Nigerian-born American lecturer, Uju Anya, has been in the eye of the storm since her tweet wishing the late Queen Elizabeth II ‘excruciating death’. The professor of Second Language Acquisition, Department of Modern Languages, Carnegie Mellon University, United States of America tells GODFREY GEORGE she spoke from a place of deep pain and is unapologetic about her post.
Were you born in Nigeria?
First of all, I would love to say I am Ada Igbo (the first daughter of Igbo land). They cannot deny me (my heritage) because I am a lesbian. I am a child of Igbo land – I am of an Igbo father, and that is who I am. I don’t disown them; they cannot disown me. I am also a child of Trinidad because my mother is from Trinidad. So, I am African and Caribbean. I have lived in the United States for almost 40 years now; I have been here since 1986. I came here when I was 10 years old, and I am now 46. So, I also consider myself American. I am a very proud mother of two intelligent, loving and kind children biologically and I have one stepson. I am also a professor and academic researcher of language learning and multilingualism.
Your tweet wishing the late Queen Elizabeth II an ‘excruciating death’ sparked outrage from many quarters around the world. Are you regretful you made that post?
No, I am not, I have to be very honest with you. I am not. My tweet came from a place of deep pain and deep emotions. It was not something that I planned or calculated. It was spontaneous and was part of my emotional reaction to the impending death of my oppressor. It was spontaneous at the time. However, it is not something I regret or something that I will ever apologise for. I will rest, sleeping every night, knowing that I told the truth.
You mentioned that your ancestors suffered in the Biafran war, for which you hold the British responsible. Can you give some details of the kind of experience your people went through?
It was not just my ancestors, but also my immediate and living relatives. There were family members who died but there are also people who are still alive today who survived the genocide. This is because this is a very recent history and a recent memory. The war ended in 1970, and many people who witnessed it are still alive today. I was born in ’76 and I lived in the aftermath of the war. My family suffered and some died. It was traumatic. My parents are dead now, but I have siblings alive today who went through Biafra as children. They were under the age of 10. Our family also has a war baby. My mother was pregnant during the war and gave birth to my second oldest brother in Biafra. So, this is something that is extremely close to me, and it is in my personal existence and in addition to the overall history of my family and the broader history of the Igbo people.
What stories did your family members tell you about what they went through during the war?
I am not claiming that I went through Biafra because I wasn’t born yet then, but it didn’t end in 1970. There were a lot of issues that we had to deal with. My childhood was filled with the reconstruction of war-torn buildings and sites and projects. My father was involved in such projects of reconstructions. When you think of people who went through a holocaust, then, you can imagine how traumatic it must have been. When I speak of ‘holocaust’, I am not speaking of the Jewish holocaust where we lost over six million people. ‘Holocaust’ itself means a ‘mass slaughter’, and what happened to the Igbo during Biafra was a massacre, where more than three million people were killed. All my family dinner table conversations were always about who ran where, who took cover where, who was buried where, who was lost and where the displaced people went. When people survive genocide and mass displacement, there is always going to be that shadow or spectre above surrounding everyone. To date, we are still mourning and talking about it. Ask any Igbo person, they are going to tell you that they are still affected by the war. This is something that is now a part of our legacy as a people; it was something that was done to us. This is something that the British did to us in the very beginning of how they orchestrated the division that caused the separatist movements or the formation of an independent country and how they supported those who committed the genocide by giving them weapons and military vehicles, hiring mercenaries to come and kill the Igbo people and giving the Nigerian soldiers bombs and military supplies, such as planes and whatever they needed to slaughter civilians. The three million people that died were not armed combatants; these were village people. All my life I have heard stories of my mother running with two children under the age of 10 and being pregnant with a third from village to village after they bombed each village that they ran to.
One of the most horrific stories that I will never forget for as long as I live is one my mother told me. She said the airplanes that were sent to bomb the villages flew so low that one could see the pilot inside the cockpits, laughing as he sprayed people with machine guns. These were villagers who were desperately running for their lives. My mother told me that it was a memory that was a part of her life. That was the grotesque nature of this attack on our lands. Where did they get those planes? Where did they get those bombs? Did Nigeria manufacture bombs and guns at that time? The British gave it to them, because of their interest in the oil that was in Igbo land. I also heard stories from the Ada of our family. She is 14 years older than me. She has stories of her own children, lying in a hole. She would run and jump inside a bunker filled with dead bodies. She would lie underneath dead bodies inside the hole to hide from soldiers. Can you imagine that for a child under 10 years old? This is what my people suffered in this genocide! Some of the people are still looking for their loved ones or where they buried them to date. Go to Enugu; there are still buildings that were destroyed and have not been able to be rebuilt after the war.
Many have said this happened a long time ago and that the Igbo should move above it and forge a better future. Don’t you also agree?
