Welcome to America Comes Alive!, a site I created to share little-known stories of America’s past. These stories are about Americans—people just like you—who have made a difference and changed the course of history. Look around the site and find what inspires you.

James Reese Europe: Bandleader Who Popularized Jazz and Ragtime

James Reese Europe (1880-1919) was a gifted musician who James Reese Europeachieved numerous firsts in bringing African-American musicians and music into the mainstream.  As a conductor and composer, he is credited with bringing ragtime and jazz to European audiences. He enlisted in what was to become the 369th Regiment (Harlem Hellfighters) during World War I and was bandleader and also became an officer in charge one of the machine gun squads, making him the first African-American officer to command troops during wartime.

James Reese Europe’s Early Years

Europe was born in Mobile, Alabama. His father was a minster and an Internal Revenue Service employee who moved his family to Washington, D.C. in 1889 to accept a job with the Post Office.  Both parents and some of Europe’s siblings were musically talented, as was James Reese Europe, and Europe was admitted to a prestigious school for blacks in D.C.  There he studied violin, piano, and composition. Continue reading

Matthew Henson
Matthew Henson (1866-1955) was hired by explorer Robert Peary (1856-1920) to be his valet; Peary saw in the young man the potential to be an asset on future expeditions. Henson proved his worth as Peary’s most skilled and reliable member of many expeditions, including numerous attempts to… Continue reading »

Dorothy Dandridge
Dorothy Dandridge (1922-1965) was a successful actress and singer. She started performing as a child in local variety shows, and then eventually made a career for herself in films. Her portrayal of the lead role in Carmen Jones brought her positive acclaim, including the honor of being … Continue reading »

Black America
Black America was the brainchild of Nate Salsbury (1846-1902), the man who was also behind the very successful, long-running Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. In 1894 Salsbury found Brooklyn’s Ambrose Park free for a time, since the Wild West Show had just decamped to a new city. Salsbury… Continue reading »

Major Taylor
Marshall “Major” Taylor (1878-1932) was a champion cyclist who set numerous world records and was the first African-American cyclist to become an international sports star. At the time Taylor raced, cycling was a relatively young sport, but its popularity grew quickly. Endurance races, long distance races, and sprints… Continue reading »

Marie Van Brittan Brown
Marie Van Brittan Brown and her husband, Albert, created an early closed-circuit television system to be used for home monitoring.  That security system was the forerunner of all advanced home security technology in use today.  How Marie Van Brittan Brown Became an Inventor Marie Van Brittan (1922-1999)… Continue reading »

Gordon Parks
Gordon Parks, best-remembered as a gifted photojournalist, was also an author, composer and film director, achieving remarkable success in each field. His journalistic platform in Life magazine permitted him to affect the world he covered—from gang life in Harlem to poverty in Brazil. Parks’ coverage of the Civil Rights… Continue reading »

Ebony Fashion Fair
Eunice Johnson (1916-2010) and her husband, John H. Johnson (1918-2005) created a publishing empire that included the highly successful Ebony and Jet magazines. In 1958 when a friend asked her for help putting together a charity… Continue reading »

Harlem Hellfighters
During World War I the 369th Infantry from Harlem, an all-black military unit, acquired the name “Harlem Hellfighters.”  They were not only fierce, but they showed great stamina, proving their value in measurable ways: They served in continuous combat for longer than any other American unit; they… Continue reading »

Ethel Payne
Ethel Payne made a name for herself as a tireless black journalist who was willing to ask tough questions about segregation and civil rights. She did not become a journalist until she was in her thirties. She was hired by The Chicago Defender, a well-known and important… Continue reading »

Morrie Turner
Morris “Morrie” Turner grew up dreaming of being a cartoonist, yet he knew the profession was dominated by white men. Despite that, Turner went on to create and publish the first integrated comic strip.  He hoped that creating a strip featuring children of various ethnic backgrounds might… Continue reading »

Weekly Reader
Several generations of Americans remember Weekly Reader as a source of news in the classroom. The goal of the four- to eight-page weekly paper, which was distributed via the classroom, was to bring awareness to children of what was happening in the world, so that one day they… Continue reading »

Harlem Hellfighter
The Harlem Hellfighters were a heroic bunch from the beginning, but this World War I infantry regiment had one man who stood out from all the rest: Private Henry Lincoln Johnson (1897-1929), a former railroad porter.  Johnson and fellow soldier Robert Needham were on night sentry duty… Continue reading »

