13 black women from history you probably didn't learn about but should know

  • History books are filled with stories about impactful men of color like Malcolm X, Fredrick Douglas, and Martin Luther King Jr.
  • There are many black women who have made significant contributions as well, but their stories are often not taught in schools.
  • Bessie Coleman was the first African-American woman to get her pilot's license.
  • Althea Gibson broke barriers in tennis.

When you think about important figures in black history, names like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Frederick Douglass likely come to mind. But there's no denying that black women have played a powerful and important role in history, though you may not hear their stories as often. Black women have been breaking down barriers and shattering stereotypes in the fields of education, sports, politics, and more for generations.

Below, we've listed some black women from history that you may not have learned about in school, but should know more about.

Bessie Coleman was the first African-American woman to hold a pilot's license.

Bessie Coleman was the first African-American woman to hold a pilot's license.
Coleman secured her pilot license in 1921.
 Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Born in 1892, Bessie Coleman always knew she wanted to fly. Although she was rejected by aviation schools in the United States, Coleman never gave up on her dream to become a pilot.

She learned French and was accepted at a flight school in France. In1921, Coleman graduated from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale and secured her place in history as the first African-American woman to receive a pilot's license, though some have reported she was the first African-American person period to receive such a license.

She was also the first Native-American woman to do so. (Her father, George Coleman, was Native American and black.)

When she returned to the United States, she used her knowledge to become a stunt pilot and perform at air shows. In 1922, Coleman became the first African-American woman to make a public flight.Coleman entertained audiences with her aerial stunts until her death in 1926, from an accident during a rehearsal for an aerial show.

Wilma Rudolph ran off with three gold medals at the 1960 Olympics.

Wilma Rudolph ran off with three gold medals at the 1960 Olympics.
Rudolph won three gold medals.
 Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone via Getty Images

Born into a family of 22 children and having polio and scarlet fever as a child, Wilma Rudolph later became a world-class athlete.

Rudolph made history at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome, as the first American woman to win three track-and-field gold medals in a single Olympic games. Rudolph e arned her medals in the 100m, 200m, and 4X100m relay events.

She went on to become a spokesperson for a baking company and a movie studio. She was inducted into the US Olympic Hall of Fame in 1983.

Shirley Chisholm made political history as the first black woman elected to the US Congress.

Shirley Chisholm made political history as the first black woman elected to the US Congress.
Chisholm represented her district in Brooklyn.
 Pictorial Parade/Getty Images

Educator and civil rights advocate, Shirley Chisholm dedicated her life to helping the people in her community. In 1968, Chisholm was elected to represent her Brooklyn district in the United States House of Representatives, becoming the first black woman to serve in US Congress. Chisholm served seven terms in the House, where she was a dedicated advocate for education and employment opportunities for people of color.

In 1972, Chisholm sought the Democratic nomination for president and became the first black woman to seek a major political party's nomination in a presidential campaign. She ultimately lost the democratic nomination to Sen. George McGovern who then lost the presidency to President Richard Nixon.

But her impact is still being felt in 2019. When Sen. Kamala Harris announced her run for president earlier this year, many took note that her logo and campaign materials seemed to pay tribute to Chisolm's.

Mary McLeod Bethune was a trailblazer for African-American people in education by opening her own school.

Mary McLeod Bethune was a trailblazer for African-American people in education by opening her own school.
Bethune was passionate about education.
 © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Mary McLeod Bethune was a dedicated educator and advocate for civil rights. In a time when educational options for African-American people were limited, Bethune founded the Daytona Normal and Industrial Institute in 1904, a school for black girls. In1923, the school merged with the all-male Cookman Institute and in 1929 (though some say it was 1925), it was officially renamed Bethune-Cookman College and today is known as Bethune-Cookman University.

In addition to her work in education, Bethune also organized voter registration campaigns, as women gained the right to vote. In 1936, Bethune was the highest-ranking African-American woman in government as the director of Negro Affairs of the National Youth Administration.

Althea Gibson broke barriers in tennis.

