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African American history


  • Originally published 01/10/2014

    Civil War Archive to Go on Sale

    The archive comes from a veteran of the famed Massachusetts 54th Volunteer Infantry, the first African American formation fielded by the Union in the Civil War.

  • Originally published 08/20/2013

    What would compel a black American to move to Stalinist Russia?

    WASHINGTON — The oil painting of a black Russian man lay quietly for years in a back corner of an antique shop in a dingy walking mall in Moscow.Andy Leddy, a white American working on a U.S. government contract for a refugee program in 1992, a year after the Communist Party lost power, pulled the canvas out and unrolled it.“Why would there be a portrait of a black man in Russia?” Leddy recalls thinking. “They treated people of color horribly here. But look at it. It’s heroic and romantic. It is odd to see a black subject in a heroic pose.”The clerks told him the unsigned painting depicted a man named Patterson who had starred in a classic Russian movie, but that was all they could tell him....

  • Originally published 08/13/2013

    In ‘Lee Daniels’ The Butler,’ history told through a black lens

    NEW YORK — History in the movies has often been seen through white eyes: civil rights-era tales with white protagonists reacting to a changing world.“I’ve been in some of those movies,” says David Oyelowo, a star in “Lee Daniels’ The Butler.” ‘’I was in the ‘The Help.’”The viewpoint of “The Butler,” though, is refreshingly colorful. In it, Forest Whitaker plays Cecil Gaines, a man born to sharecroppers who’s turned into a domestic servant. After fleeing north, he rises to serve as a butler in the White House for seven successive presidents, spanning from Eisenhower to Reagan, from Jim Crow to Barack Obama....

  • Originally published 08/12/2013

    Was Bass Reeves — a former slave turned deputy U.S. marshal — the real Lone Ranger?

    Art Burton listened intently as the old man on the other end of the phone cleared his throat and began telling him a story. Burton had only been researching the life of Bass Reeves for a short while but that afternoon what Reverend Haskell James Shoeboot, the 98-year-old part-Cherokee Indian, was about to tell him would persuade Burton he had stumbled upon one of the greatest stories never told.Born in 1838, Bass Reeves was a former slave-turned-lawman who served with the U.S. Marshals Service for 32 years at the turn of the 20th century in part of eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas known as Indian Territory. Though he was illiterate, Reeves became an expert tracker and detective – a man who, in Burton’s words, “walked in the valley of death every day for 35 years and brought in some of the worst outlaws from that period”....It reaffirmed what Burton had suspected: that (Armie Hammer’s caucasian portrayal aside in the movie The Lone Ranger) Bass Reeves — perhaps the first black commissioned deputy marshal west of the Mississippi — could well have been one of the greatest lawmen of the Wild West. But most people hadn’t heard of him. Over the next 20 years, Reeves would become an obsession for Burton, culminating in a very interesting hypothesis, which he puts forward in his book Black Gun, Silver Star....

  • Originally published 07/29/2013

    Henry Louis Gates Jr.: What Was the Colfax Massacre?

    Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard University. He is also the editor-in-chief of The Root. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

  • Originally published 07/28/2013

    Maryland dig seeks proof of 1st free black community

    EASTON, Md. (AP) — Archaeology students have been sifting through a little patch of ground on Maryland’s Eastern Shore this summer, seeking evidence that it was home to the nation’s first free African-American community.Historians say hundreds of free blacks once lived in the area, while plantations flourished with hundreds of black slaves not far away.The students from the University of Maryland, College Park, and Morgan State University have been digging behind what is now the Women’s Club of Talbot County. The building, part of which dates to at least 1793, was home to three free non-white residents, according to the 1800 Census....

  • Originally published 07/22/2013

    The Roots of White Rage

     In the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, white Southerners lashed out with homicidal rage against their former bondsmen. 

