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Perspectives on African American History

Perspectives on African American History features accounts and descriptions of important but little known events in African American and Global African history recalled often by those who were witnesses or participants or viewpoints about historical developments shaping the contemporary black world. Many of these accounts will be instant primary sources available to current visitors to Blackpast.org and to future historians. Each article is accompanied by a brief biography and photo of its author.

Current Perspective Article

  • In the following article Dr. Clarence Spigner, Professor of Public Health at the University of Washington, Seattle, describes the life of the first patient to die of Ebola on U.S. soil and the larger crisis of Ebola in West Africa as a consequence of a long history of disease, poverty, and underfunded health care systems in the West African nations of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia which are at the center of the 2014 epidemic.

All Perspective Articles

  • In the following article Dr. Clarence Spigner, Professor of Public Health at the University of Washington, Seattle, describes the life of the first patient to die of Ebola on U.S. soil and the larger crisis of Ebola in West Africa as a consequence of a long history of disease, poverty, and underfunded health care systems in the West African nations of Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia which are at the center of the 2014 epidemic.
  • Lois Leveen occupies an unusual role as both historian and novelist.  Leveen is the author of The Secrets of Mary Bowser, which is based on the true story of black woman who became a Union spy in the Confederate White House during the Civil War. Very few details about the historic Mary Bowser can be proven, and many ostensibly nonfiction, scholarly accounts of her life make claims that are either untrue or at least undocumented.  Although The Secrets of Mary Bowser is a work of fiction, Leveen has also done substantial research on the "real" Mary Bowser, including debunking many of the claims about her.  In this article, originally published on TheAtlantic.com under the title "The Spy Photo That Fooled NPR, the U.S. Army Intelligence Center, and Me," Leveen explains how "a story of a mistaken identity reveals a lot about the history of black women in America, the challenges of understanding the past, and who we are today."  Leveen and BlackPast.org thank the editors of The Atlantic for allowing us to share this piece here.  Readers interested in learning more about the real Mary Bowser should consult the Encyclopedia Virginia entry about her, also written by Leveen.  Students and scholars interested in doing their own original research on Bowser can begin by exploring what Leveen describes as the most promising areas for further research.  This is a wonderful opportunity to practice real research techniques and to increase our collective understanding of the how black women have contributed to the history of the United States.
  • In the following article Mediterranean Antiquities historians Carol Thomas and David Coblentz, use an African-headed Greek coin to explore the little known yet often controversially debated historical relationship between Ancient Greece and Egypt and by extension, the larger connections between Africa and Europe.  Their article on their findings appears below. 
  • In the following account, sports historian Charles Kastner describes the remarkable athletic career of Eddie “the Sheik” Gardner of Seattle, Washington. Gardner was arguably the greatest ultramarathoner in Pacific Northwest history. For a detailed discussion of Gardner’s participation in the second and last of the two trans-America footraces held in the late 1920s, see Kastner’s recently published The 1929 Bunion Derby, Johnny Salo and the Great Footrace Across America (2014).
  • Historians rarely compare the mostly working-class and poor Korean population in Japan and African Americans seeking economic justice in the United States. Japanese scholar Kazuyo Tsuchiya of Kanagawa University takes on that task in her new book, Reinventing Citizenship: Black Los Angeles, Korean Kawasaki, and Community Participation. Here she explores the efforts of Koreans in Kawasaki City, Japan and their African American counterparts in South Central Los Angeles in refashioning the boundaries of citizenship in their respective nations.  Her description of that book and its objectives appears below.
  • In the following article Michigan State University professor John McClendon explores the remarkable life of  little know early 20th Century black intellectual Cornelius Golightly.
  • In the account below historian Lorraine McConaghy uses the story of black sailor Robert Shorter to indicate that while the Civil War freed nearly four million slaves, it also set in motion the status decline of antebellum African American seamen.
  • In 1852, California legislators passed a harsh fugitive slave law that condemned dozens of African American migrants to deportation and lifelong slavery. Historian Stacey L. Smith examines the legal travails of three accused fugitive slaves to illuminate the social relations of slavery in gold rush California and the consequences of the fugitive slave law for the state’s African American population.
  • In the wake of Nelson Mandela’s passing on December 5, 2013, tributes came forth from around the world and more than 100 heads of state attended his memorial service in South Africa.  One such tribute, a eulogy to Madiba (his clan name), was paid at the Seattle Rotary Club meeting on December 11, 2013, by Paul Suzman, now a prominent Seattle businessman and the nephew of Helen Suzman, a long-time member of the South African Parliament and one of the most important non-black opponents of the Apartheid system.  Paul Suzman’s tribute appears below.
  • In the following article longtime BlackPast.org contributor and San Diego State University Librarian Robert Fikes discusses African American emigrants to and visitors in Italy.
