Like the charcoal in any respectable Independence Day cookout, progress often needs a spark to get going. Luckily, American history is chock-full of fire starters whose courage has kept the great Grill of Freedom hot for 240 years. Here are just a few of the brave souls who have made this cumbersome barbecue metaphor possible.
MUHAMMAD ALI BLAZES A TRAIL TOWARD RELIGIOUS ACCEPTANCE
When the government wanted to send the boxer formerly known as Cassius Clay to Vietnam, he stuck to his guns and stood by his Muslim faith — even when faced with possible jail time. In the end, the Supreme Court vindicated his decision, allowing us to grill those smoky sausage links of tolerance today.
NELLIE BLY LIGHTS A FIRE UNDER THE PATRIARCHY’S ASS
A misogynist 1880s op-ed columnist was no match for crack reporter Nellie Bly. Instead of succumbing to The Man’s wishes to get back in the kitchen, she went undercover at a mental institution to prove that women belong in the workplace. You could say she really brought the veggie burgers of egalitarianism to the table.
PERCY JULIAN ROASTS A RACIST EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM
Getting shut out of a segregated college campus and being forced to obtain his PhD overseas didn’t stop talented chemist Percy Julian from pursuing his dreams of discovery. Over his long research career, he invented numerous compounds, broke racial barriers in the field and passed down the sweet s’mores of equality for all of us to enjoy.