Althea Gibson broke barriers in tennis.
Gibson became the first African-American player to compete at the US Nationals.
Thomas D. Mcavoy/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

About 43 years before Serena Williams won the 1999 US Open, there was Althea Gibson.

In 1949, Gibson attempted to enter into the United States Lawn Tennis Association's championship in Forest Hills, New York. When she wasn't invited to compete in any qualifiers, fellow player Alice Marble wrote a letter on her behalf to American Lawn Tennis magazine, urging members to let her compete.

In 1950 she became the first African-American player to compete at the US Nationals. Though she lost her first year, she later became the first African-American player to win that tournament in 1957. She was also the first to win a singles title at Wimbledon that same year.

In 1957 and 1958, Gibson won consecutive titles at both Wimbledon and the US Nationals.

Phillis Wheatley was the first African-American author to publish a book of poetry.

Phillis Wheatley was the first African-American author to publish a book of poetry.
Wheatley was an accomplished poet.
 Stock Montage/Stock Montage/Getty Images

Wheatley was born around 1753 in West Africa and brought to Boston in 1761. She was educated by the Boston family, the Wheatleys, who enslaved her. She studied literature, including John Milton and Homer, and eventually began to write her own poetry.

Her first poem was likely published in December 1767. She gained national acclaim in 1770 for "An Elegiac Poem, on the Death of that Celebrated Divine, and Eminent Servant of Jesus Christ, the Reverend and Learned George Whitefield" which was published in the US and also later published in London.

In 1773, Wheatley was the first African-American poet to publish a book of her work. It was called "Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral." She went on to publish poems such as "On Being Brought from Africa to America" and "On Virtue."

Janet Collins became the first African-American artist to perform full-time at the Met.

Janet Collins became the first African-American artist to perform full-time at the Met.
Collins made history in the world of dance.
 Getty Images

After a stint dancing on Broadway and in variety shows, including winning Dance magazine's "Debutante of the season" award in 1949,Collins became the first African-American artist to perform full-timewith the Metropolitan Opera in 1951. There she held roles in operas such as "Aida" and "Carmen."

Although she was often received well in New York, Collins was often replaced by understudies when the company traveled through the South because of a race laws.

Collins also taught at prestigious dance schools including Balanchine's School of American Ballet. She toured the US and Canada in 1954 in solo dance concerts after leaving the Met.

Mamie Johnson was a pitcher for the Indianapolis Clowns.

Mamie Johnson was a pitcher for the Indianapolis Clowns.
Johnson was the only female pitches in the Negro Leagues.
 Katherine Frey/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Born in 1935, Mamie Johnson grew up playing baseball in her South Carolina hometown. At age 17, she traveled to Virginia in hopes of landing a spot on the All-American Girl Professional Baseball team, though she was not allowed to try out due to the color of her skin.

Determined to play the game she loved, Johnson went on to becomeone of three women to play baseball in the Negro Leagues in 1953 at 17, and the only woman to pitch. She played for the Indianapolis Clowns.

Despite being one of few women, Johnson later told MLB that she was treated very well by the men in the league. "I was pleased to be treated like a lady at all times. I can say I had 26 brothers, and they were so nice."

Johnson played for the Clowns for three seasons before to have a career as a nurse.

In 2008, the MLB honored Johnson along with other African-American players who were excluded from the league with aceremonial draft. Johnson was drafted by the Washington Nationals. She died in 2017.

Ida B Wells' investigative journalism looked to shine a spotlight on hate crimes.

Ida B Wells' investigative journalism looked to shine a spotlight on hate crimes.
Wells wrote about racially-motivated murders.
 Chicago History Museum/Getty Images

Ida B. Wells was born into slavery in Mississippi in 1862, during the Civil War. After three friends were lynched, Wells, who was a journalist and former schoolteacher, worked to bring increased awareness to these brutal, racially-motivated crimes against black Americans.

Wells became part-owner of the Memphis Free Speech andpublished her writings on her investigation in various pamphlets and newspaper columns, exploring lynchings and racism in America, as well as encouraging boycotts to protest racism and racially motivated violence. Her writings caused so much outrage that she was driven out of Memphis and moved to Chicago.