When people say the war happened ‘a long time ago’, I don’t understand what they mean by that. The Biafran war is a part of our modern contemporary history. ‘Long ago’, in historical terms, is not 60 years. That is not ‘long ago’ in the span of history. Not when you have people alive who went through that. So, when I expressed my deep and profound pain in that tweet, wishing the late Queen (Elizabeth II) a painful death, that is the pain I was speaking from – the pain of my people; the pain of knowing that she (Elizabeth II) was the leader of the people that did this to us, together with the Nigerian Army. I am not saying anything that is controversial or not a part of our historical facts. Everything that I am saying is recorded in history today and can be verified. The British involvement is being recorded; the British funding is also being recorded. The Biafrans would have successfully separated and formed their own country if the British had not interfered and supported the Nigerian army, funding them. So, the British caused this genocide by making sure that the people that were trying to separate were squashed.
The arguments with a lot of Nigerians and those in the Diaspora are that the Queen was just a ‘figurehead’ and couldn’t have done much in that situation. Don’t you think this absolves her of blame?
Absolutely not. Firstly, the Queen was not just merely a figurehead. They like to talk about her as though she were a statue or something like that that they have sitting in the palace. She was not just a figurehead. They can make the argument that she wasn’t involved in the day-to-day decisions that were made by her government. However, it is very well known that she got briefed every single day about what her government was doing. That is part of the palace proceedings on a daily basis. This briefing is one of the most zealously guarded secrets of Buckingham Palace. Since no one has access to that briefing, nobody can say what the Queen knew or didn’t know. But we know she knew something because she was told every day. She was not completely removed from the politics. On top of that, she sat on a throne of blood. She was a queen of a nation that has a treasury. Everything, down to the jewels that she wears on that crown, comes from plunder, theft, pillage and blood. Where does the world’s famous and gigantic treasure of the British monarchy come from? It came from the blood of the people they sold, enslaved and exploited, and the natural resources they stole after extracting from people. Even that throne that she sat on is supported and funded by blood money – our blood! So, I will hundred per cent reject any form of an assertion that the monarch of a kingdom is somehow removed or divorced from the actions or the government of that kingdom. She would not be able to live in the palace that she lived in if her government was not doing things to the rest of the world to keep her in that palace.
It is not true that she wasn’t actively involved in colonialism. She was touring everywhere, inspecting, and making speeches on behalf of colonialists and in colonised lands. She was directly there as both figurehead and symbol and as ruler of a very gruesome and bloody regime. I mean, there was a report by PUNCH that the president of Nigeria said the late Queen backed Nigeria during the Biafran war.
Do you take exception to the President’s statement?
I would not like to comment on the Nigerian government or any of the politicians or leaders on what they are doing and what they are not doing. I have not lived in Nigeria for almost 40 years. I am not registered to vote and I am not part of any political movement in Nigeria nor do I get involved in Nigerian politics. US politics is what I know and what I am involved in. Even in the US, I am a registered Independent. I neither support the Democrats nor do I support the Republicans or any of those parties. That is how strongly I believe in political independence and not being part of any party strategy whatsoever. All I can say is that I believe in a unified Nigeria. The wrong that has been done to the Igbo has to be compensated. At least, ‘sorry’ should be said. I expect this of the British government and the monarchy. No matter who you are or how big a government you are, when you have done wrong, hurt people, killed people, especially on a massive scale, I believe they must apologise and recognise that they have done something wrong. I also believe that Nigeria should be for all Nigerians. We didn’t have a choice for the country to be formed in the first place – the British did that, too, forcefully putting independent nations into one. Now that we are together, we must try to accommodate one another so we can thrive and not just one group over the other.
Will the apology by Britain lay the painful memories and emotions of the Biafran war to rest?
Lay it to rest completely? I believe financial reparation will go a long way to do that. We need justice and an apology; it’s very important for justice. Justice is what counts.
What do you make of the fresh Igbo secession agitation from Nigeria being championed by the Indigenous People of Biafra?
I am being unfairly roped into the issue with IPOB. They are impersonating and using my image and name for pro-IPOB comments. I didn’t say these things. They are harming me and putting me in tremendous pain. I am not involved in Nigerian politics. I have no political candidate that I am supporting and I don’t support IPOB. I am an independent person who expressed my personal pain about the injustice that was done by the British government to my immediate family and my people. I also expressed my pain about the global injustice of the British monarchy at the hand of the Queen in the exploitation, abuse, enslavement, genocide that she caused in many other places besides Igbo land. That is what I want to talk about.
You told some foreign media that you are being attacked because you are black and from a sexual minority. How?
Those attacks, especially by Amazon Founder, Jeff Besoz, are laced with racism. Besoz rarely tweets in his own voice, so for him to quote-tweet me to his more than five million obsessed followers was an attack on my blackness. For all his followers, he attacked me. He didn’t say my words were objectionable or things like that but he attacked my profession. He is insinuating that I should not be a teacher because of my tweet, and he did this as the second richest man in the world. This is simply because I told the world how my people suffered under the British monarchy. This is because of racism and misogyny. He knew that his followers would attack me. If you saw what happened to my email inbox after Bezos did that, you will not even think I was a human being with the things they were saying to me.
The Carnegie Mellon University where you lecture dissociated itself from your statement. Aren’t you afraid that the university may sanction you?
