Tammy's All Things History

Bringing the Past to Life!



African-American Woman Bessie Coleman

Bessie Coleman, First African American Pilot - GPN-2004-00027.jpg
Bessie Coleman, via Wikipedia.

Bessie Coleman (1892-1926) defied Jim Crow laws and racism towards Blacks early in the 20th century by becoming the first African-American female aviator. Despite the fact that she grew up poor, she sought out the opportunity to make her dreams come true. With the help of a mentor and the inspiration of her brothers, she ventured overseas to France to obtain flight training. France at the time did not discriminate against Blacks but welcomed them into its society and schools. There Bessie not only completed her training but gained fame and prestige as a fully qualified and talented airplane pilot, who performed stunts at air shows. This recognition influenced other African American women to realize they too could defy oppression by White society and seek opportunities previously closed to women of their race. Bessie’s success and others contributed not only to the Women’s Movement and but also to the Equal Rights Movement for years to come because of her belief in optimism and perseverance.

Unfortunately, Bessie would not live to see the changes inspired by her contributions of African-American firsts. She died on April 30, 1926, at her final air show. Her legacy continues to this day through the recognition and adoration by modern female African American aviators.

History on Saturday: James C. Craig, Barber from Grand Rapids

1915. Henry Wayne Robbins’ barber shop in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Meet James C. Craig, a barber from Grand Rapids, Michigan in the late 1800s. He is an African-American man who immigrated to the city in 1871. Amazed at his success during the late 19th and early 20th centuries a newspaper editor inquired about the man, and Mr. Craig replied to him, telling his story in his words.

“I was born in the city of Louisville, Kentucky on the second day of April 1849. I was a slave until 1862. I followed the 23rd Regiment of Michigan in 1864 throughout the southern states and left them at [in] Atlanta, Georgia. Then I came to Flint, Michigan with Captain George Buckingham. He was sick. I then learned the barber trade in the year 1865. Then in the year 1868, I went to Battle Creek, Michigan. I lived there until 1870 and went into business for myself. I did not meet with success as I hoped. In 1871, I came to Grand Rapids and opened up business again as a barber. I am pleased to tell you that I have made it a success this time. My place of business is 70 Canal Street. On October 28, 1884, I was appointed the honorary commissioner of the 5th District of the World’s Fair at New Orleans.”-James C. Craig (1)

This biography is modest because it tells the story of Mr. Craig’s life of perseverance and determination but it does not include information about his membership and participation in African-American (men-only) organizations. His collection does contain clippings of meetings and notes that suggest he was interested in the quality of life of fellow African-American citizens and their fight for equal rights in Grand Rapids. How active he was in these memberships or the privileges they might have given him are not known at this time. Mr. Craig’s commitment to his business and networking through memberships did distinguish him as a gentleman of his class and race. Additional research is needed to understand how if any of his contributions, his legacy, and his life helped influence the African-American community of Grand Rapids as well as the dream of equal rights for everyone in America. (2)

1. Finding aid for the James C. Craig collection Collection 183 Finding aid prepared by Lynn Eleveld … Finding aid for the James C. Craig collection Collection 183

2. Jelks, Randal Maurice. African Americans in the Furniture City: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Grand Rapids. Urbana and Chicago: U of Illinois, 2006. Print.

Belding City History: Pere Marquette R.R. Depot

Belding, Michigan’s Re-dedication of Historic Railroad Depot, Marker erected in 1999

The Pere Marquette Railway Belding Depot was part of a more extensive rail network that began in Northern Michigan in 1889. This rail system was constructed to connect commercial routes through the state of Ohio, Indiana, and Ontario, Canada with Michigan. The railway gets its name from early Michigan settler, Jacques Marquette (1637-1675). It operated until a merger re-established its operation under new ownership in 1947 (1).

