Raleigh, Sir Walter (1554?–1618) A colorful courtier in the court if Elizabeth I, Raleigh organized and sponsored an English colony on Roanoke Island, in what is today North Carolina’s Outer Banks. The colony was established in August 1585, but was quickly abandoned. In July 1587, another contingent of 150 colonists arrived to reestablish the settlement, only to vanish, leaving the word Croatoan carved into a tree as their only trace. Raleigh never visited the colony himself.
Randolph, A. Philip (1889–1979) Randolph was an early civil rights leader who sought racial equality primarily through organizing black labor, beginning with the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, of which he became president in 1925. Against much white opposition, Randolph fashioned the Brotherhood into the first successful black trade union. Shortly before U.S. entry into World War II, he persuaded President Franklin D. Roosevelt to issue an executive order (June 25, 1941) barring discrimination in defense industries and federal bureaus. After the war, Randolph founded the League for Nonviolent Civil Disobedience against Military Segregation and persuaded President Harry S. Truman to desegregate the armed forces (July 26, 1948).
Randolph, Edmund (1753–1813) Randolph was a prominent Virginia lawyer and pro-independence politician. In 1787, he was a delegate to the Constitutional Convention, at which he proposed the “Virginia Plan” (the basis for the bicameral Congress) and was a member of the committee that drafted the document. He withheld his own signature from the finished Constitution because he believed it provided insufficient protection of the rights of states and individuals; nevertheless, he exercised his powerful influence to persuade Virginia to ratify it. Randolph served in President George Washington’s cabinet, first as attorney general and then as secretary of state.
Rankin, Jeannette (1880–1973) Rankin was elected the first woman member of Congress, serving as a representative from Montana from 1917 to 1919 and from 1941 to 1943. She was a feminist crusader and an absolute pacifist. In 1917, she was one of only 49 members to vote against the declaration of war against Germany (World War I) and in 1941 was the only member not to vote “yea” on the declaration against Japan (World War II).
Rauschenberg, Robert (1925– ) Rauschenberg burst onto the modern art scene with radical all-white paintings—essentially blank surfaces—in 1951, which were followed by a series of “Black Paintings” and “Red Paintings,” which incorporated found objects attached to the canvas. Increasingly, Rauschenberg added three-dimensional found objects to his paintings, completely obliterating the distinction between painting and sculpture. Because Rauschenberg’s assemblages often featured the detritus of popular culture, he is credited as a forerunner of Pop Art. As his work challenges the traditional distinction between sculpture and painting, so it raises questions of just what it is that constitutes art.
Rayburn, Sam (1882–1961) Texas Democrat Rayburn served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1913 to 1961, 17 of those years as speaker. A champion of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, he was a mentor to generations of young members of Congress and was valued by four presidents—FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy—as a blunt and knowledgeable adviser.
Reagan, Ronald W. (1911–2004) Reagan grew up in small-town Illinois. After fulfilling his initial ambition to be a radio sports announcer, he went to Hollywood and became a popular B-level actor. When his film career waned, he worked on television. Reagan’s presidency of the Screen Actors Guild piqued his interest in politics, and although he had been a Democrat for much of his life, his increasing attraction to a conservative orientation during the 1950s drew him to the Republican Party and, in particular, to its Conservative wing. In 1966, he defeated the popular Democratic incumbent Pat Brown for the governorship of California and served two terms. He was nominated as the Republican presidential candidate in 1980, then easily defeated incumbent Jimmy Carter. Reagan’s was an affable, optimistic White House presence, which exuded a confidence reminiscent of Franklin D. Roosevelt. He introduced a new patriotism and a new approach to the economy, which favored business, cut taxes, and diminished the welfare state. In foreign policy, Reagan was widely credited with bringing about the downfall of Soviet communism.
