Tag Archives: African Americans

One Hundred Years Ago, the Harlem Hellfighters Bravely Led the U.S. Into WWI

14 May

Members of the 369th [African American] Infantry

Private Henry Johnson of Albany, New York, held tight his French Lebel rifle and stared into the darkness of no-man’s-land, listening for German raiders. Beyond the parapet, he could make out shapes and shadows under the waning moon.

Johnson was a 25-year-old railroad baggage porter, the son of North Carolina tobacco farmers. Under French command, he manned the front line of the Great War about 115 miles east of Paris on the early morning of May 15, 1918.

He heard a sound and turned to his partner in their tiny observation post, Needham Roberts, who gestured toward the direction of the noise. They heard it again: the snip of barbed wire being cut.

So begins Erick Trickey’s concise story of the 369th Infantry Regiment, known as the Harlem Hellfighters. You may read the entire centennial post at Smithsonian.com here.

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Rare Photo of Harriet Tubman Preserved for Future Generations

6 Mar

A remarkable photo album brought two major institutions together to restore and preserve an important piece of American history. Today, the album is available for the first time online.

The small, leather-bound album shows the signs of its age: broken in places, barely holding together in others, scuffed but somehow still elegant after a century and a half of use.

If time has taken a toll on the album, the photographs inside—placed there by a school teacher so long ago—are timeless and extraordinary.

Tucked into the album’s last page is a previously unknown photo of one of American history’s great figures: abolitionist Harriet Tubman, in what’s believed to be the earliest photo of her in existence.

Turning back a dozen pages reveals another treasure: the only known photo of John Willis Menard, the first African-American elected to Congress.

The album, and the one-of-a-kind photos it holds, were jointly acquired last year by the Library of Congress and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in a most-unusual collaboration between two public institutions. Together, they worked to conserve the album for future generations and make it accessible to the public.

So begins Mark Hartsell’s post at the Library of Congress. You may read the rest of the post, with its illustrations, here.

WHY FACILE HISTORIES OF CIVIL RIGHTS ARE SO DANGEROUS

27 Feb

Rosa Parks being fingerprinted by Deputy Sheriff D.H. Lackey after being arrested for boycotting public transportation in Montgomery, Alabama, in February of 1956.

She refused to give up her seat on a bus.

He whistled at a white woman.

I have a dream.

Nonviolence.

By any means necessary.

These tableaux and these rallying cries have become the narrative centerpieces of the history of civil rights in America. They often feature accidental champions (Rosa Parks) or characters seemingly plucked right from a morality play (Martin Luther King Jr. and his embrace of non-violence on the one hand, Malcolm X and his ballot-or-bullet activism on the other). Yet there’s something uniquely dangerous in the various ways we remember these near-mythical stories: a broad preference that this history be palatable. That it be facile. That it remain in the past: We have, at last, overcome.

So begins Brandon Tensley’s interview with Professor Jeanne Theoharis about her new book. You may read the entire interview at Pacific Standard here.

THE RADICAL COMPASSION OF FREDERICK DOUGLASS

14 Feb

Frederick Douglass portrait

This year’s Black History Month coincides with the 200th birthday of Douglass, and it’s an ideal occasion to rectify some unfortunate ways in which this influential writer has continued to be misrepresented and misunderstood—and not simply by the likes of Trump. Specifically, consider this famous quote that has been attributed to Douglass for decades: “It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.”

William Cheng offers a fine piece of historiography here about Douglass and a quote attributed to him. You may read his entire piece at the Pacific Standard here.

A disturbing new report on how poorly schools teach American slavery

5 Feb

Consider this from a disturbing new report on how U.S. schools teach — or, rather, don’t teach — students about the history of slavery in the United States:

  • Only 8 percent of U.S. high school seniors could identify slavery as the central cause of the Civil War.
  • 68 percent of the surveyed students did not know that slavery formally ended only with an amendment to the Constitution.
  • Only 22 percent of the students could correctly identify how provisions in the Constitution gave advantages to slaveholders.
  • Only 44 percent of the students answered that slavery was legal in all colonies during the American Revolution.

These results are part of an unsettling new report titled “Teaching Hard History: American Slavery,” which was researched over the course of a year by the Teaching Tolerance project of the nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center. The report includes results of surveys of U.S. high school seniors as well as social studies teachers in all grades — nationally representative of those populations — as well as an analysis of 15 state content standards, and a review of 10 popular U.S. history textbooks. The best textbook achieved a score of 70 percent against a rubric of what should be included in the study of American slavery; the average score was 46 percent.

So begins a Washington Post report by Valerie Strauss on how well the history of slavery is taught in U.S. high schools. You may read the rest of Strauss’ report here.

 

I used to lead tours at a plantation. You won’t believe the questions I got about slavery.

28 Aug

“Did the slaves here appreciate the care they got from their mistress?” one woman asked, pinchedly.

Read the rest of Margaret Biser’s account of leading tours that taught about slavery on a southern plantation: I used to lead tours at a plantation. You won’t believe the questions I got about slavery. – Vox

The Namesake of Howard University had Complicated Relationships with African Americans and Native Americans

24 May

Oliver Otis Howard was a revered Civil War general—but his career had a complicated postscript. Historian Daniel Sharfstein provides a concise summary of some of Howard’s zealous attempts to serve God through warfare, negotiation, education, and evangelism: The Namesake of Howard University Spent Years Kicking Native Americans Off of Their Land | History | Smithsonian

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