The Nation (US)

The Nation (US)

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The Nation , an American weekly magazine, was first published on 6th July, 1865 by Joseph H. Richards. It claimed that it intended to: "(1) To discuss current affairs, especially in their legal, economic, and constitutional phases, with more moderation than the party press; (2) to maintain true democratic principles; (3) to work for the equality of the labouring classes at the South; (4) to enforce the doctrine that the whole country has the strongest interest in the elevation of the Negro; (5) to fix attention on the importance of popular education; (6) to inform the country of conditions in the southern states; (7) to criticize books and works of art soundly and impartially." Its original sponsors were concerned with securing full rights for the newly freed slaves. The first editor was Edwin L. Godkin (1865-81) but much of the writing was done by William Dean Howells.

The Nation was sold to Henry Villard in June, 1881. After Villard's became owner of the magazine, editors have included Wendell Phillips Garrison (1881-1906), Hammond Lamont (1906-09), Paul Elmer More (1909-14) and Harold De Wolf Fuller (1914-18).

Oswald Garrison Villard became editor of The Nation in 1918. His friend, Carl Schurz, also became a regular contributor to the magazine. Villard held radical political opinions and gave his support to women's suffrage, trade union law reform and equal rights for African Americans, and was a founder member of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP).

A pacifist, Villard opposed America's participation in the First World War. This upset his patriotic readers and advertisers and Villard was forced to sell the New York Evening Post. However, he retained The Nation and continued to use this as the personal organ of his views. He recruited several radical journalists including Norman Thomas, Freda Kirchway and Emily Balch.

In May, 1921, Villard appointed Ernest Gruening as managing editor of the journal. He employed a wide-range of contributors including Mary Heaton Vorse, Henry Nevinson, Henry L. Mencken, John A. Hobson, Sinclair Lewis, Willa Cather, William DuBois, Theodore Dreiser, Edmund Wilson, Sherwood Anderson, Robert Herrick, Anatole France, Lewis Stiles Gannett, Arthur Gleason, Irita Bradford, Carl Van Doren and Mark Van Doren. Gruening also recruited Art Young: "Another new feature was the cartoons of Art Young, a pink-faced, rolypoly cherub with a delicious and irreverent sense of humor. Along with Max Eastman and other editors of The Masses, he had been a target of Postmaster General Burleson and was tried for dissent from America's participation in the war."

Gruening employed several Europeans to write about foreign affairs. He wrote in Many Battles (1973): "The Nation also made a continuing effort to establish understanding with the new regime in Soviet Russia. A brilliant, two-part article by Bertrand Russell, based upon his own first-hand experience, was as fine and balanced a guide to the truth about Russia as could be found in any American publication, at a time when misrepresentation and distortion prevailed."

Ernest Gruening was also involved in the struggle over the right of Margaret Sanger to distribute birth-control literature. When Patrick Hayes, the Archbishop of New York, condemned Sanger's attempts to hold a meeting in the city on the subject, he commented that "I am confident that in this great city of ours the majority of the women are too pure, clear-minded and self-respecting to want to attend or hear a discussion of such a revolting subject." In the next edition of The Nation Gruening argued: "The Archbishop has furnished the birth control movement with advertising worth thousands of dollars. He has given all anti-clericals definite and specific evidence of clerical interference in government and hostility to the fundamental American rights of free speech which will be used in those anti-Catholic campaigns which The Nation has deplored."

Gruening invited William R. Inge, Dean of St Paul's Cathedral in London, to write an article on birth-control, which began: "The control of parenthood is perhaps the most important movement in our time. It is not only universal in the civilized world, but the degree to which it is practiced is a very fair gauge of the position of that country in the scale of civilization." Gruening added: "I continued my own activities in behalf of the birth-control movement which for the next third of a century continued to be opposed by the same forces against which Margaret Sanger had battled so indomitably."

The Nation faithfully supported radical causes. Although it only had a circulation of around 25,000 but it had a tremendous influence in political and intellectual circles. The journal generally supported left-wing presidential candidates including Eugene V. Debs (1920), Robert LaFollette, (1924) and Norman Thomas (1928). In 1932 Oswald Garrison Villard favoured Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal proposals.

Oswald Garrison Villard resigned as editor of The Nation in 1933 and was replaced by Freda Kirchway. Villard remained the publisher, but Kirchwey now had complete control over the content of the journal. Although she had campaigned for Norman Thomas for president, she supported Franklin D. Roosevelt and his New Deal programme.