  • In the following article historians Bruce Glasrud and Cary Wintz discuss their new book, The Harlem Renaissance in the American West which argues that the literary and artistic outpouring by African Americans during the third decade of the 20th Century was a national phenomenon which included the American West.
  • A small but growing number of black women are slowly being recognized for their contributions to the “long” civil rights movement, the nearly century-long struggle by African Americans against all forms of racial discrimination.  In the account below University of Texas-El Paso historian Cecilia Gutierrez Venable describes Juanita Jewel Shanks Craft, one of the most important of these activists in 20th Century Texas history.
  • New York historian Walt Bachman introduces Northern Slave, Black Dakota, his new biography of Joseph Godfrey, an African American who was born into slavery in the free territory that became Minnesota, fled from abusive masters to seek refuge among the Dakota Indians, and was a principal figure in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.
  • In the account below Edith Lee-Payne recalls the day she was photographed as a 12 year old participant in the March on Washington, and the curious history of that photograph through 2011.
  • In the essay below, Bruce L. Mouser, Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, describes the conflicting goals of African Creoles, African Americans, and British and American colonizationists in the fate of the Rio Pongo Valley along the West Coast of Africa.  Mouser explores these conflicts in his history of the period called American Colony on the Rio Pongo: The War of 1812, the Slave Trade, and the Proposed Settlement of African Americans, 1810-1830.   
  • Few Americans realize that the institution of slavery reached the Pacific Northwest in the two decades before the Civil War.  A small number of the white settlers who followed the Oregon Trail from Independence, Missouri to Oregon City brought bondservants.  Oregon historian R. Gregory Nokes, describes one enslaved person, Reuben Shipley.    
  • In the article that follows British Columbian historian and documentary editor, Mary Maillard, explores the controversy surrounding the precise birthdate of slave narrative author, Harriet Jacobs, and reminds us why precision matters.
  • Yale University literature scholar and historian Vladimir Alexandrov introduces The Black Russian— his new biography of a forgotten African American who led an extraordinary life in Russia and Turkey at the beginning of the twentieth century.
  • In the article below Hilary Burrage, Executive Chair of the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation, a United Kingdom (UK)-based non-profit organisation, describes the composer and how she came to regard and preserve his work and legacy.
  • In the following article, American University political scientist James A. Thurber, a leading authority on presidential and congressional politics, describes the effort of President Barack Obama to change one part of the culture of Washington, the influence of lobbyists.  Candidate Obama made that reform a central part of his presidential campaign in 2008.  This article explores his effectiveness in making good that promise.
  • In the following account historian and novelist Lois Leveen describes how she came to write her critically acclaimed novel, The Secrets of Mary Bowser, the account of a black woman who served as a Union spy in the Confederate White House during the American Civil War.
  • In the account below, Jim Kershner, author, historian, and longtime journalist for the Spokesman-Review, Spokane’s major daily newspaper, discusses what led him to the story of Carl Maxey, one of Washington State's key 20th century civil rights figures, and the challenges he encountered while writing Carl Maxey: A Fighting Life which was published in 2008 by the University of Washington Press:
  • In the article below Seattle historian Carver Clark Gayton describes his most prominent ancestor, Lewis G. Clarke, who is widely considered to be the model for one of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s main characters in her novel, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.  Here Gayton describes Clarke’s evolving relationship with Stowe and as importantly, Clarke’s role in the larger struggle against slavery.
  • In the article below Clarence Spigner, DrPH., Professor of Health Services in the School of Public Health, University of Washington, Seattle, briefly describes the saga of Henrietta Lacks whose cells have been used without her family’s permission for over sixty years of bio-medical research.  Dr. Spigner teaches a course in the University of Washington’s Honors’ College based on the book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.
  • The article below by Edmond Davis, a Professor of History at Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock, discusses his new book, Pioneering African-American Aviators Featuring the Tuskegee Airmen of Arkansas.
  • Desmond Power, a third generation British subject born in Tientsin (now Tianjin), China in 1923, was incarcerated along with 1,500 other foreign nationals in 1943 in Weihsien, a Japanese Prisoner of War camp in North China during World War II.  In the article below, Power recalls Earl Whaley and other African American jazz musicians who were placed there as well and how their music lifted the morale of the prisoners.
  • In the article below Fort Worth historian Richard Selcer introduces us to the African American community which has been a presence in this city since its founding in 1849.
  • Few people connect Washington Territory with slavery.  However one incident in 1860 was a reminder that the peculiar institution reached the pre-Civil War Pacific Northwest.  In the account below, historian Lorraine McConaghy describes the saga of Charles Mitchell whose attempted escape from slavery in a vessel sailing between Olympia, Washington Territory and Victoria, British Colombia, touched off an incident that had international repercussions.
