December 2: Harry Burleigh, the composer, musician, and singer who contributed significantly not only to American music, but to Dvorak’s “From the New World.”
Gilbert Stuart, who painted some of America’s first and most memorable portraits, and whose images continue to influence how we remember the Revolutionary era.
December 4: Cornell Woolrich, the crime and suspense novelist known as the father of noir, not only for his books but for the many influential films that came from them.
December 5: A tie between two titanic 20th century cultural icons and influences, Walt Disney and Little Richard.
December 6: Ira Gershwin, who with his brother and partner George contributed some of America’s most memorable and enduring songs and musicals.
December 7: Willa Cather, for her Nebraska trilogy to be sure, but for a career’s worth of equally unique, impressive, and enduring American stories.
December 8: A tie between two unique, witty, and very talented 20th century cultural figures, James Thurber and Sammy Davis, Jr.
December 9: A tie between Emmett Kelly, perhaps America’s most famous clown and one of the only ones to wed that art to social commentary; and John Cassavetes, one of the godfathers of independent cinema and a truly original American artist.
December 10: Emily Dickinson!
December 11: George Mason!
December 12: William Lloyd Garrison, not only for his courageous abolitionism, but for his pioneering journalism and profoundly progressive vision of America and the world.
December 13: Ella Baker, whose mentoring and leadership inspired virtually every Civil Rights activist, and helped change the course of American and world history.
December 14: Margaret Chase Smith, one of the 20th century’s most prominent and influential political figures and voices, and the author of one of America’s most brave and important speeches.
December 15: Maxwell Anderson, for his important and influential plays, his interestingly varied collection of screenplays, and his equally talented AmericanStudier of a son.
December 16: A tie between two very different but equally pioneering and impressive 20th century icons, Margaret Mead and Morris Dees.
December 17: A tie between two unique, talented, and influential 20th century cultural and artistic figures, Arthur Fiedler and Erskine Caldwell.
December 18: Ossie Davis, for his lifetime of charistmatic performances, his career of impassioned activism, and his inspiring marriage.
December 19: Carter Woodson!
December 20: Branch Rickey, the Brooklyn Dodgers owner whose bold and progressive vision helped make Jackie Robinson the inspiring American figure and story he became.
December 21: Hermann Muller, the Nobel Prize-winning geneticist whose work both greatly changed modern science and medicine and publicly pushed back against some of the 20th century’s most odious political theories and leaders.
December 22: Arthur Mitchell, the first African American Democratic Congressman and a vocal and impassioned activist against Jim Crow segregation, lynching, and the many associated horrors of the post-bellum South in which he had grown up.
December 23: Madame C.J. Walker, the entrepreneur and activist who both embodies and helps complicate and enrich some of our most fundamental national ideals and narratives (the American Dream, self-made men and women, and more).
December 24: Ava Helen Pauling, a leading advocate for peace studies and human rights and the wife and partner of Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling (whom Ava introduced to the field of peace studies, for which he won the 1962 Nobel Peace Prize).
December 26: Jean Toomer, the Harlem Renaissance novelist and poet whose philosophical and spiritual contributions to American life were at least as complex and inspiring as his literary ones.
December 27: Cyrus Eaton, the hugely successful industrialist who both embodied mid-20th century capitalism and yet went on to advocate for peaceful alternatives to the Cold War and to co-found the Pugwash Conferences, conversations toward such international relationships that would win the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize and continue to this day.
December 28: Woodrow Wilson—a complicated and conflicted figure and president to be sure, but one whose idea for the League of Nations exemplified some of the ideals for which humankind can and should continue to strive. (And if Wilson’s constant political adversary and doppelganger T.R. gets to be on Mount Rushmore, shouldn’t Woodrow at least get a Memory Day?!)
December 29: Robert Weaver, the first Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the first African American Cabinet member, and one of America’s most significant scholars of our urban spaces, communities, challenges, and opportunities.
December 30: Bo Diddley, one of the most influential 20th century musicians and an artist whose style and works provide through-lines between all of the truly American musical genres (blues, jazz, rock and roll, and more).December 31: Jaime Escalante, the Bolivian immigrant and high school math teacher whose inspiring work in the East Los Angeles public schools was portrayed so powerfully in the film Stand and Deliver (1988).