Raymond Gram Swing, who also worked for The Nation , later wrote: "Of Miss Kirchwey, on whom the chief responsibility for conducting the magazine rested, I wish to say that she was one of the best and most likable journalists with whom I ever worked. I am tempted to call her the best woman journalist I ever encountered, but hesitate to rank her ahead of Dorothy Thompson, who was a better writer. But she was among the superior women journalists of her time."

Over the next few years she used her power to campaign against the fascist regimes in Europe. When Adolf Hitler gained power in 1933 she wrote that he represented "the abolition of personal liberty, for prejudice, for reaction, for race hatred and persecution, for terror and murder." Kirchwey argued that the United States should abandon its policy of isolationism and urged the government to impose economic boycotts on Germany and Italy.

Freda Kirchway also advocated a close alliance with the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany. In August 1935 she warned "that the basic conflict of the next ten years will not be between capitalism and revolution but between fascism and democracy - a struggle in which the forces of revolution must support." However, Kirchwey's views on the soviet government were dramatically shaken by the Great Purge when some of her political friends were executed by Joseph Stalin.

The Nation also wanted the United States administration to aid republicans in Spain against General Francisco Franco. In an article she wrote entitled Spain is the Key in February 1937 she made the forecast that "Franco's success would encourage the Nazis to go and do likewise in Czechoslovakia, Danzig, the Polish Corridor, or anywhere else. Defeated in Spain, Hitler would be sobered and checked. He would also be weakened by the expenditure on Franco of several hundred million dollars. If the fascists are beaten in Spain, they are weakened everywhere. The supreme test of an anti-fascist is not what he says but what he does for Spain."

Kirchwey supported Franklin D. Roosevelt in his campaign against the Supreme Court. In an editorial in The Nation she wrote "The soil of economic chaos out of which fascism grows has been amply supplied by the court's refusal to allow national action for economic control." This upset her publisher, Oswald Garrison Villard, who believed that the president was wrong to try and control the decisions of the court. Kirchwey refused to change her stance on this issue and to maintain her independence she decided to try and buy the journal. In June 1937, Kirchwey and her husband purchased it for $20,000.

In 1938 Congress established the House of Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) to investigate people suspected of unpatriotic behaviour. Kirchwey believed that the setting up of the HUAC was an attempt to restrict the freedom of the press and she accused Martin Dies, its chairman, as a "one-man Gestapo from Texas." She added that "Dies isn't after sedition; he is after you and me and the President."

After the outbreak of the Second World War The Nation campaigned for the United States to give more help to Jews trying to escape from persecution in Germany and the occupied territories. She wrote in January 1940 that "thousands of European Jews will die, unnecessarily, if we do not reach them with our life-giving dollars."

Kirchwey also called for universal military training in the United States. This upset Oswald Garrison Villard who severed all ties with the journal and stopped writing his weekly column, Personal and Private. Kirchwey's articles in favour of American support for the Allies against Nazi Germany lost the journal a large number of readers. She refused to compromise her views and in August 1941 wrote: "Before its total, uncompromising demands are laid upon them, the people of America must learn that this war is their war; that they cannot dodge it or buy their way out of it; that they must fight it because fighting is the only alternative to surrender.

By January 1942 over half a million Jews had been exterminated in Europe. This received little coverage in newspapers in the United States. This was not true of The Nation and the journal published a series of articles by Philip S. Bernstein detailing what was happening in the concentration camps being run by the Schutzstaffel (SS).

Freda Kirchway upset many liberals in March 1942 by arguing in favour of the fascist being suppressed. Her long time friend Norman Thomas wrote to her pointing out: " In ten years or less it won't be the people you want to suppress now who will be suppressed and stay suppressed by your theory; it will be yourselves along with many others, unless, indeed, you want to go farther than I think you do in support of a Roosevelt totalitarianism. Don't forget that neither Roosevelt nor anybody else is immortal. The principles once established are apt to outlive men."

When the American Civil Rights Union (ACLU) decided to defend the freedom of the fascist press she resigned her membership. John Haynes Holmes wrote to her explaining the decision of the ACLU: "I would fight to the death to maintain their (fascists) liberties, not for their own sake, but for the sake of a democracy which disappears when such liberties are withdrawn. Indeed, it is no longer a democracy, but to the extent at least that civil liberties are denied, has already itself become a fascist state.

The Nation continued to lose money and was in danger of closing. In 1943 Kirchwey made an appeal for $25,000 to keep it in business. The readers raised $36,000 and the money was used to establish Nation Associates. This new organization published the journal and arranged political conferences.

