Famous people







Three presidents:

Abraham Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States (from 1861 to 1865), and is one of the most famous Americans ever. He was born on February 12, 1809, in Kentucky, and died April 15, 1865, in Washington, D.C. As a child, his family moved from Kentucky to Indiana, and then to Illinois in 1830. Having just reached the age of 21, he was about to begin life on his own. Six feet four inches tall (which was especially tall then!), he was lanky but muscular and powerful. Both of his parents were almost completely illiterate, and he received little formal education as a child. He once said that, as a boy, he had gone to school "by littles" — a little now and a little then — and his entire schooling amounted to no more than one year's attendance. His neighbors later remembered how he used to trudge for miles to borrow a book. In Illinois, he settled in New Salem, a village of about 25 families near Springfield. For the rest of his life, the Springfield area of Illinois would be considered home. In 1836, he became a lawyer, having educated himself! In 1842, Abe married Mary, a very smart and energetic woman, who would be his wife for the rest of his life.

Lincoln began his career in politics in 1834, when he was elected to the Illinois congress. As an Illinois congressman, Lincoln already began speaking out against slavery. However, he also worried that speaking out too strongly against it would make the problem worse. He had these mixed feelings throughout his life. In 1847, Lincoln was elected to the U.S. Congress. But when his term was over in 1849, he left politics. It seemed like he would never be a politician again.

In 1856, though, Lincoln changed his political party to Republican, which had just been created. Lincoln ran for Congress again, and this time had to battle a man named Stephen Douglas for the spot. Both men held similar views, but Douglas was not as opposed to slavery as Lincoln. They had a number of famous debates around the state of Illinois, where Lincoln made some famous speeches. Lincoln actually lost the election, but the debates helped make him famous enough to run for president in 1860. He won.

Right after he was elected president, southern states started seceding. All in all, eleven states seceded. The Civil War began. In 1864, Lincoln made another future Illinois president, Ulysses S. Grant, commander of the entire Union Army.

A big cause of the Civil War was slavery. The South felt they needed black women and men to be slaves to harvest the fields of crops. But many people in the North thought it was wrong and should be stopped — that no one should live in slavery. Even after the War started, however, Lincoln was reluctant to officially declare slavery against the law. Finally, in 1863, he gave his "Emancipation Proclamation", which said that all slaves were now free. After the War, this became official law as the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
Lincoln at a war camp, 1862.
The Civil War was a horrible and bloody war. By 1865, the South had lost. However, as well know, problems for black people continued a long time after they were freed. The South, too, was in terrible shape after the War, and a lot of people on both sides had a lot of anger for many years after. In fact, on April 14, 1865, just 5 days after the War ended, a man named John Wilkes Booth, who was a supporter of the South, shot Lincoln as he sat in a theatre in Washington, DC — Lincoln was assassinated. In his life, Lincoln did many courageous and honorable things, and managed to keep the United States together as one country. While he had mixed feelings about ending slavery, he still managed to do it at a time when it was very hard to do so. And he had many black friends and treated them as equals at a time when it was unpopular for whites to do so. He was and remains one of the most popular presidents and American people ever. You can visit his home and many other sites right here in Illinois, "the Land of Lincoln".



Ulysses S. Grant

Ulysses S. Grant was the 18th president of the United States (from 1869 to 1877). He was born on April 27, 1822, in Ohio, and died July 23, 1885, in New York. He moved around a lot during his life, but he spent as much time in Illinois as anywhere, so we can say that Illinois was his home.

Grant's real name was "Hiram Ulysses", but a mistake was made when he went to West Point Military Academy in New York in 1839 (West Point is like a college for soldiers). There, someone made a mistake and put his name down as "Ulysses S. Grant", and since he didn't like his real name much, he kept it. After that, he was sometimes called "U. S. Grant", or "Uncle Sam Grant". After he graduated from West Point, he joined the army and was put in St. Louis. There he fell in love and got married. From 1846-1848 he fought in the U.S.'s war with Mexico. Everyone thought he did a good job, but later he was criticized for other military work and he quit the army in 1854. He lived in Missouri and Saint Louis, and then moved to Galena, Illinois, in 1859, where his father and brothers owned a business.

