African-American History

When the first African-Americans to crew a U.S. warship sailed into the war-tossed North Atlantic, they couldn't have known it would take fifty years to gain honor in their own country

I sometimes felt like I was swimming against a very strong tide when doing research for my book on the men of the USS Mason. Very few people had ever heard of the first ship in the U.S. Navy manned by African-American sailors. Read more >>

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 >>

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. Read more >>

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. Read more >>

By the end of the Civil War, nearly 200,000 African-Americans had fought for the Union cause and freedom

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. Read more >>

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. Read more >>

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.

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. Read more >>

Politics

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.

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. Read more >>

One woman’s journey into her family’s past uncovers a story that affects every American

April 1997 Read more >>
Most Overrated Civil Rights Initiative: Read more >>
“Of late the American character has received marked and not altogether flattering attention from American critics.” The comment, from the opening page of Constance Rourke’s great, unjustly ignored book American Humor , bears one of her trademarks Read more >>
On April 15 Jackie Robinson started at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers in their opening-day game against the Boston Braves. In so doing, he became the first African-American to play in the major leagues since an abortive attempt at integration in 1884. Read more >>

QUESTIONING THE MYSTERIES OF HER OWN FAMILY, THE AUTHOR FINDS ANSWERS THAT AFFECT US ALL

In 1916, when Margaret Morris was a little girl living in Washington, D.C., she lost her family and they lost her. First her mother died at the age of forty-one. Then her father, uncles, aunts, sister, brothers, cousins, and even grandmother vanished. Read more >>

The struggles and torments of a forgotten class in antebellum America: black slaveowners

In the 1640s John Casor was brought from Africa to America, where he toiled as a servant for a Virginia landowner. Read more >>

Deep South states are taking the lead in promoting landmarks of a three-hundred-year heritage of oppression and triumph—and they’re drawing visitors from around the world

Kate is waiting for us by the kitchen garden. Her owner, Benjamin Powell, has warned us that she “often has a case of the grumps,” so we approach her cautiously. Read more >>

They were the first black men to fight in the Civil War. They were the first to serve alongside whites. And they were the first to die.

I had long been of the opinion that this race had a right to kill rebels.” Col. James M. Read more >>
“I think one man is just as good as another,” he said, “as long as he’s honest and decent and not a nigger or a Chinaman.” Yet Truman broke with his convictions to make civil rights a concern of the national g Read more >>

In 1932 the Communist International paid to send a cast of American blacks to Moscow to make a movie about American racial injustice. The scheme backfired.

In 1932, while Scarface, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Read more >>

In an age when the best black artists were lucky to exhibit their work at state fairs, Henry Ossawa Tanner was accepted by the most selective jury in France

Dr. Philip Bellefleur had been headmaster of the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf for about three years when he found the painting in 1970. Read more >>

Thirty years ago John Howard Griffin, a white Texan, became an itinerant Southern black for four weeks. His account of the experience galvanized the nation.

On a sunny November day in 1959, a tall, brown-haired Texan entered the home of a New Orleans friend. Five days later an unemployed, bald black man walked out. Read more >>

The United States had promised black soldiers that they would be paid as much as whites. Sergeant Walker believed that promise.

This is in honor of Sgt. William Walker, of the 3d South Carolina Infantry Regiment, a young black soldier who believed in the United States government’s promises of equal rights. This is in honor of Sgt. William Walker, who was brave enough to act on his belief in his rights. Read more >>

You Asked for It

When American Heritage suggested last year that I put together the article that became “101 Things Every College Graduate Should Know about American History,” I accepted the assignment eagerly. Read more >>

This is not a test. It’s the real thing.

How precise is the educated American’s understanding of the history of our country? I don’t mean exact knowledge of minor dates, or small details about the terms of laws, or questions like “Who was secretary of war in 1851?” ( Answer: Charles M. Read more >>

Twenty years ago blacks were virtually disenfranchised throughout the South. Now their votes may elect our next President.

JESSE JACKSON’S impressive performance during the long primary season of 1984 has made one thing absolutely clear: If the Democratic candidate hopes to unseat Ronald Reagan in November, he will have to count heavily on black votes. Read more >>

Whatever you were taught or thought you knew about the post-Civil War era is probably wrong in the light of recent study

IN THE PAST twenty years, no period of American history has been the subject of a more thoroughgoing réévaluation than Reconstruction—the violent, dramatic, and still controversial era following the Civil War. Read more >>

Thousands of them sided with Great Britain, only to become the wandering children of the American Revolution

IN THE EARLY summer of 1775 the rebeb of Virginia evicted their royalist governor, John Murray, Earl of Dunmore, from his capital at Williamsburg and drove him to refuge aboard a British warship. Read more >>

A century after passage of the Fifteenth Amendment, many Southern blacks still were denied the vote. In 1965 Martin Luther King, Jr, set out to change that—by marching through the heart of Alabama.

From the frozen steps of Brown Chapel they could see the car moving toward them down Sylvan Street, past the clapboard homes and bleak, red-brick apartments that dotted the Negro section of Selma, Alabama. Read more >>