African American History

Facing Slavery’s Legacy at Georgetown: What Can Historians Contribute?

By Adam Rothman

Many universities in the United States are reckoning with their own involvement in the history of American slavery. What can historians contribute? It may seem counterintuitive to ask what historians can bring to the discussion of what seems to be an essentially historical problem, but the answer is not obvious because it depends on the tricky relationship between the past and the present.

The Politics of the Past in the Black Freedom Struggle

“I grew up reading about you,” historian Clayborne Carson told Terrence Roberts, one of the nine Arkansas teenagers who faced down racist mobs to integrate Little Rock Central High School in 1957. The two sat beside each other onstage before a packed audience at the National Museum of the American Indian, there to witness the opening roundtable for “The Future of the African American Past”—a historic conference inaugurating the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, soon to open on the National Mall.

Slavery on Film: Why Now?

By Justene G. Hill

Over the past few years, several movies and television shows have delved into the history of slavery in the United States. From the dramatic (12 Years a Slave and Django Unchained) to the comedic (Key & Peele), slavery has been re-introduced as a theme in American popular culture. In January 2015, NBC announced that it would air an eight-hour miniseries called Freedom Run, based on Betty DeRamus’ 2005 book Forbidden Fruit: Love Stories from the Underground Railroad.

A portrait of Mary Church Terrell by Betsy Graves Reyneau. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

Mary Church Terrell: The Great-Great Grandmother of Black Lives Matter

By Joan Quigley

Black Lives Matter, the protest movement launched by three African American women, has ignited a search for new role models. One Black Lives Matter co-founder, Patrisse Cullors, has cited the influence of Harriet Tubman; another co-founder, Alicia Garza, has invoked Sojourner Truth. And, as Jelani Cobb wrote recently in the New Yorker, Black Lives Matter has reclaimed a grassroots activist, Ella Baker, whose career included stints with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

The “Depression Disease”: What the United States’ First National Lead Poisoning Crisis Can Teach Us about the Flint Water Disaster

By Leif Fredrickson

In 1932, a young girl showed up at the Johns Hopkins Hospital with dire symptoms suggesting lead poisoning. A physician who went to the girl’s home to locate the source initially suspected lead paint, but couldn’t find any. When a neighbor suggested that the source could be the battery casings that families in the neighborhood were burning for fuel and warmth, the physician tested them and found that they were saturated with lead. In the months following the discovery of that first case of lead poisoning, dozens more children showed up in Baltimore and other cities’ hospitals with similar symptoms.