Wells was also an outspoken advocate for women's rights issues, including suffrage. She was a founder of the National Association of Colored Women's Club and she and Belle Squire co-founded the Alpha Suffrage Club.

Flo Kennedy was a dedicated advocate for women's rights.

Flo Kennedy was a dedicated advocate for women's rights.
Kennedy was a founding member of the Feminist Party.
 Getty Images

Flo Kennedy was a lawyer and civil rights advocate who worked to improve conditions for American women generally, and especially black women. She attended Columbia University enrolled in pre-law studies. Though she had outstanding grades, she was denied by law schools because she was a woman. After threatening to sue, she was admitted by Columbia's law school in 1948 and was the only black person in her class.

She was a founding member of the Feminist Party, which nominated Shirley Chisholm for president in 1972.

Kennedy was a colleague of prominent feminist, Gloria Steinem who called her an "outrageous, imaginative, humorous and witty spokeswoman for social justice." Kennedy was an outspoken supporter of women's reproductive rights.

She helped organize a protest of the Miss America pageant in 1968, as well as a "pee-in" on Harvard Yard in 1973 in protest of the lack of women's bathrooms on campus.

Rebecca Lee Crumpler was instrumental in issuing medical treatment to those who couldn't afford it.

Rebecca Lee Crumpler was instrumental in issuing medical treatment to those who couldn't afford it.
Crumpler published this book.
 The National Library of Medicine

At a time when very few women worked outside of the home, Dr. Rebecca Lee Crumpler was saving lives. Crumpler earned her M.D. degree from New England Female Medical College in 1864 and was the only African-American person to earn a degree from the institution. Crumpler became the first African-American female physician in the United States.

Her practice was primarily focused on serving low-income women and children in Boston and Richmond, Virginia.

In 1883, Crumpler became the first black physician to publish a medical text, "A Book of Medical Discourses in Two Parts."

Ruby Bridges desegregated a public school in the south.

Ruby Bridges desegregated a public school in the south.
Bridges attended a formerly all-white school in New Orleans.
 Bettmann / Contributor/ Getty Images

Ruby Bridges became a civil-rights activist when she was only 6 years old. Although the Supreme Court ruled against segregation in public schools in the Brown v. Board of Education decision, many all-white schools in the South were still not completely on board with welcoming black students.

Bridges passed the entrance exam to attend an all-white elementary school, William Frantz Elementary School, in her New Orleans neighborhood, and in 1960, she became the first African-American child to desegregate the all-white elementary school in the south.

Federal marshals escorted Bridges and her mother past angry protesters each day. Bridges wrote two books about her experiences and received the Carter G. Woodson Book Award.

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Trump turns on Fox News: ‘Even less understanding... than fake news CNN & NBC’

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President Donald Trump lashed out at his favorite network on Sunday, accusing two Fox News journalists of having “less understanding” of his proposed border wall than the “fake news” at his usual media targets, CNN and NBC. 

Trump specifically called out the network’s chief White House correspondent John Roberts and Washington correspondent Gillian Turner:

Roberts subbed for Fox News anchor Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday” and Turner was part of a discussion on the show.

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visits border wall prototypes amid protests

The numbers in Trump’s tweet refer to an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist Poll earlier this month, which found 50 percent of Latino adults approve of his job as president, a 19 percent jump since December, The Hill reported. 

Barbara Carvalho, the director of the poll, told PBS that it was not a poll of Latinos but a small part of a much larger poll. If isolated, that portion of the poll would have a 9.9-point margin of error. 

We’re really not looking to draw conclusions about what smaller subgroups within the population feel,” Carvalho said.

The larger finding of the poll was a 39 percent approval rating for Trump overall, down from 42 percent in December, versus 53 percent who disapprove, which is up from 49 percent last month. In addition, just 30 percent of Americans said they would definitely vote for Trump in 2020, versus 57 percent who would definitely vote against him. 