  • Originally published 07/19/2013

    Stephen Kantrowitz, Sydney Nathans, and Brett Rushforth finalists for 2013 Douglass book prize

    The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance, and Abolition announced on Thursday the finalists for the $25,000 Frederick Douglass Book Prize, awarded to books dedicated to African American history.This year's finalists are Stephen Kantrowitz's More Than Freedom: Fighting for Black Citizenship in a White Republic, 1829-1889 (Penguin), Sydney Nathans's To Free a Family: The Journey of Mary Walker (Harvard) , and Brett Rushforth's Bonds of Alliance: Indigenous & Atlantic Slaveries in New France (University of North Carolina).Stephen Kantrowitz is professor of history and director of graduate studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Nathans is professor emeritus of history at Duke, and Brett Rushforth is associate professor of history and director of graduate studies at William & Mary.The winner will be announced in the fall, and the award will be presented in New York City in February.

  • Originally published 07/18/2013

    'Glory': Civil War fight by black troops recalled

    SULLIVANS ISLAND, S.C. (AP) — Dozens of Civil War re-enactors gathered Thursday to commemorate the 150th anniversary of a famed attack by the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry — a battle in South Carolina that showed the world black soldiers could fight and was chronicled in the movie ‘‘Glory.’’Re-enactors portraying members of the black Union regiment as well as Confederate counterparts defending Battery Wagner in Charleston Harbor planned to travel Thursday afternoon by boat to Morris Island, site of the battle, to lay a wreath and fire a salute.Speeches and Civil War period music also were planned on nearby Sullivans Island — an inhabited barrier island near the harbor entrance — about the time of the evening attack 150 years ago. Luminaries were to be lit by nightfall in memory of the dead....

  • Originally published 07/18/2013

    Glenn David Brasher: Striking the Blow at Fort Wagner

    Glenn David Brasher is an instructor of history at the University of Alabama and the author of “The Peninsula Campaign and the Necessity of Emancipation: African Americans and the Fight for Freedom.” “Today we recognize the right of every man … to be a MAN and a citizen,” Gov. John Andrew of Massachusetts proclaimed on May 18, 1863, to a crowd gathered around the 54th Massachusetts, the first African-American regiment raised in the North. They fight “not for themselves alone,” he insisted, but also for their race. Their military service would refute “the foul aspersion that they [are] not men,” proving that African-Americans deserved their nation’s citizenship rights.

  • Originally published 07/08/2013

    Relics of a Notorious Prison Go to Black History Museum

    To some people, the name of Angola, the Louisiana State Penitentiary, brings to mind the country’s oldest prison rodeo, which draws thousands of tourists while raising money for charity. Others think of it as a repository for fearsome criminals — murderers, rapists and kidnappers — who have earned their average sentence of 93 years. Many remember it as having once been one of the most brutal and corrupt institutions in the post-Civil War South, the nearest kin to slavery that could legally exist.All of these associations and more will compete when an old guard tower and a cell from the prison are installed in the forthcoming National African American Museum for History and Culture in Washington, a place with the complex mission of presenting an official narrative of black life in America....

  • Originally published 07/02/2013

    The Terror of Being Black at Gettysburg

    For the unknown number of African Americans rounded up by the Confederate army, who called Gettysburg and the surrounding region home, Union victory mattered little. For them a new birth of freedom would have to wait just a little longer.

  • Originally published 07/01/2013

    The Terror of Being Black in Pennsylvania During the Battle of Gettysburg

    Harper’s Weekly, November 1862.On Wednesday July 3, thousands of visitors will congregate near the "copse of trees" on Cemetery Ridge at Gettysburg to commemorate the 150th anniversary of "Pickett's Charge." From this position they will be able to imagine the roughly 13,000 Confederates in tight formation, who crossed the deadly field in the face of long-range artillery. Once across the Emmitsburg Road visitors should have little trouble envisioning the deadly effects of short-range canister and the deafening sound of Union rifles. Some will contemplate the tragedy of a war that pitted Americans v. Americans while others will hold tight to thoughts of what might have been before accepting that the charge constituted a decisive Confederate defeat.

