They call it the Trail of Tears — a one thousand mile trail the Cherokee Indians walked from their homeland in Georgia to the reservation in Oklahoma. Cherokee, the only tribe to lead a legal resistance to the white man’s acquisition of their land, were a settled people with well-stocked farms, schools and government. Chief Little John used every option short of war to defend Cherokee freedom and property including successfully arguing before the Supreme Court. Successfully. He won. But President Jackson refused to send troops to protect the Indian homeland. Prospectors were taking it for it’s rich gold and glorious farms. In 1838-39, he had no choice but to lead his people to their new home.
Seventy years after the relocation, sweet baby Mary was born, Little John’s great-great granddaughter. Because the Cherokee valued education, Mary graduated from college with a Math degree. After the US joined WWII and on the advice of her father, Mary moved to California in search of a job. Less than a year later she was working for Lockheed Aircraft. She began work on the P-38, one of the fastest airplanes designed at the time. The first military airplane to fly faster than 400mph. She became instrumental in solving numerous design issues.
It was unusual for a company that hired a woman for work during the war to keep her once the war ended. Recognizing her value, a manager encouraged Mary G. Ross to become an engineer. With a slide ruler, not a calculator or a computer, she calculated the formula for getting a rocket outside of the Earth’s atmosphere. Some of her most influential work was on space travel to Mars and Venus. As the American missile program matured, she found herself immersed in researching and evaluating feasibility and performance of ballistic missiles. Much of the work done by the think tank she was a part of is still classified today.
Little John could have left a legacy of hate, anger, fear, depression, despair and disconnection. Instead he infused his descendants with curiosity, a desire to learn, bravery, hope, generosity and the aptitude to literally reach for the stars. If Little John were here today, he might say: Resist. Declare. Stand Firm. And if it doesn’t go your way, grieve, let go and restart because the generations coming behind you will be forever marked by what you do today.