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The Daring Disguise that Helped One Enslaved Couple Escape to Freedom

February 28, 2020 in History

By Thad Morgan

In 1848 William and Ellen Craft blurred the lines of race and gender in order to escape slavery.

In the mid 19th century in Macon, Georgia, a man and woman fell in love, married and, as many young couples do, began thinking about starting a family. But Ellen and William Craft were both enslaved and were well aware that any of their future children could be ripped away at any moment and sold as property. So, they devised a bold escape plan.

Ellen would travel from Macon, Georgia to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by train—masquerading as a white man and slaveholder. Her husband, William, would pose as her enslaved valet. It was a risky idea, but their background had prepared them for the moment.

Both Faced Separation From Family in Childhood

Ellen was born in 1826, the illegitimate biracial daughter of a slaveholder and a woman enslaved to him, in Clinton, Georgia. Her fair skin and facial features so strongly resembled her father that she was often mistaken as a member of the family, which frustrated the slaveholder’s wife. In response, the wife “gave” Ellen to her daughter—Ellen’s half-sister—in Macon.

William is thought to be born around rural Georgia in 1824. In order for his slaveholder to repay his debts, 16-year-old William, his brother, sister and parents, were torn apart and sold to different slaveholders, with William ending up in Macon.

It was in this southern town that William and Ellen met and later wed, although the specifics remain unknown. What is known is that the pair was determined to have children and live as a free family. Because Ellen shared many resemblances with her father, they decided she could pull off a disguise as a white man. In fact, the idea wasn’t completely novel.

Using Disguise as Escape

“There were other stories of mixed-race enslaved people, enslaved people who looked white, who passed for white,” says Barbara McCaskill, Professor of English at the University of Georgia and author of . “He seems all very well here, but he may act quite differently there. I know several gentlemen who have lost their valuable n——- among them [damned] cut-throat abolitionists.”

William was also covertly advised by abolitionists to flee as soon as his feet touched free soil. William and Ellen travelled from Charleston via steamer and train to Wilmington, North Carolina and Baltimore, Maryland, among other cities, before finally reaching their destination, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on Christmas Day in …read more


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At Cold War Nuclear Fallout Shelters, These Foods Were Stocked for Survival

February 26, 2020 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

Bulgur biscuits and a granulated synthetic protein dubbed ‘multi-purpose food’ promised long shelf life—but not much else.

What were postwar Americans planning to eat in the event of a nuclear attack? Hint: It wasn’t very appetizing.

With , Sara Mansfield Taber wrote that she and her classmates “brought in cans of tuna fish, chicken noodle soup, jars of Tang (the drink of the astronauts), and Vienna sausages for the emergency stockpile” before hunkering down in the basement of a classmate’s home as part of a school air-raid drill. Tang also showed up in a 1960s shelter unearthed in the backyard of a Wisconsin home in 2013, alongside individual packs of cornflakes and cans of pineapple juice.

Though published in 2012, the popular Chicken Soup for the Soul Cookbook featured a Cold War-era recipe for “Doomsday Cookies.” The recipe’s author, Barbara Curtis, recalled doing duck-and-cover drills at school in the 1950s. At home, Curtis’s mother made her signature oatmeal, walnut and chocolate chip cookies in massive quantities to stockpile along with the “cases of Spam, Vienna sausages and oil-packed tuna” stored in the family’s garage.

The long afterlife of fallout shelter foods

Supplies line the walls of an intact fallout shelter dating from 1962, pictured 2017.

Though fears of a Soviet atomic attack had largely receded by the 1970s, replaced by concerns over the war in Vietnam and the Watergate scandal, some fallout shelter foods proved to have an even longer shelf life than their government boosters might have predicted—sort of. In 2006, workers in New York City were conducting a routine structural inspection of the Brooklyn Bridge when they came across a blast from the Cold War past: a stockpile of medical supplies, water drums and an estimated 140 boxes containing more than 350,000 “Civil Defense All-Purpose Survival Crackers.”

“It tasted like cardboard, but with a nasty backbite that stayed in your mouth for hours,” reported Iris Weinshall, the city’s transportation commissioner at the time. “I cannot think of eating a saltine now without that taste coming up.”

