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"Paris is Burning" premieres in theaters

November 24, 2020 in History

By Editors

After more than five years of fundraising, shooting, and editing, the documentary Paris is Burning debuts in New York City on March 13, 1991. The groundbreaking look at the culture and characters surrounding the city’s drag ball culture changed the way many people thought about drag, queerness and even documentaries themselves.

Paris is Burning chronicles the “Golden Age” of ball culture in New York, drawing from extensive interviews with drag queens and others associated with the elaborate balls and complex social networks surrounding them. Filmmaker Jennie Livingston had almost literally stumbled across the subject while taking courses at New York University, striking up a conversation with two men whom she saw voguing (a stylized modern dance in which participants often competed at balls) in Washington Square Park. While cobbling together small amounts of funding from disparate sources, Livingston interviewed a cross-section of those associated with the ball, documenting the various categories of competition, extensively cataloguing slang, and conducting tying the experience to larger issues such as the AIDS crisis and the bigotry that routinely faced and even took the lives of the gay, transgender, and otherwise queer subjects of the film.

Paris is Burning was an instant hit, winning prizes at the Sundance Film Festival, the Berlin International Film Festival, the Los Angeles and New York Critics’ Circle Awards, the GLAAD Media Awards, and more. Its failure to garner an Academy Awards nomination, along with the exclusion of other minority-focused documentaries like Hoop Dreams, led the Academy to revise its system for nominating documentaries in 1996. The Library of Congress added Paris is Burning to the National Film Registry in 2016.

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Gloria Steinem publishes part one of "A Bunny's Tale" in SHOW magazine

November 24, 2020 in History

By Editors

After enduring a brief but grueling stint as a Bunny in Manhattan’s Playboy Club, feminist writer Gloria Steinem published the first half of her landmark account, “A Bunny’s Tale,” in SHOW magazine on this day in 1963. Steinem’s undercover reporting increased her profile and stripped back the glamorous facade of Hugh Hefner‘s empire to reveal a world of misogyny and exploitation.

Steinem, a freelance writer, was commissioned by SHOW to apply for a job at the Playboy Club under a fake name and document her experience. Ads for jobs as a server at the club, whose female employees were all known as Bunnies, portrayed the work as something akin to paid participation in a party straight out of Playboy Magazine. As Steinem quickly learned, the truth was far uglier. Bunnies were paid less than advertised and subject to a system of demerits, which could be given for offenses such as refusing to go out with a customer in a rude way (even though Bunnies were strictly forbidden to go out with most customers) or allowing the cotton tale on the back of their uniforms to get dirty.

Steinem’s account was replete with examples of the toll the work took on Bunnies: uniforms so tight one could barely move, swollen and blistering feet from hours of working in high heels, and near-constant harassment by the drunk businessmen who made up most of the clientele. After one night when roughly 2,000 people came through the club’s doors, Steinem estimated there had been maybe ten who “looked at us not as objects … but as if we might be human beings.”

“A Bunny’s Tale” was one of the first feminist attacks on Playboy and the “sexually liberated” but male-centric lifestyle it embodied. Hefner tried to take it in stride, stating that Playboy was on the side of the women’s liberation movement and asserting that applications to work at the Playboy Club had increased thanks to Steinem’s article. He also ordered the club to stop giving new Bunnies mandatory blood tests and gynecological exams, practices Steinem had questioned in her article.

Though it helped an early-career Steinem establish her credentials as a reporter and a feminist, she regretted the piece for years after it ran, dismayed by a slew of offers to take on sexualized undercover roles and haunted by photos of herself in the Bunny costume, which had been taken during …read more


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How the US Civil War Divided Indian Nations

November 23, 2020 in History

By Bryan Pollard

Most tribal leaders in Indian Territory aligned with the Confederacy, but a Home Guard unit arose to support the Union. The result: Indians fighting Indians in a white man’s war.

The American Civil War wasn’t just a conflict between citizens of the Union and the Confederacy. Spilling over into Indian Territory, on the western frontier of the war, it profoundly divided tribal nations, communities and families. An estimated 20,000 Indian soldiers participated in the conflict, fighting for both sides.

