"In the early 1800s, a hammer was kept near Plymouth Rock for the pilgrim who had forgotten to bring one
. By the end of the 19th century, what was left of the rock was fenced off within a memorial." "The United States, it turns out, was a nation of casual plunderers from the start
. Visitors to Mount Vernon snapped splinters from the moldings; beachgoers in Massachusetts chiseled off chunks of Plymouth Rock; tourists snipped fabric from the White House curtains. By the early 19th century, newspapers were referring to illicit souvenir hunting as a “national mania.” " [more inside]
Hosted by three professors of US history (one a specialist in the 18th Century, one in the 19th, and one in the 20th), each episode of the radio show and podcast Backstory
takes a subject from the news and looks at the American history behind it. [more inside]
of maps of America. Includes killing frost dates
from 1911, Hog production circa 1860
of Western Exploration and many more.
Fifty-five years ago this month, nine black students attempted to integrate Little Rock Central High School. [more inside]
The Long Recall
is a daily news aggregator chronicling the buildup to the U.S. Civil War. The daily posts are
"digests of the news and commentary that an intelligent American might have had accessible 150 years ago."
On June 15th, 1920 in Duluth, Minnesota, three young, black circus workers, Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson and Issac McGhie, were lynched. The Minnesota Historical Society has a great site devoted to the terrible event, Duluth Lynchings Online Resource
. I'd especially like to point out the Oral Histories
section, which has short interviews with African-Americans who lived through the event. In 2001 Minnesota Public Radio covered the story
, inspired by a campaign to build a memorial to the three men, which was dedicated in October of 2003. The Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial has a fine website
which is well worth visiting.
In 1865, after the end of the Civil War, Col. P. H. Anderson of Big Spring, Tennessee, wrote to his former slave, Jourdon Anderson, asking him to return to work for him. In reply, Jourdon Anderson told Colonel Anderson exactly where he could stick his offer
. This letter was part of The Freedmen's Book (full download in many different formats
) which was distributed to those freed after and during the Civil War, so that they would know stories of other freedmen who had done well, including Touissant L'Ouverture, Phillis Wheatley and Frederick Douglass. The book was put together and published by Lydia Maria Child, abolitionist, women's rights activist, Indian rights campaigner and all around awesome person. She became famous in her own time for her cookbook The Frugal Housewife
, but today her best known work is Over the River and Through the Woods. The Freedmen's Book was part of an effort by abolitionists after the war to educate freed slaves. The American Antiquarian Society has a great website about that movement, Northern Visions of Race, Region and Reform
, which has plenty of primary sources
and images galore.
About 2% of the US population died while serving in the military during the US Civil War, roughly equivalent to about six million people today. A few years after the war the best selling book at 100,000 copies was Elizabeth Stuart Phelps
' The Gates Ajar
, which deals mainly with heaven and what exactly happens there. Spoilers follow. [more inside]
Explorations in Black Leadership
is a collection of video interviews with prominent African-Americans, focusing on activists of one sort or another. 34 people are interviewed, including Nikki Giovanni
, John Lewis
, Barbara Lee
, Bobby Rush
, Dorothy Height
and Amiri Baraka
. There are full transcripts of every interview. Here's an excerpt from the Nikki Giovanni interview: "The kids today have to have a voice. I'm amazed that they found it. I remember Sugarhill Gang with Sylvia, you know: "Uptown, Downtown, the Holiday Inn." You know, things like that. Then, of course, I remember the explosion of Tupac Shakur. Losing Tupac was a great loss for this generation. I have a tattoo--it says "Thug Life" --because I wanted to mourn with this generation. I don't see how people can knock the kids…paying so little attention. I had deep regrets--and I know Rosa Parks, you know, we don't hang out but I know her--I so regretted that she lent her name to be used against Outkast, because Rosa Parks is a wonderful--is a wonderful tune. And they were giving her problems. If people don't--if the younger generation doesn't sing the praises of the older generation they get forgotten."
(Which Words Jefferson Digested) Some Flash
Slavery in the North
is a website covering the 200-year history of slavery in the northern colonies in what would become the United States.
Grange Halls are common landmarks in America's rural communities. But what is a "Grange"? The Order of Patrons of Husbandry
is a fraternal agricultural organization, but it's not just a social group for farmers; Grange lobbying fought railroad monopolies and led to Rural Free Delivery, the Farm Credit System
, and other "progressive legislation that will benefit U.S. agriculture, rural America, and the nation in general". But after 140 years
, the Grange is fading away
from and pictures
of Ronald Reagan's diaries while president, with a brief intro from historian Douglas Brinkley.
McKinley Assassination Ink:
"The goal [...]: to gather the largest possible selection of full-text primary source documents relating to the assassination of William McKinley and the immediate aftermath of that event, including the succession of Theodore Roosevelt to the presidency and the incarceration, trial, and execution of [anarchist] assassin Leon Czolgosz."