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4 Contested Conventions in Presidential Election History

February 26, 2020 in History

By Lesley Kennedy

Having a single candidate by the time of the convention has been a key stepping stone for a party’s victory. But it hasn’t always worked out that way.

For all the pomp and circumstance that once surrounded presidential party conventions, they’re rarely all that dramatic today. In fact, the last time Democrats faced a tight delegate race was in 1980, when reported. “By the time Mr. Davis was nominated, more than 100 delegates had already packed up and gone home, having run out of money, patience, or energy.”

Davis was a dark horse introduced as a compromise after neither New York Governor Alfred E. Smith, an anti-Prohibitionist, or William G. McAdoo, who had the support of the Ku Klux Klan, could wrangle a then-necessary two-thirds majority.

Davis lost the general election resoundingly to Republican President Calvin Coolidge.

Republican National Convention, 1964

Ku Klux Klan members supporting Barry Goldwater’s campaign for the presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention, San Francisco, California, as an African American man pushes signs back.

In a clash of Republican conservatives vs. moderates, Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater, the former, had managed to fend off New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, the latter, during primary season. But the senator was still shy of the total delegates needed to clearly clinch the party’s nomination at the San Francisco-held convention on the first ballot.

With support from former President Dwight Eisenhower, as well as failed candidate Rockefeller, a last-minute bid from Pennsylvania Gov. William Scranton threw a wrench in Goldwater’s plan to secure the nomination.

Just a month before the convention, Goldwater was one of six Republicans to vote against the Civil Rights Act. A “Stop Goldwater” movement ensued, with moderates throwing their support to Scranton and massive anti-Goldwater protests taking place outside the convention hall.

“The 40,000-person demonstration in San Francisco was the largest protest since the March on Washington,” author and political correspondent John Dickerson writes in Slate. “Signs read, ‘Goldwater for Fuhrer, Freedom Is Dead, Hitler Was Sincere, Too. ‘Goldwater in ’64: Bread and water in ’65; hot water in ’66,’ ‘Vote for Barry, stamp out peace,’ ‘I’d rather have scurvy than Barry–Barry.’ ”

But while he may not have held the popular vote, he held the delegates’ votes and Goldwater ended up wresting the nomination from Scranton with a vote of 883 to 214. He went on to lose the national election to …read more


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How the Harlem Globetrotters Rose From Midwest Obscurity to Become Global Stars: Photos

February 25, 2020 in History

By Rashad Grove

The team got their start in Chicago during a time when segregation was pervasive and basketball was not even a well-known game.

For nearly a century, the Harlem Globetrotters have brought flair and antics to the game of basketball. The team has played to more than 148 million people, in over 26,000 exhibition games in 124 countries and territories.

The Harlem Globetrotters began in 1926 as the Savoy Big Five, an African American basketball team who mostly hailed from Wendell Phillips High School in Chicago’s South Side. They first played under the banner of the South Side’s Giles Post of the American Legion and then became known as the Savoy Big Five after Chicago’s Bronzeville’s Savoy Ballroom hired the team to play as pre-dance entertainment. For Midwest audiences, the game of basketball was still novel and, from early on, this team brought an entertaining style of play to the sport.

The Harlem Globetrotters began in 1926 as the Savoy Big Five, an African American basketball team who mostly hailed from Wendell Phillips High School in Chicago’s South Side. The team was renamed the Harlem Globetrotters in 1930 to link the squad with the neighborhood known as the mecca of black culture.These portraits show team members in 1931.

View the 14 images of this gallery on the original article

Seizing on a golden opportunity, sports promoter Abe Saperstein purchased the team and became the manager and coach. Saperstein, a short-statured Jewish man from Chicago’s North Side, even pitched in as a player from time to time when a team member was ill or injured.

They played their first road game in Hinckley, Illinois on January 7, 1927. Eager to advertise the team’s unique all-black roster, Saperstein changed their name in 1930 to the Harlem Globetrotters to link the squad with the neighborhood known as the mecca of black culture. Despite the name, the Harlem Globetrotters didn’t actually play a game in Harlem until 1968.