At the outset of the war, many nations in Indian Territory signed treaties with the Confederacy—supported by a minority of wealthy slave-holding Indians within their communities. But those sympathies weren’t monolithic: Many Indians leaned toward abolitionism and advocated for sovereign independence from the U.S. and its bloody conflict. As the war progressed, momentum shifted as three Indian Home Guard regiments emerged to support the Union and protect vulnerable tribal communities from violent guerrilla warfare. The result: Indians fighting Indians in a white man’s war.

While Native American soldiers went to battle for a variety of reasons—to support or fight slavery, to defend tribal sovereignty and to protect family and community—the war did little to advance their needs and interests. Instead, it aggravated longstanding internal tribal tensions and ravaged territory the U.S. government had relocated them to decades earlier, creating a new wave of impoverished refugees.

READ MORE: How Native Americans Struggled to Survive on the Trail of Tears

An Old Feud ‘Burst Forth in All Its Fury’

Cherokee Chief John Ross

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, Indian Territory encompassed most of the area now occupied by the state of Oklahoma. Ancestral home to tribal nations including Osage, Quapaw, Seneca and Shawnee, it had also become the mandated home for the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole nations (known as the Five Civilized Tribes). Between 1830 and 1850, those groups had been forcibly removed from their ancestral lands in the Southeast and marched hundreds of miles west by the U.S. government. The relocation, later known as the Trail of Tears, killed thousands.

The Cherokee Nation, politically divided since that convulsive period, exemplified how tribal nations were further torn asunder by the war. On one side stood Principal Chief John Ross, the leader who had navigated the nation through the Trail of Tears. Supported by nearly a two-thirds majority, he urged neutrality and national unity as the …read more


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8 Ways Past US Presidents Handled the Peaceful Transfer of Power

November 23, 2020 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

Presidential transitions through U.S. political history have ranged from smooth to awkward to adversarial.

The peaceful transfer of power from one president to the next is a hallmark of American democracy. After John Adams was inaugurated as second president of the United States in 1797, he wrote to his wife, Abigail, describing George Washington‘s actions, “When the Ceremony was over he came and made me a visit and cordially congratulated me and wished my Administration might be happy Successful and honourable.”

Washington’s example set the stage for future U.S. presidents to follow this tradition. Yet that doesn’t mean the actual process has always gone smoothly. In fact, many presidential transitions have been highly uncomfortable affairs, beginning with the first-ever transfer of power between political opponents in 1801. But there have also been gracious momentsincluding a heartfelt letter of support from George H.W. Bush to his successor, Bill Clinton, which launched a new tradition followed by the nation’s most recent presidents.

John Adams – Thomas Jefferson

John Adams chose not to attend the inaugural ceremony of Thomas Jefferson, to whom he lost the brutal election of 1800. Instead, Adams slipped out of Washington on the early morning train on the day of Jefferson’s inauguration. Jefferson’s victory marked a complete shift of power in the young nation from the Federalists to Jefferson’s Democratic-Republicans, in what Jefferson called “the revolution of 1800.”

READ MORE: How John Adams Established the Peaceful Transfer of Power

John Quincy Adams – Andrew Jackson

Four years after winning the popular vote but losing the White House thanks to the “corrupt bargain,” Andrew Jackson defeated John Quincy Adams in an 1828 campaign marred by mudslinging on both sides; Jackson even blamed the Adams camp’s attacks for contributing to the death of his wife, Rachel.

On Inauguration Day, Adams followed his father’s example, leaving town before the ceremony. A mob of some 20,000 people flooded into the White House to shake the hand of the new “Frontier President,” causing such chaos that Jackson himself was forced to flee through a side door.

Andrew Johnson – Ulysses S. Grant

Jackson and his successor, Martin Van Buren, rode to the Capitol in the same horse-drawn carriage for Van Buren’s inauguration, setting a new example for peaceful transitions. Most outgoing presidents after Jackson would follow the same custom—but there were exceptions. …read more


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Jill Biden

November 20, 2020 in History

By Editors

Dr. Jill Biden is a longtime educator, the wife of the 46th U.S. president-elect and former vice president, Joe Biden, and the future first lady of the United States. From 2009-17, as second lady of the United States, she advocated for greater support of military families and breast cancer research, among other issues, while working as a professor of English and writing at Northern Virginia Community College.

