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Posts Tagged ‘American history

“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work”*…

 

attention

 

From psychology professor (and Inner Magic Circle member) Richard Wiseman, a wonderful video elaboration on the famous Gorilla Experiment (to which Wiseman includes a sly nod), demonstrating just how easily our attempts to pay attention can lead us to miss important dimensions of what’s going on around us…

[TotH to Jack Shalom]

* Mary Oliver

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As we iris out, we might recall that it was on this date in 1776 that the Declaration of Independence was actually signed (by all of the signatories except Matthew Thornton from New Hampshire, who inked it on November 4, 1776).  After the Continental Congress voted to declare independence on July 2, the final language of the document was approved on July 4– to wit our celebration of the date– and it was printed and distributed on July 4–5.

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John Trumbull’s depiction of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Capitol Rotunda

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“We must consult Brother Jonathan”*…

 

Brother Jonathan

Brother Jonathan gets the better of John Bull

 

He was ill-mannered and ill-spoken—a boor, a braggart, a ruffian, a bigot, a hick, and a trickster. His name was Brother Jonathan.

Today he is all but forgotten—eclipsed by his upstanding uncle, Sam. But after the Revolutionary War, Brother Jonathan was the personification of the newly independent American people: clever, courageous, not all that sophisticated and proud of it. He was the everyman incarnate. It was the everyman who had led America to victory. And now America looked to the everyman to lead them out from the bloated shadow of Great Britain.

During the nation’s first hundred years, America tried on many characters in search of the perfect fit for its new independent status. There was the feminine Columbia, the indigenous bald eagle, the stoic Lady Liberty, and the bumbling Yankee Doodle. Out of this personification soup, only a few emerged that had some staying power.

Many of these national stereotypes were depicted in popular ballads and stage comedies before America had even achieved its independence; Yankee Doodle was among them. He was originally a British invention—a caricature of a naive, upstart American colonist who was created as a foil for John Bull: the imposing personification of England. Though he never completely faded out of existence, after the Revolutionary War Yankee Doodle was mostly assimilated into another stage character: Brother Jonathan.

Brother Jonathan was a rustic New Englander who was depicted at various times on stage as a peddler, a seaman, and a trader, but always as a sly and cunning figure. He began to show up in political cartoons in newspapers and magazines during the early part of the 19th century as new and cheaper printing methods developed. It was at this point that American cartoonists transformed Brother Jonathan from a figure of derision into one of patriotic pride…

Brash, bold, and bigoted, he made for an uneasy national mascot: “Before America Got Uncle Sam, It Had to Endure Brother Jonathan

* George Washington’s familiar reference to his secretary and aide-de-camp, Col. Jonathan Trumbull; the phrase, Brother Jonathan, later came to mean the American people, collectively (though some scholars believe that “Brother Jonathan” as an avator for America and Americans originated as a common British derisive for colonists)

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As we parse patriotism, we might recall that it was on this date in 1789 that George Washington, acting on legislation passed by Congress three days earlier, created the first federal agency, The Department of Foreign Affairs– what we now know as The Department of State.

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“If slavery is not wrong, nothing is wrong”*…

 

slave canoe

In West Africa, canoes were the main vehicles for transporting slaves from the coast to the transatlantic vessel. According to The Illustrated London News, during the 1840’s, in Sierra Leone, such canoes could carry 200 slaves in their bottom. The dimensions of these canoes were “about 40 feet long, 12 broad, and seven or eight feet deep”

 

This digital memorial raises questions about the largest slave trades in history and offers access to the documentation available to answer them. European colonizers turned to Africa for enslaved laborers to build the cities and extract the resources of the Americas. They forced millions of mostly unnamed Africans across the Atlantic to the Americas, and from one part of the Americas to another. Analyze these slave trades and view interactive maps, timelines, and animations to see the dispersal in action.