  • Alan Gilbert, University of Denver political scientist and anti-racist activist, is the author of  Black Patriots and Loyalists: Fighting for Emancipation in the War for Independence, one of the few works that examines the free and enslaved blacks who joined the American Patriots and the British during the American Revolution and the anti-racist whites who supported them.  In the account below he describes the book and why he wrote it.
  • In the account below, attorney and historian James H. Johnston describes six generations of descendants of Yarrow Mamout, a Muslim slave made famous by Charles Willson Peale's 1819 painting of him in Georgetown in the District of Columbia.  Johnston's discussion of the evolution of his book, From Slave Ship to Harvard which describes Mamout and his descendants.
  • In the article below historian Robin Dearmon Muhammad discusses the growth of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) or the Garvey Movement in the American West, with particular emphasis on its influence in black working-class organizing in the San Francisco Bay Area after World War I.
  • In the article below Jill L. Newmark, exhibition specialist in the History of Medicine Division of the National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, describes the first hospital sponsored by the United States government specifically to meet the health care needs of the ex-slaves during the Civil War.  The Contraband Hospital as it was called, eventually became the Howard University Hospital in 1975.
  • William Loren Katz has devoted his life to researching and writing African American history.  In the following account written to describe the reissue of one of his most successful books, Black Indians, he describes how he became an historian of African America and particularly the black West.
  • In the essay below, Associate Professor Trysh Travis of the University of Florida's Center for Women’s Studies and Gender Research Center explores some of the controversy surrounding Kathryn Stockett's novel The Help, which has also become a major film of the same name.  She argues that the book and the film are not realistic.  While many BlackPast.org readers will debate that point, her article does allow an opportunity to explore a much larger question: can any white author sensitively explore the deeply complex relationships between white women employers and their domestic servants.
  • In the account below Edith Lee-Payne recalls the day she was photographed as a 12 year old participant in the March on Washington, and the curious history of that photograph through 2011.
  • In the article below Clarence Lang, an associate professor of African and African American Studies at the University of Kansas describes his book, Grassroots at the Gateway which explores the changes in 20th Century St. Louis's political, economic, and social landscape and how those changes both affected and were influence by local black activism. 
  • In the account below Central Washington University anthropologist Mark Auslander describes why he wrote The Accidental Slaveholder, which describes the curious ways in which the legacy of slavery extend into the contemporary era.
  • With the exception of the well-publicized Operation Moses, Joshua, and Solomon Airlift of 20,000 Ethiopian Jews from that war and famine ravaged nation to Israel between 1984 and 1991, few people outside the Middle East are aware of the tens of thousands of people of African ancestry living in the Jewish state.  As University of Tel Aviv historian Dafnah Strauss writes below, these Israelis of African ancestry are four distinct communities with different places of origin, different cultures, and different religions.  Nonetheless, they now call Israel home and continue to try to integrate themselves into a population which is deeply ambivalent about their presence.
  • Many Americans are familiar with the now iconic images of James Meredith, the black student who desegregated the University of Mississippi in October 1962, surrounded by white U.S. marshals assigned to protect him and ensure that a U.S. Supreme Court desegregation order be enforced.  Few of us are aware of the critical role that U.S. Marshal Luke Moore and other black Deputy U.S. Marshals played in that episode.  For the first time historian, author, and former U.S. Marshal, Robert Moore discusses the role of the black marshals in his new book, The Presidents’ Men: Black U.S. Marshals.  Robert Moore (no relation to Luke Moore) describes that role below.
  • Arthur Allen Fletcher is known to many as the father of affirmative action.  In this account historian David Hamilton Golland describes the career of Fletcher, a Republican civil rights activist during the last half of the 20th Century.  
  • In the following article University of Oregon historian Carlos Aguirre describes the self-taught poet, writer, and folklorist Nicomedes Santa Cruz, one of the understudied black intellectual leaders in Peru and Latin America.
  • In the article below, Kimberley Mangun, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at The University of Utah, describes how she “discovered” Beatrice Morrow Cannady, an editor who spent nearly 25 years advocating civil rights in Oregon. Cannady used her Portland-based newspaper, The Advocate, as well as interracial teas, radio addresses, and talks to civic and religious groups and high school and college students to promote race relations and equal rights. But Cannady was all but forgotten when she moved to Los Angeles in about 1938. Mangun’s book, the first full-length study of the activist’s career, restores Cannady to her rightful place in the early civil-rights movement and dispels the myth that African Americans played little part in Oregon’s history.
  • In the following account University of Cincinnati historian John K. Brackett describes the famous 16th Century painting of a black courtier at the court of Margaret of Austria, the Duchess of Savoy and Governor of the Habsburg Netherlands.  The name and rank of this courtier remains a mystery.  Professor Brackett, however, speculates on the possible African origins of the elegantly dressed nobleman.