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The 23-year-old from Canning Town who knocked on doors in Kensington to make it in finance

'I knew I had to get out of my comfort zone,' Reggie Nelson says. 'Do something those around me weren’t doing; something different'

The 23-year-old from Canning Town who knocked on doors in Kensington to make it in finance
 Danilo Agutoli

Reggie Nelson is not your typical financial services professional. Yes, he attended university and has a degree in economics, but for the east Londoner, the usual traits required for entry into the City end there.

Nelson was born and raised on a council estate. He did not attend private school, did not go to one of the UK’s top universities and does not have a particularly stellar academic record.

The 23-year-old is also black and, in an industry where more than 99% of his fellow workers are not, that sets Nelson apart.

When we meet at the offices of Legal & General Investment Management, one of the UK’s biggest fund managers where Nelson works as an analyst, he appears completely at ease with his surroundings.

It is hard to imagine his trajectory to this point required such an extraordinary effort, but the truth is his arrival at the City money manager would not have been possible had Nelson not taken a brave and unorthodox step five years earlier.

When he was just 17 Nelson says he felt his life was at a crossroads. His dad, who was an alcoholic, had recently died of liver failure and Nelson had become disenchanted with the path he was on. Up until that point he thought football would be his route out of the Canning Town housing estate where he grew up — he had been signed by Woking FC as an apprentice at the age of 16 — but the death of his father convinced him he needed to pursue something more stable to try to secure a better life for his mum, his sister and himself.

“I knew I had to get out of my comfort zone,” he says. “Do something those around me weren’t doing; something different.”

That something was going door to door in the wealthiest suburb of the UK capital and asking those who answered how they had made money and how they could afford to live there. On a Saturday morning in March 2014, after googling “richest area in London”, Nelson took the Tube to Kensington and spent the day knocking on doors, armed with only a smile and a pre-prepared speech.

To anyone who answered, he said: “I just wanted to know what skills and qualities you had that allowed you to live in a wealthy area like this so I can extrapolate that and use it for myself.”

He laughs at that now. “I would never do anything like that now as I have the right people around me to guide and advise me,” he says. “But back then I didn’t know what to do. I felt stuck, lost.”

Some slammed the door in his face, most did not answer and others politely said they were unable to help. But after knocking on 15 doors and stopping people in the street Nelson arrived at the white stucco home of Quintin Price, then an influential fund manager at BlackRock, the world’s largest investment company.

“Quintin was parking the car somewhere and so Elizabeth [his wife] answered the buzzer,” he says. “They had a camera and could see who it was before they opened, and she said: ‘Hi, can I help you?’

“I gave her my speech and she asked if it was a school project. I said no. At that point she opened the door, invited me in and started asking what I was studying, what I do. I told her I was on a football contract but that I didn’t want to play any more, and at that point Quintin walks in and explains to me what he does. I remember it very well; what I was wearing, what was said. It was a life-changing moment.”

That conversation was to alter the course of Nelson’s life. Price arranged for him to attend a training day for undergraduates at BlackRock’s headquarters in London three months later. He was the youngest there. “I was like a sponge on that day,” Nelson recalls.

“I was going to do whatever Quintin did. Firstly, what he told me about his job at that initial meeting sounded interesting and, second, I was in awe of his house and everything in it. My mentality was: ‘If this guy can teach me what he did then hopefully I can imitate that and have a better life for my family,’” he says.

Nelson was invited back that summer to complete a week-long work experience programme at the asset manager. At the end of that week Price sat down with Nelson and his mum and encouraged the 17-year-old to go to university. He became his mentor.

“I said to him: ‘OK but what do I study?’,” says Nelson. “He advised me to do something finance-related. At that point I wasn’t going to go to university and so I had to call random universities and say: ‘Look, do you have anything finance-related?’ Kingston University eventually got back to me and offered me a place.”

Nelson graduated in 2017 with a 2:1 in economics and Mandarin. He went on to do a couple more stints at BlackRock, but the fund manager did not offer him a full-time graduate position (“Everything happens for a reason,” says Nelson). After a short posting at Funding Circle, a peer-to-peer lender, Nelson arrived at LGIM. He is the only black person on his floor but says he enjoys working at the company very much. “It was a long journey to get here but I was very happy to sign on the dotted line,” Nelson says.