Red Cloud (1822–1909) During 1865–1867 Red Cloud, chief of the Oglala Teton Sioux, led a highly successful resistance to the federal government’s attempt to develop the Bozeman Trail as a route to the gold fields of Montana. Thanks to Red Cloud’s efforts, the government concluded the Treaty of Fort Laramie (1868), which closed the trail and recognized various Indian rights. It was a rare triumph for Native Americans.
Reeb, James (1927–1965) Born in Wichita, Kansas, Reeb was a white minister of the Unitarian church, who participated in a Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) demonstration in Selma, Alabama, in 1965. He was among the demonstrators attacked by a white mob on March 8, a date known as Bloody Sunday. Savagely beaten and clubbed, Reeb sustained severe head trauma and died in the hospital on March 10. His grisly death reverberated through the nation, raised the northern white consciousness, and increased the volume of condemnation against the racism of the South.
Reed, John (1887–1920) Reed grew up in a privileged Portland, Oregon, family and became active as a journalist covering leftwing politics. He increasingly made the transition from reportage to active participation, and, becoming a personal friend of V. I. Lenin, lived in Russia during the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. He returned to the United States and reported on the revolution in his most celebrated work, Ten Days That Shook the World (1919). When the U.S. government indicted him for treason, Reed fled to the Soviet Union, where he succumbed to typhus. The Soviets buried him in a place of honor beside the Kremlin wall.
Rehnquist, William (1924–2005) Rehnquist was a Phoenix, Arizona, attorney from 1953 to 1969, active in conservative Republican politics. President Richard M. Nixon appointed him an assistant attorney general in 1969 and nominated him to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1971. Citing his hostility toward civil rights, Senate liberals tried unsuccessfully to defeat the nomination. His steadfast conservatism on the court prompted President Ronald W. Reagan to nominate him as chief justice in 1986. Rehnquist dissented from the high court’s reaffirmation of abortion rights and its protection of gay rights.
Remington, Eliphalet (1793–1861) Born in England, Remington immigrated to the Utica, New York, area with his family in 1800. In 1816, young Remington fashioned his first flintlock at his blacksmith father’s forge. The gun greatly impressed neighbors, who ordered copies—and thus Remington found himself in the firearms business. He built his first factory in 1828, and the Remington company went on to become the principal firearms supplier to the U.S. military, through the Civil War in the 19th century and the two world wars of the 20th.
Remington, Frederic (1861–1909) Trained in eastern art schools, Remington traveled throughout the American West, painting and sculpting the familiar figures of the region: Indians, cowboys, soldiers, and horses—always in action, often in combat.
Revere, Paul (1735–1818) Revere learned the art of silversmithing from his father, a Huguenot refugee who had settled in Boston. Widely praised as a great artisan, Revere prospered—his work is much prized today—but it was for his daring performance as a courier for Boston’s revolutionary Committee of Public Safety that he is even better remembered. On the night of April 18, 1775, he rode through Boston and environs to warn residents that the British, en route to Lexington and Concord, were coming. Thus roused, the Patriot militia was able to offer stiff resistance—and the American Revolution began. Revere’s deed entered into American historical consciousness largely through the 1863 ballad, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.
Rice, Condoleezza (1954– ) On January 26, 2005, when she replaced Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice became the first African American woman to serve as secretary of state. She came to the office after a distinguished career as a political scientist and after having served as President George W. Bush’s national security adviser. Earlier, she had served President George H. W. Bush as an expert on Soviet affairs. As secretary of state, Rice proved controversial because of her role in the U.S. war in Iraq (2003– ).
Richardson, Elliot (1920–1999) A prominent attorney and politician, Richardson had the distinction of being the only person to serve in four Cabinet posts in U.S. history: as Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare (1970–1973), Secretary of Defense (January–May 1973), Attorney General (May 24–October 1973), and Secretary of Commerce (1976–1977), but it is for his role in the Watergate affair that he is best remembered. On October 20, 1973, President Richard M. Nixon ordered Attorney General Richardson to fire Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox (who demanded that President Nixon turn over tape recordings of Oval Office conversations). Richardson resigned rather than obey the order. Richardson’s second-in-command, Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, also refused to fire Cox, and resigned, whereupon the president called on U.S. Solicitor General Robert Bork (a staunch conservative) to fire Cox. The sequence of resignations and firings was dubbed the “Saturday Night Massacre” and ensured Nixon’s downfall.
