The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame

The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame

Peter Dreier

Language: English

Pages: 512

ISBN: 1568586817

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


A hundred years ago, any soapbox orator who called for women’s suffrage, laws protecting the environment, an end to lynching, or a federal minimum wage was considered a utopian dreamer or a dangerous socialist. Now we take these ideas for granted— because the radical ideas of one generation are often the common sense of the next. We all stand on the shoulders of earlier generations of radicals and reformers who challenged the status quo of their day.

Unfortunately, most Americans know little of this progressive history. It isn’t taught in most high schools. You can’t find it on the major television networks. In popular media, the most persistent interpreter of America’s radical past is Glenn Beck, who teaches viewers a wildly inaccurate history of unions, civil rights, and the American Left.

The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century, a colorful and witty history of the most influential progressive leaders of the twentieth century and beyond, is the perfect antidote.

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president, Wurf committed the union not only to organizing African American employees but also to supporting the civil rights struggle. Before Wurf became AFSCME president, the union had separate white and black locals in the South, as did most unions. Wurf changed that practice. He elevated more blacks to leadership within the union and recruited more black organizers and more female organizers. In the late 1940s he was a founder of the New York chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality, a

“learning by doing” ideas, which had influenced public education and teacher training. Columbia University president Nicholas Butler and University of Chicago president Robert Hutchins, among others, sought to redesign their curricula to emphasize traditional learning and focus on “great books.” Dewey countered, “President Hutchins calls for liberal education of a small, elite group and vocational education for the masses. I cannot think of any idea more completely reactionary and more fatal to

convention had already rejected Lewis’s idea. “Is the delegate impugning my motives?” Lewis thundered, according to Time magazine. Lewis then stomped down the aisle to Hutcheson, “tapped him menacingly on the shoulder, [and] shouted something about ‘mighty small potatoes.’” Hutcheson responded with what Time called a “fighting phrase.” Lewis punched his nemesis with his fist. Hutcheson countered with “an ineffective right,” and then Lewis struck Hutcheson hard enough that he sprawled to the

desperate times, his message would appeal to voters. But many voters who may have agreed with Thomas’s views did not want to “waste” their vote on a Socialist who had no chance to win and who might even take enough votes away from the Democratic candidate, Franklin D. Roosevelt, to keep Republican Herbert Hoover in office. Thomas had little regard for FDR, whom he considered a wealthy dilettante and a lackluster governor of New York. He believed FDR’s 1932 platform offered few specifics except

rights to an attorney and against self-incrimination. Warren’s father was a longtime employee of the Southern Pacific Railroad. He lost his job after participating in the failed Pullman strike of 1894, led by Eugene Debs. Warren grew up in Bakersfield, California, graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1912, and then graduated from its law school two years later. He worked for a year as counsel to an oil company, spent several years in private practice, and joined the Alameda

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