In 1861, the Civil War began, and Grant signed back up in the Union Army. A congressman from Galena made him a general even before the war started. On February 16, 1862, he won the first major Union victory of the war. Like other Union generals, however, he lost a great deal of men; they died either in battle or because of poor conditions in the camps they lived in. He was criticized for these losses, but by March 1864 Grant was made commander of all the Union armies. On April 9, 1865, the SouthÕs General Robert E. Lee surrendered at Appomattox Court House, marking the end of the Civil War.

After the War, Grant barely won the 1868 presidential election, but stayed in office eight years after he was reelected in 1872. Black people could now vote, and Grant probably won partly because they supported him so much as the man that helped win the war and stop slavery. Grant named Ely S. Parker, a Seneca Indian who had served with him as a staff officer in the army, commissioner of Indian affairs, which was very unusual at the time.



Ronald Reagan

Ronald Reagan was the 40th president of the United States (from 1981 to 1989). He was born on Feb. 6, 1911, in Tampico, Illinois, and grew up in Dixon, Illinois (these towns are in northern Illinois). He went to Eureka College in Eureka, Illinois, and was a football player and actor there. He was popular, but was only a so-so student. He was elected class president his senior year — a sign of things to come! After college, he went to Iowa and became popular throughout the state for his broadcasts of Chicago Cubs baseball games, just like Harry Caray did many years later — only because the station could not afford to send him to Wrigley Field in Chicago, Reagan was forced to make the game up based on information sent to him! After this, he went to California and became an actor — in fact, he is the only movie actor to ever become president. He was in many movies, including one in which the other star was a chimpanzee!
When Reagan was growing up, he was a liberal, but he gradually became very conservative, and switched parties from Democrat to Republican in 1962. He became president in 1980 by easily defeating Jimmy Carter (the 39th president). His presidency started out on a shocking note when, on March 30, 1981, he was shot by John Hinckley, Jr. He was OK, but another politician, James Brady, was permanently injured. Reagan stayed a supporter of guns in America, while James Brady changed his conservative position to speak out against guns. Reagan remained a popular president throughout the 1980s, even though he created the largest national debt in the history of our country by spending lots of money on the military and cutting taxes a great deal. He also tried to do away with social programs that helped poorer people. But he was a friendly man that was well-liked by a number of Americans.



Mayor Richard M. Daley, and his dad, Richard J. Daley

Richard J. Daley, the father of our current mayor Richard M. Daley, was the mayor of Chicago from 1955 until he died in 1976 (22 years is a long time for one person to be mayor — longer than any other Chicago mayor!). He was born on May 15, 1902, in Chicago. Daley was famous because he had great control over one of America's biggest cities for a long time. In 1968 many people in Chicago protested against the Vietnam War during the Democratic presidential convention. Daley ordered violent police action to stop the protest. The violence by police led to several days of rioting.


Richard M. Daley is the mayor of Chicago. He was born in 1942 in Chicago. He followed in his dad's footsteps and became mayor in 1989. He has been mayor ever since, reelected three times in the 1990s. He is generally a popular mayor, but some worry that he has too much control over the city government just like his father did. In a democracy, no one person should have too much control. On the other hand, "Richie Daley" has helped do a lot of good things for the city, like making more green areas (like parks) for the city and reducing some racial tensions.



Carol Mosely-Braun

Born in 1947 in Chicago, Carol Mosely-Braun remembers going to public schools in Chicago and growing up in poverty. But she still graduated from the University of Illinois in 1969 and received a law degree from the University of Chicago (a few blocks from here!) three years later. After serving in the Illinois Congress from 1978 to 1987, she was elected to the US Senate, where she was the only African-American senator from 1992 to 1998. She was also the first woman from Illinois to be elected to be a Senator. She was made US Ambassador to New Zealand and Samoa in December 1999.



