“I feel what they’re feeling because I’ve been there,” he said about his decision. “I’ve slept in the street. That was my life before. So hard. That’s why I feel what they’re feeling right now.”rcelis/Wikimedia Commons
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For 30 years, Black musician Daryl Davis has traveled the country with a powerful mission. He wants to befriend members of the Ku Klux Klan.
“I never set out to convert anyone in the Klan," Davis said, although he has convinced hundreds of people to leave the KKK. "I just set out to get an answer to my question: ‘How can you hate me when you don’t even know me?'” Daryl Davis/Facebook
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Life became perilous for Dutch Jews after the Nazis invaded the Netherlands in 1940. As watchmaker Corrie ten Boom watched her friends and neighbors disappear into trains, she decided to quietly take action.
The ten Boom family helped some 800 Jews flee to safety by hiding them in a secret room in their house before they were arrested in 1944. Yad Vashem/The World Holocaust Remembrance Center
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After he heard about a man threatening to kill himself, boxer Muhammad Ali got into his car and sped to the scene. Whenever anyone else got close, the man shouted, “I’m no good. I’m going to jump!”
But Ali didn't give up, coaxing the man inside by saying, "You’re my brother! I love you, and I couldn’t lie to you.”YouTube
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In the years before World War II, Doris Miller spent his days on the USS West Virginia in the kitchen, since Black servicemen were barred from combat. But when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Miller sprang into action.
He fired at the enemy aircrafts and helped his wounded shipmates escape to safety. Eighty years later, the U.S. Navy named an aircraft carrier after him. U.S. Navy/Wikimedia Commons
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Susan Ahn Cuddy, far right, didn't hesitate when World War II broke out. She wanted to serve her country, so she signed up for the Women's Reserve of the U.S. Naval Reserve (WAVES).
Although WAVES initially rejected Cuddy, a Korean-American, based on her race, Cuddy reapplied and became the first female Navy gunnery officer at the end of 1943.Department of Defense
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In 2013, the city of Novosibirsk, Siberia in Russia unveiled a surprising statue: A mouse knitting a strand of DNA. In fact, the statue commemorates the sacrifice of mice used in the service of conducting genetic research. Its official title is "Monument to the Laboratory Mouse."Irina Gelbukh/Wikimedia Commons
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After the Nazis invaded France in 1940, the French mime Marcel Marceau took immediate action. He joined the French resistance and helped smuggle hundreds of children into neighboring Switzerland. And he used his mime techniques to keep them quiet and entertained during the perilous journey. Public Domain
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Morgan Freeman is more than a movie star. He's also out to save the world. In 2014, Freeman revealed that he'd transformed his 124-acre Mississippi ranch into a bee sanctuary, citing the importance of honeybees to earth's ecosystem.
“There is a concerted effort for bringing bees back onto the planet,” Freeman said. “We do not realize that they are the foundation, I think, of the growth of the planet, the vegetation.”James Patterson/Getty Images
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They came from separate worlds. But after Little Caesar founder Michael Ilitch learned that civil rights icon Rosa Parks was struggling to find a new apartment after being robbed, he volunteered to pay her rent. From 1994 until her death in 2005, Ilitch sent Parks $2,000 a month.National Archives; Dave Sandford/Getty Images
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In the 1950s, Black jazz musician Ella Fitzgerald was rejected from performing at The Mocambo, a popular Hollywood nightclub. When Marilyn Monroe heard, the movie star promised to be at The Mocambo every night in the front row — as long as they booked Fitzgerald.
Monroe's support helped transform Fitzgerald into a star. Bettmann/Getty Images
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In 1847, the Choctaw Nation sent Ireland $170 — more than $5,000 today — while the Irish suffered through the Great Hunger. In 2020, as Native Americans suffered from the coronavirus pandemic, Ireland returned the favor. An Irish GoFundMe raised millions of dollars to help the Navajo Nation and Hopi Reservations. Gavin Sheridan/Wikimedia Commons
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The colorful children's game "Candy Land" came from a surprising place — the polio ward of a hospital. There, a retired schoolteacher schoolteacher named Eleanor Abbott invented the game to distract children from their suffering. After the game became popular, Abbott donated all her royalties to children in need. The Strong Museum
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Though he hasn't been president since 1980, Jimmy Carter is still serving his country. Now in his 90s, Carter has helped build 4,000 houses across 14 countries over the last 35 years through his Carter Work Project. Erik S. Lesser/Getty Images
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The Diary Of Anne Frank brings a human perspective to an incomprehensible global tragedy, the Holocaust. But it's thanks to a woman named Miep Gies that we can read Frank's story.
