The Man In The Middle

THE BLACK SLAVE DRIVER

Wise planters of the ante-bellum South never relaxed their search for talent among their slaves. The ambitious, intelligent, and proficient were winnowed out and recruited for positions of trust and responsibility. These privileged bondsmen—artisans, house servants, foremen—served as intermediaries between the master and the slave community; they exercised considerable power; they learned vital skills of survival in a complex, often hostile world.Read more »

Behind The Blackface

Minstrel Men and Minstrel Myths

It is on our supermarket shelves, in our advertising, and in our literature. But most of all, it is in our entertainment. From Aunt Jemima to Mammy in Gone With the Wind , from Uncle Remus to Uncle Ben, from Amos ‘n’ Andy to Good Times , the inexplicably grinning black face is a pervasive part of American culture.Read more »

George Washington Carver And The Peanut

New Light on a Much-Loved Myth

The election of a peanut-growing President has evoked much journalistic analysis of his rural Southern roots.Read more »

“a Voice One Hears Once In A Hundred Years”

An Interview with Marian Anderson

Conductor Arturo Toscanini said of her that she had “a voice one hears once in a hundred years.” When she sang for composer Jean Sibelius at his home in Finland, he threw his arms around her, said, “My roof is too low for you,” and called for champagne. Later he dedicated a song to her.Read more »

With All Deliberate Speed

Behind-the-scenes records reveal how the Supreme Court reached its fateful desegregation decisions

On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court of the United States destroyed the legal basis for racial segregation in public schools. As it almost had to be in a case that stirred elemental passions, the decision was unanimous. It was also, as Chief Justice Earl Warren had told the other justices ten days earlier it must be, “short, readable by the lay public, non-rhetorical, unemotional, and, above all, non-accusatory.” Read more »

The Carpetbagger

A TALE OF RECONSTRUCTION
Of the turbulent career of Pinckney B. S. Pinchback, adventurer, operator, and first black governor of Louisiana. He reminds one powerfully, says the author, of the late Adam Clay ton Powell, Jr.

His name seems pure invention —Pinckney B. S. Pinchback. It sounds so much like pinchbeck , dictionary-defined as “counterfeit or spurious,” that one suspects a joke by political enemies. But the name was genuine, and so was the man, and so was the record. Louisiana voters elected him to important public office at least five times, and for thirty-five days in December of 1872 and January of 1873 he was the governor of Louisiana. And that was a landmark—the highest official position in a state ever achieved by an American black man.Read more »

“We Are Going To Do Away With These Boys …”

The black laborers on John Williams’ plantation never seemed to leave or complain. It took some digging to find out why

Out of the ashes and ruins of the Civil War the shadow of slavery once more crept over the South. Even while some southern Negroes tried to achieve political power, civil rights, and personal security during Reconstruction, many laborers became mired in the quicksand of debt. Booker T.

Rosa Parks Wouldn’t Budge

When one weary woman refused to be harassed out of her seat in the bus, the whole shaky edifice of Jim Crow began to totter

A neatly dressed, middle-aged black woman was riding home on a Montgomery, Alabama, bus on the evening of Thursday, December 1, 1955. Her lap was full of groceries, which she was going to have to carry home from the bus stop, and her feet were tired from a long day’s work. 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.

A Black Cadet At West Point

One morning Cadet Johnson Whittaker was found battered and bleeding, trussed to his barracks bed. Who had done it, and why?

West Point, April 7, 1880. At reveille—6 A.M. —it was discovered that Cadet Johnson Chesnut Whittaker was not in formation. This caused a slight stir of interest, for Whittaker was an unusual cadet. He was the only Negro at West Point. Read more »