Amazon has donated billions of dollars to CMU and that was why Bezos did what he did. Who knows what is going to happen? What I do know right now is that my job is secure. There is no threat against my employment with CMU. The people that I have been talking to, who were in the room with the leadership of the school, when they were talking about me, never told me any word of CMU terminating my employment because of the tweet. I haven’t heard about sanctions either. Their reaction was what they did. The statement that they put out distancing themselves from my tweet was the only they have done. But it should be noted that while they disagree with what I said, they spoke up and defended my freedom of expression and freedom to say whatever I wanted to say on my own personal social media account. I am not a representative or administrator of my university. I don’t even have the name of my university in my bio and on my account. It says very clearly there that the views expressed there are solely mine. The university recognised that, knowing that I wasn’t speaking for them.
People have queried that you should have been tactful with your tweet because death was involved. Don’t you think the timing of your tweet was wrong?
You don’t tell people when to speak about their pain. It is offensive for anyone to presume to tell the child of survivors of genocide when and how to speak about the people who slaughtered their family and their group. Nobody has the right to tell me how to speak about my pain and how to express the profound rage that I feel about injustice in this world, not just about my family and the people, whom the British monarchy is responsible for. I don’t believe in the notion of not speaking ill about the dead. When the late Prophet T.B. Joshua died, I tweeted and called him a thief. This is not the first time and it won’t be the last.
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THE IGBO CULTURE OF I KPÓPÙ (TAKING SOMEONE OUT)
The Igbo culture of I kpópù is one such lingo in the Igbo language that cannot be given an easy, direct translation, just as it is somehow complex in its simplicity, for the non-Igbo to understand, replicate, or practice.
One can only contextually approximate an interpretation, like to say it is about ‘taking someone out’, which as a normal English language expression could mean to kill someone. But here, it is directly opposite to the above, to mean or at least suggest, to take someone to another clime, to teach or help him secure a means of livelihood, for a better future.
The Igbo culture of I kpópù is very well different from I gba boyi, which is the popular system where a lad is taken into apprenticeship in a business by an established person he serves for some time, usually going into years, and is thereafter settled with a start-up at the end of the term of his learning. There are usually agreements that are followed, even when nothing is cast in stone.
In I Kpópù, a person, younger or older, simply follows someone, a relative, friend, or just somebody persuaded to assist, to his base, within the country or abroad, to help him ‘find his feet.’ He could take him into his business or give him out to someone else who does the kind of business the young man is interested in. Whatever, he serves as his guardian and mentor hence he oversees everything he does, to ensure he is well and achieves his aspirations.
Most times when people are taken out, it is an epic, destiny-shaping journey. While the benefactor makes everything available within his powers, to make the beneficiary succeed, it is expected of the latter to apply himself fully and with diligence to his hustling. Most times, they are taught trades or skills, or even become boyi (apprentice), depending on many factors, ranging from personal preferences to available opportunities. Of course, the conditions are usually not a bed of roses, of which the indomitable Igbo spirit of can-do, overcomes.
In most cases, whoever is taken out is not expected to pay back as it is usually help just offered to a kinsman, friend, or even a recommended stranger, keen to succeed in life. However, appreciation is usually shown in many ways, like acknowledging the benefactor’s intervention through verbal testimonies, presentation of gifts as well as hosting of such individuals and friends, among others, while also making oneself available as an instrument of help to others. That is why for everyone who takes out someone, someone else had possibly taken him out, just as the last in the chain is expected to take someone out too in the future.
Igbo people, especially the youths, value this Igbo culture of I kpópù a lot. Many lives have been changed through this practice. Today in Igbo land, it is therefore common to rate people, not necessarily by what they have for themselves, but by the number of those they have helped to also become successful. And this is one of the means. So, now the seasons and celebrations are over and people are returning to their bases, many have in tow youngsters who are going to pursue their dreams and destinies across the world. And rest assured by this time next year, many of them would come back successful.
And they would be very much ready to take yet other scores of young men with them, to take their shots at life. This is one of the ways the South East of Nigeria has continued to have the highest per capita income in the country. As such, while it is everyone’s right to hustle, it is expected of every brother to extend that privilege of assistance to a brother, to make his dreams come true.
Written by Wordshot Amaechi Ugwele
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LEGENDARY ROCKEFELLERS SHAPERS OF MODERN AMERICAN ECONOMY
The Rockefeller name has become synonymous with money, symbolized by the richest individual in history, John D. Rockefeller, who left a staggering net worth of $1.4 billion. Yet, beneath this wealth lies a history of tragedy and controversy. Let’s delve into the captivating saga of the legendary Rockefellers, the shapers of the modern American economy.
A Fine Father Figure
Born in 1810, William A. Rockefeller, father to John D. Rockefeller, was a man of meager means. Though he was savvy, his dishonorable business practices and subsequent bad reputation caused the family to struggle financially.
Without a real trade, William Rockefeller posed as a traveling salesman, pretending to be afflicted by various ailments to sell fake “miracle remedies.” Known as “Devil Bill,” he adopted the alias Dr. William Livingston, supposedly an expert in ear and eye ailments. He duped his wife into hiring a housekeeper, who was secretly his mistress, and they had two illegitimate children while living together.
