Heroes of the American Melting Pot

Posted by Andrew H. Michigan

My piece explores leaders who have fought back against discrimination and created opportunities for future generations of Americans.

America wouldn’t be the country it is today without the countless leaders who fought back against discrimination and created new opportunities by inspiring future generations of Americans. At one point or another, many groups of people in America faced discrimination. It only takes one person to overcome this discrimination to encourage others to follow suit and take action towards overcoming discrimination themselves. The leaders that have done this are the reason America is the cultural melting pot it is today, where everyone has limitless possibilities, regardless of their race. These ideas embody my American Creed. In the forthcoming paragraphs I will highlight leaders who personify these ideas.

Nathaniel Clifton was one of the first African Americans in the National Basketball Association. In addition, prior to signing with the New York Rens in 1945, Clifton put his life on the line protecting the America. In a time when racism could be quite common, Clifton fought to protect the American people, and helped bring them together through a common enemy in war when he joined the army, as well as a common goal on the court. In both war and basketball, people of all backgrounds worked together to accomplish something. Seeing an African American playing a previously “white-only sport” inspired others to follow suit, and gave Americans a chance to think about equality in all aspects of life, as opposed to being limited to sports.

Clifton helped lead his team to the NBA finals despite it being his first season. He may not have intended it, but his actions along with those of other African-Americans during this time showed white Americans that they should be viewed as equal. Following shortly after Jackie Robinson, the first African American in the MLB, Clifton helped set a precedent of equality in sports and life in general. By playing alongside white teammates, Clifton demonstrated to the fans that he was equal in skill to any white players. The common objective of trying to win games helped bring both races together. I would argue that African Americans like Clifton playing in white dominated sports helped mark the beginnings of the civil rights movement.

Dalip Singh Saund was elected as a United States House of Representatives member for California’s 29th district in 1957. Born in India as a Sikh, Saund was the first Asian American and first person of non-Abrahamic faith to be elected to a position in the House. As a firm believer in creating equal rights for all people of the world, he wrote a book in an attempt to convince the British to stop occupying India. He addressed questions and explained how he viewed the Indian Caste system as the equivalent to American racism.

Saund opened the door for other Asian Americans to get involved in American politics. He faced opposition from others in the form of racism, but was able to overcome and serve three terms in his position. Saund’s efforts to end racism in India helped him achieve his victory in getting elected. As a University of California, Berkeley graduate, and civil rights activist, Saund helped initiate the trend of Asian Americans becoming involved in American politics, which continues to this day..

Mary Edwards Walker earned a medical degree at Syracuse university in 1885. When the civil war broke out, she volunteered and became a Union surgeon. In 1864 Walker worked as a spy for the Union, and while tending to a soldier in Confederate Virginia, she was taken as a prisoner of war. In 1865 Walker became the first and only woman to receive the Medal of Honor for her efforts in the battle of Bull Run and time spent as a prisoner of war.

Walker became a surgeon in a time when the profession was almost exclusively occupied by males. She graduated with honors and was the only woman in her class at medical school. Walker was an activist in many different aspects. She was an abolitionist and suffragette. She also broke traditional “gender norms’ by donning men's clothing, and often a top hat, as opposed to the conventional clothes of a woman in this time period. She often faced jail time because of her commitment to doing so. Walker lobbied for a constitutional amendment to grant women the right to vote as early as 1871, predating the 19th amendment by close to half a century. Walker is one of the key leaders responsible for normalizing the idea of women in the medical field, and higher education as well. Her grit and determination that helped her recieve the Medal of Honor also played a role in the eventual acceptance of woman in the military decades later.

Hearing the stories of Clifton, Saund, and Walker made me think about other lesser known leaders in America. These people overcame discrimination and prospered, paving the way for future Americans to do the same. All of these leaders, regardless of their level of fame, are part of the reason America is the vast landscape of opportunity that it is today, for all races. These leaders helped instill the ideas of American Creed that I, as well as many of my fellow Americans, hold dear to our hearts.

Published on Aug 7, 2018
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