Lincoln's patent
To read this patent application today is to be transported to a time before the name, Abraham Lincoln, carried such import—before he was the President who led our country through a war that literally could have torn the country in two. The application begins: “Be it known that… Continue reading »

portrait Taft 1
President William Howard Taft (1857-1930), who served as president from 1909-1913, was a big man.  At about 6 feet tall, his weight fluctuated from 255 to over 350 pounds, and he was constantly fighting to keep the pounds off. Taft’s career of choice was in the judiciary,… Continue reading »

Jay-Silverheels
Jay Silverheels (1912-1980) is best-remembered for his role as Tonto in The Lone Ranger, an ABC television program that ran for 221 episodes (1949-1957). Silverheels was a full-blooded Mohawk Indian born on the Six Nations Indian Reservation in Ontario, Canada. His birth name was Harold Smith, and he was… Continue reading »

Kilroy was here
The words, “Kilroy was here,” alongside a drawing of a long-nosed, bald fellow peering over a fence still pop up occasionally on walls and buildings today.  But the original legend of Kilroy dates to World War II and a man named James J. Kilroy (1902-1962), who… Continue reading »

cigar store Indian
In the 19th century many people could not read, so store owners placed carvings of various symbols in front of their shops so passersby knew what was sold inside. A carving of a wooden Indian indicated a tobacco store; a red, white and blue striped pole… Continue reading »

Mary Lincoln
Mary Lincoln’s shopping habits and most other aspects of her life made news once Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) won the presidential election of 1860. Though Lincoln would not take office until March of 1861, Mary Todd Lincoln (1818-1882) found herself under constant scrutiny for where she went, what she… Continue reading »

cute baby in diaper
Inventions are the ultimate result of successful problem-solving. But how on earth did people come up with the first ideas for luxuries (and now necessities) as disposable diapers, the dishwasher, the cell phone, and blue jeans? Recently I have been asked to speak on this topic to… Continue reading »

Hispanic leader
America Comes Alive has profiled several Latino leaders during the past few weeks as part of Hispanic Heritage Month. Today I would like to point out a few of the impressive people we’ve highlighted: Adelina Otero-Warren (1881-1965) was active in the suffrage movement in New Mexico. She became… Continue reading »

Rosenwald Schools
The Rosenwald Schools  were built in the early 20th century as a solution to the scarcity of schools for African-Americans in the rural South at that time.  The school-building program was the idea of educator Booker T. Washington (1856-1915) who approached Julius Rosenwald, (1862-1932), the president of… Continue reading »

Ellen Ochoa
Ellen Ochoa (1958-   ) is a veteran astronaut who was chosen for four space flights and has almost one thousand flight hours to her credit.  She was the first Latina to be chosen as an astronaut, and she is now director… Continue reading »

Carlos Finlay
The cause of yellow fever was identified by Dr. Carlos Finlay (1833-1915), a Cuban physician who was instrumental in reducing the incidence of yellow fever in tropical climates throughout the world. In the United States, this was important in the southern states where the weather was often… Continue reading »

Pedro-Guerrero
Art school dropout who became Frank Lloyd Wright’s exclusive photographer Pedro Guerrero was born in Casa Grande, Arizona on September 5, 1917. His family had been in Arizona for several generations before the territory achieved statehood. His great-grandfather had settled in a little town known as Florence in… Continue reading »

oterowarren_350
One of first female government officials in New Mexico First New Mexican woman and the first Latina to run for national office Suffragist Born into a well-to-do family that traced its heritage to eleventh-century Spain, Adelina “Nina” Maria Isabel Emilia Otero was born in 1881 in Las Lunas, New Mexico. Otero-Warren was… Continue reading »

MARY
We often read stories of families traveling west by wagon train. However, recently I was introduced to a reminiscence of a woman’s childhood journey to California from Ohio via the Isthmus of Panama.  The family opted for the route that took the least time, traveling from Ohio to… Continue reading »

George Washington
George Washington’s teeth were bad, and he lost many of them while still young. This fact about our first president is generally well-known as much has been written about his dentures. The story of his teeth reveals a great deal about the state of dentistry during his lifetime,… Continue reading »



Part of the inspiration for this site comes from a remark made by Nobel Peace Prize winner Jane Addams (1860-1935):

"People do not want to hear about simple things. They want to hear about great things—simply told."

This Day in History

On March 6, 1899 Frederick Bayer & Co. was granted a patent for Aspirin, the brand name for acetylsalicylic acid, now the most common drug found in household medicine cabinets. Bayer lost the patent on Aspirin during World War I. Eventually the company name and trademarks for the U.S. and Canada were purchased by Sterling Products (later Sterling Winthrop). By 1994 Bayer was an independent company again, and bought back the patent on aspirin and other OTC drugs.

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