Early Life & Marriage to Joe Biden

Then-Senator Joe Biden of Delaware is shown with his wife, Jill, at a rally, Wilmington, Delaware, 1988. The Senator was then a candidate for the Democratic Party nomination for the U.S. President in the 1988 National election.

Born Jill Jacobs in 1951, in Hammonton, New Jersey, she grew up as the oldest of five sisters in Willow Grove, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. At 18, after briefly studying fashion merchandising at a junior college in Pennsylvania, she married Bill Stevenson. The two began attending the University of Delaware together, but divorced a few years later. Jill briefly left college, but later returned to earn her bachelor’s degree in English in 1975.

That same year, she was introduced to Joe Biden, then a U.S. senator from Delaware, by Joe Biden’s younger brother, Frank. Nine years Jill’s senior, Joe Biden had lost his first wife, Neilia, and his one-year-old daughter, Naomi, in a car accident in 1972, shortly after he was elected to the Senate for the first time. His two sons, Hunter and Beau, were injured in the same accident but survived.

Joe famously proposed five times to Jill before she accepted. In June 1977, they were married at the United Nations chapel in New York City. Jill helped raise Hunter and Beau, as well as their daughter, Ashley, born in 1981.

Teaching Career

Jill Biden earned two master’s degrees, in education (with a specialty in reading) from West Chester University in 1981 and in English from Villanova University in 1987, while teaching adolescents at a psychiatric hospital. She later taught for years at Claymont High School, Brandywine High School and Delaware Technical and Community College.

Biden returned to the University of Delaware to pursue her doctorate in education, which she earned in 2007. Meanwhile, her husband was re-elected to the Senate five times, and ran unsuccessfully for president twice, in 1988 and 2008, before Barack Obama, the eventual Democratic nominee in 2008, chose him as …read more


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Key Steps That Led to End of Apartheid

November 20, 2020 in History

By Becky Little

A combination of internal and international resistance to apartheid helped dismantle the white supremacist regime.

The formal end of the apartheid government in South Africa was hard-won. It took decades of activism from both inside and outside the country, as well as international economic pressure, to end the regime that allowed the country’s white minority to subjugate its Black majority. This work culminated in the dismantling of apartheid between 1990 and 1994. On April 27, 1994, the country elected Nelson Mandela, an activist who had spent 27 years in prison for his opposition to apartheid, in its first free presidential election.

The white minority who controlled the apartheid government were Afrikaaners—descendants of mostly Dutch colonists who had invaded South Africa starting in the 17th century. Although Afrikaaner oppression of Black South Africans predates the formal establishment of apartheid in 1948, apartheid legalized and enforced a specific racial ideology that separated South Africans into legally distinct racial groups: white, African, “coloured” (i.e., multiracial) and Indian. The apartheid government used violence to enforce segregation between these groups, and forcibly separated many families containing people assigned to different racial categories.

South African Resistance

From 1948 through the 1990s, a single word dominated life in South Africa. Apartheid—Afrikaans for “apartness”—kept the country’s majority black population under the thumb of a small white minority. The segregation began in 1948 after the National Party came to power. The party instituted policies of white supremacy, which empowered white South Africans, descendent’s from Dutch and British settlers, while further disenfranchising black Africans.

View the 10 images of this gallery on the original article

Black South Africans resisted apartheid from the very beginning. In the early 1950s, the African National Congress, or ANC, launched a Defiance Campaign. The purpose of this campaign was for Black South Africans to break apartheid laws by entering white areas, using white facilities and refusing to carry “passes”—domestic passports the government used to restrict the movements of Black South Africans in their own country. In response, the government banned the ANC in 1960, and arrested the prominent ANC activist Nelson Mandela in August 1962.

The banning of the ANC and the incarceration of its leaders forced many ANC members into exile. But it did not stop resistance within South Africa, says Wessel Visser, a history lecturer at Stellenbosch University in South Africa.

“What many dissidents started to do inside the country was …read more


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Extraordinary 1915 Photos from Ernest Shackleton’s Disastrous Antarctic Expedition

November 19, 2020 in History

By Madison Horne

Frank Hurley’s photos were originally intended as scientific documentation of an unexplored continent. Instead, they recorded an epic survival story.