READ MORE: The Harlem Renaissance: Photos

Before they became known for their on-court antics, the Globetrotters were highly competitive in professional basketball and introduced a flashy, schoolyard style of play. They popularized the slam dunk, the fast break, emphasized the forward and point guard positions, and the figure-eight weave.

In 1940, the team captured the World Professional Basketball Tournament title. Even as they introduced tricks and comedy into their play, the …read more


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Rachel Carson’s "Silent Spring" is published

February 25, 2020 in History

By Editors

Rachel Carson’s watershed work Silent Spring is first published on September 27, 1962. Originally serialized in The New Yorker magazine, the book shed light on the damage that man-made pesticides inflict on the environment. Its publication is often viewed as the beginning of the modern environmentalist movement in America.

Carson received a master’s degree in zoology from Johns Hopkins University in 1932 and spent the next several decades researching the ecosystems of the East Coast. She rose through the ranks of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and published many works on the environment, including The Sea Around Us. In the late ’50s, she became concerned by reports of the unintended effects insecticides were having on other wildlife, and the Audubon Society approached her about writing a book on the topic. Silent Spring was the result of this partnership and several years of research, focusing primarily on the effects of DDT and similar pesticides. Carson was diagnosed with breast cancer during this time, causing the book’s publication to be delayed until 1962.

READ MORE: The Early Environmentalists

Silent Spring did not call for an outright ban on DDT, but it did argue that they were dangerous to humans and other animals and that overusing them would dramatically disrupt ecosystems. Carson met with staunch criticism, largely from the chemical industry and associated scientists. She was called “a fanatic defender of the cult of the balance of nature” and “probably a communist,” among other things, but the firestorm around her drew attention to a problem Americans were finally ready to acknowledge.

Despite her illness, Carson made a slew of media appearances and testified before President John F. Kennedy‘s Science Advisory Committee, finding more supporters than detractors. Though she died only two years after the book’s publication, the movement she helped popularize blossomed over the next decade. Her successors fought for the creation Environmental Protection Agency, formed in 1970, and her arguments were instrumental in securing a nationwide phase-out of DDT, which began in 1972. Carson’s work on pesticides not only drew attention to their unintended consequences but also familiarized the public with the extent of the harm mankind could inflict upon nature, one of the most important lessons our species has had to learn.

READ MORE: How Nixon Became the Unlikely Champion of the Endangered Species Act

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7 Invasive Species That Have Wreaked Havoc in the US

February 24, 2020 in History

By Becky Little

Feral swine. Rodents of unusual size. And a python that swallowed three deer.

The history of invasive species is usually one of unforeseen consequences. When an animal, fish, insect or plant is taken out of its original ecosystem and introduced to a new one—whether by accident or on purpose—it’s less likely to have any natural predators.

Which can lead to environmental havoc.

Without anything to keep their population in check, some invasive species—especially the prolific breeders—often flourish. They can destroy native plants, gobble up native animal populations and introduce disease, upending the delicate balance of organisms that provide food or support for each other, or provide a check on each other’s growth. Extinctions have proliferated.

Globalization has fueled the problem of invasive species. When European colonizers sailed to the Americas, they disrupted existing animal populations while also introducing new ones. Invading creatures have long affected the United States, as people imported new animals for study, sport, fur or even the love of Shakespeare. (Yes, really.) Here are seven invasive species that still pose a threat to the U.S. today.

READ MORE: How Burmese Pythons Took Over the Florida Everglades

1. FERAL SWINE (Sus scrofa)

Other names: Wild or feral boars, hogs or pigs; Eurasian or Russian wild boars

Originate from: Parts of Europe, Asia and North Africa

Reason in U.S.: European settlers brought them for food beginning in the 1500s; others brought them for sport hunting in the 1900s

Destructive superpowers: Devour crops and native vegetation

Newsworthy moment: Twitter’s 2019 viral meme of ’30 to 50 feral hogs’

The very real problem of invasive feral swine went viral in August 2019 when Twitter user @WillieMcNabb of Arkansas tweeted: “How do I kill the 30-50 feral hogs that run into my yard within 3-5 mins while my small kids play?” The phrase “30 to 50 feral hogs” quickly became a meme; and while it’s unlikely that many wild hogs actually run into McNabb’s yard at once, the discussion did highlight the growing issue of wild hogs in the U.S.

