Heroes & Icons Of The Century

This is the second installment in CBS News The Early Show's week-long series, highlighting Time Magazine's 100 People of the Century.

As times change, so do national heroes: while we may remember admiring a president or an astronaut, many children these days admire Madonna and Bill Gates. At some point, personal wealth became heroic in America.

The technology explosion of the past one hundred years also revolutionized the concept of fame. CBS News Correspondent Ed Bradley reports on heroes and icons of the century.

The year was 1927 and Charles Lindbergh did what no one else had ever done -- fly across the Atlantic. He was only 25 years old at the time. Lucky Lindy landed in Paris 331/2 hours later, where he was greeted by a mob of over 100,000 people.

Two women, both minorities, became heroes in the face of adversity.

One was a Jewish teenager, Anne Frank, who wrote a diary that captured the hearts of people everywhere. The Nazi occupation of Holland spread terror and put an end to childhood games. Anne, her sister and parents were forced into hiding. It was there that she wrote her eloquent diary.

Rosa Parks sparked a revolution simply by refusing to surrender her seat on a bus to a white man.

Bill Wilson, co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, helped millions to conquer addiction.

Andrei Sakharov was a fearless campaigner for human rights in the Soviet Union.

When he first burst into the ring as Cassius Clay, loudly proclaiming he was the greatest, nobody believed it. By the time he left the ring as Muhammad Ali,
he had persuaded many that he was the greatest champ who ever lived, a hero of epic proportions.

Ed Bradley met with Walter Isaacson, managing editor of Time Magazine and asked what is the difference between a hero and an icon.

"Heroes are somebody like Rosa Parks or Anne Frank, someone who had to endure great bravery," explains Isaacson. "Sometimes an icon is important, not because they did anything great, but they just become important as a symbol. In some ways Princess Diana, who may not be on the list for anything great she did, is an icon. Or even Marilyn Monroe."

Isaacson adds that that the problem with the celebrity age is that "sometimes people are influential just for being famous."

There are only three athletes on the Time list -- Ali, Jackie Robinson and Pele.

"They're there because they were heroes in a way and broke barriers and changed the way the world looked at things. I don't think you could say Jackie Robinson was the best baseball player. We didn't put babe Ruth or Joe DiMaggio on the list, even though they were better players and in some ways great heroes. What made Jackie Robinson on the list, he changed America in a fundamental way," Isaacson says.

The list includes Harvey Milk who was a gay rights leader.
"You can't talk about this century without the civil rights movement, the women's right movement and the gay rights movement and their heroes," explains Isaacson. "Whether it be Rosa Parks or Harvey Milk declaring that he was gay and running for office and winning, those people changed America."

The American dream used to be represented by strength and courage. Now it's a Nike endorsement contract. What message are we giving our kids as we face a new century? Are there reasons to be hopeful about the future of America?

Harvard professor Peter Gibbon says America is much better and healthier than it's portrayed in the media, and the American people are basically hard-working, idealistic, and compassionate.

In order to continue generating heroes, he advises us to "Study the past, so as not to become arrogant, to remember the good so as not to become cynical, and to recognize America's strengths so as not to dwell on her weaknesses." He adds that it is important "to be able to embrace complexity without losing our faith in the heroic."



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The Century's Great Scientists

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