The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database now comprises 36,000 individual slaving expeditions between 1514 and 1866. Records of the voyages have been found in archives and libraries throughout the Atlantic world. They provide information about vessels, routes, and the people associated with them, both enslaved and enslavers. Sources are cited for every voyage included. Users may search for information about a specific voyage or group of voyages. The website provides full interactive capability to analyze the data and report results in the form of statistical tables, graphs, maps, a timeline, and an animation…

The Trans-Atlantic and Intra-American slave trade databases are the culmination of several decades of independent and collaborative research by scholars drawing upon data in libraries and archives around the Atlantic world. The new Voyages website itself is the product of three years of development by a multi-disciplinary team of historians, librarians, curriculum specialists, cartographers, computer programmers, and web designers, in consultation with scholars of the slave trade from universities in Europe, Africa, South America, and North America…

Explore one of the two darkest chapters in American history: “Slave Voyages.”

(For the other, start here… and for a sense of scale: “European colonization of Americas killed so many it cooled Earth’s climate.“)

To paraphrase William Wilberforce, we may choose to look the other way but we can never say again that we did not know.

* Abraham Lincoln

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As we face history, we might spare a thought for Harriet Ann Jacobs; she died on this date in 1897.  An escaped slave who was later freed, she became an abolitionist speaker and reformer.  Jacobs wrote an autobiography, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, first serialized in a newspaper, then published as a book in 1861 under the pseudonym “Linda Brent.”  It was one of the first books to address the struggle for freedom by female slaves, and to explore their struggles with sexual harassment and abuse, and their efforts to protect their roles as women and mothers.

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“True heroism is… not the urge to surpass all others at whatever cost, but the urge to serve others at whatever cost”*…

 

georgia gilmore

Georgia Gilmore poses for photographers after testifying as a defense witness in the bus boycott trial of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., March 21, 1956, in Montgomery

 

… Gilmore played a pivotal role in the Montgomery bus boycott. In between parenting her six children and juggling two jobs, she single-handedly operated a grassroots fundraising campaign to support the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), the organization coordinating the protest. “Georgia is an unsung heroine of the Civil Rights Movement,” says Thomas E. Jordan, pastor of the Lilly Baptist Church in Montgomery. “She worked behind the scenes to support, and see the reality of, desegregation in Montgomery.”

In order to raise money for the MIA, Gilmore organized an underground network of black women who sold pound cakes, sweet potato pies, and plates of fried fish and stewed greens door-to-door. More than half of the city’s black female workers were employed by white families, so Gilmore’s group provided an opportunity for them to contribute without jeopardizing their jobs. “Some colored folks or Negroes could afford to stick out their necks more than others because they had independent incomes,” Gilmore told the Chicago Tribune in 1975, “but some just couldn’t afford to be called ‘ring leaders’ and have the white folks fire them.”

To protect the participants from any backlash, Gilmore named the group the Club from Nowhere. That way, if the MIA was ever asked where their money came from, they could honestly say “nowhere.” Only Gilmore knew who cooked and purchased the food…

Read the inspiring story in full at “The Underground Kitchen That Funded the Civil Rights Movement.

* Arthur Ashe

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As we pay respect where it’s due, we might recall that it was on this date in 1948 that the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Sipuel v. Board of Regents of Univ. of Okla., 332 U.S. 631.  Ada Sipuel’s brother had planned to challenge segregationist policies of the University of Oklahoma, but had opted to attend Howard University Law School to avoid delaying his career with protracted litigation. Ada chose to fight.  On January 14, 1946, she applied to the all-white University of Oklahoma, then the only taxpayer-funded law school in Oklahoma; she was denied because of her race.  She sued, and two years later her case reached the highest court, which ruled that the “petitioner is entitled to secure legal education afforded by a state institution.” The justices continued, “The State must provide it for her in conformity with the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and provide it as soon as it does for applicants of any other group.”  It was one of thhe handful of decisions that laid the legal groundwork for the landmark 1954 decision, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483, that ordered the desegregation of public schools.

Sipuel practiced law in Chickasha, Oklahoma and became head of the Social Studies Department at Langston University.  Following her retirement from Langston, she worked as corporate counsel for Automation Research System Limited in Alexandria, Virginia, the second-largest African-American owned computer corporation in the country at that time.  In 1992, three years before her death, she was appointed to the University of Oklahoma Board of Regents.