Governor George Ryan

George Ryan, born in February 1934, was a lifelong resident of Kankakee and a pharmacist before getting into politics. He served with the US Army in the Korean War. He has triplet daughters. He was elected to the Illinois House of Representatives in 1972 and reelected four times. He has been governor of Illinois since 1999.

Probably the most famous act of Ryan's is declaring a stop of the death penalty in Illinois. This means that there won't be any executions until he decides either to stop the death penalty altogether, or allow it to start again. Gov. Ryan said, "Until I can be sure, with moral certainty, that no innocent man or woman is facing a lethal injection, no one will meet that fate." He did this in January of 2000, after 13 people sentenced to death row were found to have been wrongfully convicted. Many people think that there should be no death penalty, for many reasons. One is that poor people and people of color tend to be discriminated against and get the death penalty more often than others.



Harold Washington

Harold Washington was born April 15, 1922, in Chicago. He graduated from Roosevelt University in 1949, earned a law degree from Northwestern University in 1952, and then became a lawyer in Chicago. He entered politics by succeeding his father, a part-time Methodist minister, as Democratic precinct captain. While he was a US Representative in 1983, he was persuaded by black leaders in Chicago to run for mayor. Sadly, he died in 1987 after just being elected to serve a second term. Washington was a very popular mayor and has given hope to many black leaders in Chicago as they gradually gain more power in politics.


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Intellectuals & artists

Gwendolyn Brooks

Gwendolyn Brooks was a famous American poet. She was born in 1917 in Kansas and, sadly, just died last December in 2000. She lived in Chicago almost her whole life and graduated from Wilson Junior College in 1936. Some of her early poems were published in the Chicago Defender, a famous black newspaper that still exists today.

She has been the Poet Laureate of Illinois since 1968. This means that she was regarded as the best poet in Illinois for 22 years (until she died). She was the first African-American poet to win the Pulitzer Prize (in 1949) which is a very important prize in literature in America.

One of Brooks' books of poems is titled A Street in Bronzeville. Bronzeville is an area that is northwest of here, that is famous for being a thriving black area, like Harlem in New York City. Brooks was a South-Sider like you! This photograph shows Gwendolyn Brooks at 32 years old.



Enrico Fermi

Enrico Fermi was born in Rome, Italy in 1901, where he became a famous scientist. When World War II was just about to start, Fermi came to the United States. In 1938, he was invited to Sweden to accept the Nobel Prize, and instead of returning to Italy, he and his family headed to the US after he accepted the award. In 1942, right here at the University of Chicago, Fermi led a team of scientists in creating the first ever nuclear chain reaction. (This is the effect that make nuclear power and atomic bombs work .) They created the reaction under the football field at the University — he could have blown the whole place up! Today, we know of some of the horrible effects of nuclear energy — both in the huge explosions it can make and the radioactivity it causes. However, it has also been important for science to try to learn ways of safely making nuclear energy work, because it is so powerful. In one way, the "nuclear age" started right here in your own backyard!



Ernest Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway is one of the most famous writers of the twentieth century. He was born in 1899 in Oak Park (a suburb of Chicago). He began writing in high school. When he graduated, in 1917, he left Illinois to travel and become a journalist. Soon after, he entered World War I as an ambulance driver for the American Red Cross. He was injured and came back home to recuperate in Chicago. After awhile, he again left to travel and be a journalist. In 1924, he published his first book of stories.
In 1926, he published his first novel, The Sun Also Rises. Probably his most famous book, A Farewell to Arms, was published in 1929. He won the Nobel Prize in 1954. Hemingway was an adventurer at heart, and traveled all over the world. He lived in Cuba for some time, and was a journalist in Europe for World War II.



Carl Sandburg

Carl Sandburg was from Galesburg, Illinois, where he was born in 1878. He was a famous poet who won two Pulitzer Prizes — one for his poetry, and another for a huge biography he wrote of Abraham Lincoln. Sandburg was known for his down-home, Midwestern writing style. Sandburg worked many different jobs, starting at age 11 and working his way through college. Among other things, he was a milk truck driver, a bricklayer, and a harvester in the Kansas wheat fields. He also served in the Army during the Spanish-American War in 1898. He was a "social democrat", somebody who is liberal and believes in both democracy for all and socialism.

