanted. To Maya, this cage was racism and abuse. But her story was also hopeful, like the bird singing, because she believed that even when someone’s life is hard and painful they can still find joy and happiness. Her book, “I Know Why a Caged Bird Sings” was a huge success and soon many knew about Maya Angelou and her incredible life story. 

Maya continued to write. She wrote a book of poems and a screenplay for a movie. She starred in a musical on Broadway and a TV miniseries called “Roots” about the history of slavery in America. She was also married to a French cartoonist and writer. Her son was married and had a child of his own, so she became a grandmother. 

Maya wrote more books of poems and traveled and spoke and told her life story to inspire others and give them hope. She read her poems for three of the Presidents and in 2010 was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor a civilian can receive. 

In 2014 Maya died peacefully in her home in North Carolina. She was 86 years old and after her passing people all around the world spoke about how much they loved her and loved the words she wrote. Her life and actions and deeds were an inspiration to so many people over the years.

Maya once wrote: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

And “You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”

She also wrote, “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.”

Finally, “If you’re always trying to be normal you will never know how amazing you can be.”

The Tegla Laroupe Story for Kids

Our story begins in Africa in the small village of Kutomwony Kenya.

In the village lives a little girl named Tegla. Telga is very small for her age, but makes up for it with a big heart and a big smile. Life in Kutomwony isn’t easy, most of the families are very poor and don’t have electricity or water to use in their home. They work very hard and often have very little to eat.

Every morning Tegla wakes up very early and feeds her family’s animals, and then makes breakfast for her brothers and sisters and helps dress them for the day. As soon as she’s done with her chores she races out the door and out onto a dusty road.

Tegla goes to school like most children, but her school is 6 miles away, which is very, very far. She doesn’t have a car or a bus, so she has to go there on foot. But Tegla doesn’t just walk to school ….

She runs!

In her bare feet! But Tegla loves running. At first she didn’t love running to school. She only ran because she didn’t want to be late. But the more she ran the more she loved it. She could run the entire way without stopping once.

As she got older Tegla wanted to run in a race. But others said, “you are too small, you are too weak. You should be taking care of your brothers and sisters, not running in races.” But Tegla didn’t listen to them. She started running races anyway.

She was so good that she won a pair of shoes, so she didn’t have to run barefoot anymore!

Most of the people in Tegla’s village didn’t believe she could be a great racer, but she kept practicing anyway. She was persistent. Persistence is when you keep doing something, even when it is difficult or others don’t believe you can.

When Tegla got older she had the chance to go to America, to the big city of New York torun in a marathon. A marathon is a race that is 42 miles long. That is very, very, very far! Before running the race others told her she was too small, that she wasn’t a good racer, that she should go back home. But Tegla said, “I will show you I am a good runner, I will win the race.” But no one believed such a small woman from a poor village in Africa could do such a big thing.

When the race began it didn’t seem like Tegla was doing very good. Many other runners were in front of her, it looked like she might lose.

But she kept running, breathing deep, pushing ahead like she did when she was little and running to school in Africa. Toward the end of the race she began to run faster, and faster and faster. Soon she was passing everyone in front of her. The other racers didn’t know how she was going to fast. Before long she in front of every one else. No one believed it.

Everyone in the crowd started to cheer. Tegla dashed to the end. She had won the race! No woman from Africa had ever won the New York Marathon. Tegla had made history!

After winning the race Tegla was given thousands and thousands of dollars. She could have used the money to buy herself many nice things, she could have stayed in the nice city and never gone back to Africa. But Tegla remembered her little village, she remembered her family, and she remembered all the little boys and girls there who didn’t get to go to school and did hard chores all day. She used her money to start a school for kids who wanted to run and used it to help other kids from Africa have a better chance in life. Tegla was kind and had charity. Charity is thinking about others and doing kind things to help them out.

Like Tegla, you can be active by running or playing sports or dancing or doing gymnastics. This helps your body grow strong and healthy. It also makes your mind strong. You can also be persistent — to keep trying and trying even when something seems very hard. It might be a homework problem or a chore, but like Tegla if you keep at it you can finish it.

Like Tegla you can also be kind by using your time and other things you have to help others. Whenever someone else is in need you can remember Tegla and what she did to help make others happier.