A Billionaire Is Born
While living in Richford, New York, William and his wife welcomed their son, John D. Rockefeller to the world on July 8, 1839. This was the couples’ second child, as their daughter, Lucy, was born just one year prior. By this time, William was surrounded by a multitude of unfavorable rumors stating that he was a thief, a crook, and a gambler. The family had no choice but to move.
They moved from place to place, each time having to uproot once again due to William’s scandalous lifestyle. Finally in 1853, when John was 14 years old, the family was able to settle in Strongsville, Ohio so he could attend and graduate from high school. He attended the first free public high school in Cleveland.
An Ambitious Fellow
The second of six children with a father who could not hold down a job, John showed just how ambitious and industrious he was when he became a teenager. After trying his hand at selling fruits and vegetables, he landed his first official job as an assistant bookkeeper for Hewitt & Tuttle at the young age of 16.
After four years, John D. Rockefeller saved $2,000 and partnered with Maurice B. Clark to start a commission merchant company specializing in grains, hay, and meat, which made $450,000 in its first year. At age 20, he formed a produce business partnership, earning $250,000, and then entered the oil business by founding Andrews, Clark & Co in 1867.
Perks of Being Rich
During the Civil War, men of all ages were called upon to fight for both the Union and the Confederate Army. Though John D. Rockefeller was a firm-standing abolitionist, he had absolutely no desire to go to the front lines. In an effort to exonerate himself from active duty, he requested an exemption from enlistment, stating that he was the sole provider for his family.
John D. Rockefeller Jr. chose not to enlist during World War I but actively engaged in a lot of charity. Collaborating with the War Department and organizations like the Red Cross, he provided financial aid and resources for the U.S. military and the war campaign. Furthermore, he supported war bond campaigns and assisted the war-related initiatives of the Rockefeller Foundation, particularly in fields such as public health and medical research. His dedication to the war effort was evident, despite his absence from military service.
Right Place, Right Time
During the Civil War’s final stages, Cleveland was a crucial logistics center. But, because oil production in Pennsylvania was booming, John D. Rockefeller cashed out his produce partnership shares and, in 1863, started an oil refinery near Pittsburgh. Thanks to the oil rush, his refinery quickly became the biggest in the area within just two years.
John D. Rockefeller recognized the immense potential in the oil industry due to his rapid success. In 1870, he and his partners founded the Standard Oil Company, using $1 million from his Pennsylvania refinery as startup capital. Rockefeller’s talent for efficient operations, combined with a booming economy, led to steady profit growth from the company’s inception. His initial triumph, along with substantial earnings, fueled his ambition to implement a takeover strategy that would later become a contentious and pivotal chapter in history.
Partnerships Alleviate Competition
Within just two years, Standard Oil had expanded significantly, controlling the majority of refineries throughout the Cleveland area. In order to alleviate any potential competition and to control the transport of his oil, John D. Rockefeller knew that he had to forge a partnership with the railroad companies as well as purchase additional pipelines and oil terminals.
He began purchasing land to prevent rival companies from starting their own private transportation system. In doing so, Standard Oil substantially tightened their grasp on the industry resulting in little to no competition whatsoever.
Scandalous Scheme Leads to a Massacre
In 1871, John D. Rockefeller, along with multiple railroad lines, founded the Southern Improvement Company. In writing, the company’s intention was to alleviate the competitive rate wars that existed between the rail lines and evenly distribute the oil traffic between the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Erie Railroad, and the New York Railroad as well as limit the amount of oil produced.
In all actuality, the Southern Improvement Company turned out to be a scheme that brought unwanted attention from the government due to the scandalous relationships formed between the railroads and big business, aka John D. Rockefeller. Throughout the company’s existence which only lasted one year, John D. Rockefeller was able to swoop in and purchase 22 of the 26 refineries in Cleveland due to their lack of transportation. These acquisitions would later become known as “The Cleveland Massacre”.
Keep Your Friends Close, Your Enemies Closer
By 1879, John D. Rockefeller was one of the wealthiest men in the United States and controlled nearly 90% of the country’s refineries. With a goal to control the oil industry throughout the US and the world, his savvy and somewhat questionable tactics at times terrorized his competitors and betrayed his alliances.
In his early career, John D. Rockefeller teamed up with railroad and shipping magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt. To benefit both, Rockefeller granted Vanderbilt exclusive shipping rights at a lower rate. However, as Standard Oil surged in growth, Vanderbilt’s request to renegotiate pricing came too late. Rockefeller had already invested in his own pipeline, leaving Vanderbilt without profit. The transportation mogul passed away just a few years later.
The Big Apple
While the city of Cleveland had served him well, in 1883 John D. Rockefeller decided it was time to take on the Big Apple. He moved his family to New York and began construction on the Standard Oil Building. The chosen site was at 26 Broadway, the same location as the former home of the head of the U.S. Treasury, Alexander Hamilton.
The original structure was nine stories tall but after several renovations and expansions, it is now 31 stories and has become one of New York City’s official landmarks. Though the Rockefeller family sold the building in the 1920s, it is still known to this day as The Standard Oil Building.