You may have seen or heard Sandburg's most famous poem— one of the most famous American poems ever. It is called "Chicago", and starts like this:

Hog Butcher for the World,
Tool maker, Stacker of Wheat,
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler;
Stormy, husky, brawling,
City of the Big Shoulders...



Richard Wright

Richard Wright was an important black writer whose novels were some of the earliest to protest the treatment of black persons by whites. He was born in 1908 near Natchez, Mississippi, the grandson of former slaves. As a young man, he moved to Chicago, where he worked in the post office, among other places. He lived here about 10 years. His novel Native Son, published in 1940, was about a black man in Chicago. In 1947, Wright moved to France because he felt he could no longer take the racism in the US He died there in 1960.


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Entertainers & athletes

Miles Davis

Miles Davis is one of the most important jazz musicians ever. He was born in 1926 in Alton, Illinois, which is on the Mississippi River near St. Louis, and grew up in East St. Louis. He began playing the trumpet at age 13, when he received one as a birthday gift. By the age of 16, Davis was playing professionally. After he graduated from high school, he enrolled in Juilliard, the most famous music school, in New York. He was well-known throughout his life for his cutting edge music and changing the shape of jazz. He died in 1991.



Walt Disney

Walt Disney was born in Chicago in 1901. His family moved around for awhile and then moved back to Chicago when he was 15. In high school, he made cartoons, drawings, and photographs, some for the school newspaper. In 1919, during World War I, he was a truck driver for the American Red Cross in Europe. When he got back, he started a studio and began making cartoons. Eventually, he moved out of the Midwest to Los Angeles, where the movies are made. He created Mickey Mouse in 1928 with the short film Steamboat Willie. It was a smash — people loved it. He created other characters to join Mickey — Minnie, Donald Duck, Goofy, and so on. He created Disneyland in 1955 and Walt Disney World in 1971. His cartoons have had a huge impact not only on cartoons, but our culture today.



Michael Jordan

You may have heard of this fella. Many people think he is the best basketball player of all time. He was born in Brooklyn, NY, but grew up in North Carolina. There he was cut from his high school team because he wasn't good enough during his sophomore year! However, he went on to star there and at the University of North Carolina. He was drafted by the Chicago Bulls in 1984, and that is where he became a real star. He was the MVP five times and the Bulls won six championships in the 1990s. He has been known as the most famous person in the world during the 1990s.



Jackie Joyner-Kersee

Jackie Joyner-Kersee is believed by many to be the best female athlete in history. She was born in 1962 in East St. Louis, Illinois. When she was in high school, she played volleyball, basketball, and track, and set the Illinois record in long-jump. She won gold medals in the 1992 and 1988 Olympics, and set the world record in the heptathlon (a contest in which women take part in seven events over two days — including sprinting, high jump, long jump, shot put, and javelin throw).



Bill Murray

Bill Murray is one of the most well-liked and funny actors today. He was born in 1950 in Wilmette, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago He grew up watching Cubs baseball and caddying (helping golfers with their bags for money) at a local golf course. In 1980, he and his brother did a film Caddyshack, which was based on their experiences caddying. He and his brother broke into show business together at Second City, a very famous comedy group in Chicago, and Murray went on to do "Saturday Night Live". He starred in Ghostbusters in 1984, the most successful comedy movie of all time.



Richard Pryor

Many consider Richard Pryor to have had more influence on today's comedians than anyone else. He was born in 1940 in Peoria, Illinois, and raised there by his grandmother. He had a hard family life as a child, and would use humor as a way of dealing with it. He was a disruptive student and dropped out of school at 14. This made things very tough for him, though he did work in theatre for two years, and he decided next to enter the Army. After he left the Army in 1963, he went back home and started performing in comedy clubs. People liked him, so he moved on to New York. Eventually he appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show" (which was like "The Tonight Show") and started making records and movies and appearing around the country. In 1986 Pryor was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a disease which makes a person lose control of his muscles. Since then, he has been an inspiring example of someone living with a crippling disease.