  • Originally published 06/26/2013

    Daniel Levinson Wilk: Paula Deen's Racist Wedding Fantasy Was Once Reality

    Daniel Levinson Wilk is an associate professor of American history at the Fashion Institute of Technology. The opinions expressed are his own.Paula Deen is in trouble. Last month, in a deposition for a discrimination suit brought by an employee, the Food Network star blithely admitted to using racial slurs. Perhaps equally disturbing, she also said she had fantasized about throwing a slavery-themed wedding for her brother, an idea that came to her after eating at a restaurant with an all-black staff.Deen has apologized, though the Food Network has announced that it won’t renew her contract. Whatever her motivations, she tapped into a long history of slavery fantasy in the U.S.

  • Originally published 06/26/2013

    African-American history books were tossed by mistake, official says

    The emergency manager appointed to oversee the Highland Park School District’s finances denied Tuesday that a large collection of black history books, tapes, film strips and other materials were deliberately discarded into Dumpsters last week from the district’s high school library.Emergency manager Donald Weatherspoon, said workers on the second floor of the library mistakenly threw them out. He said the district was able to recover them in time.It’s unclear, though, how much was really recovered. Residents said they found about 1,000 pieces of material on their own Thursday evening....

  • Originally published 06/26/2013

    Gettysburg residents seek black history museum

    GETTYSBURG, Pa. (AP) — Gettysburg’s small African-American community proudly tells stories of ancestors who fought in the Civil War, of a young woman who shook President Abraham Lincoln’s hand and of the men who buried thousands of bodies after the battle.But they also speak of a struggle to preserve that history and of discrimination that continued long after the war ended — even where Lincoln himself reminded Americans of our defining ideal: that all men are created equal.‘‘Our story here in this town, and in this state, and in this country has not been told,’’ said Mary Alice Nutter, 68, who has been working to fulfill her mother’s dying wish for an African-American history museum in the town where Union soldiers turned the tide of the Civil War, helping to end slavery in the United States....

  • Originally published 06/23/2013

    Should African-American history have its own museum?

    This week, the US Supreme Court is expected to make a decision about the legality of affirmative action programmes that allow universities to consider race as a factor in admissions.Detractors argue that affirmative action is unnecessary in modern America and contributes to discrimination. Proponents say the programmes remain a vital way to counter centuries of racism and inequality in America.Just blocks away from the Supreme Court in Washington DC, a similar debate is going on about a shawl, some shards of glass, and other historic artefacts.They're items designated for the National Museum of African American History and Culture....But does giving each group its own museum - separate from the main Museum of American History - further segregate those who should be part of the American "melting pot" experience? Does it give special treatment to marginalised groups?Virginia Congressman Jim Moran objected to the museum on those grounds.

  • Originally published 06/11/2013

    Edward Hotaling, 75, TV reporter who shed light on black history, is dead

    Edward Hotaling, a television reporter whose question about racial progress ended the career of the CBS sports commentator Jimmy (the Greek) Snyder in 1988, but who may have made a more lasting mark by documenting the use of slave labor in building the nation’s Capitol, died on June 3 on Staten Island. He was 75.The cause was a heart attack, his son Greg said. He had lived in a nursing home since suffering serious injuries in an auto accident in 2007.Mr. Hotaling (pronounced HO-tail-ing) was a television reporter at the NBC affiliate WRC-TV in Washington when he interviewed Mr. Snyder on Jan. 15, 1988, for a report commemorating the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. Bumping into Mr. Snyder in a restaurant, Mr. Hotaling asked him to assess racial progress in professional sports.Mr. Snyder’s reply careered into his theory that blacks were better athletes than whites because their slave ancestors had been “bred to be that way” and that soon “there’s not going to be anything left for the white people” in sports. The comment created a national stir and got him fired by CBS. He died in 1996....

  • Originally published 06/11/2013

    Monument to Michelle Obama ancestor toppled in Georgia

    REX, Ga. –  Police in Georgia are investigating after a monument dedicated to one of first lady Michelle Obama's relatives was knocked over in suburban Atlanta.Clayton County Commissioner Sonna Singleton tells WSB-TV that a stone monument to Michelle Obama's great-great-great-grandmother, Melvinia Shields, was pushed over and will need to be inspected for cracks. The report was aired Monday.Officials say Shields was born into slavery in the mid-1800s and later settled in Rex, Ga., -- about 15 miles southeast of downtown Atlanta....