Nelson has since become a mentor to other young people wanting to get into finance. He has met UK Prime Minister Theresa May, spoken at a host of events on improving diversity and social mobility within the City, and has had his story told on the BBC and ITV’s This Morning.

His life has changed dramatically, but what about his relationship with Price, who has since left BlackRock. Has that endured?

“We are in constant contact,” Nelson says. “Quintin never helped me financially. He said from day one that he wanted me to do it all myself and I totally agree with that.

“He is someone I go to for advice. We meet up for lunch, dinner, I go to his house and speak to him often. He has become a father figure to me.”

Reggie Nelson CV

Age 
23

Education 
2017: BSc, economics with Mandarin, Kingston University

Career 
2018 to present: Graduate analyst, Legal & General Investment Management 
2017-18: Account manager, Funding Circle 
2016: Summer analyst, BlackRock 
2014-16: Various internships and placements: Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank, Aberdeen Standard Investments, Armstrong Investment Managers, BlackRock, Bank of England 
2014-15: Projects assistant, Kingston University London 
2012-14: Footballer, Woking Football Club

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Kamala Harris Is Running For President In 2020

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) listens during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on homeland security on Jan. 16, 2018.

The California senator announced her bid on Martin Luther King Jr. Day with the campaign theme “For the people.”

Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) announced Monday that she will be running for president in 2020.

The theme of Harris’ campaign will be “For the people,” and she is expected to formally announce her candidacy in a speech on Jan. 27 in Oakland, California.

The senator previewed her announcement in an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Monday, and her campaign released a short introductory video.

“I love my country,” Harris told ABC. “This is a moment in time that I feel a sense of responsibility to stand up and fight for the best of who we are.”

She added: “My entire career has been focused on keeping people safe. It is probably one of the things that motivates me more than anything else. And when I look at this moment in time, I know that the American people deserve to have someone who is going to fight for them.”

Harris recently published a memoirThe Truths We Hold: An American Journey, that dove into many of the messages she is expected to focus on during her campaign. In the book, she describes her upbringing in Oakland as a daughter of immigrants from India and Jamaica, and her personal history going from prosecutor to district attorney to senator.

According to a Harris aide, her priorities in the campaign will be addressing the cost of living, pushing for a more just society, expanding access to better quality of life and restoring dignity and responsibility to public office. Issues like immigration, education and criminal justice reform are expected to feature prominently in her agenda. 

Elected to the Senate in 2016, Harris made history as the first Indian-American to serve in the body, as well as just the second black woman. As attorney general of California for six years, she was the first woman, African-American and Indian-American in that role.

Harris announced her presidential bid on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and her campaign’s logo and color scheme draw inspiration from the 1972 presidential bid of Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman to run for the presidency from one of the major parties.

KAMALA HARRIS CAMPAIGN

“My parents were very active in the civil rights movement, and that’s the language that I grew up hearing,” Harris told ABC on Monday. “It was about a belief that we are a country that was founded on noble ideals and we are the best of who we are when we fight to achieve those ideals.”

“The thing about Dr. King that always inspires me is he was aspirational,” she continued. “He was aspirational like our country is aspirational. We know that we have not yet reached those ideals, but our strength is that we fight to reach those ideals.”

Harris is expected to make her first campaign stop in one of the early states on Friday, in Columbia, South Carolina. She is slated to speak at the Pink Ice Gala, a major event held by the local chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. Harris was a member of the sorority during her time at Howard University.

Harris is the latest high-profile Democrat to declare her intention to run against President Donald Trump in 2020. Sens. Elizabeth Warren(Mass.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), along with former Obama Cabinet member Julián Castro and Reps. John Delaney (Md.) and Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), are running as well.

The 2020 field is expected to get more crowded in the coming weeks, with Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), as well as former Vice President Joe Biden, among the speculated entrants.

Harris recently gained national attention through her tough questioning of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions in Senate hearings.