  • Today the phrase "Uncle Tom" evokes a powerfully negative image in American society.  It depicts a weak, subservient, cringing black man who betrays his race and its struggle for liberation.  David Reynolds, an English professor in the Graduate School of  the City University of New York (CUNY) returns to the original "Uncle Tom's Cabin," to revel that the character Harriet Beecher Stowe described in her 1852 novel is wholly opposite of the caricature we now imagine.  His article explores how Stowe's Uncle Tom evolved into our contemporary image of Uncle Tom.
  • In the following account writer Irene Brown recalls through her father's photo the visit of Ada Wright, mother to Roy and Andy Wright, two of the nine Scottsboro Boys accused of rape in 1931.  Her account appears below.
  • In the following article University of Oregon historian Daniel Pope briefly outlines the history of African Americans in the Advertising Industry since the beginning of the 20th Century.
  • In the article below, historian Quintard Taylor describes the origins and evolution of the Juneteenth holiday since 1865. 
  • In the article below historian Jean-Paul R. deGuzman briefly introduces the multiethnic history of Southern California’s San Fernando Valley, a popular region that one local chronicler calls nothing less than “America’s Suburb.”  The narrative that follows, part of deGuzman doctoral research at the University of California, Los Angeles, is a selective snapshot of a far more complex history.
  • From April to July 1994 Rwanda suffered through a period of government-sanctioned mass murder which resulted in the deaths of nearly one million Tutsi men, women and children. Most observers point to myriad factors which caused the slaughter including government corruption, longstanding ethnic antagonism, the legacy of colonialism, and competition for scarce farmland. Jean-Damascène Gasanabo, a citizen of Rwanda whose parents and four siblings were killed during the Genocide, offers another explanation, greed and jealousy. His account of the Rwandan Genocide, written expressly for BlackPast.org, appears below.
  • In the following account University of Pittsburgh historian George Reid Andrews provides an introduction to the history of the population of African ancestry in Uruguay.
  • In the following article University of Tulsa historian Kristen T. Oertel describes the people who like John Brown helped enslaved African Americans in Missouri escape to freedom in Kansas Territory through the western Underground Railroad.
  • Carnegie Mellon University historian Edda L. Fields-Black's 2008 book, Deep Roots: Rice Farmers in West Africa and the African Diaspora, opened a vast new area of diasporic study by linking the cultivation of rice in Africa to the rise of this crucially important food crop in Colonial South Carolina.  What follows is a description of her work and the personal journey that led to that scholarly project.
  • In the article below Bruce Mouser, professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, discusses his new book, For Labor, Race, and Liberty: George Edwin Taylor, His Historic Run for the White House, and the Making of Independent Black Politics which describes his efforts to chronicle the life of the first African American to run for the Presidency of the United States.
  • In the following account North Carolina State University historian Richard Slatta explores the little known history and heritage of South American cowboys of African and mixed race background.
  • The Underground Railroad which fugitive slaves followed from the antebellum South to Canada is now a well-known story. But what of those who returned?  In his ongoing research, University of Texas at El Paso historian Adam Arenson explores this little-known aspect of nineteenth- century African American history: the return of blacks from Canada to the U.S. after the Civil War.
  • Most Americans are now familiar with the contribution of nearly 300,000 black soldiers and sailors to the Union cause during the U.S. Civil War.  Less well known is the role of a dedicated group of black doctors and nurses in uniform who worked diligently to save lives and fight disease.  In 2006, retired physician Robert G. Slawson who is now with the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Maryland, wrote  Prologue to Change: African Americans in Medicine in the Civil War Era to introduce those men and women to the public.  What follows is an introduction to these medical professionals based on his research.
  • In the following article Melissa Milewski, a graduate student in history at New York University, describes her research which has uncovered the surprising success of African American litigants in court cases in the post-Civil War South.
  • The area of South Texas known as the Lower Rio Grande Valley became in the period between the U.S. Civil War and World War I one of the few regions south of the Mason-Dixon Line where racial miscegenation laws were frequently challenged.  As a consequence a small but significant number of prominent black-ethnic Mexican families emerged to complicate both the Anglo-Mexican and black- white racial dichotomies so common in the rest of the nation. In the article below historian Alberto Rodriquez of the University of Houston describes that process. 
  • In the following article historian Bruce A. Glasrud follows the exploits of an all black baseball team in the southwestern Minnesota town of Pipestone in the 1920s which at the time had virtually no black residents.  Nonetheless the team competed with other white, all-black, and racially integrated teams as far away as South Dakota and Iowa.
  • In the account below Nova Scotian historian Sharon Robart-Johnson describes the research and writing that culminated in her book, African's Children: A History of Blacks in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.Her book, the first history of Afro-Canadians in Nova Scotia, focuses on her community of Greenville, about two hundred miles southwest of Halifax.