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“Clients often ask, jokingly, whether we learn our trade in prison”*…

 

safecracker

I spent more than six months shadowing [Charlie] Santore because I wanted to know what the city looks like through the eyes of a safecracker, a person for whom no vault is an actual barrier and no safe is truly secure. There are a lot of safecrackers, I learned, but the good ones, like Santore, live in a state of magical realism, suspended somewhere between technology and superstition. The safecracker sees what everyone else has been hiding—the stashed cash and jewels, the embarrassing photographs. He is a kind of human X-ray revealing the true, naked secrets of a city…

A fascinating profile of L.A.’s preeminent (lock) picker: “Meet the Safecracker of Last Resort.”

* Master safecracker Ken Doyle in a McSweeney’s interview well-worth a read

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As we twist the tumbler, we might recall that it was on this date in 1773 that a group of colonists known as the Sons of Liberty, disguised as Mohawk Indians, boarded three British tea ships and dumped 342 chests of tea (worth 18,000– over half a million dollars in today’s currency) into Boston harbor.  The provocation was the Tea Act of May 10, 1773, which allowed the British East India company to sell tea from China in American colonies without paying taxes apart from those imposed by the Townshend Acts— which American Patriots strongly opposed as a violation of their rights. Colonists objected to the Tea Act because they believed that it violated their rights as Englishmen to “no taxation without representation.”

The Boston Tea Party was a significant event in the gestation of the American Revolution. Parliament responded in 1774 with the Intolerable Acts, which, among other provisions, ended local self-government in Massachusetts and closed Boston’s commerce.  Colonists up and down the Thirteen Colonies in turn responded to the Intolerable Acts with additional acts of protest, and by convening the First Continental Congress, which petitioned the British monarch for repeal of the acts– and probably more impactfully, coordinated colonial resistance to them.  The crisis escalated, and the American Revolutionary War began near Boston in 1775.

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The Boston Tea Party, as rendered by Nathaniel Currier

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Written by LW

December 16, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Museums are places of worship for those whose faith dwells in human stories”*…

 

museums

This map displays almost 26,000 museums, historical societies, and historic preservation associations in the United States

 

There are twenty-four history museums and historical societies in the city of Charleston, South Carolina. Even within the confines of downtown, a visitor could peruse the stately home of a nineteenth-century shipping merchant or the much more modest home of an eighteenth-century furniture maker. There are museums dedicated to the history of Charleston, of South Carolina, and of dentistry. And in 2020, the city that once imported and sold more enslaved people than any other city in the United States will be the site of the International African American Museum.

Across the country, museums explore the histories of all kinds of things—stateslocal communitiesreligious sectsmusicsteam enginesthe Tuskegee Airmen.

The proliferation of museums of all sizes means that in the United States, one is never very far from history: the average distance between two history museums is only 2.6 miles. Because there tend to be more museums in cities than in rural areas, the “history museum density” of the country is one museum for every 147 square miles (an area about the size of Fayetteville, North Carolina)…

Read more and explore the interactive map at: “Public History.

* anonymous

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As we ruminate on roots, we might recall that it was on this date in 1775 that, at the request fo the Second Continental Congress, the U. S. Marine Corps was founded, as the first two battalions of Marines were requested at Tun Tavern in Philadelphia.  (Tun Tavern was quite the convening spot in that period: among other “foundings,” Benjamin Franklin raised the Pennsylvania militia there and it is regarded as the “birthplace of Masonic teachings in America.”)

Commemorating this event, the National Museum of the Marine Corps was opened in Triangle, Virginia (near the Quantico Marine Base) on this same date in 2006.

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Sketch of the original Tun Tavern

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“Good friends, good books, and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life”*…

 

‘Tis the season: best-of lists, and some leisure time in which to put them to use…

Here’s NPR’s Best Books of 2015— 260 volumes that one can filter by type or interest.

* Mark Twain

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As we settle in, we might recall that it was on this date in 1865 that U.S. Secretary of State William Seward issued a statement verifying the ratification of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  The amendment abolished slavery with the declaration: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

Thomas Nast’s engraving, “Emancipation,” 1865

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Written by LW

December 18, 2015 at 1:01 am

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