A Battle With Congress
John D. Rockefeller’s rise to power did not go unnoticed. By the late 1880s, his wealth as well as his questionable business practices caught the eye of some members of the United States Congress. By creating numerous divisions of his company under the Standard Oil umbrella, John D. Rockefeller had come to monopolize multiple markets.
Congress, driven by concerns over monopolies’ negative impact on American capitalism, enacted the Sherman Antitrust Act in 1890 to outlaw monopolizing commerce in the United States. A mere two years later, the Ohio Supreme Court found Standard Oil in violation of this law. Consequently, John D. Rockefeller was compelled to dissolve the company and bring in new management for all his subsidiaries.
Find a Workaround
Even with Congress breathing down his neck, John D. Rockefeller refused to relinquish power. In an attempt to show that he was being compliant with the Sherman Act, he created a board to make it appear as though there were additional shareholders and decision-makers. Unbeknownst to Congress, the company’s hierarchy was still intact with all of the inner workings of each division being handled by a board led by John himself.
Rockefeller seemed to have found a workaround. He continued running things under the guise of a board for nine years but perhaps became too confident. In a bold move, he once again compiled each of his companies into one holding group causing Congress to intervene and force the company to dissolve once more.
Stress or Not?
Having every business transaction scrutinized by Congress could cause any tycoon to suffer from stress. Rockefeller was no different. He endured many stress-related symptoms including moderate depression, digestive issues, and hair loss after his tussle with the government.
While the depression and digestive troubles were truly the results of his anxiety, his hair loss was not. When he was in his 50s, John D. Rockefeller was diagnosed with alopecia, a disease that causes the immune system to attack the hair follicles, causing extreme hair loss. After going bald and losing his eyebrows, Rockefeller invested in wigs of different lengths to appear as though he was getting haircuts.
A Charitable Man
While John D. Rockefeller may seem like a self-serving man consumed by greed, in all actuality, he was quite charitable and kind. Even though he was one of the richest men in the world, he never forgot what it was like to struggle to feed his family. Because of this, he wanted to share the wealth.
No matter where he was going, John D. Rockefeller would carry on his person a bag of dimes which he would happily hand out to anyone he met. He was not concerned about their social status nor their financial status as he gave dimes to children as well as fellow millionaires such as Samuel Firestone of Firestone Tires. It is estimated that in total, he handed out over $35,000 worth of dimes in his lifetime.
See a Problem? Fix It
In the early 20th century, the Rockefeller family dedicated their time and efforts to philanthropy, so when they discovered that 40% of all Southerners had become infected by hookworms, they quickly came to their aid. Hookworm is a parasite that causes those infected to suffer from anemia and exhaustion as well as stunted growth so the long-lasting effects could have been extraordinary.
In 1910, in an effort to combat the outbreak of infections, John D. Rockefeller donated $1 million to the Rockefeller Sanitary Commission to map high-risk areas, treat those who were infected, and improve sanitation efforts in the communities. Since his intervention, hookworm has remained under control and can only be found in very rural areas of the Deep South.
Behind Every Great Man….
John D. Rockefeller, though having a brilliant mind for business, could not have become as successful as he was without the support and advice from his wife, Laura Spelman. Married in 1864, Spelman was also a philanthropist as well as an abolitionist who was passionate about higher education for women.
In 1882, the wealthy couple began donating ample amounts of money to an Atlanta Baptist Female Seminary, a college that was founded to educate black women during a period in history when other institutions forbade them from entering their grounds. After two years of hefty donations, the college changed its name to Spelman College in honor of Laura Spelman and her generosity.
Two Fine Institutions
While John D. Rockefeller is largely known for his role in creating a flourishing American economy, it should also be mentioned that because of his philanthropic work and generous charitable donations, The Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research and the University of Chicago were both founded.
In 1890, he donated $600,000 to assist in funding the establishment of the University of Chicago, whose iconic chapel bears his name. In 1901, John D. Rockefeller founded The Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in an attempt to encourage the study of diseases so that they may be prevented. Since its inception, scientists and medical staff have transformed biochemistry and medical treatments for numerous afflictions affecting people around the world.
Ahead of His Time
In an effort to support secondary and higher education in the United States regardless of race, sex, or creed, John D. Rockefeller established the General Education Board in 1902. Their goal was to promote education for all, at all levels, including the meagerly funded black schools in the South.
He went one step further in 1913 when he created the Rockefeller Foundation to “promote the wellbeing of mankind throughout the world”. Since its inception, it has not failed to reach its goal. With millions upon millions of dollars donated, the foundation has improved public health, promoted education, and enhanced the arts as well as scientific and medical advancements.
The Philanthropy Started Young
While John D. Rockefeller has oftentimes been criticized for his less-than-conventional business practices and rumored misgivings, his charitable nature cannot be disputed. Since a child, he was convinced that a man of means has a duty to help others, so much so that he began donating his own funds ever since he received his very first paycheck as a teenager.
As a teenager, each time he received a paycheck, he would donate a portion of it to his local Baptist church, the African-American church, and the Sunday School. Throughout his life, he firmly believed that “the rich man shouldn’t die rich, the rich man should die having done good things with the wealth that he has created”.