After the war Kirchwey was criticized for of her support of the Soviet Union. When long time staff member Louis Fischer resigned over this issue, Kirchwey wrote in the journal: "We believe Russian policy is primarily a security policy, not an imperialist one; it can become dangerous to the world, therefore, only if Russia decides that the other major powers are plotting against it."

Kirchwey was one of America's strongest critics of McCarthyism. In one article written in June 1950 she defined McCarthyism as "the means by which a handful of men, disguised as hunters of subversion, cynically subvert the instruments of justice and hold up to contempt the government itself in order to help their own political fortunes."

In September 1955 Freda Kirchway retired as editor of The Nation and was replaced by Carey McWilliams. He instituted investigative reports on domestic issues. This included a series on Jim Crow Laws and articles on consumer issues by Ralph Nader. In November 1960 McWilliams was the first American reporter to reveal that the CIA was training a group of Cuban exiles in Guatemala for the Bay of Pigs Invasion.

McWilliams upset a large number of people on the left with his views on the assassination of John F. Kennedy. One of those was his friend Mark Lane who tried to find a magazine to publish his article of the assassination. “The obvious choice, I thought, was the Nation. Its editor, Carey McWilliams, was an acquaintance. He had often asked me to write a piece for him… McWilliams seemed pleased to hear from me and delighted when I told him I had written something I wished to give to the Nation. When he learned of the subject matter, however, his manner approached panic.” McWilliams told Lane: “We cannot take it. We don’t want it. I am sorry but we have decided not to touch that subject.”

McWilliams also gave his support to the Warren Commission Report. It has been suggested that the critics of the lone-gunman theory were particularly hurt by his support. In a debate that took place at Beverly Hills High School on 4th December, 1964, Abraham L. Wirin, chief counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union in California and a man who had been closely associated in the past with the American Communist Party, told the audience that he tried to make up his own mind on important issues, but in the case of the Warren Commission he relied on the opinions of people who he could trust: "I consider Carey McWilliams and The Nation , as an individual and a newspaper, respectively, whose judgment I respect. I do not consider Carey McWilliams or The Nation, a person or a newspaper, which would participate in a fraud, or would condone it." Wirin pointed out The Nation had carried an article in support of the Warren Report and added: "now, that carries a lot of weight with me."

(1) To discuss current affairs, especially in their legal, economic, and constitutional phases, with more moderation than the party press; (2) to maintain true democratic principles; (3) to work for the equality of "the labouring classes at the South"; (4) to enforce the doctrine that the whole country has the "strongest interest" in the elevation of the Negro; (5) to fix attention on the importance of popular education; (6) to inform the country of conditions in the southern states; (7) to criticize books and works of art soundly and impartially.

Massachusetts has triumphantly killed an Italian fishmonger and an Italian cobbler, but she has blackened the name of the United States across all the seas.

Although the Nation has questioned the probability that in the long run it would be possible to save an industrial system by the incentive of profits, it has regarded the Roosevelt program in general as the most intelligent means that could be taken toward the end.

Their programs (Huey P. Long and Charles Coughlin), for all their glamorous radical sound, are capitalist radicalism. For fascism is the reorganization of society by undemocratic means to maintain the capitalist system. It is a movement, first of all, of passion and prejudice, growing out of the despair of disillusioned. Impoverished people. Then comes the collusion between demagogue and big business.

It is unthinkable that a progressive and liberal journal should actually advocate any plan by which new judges are placed on our supreme tribunal who will decide cases on instructions, or who will be believed to have decided them on this basis.

It may well be that the basic conflict of the next ten years will not be between capitalism and revolution but between fascism and democracy - a struggle in which the forces of revolution must support and win the support of all the friends of democracy, while the forces of capitalism will gradually, and often unwillingly, form an alliance with the cohorts of fascism.

Franco's success would encourage the Nazis to go and do likewise in Czechoslovakia, Danzig, the Polish Corridor, or anywhere else. The supreme test of an antifascist is not what he says but what he does for Spain.

The trial of Bukharin and his fellow oppositionists has broken about the ears of the world like the detonation of a bomb. One can hear the cracking of liberal hopes; of the dream of antifascist unity; of a whole system of revolutionary philosophy wherever democracy is threatened, the significance of the trial will be anxiously weighed.

In spite of the trials, I believe Russia is dependable; that it wants peace, and will join in any joint effort to check Hitler and Mussolini, and will also fight if necessary. Russia is still the strongest reason for hope.