  • In the following article, Dr. Gary B. Nash, Director, National Center for History in the Schools and Professor Emeritus of History at the University of California, Los Angeles, describes his new book, Forbidden Love: The Hidden History of Mixed-Race America. His book provides a counter narrative to widely held belief that white supremacy ideals throughout most of the nation's history prevented or at least made exceedingly rare beliefs in racial equality and the virtue of a biracial or multiracial United States.
  • In the following article Professor Malik Simba, an historian at California State University, Fresno describes his professional and personal odyssey that led to the writing of his book, Black Marxism and American Constitutionalism: An Interpretative History from Colonial Times to the Great Depression.
  • Mildred Loving always insisted she was no civil rights pioneer, but Loving. v. Virginia, the 1967 Supreme Court case that bears her name, established the legal right to interracial marriage across the United States. In memory of Mildred Loving, who died on May 2, 2008, University of Oregon historian Peggy Pascoe, author of the new book, What Comes Naturally: Miscegenation Law and the Making of Race in America, discusses the many meanings of Loving v. Virginia.
  • During its brief and rocky tenure from 1918 to 1924, pianist Gertrude Harvey Wright was one of four women in Seattle’s first black musicians’ union, the American Federation of Musicians’ Local 458.  Wright,  Virginia Hughes, a “Mrs. Austin,” and (Edythe) “Turnham,” all worked with their male counterparts at union headquarters and on the bandstand.   After the demise of short-lived Local 458, they next joined and helped run Seattle’s follow-up segregated union, Local 493. This institution flourished from 1924 to 1958, launched a number of prominent musicians, both women and men, and helped establish Seattle’s impact and credentials on the national and international jazz scene.
  • In the article below Antero Pietila, longtime reporter for the Baltimore Sun, describes his arrival as a Finnish immigrant in the United States as the nation was being convulsed by the Civil Rights Movement.  Pietila describes his initial introduction into the nation's racial dilemma through Harlem and eventually his arrival in Baltimore in 1969, the city that would be his new home for the next four decades.  Over those decades both officially as a newspaper reporter and unofficially as the resident of a racially divided city, Pietila describes how his experiences led him to investigate the reasons for that strife.  His descriptions and conclusions became a broad racial history of residential housing and racial discrimination in the city of Baltimore which he titled Not In My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City.
  • In the following article Sharon McGriff-Payne, a newspaper reporter and independent historian, describes her search for the history of John Grider, an early black pioneer and member of the Bear Flag Party which declared California's independence from Mexico on June 14, 1846.  McGriff-Payne, like Girder was a longtime resident of Vallejo, California, a small city on San Pablo Bay about 35 miles northeast of San Francisco.  Yet for most of her life she had never heard of this pioneer.  She describes below her search for the history John Grider.  
  • In 2009 W. Mae Kent, published Titanic: The Untold Story, the first historical fiction novel on the sinking of the R.M.S. Titanic which makes it’s central character, Nathan Badeau Legarde, a black man.  The inspiration for her story came from Joseph Phillipe Lemercier Laroche, an Afro-French citizen who died along with 1,516 other passengers when the Titanic sank in the North Atlantic on April 14, 1912.  In this article Kent for the first time writes why she chose to write the novel and the parallels between Laroche and the fictional Legarde.
  • In the following article, James Langford, the first black teacher in Weed, briefly describes the history of the African American community there.  Langford, who graduated from California State University at San Francisco with an elementary teaching credential in the spring of 1974, began teaching at the Weed Union Elementary School on August 28, 1974.  He retired on June 7, 2007,  after thirty-three years.
  • Elwood Watson, a professor of history at East Tennessee State University, is one of the few African American cultural historians to focus his research on the Miss America pageant.  In the article below he examines the success of eight black women in winning the pageant and gaining the coveted crown of Miss America after decades of outright exclusion from the contest that began in Atlantic City in September, 1921.
  • In the article below independent historian Charlotte Hinger explores the concept of racial uplift, black electoral power and reparations for slavery in the ideals of three early citizens of Nicodemus, the most famous 19th Century black town in the West.
  • In this article historian Gwendolyn Midlo Hall recounts her role as a founder of the New Orleans Youth Congress and the early years of the Southern Negro Youth Congress.  This account is part of her soon to be published memoirs.
  • The Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH) is the oldest and largest historical society established for the promotion of African American history.  Carter Godwin Woodson founded it as the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History (ASNLH) in 1915.  The name was  later changed to the Association for the Study of Afro-American Life and History in 1972.  The Associations‘  mission statement describes its purpose "to promote, research, preserve, interpret, and disseminate information about Black life, history and culture to the global community.”  The Association’s vision statement still refers to itself as “the premier Black heritage learned society…[which]will continue the Carter G. Woodson legacy.”