A Quiet Stance
While John D. Rockefeller rarely hid his social stances, when it came to his support of Prohibition, his participation was done so behind closed doors. Perhaps he opposed the use of alcohol because of his father’s drunken antics or he was standing in solidarity with his wife, Laura, who was the founding member of the Women’s Christian Temperance is up for debate.
Either way, it was his huge donation that the WCTU used to pass the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act. Many speculated later that he funded Prohibition for his own financial gain, however, the fact that he never drank a lick of alcohol nor smoked an ounce of tobacco suggests that he considered both to hold no value.
A Life Worth a Biography
Because of his unprecedented success and charitable donations, the Rockefellers authorized a biography to be written about the patriarch in the 1930s. At the time, they asked the future Prime Minister and successful writer, Winston Churchill, to author it. Churchill reluctantly agreed but requested that the family extend him a $250,000 advance on the project.
Whether they were offended or not, the family respectfully declined and hired a Colombia University historian named Allan Nevins to do the honors instead. Certainly, they are one of the wealthiest families in the world and could have afforded the advance, however, they are also financially savvy and $250,000 was too steep a price tag.
The Death of a Tycoon
John D. Rockefeller lived a full life, dying of atherosclerosis in 1934 just two months shy of his 98th birthday. Because of his longevity, he actually outlived his life insurance policy earning him an additional $5 million dollars from his payout.
Upon his death in 1934, Rockefeller was worth an estimated $1.4 billion. While that in itself is astounding, the fact that he maintained that level of wealth throughout his life is a testament to his intelligence and work ethic. Granted the billionaires of today may be worth more than John D. Rockefeller when he passed, however, that comparison is based on actual dollars as opposed to the percentage of the national GDP. For example, in 2019 Jeff Bezos was worth 0.006% of the total GDP whereas Rockefeller was worth an incredible 2%.
A Chip Off the Old Block
John D. Rockefeller and Laura Spelman had five children together, four daughters and one son. Their youngest, John Jr. was born on January 29, 1874, and grew up idolizing his father though he was relatively unphased by his immense wealth.
Fueled by the desire to follow in his father’s footsteps, John Jr. joined him as a director at Standard Oil headquarters after graduating from Brown University. At the time, the company was in disarray due to the consequences of the Sherman Act, and the chaotic restabilizing left John Jr. feeling dissatisfied and yearning for a change of scenery. He made the decision to leave Standard Oil in order to focus his energy on real estate and philanthropy instead.
A Miner Dilemma
By 1913, John Jr. was a 40% shareholder and sat on the board of a Rockefeller-owned company called Colorado Fuel and Iron (CF&I). In September of that year, 11,000 coal miners working for CF&I went on strike to protest unfair wages, dangerous working conditions, and mistreatment from their employer. The company responded by evicting the miners and their families from the homes, leaving them to live in tents throughout the winter while continuing to strike.
In an attempt to intimidate the miners into forfeiting the strike, the Rockefeller-owned CF&I requested the National Guard to descend upon them in their tent colony near Ludlow, CO. Sadly, the miners had no defense against the guardsmen who began randomly shooting those trying to flee. At least 20 men, women, and children were killed that day.
A Much Needed Change
Because of his affiliation with CF&I, John Jr. was targeted with much of the blame regarding the tragedy that occurred in Ludlow. The heir to the Rockefeller fortune was summoned to testify in front of the Commission on Industrial Relations and afterward, attempted to make amends by visiting the miners and their families in person to address their grievances.
The scandalous affair prompted John Jr. to pour himself into his philanthropic work in an attempt to rebuild his reputation through charitable contributions. He left the industrial industry altogether and, instead, invested in real estate. He donated the land that would become the site for the United Nations headquarters, created the famous Rockefeller Center, and devoted his time to restoring Colonial Williamsburg.
A Strong Family Bond
By 1930, John Jr. had become a majority stockholder in Chase Bank, restored Colonial Williamsburg, constructed Rockefeller Center, donated land for the United Nations headquarters, purchased land that would become Grand Teton State Park, and along with his wife, opened the Museum of Modern Art.
While all of these incredibly generous accomplishments certainly made an imprint on the world, his most important contribution was his children. His oldest, Abby Rockefeller, dedicated herself to philanthropic work and preferred anonymity. Her five brothers, however, quickly made favorable reputations for themselves throughout the realms of politics, business, and philanthropy.
John Jr.’s namesake and the eldest of the five boys was John III. After graduating with honors from Princeton University, he embarked on a trip around the world which would become the inspiration for his future endeavors. He devoted himself to philanthropy as well as foreign affairs. Inspired by his love for the Asian countries, he created the Asia Society, reconstituted the Japan Society, and founded the Council on Economic and Cultural Affairs.
John III also created the Population Council to address the worldwide issue of overpopulation, the first organization to do so. As a means to support performing arts, he created the iconic Lincoln Center in Manhattan. In his lifetime he was also responsible for founding and funding multiple NGOs prior to his fatal car crash in 1978.
