ON THIS DATE in 1967, eighteen-year-old S.E. Hinton published The Outsiders, a novel about young people involved in gang fights and homicide that launched what The New York Times Book Review called a “new realism in adolescent literature.” Hinton had always wanted “to read books that showed teenagers outside of the life of, ‘Mary Jane went to the prom,’” she said. “The books available just didn’t read true, they didn’t deal with the real lives of teenagers.”

200bt6cSold to Viking Press for $1,000, The Outsiders received mixed reviews, with some praising its realism and others condemning its sensationalism. “The vast majority of teenagers personally experience nothing close to the violence of Hinton’s characters,” wrote a reviewer in Nation magazine. Many school libraries banned the book, but that didn’t hurt its steadily increasing sales. “It built gradually, from teachers telling teachers, and kids telling kids,” said Hinton. The Outsiders eventually became “The best-selling young adult novel of all time,” according to Puffin Books.

In 1983, The Outsiders was made into a Francis Ford Coppola-directed film starring a platoon of emerging film stars, including C. Thomas Howell (who played Ponyboy Curtis, the lead character), Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Ralph Macchio, Rob Lowe, Matt Dillon, and Diane Lane.




Above: William Ball (left, with pistol) may have shot a British officer and saved the life of Lt. Col. William Washington at the 1781 Battle of Cowpens.

ON THE ANNIVERSARY (April 13) of the student-led walkout of all-black Moton High in Farmville, Virginia, I’m thinking about other African Americans who, like Barbara Johns, did so much and are mentioned so little. Here are 22 young black individuals we should recognize and honor (including that scurvy pirate, John Julian):

Bishop1. Stephen Bishop. At 17 in 1838, this mixed-race slave began investigating Kentucky’s Mammoth Cave. He is considered to be America’s first great cave explorer as well as a first-rate guide.

2. George Dixon. Nicknamed “Little Chocolate,” Dixon won the bantamweight title to become the world’s first black boxing champion in 1890. A great innovator, he is credited with inventing shadow boxing and the suspended punching bag.

Loving3. Mildred Loving. Married to a white man, she and Richard Loving were arrested for violating Virginia’s anti-mixed-race-marriage law in 1958. In 1963, the Lovings challenged the Virginia law in court and on June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court struck down laws requiring separation of the races in marriage.


4. Henry O. Flipper. He entered West Point at age sixteen in 1873 and became the first black man to graduate from the military academy. During his years as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (1989-1993), Colin Powell kept a photograph of Flipper on his wall.

Susie5. Susie King Taylor. She took charge of a school for ex-slaves in Georgia at age 14 in 1862 and would be the first laundress attached to an all-black Union Army regiment, the first black Army nurse, and the only African American woman to publish a memoir of her Civil War life.

6. A.P. Tureaud Jr. He registered for classes at Louisiana State University in 1953 and became the first African American undergraduate to attend a Deep South state university.

7. Josephine Baker. The “Black Venus” first danced at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées in Paris at age 19 in 1925. Within a year, Baker would be the highest-paid entertainer in Europe.

Olive8. Milton Olive. He sacrificed himself and saved the lives of four fellow soldiers by smothering a hand grenade in South Vietnam in 1965.

9. Billie Holiday. In 1933, she made her first recordings at Columbia studios in New York City. This is regarded as a turning point in jazz music.

10. William Ball. At fourteen in 1781, he saved the life of Lt. Col. William Washington (George Washington’s second cousin) at the Revolutionary War Battle of Cowpens.

11. Willie Reed. In 1955, this 18 year old risked his life by appearing for the prosecution in the trial of the white men who killed Emmett Till. The defendants, acquitted, would later admit their guilt.

27b624b91c2511ea2bf4553adf9320a4.jpg12. John Julian. He piloted the pirate ship Whydah in 1717 at the age of 16. He is the first black pirate known to have operated in the New World.

13. Charlotte Forten. In 1854, the 17 year old began a journal that would describe her life before, during, and after the Civil War. In 1856 she wrote, “Oh, that I could do much towards bettering our condition. I will do all, all the very little that lies in my power, while life and strength last!”

56a6576bd840787323b67df60df883ab14. Ophelia DeVore. At age 16 in 1938 she became, by many accounts, the first African American model.

15. Henry Lewis. At age 16 in 1948 he debuted with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, making him the first African American instrumentalist with a major American orchestra.

06eeb62e0afcf5a68ddd5f9c98bb865c16. Alice Coachman. In 1938, she won the first of 10 straight amateur high jump titles. In 1948. she became the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal.

17. Bobby Cain. In May of 1957, he became the first black person to graduate from a formerly segregated public school in the South. A 1956 Colliers article had called him “a victim of some of the most angry racial vituperation in recent American history.”

18. Paul Laurence Dunbar. At age 16 in 1888, he had his poem “Our Martyred Soldiers” published in The Dayton Herald (Ohio).

19. William Kamkwamba. At 15 in 2002, he built a windmill to help power his Mali village.

b10991b135900420ec29dd5489e356c020. Nina Mae McKinney. In 1927, she appeared in Hallelujah. She was the first African American actress to hold a principal role in a mainstream film.

21. Charlotte Hawkins. In 1902, she opened the Alice Freeman Palmer Institute, a school for African Americans in Sedalia, North Carolina. While most schools for blacks offered only vocational classes, the Palmer Institute would provide a full liberal arts curriculum.

0f0fc98419679fa5f4b746ee54f5cd9222. Ina Ray Hutton. In 1934, this mixed-race musician became bandleader to the Melodears, a group of female performers.




Above: Virginia Civil Rights Memorial at the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, Virginia, with a figure of Johns in the foreground. Pursuing desegregation “seemed like reaching for the moon,” she said. “It was all pretty hard to grasp.”