Not only did Gies shelter Frank and her family for two years, but she also saved Frank's diary and returned it later to Frank's father. Bettmann/Getty Images
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Mary Bowser was a Civil war spy. But she wasn't just any spy — she was a former slave embedded in the Confederate White House. There, Bowser used her photogenic memory to repeat what she saw "word for word" to the Union Army. American Battlefield Trust
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Al Capone is best known as a ruthless gangster. But when his city of Chicago suffered through the Great Depression in the 1930s, Capone stepped up. He opened a soup kitchen that served free meals to some 2,000 Chicagoans daily. FBI
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Wildlife and highways don't mix. That's why places around the world are building wildlife bridges — overpasses that stretch over roads — which allow wild animals to cross safely.
Shown here is the 200-foot-long Eco-Link bridge in Singapore that connects two wildlife reserves. CheekyAsian/Bored Panda
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Everyone suffered during the Siege of Leningrad — including animals at the city's zoo. Belle the hippo's skin began to dry out from lack of water, so her caretaker, Yevdokia Dashina, rubbed it every day with warm water and camphor oil.
Belle survived the war, and died in 1951 of old age. Big Picture Russia
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Later in life, John F. Kennedy shrugged off his Navy and Marine Corps Medal and Purple Heart, saying, "It was involuntary. They sunk my boat." But in truth, the future president showed great bravery during World War II.
After a Japanese attack sunk his PT boat, Kennedy saved a fellow soldier by holding his life jacket strap in his teeth and swimming for four hours to shore. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
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Sebastião and Lélia Salgado were dismayed by the brutal deforestation in their home country of Brazil. So, they planted trees – two million of them. Eighteen years later, the barren wasteland had transformed into a lush forest. Instituto Terra/Facebook
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Robert Smalls escaped slavery in May 1862 by stealing a Confederate ship with his family. He sailed to Union waters — and to freedom. Once free, Smalls served as a ship pilot for the Union Army.
After the war, he was elected to the House of Representatives for South Carolina, and used his earnings to buy the house where he'd grown up as a slave. Library of Congress
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Captain Tom Moore, a 99-year-old British WWII veteran, wanted to help his country during the coronavirus pandemic. So, he set up a fundraiser for the U.K.'s National Health Service. To the astonishment of the nation, Moore raised $9 million — simply by walking with his walker in his backyard. Moore Family
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During the 1980s, a terrifying disease circled the globe — AIDs. People with AIDs were shunned by society, and many patients died lonely deaths.
But Princess Diana changed perceptions of the disease when she visited a new AIDs ward at the Middlesex Hospital in London on April 9, 1987. There, she shook the hand of an AIDs patient on camera, dispelling the stereotype that it could be passed through casual contact. Anwar Hussein/Getty Images
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As a Black woman growing up at the end of the 19th century, Mary Church Terrell fought on two fronts — for African Americans and for women. She helped found the NAACP and stood up to white suffragists who wanted to distance themselves from Black activists.
“Seeking no favors because of our color, nor patronage because of our needs, we knock at the bar of justice, asking an equal chance," Terrell said.Library of Congress
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In 1925, residents of Nome, Alaska faced a sudden wave of deadly diphtheria cases. Desperate for an antitoxin, town officials sent out dogsled teams to bring back the lifesaving medicine.
Six days later, a sled team led by Balto the dog and Norwegian musher Gunnar Kaasen came powering through the blizzard, just in time to save the town. Brown Brothers/National Institute of Health
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As a child, Oprah Winfrey suffered through poverty and sexual abuse. But she did so well at being a Chicago news anchor that she earned her own talk show. From there, Winfrey became one of the few Black billionaires in America — and someone who has given away hundreds of millions to charities. Steve Jennings/Getty Images
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In the first half of the 20th century, Americans feared few things more than polio, the paralytic disease which largely impacted children. Although he could have made billions with his polio vaccine, Jonas Salk refused to patent it.
Declaring that the vaccine belonged to the people, Salk said in 1955, “There is no patent. Could you patent the sun?”Yousuf Karsh/Wikimedia Commons
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Plenty of men fought in the Mexican Revolution (1910 – 1920). But they were joined by a group of fierce women known as Las Soldaderas, some of whom even became officers and led men into battle. Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images
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Bob Marley made the Buffalo soldiers famous in his song of the same name. But this group of Black soldiers were even more impressive than he suggests.