  • Originally published 06/02/2013

    The Real Uncle Tom and the Unknown South He Helped Create

    Illustration for 1853 edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin. Credit: Wiki Commons.Today’s readers of Uncle Tom’s Cabin have no idea that there was a real Uncle Tom. Neither did the readers of the 1850s. His name was Josiah Henson. He was born a slave in Maryland in 1789. Harriet Beecher Stowe admitted that his story was part of the inspiration for her novel. But she never adequately explained why her fictional Uncle Tom was so different from the real one.

  • Originally published 05/28/2013

    Hearing set on Fredericksburg’s attempt to force the sale of proposed slavery museum site

    FREDERICKSBURG, Va. — Attorneys for L. Douglas Wilder are due in court to respond to the city of Fredericksburg’s plan to sell 38 acres where the former governor wants to build the National Slavery Museum.A hearing is set for Tuesday morning in Fredericksburg Circuit Court. It’s the latest development in Wilder’s quest to build a museum telling the nation’s history of slavery. Before he can do that, he must settle a large tax bill and get fundraising back on track....

  • Originally published 05/24/2013

    William Miles, maker of films about black history, dies at 82

    William Miles, a self-taught filmmaker whose documentaries revealed untold stories of black America, including those of its heroic black soldiers and of life in its signature neighborhood, Harlem, where he himself grew up, died on May 12 in Queens. He was 82.The cause was uncertain, but Mr. Miles had myriad health problems, including Parkinson’s disease and dementia, said his wife of 61 years, Gloria.Mr. Miles was part historical sleuth, part preservationist, part bard. His films, which combined archival footage, still photographs and fresh interviews, were triumphs of curiosity and persistence in unearthing lost material about forgotten subjects....

  • Originally published 05/21/2013

    Group raising money for memorial to black Civil War veterans in Hagerstown

    HAGERSTOWN, Md. — Soldiers in Hagerstown were among the first black men in Maryland to join the ranks of the Union during the Civil War, and were involved in the siege of Petersburg, Va., during the conflict.Among the first local blacks who joined the Union were members of Moxley’s Band, a Hagerstown-based black brass band that became known as the 1st Brigade Band, U.S. Colored Troops, according to local historian Steve Bockmiller....

  • Originally published 05/17/2013

    Unlikely interracial WWII romance

    The nurse and the soldier may never have met – and eventually married – had it not been for the American government’s mistreatment of black women during World War II.Elinor Elizabeth Powell was an African-American military nurse. Frederick Albert was a German prisoner of war. Their paths crossed in Arizona in 1944. It was a time when the Army was resisting enlisting black nurses and the relatively small number allowed entry tended to be assigned to the least desirable duties....

  • Originally published 05/07/2013

    Pearl Duncan: Lost History in Downton Abbey

    Pearl Duncan is completing two books, tentatively titled, “DNA Adventure, Rebels’ Birthright Reclaimed,” and “A Pirate Ship of Old New York:  Colonial Slavery, The Founding Fathers and a Remarkable 9/11 Discovery.”Now that it is announced by the producers of Downton Abbey that Gary Carr, the star of the BBC’s Death in Paradise, a mystery set on a Caribbean island, will join the show as an attractive, charming and charismatic jazz musician, some viewers who love the popular British television show set in the 1920s, flushed with Edwardian style, fashion and upstairs downstairs shenanigans, ask if the show will continue to be historically accurate.  Why do they ask?  They ask because the jazz musician being added to a show about British aristocrats and their servants is black.

  • Originally published 04/23/2013

    Henry Louis Gates Jr.: Did African-American Slaves Rebel?

    Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard University. He is also the editor-in-chief of The Root. Follow him on Twitter. One of the most pernicious allegations made against the African-American people was that our slave ancestors were either exceptionally "docile" or "content and loyal," thus explaining their purported failure to rebel extensively. Some even compare enslaved Americans to their brothers and sisters in Brazil, Cuba, Suriname and Haiti, the last of whom defeated the most powerful army in the world, Napoleon's army, becoming the first slaves in history to successfully strike a blow for their own freedom.

  • Originally published 03/28/2013

    Akinyele Umoja: Black Ambivalence About Gun Control

    Akinyele Umoja is an associate professor and chair of the department of African-American studies at Georgia State University. He is the author of  We Will Shoot Back: Armed Resistance in the Mississippi Freedom Movement, to be published by New York University Press in April.The gun-control debate is complex, particularly as it relates to African descendants in the United States. As with almost every other issue, the racial dimensions cannot be dismissed.From the beginning, slave-holding society fought to block enslaved Africans’ access to weapons, to reduce the likelihood of insurrection. After emancipation, blacks sought arms not only to hunt but to protect themselves from white-supremacist terror. Since the “right to bear arms” was denied them during their enslavement, emancipated blacks associated gun ownership with citizenship and liberty. But segregationists continued trying to disarm blacks after emancipation.

  • Originally published 03/11/2013

    Henry Louis Gates Jr.: How Did Harriet Tubman Become a Legend?

    Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard University. He is also the editor-in-chief of The Root. Follow him on Twitter. In 1849, a young woman hurried along a path cutting through a marsh in Poplar Neck, Md., near the town of Preston. She was a slave, barely 5 feet tall. She was scarred from several beatings.  She alternated between walking and running, like thousands of other slaves had before her, desperately hoping to cross the Mason-Dixon Line to the get to the North, to freedom in Philadelphia. With a great deal of luck and skill, she made it. And what did she do once she was free? Unlike virtually any other person before her or after, this fugitive slave turned around and walked back into slavery, counterintuitively, in order to free other slaves. And for this, she would become a legend. 

  • Originally published 01/22/2013

    African-American baby doll tradition is undergoing a revival in New Orleans for Mardi Gras

    NEW ORLEANS — The “baby dolls,” an on-again, off-again Mardi Gras tradition of New Orleans’ African-American community, are on again.The troupes of women strutting and prancing in bonnets, garters, and skimpy or short, ruffled dresses on Fat Tuesday also are being spotlighted in a new book and museum exhibit that trace their history and modern rebirth.When the predominantly African-American Zulu krewe hits the streets on Fat Tuesday — Feb. 12 — its marchers will include the Baby Doll Ladies, a troupe formed after Hurricane Katrina. They play tambourines and cowbells to accompany their dance, a hip-hop style called bounce.Though Mardi Gras celebrations date from the city’s French founding in 1718, historians say the baby doll tradition started in 1912 when black prostitutes who worked just outside the legal red-light district called Storyville dressed up on Mardi Gras to outdo their legal rivals....

  • Originally published 01/22/2013

    Curators from Smithsonian’s new black history museum scout for artifacts at Obama’s inaugural

    WASHINGTON — As crowds descended and the inauguration unfolded, a few museum curators in Washington kept watch for symbols and messages that would make history.The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture will open during President Barack Obama’s second term, and one section will feature a large display about the first black president. Curators have been working since 2008 to gather objects, documents and images that capture his place in history.Curator William Pretzer ventured into the crowd Monday, mostly looking for memorabilia that had a personal touch — beyond the T-shirts and buttons hawked by vendors. Pretzer was most interested in handmade items, but he didn’t find much....

  • Originally published 05/26/2012

    Who Invented Memorial Day?

    "Contrabands at Headquarters of General Lafayette," by Mathew Brady, 1862.As Americans enjoy the holiday weekend, does anyone know how Memorial Day originated?On May 1, 1865, freed slaves gathered in Charleston, South Carolina to commemorate the death of Union soldiers and the end of the American Civil War. Three years later, General John Logan issued a special order that May 30, 1868 be observed as Decoration Day, the first Memorial Day -- a day set aside "for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land."

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