When Trump won the presidency against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016, crushing many Americans’ hopes for the first female president, some turned to Harris as a potential candidate to break that glass ceiling.

Harris’ track record includes support for LGBTQ rights, recent support for “Medicare for all,” and what she dubs her “smart on crime” strategy, which includes reducing sentences for low-level offenders.

Some have criticized her record as California attorney general, notably because her office declined to prosecute now-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s OneWest Bank for foreclosure violations in 2013.

Harris has been a vocal critic of Trump and his administration, calling for reform of Immigration and Customs Enforcement amid Trump’s crackdown on undocumented immigrants, and for stronger environmental protections amid the Trump administration’s loosening of regulations.

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What Martin Luther King Jr. Said About Walls During His 1964 Visit to Berlin

  1. Martin Luther King in Berlin on Sept. 12, 1964.

Berlin was perhaps destined to be a meaningful place for Martin Luther King Jr.; it was the city that, in some ways, gave him his name. And for a man who preached against walls that “divided humanity,” a 1964 visit to the then-three-year-old Berlin Wall, which divided the Soviet-occupied East side of the city and the U.S.-occupied West side of the city, offered a chance to add another layer to that significance.

The visit came about after West Berlin’s Mayor Willy Brandt invited King to participate in a memorial ceremony for President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated the year prior, less than six months after his own famousvisit there. King also received an invitation to speak in East Berlin from Heinrich Grüber, who had been a pastor at a church there and a prisoner in a concentration camp for three years during World War II for openly criticizing the Nazi Party.

It would be risky for King, as Grüber had driven out because of his anti-government views, and had been living in West Berlin himself. “I write in the bond of the same faith and hope, knowing your experiences are the same as ours were,” he wrote in a letter to King, according to historian Britta Waldschmidt-Nelson’s account of the visit. “During the time of Hitler, I was often ashamed of being a German, as today I am ashamed of being white,” Grüber wrote. “I am grateful to you, dear brother, and to all who stand with you in this fight for justice, which you are conducting in the spirit of Jesus Christ.”

King decided to take that risk and accepted both invitations.

On Sept. 13, 1964 — two months after the Civil Rights Act was enacted and a month before he won the Nobel Peace Prize — King addressed 20,000 people at a rally at the outdoor stadium Waldbühne in West Berlin. He also visited the spot where, earlier that day, East Berlin guards had shot and wounded aresident who was trying to climb over the wall into West Berlin. King also delivered the same sermon at St. Mary’s Church in East Berlin, which was over its 2,000-person capacity, and then gave another, unscheduled speech to the overflow crowd at Sophia Church, similarly over its 2,000-person capacity.

And, in a city with a division that could not be avoided, he said that, while he was no expert in German politics, he knew about walls.

“It is indeed an honor to be in this city, which stands as a symbol of the divisions of men on the face of the earth,” he told East Berliners. “For here on either side of the wall are God’s children and no man-made barrier can obliterate that fact. Whether it be East or West, men and women search for meaning, hope for fulfillment, yearn for faith in something beyond themselves, and cry desperately for love and community to support them in this pilgrim journey.”

He talked about the similarities shared by the clash between African Americans and white people in the United States and that between communism and democracy in Berlin, which he described as “the hub around which turns the wheel of history.” Just as America is “proving to be the testing ground of races living together in spite of their differences: you are testing the possibility of co-existence for the two ideologies which now compete for world dominance,” he said. Quoting Ephesians, he spoke of his assumption that “wherever reconciliation is taking place, wherever men are ‘breaking down the dividing walls of hostility’ which separate them from their brothers, there Christ continues to perform his ministry of reconciliation.”

The sermon was “particularly moving” to East Berliners, especially “his passages on the readiness of Negroes to suffer and if necessary die for their faith and his emphasis on common struggles, common faith, and common suffering,” according to a telegram rundown of King’s trip that the U.S. Mission in Berlin sent to the Secretary of State’s office, European embassies and the Moscow embassy.

The U.S. State Department nervously monitored the visit, worried about anything that would heat up the Cold War or undermine its agenda to prove democracy was the better system of government.

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