Rickey, Branch (1881–1885) In 1947, as president and general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team, Rickey concluded a contract with Jackie Robinson, who thus became the first African American to play on a modern major league team. Before this, professional ball had been strictly segregated, with black players restricted to the Negro Leagues. By “crossing the color line” in professional baseball, Rickey and Robinson provided a spark that helped ignite a movement toward racial integration on a national scale.
Rickover, Hyman G. (1900–1986) Rickover was a U.S. Navy officer who championed and directed the development of the world’s first nuclear-powered ship’s engines and the first nuclear-powered submarine, the USS Nautilus, which was launched in 1954. In addition to fathering the nuclear navy, Rickover was a major advocate of harnessing atomic energy for peaceful purposes.
Ridgway, Matthew B. (1895–1993) Matthew Bunker Ridgway commanded the 82nd Airborne Division during World War II and, with it, planned and executed the first major airborne (paratroop) assault in U.S. military history during the Sicily campaign in July 1943. Airborne assault became a major tactic in World War II and subsequent conflicts. Ridgway also served as commander of the Eighth Army in the Korean War and in 1951 succeeded Douglas MacArthur as overall commander of U.S. and United Nations forces in Korea.
Riesman, David (1909–2002) Riesman’s The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character (1950) was a groundbreaking, provocative, and highly influential study of the urban middle class of postwar America. Riesman analyzed and defined the sense of individual alienation among the dominant class in America, which (as he saw it) emphasized conformity at the expense of self-fulfillment and the development of deep interpersonal relationships.
Riis, Jacob A. (1849–1914) After immigrating from Denmark, Riis became a journalist in New York. He explored the slums of the city’s Lower East Side and published, in 1890, How the Other Half Lives, a dramatic combination of text and photographs documenting life in those slums—a life virtually unknown to the city’s (and the nation’s) prosperous middle class. His book stirred the American conscience and spurred legislation aimed at slum clearance and general urban social reform.
Robbins, Jerome (1918–1998) Robbins was born Jerome Rabinowitz in New York City. After briefly studying chemistry at New York University, he followed his true passion, dance, and joined what is now the American Ballet Theater in 1940. He debuted as a choreographer in 1944 with Leonard Bernstein’s ballet Fancy Free, which was a tremendous popular and critical success. Robbins went on to choreograph many modern ballets, Broadway musicals, and Hollywood movies. His genius was in his integration of colloquial and popular American dance into ballet.
Robertson, Pat (1930– ) Robertson emerged in the 1960s and 1970s as a leading evangelical Christian broadcaster and a prime mover of the so-called Christian Right, a movement that promotes conservative Christian “values” in American politics and that is criticized by some for violating the Constitutional separation of church and state. In addition to having founded and operated many Christian/political organizations and corporations, Robertson hosts The 700 Club, a very successful Christian television talk show. Robertson ran unsuccessfully in the 1988 presidential primaries and is a major supporter of the Republican Party. He is a vocal and controversial opponent of abortion and gay rights.
Robeson, Paul (1898–1976) Robeson earned a law degree from Columbia University in 1923, but, as a black man, found little opportunity to practice and became an actor. He was closely associated with the playwright Eugene O’Neill, appearing in O’Neill’s All God’s Chillun Got Wings (1924) and The Emperor Jones (1924), which made him a star. Robeson was also one of the great baritones of the 20th century. He brought the Negro spiritual to white audiences and became internationally famous in the role of Joe, singing “Ol’ Man River” in Jerome Kern’s epoch-making musical Show Boat. Beginning in the 1930s, Robeson became a left-wing political activist, for which his career suffered.