We surrendered our chance to mind our business in Spain; we were too intent on keeping out of trouble and minding Chamberlain's business. We allowed democracy to be slaughtered in Spain. Today the United States is the grand arsenal for triumphant fascism. It is our business to stop providing these three aggressors with arms and the goods necessary to the manufacture of arms and the conduct of war.

Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of democracy. We have not gone to war, and no excuse exists for wartime hysteria. Neither Communists nor even (German-American) Bundists are enemy agents. They deserve to be watched but not to be persecuted. The real danger is that general detestation of Communists and Bundists will lead to acts of outright repression supported not only by reactionaries but by disgusted liberals. Democracy was not invented as a luxury to be indulged in only in times of calm and stability. It is a pliable, tough-fibered technique especially useful when times are hard. Only a weak and distrustful American could today advocate measures of repression and coercion, or encourage a mood of panic. Now is the time to demonstrate the resilience of our institutions. Now is the time to deal with dissent calmly and with full respect for its rights.

At what moment does it become necessary to limit the freedom of everyone in order to suppress the danger lurking in a disloyal handful. The moment for drastic repression has not arrived, and the task of liberals in America is difficult but clear. They must fight to preserve the democratic safeguards contained in the Bill of Rights, while applying to Nazis and their supporters the equally democratic methods of exposure, counter-propaganda, and justified legal attack. Otherwise the Nazi invasion of Norway is likely to end in a victory for Martin Dies in America.

Before its total, uncompromising demands are laid upon them, the people of America must learn that this war is their war; that they cannot dodge it or buy their way out of it; that they must fight it because fighting is the only alternative to surrender.

It is a rather terrible thing that liberals should now be the spokesmen for a jittery program which, if it means anything, can only be interpreted to mean no criticism of the Administration except from us. In ten years or less it won't be the people you want to suppress now who will be suppressed and stay suppressed by your theory; it will be yourselves along with many others, unless, indeed, you want to go farther than I think you do in support of a Roosevelt totalitarianism. The principles once established are apt to outlive men.

It is one thing to expound high principles in print week by week. It is another to put them into practice day by day. And we who work with Freda Kirchwey think it relevant to depose and say that her liberalism begins at home. As editor-in-chief she has had the wisdom and courage to establish a genuine working democracy of which the tone and temper are set by her own respect for other individuals and their opinions, her humor, and her sense of fair play. As employer her sympathy and understanding for every human problem have won for her the freely given loyalty and friendship of every worker in the shop. In The Nation world liberty, equality, and fraternity, the four freedoms, collective security, and the union shop prevail. We who work in it find it good. We recommend it to the larger world, and on this, the twenty-fifth anniversary of her connection with The Nation we salute Freda Kirchwey as editor and as human being.

We assume that he is charging The Nation with a bias in favor of Russia and of communism. We suppose he considers that to be our "line." We suppose he is charging us with ignoring, out of "expediency," the bad behavior of the Soviet Union; of failing out of policy to denounce the Soviet power for suppressing "small, weak states". We can only answer quite flatly that he is wrong. We say what we believe. What we believe is very different from what Mr. Fischer believes.

We believe Russian policy is primarily a security policy, not an imperialist one; it can become dangerous to the world, therefore, only if Russia decides that the other major powers are plotting against it. It would be dishonest to pretend that we think Russia's foreign policy is as great a threat to the basic purpose of destroying fascism and its political and economic roots as is the foreign policy of Britain and the United States.

The bomb that hurried Russia into Far Eastern war a week ahead of schedule and drove Japan to surrender has accomplished the specific job for which it was created. From the point of view of military strategy, $2,000,000,000 (the cost of the bomb and the cost of nine days of war) was never better spent. The suffering, the wholesale slaughter it entailed, have been outweighed by its spectacular success; Allied leaders can rightly claim that the loss of life on both sides would have been many times greater if the atomic bomb had not been used and Japan had gone on fighting. There is no answer to this argument. The danger is that it will encourage those in power to assume that, once accepted as valid, the argument can be applied equally well in the future. If that assumption should be permitted, the chance of saving civilization - perhaps the world itself - from destruction is a remote one.

The Nation celebrates its Eighty-fifth Anniversary in a sober mood. Today only one subject is important - the possibility of averting a general war which would wipe out, impartially, the institutions of civilized life and the forces that threaten them this symposium is presented as a positive contribution to the broadening of the discussion of peace or war in the knowledge that for all nations the issue is survival.

