A History of Reconstruction

African Americans gained political power yet faced the backlash of white supremacy and racial violence. Introduction I’ll never forget a student’s response when I asked during a middle school social studies class what they knew about Black history: “Martin Luther King freed the slaves.” Martin Luther King Jr. was born in 1929, more than six[…]

Rutherford B. Hayes: A President, Disputed Electoral College, and Racial Progress

One goal Hayes didn’t accomplish as president – invigorating black education – he worked for as an ex-president. More than 140 years ago, President Rutherford B. Hayes won the election of 1876 by committing to end Reconstruction. A highly controversial political compromise preceded by disputed electoral votes and involving questionable deals with Southern Democrats, it[…]

African American Spirituals: From Cotton Fields to Concert Halls

After the Civil War, touring groups of black college singers popularized slavery-era songs, giving rise to a new musical genre. “Swing low, sweet chariot….” These words are familiar to many Americans, who might sing them in worship, in Sunday school, around campfires, in school, and in community choruses. But the black singers responsible for introducing[…]

The Black Nurses Who Were Forced to Care for German Prisoners of War

Prohibited from attending the white GIs, the women felt betrayed by the country they fought to serve. On the summer afternoon in 1944 that 23-year-old Elinor Powell walked into the Woolworth’s lunch counter in downtown Phoenix, it never occurred to her that she would be refused service. She was, after all, an officer in the[…]

Black Figures in Classical Greek Art

Museum and academic scholars are key players in the fight for contextualized and equitable perspectives of black people in antiquity. In ancient Greece, men often escaped their daily grind to socialize at a symposium, or formalized drinking party. In the symposium, revelers indulged in numerous leisure activities centered around the consumption of wine. Among the[…]

Ax Handle Saturday in Jacksonville, Florida, 1960

A group of 200 middle aged and older white men gathered in Hemming Park armed with baseball bats and ax handles. Ax Handle Saturday was a racially motivated attack that took place in Hemming Park in Jacksonville, Florida, on August 27, 1960. A group of white men attacked African Americans who were engaging in sit-in[…]

The Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921

It has been called “the single worst incident of racial violence in American history.” Introduction The Tulsa race massacre (also called the Tulsa race riot, the Greenwood Massacre, or the Black Wall Street Massacre) took place on May 31 and June 1, 1921, when mobs of white residents attacked black residents and businesses of the[…]

Claudette Colvin: The Girl Who Acted Before Rosa Parks

Claudette was arrested at the age of 15, nine months before Rosa Parks refused to yield her seat. By Elissa Blattman Introduction Every American child learns about Rosa Parks in school. On December 1, 1955, she, a black woman, was arrested for refusing to give her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus to a white[…]

Black America and Land Loss since Emancipation

The “40 acres and a mule” promised to formerly enslaved Africans never came to pass. Introduction Underlying the recent unrest sweeping U.S. cities over police brutality is a fundamental inequity in wealth, land and power that has circumscribed black lives since the end of slavery in the U.S. The “40 acres and a mule” promised[…]

Block Party: The African-American Art of Archibald Motley

Archibald Motley painted African Americans having a good time. Archibald Motley (1891–1981) was born in New Orleans and lived and painted in Chicago most of his life. But because his subject was African-American life, he’s counted by scholars among the artists of the Harlem Renaissance. Many of Motley’s favorite scenes were inspired by good times[…]

Langston Hughes: Domestic Pariah, International Superstar

To foreigners, he was a fellow traveler who recognized the plight of the oppressed. Introduction A leading figure of the Harlem Renaissance, the inspiration behind Lorraine Hansberry’s play “A Raisin in the Sun” and an uncompromising voice for social justice, Langston Hughes is heralded as one of America’s greatest poets. It wasn’t always this way.[…]

Lifting as We Climb: African American Women’s Clubs in Progressive Era Chicago

How the work of African American clubwomen deepens our understanding of the Great Migration and the Progressive Era. Introduction When one considers the typical Progressive Era (1890-1930) reformer, figures such as Jane Addams, founder of Hull House, John Dewey, educational reformer, or political progressives, like Robert La Follette or Teddy Roosevelt come to mind. All[…]

How Black Suffragists Fought for the Right to Vote and a Modicum of Respect

Hallie Quinn Brown and other “homespun heroines”. Hallie Quinn Brown knew the power of black women and urged anyone who heard her to let it flourish. Read her remarks from 1889 and you might believe she saw the future or at least had the capacity to call it into being: “I believe there are as[…]