  • In the following article Daryl Michael Scott, Professor of History at Howard University and President of The Association for the Study of African American Life and History, describes the history of the Black History Month Celebration.
  • In the following article historian Omar H. Ali explores a lesser-known aspect of the global African Diaspora, the spread of African peoples and their cultures throughout the Indian Ocean basin.    
  • Nineteenth Century African American soldiers who served in the Western United States have generally been known a “Buffalo Soldiers.”  In this article, however, military historian Frank N. Schubert, challenges modern popular perceptions of the soldiers, among them the significance of their name and the nature of their views of the native  people against whom they fought.   His argument appears below.
  • In her new book, Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America, historian Beryl Satter puts a human face on the often told story of racial discrimination in urban housing by following the career of her father, Chicago attorney Mark J. Satter, who was both an ardent defender of his mostly black clients who had been severely exploited by real estate speculators, and a property owner in an increasingly black neighborhood who some later accused of being a slumlord himself.  Her account is a cautionary tale that reminds us that the ghettos of America's largest cities are the consequence of large impersonal economic forces and of hundreds of individual decisions driven by self-interest and, on occasion, by selfless motives as well.
  • In the following account John C. Hughes, chief oral historian for the Washington State Legacy Project, discusses the life and legacy of Lillian Walker, who has been a civil rights activist in Bremerton, Washington, since World War II. Established in 2008 by Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed, The Legacy Project conducts oral histories and writes biographies of citizens “who have made extraordinary contributions to the political life of Washington State.”
  • On August 22, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act which ushered in the most sweeping changes in the welfare system since its adoption as part of the Social Security Act of 1935.  In the following account, former White House staffer and now University of Washington Assistant Professor of History Margaret O'Mara describes from an insider's vantage point the road to that legislation.
  • In 2000 Kathleen Brose led an organization called Parents Involved in Community Schools which filed a lawsuit against the Seattle School District, challenging its "tie-breaker" rule in Seattle Public Schools which gave preference to racial minorities in school assignments when all else was equal.  The lawsuit eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court which in June 2007 ruled in favor of Parents Involved.  In the following article Brose describes the origins of the lawsuit and her attitude toward the half century struggle to integrate Seattle's schools in light of that ruling. A link to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling appears at the end of this article.
  • In the article below Professor Robert V. Ward, Jr., Dean of the Southern New England School of Law, describes the little known but remarkable career of William Henry "Squire" Johnson who was the first African American made eligible to practice law in the United States.
  • In the following article Dr. Carol Lynn McKibben, Director of the Seaside History Project, City of Seaside, California, and Lecturer, Department of History, Stanford University, describes the subject of her research, Seaside, California, and specifically the unusual history of the African American community in this coastal city.
  • In the following account author, historian, and genealogist John F. Baker, Jr. describes the multi-year search for his enslaved ancestors which resulted in his 2009 book, The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantation: Stories of My Family's Journey to Freedom.
  • In the following account Australian author Deirdre O'Connell explores the ironic life of Blind Tom Wiggins, the slave and later former slave musician who became one of the most prominent 19th Century African American performers.  Wiggins was the subject of her recently published biography, The Ballad of Blind Tom, Slave Pianist.
  • In the following account the authors Anthony D. Hill, associate professor of drama at The Ohio State University, and Douglas Q. Barnett, director, producer, and founder of Black Arts/West in Seattle, discuss why they created the Historical Dictionary of African American Theater, the first comprehensive compendium of two centuries of blacks on stage.
  • Beginning with the Exclusion Law of 1844 enacted by the provisional government of the region, Oregon passed a series of measures designed to ban African American settlement in the territory.  Historian Elizabeth McLagan describes those laws in the article below.
  • Few people identify slavery with Oregon and the Pacific Northwest.  However, there were slaves in the region particularly in the decade before the Civil War.  In the following article, Gregory Paynter Shine, the Chief Ranger and Historian at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, describes the brief enslavement and manumission of one woman, Monimia Travers, whose story touched the region.
  • In the article below social commentator John H. McWhorter challenges the nation to think differently about Black History Month.  He argues that the emphasis on black "heroes" negates the tens of thousands of stories of ordinary African Americans who have overcome or outmaneuvered racism and discrimination. Their stories can also provide inspiration for younger generations seeking authentic role models.  
  • In the following article Canadian independent historian Gael Greene examines the arrival of black emigrants from Oklahoma in the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan.  These pioneer settlers carved out communities on one of the last frontiers in North America.
  • This year the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People celebrates its 100th anniversary.  In the article below historian Susan Bragg provides a brief introduction to the history of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the oldest continually active civil rights organization in the United States.
