Simultaneously a symbol for the nation and a longtime major Black city without political representation, Washington, D.C., has appeared to many—in the words of blues poet Gil Scott-Heron—as “a ball of contradictions” between affluent white political elites “who come and go” and the predominantly Black poor and working-class “who’ve got to stay.” Perhaps nowhere is this entanglement better illustrated than the McMillan Plan’s Progressive Era redesign of “Imperial Washington” made possible by the racialized slum clearance of the Metropolitan Police Department’s “war on alleys” at the turn of the twentieth century.
During the two centuries before 1865, the U.S. South was governed by and for slaveholding planters. Southern law gave these enslavers almost total authority over the lives of enslaved people. The Civil War, however, destroyed the legal institution of slavery and, with it, the legal power of the slaveholder. Southern states faced the question of how to maintain the cotton economy without slavery. Their solution was to transfer the legal power over Black Southerners that had been held by slaveholders to the state.
As scholars who have long been immersed in this pivotal period, we were excited to learn of the lavishly produced HBO series The Gilded Age. With the exception of the fabulously successful feature film Titanic in 1997, ours is a historical period that is often overlooked in popular culture. So we were delighted when The Gilded Age generated advance reviews in mainstream publications including the New York Times and Washington Post. We hoped it would bring attention to the period we find so important in our history, especially for the light it can shed on present day problems and issues—both how they were created and how they might be remedied.
In the introduction to her biography Belle Moskowitz: Feminine Politics and the Exercise of Power in the Age of Alfred E. Smith (1992), Elisabeth Perry explains her “initial reason” for searching for extant papers on her subject: “Belle Moskowitz was my paternal grandmother. She died before my parents . . . had even met.” She expounds further upon this fact in The Challenge of Feminist Biography: Writing the Lives of Modern American Women (1992). In this anthology each author explores the craft of “writing the lives of women from a feminist perspective” and shares their “methodological and conceptual tools” and their personal challenges.
Virginia Moore, born in 1880 in Gallatin, Sumner County, Tennessee, was a key figure in the progressive movement. She brought the canning club revolution to her home state as one of the world’s first five home-canning demonstration agents. Home demonstration programs intended to improve the lives of rural women, organizing clubs throughout the countryside in order to teach them how to better accomplish daily tasks, such as sewing and gardening. Moore’s career highlights the complexity of the reform impulse that swept the country at the turn of the century, which blended class antagonism, dedication to scientific principles, and a gendered economic idealism.
There are dozens of podcasts about the American presidency, as many about wars and military history, and plenty more generic U.S. history shows. Early Republic buffs are spoiled for choice with Ben Franklin’s World and The Junto Cast to name a couple. Antebellum historians have The Age of Jackson and The History of American Slavery. The Civil War, Cold War, and contemporary history have their favorites, too. So, where is the podcast on the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries?
Emancipation introduced massive demographic shifts within the U.S. South, and with them came cultural, social, and political changes. These trends and transformations were driven by the hundreds of thousands of freedpeople who left their places of enslavement and their old neighborhoods to strike out for new locations where, they believed, they could better enact their visions of freedom…Yet behind these demographic facts lurk a messier and more elusive question for the study of freedpeople’s communities and political strategies: the information networks and geographical knowledge that supported and sustained one of the most significant internal migration movements in U.S. history.
My recent scholarship explores civil rights, African American activism and racial justice in the western states and territories. My first book, Black San Francisco: The Struggle for Racial Justice in the West, 1900-54, based largely on my doctoral dissertation, explored many of these questions in a far western city with a global reputation for tolerance and civility toward racial minorities. I argued, among other things, that while western cities like San Francisco, and you could include Oakland, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Portland, were clearly more progressive than cities in the South, the progressive mystique that they portrayed was largely a facade. My work also revealed the presence of an active civil rights movement in the western states dating from the mid-nineteenth century and continuing well into the new century.