Feral swine are the same species as the pigs found on farms, and are descended from farm escapees and/or Eurasian or Russian wild boars brought to the U.S. for sport hunting in the 1900s. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates there are at least 6 million feral swine spread throughout some 35 states. They have been a particularly virulent problem throughout the south, especially <a target=_blank …read more


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How US Presidents Have Communicated with the Public—From the Telegraph to Twitter

February 24, 2020 in History

By Dave Roos

From carefully staged speeches to radio to TV to Twitter, U.S. presidents have always leveraged the cutting edge to connect directly with voters.

Two centuries before Twitter, U.S. presidents understood the power of communicating directly with the people. From George Washington to Donald Trump, presidents have always adopted the latest media and technology to connect with voters and forward their political agenda.

George Washington’s State of the Union Address

George Washington was well-aware of the public scrutiny surrounding his presidency, the first experiment with executive power in political experiment that was the United States. America had just unshackled itself from an English monarch and was on high alert for any signs of despotism in its new president. That’s why George Washington played it very safe in his inaugural address, humbly declining to offer any suggestions or ideas to Congress.

Nine months later, on January 8, 1790, Washington fulfilled his constitutional duty (Article II, Section 3) to “from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

Washington’s first State of the Union, like the first inaugural, was a “precisely calibrated political statement,” writes Anna Groves of George Mason University. The president praised Congress and gently offered suggestions regarding the creation of a national currency, a post office and a system of weights and measures, while also weighing in on more controversial topics (even then) like the national debt and immigration.

Washington knew that the speech would be published in the newspapers, so it was a message to the American people as well as Congress. Not unlike modern times, the president’s appearance was as important as his words. The Virginia Herald and Fredericksburg Advertiser noted that Washington “was dressed in a crow coloured suit of clothes, of American manufacture.”

Abe Lincoln Masters Debate—and the Telegraph

As presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin told HISTORY, Abraham Lincoln’s talent as president was the written word, but he first made his name as a gifted debater.

“He’s living in a time when you have to communicate through debates with people, as he did with Stephen Douglas,” says Kearns Goodwin. “They would be there for six hours, and [Lincoln] was so great at these debates.”

Presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln speaking on stage during a debate with Steven Douglas and other opponents, October 7, 1858.

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How Burmese Pythons Took Over the Florida Everglades

February 20, 2020 in History

By Adam Janos

They’ve eaten practically every mammal in sight—and have no natural predators.

Starting in the 1980s, the swamps of the South Florida Everglades have been overrun by one of the most damaging invasive species the region has ever seen: the Burmese python. These massive snakes, which can grow to 20 feet long or more, with telephone-pole-sized girths, have all but decimated the region’s small- and medium-sized mammal population, wreaking havoc with the area’s ecosystem.

That ecosystem, the Florida Everglades, is the largest national park east of California, commanding some 1.5 million acres—or about one-and-a-half times the size of Rhode Island. Save for a few bisecting roadways (US 41 and I-75), these desolate subtropical swamps are detached from the grid of American civilization. It’s hard to fathom that downtown Miami sits just 30 miles away from the vast wetlands that have become an adopted home for (at least) tens of thousands of huge snakes.

Because female pythons can lay 50-100 eggs per year—and the creatures have no natural predator in the region—their threat continues to escalate.

How the Burmese python took over Florida

A young Burmese Python in Homestead, Florida.

Native to Southeast Asia, pythons were first brought to the United States as exotic pets. When the exotic pet trade boomed in the 1980s, Miami became host to thousands of such snakes.

Because pythons can grow to such unmanageable sizes, it was inevitable that some irresponsible owners would release the snakes into the wild. But most experts believe the pythons established a reproducing population in the Everglades sometime after Hurricane Andrew—a category 5 storm that devastated the state in August 1992. It was during that storm that a python breeding facility was destroyed, releasing countless snakes into the nearby swamps.

Today, authorities have no idea how many pythons occupy the area, in large part because they Everglades—in their vast inaccessibility—are so hard to conduct surveys in. And the mottled brown snakes blend well into the scrubby environment.

