“That Hell-hole Of Yours”

In 1943 Franklin D. Roosevelt visited Britain’s poorest, most dismal African colony, and what he saw there fired him with a fervor that helped found the United Nations

President Franklin D. Roosevelt did not look favorably on European colonialism. Like most Americans, he believed that the self-determination clause of the 1941 Atlantic Charter should apply to all peoples, not just Europeans. In the war’s early years he so disagreed with Britain’s prime minister, Winston Churchill, on the future of the British Empire that the two heads of state tacitly agreed to avoid discussing the topic.Read more »

Casablanca

Desperate improvisations in the face of imminent disaster saw us through the early years of the fight. They also gave us the war’s greatest movie.

America’s favorite World War II movie has led a charmed life. While it was being filmed, each looming disaster turned out to be a cleverly disguised blessing, and after its completion everything that could go right did go right. But of all the lucky accidents it enjoyed on its way to screen immortality, the fact that shooting began before there was a finished script may have been the most providential. Read more »

When I Landed The War Was Over

A veteran news correspondent recalls his days as a spotter plane pilot

The idea is simple and sound and goes back at least to the American Civil War: to direct artillery fire intelligently, the higher you are above the target, the better. At ground level it’s difficult to tell just how far short or long your shells are falling. In the Civil War they used balloons; in the First World War they were still using balloons, along with airplanes equipped with telegraph keys; in the Second World War the airplane had supplanted the balloon, but just barely.Read more »

Taking Sides In The Boer War

The United States remained officially neutral, but many Americans fought alongside both opposing armies and several became legendary heroes

“I have been absorbed in interest in the Boer War,” wrote Theodore Roosevelt to his friend Cecil Spring Rice in 1899. He was not alone. Most Americans took a keen interest in this remote conflict.Read more »

The Great African Safari Bust

OR HOW THE BOY SCOUTS CAME TO AMERICA

Africa was part of my childhood. The attic in our Detroit home smelled like a zoo. There were lion, leopard, zebra, antelope, and colobus monkey skins that my sister and I and our friends used to take out of their trunks and forget to put back. There was also an elephant’s foot made into a wastebasket, ten or twelve elephant tusks and several small curved tusks of wart hogs, drums made out of antelope hide, and musical instruments with strings like the vines on which Tarzan swung from tree to tree. Read more »

The Making Of An American Lion

A Welsh waif adopted a new country and a new name and then became—thanks to a New York newspaper—the most famous African explorer of his time

On Sunday, December 8, 1872, the manager of the Theatre Comique on Broadway took the unusual step of buying up almost the entire front page of the New York Herald to puff the triumph of his latest presentation. It was called Africa or Livingstone and Stanley , and, to judge from the ecstatic reviews that were quoted, the show was a ringing success.Read more »

“Better For Us To Be Separated”

For some men the only solution to the dilemma of blacks and whites together was for the blacks to go back where they came from

When, on August 14, 1862, President Abraham Lincoln spoke to a visiting “committee of colored men” at the White House, it was already becoming clear that one result of the War Between the States would be the freeing of millions of slaves. Slavery was toppling under the blows of war, and in just another month the President would issue the preliminary version of the Emancipation Proclamation. The “colored men” whom Lincoln addressed were free already; some of them had been free all their lives.

Middle Passage

Packed like animals in the holds of slave ships, Negroes bound for America were prey to disease, brutal masters, and their own suicidal melancholy.

Long before Europeans appeared on the African coast, the merchants of Timbuktu were exporting slaves to the Moorish kingdoms north of the Sahara. Even the transatlantic slave trade had a long history. There were Negroes in Santo Domingo as early as 1503, and the first twenty slaves were sold in Jamestown, Virginia, about the last week of August, 1619, only twelve years after the colony was founded.Read more »