The Belding Depot, served passengers faithfully from 1900 to 1941. It provided transportation for the citizenry to the neighboring town of Lowell and was an essential connection between Grand Rapids and Saginaw. The building was a simple structure that housed a centralized ticketing and telegraph office. After operations ceased, it remained vacant except for maintenance tools owned by the city. In 1994, the city of Belding took action to restore the building and it now serves as the city center for government meetings and a local transit hub. The Pere Marquette Railway Depot is a registered historic landmark and exists today to remind folks of the contributions it made to society and its aid to population growth and commerce for the state of Michigan. (2)

1. Wikipedia. 2013. “Pere Marquette Railway.” Last modified March 13.;”Pere Marquette Depot Bay City Michigan.”

2. 2014.”Pere Marquette Railway Belding Depot.”; Michigan Markers. 2104.; “Pere Marquette Railway Belding Depot.”

History on Saturday: American Exceptionalism


American exceptionalism became a hot topic of debate this week when President Obama referred to it in his televised speech to the American people on his stance on the escalating violence in Syria. Russian President Putin countered the remarks about exceptionalism by basically saying America is not exceptional and that on a world view everyone is created equal and should be recognized as such. Thus, the debating began. Debate about American exceptionalism is not new. It has been visited a number of times in the past. So, what is American exceptionalism anyway.

Ronald J. Schmidt explains the background for the term and how it came to be in the book The Oxford Handbook of Political Theory. He also explains about the significance of the term and how it relates in history to current American identity.

You can view an excerpt here:


The debate about American exceptionalism is still important but I wonder if the idea is flexible to changing times and if so, how do we reconcile it. Is America really exceptional?

History on Saturday: Vermont C. Royster



Researching for a paper topic for class, I found an interesting character. Vermont C. Royster was important in history because he appears on a couple different levels. First, he used writing to persuade society on different ideas of cultural transformation as it grappled with how to accept conservatism, libertarianism and modernism. Second, his access to important people and events such as being a reporter in Washington, D.C., after WWII, his influences to an editorial board with ability to persuade decisions in the high profile case Brown v. Board of Education (1954), and his success at becoming editor for the Wall Street Journal, an influential magazine in intellectual circles all placed him at the right place and time to contribute and make his mark in history. By looking at his career and his ideas a sense of atmosphere of the time can be seen. For example, how people felt about media, war, the New Deal and progress.

Another place to look is the book Ideas Have Consequences, by Richard M. Weaver, which also shows people questioning old ideas and the direction the country was going at the time. Richard’s ideas about morality, interpretation of western history and conservatism were hot topics of the early nineteen twenties. It also gives ideas about American’s reaction to modernism, morality and ideas of the past they held sacred and how they should deal with these issues in the current time and future.

Time Travel

Strikes, Ladies Tailors, N.Y., Feb. 1910
Someone posted an interesting blog a few days ago. In the discussion the question was posed: what era of history would you travel back to if you could and why?

I have often thought about time travel. I do not know if it is something for me or not. When I visit museums I feel like I have traveled back in time. The artifacts and displays bring the past to life for me as I imagine what it must have been like. Now that I have been trained to really study history professionally it seems a bit different. There are so many questions and so much information to consider it seems impossible to really know what it was like. I like diaries and memoirs because they offer an idea about what the atmosphere was like. Still, it is only one point of view and how accurate is it really?

The blog article was great and a good one to follow with many more interesting topics. I love to read labor history. What is even greater about it is the fact it fits into a huge puzzle and when more pieces are added it makes sense and really comes to life. I always end up coming back to it again and again in my readings. I am definitely drawn to the 1800-1900s. I definitely would like to travel back to this time.

What era would you like to travel back to?

Alice Mabel Gray: Meet Diana of the Dunes

Alice Mabel Gray

Alice Mabel Gray was a woman ahead of her time. She was intelligent, accomplished, a visionary and an early preservationist. Born in 1881, during the Gilded Age (1878-1889), she grew up in the busy city of Chicago, Illinois. The time Alice was born and lived in was significant in United States history. For emigrants who came looking for an opportunity the American dream seemed to be within reach as the railroad and steel boom brought jobs and instant wealth to people who might not otherwise have a chance to enjoy a better life. Alice grew up in an upper class family, educated and the head of her class. But she like many women of her time and used her intelligence and social status to further her curiosities in mathematics, astronomy and foreign language.