  • In the following account California State University, Fresno history professor Malik Simba summarizes the 2008 presidential campaign of Illinois Senator Barack Obama. Professor Simba reminds us of the many challenges faced by the campaign as well as the daring and innovative strategies it successfully employed to make relative political newcomer Obama the 44th President of the United States.
  • In the article below Seattle Times columnist Jerry Large provides his perspective on the importance of the Obama victory for the Presidency on Nov. 4, 2008 and the way it forever changed the United States. 
  • Most historians of the Roman world have decoupled the concepts of bondage and race that are central to the arguments justifying the enslavement of millions of people in the United States and other modern western nations. Instead they argued that those enslaved by the Romans had a rough equality regardless of their region of origin.  Historian Sandra Joshel, however, makes note of important distinctions  the Romans made among their bondspeople. Her argument appears below.
  • Most visitors who tour the Hermitage outside Nashville, Tennessee come to the historic site because it is the home of Andrew Jackson, the seventh president of the United States. Hermitage Archaeology Director Kevin Bartoy reminds us, however, that the plantation was also home to over 200 enslaved people. Since those slaves left no written records ongoing archaeological surveys allow a glimpse into the lives they led at Tennessee's most famous plantation.
  • In the linked article independent historian Jeffrey Perry discusses his 2008 book on early 20th Century Harlem activist Hubert Harrison.
  • In the following account, Vildana Muratovic, a native of Bosnia-Herzegovina and now a citizen of the United States, describes the impact of hip-hop music on the people of the Balkans following her 1997 return to Sarajevo. Her paper was written in March 2007.
  • In the following article Professor Emeritus Jere L. Bacharach, a specialist in Medieval Middle Eastern history, describes the little known saga of one of the largest groups of persons of African descent in the region, military slaves. These enslaved men, utilized for centuries in the Muslim world, had no counterpart in Europe or the Americas. His article appears below.
  • In the following article drawn from his book, Black Philosopher, White Academy: The Career of William Fontaine, University of Pennsylvania historian Bruce Kuklick introduces us to the world of philosopher William Fontaine, one of the few African American faculty members at an Ivy League institution in the late 1940s and the only black person then on the University of Pennsylvania faculty.
  • In the nearly half century between 1900 and 1945 various political leaders and intellectuals from Europe, North America, and Africa met six times to discuss colonial control of Africa and develop strategies for eventual African political liberation. In the article that follows, historian Saheed Adejumobi describes the goals and objectives of these six Pan African Congresses and assesses their impact on Africa.
  • In the following article, University of California at Los Angeles historian Gary B. Nash describes a little-known Revolutionary War soldier who was attached by General George Washington to serve with Polish military engineer Tadeuz Kosciuszko. This account is part of a larger history of three individuals, Thomas Jefferson, Tadeuz Kosciuszko, and Agrippa Hull, who shaped the revolutionary struggle even as their own lives were transformed by it.
  • In March, 1896, Ethiopian forces under the leadership of Emperor Menelik II surprised the world by defeating an Italian Army sent to conquer the Empire. In the following article Raymond Jonas, the Giovanni and Amne Costigan Professor of History at the University of Washington, explores that victory at Adwa. His article is drawn from his recent book, The Battle of Adwa: African Victory in the Age of Empire.
  • In the following article, University of Quebec at Montreal historian Greg Robinson explores the little-known relationship of concert singer and political activist Paul Robeson and the Japanese American community during the World War II decade. The article which appears below was first published in the Nichi Bei Times of San Francisco in March, 2008.
  • Sports historian Clay Moyle describes Canadian-born Sam Langford as one of the most successful and yet little known boxers of the 20th Century. In the excerpt below, drawn from his recently publisher book titled Sam Langford: Boxing’s Greatest Uncrowned Champion, Moyle makes his case for that claim.
  • In the article below University of California, Riverside historian Ralph Crowder describes this fascinating but little known attempt by Joe Louis and Fidel Castro to encourage middle class African American tourism to Cuba in the first year of the new regime.
  • Many Europeans have long exhibited a fascination with the African continent. However their knowledge of Africa was often incorrect or incomplete. In the following article University of Cincinnati historian John K. Brackett describes the Italian idea of Africa during the 15th and 16th Centuries.
  • In February 2008, the Las Vegas Hotel and Culinary Workers Union Local 226 emerged on the national political scene with their high profile endorsement of presidential candidate Barack Obama. The union itself has a much older history that goes back to the late 1940s and is tied to the aspirations of thousands of mostly black maids and other service workers in the Las Vegas hotels. In the following article historian Christopher E. Johnson briefly explores that history.