When photographer Frank Hurley signed on to document British explorer Ernest Shackleton’s expedition to the South Pole in 1914, he knew he’d be capturing some of the earliest images of Antarctica’s bleak and beautiful unexplored terrain. But after Shackleton’s ship, HMS Endurance, was trapped by pack ice—and slowly succumbed to its crushing pressure—the expedition’s fate, and that of its crew, looked bleak. Hundreds of miles from inhabited territory, and far from any well-traveled shipping lanes, they wouldn’t be rescued for more than a year and a half.

Explorer Ernest Shackleton

Hurley’s photographs, captured on heavy glass negatives, were originally intended as documents of the expedition’s pioneering scientific research. But after the Endurance met its unlucky fate, they recorded something even more extraordinary: the epic survival of 28 men amid extreme physical hardship and mental stress. He captured not only the desolate polar landscape, but the grit and determination of the stranded crew members trying to stay warm in sub-zero temperatures, stave off starvation and despair, and pass time on an ice floe as they witnessed the slow-motion destruction of the Endurance, their only refuge.

As the photographs show, Hurley had no trouble lugging his heavy camera gear up the sides of mountains or high up into the ship’s rigging, to get panoramic views. He even set up a darkroom in the ship—no small feat. As he wrote in his journal: “Darkroom work rendered extremely difficult by the low temperatures it being minus 13 [degrees] C outside. The temperature in the darkroom, near the engine room, is just above freezing. Washing [plates] is troublesome, as the tank must be kept warm or the plates become [enclosed] in an ice block… Development is a source of annoyance to the fingers, which split and crack around the nails in a painful manner.”

WATCH: Full episodes of History’s Greatest Mysteries online now and tune in for all-new episodes Saturdays at 9/8c.

Australian photographer Frank Hurley during the expedition

When the Endurance was finally swallowed up by the ice after 10 months, taking Hurley’s collection of glass plate negatives with it, the photographer, determined to preserve his work, dove into the freezing water to retrieve the negatives and film. However, Shackleton had different priorities and deemed the negatives too heavy to carry along in …read more


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5 Legendary Wild West Outlaws

November 18, 2020 in History

By Lesley Kennedy

Their iconic status endures, despite their history of violent crime.

Train robberies. Horse thievery. Cattle rustling. Shootouts. Cold-blooded murder.

The most notorious outlaws of the Wild West have long been romanticized as daring robbers and swashbuckling killers since their stories first hit early American tabloids. In many ways, their narratives have been shaped—in dime-store novels, TV shows and Hollywood films—to fit the frontier ideals of rugged individualism and pioneering spirit.

“Americans love an underdog, a person who stands up against perceived tyranny,” wrote Bill Markley in Billy the Kid and Jesse James: Outlaws of the Legendary West. “Jesse James and Billy the Kid personify that rebellious spirit. Americans overlook the crimes and see the romance of the rebel.”

We rounded up five of the 19th century’s most infamous outlaws, whose popular legends endure, despite their history of violent crime.

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The James legend grew with the help of newspaper editor John Newman Edwards, a Confederate sympathizer who perpetuated James’s Robin Hood mythology. “We are not thieves, we are bold robbers,” James wrote in a letter Edwards published. “I am proud of the name, for Alexander the Great was a bold robber, and Julius Caesar, and Napoleon Bonaparte.”

But while he did steal from the rich, there’s no evidence James gave to the poor.

In 1881, the governor of Missouri issued a $10,000 reward for the capture of Jesse and Frank James. On April 3, 1882, at the age of 34, James was shot and killed by one of his accomplices, Robert Ford, who was found guilty of murder but pardoned by the governor.

READ MORE: 7 Things You May Not Know About Jesse James

Billy the Kid

Henry McCarty, better known as Billy the Kid

Legend says the Wild West outlaw Billy the Kid—cattle rustler, gunslinger, murderer, escape artist—killed 21 people before he turned 21 years old, his age at death. The reality may be closer to nine. But the early days of Henry McCarty, later known as William Bonney, “the Kid,” are murky.

Billy the Kid was likely born in New York City in 1859, later moving to Indiana, Kansas and Denver before his family settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Orphaned as a teen after his mother died of tuberculosis, Henry was separated from his brother and placed in foster homes. It wasn’t long before he fell into petty theft. After a …read more


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Did the Official 1912 Titanic Investigations Go Far Enough?