Sammy Sosa

Sammy Sosa is one of the most powerful home-run hitters in baseball today. He was born in 1968 in the Dominican Republic. As a child, Sosa worked at a number of jobs, including shining shoes, to help support his family when his dad died. He would use a mitt made from an old milk carton because they did not have enough money for a real one. He came to the US in 1985 to play major league baseball, and came to the White Sox in 1989. In 1992, he was traded across town to the Chicago Cubs, where he became an All-Star. In 1998, he and Mark McGwire passed the old record of 61 home runs set by Roger Maris from 1961. "Slammin' Sammy" won the Most Valuable Player award that year. In 1999, he became the first player ever to hit more than 60 home runs in two seasons.



Frank Thomas

Frank Thomas is one of the best hitters in baseball today. He was born in 1968 in Georgia, and was picked to play for the Chicago White Sox in 1989. Since then, he has been the Most Valuable Player of the American League twice.



Muddy Waters

Muddy Waters is one of the most famous blues musicians ever. He was born in 1915 in Mississippi, and his original name was McKinley Morganfield! "Muddy Waters" was a nickname given to him as a child. He taught himself to play harmonica as a child, and started playing guitar at age 17. In 1943, he moved to Chicago, where he began playing on the south and west sides. He helped transform blues music with a more electric style — playing an electric guitar, which was much less common at the time. He recorded on the Chess record label, which is still located on south Michigan Avenue. He helped Chess become the most famous blues record company, and it also was the place where Chuck Berry recorded most of his famous songs. Muddy died here in 1983.



Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey has a talk show called "Oprah" that is made in Chicago She was born in 1954 in Mississippi, and lived most of her childhood in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and Nashville, Tennessee. When she was 19 she became a newswoman for a local TV station in Nashville. She moved on to Baltimore where she did more TV news, before coming to Chicago in 1984. In 1984 "The Oprah Winfrey Show" was created, and since then it has been the most successful talk show ever and won many awards. Winfrey has also been an actor, starring in The Color Purple among other films.

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Other leaders and activists

Jane Addams

Jane Addams was born in 1860 in Cedarville, a small town in northern Illinois. In 1881 she received her college diploma, and started traveling in search of a career. She had some feeling that she wanted to help people, but wasn't sure how. On a trip to London, she visited a settlement house, a place in large cities that helped people who lived near them. Addams came back and started her own settlement house in Chicago, called "Hull House", in 1889. Eventually Hull House included 13 buildings and a playground, as well as a camp near Lake Geneva, Wisconsin. Many well-known social workers (people who devote their lives to helping people with their needs) came to live at Hull House. Hull house had a day nursery, a gymnasium, a community kitchen, and a boarding club for working girls. It also offered college courses in various subjects, trained people in art, music, and crafts such as bookbinding, and sponsored one of the earliest little-theatre groups, the Hull House Players. As well as making available services and opportunities for the mostly immigrant population of the neighborhood, Hull House afforded an opportunity for young social workers to learn how to do their job. Hull House has served as a model for social work since it was founded. Addams also did a lot of other important activist work, for immigrants, the poor, and women. She helped create the American Civil Liberties Union and won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1931. She died in Chicago in 1935.



Black Hawk

Black Hawk was a famous American Indian chief who lived from 1767 until 1838. He was angered greatly by European settlers who continually took land away from the Indians, usually by force or trickery. Some other Indian leaders believed that compromising with the whites was the best idea, but not Black Hawk. He refused to allow his tribes, the Sauk and Fox, to move west. A war was started with the US government, and the Illinois militia fought the Indians. This was the Black Hawk War. Black Hawk and his people lost, and were continued to be forced further and further west. Eventually, the US government took control of all that is America today and forced all Indians onto reservations, where they continue to be mistreated even today.



