The Black Gondoliers of Renaissance Venice

The presence of Black sub-Saharan Africans in Venice is well-known to historians. The Miracle of the Relic of the Cross at the Rialto Bridge by Vittore Carpaccio, painted around 1495–96, is one of the most fascinating depictions of contemporary life in Renaissance Venice. Although it is primarily a religious painting, it also reveals an aspect[…]

Featured Scholar: Elizabeth K. Hinton – A History of Modern Protest

From one of our top historians, a groundbreaking story of policing and “riots” that shatters our understanding of the post–civil rights era. Book by Dr. Elizabeth K. HintonAssociate Professor of History & African American Studies and Professor of LawYale University What began in spring 2020 as local protests in response to the killing of George[…]

Paying Reparations to Slave Owners and Their Heirs in the 19th Century

History is full of examples of nations paying out to compensate for slavery. But the money never went to those who actually suffered. Extorting Haiti A prominent example is the so-called “Haitian Independence Debt” that saddled revolutionary Haiti with reparation payments to former slave owners in France. Haiti declared independence from France in 1804, but[…]

No Pensions for Ex-Slaves: How Federal Agencies Suppressed Movement to Aid Freedpeople

The movement to grant pensions to ex-slaves faced strong opposition from three executive branch agencies. By Miranda Booker Perry Introduction The Union victory in the Civil War helped pave the way for the 13th amendment to formally abolish the practice of slavery in the United States. But following their emancipation, most former slaves had no[…]

Black Domestic Workers during the Great Depression

The New Deal maintained racial hierarchies even as it aided African Americans through relief projects. By Dr. Phyllis PalmerProfessor Emeritus of American Studies and Women’s StudiesGeorge Washington University The New Deal eagerness to collect data about the American people evoked a similarly passionate response from American citizens. They answered interviewers, filled out questionnaires, kept consumption[…]

Milton Claiborne Nicholas and the Legacy of the First Black Voters

For Milton Nicholas, the practical hurdle of illiteracy was exploited by election officials in order to manipulate his vote. Introduction One cannot begin to imagine the trepidation with which Milton Claiborne Nicholas approached the polls for the very first time. The illiterate rural farm laborer faced significant challenges as a first-time voter in the November[…]

Rethinking Descriptions of Black Africans in Ancient Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Art

Communicating the diversity of the ancient Mediterranean. By Paula Gaither, Elisa McAtee, Kenneth Lapatin, and David Saunders Introduction Museums have much work to do. The Black Lives Matter movement’s call for social reform extends to arts institutions, bringing focus to the need for inclusivity and equity. The ways in which we present and describe artworks[…]

Literature and Newspapers for Black Children since 1920

At the turn of the 20th century, one young black editor implored his peers: ‘Let us make the world know that we are living.’ Introduction Hanging on the wall in my office is the framed cover of the inaugural issue of The Brownies’ Book, a monthly periodical for Black youths created by W.E.B. Du Bois[…]

Black Photography as a Tool for Social Change in the 19th Century

Cameras played a critical role in the quest for social equality for Black Americans in the post-slavery era. Introduction Frederick Douglass is perhaps best known as an abolitionist and intellectual. But he was also the most photographed American of the 19th century. And he encouraged the use of photography to promote social change for Black equality. In[…]

The Black Women Activists behind the Montgomery Bus Boycott

Honoring the unsung heroes of the Civil Rights Movement. My project, Mug Shot Portraits: Women of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, illuminates the under-acknowledged legacy of Black women’s activism through a series of portraits based on mug shots of women who were arrested during the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955 and ’56, the pivotal event that[…]

Ebenezer Baptist Church: A Seat of Black Power in Atlanta for Generations

It was the spiritual home to MLK and to the generations that shaped the vision of the late civil rights leader,. Introduction The high-stakes U.S. Senate race in Georgia catapulted the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church back into the spotlight. For 135 years, the church played a vital role in the fight against racism and the[…]

Philadelphia’s Black Churches: Overcoming Strife since the 18th Century

Black churches have long been an important pillar in Philadelphia’s African American community. Introduction The Black Church is an institution that was forged in crises. Through slavery, Reconstruction, Jim Crow segregation and the civil rights era, the network of places of worship serving traditionally Black congregations has seen its fair share of traumatic events. In[…]

“I, Too, Sing America”: Remembering David Driskell and Two Centuries of Black American Art

In 1976, the exhibition Two Centuries of Black American Art, 1750 to 1950, curated by David Driskell, debuted at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Opening the year of the Bicentennial, the anniversary of the country’s founding, the landmark exhibition was one of the first to document, in comprehensive detail, the enormous contributions of[…]

When L.A. Was the Land of Funk in the 1970s

Lakeside left their mark on a Black music renaissance. In 1972, the ten members of the Dayton, Ohio funk band, Ohio Lakeside Express, piled into a U-Haul van and headed straight for Sunset Boulevard. Westward migration was in the air. Motown (the nation’s top Black music label) had already pulled up its Detroit roots and[…]

A Century of Black Women as Important Party and Electoral Organizers

Even without the right to vote, Black women engaged in political organizing and partisan debates. Today, Black women’s influence in political campaigns is visible and dramatic. In recent presidential and midterm elections, over 90% of Black women’s votes went to the Democratic candidates. Preliminary figures for the 2020 presidential election indicate that the Biden/Harris ticket[…]

A Brief History of Civil Rights in the United States

The civil rights that various groups have fought for within the United States. Introduction What is the difference between a civil right and a human right? Simply put, human rights are rights one acquires by being alive. Civil rights are rights that one obtains by being a legal member of a certain political state. There[…]

The Story of Caesar, an Enslaved Chef and Chocolatier in Colonial Virginia

In a bittersweet history, the story of enslaved chocolatier Caesar shows the oppression that lay behind the elite’s culinary treat. Introduction The holidays are approaching, and among the many treats of the season are chocolate and hot cocoa. While these traditions provide a hefty dose of sugar, there’s a bittersweet side to chocolate’s history, too.[…]

In Freedom’s Shadow: The Reconstruction Legacy of Renty Franklin Greaves

His story represents the lives of many African American leaders who remain in the shadows of history during Reconstruction and beyond. Introduction The period in American history known as “Reconstruction” began a social revolution that changed the South forever. For 14 years (1863–1877), persons of African descent once held in chattel slavery worked and served[…]

Jim Crow and African American Life

In the South, electoral politics remained a parade of electoral fraud, voter intimidation, and race-baiting. Just as reformers advocated for business regulations, anti-trust laws, environmental protections, women’s rights, and urban health campaigns, so too did many push for racial legislation in the American South. America’s tragic racial history was not erased by the Progressive Era.[…]

A History of Challenging Jim Crow

The first real challenge to the constitutionality of state segregation laws came in 1938. Brown v. Board of Education In 1896, the Supreme Court upheld state racial segregation laws based on the “separate but equal” doctrine in Plessy v. Ferguson. The Court ruled that making a legal distinction between races did not violate the Thirteenth[…]

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[…]