They were the first all-Black peacetime regiments in U.S. history who served on the Western frontier after the Civil War. In fact, they played an especially crucial role in protecting America's national parks, which they patrolled in 1899, 1903, and 1904. Library of Congress
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In 1946, Albert Einstein traveled to Lincoln University, the nation's first degree-granting HBCU (Historically Black College and University). There, Einstein received an honorary degree, lectured on relatively and spoke out against racism. Racism, he said, was a "disease of white people," and Einstein did not "intend to be quiet about it."Temple University Libraries/via Twitter
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As conditions around Europe became increasingly terrifying for Jews in the late 1930s, hundreds of thousands tried to flee to Switzerland. Though many were turned away, one border guard named Paul Grüninger quietly admitted 3,600 Jewish refugees by falsifying their documents.
“I am proud to have saved the lives of hundreds of oppressed people," Grüninger said, after he was caught, fired, and arrested. "My personal well-being, measured against the cruel fates of these thousands, was so insignificant and unimportant that I never even took it into consideration.”Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, Switzerland
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In 1971, the city of Dunham, North Carolina called a series of meetings to discuss desegregating schools. There, something remarkable happened — a civil rights activist named Ann Atwater befriended a Ku Klux Klan member named C.P. Ellis, and swayed him to her side. Ellis even tore up his KKK card in front of a crowd.Jim Thornton/The Herald Sun Collections/University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Libraries
33 Feel-Good Stories From History That Will Restore Your Faith In Humanity
Mister Rogers famously said, "Look for the helpers." In the gallery above, find stories of such helpers — from ordinary people to war heroes to celebrities. These feel-good stories prove that humankind isn't all bad — far from it.
Feel-Good Stories From Ordinary People
Many of the uplifting stories in the gallery above are simply stories of ordinary people seeking to make positive change.
Some of these stories show normal people doing extraordinary things for the health of the planet. There's Sebastião and Lélia Salgado in Brazil, who were so devastated by deforestation that they planted two million trees. There's also Morgan Freeman, who turned his 124-acre ranch into a bee sanctuary. And there's the inspiring proliferation of animal overpasses, which allow wildlife to cross highways safely.
Joel Sartore/MyModernMetA wildlife crossing in Alberta, Canada.
Then there are ordinary people whose lives and actions simply inspire. Take Oprah Winfrey, who escaped poverty and sexual abuse to become one of the few Black billionaires in the United States. Or, consider Jonas Salk, who invented the polio vaccine but didn't patent it — making it widely accessible and affordable.
"There's no patent," Salk said. "Can you patent the sun?"
And there are people who started their lives in slavery before becoming an inspiration. Robert Smalls commandeered a Confederate ship and sailed it to Union waters, winning his freedom. And Mary Bowser spied on the Confederacy from its heart as an enslaved worker in the Confederate White House, passing priceless information back to Union troops.
Inspiring Stories During Wartime
Some of the most inspiring stories come from the darkest of places. During World War II, the Nazis marched across Europe and slaughtered millions of Jews. But not everyone bent to their will.
In France, a Jewish mime named Marcel Marceau decided to play his part using the skills that he already possessed. Marceau helped smuggle hundreds of children to safety in neighboring Switzerland. To avoid detection on the perilous journey, he used his miming skills to keep the children quiet and entertained.
Rogelio A. Galaviz C./FlickrMarcel Marceau used his miming skills to help smuggle Jewish children out of danger.
Then there are people like Paul Grüninger and Corrie ten Boom. They came from completely different worlds, but both stepped up in uplifting ways to save lives during World War II.
Grüninger worked as a Swiss border guard tasked with denying desperate Jewish refugees entry into Switzerland. Quietly, he began to defy his superiors. Grüninger falsified 3,600 documents which allowed Jews to enter Switzerland safely.
Though he was found out, fired, and arrested, Grüninger never regretted what he did. "I'd rather break the rules than send these poor, miserable people back to Germany," he said.
On the other side of Europe, ten Boom also acted to save lives. A Dutch watchmaker, she had watched with dismay as her friends, neighbors, and clients were taken by the Nazis.
"At any minute there might be a rap on this door," she thought to herself while visiting with Jewish friends. "These children, this mother and father, might be ordered to the back of a truck."
So, ten Boom and her family constructed a secret room in their home. They helped some 800 Jews flee the Netherlands.
In all, the people in the gallery above come from all walks of life. They faced different circumstances and challenges. But each rose to the occasion. They stood up to oppression and violence, sought to improve the environment, and, sometimes, simply reached out an open hand.
Listen above to the History Uncovered podcast, episode 57: Doris Miller, From Kitchen Duty To Pearl Harbor Hero, also available on iTunes and Spotify.
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a double degree in American History and French.