  • In the following article, Janie L. Hendrix, President and CEO of Experience Hendrix and the younger sister of music legend Jimi Hendrix, reflects on the lives of their grandparents, Bertram Philander Ross Hendrix and Zenora Moore. Her article reminds us of the rich entertainment heritage dating back to the beginning of the 20th Century that Jimi Hendrix drew upon when he eventually became one of the most famous and successful Rock musicians of all time.
  • In the article that follows, Richard S. Kirkendall, the Scott and Dorothy Bullitt Professor Emeritus of American History at the University of Washington, Seattle, pays tribute to fellow historian Arvarh E. Strickland. Kirkendall was chairman of the History Department of the University of Missouri-Columbia in 1969 when Strickland was hired. He would like to think of himself as the Branch Rickey of the Strickland story, but he cannot make that claim for the whole department participated in the decision. His tribute to Professor Strickland appears below.
  • In the following account, Professor Allison Blakely of Boston University describes the presence of blacks in Early Modern Europe. His article reminds us that persons of African ancestry resided across Europe. Their numbers ranged from a few hundred scattered across Germany, Scandinavia and Russia in the period between the 16th and 18th Centuries to approximately 150,000 on the Iberian peninsula. His discussion below is excerpted from a larger article written for the American Historical Society in 1999.
  • Utilizing the research of Professor Dominique-René de Lerma of Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin, historian William J. Zick in the article below provides vignettes which comprise an overview of various composers and musicians of African ancestry who performed in Europe, North America, and Latin America from the 16th Century to the 20th Century. His listing begins with the earliest known black performer, John Blanke, a royal trumpeter in the Courts of Henry VII and Henry VIII.
  • During the first half of the 20th Century Southern black lumber mill workers were part of a little noted migration to the west. They arrived as employees of Southern lumber companies which expanded into the timber-growing regions of the west. Many of these migrants settled in small communities stretching from Northern Arizona to the Canadian border. In the following article, historian Jeff Crawford describes one such community which formed in the Northern California communities of Quincy and Sloat.
  • In the article below, extracted from a larger account written for the San Diego NAACP,, San Diego historian and San Diego State University librarian Robert Fikes describes the 90 year history of the local branch which began to pursue racial justice for the city’s 1,000 African Americans in 1917 and continues to serve its 110,000 blacks today.
  • In the following account sports historian Charles Kastner describes the Bunion Derby, the 1928 cross country footrace that captured the nation’s attention in the spring of 1928 and the remarkable group of black runners who participated in that event. For a detailed discussion of the race, see Kastner’s Bunion Derby: The First Footrace Across America.
  • Let us now praise Mayme Clayton. She, and others like her, have done a great service for all of us interested in the African American West and in visual history. And her story, unlikely as it seems, reveals a great deal about what a researcher in black visual history faces even today.
  • In 1944 Sara Dunlap Jackson became one of the first African American professionals hired by the National Archives in Washington, D.C. where she specialized in western, military, social and African American topics. She continued at the Archives until her retirement in 1990. In the following memorial tribute, University of Maryland historian Ira Berlin recalls the remarkable contribution of Sara Dunlap Jackson.
  • While many Americans are familiar with the song, “The Yellow Rose of Texas,” few know the story of Emily West, the African American woman who was the inspiration for its creation. In this excerpt below from a longer article that first appeared in 1996, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill English Professor Trudier Harris explains that history.
  • In their introduction to Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience, co-editors Henry Louis Gates and Kwame Anthony Appiah describe W.E.B. DuBois’s half century campaign to publish an encyclopedia that would encompass the African diaspora.
  • In the following article, Rob Hudson, the assistant archivist at Carnegie Hall, provides a brief history of the black entertainers and social activists who appeared before audiences at Carnegie Hall during its first half century.
  • Lawrence J. Pijeaux, Jr., the President and CEO of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute describes the museum’s origins in the powerful and poignant story of the struggle for racial justice in Alabama’s largest city in the 1960s.
  • Henry W. McGee, Jr., a Seattle University Professor of Law and Central District resident, discusses the recent dramatic transformation of the area from a predominately working class African American community into an area of high income white, Asian American and African American professionals. His article suggests implications for black communities across the United States.
  • Hugh MacBeth, a black Los Angeles attorney active between the First and Second World Wars is largely known for his civil rights work on behalf of African Americans. In 1942, however, MacBeth became an impassioned champion of the Japanese on the West Coast who were soon to be incarcerated. In the article below, reprinted from the Nichi Bei Times, Greg Robinson, a University of Quebec at Montreal professor, describes MacBeth’s activities.
  • In this account University of Washington historian and Professor Emeritus Thomas J. Pressly recalls a lynching he witnessed when he was twelve years old.
  • In the following article, James A. Banks, the Kerry and Linda Killinger Professor and Director of the Center for Multicultural Education at the University of Washington, Seattle, describes his Arkansas community's reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision when it was announced in 1954.
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