Robinson, Jackie (1919–1972) On April 15, 1947, Robinson walked onto Ebbets Field as a Brooklyn Dodger, the first black man to play in Major League baseball. He had been signed by Dodgers president and manager Branch Rickey and endured racial slurs and threats of violence to compile an extraordinary record as an infielder and outfielder from 1947 through 1956. Playing offense, he led the National League in stolen bases and won the 1949 batting championship with a .342 average.
Rockefeller, John D. (1839–1937) Rockefeller got into the oil business in 1863 and founded Standard Oil in 1870. He rapidly built the company into the first great U.S. business “trust” by buying out all competitors and vertically integrating all aspects of the oil business, from drilling, to refining, to transporting, to marketing. Rockefeller’s aggressive business practices provoked a federal response in the form of the Sherman Antitrust Act (1890). Ruthless as a capitalist, Rockefeller was also one of the world’s great philanthropists, contributing some $500 million to create the University of Chicago, the Rockefeller Foundation, and other charitable institutions.
Rockefeller, Nelson (1908–1979) From the late 1950s through much of the 1970s, Rockefeller was the embodiment of the liberal wing of the Republican Party and tried to be a moderating and unifying force in the nation’s often divisive politics. He failed in three bids to secure the Republican presidential nomination, and by 1976 was sidelined, as the Republican Party became increasingly the party of conservatism. Rockefeller served four terms as New York governor (1959–1973) and was appointed vice president in the administration of President Gerald Ford (1974–1977).
Rockwell, Norman (1894–1978) During nearly a half-century, Rockwell created 317 covers for The Saturday Evening Post, most depicting homely scenes embodying “traditional” American values—mom and apple pie—yet without excessive sentimentality and always with wry humor and consummate skill.
Rodgers, Richard (1902–1979) From the 1920s through the end of the 1950s, Rodgers was one of the leading composers of the American musical, producing with lyricists Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II some of the most popular and best Broadway shows of all time, including Oklahoma! (1943), Carousel (1945), South Pacific (1949), The King and I (1951), The Flower Drum Song (1958), and The Sound of Music (1959).
Roebling, John Augustus (1806–1869) Born in Germany, Roebling immigrated to the United States when he was 25 and made a fortune as a manufacturer of wire and cable. He used the cable in the design of suspension bridges, including two in Pittsburgh, one at Niagara Falls, and one across the Ohio River between Cincinnati, Ohio, and Covington, Kentucky. His masterpiece design was the Brooklyn Bridge. Injured during the earliest phase of construction, he succumbed to tetanus, and his work was carried through to completion by his son, Washington Augustus Roebling.
Roebling, Washington Augustus (1837–1926) A German-born American civil engineer, Roebling directed construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, an engineering masterpiece of great beauty, which he had designed with his father, John Augustus Roebling, who was killed in an early phase of construction. Roebling labored 13 years, from 1869 to 1883, to complete the bridge. Stricken with “the bends” (decompression sickness) after working too long in an underwater caisson, he became a semi-invalid for the rest of his long life.
Rolfe, John (1585–1622?) Rolfe sailed from England to Virginia in 1609, but, because of a shipwreck, did not arrive until 1610. He was the first planter to profit from the cultivation of tobacco, which became Virginia’s principal export, but he is most famous for marrying Pocahontas, daughter of the powerful Indian chief Powhatan, on April 5, 1614. The marriage helped to ensure peace between Jamestown and the Indians. Rolfe returned with Pocahontas to England, where he presented her at the court of James I. She was warmly greeted, but, tragically, succumbed to smallpox in March 1617.
Roosevelt, Eleanor (1884–1962) Roosevelt married her distant cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, on March 17, 1905, and gave birth to six children (one died in infancy). She was her husband’s political partner and, after he was stricken with polio in 1921, was indispensable to his recovery. Throughout FDR’s political career, Eleanor Roosevelt was an activist in social and humanitarian causes. After her husband’s death in 1945, she served as a United Nations delegate. Eleanor Roosevelt was a woman of great influence, who was internationally admired.
