Broadcast: December 28, 2003
I’m Sarah Long.
And I’m Doug Johnson with People in America in VOA Special English. Today we tell about five special Americans who died during the past year. We start with a former United States senator from New York State.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan spent more than half his life in politics at the time of his death last March at age seventy-six. During those years, he earned the love and respect of Democratic and Republican members of Congress. They remember him as a leader in public policy and an excellent speaker.
Democrat Pat Moynihan served in the Senate from nineteen-seventy-seven to two-thousand-one. Before that he served in the administration of four presidents, including John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. He was ambassador to India and later to the United Nations. He was also a professor at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And he wrote eighteen books.
Pat Moynihan said what he thought and sometimes got into trouble for it. For example, there was a serious dispute over a paper he wrote in nineteen-sixty-five. The Labor Department report dealt with the situation of black people in the United States. Among other things, Mister Moynihan wrote that government assistance programs were destroying black families. Black leaders condemned the report as racist.
However, many political experts say Mister Moynihan’s paper was misunderstood. Its main point was that civil rights laws did not guarantee equal treatment. Mister Moynihan wrote that slavery had destroyed black families. He said government had to establish education and employment programs to help repair the damage.
Experts say Senator Moynihan’s place in American history is secure. Newsweek magazine wrote that his influence could be found in every major social policy of the last fifty years. The Almanac of American Politics wrote that Pat Moynihan was the best thinker among politicians since President Abraham Lincoln and the best politician among thinkers since President Thomas Jefferson.
Jazz composer, saxophonist and bandleader Benny Carter died in Los Angeles, California in July. He was ninety-five. He was most famous for the saxophone, but he could also play the piano and other instruments.
He was born in New York City in nineteen-oh-seven. His mother and music teachers who lived nearby taught him to play the piano and trumpet. He started the saxophone as a teenager.
In nineteen-thirty-five he moved to London, England. There, he formed a musical group that had members of different races and nationalities. This was quite unusual at the time. Benny Carter returned to the United States in nineteen-forty-two. He began writing music for movies. He also produced a major collection of jazz albums, including recordings by other artists.
Benny Carter is considered the main developer of the big band swing style of jazz. He was presented with a Grammy award for lifetime achievement in nineteen-eighty-seven. He won two more Grammies later. And in two-thousand, President Bill Clinton awarded him the National Medal of Arts.
Musicians of his time called Benny Carter “The King.” When he died, music producer Quincy Jones said, “A big, big person walked out of the room.” Here is Benny Carter with “Blues in My Heart.”
("BLUES IN MY HEART")
America also lost a famous athlete this year. Althea Gibson broke “the color barrier” in tennis and golf. In nineteen-fifty, Gibson became the first black player to compete in the United States tennis championships. A year later she did the same at Wimbledon. Althea Gibson won both those championships, and many others, a few years later.The athlete was born in South Carolina. She was the first of five children. Her parents worked on a farm owned by white people. Althea’s family moved to the Harlem area of New York City. They were poor. Her father was violent. Althea missed many days of school. In time, she was placed in the care of the state government.
Althea started playing competitive tennis through one of the city’s assistance organizations. Before long, many tennis fans learned about her ability. Two of these fans became Gibson’s main source of financial support. This permitted her to finish high school and graduate from college.
The Associated Press named Althea Gibson Woman Athlete of the Year in nineteen-fifty-eight and fifty-nine. She was the first black person to win the award.
Gibson called herself a born athlete. She played basketball in college. And, she was a good golfer. Althea Gibson was the first black athlete to compete in the Ladies Professional Golf Association series. She never won a major competition but she played in almost two-hundred.
Althea Gibson never became wealthy. She had serious financial and health problems. She died at age seventy-six. Female tennis stars honored Althea Gibson for the example she provided for women in sports. They called her a great champion and a great person.
(“MISTER ROGER’S NEIGHBORHOOD”)
Children young and old were saddened in February with the news of the death of Fred Rogers. He was the host and creator of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” This popular children’s program was on television for more than thirty years. The show included songs that Mister Rogers wrote and characters he developed. There were also many fun learning activities.
Mister Rogers also explored difficult issues like death, anger and fear. He spoke to children with a gentle understanding. Mister Rogers said his goal was to present as much love as possible to the children watching his show.
“Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” was first shown on local television in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in nineteen-sixty-eight. Fred Rogers was born in a nearby town forty years earlier. He learned to play the piano as a child and earned a music degree in college. Later, he also studied child development and became a Christian clergyman.
Mister Rogers won many television awards. And, last year, Fred Rogers was presented with the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. However, Fred Rogers said that prizes were not so important. He said the important things are knowing that we can be trusted, that we never have to fear the truth and that somebody loves us.
Hollywood lost many members of the movie industry in two-thousand-three. One of its greatest stars was among them. Katharine Hepburn was in the movie business for more than sixty years. She made more than fifty movies. She held the record for winning the most Best Actress Oscars from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Mizz Hepburn won four of them and was nominated eight other times.
Katharine Hepburn was sometimes called the First Lady of Cinema. However, she was a stage actress first. Mizz Hepburn performed in more than ten Broadway plays. She was nominated for two Tony awards.
But, Katharine Hepburn said she liked movie work immediately. Her very first movie, “Bill of Divorcement,” was a hit. She won her first Oscar for her third movie, “Morning Glory”. Other popular Katharine Hepburn movies include “The Philadelphia Story” and “The African Queen.”
The actress was born in Connecticut in nineteen-oh-seven. Her father was a doctor and her mother was a women’s voting rights activist . Mizz Hepburn said her parents taught her freedom from fear.
Mizz Hepburn had a relationship with actor Spencer Tracy that lasted almost thirty years until his death. They also starred in nine movies together. Mister Tracy was married to another woman throughout the relationship.
Katharine Hepburn died at age ninety-six. Another famous Hollywood actress, Elizabeth Taylor, released a statement the next day. She said every actress in the world hoped to be like Katharine Hepburn.
This program was written and produced by Caty Weaver. I’m Sarah Long.
And I’m Doug Johnson. Join us again next week for another People in America program in VOA Special English.