- Historic Sites
101 More Things Every College Graduate Should Know About American History
You Asked for It
December 1987 | Volume 38, Issue 8
This old fourI M. stacker destroyer fired the first American shots of World War II in September 1941. While en route to Iceland, the Greer received a message from a patrolling British plane that it had sighted a German submarine nearby. The Greer made sonar contact with the U-boat and began to trail it. After the British plane had dropped four depth charges in the area and the Greer continued to follow its maneuvers closely, the Uboat fired a torpedo at the destroyer. The Greer dropped a total of nineteen depth charges in an unsuccessful effort to sink the sub. In announcing the engagement, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the Navy to attack German vessels in the North Atlantic on sight. “When you see a rattlesnake poised to strike,” he said, “you do not wait until he has struck before you crush him.” Roosevelt neglected to inform the public, however, that the Greer had been pursuing the submarine when it struck.
Speedy but frail, this patrol torpedo boat became famous because, at the time it was cut in two in the black of an August night in 1943 by the Japanese destroyer Amagiri , it was commanded by Lt. (jg.) John F. Kennedy.
FIVE BLACK “TROUBLE-MAKERS” 73 Denmark Vesey
(ca. 1767–1822) was a slave who purchased his freedom after winning a lottery and organized an elaborate uprising among South Carolina slaves. However, the authorities got wind of the scheme, and Vesey and thirtyfive other blacks were hanged, despite the fact that no actual uprising had taken place.
74 Sojourner Truth
(ca. 1797–1883) was a leading black abolitionist in the decades before the Civil War, unusual in that she campaigned for women’s rights as well as for the ending of slavery. At a women’s rights convention in 1851 she said: “The man over there says women need to be helped into carriages and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages or over puddles, or gives me the best place—and ain’t I a woman? … I have ploughed and planted and gathered into barns, and no man could head me—and ain’t I a woman?”
75 Frederick Douglass
(ca. 1817–95), a Baltimore slave, escaped to New York in 1838. He became an abolitionist, developed an extraordinary ability as a speaker, and published an abolitionist paper, the North Star . During the Civil War he helped raise black regiments and in later life continued to campaign for full equality for blacks and for women.
76 Marcus Garvey
(1887–1940), an ardent black nationalist, founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association. By the mid-1920s the association had nearly a million members and Garvey had created the Black Star steamship line and other all-black businesses. He hoped to establish an independent black nation in Africa the success of which would compel whites to accept blacks as equals. Eventually, however, his companies failed and he was convicted of fraud and deported to his native Jamaica.
77 Malcolm X
(1925–65), born Malcolm Little, was a “hustler” who was converted to the Black Muslim faith while in prison. Having become one of the most radical Muslim critics of white America, a black nationalist who opposed integration of any sort on the ground that white people were devils, he began to moderate his position after extensive travels in the Middle East and Africa. His career was cut short when he was assassinated after he had begun to criticize other Muslim leaders.
WOMEN ON WOMEN
“[Men] denied us the means of knowledge and then reproached us for the want of it.… They doomed the sex to servile or frivolous employment on purpose to degrade their minds, that they themselves might hold unrivalled the power and preemptions they usurped.” Priscilla Mason, 1793.
“There is no foundation in reason or expediency, for the absolute and slavish subjection of the wife to the husband, which forms the foundation of the present legal relations. Were woman, in point of fact, the abject thing which the law, in theory, considers her to be when married, she would not be worthy the companionship of man.” Lucretia Mott, 1849.
“Men call us angels, and boast of the deference they pay to our weakness! They give us their seats in church, in cars and omnibusses, at lectures and concerts, and in many other ways show us great respect where nothing but form is concerned. … but at the same time they are defrauding us of our just rights by crowding us out of every lucrative employment, and subjecting us to virtual slavery.” Amelia Bloomer, 1851.
“The reason why women effect so little & are so shallow is because their aims are low, marriage is the prize for which they strive, if foiled in that they rarely rise above the disappointment. … But we feel this so keenly we now demand an equal education with man to qualify us to become coworkers with him in the great arena of human life.” Sarah Grirnke, “Education of Women,” 1852–57.