Roosevelt, Franklin D. (1882–1945) Roosevelt was the scion of a prominent New York family who overcame the paralytic effects of polio (contracted in 1921) to become governor of New York and president of the United States for an unprecedented four terms, from 1933 to 1945. Not since Abraham Lincoln had a president faced more serious crises in office, beginning with the Great Depression (which he addressed with the New Deal and other social legislation and programs) and World War II (in which he emerged as a great wartime leader). FDR extensively expanded the role and powers of the federal government and was held in great esteem and affection by a majority of the American people. Most historians judge him to be the greatest president of the 20th century.
Roosevelt, Theodore (1858–1919) One of the American giants of the early 20th century, Roosevelt was an author, a rancher, a naturalist, a big game hunter, a soldier, New York City police commissioner, navy secretary, governor of New York, political reformer, vice president, and, from 1901 to 1909, president of the United States. When he entered the Oval Office in 1901 upon the assassination of William McKinley, he expanded the powers of the chief executive and the federal government, championed government intervention for the public interest, favored the rights of labor over big business, fought the “trusts” (monopolistic business practices), championed the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1903, and transformed the nation into a major world power. An ardent conservationist, TR created the National Park system. He initiated construction of the Panama Canal, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1906 for his role in mediating an end to the Russo-Japanese War.
Root, Elihu (1845–1937) Root was secretary of war under William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt from 1899 to 1903, responsible for creating governments for the territory ceded by Spain to the U.S. as a result of the Spanish-American War (1898) and for reorganizing and reforming the U.S. Army. As Roosevelt’s secretary of state from 1905 to 1909, he concluded agreements by which Japan pledged to respect the Open Door Policy in China, and he negotiated arbitration treaties with more than 20 nations. For his contributions to peace and “general world harmony,” Root was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1912.
Roper, Elmo (1900–1971) Roper developed a scientific poll for political and public opinion forecasting.
Rose, Pete (1941– ) Nicknamed Charlie Hustle, Rose broke Ty Cobb’s record for career hits (4,191) in 1985 and was recognized as well for his all-around skill and enthusiasm at play. Rose’s career total of hits was an astronomical 4,256, and he set records for most games played (3,562), most times at bat (14,053), and most seasons with 200 hits or more (10). He was denied a place in the Baseball Hall of Fame as a result of a 1989 baseball commission decision banning him from the game for life because of illegal gambling on the sport.
Rosenberg, Julius and Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg (1918–1953 and 1915–1953) On June 19, 1953, Julius Rosenberg and his wife, Ethel, became the first American civilians to be executed for espionage. Julius, a member of the Communist party, had been employed as an engineer by the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War II. Largely on the basis of testimony by Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass, who had worked on the “A-bomb” project at Los Alamos, New Mexico, he and Ethel were found guilty of supplying Soviet agents with nuclear secrets. Deep in the Cold War, their death sentences provoked international protest and polarized American public opinion, but President Eisenhower, convinced of the couple’s guilt, refused to commute the sentences. (Soviet documents released in the 1990s suggest that Julius was in fact a spy, but that his wife was substantially innocent. Experts continue to debate the actual value of the secrets leaked.)
Rostow, Walt (1916–2003) As adviser to Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, Rostow argued persuasively for the expansion of the U.S. role in the Vietnam War, continuing to hold this position long after most other highly placed government officials had concluded that the war was unwinnable and advised withdrawal rather than escalation.
Rothko, Mark (1903–1970) Born Marcus Rothkovitch in Russia, Rothko immigrated to the U.S. with his family in 1913. He began painting in 1925, at first in a realistic style, but gradually developed a new, intensely introspective non-objective style, which evolved into color-field painting. Rothko’s mature canvases juxtapose large areas of soft, almost contourless colors that appear to hover and gently vibrate in space above the painting. The effect is serene, contemplative, and quietly spiritual, a marked contrast to the prevailing freneticism of Abstract Expressionism.
