Growing Up Colored

The noted writer and educator tells of his boyhood in the West Virginia town of Piedmont, where African Americans were second-class citizens but family pride ran deep.

You wouldn’t know Piedmont anymore—my Piedmont, I mean—the town in West Virginia where I learned to be a colored boy. Read more »

From Civil War to Civil Rights

J.R. Clifford fought his real battles in the courtroom

My paternal grandfather, Edward St. Lawrence Gates, was buried on July 2, 1960. After the burial my father showed my brother and me scrapbooks that his father had kept. Within the pages of those scrapbooks was an obituary of my great-great-grandmother, a slave named Jane Gates. It was dated January 6, 1888. And then he showed us her photograph. The next day I bought a composition book, came home, interviewed my mother and father, and began what I later learned is called a family tree. I was nine years old. Read more »

Date of Event: 
Thursday, November 22, 1860

The Court-Martial of Jackie Robinson

He was a lieutenant in the Army of the United States: he saw no reason to sit in the back of the bus

ON JULY 6, 1944, Jackie Robinson, a twenty-five-year-old lieutenant, boarded an Army bus at Fort Hood, Texas. Sixteen months later he would be tapped as the man to break baseball’s color barrier, but in 1944 he was one of thousands of blacks thrust into the Jim Crow South during World War II. He was with the light-skinned wife of a fellow black officer, and the two walked half the length of the bus, then sat down, talking amiably.Read more »

In the Defense of the Republic

From Camp William Penn to the Grand Review

The American Civil War had cost more than 620,000 lives and had nearly torn the nation apart, but by May 1865 it was finally over. To celebrate, thousands of people gathered in Washington, D.C., to express their gratitude to the military forces that had made the Union victory possible. More than 200,000 Union troops paraded through the city in this Grand Review—but only white troops participated.Read more »

Sit-in At The Woolworth’s

A new Greensboro museum celebrates the courage of four young black men 50 years ago

Winter weather canceled the sold-out gala banquet to celebrate the opening of the International Civil Rights Center and Museum in Greensboro, North Carolina, on Saturday, January 30. But come Monday morning, glad throngs braved the cold to commemorate the day, 50 years earlier, when the civil disobedience of four young men in a luncheonette snowballed a change for America. Read more »

The Central Fact Of American History

It was the nation’s biggest business, it was well organized as a Detroit assembly line, and it was here to stay. It was slavery. David Brion Davis, A lifelong student of the institution, tells how he discovered—and then set about teaching—its vast significance.

“THE MAIN EVENT”

I have long believed that what most distinguishes us from all other animals is our ability to transcend an illusory sense of now , of an eternal present, and to strive for an understanding of the forces and events that made us what we are. Such an understanding seems to me the prerequisite for all human freedom.

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African-American History

African-Americans have experienced a cultural paradox, or a contradiction. For many years, until World War II, they were largely excluded from the official history of the United States. Not in the sense that they went unmentioned; after all, one can hardly conceive a history of the United States that does not deal with slavery, abolitionism, the Civil War, and Reconstruction. But it was certainly possible to talk about blacks largely as objects, not agents, as primitives, as an unfortunate population whose presence was largely an annoyance, a misfortune, or a tragedy.Read more »

The Road From Rentiesville

The greatest historian of the black experience in America speaks of what has changed during his long life, and what has not. An Interview With John Hope Franklin.

No one needed to convert John Hope Franklin to racial consciousness or to social activism. For most of his life, as a scholar and teacher, as a public servant and activist, he has considered his personal commitment to social justice no less than a moral imperative. His ongoing and extraordinary career has broken and challenged many a racial barrier, from his student activities at Fisk University to his role as a historical adviser to Thurgood Marshall in assembling materials for Brown v.

 
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Jazz Liberates Paris

American jazz musicians once enjoyed a freedom and respect in France’s capital that they could never win at home. Landmarks of that era still abound.

For all the books and films that have been done about painters and writers who went to Paris, far less has been written about the lives of musicians from the United States who settled there, some for a while, a few for their whole lives. Yet American jazz musicians have felt the influence of that city on their creative abilities no less than did the Lost Generation of American writers after World War I and the impressionists and their successors before them. Much of their world, and of jazz itself, is still there to be seen and enjoyed. Read more »