Nelson Rockefeller was motivated from childhood to do great things, claiming to his father that he would one day become President of the United States when he was just a boy. Though his father tried to instill in him the values of humility and modesty, his motivation made him the most high-profile of John Jr.’s children.
While his career started out in the banking industry with Chase Manhattan, he went on to head up the development of Rockefeller Center during a period of economic decline. Still chasing his childhood dream, Nelson entered into politics, winning the election for Governor of New York in 1953. He served an impressive four terms as Governor prior to becoming the Vice President of the United States under President Gerald Ford between 1974 and 1977.
A Scandalous Death
After serving as the 49th Governor of New York for 14 years, Nelson Rockefeller became the Vice President of the United States despite his rather unorthodox reputation with women. During a period of time when divorce was considered taboo, Nelson ended his marriage to his first wife in 1963. That same year, he married his second wife who was 18 years his junior.
Because of his somewhat scandalous divorce, his new marriage to a younger woman, and his rumored extramarital affairs, Nelson was labeled a womanizer throughout his political career. It seems he carried that label to his death. In 1979, Nelson died of a heart attack. The initial reports from the media stated that he died at his desk, however, they soon issued a correction stating that he was found dead at the home of a 25-year-old aide with whom he was having an affair. While his wife contested the report, his aide confirmed it was true.
Out of all of John Jr.’s children, Laurance was the visionary. He made a huge impact on the Big Apple as a venture capitalist on Wall Street. During his career on the New York Stock Exchange, he demonstrated his rare talent and a keen sense of knowing what would be successful and what would fail.
Laurance was a start-up’s dream as he invested in hundreds of them ranging from biotechnology to electronics to computers to aviation. His early investments in Apple and Intel alone are prime examples of his prowess in the trade. In addition to his Wall Street success, Laurance was also a dedicated environmentalist who was instrumental in numerous conservation efforts as well as establishing multiple national parks throughout the United States.
Winthrop Rockefeller was a humble and modest man who did not want to rely on his family’s clout and wealth to ease into a career. Instead, he went to the root of the family business and started out as an apprentice working in the oil fields.
At the end of the Second World War, in an effort to encourage cultural and economic change in the South, Winthrop went into politics serving as the Governor of Arkansas from 1967 to 1971. While some of his cultural changes were unwelcome in the South, such as integrating the schools, he became well respected for his additional reforms such as the state’s first minimum wage, the freedom of information law, and stricter insurance legislation.
The baby of the family, David, also became a powerful figure in the New York Stock Exchange after graduating from the London School of Economics and gaining a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago.
He dabbled in the political arena when he landed a job writing letters for the Mayor of New York, however, his political aspirations expired due to the Second World War. Instead of using his family name and wealth to avoid enlisting, David entered into the US Army as a private and soon rose to the rank of Captain during his service. He served in North Africa and France, establishing political and economic intelligence units, and then served as the assistant military attache at the American Embassy in Paris.
Post-War Career Change
When David returned from the war, he made a career change by joining Chase Manhattan Bank, a company his family had been tied to for generations. Because his uncle, Winthrop Aldrich, was chairman of the bank and his father and grandfather were its main shareholders, it was assumed by the employees that David was a spoiled child riding on his family’s coattails.
That assumption did not last long though, as he proved himself quite quickly to be a hard-working, everyday guy. He rode the subway to work with his peers, comprehensively learned the business, and pulled his weight with tasks at hand. Because of his hard work and dedication, he was promoted to co-CEO in 1960 and then CEO in 1969.
Chase Manhattan Expansion
As CEO, David concentrated his efforts on utilizing his worldwide contacts to increase the bank’s foreign presence. He expanded the foreign branches from 11 to 73, making Chase Bank the first stateside institution to open branches in both China and Russia.
With his global presence secured, David began to make internal changes in the company. He established its first human resources department as well as its planning and marketing departments alongside manager, Peter Drucker. David worked diligently to improve Chase Manhattan as well as the banking sector until he retired in 1981. When comparing the company’s worth from the time he started his career in 1946 to the time he retired in 1981, it was noted that Chase Manhattan went from a $4.8bn institution to a $76.2bn institution.
David Rockefeller died at the astounding age of 101! He died in his sleep at his New York home in March 2017. A year before, on his 100 birthday, he donated 1000 acres to the state of Maine.
His most famous quote was: “American capitalism has brought more benefits to more people than any other system in any part of the world at any time in history. The problem is to see that the system is run as efficiently and as honestly as it can be.”
A Coup for Humanity
During World War I, the Rockefeller Foundation offered help to what was presented as a “Public Health Movement” in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Unbeknownst to them, the movement was actually geared towards exterminating the poor, the disabled, and those of mixed African descent.
When David Rockefeller was employed at Chase Manhattan Bank in the 1960s, he publicly declared João Goulart, Brazil’s leader at the time, as an unacceptable candidate for dealings with the US banking system. In 1962, he convinced the Rockefeller Group to invest $12 million into the Brazilian elections in an effort to support the anti-communist candidates which consequently backed the coup that removed Goulart from office.
A Tragedy Takes Three Lives
While it may seem that the Rockefeller family has been bombarded with only good fortune, in fact, they have faced their fair share of tragedy as well. The first occurred in 1951 when the great-niece of John D. Rockefeller, Winifred Emeny, killed her two children as well as herself by carbon monoxide poisoning.