Rothstein, Arthur (1882/1883–1928) Rothstein straddled the worlds of powerful politicians and powerful crime lords as a Prohibition-era bootlegger and gambler who specialized in influence peddling. It is generally believed that Rothstein arranged the bribery scheme that “fixed” (corrupted) the 1919 World Series in the so-called Black Sox baseball scandal. He was mortally wounded by a gunshot in a poker game on November 4, 1928, and died two days later—without revealing the identity of his assailant.
Rowlandson, Mary (circa 1637–1710/11) A New England colonist, Rowlandson and her three children were captured by Indians in February 1676 during King Philip’s War. Rowlandson and two of her children survived; she was ransomed in May 1676 and the children a little later. Rowlandson wrote an account of her captivity, which was published in 1682 and republished many times. The vivid narrative was avidly and widely read and is today regarded as a valuable account of survival and of Indian life.
Rubin, Jerry (1938–1994) Rubin was a sometime journalist who became a social activist in 1964 when he participated in a protest in Berkeley, California, against a local grocer who refused to hire African Americans. Soon Rubin was leading protests of his own. He became a high-profile protest organizer during the Vietnam War and, with Abbie Hoffman, founded the Yippies (Youth International Party), who offered Pigasus, a pig, as their presidential candidate. Rubin developed protest into a kind of street theater and was tried (as one of the “Chicago 7”) for his role in the disruption of 1968 Democratic National Convention.
Ruby, Jack (1911–1967) Born Jacob Rubenstein in Chicago, he changed his name to Jack Ruby in 1947. A small-time mobster, Ruby owned or managed Dallas nightclubs and strip clubs. On November 24, 1963, two days after Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Ruby shot Oswald at point-blank range as he was being transferred from police headquarters to a jail. The shooting was televised. Ruby was convicted of murder on March 14, 1964, and sentenced to death, but was subsequently granted a new trial. He died of a pulmonary embolism before the new proceedings began. Ruby’s motive has never been determined. Some believe he was hired to silence Oswald as part of a conspiracy to assassinate President John F. Kennedy, but all evidence indicates he simply sought vengeance on the killer of the president he greatly admired.
Rush, Benjamin (1746–1813) Rush was a pioneering American medical researcher and respected teacher of medicine. He was a pioneer in the field of psychiatry and a crusader for the humane treatment of asylum inmates. He was also a prime mover of the independence movement, a member of the Continental Congress, and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. It was at his instigation that Thomas Paine wrote Common Sense (1776), which was an important catalyst for independence.
Rusk, Dean (1909–1994) As secretary of state in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, Rusk was a committed “cold warrior” (hardline anti-Communist) who supported the Vietnam War and its escalation. Rusk became the lightning rod for much antiwar protest.
Rustin, Bayard (1910–1987) Rustin combined opposition to racial segregation with a commitment to nonviolence and pacifism. He was the principal organizer of the 1963 March on Washington, which was a high point of the Civil Rights movement and occasioned Dr. Martin Luther King’s great “I Have a Dream” speech.
Ruth, Babe (1895–1948) George Herman “Babe” Ruth started his career in 1914 as a minor league pitcher and was sold to the Boston Red Sox later that first season. He was sold to the New York Yankees in 1920—the team with which he played through 1934. Known as the “Sultan of Swat,” his record of 60 home runs in a major-league season (1927) was unbroken until Roger Maris’s disputed 1961 record (or Mark McGwire’s undisputed 1998 record). He was the first superstar sports celebrity, as famous for his high-living extravagance off the field as for his performance on it. Ruth was an icon of baseball and one of America’s most beloved sports figures.
Ryder, Albert Pinkham (1847–1917) In an era of realism, Ryder was a maverick who created dark, mysterious, profoundly spiritual seascapes and landscapes. A recluse, he produced no more than 150 paintings, which became known mostly after his death. He was an American mystic and romantic, his work entirely original and unrelated to any European (or, for that matter, American) predecessors.