The Story of Civil Rights Activist Mary McLeod Bethune

Mary McLeod Bethune founded a college, defied the Klan, advised presidents, and was a fierce warrior for justice. By Dovey Johnson Roundtree, J.D.Late Attorney and Acvitist Born in 1914, Dovey Johnson Roundtree was subject to the double barriers of institutionalized racism and sexism, but rose from poverty to become a distinguished champion of civil and[…]

Maggie Lena Walker: Pennies and Nickels Add Up to Success

Maggie Lena Walker was one of the most important Black businesswomen in the nation, and today too few people have heard of her. Maggie Lena Walker was the first Black woman in the nation to organize and run a bank. And she did it in the segregated South in the former capital of the Confederacy,[…]

The Native Americans Who Assisted the Underground Railroad

Native American assistance to freedom seekers crossing through the Midwest has largely been erased from Underground Railroad studies. In an interview conducted in 2002, the late Helen Hornbeck Tanner, an influential historian of the Native American experience in the Midwest best known for her magisterial Atlas of Great Lakes Indian History (1987), reflected on the considerable record[…]

The Kikotan Massacre and the Arrival of the First African Slaves in 1619

Two factors overlapped to result in the genocide of the Kikotan people. Reckoning with the past is never easy. We’ve seen this in the United States and the United Kingdom this summer, as British universities grapple with their connections to the wealth and human suffering resulting from transatlantic enslavement, and Americans debate the historical meaning of the 400th anniversary of[…]

The Hidden Story of Two African American Women Looking Out from the Pages of a 19th-Century Book

A 19th-century volume contained a mystery for two historians who combined their knowledge to tell the story of the women and their contributions to American democracy. Introduction We are two historians whose work focuses on American art and on how African Americans have shaped the story of American democracy. Our two subject areas converged recently[…]

St. Augustine’s Slave Market: A Visual History

Placing special emphasis on visual culture in the forms of photographs and postcards, Goldstein unpacks the complicated history of St. Augustine’s Slave Market. Introduction At the center of the historic quarter in St. Augustine, Florida, stands the “old slave market,” an open-air pavilion where enslaved Africans were bought and sold (Figures 1–3). Since its construction[…]

The Civil War and the Black West

Assisted by Native Americans, they moved – and fought. Introduction In 1861, as Confederate armies prepared to crush the Union, President Lincoln commanded only 13,000 men and officers. At this moment ragged immigrant invaders seeking asylum reached the southern border of Kansas. Surrounded in Oklahoma on three sides by slaveholding states, they found themselves defenseless when[…]

Remember the Red Summer 100 Years Later

Typical narratives about 1919’s anti-black collective violence, especially in school textbooks, often conclude abruptly. This summer marks the hundredth anniversary of 1919’s Red Summer, when, from May to November, the nation experienced ten major “race riots” that took the lives of more than 350 people, almost all black. How should the challenging but essential task[…]

The Highwaymen: Mid-20th Century Black Artists Working from the Side of the Road

The art of Florida’s Highwaymen finds a new audience. It was an era when most African Americans in Fort Pierce were relegated to working in kitchens or fields, when Jim Crow prevented them from using the same water fountains as whites, and few, if any, black artists could be found in history books. Despite the[…]

Who Were the Montford Point Marines?

Recruits in the first African-American Marine Corps trained at Montford Point, eventually ending the military’s longstanding policy of racial segregation. The year was 1941. The United States was preparing to enter World War II, and it needed recruits. But President Franklin D. Roosevelt faced a problem. Hiring discrimination based on race was still the norm[…]

The USCT: Black Union Soldiers in the Civil War

The United States Colored Troops (USCT) was a branch of the United States Army founded in 1863. Introduction The United States Colored Troops (USCT) was a branch of the United States Army founded in 1863 to recruit, organize, and oversee the service of African American soldiers during the American Civil War (1861–1865). USCT regiments consisted of[…]

Inside Poor Monkey’s: One of the Last Jook Joints

Transformed in the 1950s from a sharecropper shack that was built probably in the 1920s, Poor Monkey’s Lounge is the one of the last rural jook joints in the Mississippi Delta. Overview Transformed in the 1950s from a sharecropper shack that was built probably in the 1920s, Poor Monkey’s Lounge is the one of the[…]