Jesse Jackson

Jesse Jackson was born in 1941 in South Carolina. As a college student, he attended the University of Illinois for awhile, and later went to the Chicago Theological Seminary (which is just a couple blocks north of Fiske School!) He has lived in Chicago since he was 25. Jackson has been an important person in the black civil rights movement. In 1965, he marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., in Selma, Alabama. In 1971, he founded Operation PUSH (which stands for "People United to Save Humanity"). This organization is based right here in Hyde Park, and is well-known across the country for supporting civil rights and black issues. His support helped elect Harold Washington in 1983. Jackson also ran for president of the United States twice, in 1983 and 1987. While he didn't win, he showed that black Americans can be serious contenders for president, and that someday soon a black woman or man will be president.



Mother Jones

Mother Jones was born in Ireland in 1830. Her real name was "Mary Harris Jones". Her family left for Toronto, Canada, where she grew up. At seventeen, she left home and ended up in Chicago, working as a dressmaker. In 1871, she lost everything she had in the Great Chicago Fire. Just four years earlier, her husband and all four of her children died of yellow fever. After all of this tragedy, Jones decided that it was time that she found a new path to follow. This was labor organizing: working to help labor unions. The first meetings of the Knights of Labor were held "in an old, tumbled down, fire scorched building," as she said years later. Her interest in unions probably had to do with her upbringing — her family had to flee Ireland because they were freedom-fighters — and the unfairness and differences she saw between the rich and the poor in Chicago
She began to travel all around the country helping workers with strikes and other labor issues. When asked where she lived, she replied: "Well, wherever there is a fight." She lived with the workers wherever she went, often sleeping in tents with them. They became her family, and they started calling her "Mother" — "Mother Jones". She did other activist work, too, such as helping Mexicans who were in danger of being deported from the US It is said that President Theodore Roosevelt once called her "the most dangerous woman in America". Mother Jones lived to be 100 years old! Even in her nineties, she was leading protests and strikes. She lived to see the Civil War, the Spanish-American War and World War I; the new railroads and automobiles; and the new technology of movies, telephones, and electric lights. Today she is buried in the Union Miners Cemetery at Mount Olive, Illinois, in the coalfields of southern Illinois.



Lucy Parsons and Albert Parsons

Lucy Parsons fought for almost 70 years for the rights of poor people and workers. She was born in Texas around 1853, probably to slaves, and was part African-American, Native American, and Mexican. Around 1870, she married Albert Parsons, a white man. The marriage probably was not even legal at the time, due to racist laws that would not allow whites and blacks to marry. In 1873, they moved to Chicago to escape the problems they had — both due to their marriage, and to their activism. Albert started working for the newspaper the Chicago Times. In 1877, a national strike was called on the railroads, meaning people across the country working for the same railroad company would go on strike. In Chicago, Albert addressed crowds of up to 25,000 people to promote peaceful ways of negotiating. This helped to bring him into the forefront of the anarchist movement in Chicago This caused him to be fired from his job. Lucy opened a dress shop to support their family and at the same time did activist work for unions. She also began to write for many radical publications. She was even considered more "dangerous" than her husband because she was so outspoken in her beliefs on the rights of the poor. Lucy was also threatening as a militant and radical woman who refused to assume the role of a homemaker.





Lucy's husband, Albert.

On May 1, 1886, 40,000 workers in Chicago went on strike for the 8 hour working day (at the time they were forced to work many more hours, leaving little time for their families). This is where May Day comes from, which is a celebration of workers' rights. Two days later, the Haymarket Bombing happened. Although he was not even at Haymarket Square that day, Albert was one of the eight men accused of the bombing. This was a way for the police to get rid of someone who they considered a troublemaker. Lucy wasn't charged because the chances of a woman being convicted of murder and receiving the death penalty were too slim, and if a woman were to stand trial with the men it would decrease the chance of the men receiving such a harsh conviction. Albert was condemned to die, and Lucy went on a campaign to have him set free. But he was executed in 1887, and she and their children were not even allowed to see it happen. After the execution, Lucy lived in poverty. However, she continued to organize and write for papers, more strongly than ever. Lucy Parsons was active in the fight against oppression of the poor until her death. She spoke to large crowds right up until her death at age 89 in her Chicago



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