“It could be tens of thousands, or it could be hundreds of thousands,” says Rory Feeney, the bureau chief of land resources at the South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD)—a federal agency that helps spearhead Everglades conservation efforts. The agency, Feeney adds, has been actively “dealing with invasive pythons for over a decade.”

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5 Things You May Not Know About Leap Day

February 20, 2020 in History

By Stephen Wood

The extra day tacked on to every fourth year is a subtle admission that even something as regular and simple as a calendar can be more complicated than we think.

Nearly every four years, we add an extra day to the calendar in the form of February 29, also known as Leap Day. Put simply, these additional 24 hours are built into the calendar to ensure that it stays in line with the Earth’s movement around the Sun. While the modern calendar contains 365 days, the actual time it takes for Earth to orbit its star is slightly longer—roughly 365.2421 days. The difference might seem negligible, but over decades and centuries that missing quarter of a day per year can add up. To ensure consistency with the true astronomical year, it is necessary to periodically add in an extra day to make up the lost time and get the calendar back in synch with the heavens.

1. Many ancient calendars had entire leap months

Many calendars, including the Hebrew, Chinese and Buddhist calendars, are lunisolar, meaning their dates indicate the position of the Moon as well as the position of Earth relative to the sun. Since there is a natural gap of roughly 11 days between a year as measured by lunar cycles and one measured by the Earth’s orbit, such calendars periodically require the addition of extra months, known as intercalary or interstitial months, to keep them on track.

Intercalary months, however, were not necessarily regular. Historians are still unclear as to how the early Romans kept track of their years, mostly because the Romans themselves may not have been entirely sure. It appears that the early Roman calendar consisted of ten months plus an ill-defined winter period, the varying length of which caused the calendar to become unpegged from the solar year. Eventually, this uncertain stretch of time was replaced by the new months of January and February, but the situation remained complicated. They employed a 23-day intercalary month known as Mercedonius to account for the difference between their year and the solar year, inserting it not between months but within the month of February for reasons that may have been related to lunar cycles.

To make matters even more confusing, the decision of when to hold Mercedonius often fell to the consuls, who used their ability to shorten or extend the year to their own political ends. As …read more


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How the Black Power Movement Influenced the Civil Rights Movement

February 20, 2020 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

With a focus on racial pride and self-determination, the Black Power movement argued that civil rights reforms did not go far enough to end discrimination against African Americans.

By 1966, the , the events in Mississippi “catapulted Stokely into the political space last occupied by Malcolm X,” as he went on TV news shows, was profiled in Ebony and written up in the New York Times under the headline “Black Power Prophet.”

Carmichael’s growing prominence put him at odds with King, who acknowledged the frustration among many African Americans with the slow pace of change, but didn’t see violence and separatism as a viable path forward. With the country mired in the Vietnam War, a war both Carmichael and King spoke out against) and the civil rights movement King had championed losing momentum, the message of the Black Power movement caught on with an increasing number of black Americans.

Black Power Movement Growth—and Backlash

Stokely Carmichael speaking at a civil rights gathering in Washington, D.C. on April 13, 1970.

King and Carmichael renewed their alliance in early 1968, as King was planning his Poor People’s Campaign, which aimed to bring thousands of protesters to Washington, D.C., to call for an end to poverty. But in April 1968, King was assassinated in Memphis while in town to support a strike by the city’s sanitation workers as part of that campaign.

In the aftermath of King’s murder, a mass outpouring of grief and anger led to riots in more than 100 U.S. cities. Later that year, one of the most visible Black Power demonstrations took place at the Summer Olympics in Mexico City, where black athletes John Carlos and Tommie Smith raised black-gloved fists in the air on the medal podium.

By 1970, Carmichael (who later changed his name to Kwame Ture) had moved to Africa, and SNCC had been supplanted at the forefront of the Black Power movement by more militant groups, such as the Black Panther Party, the US Organization, the Republic of New Africa and others, who saw themselves as the heirs to Malcolm X’s revolutionary philosophy. Black Panther chapters began operating in a number of cities nationwide, where they advocated a 10-point program of socialist revolution (backed but armed self-defense). The group’s more practical efforts focused on building up the black community through social programs (including free breakfasts for school children).

Many in …read more