It’s no secret that history books don’t get everything right, but you might be surprised to see the dark sides of these 10 beloved historical figures.
From civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to children’s author Sir Roald Dahl, each of these figures had a dark side that they kept hidden from followers, press, and fans. As you’ll learn, their lives, motives, and beliefs weren’t always savory.
1. Thomas Jefferson
Thomas Jefferson is remembered for penning the line that “all men are created equal” in the Declaration of Independence, but that sentiment certainly didn’t extend to his hundreds of slaves.
However, Jefferson not only kept slaves at his Monticello estate. He also fathered six children with a slave woman named Sally Hemings. While Jeffferson later freed his children, he kept Sally in his possession until his death in 1826.
2. Winston Churchill
The name Winston Churchill is synonymous with leadership, strength, and power, but did you know that the former Prime Minster was also an outspoken racist?
In regard to Native Americans he said, “I am strongly in favor of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes…[It] would spread a lively terror.” He was also known to refer to Africans and Indians as “beasts” and “savages.”
3. Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi, otherwise known as the “Father of the Nation” in India, is a worldwide symbol for peace, love, and hope. Unfortunately, he had a disturbing sexual appetite behind closed doors.
According to numerous accounts, Gandhi forced female followers and his own grandnieces to sleep with him naked. Nightly, he would perform “celibacy tests,” a thin cover for molestation.
4. John Lennon
John Lennon wrote songs about love and peace, but his son Julian says that he was a very different man at home.
Julian Lennon, the son of John and his first wife Cynthia, doesn’t hold the same admiration for his father as the rest of the world does. In 1998 he said, “I felt he was a hypocrite. Dad could talk about peace and love out loud to the rest of the world, but he could never show it to the people who supposedly meant the most to him: his wife and son.” After a bitter divorce in 1968, John rarely visited or spoke to his son.
5. Martin Luther King Jr.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is remembered as one of the greatest orators of all time, but many say he was known plagiarizer.
When King’s wife donated his papers to Stanford University in 1985, staff noticed something fishy. King’s doctoral dissertation, written for Boston University, contained large plagiarized sections from another student, Jack Boozer. Indignantly, Boston conducted their own investigation, but soon found that the Stanford claims were true.
6. Sir Roald Dahl
Sir Roald Dahl is the author of beloved children’s classics like “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “Matilda.” However, those close to him remember him as a misogynist and Nazi sympathizer.
Dahl’s fiction is filled with whimsical flying fruit and children with special powers, but if you read deeper, you’ll also find hints of racism and misogyny. His own wife nicknamed him “Ronald the Rotten,” perhaps because of his numerous affairs.
In 1983, he defended Hitler by saying, “There is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity. I mean, there’s always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere; even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason.”
7. Abraham Lincoln
Since the end of the Civil War, Lincoln has been known as the president who freed the slaves, but his personal letters tell a different story.
Despite popular opinion, Lincoln’s intention going into the Civil War was not to free slaves. It was to save the Union. In 1862, he wrote to Horace Greeley, editor of the New York Tribune, saying, “If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it.”
8. Steve Jobs
Everyone knows that Steve Jobs had a bad temper, but that only scratches the surface of his dark side.
In addition to cheating his friend and business partner, Steve Wozniak, out of Apple profits, Jobs has been accused of illegally backdating stocks, investing in Chinese sweat shops, and holding long, spiteful grudges. He’ll always be remembered as the father of the iPhone, but those who knew him say he was a outright jerk.
9. Mother Teresa
On September 4, 2016, Mother Teresa was officially canonized as a Saint, causing many to call out her problematic history.
By all reports, Mother Teresa was no saint. Her worldwide fame was based on exploiting the very people she claimed to care for, and many say her medical practices were negligible at best. She’s even been accused of withholding funding for food and medicine, saying, “There is something beautiful in seeing the poor accept their lot, to suffer it like Christ’s Passion. The world gains much from their suffering.”
10. Walt Disney
I hate to burst your bubble, but Walt Disney wasn’t exactly the jovial, fun-loving guy that history’s made him out to be. In addition to creating some of our favorite movies, he was also a racist and a chauvinist.
Few people have heard of the Disney film “Song of the South.” That’s because it’s considered so offensive, it’s been removed from circulation. He was also heard referring to the dwarves in “Snow White” as an “n-word pile” and “pickaninnies,” and refused to hire female animators on the basis of their gender.
The truth hurts. Anyone else feeling disappointed? If you need me, I’ll be busy hating everything.
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