STUDENTS AND TEACHERS at overcrowded, all-black Moton High School in Farmville, Virginia, received a shock when they gathered for what seemed like a routine spring assembly on this date in 1951. Standing on the stage, sixteen-year-old Barbara Johns — the principal was nowhere to be seen — asked that students and faculty to walk out in protest of the school’s overcrowded and run-down condition. “Don’t be afraid, just follow us out,” she said.

ae971ab6dcd90d6932dbb4c924742208Johns had planned the walkout with four other students, with the conspirators forging a note from the principal to bring the school together in the auditorium. With the principal lured away by a false report about student trouble downtown, the other 400-some inhabitants of Moton High, built to hold less than half that many, followed Johns out of the building. Many cheered and some held hand-lettered signs that announced, “We Want a New School or None at All” and “Down with the Tar-Paper Shacks.”

That afternoon, the students wrote a letter to the NAACP (The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) in Richmond, Virginia, describing the school’s disgraceful condition and asking for help. Members of the Ku Klux Klan become aware of the student protest and burned a cross in the Johns’ family lawn a few days later. This was an attempt to intimidate the family and discourage any intention of fighting the separate-but-equal law that kept blacks and whites in segregated schools.

Johns’ family sent her to live with relatives in another state, but that didn’t slow the movement she’d began. A month after the Moton walkout, NAACP lawyers filed suit in federal court challenging the separate-but-equal statute that generally resulted in poor funding for all-black schools. The Moton suit would be one of the five cases reviewed in the Brown vs. The Board Of Education court case that resulted in the Supreme Court declaring an end to segregation in public schools.




Above: Farah Ahmedi celebrates with her sponsor, Alyce Litz, after becoming a U.S. citizen in 2008.

ON THIS DATE in 2005, Simon and Schuster published the autobiography of seventeen-year-old Farah Ahmedi. Titled An Afghani Girl Finds the Other Side of the Sky, the manuscript was chosen in a contest sponsored by “Good Morning America” and Simon and Schuster. “I am so shocked,” Farah told the New York Daily News at the start of a 10-city book promotion tour. “I thought there was not enough story. I haven’t done enough in my life.”

144019294In truth, Ahmedi’s seventeen years had been packed with plenty of powerful, and terrible, moments. At age seven she’d stepped on a land mine while going to school in Kabul, the capital and largest city in Afghanistan; the explosion destroyed part of her left leg and she had to be airlifted to a hospital in Germany, where she remained for two years. Shortly after her return to Afghanistan, a rocket struck her family’s home, killing her father and two sisters. Two months later, her two brothers fled Afghanistan to avoid being conscripted by the Taliban; as of 2005, she had heard no word from them. Despite her crippled state, Ahmedi traveled with her mother across the mountains and into Pakistan to escape the Taliban regime. They lived the next four years in a refugee camp.

“This story will rip your heart out while giving vivid accounts of how fortunate you are to live in a free society,” said Knight Ridder Newspapers about An Afghani Girl Finds the Other Side of the Sky. Written with the help of Tamim Ansary, the book reached number 23 on The New York Times extended best-seller list after just a week in bookstores. After writing her book, Farah met with first lady Laura Bush at the White House and became a youth ambassador for the United Nations’ Adopt-A-Minefield program.




Above: Andrea McArdle as Little Orphan Annie, with Reid Shelton (Daddy Warbucks) and Sandy the dog.

ON THIS DATE in 1977, thirteen-year-old Andrea McArdle debuted as Little Orphan Annie in the Broadway play, “Annie.” The play was a huge success and McArdle enjoyed yourself, telling the Hartford Courant in 2011 that “it was a blast.” Her sudden fame resulted in photo shoots for LIFE magazine and introduction to a series of A-list celebrities, including Muhammad Ali, Beverly Sills, and Michael Jackson. McArdle would win Theatre World and Outer Critics’ Circle Awards, and was the youngest performer ever nominated for a Tony award as Best Lead Actress in a Musical.

Before “Annie,” McArdle had appeared in 35 commercials and spent more that two years on the CBS soap opera, “Search For Tomorrow.” She was originally cast as one of the “tough girls” in “Annie,” based on Harold Gray’s comic strip about a redheaded, street-smart orphan, but when producers decided the original Annie looked too angelic for the lead, McArdle got the part. After the huge success on Broadway — “Annie” won seven 1977 Tony Awards, including Best Musical — she opened a 1978 London production of the hit. With other actresses in the Annie role, the Broadway show lasted for 2,377 performances.



fosburyjumpON THIS DATE in 1963, sixteen-year-old Dick Fosbury tried a whole new way of scaling a high jump bar, and it was a flop. More precisely, it was a “Fosbury flop,” a method of going over the bar backward that eventually became the most common technique used by high jumpers.

Before the Medford (Oregon) High School sophomore unveiled the Fosbury flop at a track meet in Grants Pass, high jumping techniques sounded like country music dances with names like “the Western roll” and “the straddle.” Fosbury preferred something called “the
scissors” before trotting to the bar (most techniques required a rapid run) and launching himself up and over backwards, landing on his shoulders with his legs high above him during that meet in Grants Pass.

“In an act of spontaneity, or maybe rebellion, he created a style unto itself,” declared Sports Illustrated in 2009. The ungainly but effective Fosbury flop resulted in a jump of 5’6,” a personal best. Two years later Fosbury was clearing 6’5½, good enough for second in the state. After his junior year at Oregon State University, Fosbury went to Mexico City and eclipsed 7’4¼” to win the gold medal at the Summer Olympics. After that, the Fosbury flop was here to stay.