US Naval Observatory

After graduating from the University of Chicago, Alice found work as Computer (one who computes numerical data) under the direct supervision of Professor William Eichelberger at the United States Naval Observatory. The work was not satisfying for Alice as she considered, “the life of a salary earner in the cities is slavery, a constant fight for the means of living.” In 1905, her continuing educational interests brought her overseas to Gottingen University where she befriended Bohemians, who enjoyed free roaming and a simple lifestyle infused very much with nature. Upon returning to the United States, she took up a simpler secretarial job. Soon after realizing her true passion was environmental studies, she gave up everything and moved to the Lake Michigan dunes where she earned the nickname, “Diana of the Dunes”. This nagging attraction would haunt her for the rest of her life.

Alice in the dunes

Alice was more than a circus spectacle or a folklore nymph. She was a visionary and preservationist. She loved nature and longed to be as close to it as possible. In the dunes, Alice could observe nature in its original form. Alice was charitable as well. She shared her knowledge with others by educating the public. Alice passed on any information that she could get her hands on to make people realize the beauty of the dunes. She also wanted the public to know how vital the dunes were and how much they offered for learning and research. The dunes provided her a peaceful place to live and study. She found amazement at the reaction people gave as they listened to her speeches. She was able to sustain herself financially by selling driftwood boxes to buy needed commodities. Even though it was a far cry from the lavish lifestyle others enjoyed during the Gilded Age, she made her life simple, and it was good enough for her.

Gary, Indiana excavation, 1906

Solitude and opportunity for scientific research were short-lived as the encroaching industrial age expanded Gary, Indiana which was situated next to the dunes. The dunes became a focal point in a proposed steel plant that would bring growth opportunity for the town. The only problem was that the dunes being so close to the plant placement plans threatened the lands natural habitat. Alice became alarmed at this and joined forces with local activists who opposed the expansion. They argued it was not environmentally conducive to move the plant so close to the dunes and would harm research data. To offer an alternative and a protesting one at that, The Prairie Club decided to garner public help for the establishment of a park. In the 1920s, the Indiana Dunes State Park was established. It seemed Alice and the support of others pulled off the impossible of preservation of the dunes. She did not enjoy it much for long. Because of her odd behavior as a recluse, her troubled relationship with her husband, and public taunting she became known as, “Diana of the Dunes.” She longed for quiet and privacy the dunes had afforded her but no longer found and planned to relocate to the Texas coast before her untimely death in 1925 at the age of 43.

Indiana Tourism

For many years a festival was celebrated in honor of Alice and others who worked hard to preserve the beauty and heritage of the dunes. But because of inadequate revenue and a lack of general public interest, the celebration was discontinued. Today anyone who wishes to visit the dunes may do so. It remains as a reminder of the need to preserve such nature so that many people in the future may enjoy quiet solitude to observe and reflect.

New Year Traditions and The Rose Bowl of 1902

Photo of Rose Bowl, 1902.

On January 1, 1902, the first ever Rose Bowl football game was played. Michigan took the victory over Stanford, 49-0, shutting out the prestigious team of celebrated athletes. It quickly became a time-honored New Years Day tradition, although not officially until some years later.

Tournament of Roses, 1901

A “Tournament of Roses” had been traditionally held on January the first from 1890 to 1901. But when Stanford’s, Walter Rose created the idea of playing for money, excitement also grew for a national coast to coast college football challenge thus, the Rose Bowl was born.

Michigan football team

Michigan was chosen to play the prestigious Stanford team which did not really seem to be a fair match. Michigan was undefeated in their league and Stanford had suffered upsets and a critical loss to California that year. The terrible loss suffered by Stanford caused sports financiers to rethink the value of the monetary earnings and subsequently it was decided to forfeit more games. Instead, traditional games of chariot races were re-instated until 1922 when the Rose Bowl was returned.

Tournament of Roses: Chariot racing
Annual Rose Parade

Today the Rose Bowl, played in its original city, Pasadena, California, is still an honored tradition that fans world wide look forward to watching. It is seen as the culmination of a great college football year and a pre-cursor to the NFL’s Superbowl game. It is not only recognized for football but also for watching the parade and gathering together with friends and family in anticipation of making new memories and traditions.

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