November 18, 2020 in History

By Greg Daugherty

A stunned world demanded answers. So did two relentless lawyers in the U.S. and Great Britain: Senator William Alden Smith and Lord Mersey.

When the RMS Titanic went down on the night of April 14-15, 1912, people on both sides of the Atlantic frantically awaited further news. The newspapers pieced together what little information they could obtain from wireless telegraph messages sent by the Titanic and other ships at sea, often relying on speculation to fill the gaps. More than one major paper assured readers that all the passengers had been saved and the wounded liner was slowly making its way to Nova Scotia. It wasn’t until the rescue ship Carpathia arrived in New York on April 18 that fuller details began to emerge. Even then, rumors were rampant.

Fortunately, for the sake of history, government officials in both the United States and Great Britain moved aggressively to find out what had happened and why. Their inquiries, beginning on April 19 and May 2 respectively, put on record much of what the world now knows about the disaster—that the ship was traveling too fast for the icy conditions, that its design made it more vulnerable to sinking than anyone realized, that it was carrying far too few lifeboats for the people onboard and much more.

READ MORE: Titanic by the Numbers: From Construction to Disaster to Discovery

An American Senator Begins the Probe

American Senator William A. Smith (1859-1932) of Michigan walking to the US Senate inquiry into the RMS Titanic sinking, 1912. The hearings, which took place in New York and Washington between April 19 and May 25, were the first to investigate the disaster.

Sen. William Alden Smith (R-Mich.), a lawyer by training, led the U.S. Senate inquiry. He wasted no time in rounding up key witnesses, in part out of concern that they would leave the U.S. and return to England before they could be questioned. Smith and his entourage met the Carpathia at its New York dock to serve subpoenas on the surviving members of the Titanic’s crew, the Carpathia’s captain and J. Bruce Ismay, chairman of the White Star Line and a survivor of the wreck.

The inquiry began the next morning at a New York hotel before moving to Washington, D.C. a few days later.

Smith would call 82 witnesses in all, including four Titanic officers, 34 crew members and 21 passengers. …read more


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The Pilgrims' Miserable Journey Aboard the Mayflower

November 18, 2020 in History

By Dave Roos

The Pilgrims faced cramped quarters, rough seas, limited food and numbing cold during their journey to America.

Sailing for more than two months across 3,000 miles of open ocean, the 102 passengers of the Mayflower—including three pregnant women and more than a dozen children—were squeezed below decks in crowded, cold and damp conditions, suffering crippling bouts of seasickness, and surviving on meager rations of hardtack biscuits, dried meat and beer.

“The boat would have been rolling like a pig,” says Conrad Humphreys, a professional sailor and skipper for a recreated sea journey of Captain William Bligh. “The smell and stench of illness and sickness down below, and the freezing cold on deck in the elements, it would have been pretty miserable.”

The Mayflower, like other 17th-century merchant ships, was a cargo vessel designed to haul lumber, fish and casks of French wine—not passengers. The 41 Pilgrims and 61 “strangers” (non-Separatists brought along as skilled craftsmen and indentured servants) who boarded the Mayflower in 1620 made for unusual cargo, and their destination was no less foreign. The ship’s square rigging and high, castle-like compartments were suited for short hops along the European coastline, but the Mayflower’s bulky design was a handicap for sailing against the strong Westerly winds of the North Atlantic.

“The journey would have been painfully slow with many days of being blown backward rather than forward,” says Humphreys.

READ MORE: Why Did the Pilgrims Come to America?

Incredibly, though, all but one of the Mayflower’s passengers survived the grueling, 66-day ordeal, and the Pilgrims even welcomed the arrival of a newborn baby halfway through the journey, a boy aptly named Oceanus. The Pilgrims’ joy and relief on catching sight of Cape Cod on the morning of November 9, 1620 was recorded by their leader William Bradford in Of Plymouth Plantation.

“Being thus arrived in a good harbor and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of heaven, who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof,” wrote Bradford.

READ MORE: What’s the Difference Between Pilgrims and Puritans?

From Two Ships to One

Pilgrims boarding the Mayflower for their voyage to America.

The Pilgrim’s arduous journey to the New World technically began on July 22, 1620, when a large group of colonists boarded a ship called the Speedwell in the …read more