Teenage Hoboes in the Great Depression. During the Great Depression over 250,000 young people left home and began riding freight trains or hitchhiking across America. Most of them were between 16 and 25 years of age. Many finally found work and shelter through the Civilian Conservation Corps, a government relief project that Franklin D. Roosevelt established in 1933 as part of the New Deal. From 1933 to 1942, CCC enrollees built new roads, strung telephone wires, erected fire towers, and planted approximately 3 billion trees. By 1935, the program was providing employment for more than 500,000 young men.
America's First Superstar.
He was the highest paid actor in the world, beloved by fans so passionate about his performances that a riot (23 people killed, more than a hundred wounded) ensued
when a rival
dared to perform the role that had made him famous. He enjoyed all the trappings
of a superstar's life: portraits
taken by America's most famous photographer, a large mansion
(now a historic landmark), and of course a scandalous divorce trial
He was also one of the most prominent book collectors
in the country. Edwin Forrest
was born 200 years ago
Jefferson has his Monticello; Washington, Mount Vernon. Now, Benjamin Franklin's only surviving residence, Number 36 Craven Street
, London, opened its doors to the public
. More inside.
"When I read his work, I forgive him all his sins".
Edmund Wilson disliked being called a critic
. He thought of himself as a journalist, and nearly all his work was done for commercial magazines
, principally Vanity Fair, in the nineteen-twenties; The New Republic, in the nineteen-twenties and thirties; The New Yorker, beginning in the nineteen-forties
; and The New York Review of Books, in the nineteen-sixties. He was exceptionally well read
: he had had a first-class education in English, French, and Italian literature, and he kept adding languages all his life
. He learned to read German, Russian, and Hebrew; when he died, in 1972, he was working on Hungarian.
Edmund Wilson and American culture
. (more inside)
"Approximately 250,000 persons viewed and passed by the bier of little Emmett Till. All were shocked, some horrified and appalled. Many prayed, scores fainted and practically all, men, women and children wept". Chicago Defender, September 1, 1955.
Federal officials this morning erected a white tent over the grave of Emmett Till
, Ill., in preparation to exhume the body
to shed light on the Chicago teenager's death
50 years ago.
Till, 14 years old at the time, was killed in a hate crime
in Money, Miss., that sparked the Civil Rights movement
. (previous Emmett Till MeFi threads here
The Reader of Gentlemen's Mail
In the spring of 1919, when the father of American cryptography, Herbert
, drew up a plan for a permanent State Department codebreaking organization — a "black chamber
— he estimated that a modest $100,000 a year would buy a chief (Yardley) and fifty clerks and cryptanalysts. Yardley rented a three-story building in New York City: on East 38th Street just off Fifth Avenue, he put two dozen people to work under civilian cover—as the Code Compiling Company
. His summary dismissal happened in 1929 at the hand of incoming Secretary of State Henry Stimson
, who closed down the Cipher Bureau
with the casual observation
that "gentlemen do not read each other's mail
". The son of a railroad telegrapher, a man with a lively Jazz Age interest in money, good-looking women, and drinks at five, Yardley not only taught his country how to read other people's mail but wrote two of the enduring American books—the memoir The American Black Chamber (1931)
, and The Education of a Poker Player (1957)
The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard M. Helms, former CIA director, is dead.
"We're not in the Boy Scouts," Richard Helms was fond of saying when he ran the Central Intelligence Agency.
He was involved in many suspicious covert operations -- in 1970's Chile for example
-- and JFK consipracy nuts even linked him to the president's assasination.
George Tenet now calls Helms "a great patriot".
He was fired by President Nixon when he refused to block an FBI probe into the Watergate scandal.
Want to know more about the man? Check out Thomas Powers excellent story in "The Atlantic"
Oh, and his niece was the semi-official Taliban ambassador to the USA
Know-Nothings, Bible Riots and the Catholic Church
Take a break from priest abuse news with this detailed history of anti-Catholic bias in the United States. In 1834, an angry Boston mob burned down a convent
after Harriet Beecher Stowe's father preached that Catholic immigrants were a threat to democracy
. In Philadelphia, the 1844 Bible Riots
lasted for days, destroying Irish-Catholic churches and neighborhoods. In 1855, Louisville Know-Nothings
went on a "Bloody Monday"
rampage that left dozens of Catholics dead. Even telegraph inventor Samuel Morse
got into the act with a series of anonymous anti-Catholic letters. Fascinating stuff, but oops, break's over. We now return to our regularly scheduled program
A few laughs at the expense of a "pretty great state"
Legislators' Ignorance Is Embarrassing
Few would argue that "a proper understanding of American history and government is essential to good citizenship," as stated in a bill written this year by the Utah Legislature and signed into law March 18 by Gov. Mike Leavitt.
But in its zeal to put God back in government, the Legislature revealed an embarrassing ignorance of America's history and its Constitution.
The only "war" I can think of in U.S. history anything like the present situation is the U.S. Navy's war on Caribbean piracy
(1814-1825). Stateless, decentralized foe, no defined fields of battle, no "high-value targets"...Again, 1814-1825: eleven years.
Any U.S. history majors out there?