A popular socialite in Greenwich. CT, Emeny shocked the community and her family with her actions on March 15, 1951. She placed her daughters, Josephine, age six, and Winifred, age 12, in the backseat of one of her cars, sealed up the garage doors, and started the engines of both vehicles. She then lay on the cement floor in between both cars and died. The family maid discovered all three bodies and contacted the authorities.
A Tragic Disappearance
On November 19, 1961, the fifth son of Nelson Rockefeller, Michael, disappeared after his catamaran tipped over off the coast of New Guinea. The 23-year-old photographer was working as a trustee for the Museum of Primitive Art and had made the trip in search of indigenous art. When the catamaran capsized, Michael volunteered to attempt to swim to shore in search of help for his fellow passengers. Sadly, he was never seen again.
While his death is officially listed as drowning, the actual events remain a mystery. Some have suggested that he could have been attacked by a shark or a crocodile while others suspect a much darker fate. In the region where the accident occurred, there are multiple small islands that are home to indigenous, cannibalistic tribes who are fiercely territorial. A month after his disappearance, a Dutch priest who is allowed on the islands questioned the men from the Otsjanep tribe to see if they had seen Michael. They readily admitted that they had killed and eaten a man matching his description.
A Tragic Car Crash
The namesake of his father and grandfather, John D. Rockefeller III was tragically killed in a head-on collision in Mt. Pleasant, NY on July 10, 1978. At the time of his death, the 72-year-old philanthropist was the oldest living Rockefeller left in the family. The accident occurred just 12 miles north of the family’s sprawling estate, Kykuit.
John D. Rockefeller III was being driven by his secretary when a 16-year-old driver strayed from his lane on a blind curve and hit their car head-on. Both Mr. Rockefeller and the young driver perished in the accident. The secretary luckily survived.
A Tragic Plane Crash
Son of the billionaire banker, David Rockefeller, Dr. Richard Rockefeller chose the path of philanthropy instead of business. A physician by trade, he served as chairman of the United States Advisory Board of Doctors Without Borders and dedicated his later life to establishing worldwide methods of treatment for those suffering from PTSD.
On June 12, 2014, after visiting the family estate for his father’s 99th birthday, the experienced pilot took off from Westchester County Airport departing the runway in a dense fog and light rain. Within ten minutes, the ground crew had lost contact with him and notified authorities. They found the plane crashed less than one mile from the airport. He was just 65 years old.
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DANGERS THAT COME WITH IMPERSONATING PUTIN
Danger that come with impersonating Putin is enermous. Having a loved one who earns a living impersonating a murderous dictator with a taste for knocking off people he doesn’t like with deadly novichok is unsurprisingly a little stressful
A bloke who looks like Vladimir Putin says his family are scared for his safety, but he won’t do anything about his appearance.
Slawomir Sobala, 54, from Poland, admitted he was aware of the dangers of looking like one of the most hated people in Europe – and even acknowledged some people are rude to him because of it.
Despite this though the man from Wrocław, in the west of the country, says he won’t change his appearance. Speaking to the Daily Star, Slawomir explained that he knew the danger that comes with impersonating Putin and entirely what was at stake with his decision to play Putin in satirical art.
“My family is very concerned about my safety because they know that playing Putin’s role is very risky and dangerous,” he explained. “Unfortunately, many people cannot distinguish reality from satire and when they see me play the role of Putin, they think that I am just like [him] in everyday life.”
That assumption has even stretched to people berating him for his appearance, with some even telling him he should feel shame for it. “After February 24, 2022, about 250,000 people from Ukraine came to my hometown of Wrocław. Every Ukrainian knows perfectly well what Putin’s face looks like, and that is why I have been in a situation many times when people from Ukraine have teased me, saying that I should be ashamed of looking like that.”
Despite this though, Slawomir is determined to be part of the fight against Putin’s tyranny, and his weapon in that conquest is satire. It is because of this – and a firm belief that goodness comes from the heart, not what you look like – that he says he won’t change his appearance.
“I thought that the day Russia invaded Ukraine, I should give up playing the role of Putin. I even published a statement on this matter on my website that I would no longer play the role of Putin. But when so many people approached me and asked me to participate in projects that involved criticising the Putin regime from the Kremlin, I agreed.
“Thanks to this decision, today I have probably become the only person in the world who, thanks to a twist of nature, gave me the strength and the opportunity to show that it is not the appearance that makes a person bad. You can help other people, even if you look like Putin. Many people thanked me for giving them new hope for the future thanks to the satire, where they saw Putin as weak and ridiculed.”
Noting that what you look like doesn’t matter, as long as you’re a good person on the inside, he continued: “I think that changing my image by growing a moustache or shaving my hair wouldn’t change anything in my everyday life anyway. I always say that appearances don’t make us good or bad people.
“You need to be open to establishing good relationships with other people and not be afraid of criticism. Thanks to these rules, I established a lot of interesting contacts and met many wonderful people with whom I was able to bring joy to people all over the world.”
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