The Nation, through its history, had been a periodical of dissent, and as such fed the arteries of American political vigor. It was a magazine of limited circulation, less than 40,000 at this time, but with an effectiveness of much greater dimensions. Oswald Garrison Villard, who had inherited the paper and a considerable fortune from his father, the railroad magnate Henry Villard, had conducted it in the creditable tradition of liberal dissent, and by this time had turned over the management of the paper to his editorial board, with Freda Kirchwey as managing editor. He became contributing editor and wrote regular articles under his own signature....

Of Miss Kirchwey, on whom the chief responsibility for conducting the magazine rested, I wish to say that she was one of the best and most likable journalists with whom I ever worked. But she was among the superior women journalists of her time.

Soon, you will be asked to vote on a resolution authorizing the United States to overthrow the government of Iraq by military force. Its passage, we read on all sides, is a foregone conclusion, as if what the country now faces is not a decision but the disclosure of a fate. The nation marches as if in a trance to war. In the House, twenty of your number, led by Dennis Kucinich, have announced their opposition to the war. In the Senate, Robert Byrd has mounted a campaign against the version of the resolution already proposed by the Bush Administration. He has said that the resolution's unconstitutionality will prevent him from voting for it. "But I am finding," he adds, "that the Constitution is irrelevant to people of this Administration." The Joint Chiefs of Staff, according to the Washington Post, oppose the war. Telephone calls and the mail to your offices run strongly against it. Polls and news stories reveal a divided and uncertain public. Yet debate in your chambers is restricted to peripheral questions, such as the timing of the vote, or the resolution's precise scope. You are a deliberative body, but you do not deliberate. You are representatives, but you do not represent.

The silence of those of you in the Democratic Party is especially troubling. You are the opposition party, but you do not oppose. Raising the subject of the war, your political advisers tell you, will distract from the domestic issues that favor the party's chances in the forthcoming Congressional election. In the face of the Administration's pre-emptive war, your leaders have resorted to pre-emptive surrender. For the sake of staying in power, you are told, you must not exercise the power you have in the matter of the war. What, then, is the purpose of your re-election? If you succeed, you will already have thrown away the power you supposedly have won. You will be members of Congress, but Congress will not be Congress. Even the fortunes of the domestic causes you favor will depend far more on the decision on the war than on the outcome of the election.

On April 4, 1967, as the war in Vietnam was reaching its full fury, Martin Luther King Jr. said, "A time comes when silence is betrayal." And he said, "Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak."

United States

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United States, officially United States of America, abbreviated U.S. or U.S.A., byname America, country in North America, a federal republic of 50 states. Besides the 48 conterminous states that occupy the middle latitudes of the continent, the United States includes the state of Alaska, at the northwestern extreme of North America, and the island state of Hawaii, in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The conterminous states are bounded on the north by Canada, on the east by the Atlantic Ocean, on the south by the Gulf of Mexico and Mexico, and on the west by the Pacific Ocean. The United States is the fourth largest country in the world in area (after Russia, Canada, and China). The national capital is Washington, which is coextensive with the District of Columbia, the federal capital region created in 1790.

The major characteristic of the United States is probably its great variety. Its physical environment ranges from the Arctic to the subtropical, from the moist rain forest to the arid desert, from the rugged mountain peak to the flat prairie. Although the total population of the United States is large by world standards, its overall population density is relatively low. The country embraces some of the world’s largest urban concentrations as well as some of the most extensive areas that are almost devoid of habitation.

The United States contains a highly diverse population. Unlike a country such as China that largely incorporated indigenous peoples, the United States has a diversity that to a great degree has come from an immense and sustained global immigration. Probably no other country has a wider range of racial, ethnic, and cultural types than does the United States. In addition to the presence of surviving Native Americans (including American Indians, Aleuts, and Eskimos) and the descendants of Africans taken as enslaved persons to the New World, the national character has been enriched, tested, and constantly redefined by the tens of millions of immigrants who by and large have come to America hoping for greater social, political, and economic opportunities than they had in the places they left. (It should be noted that although the terms “America” and “Americans” are often used as synonyms for the United States and its citizens, respectively, they are also used in a broader sense for North, South, and Central America collectively and their citizens.)

The United States is the world’s greatest economic power, measured in terms of gross domestic product (GDP). The nation’s wealth is partly a reflection of its rich natural resources and its enormous agricultural output, but it owes more to the country’s highly developed industry. Despite its relative economic self-sufficiency in many areas, the United States is the most important single factor in world trade by virtue of the sheer size of its economy. Its exports and imports represent major proportions of the world total. The United States also impinges on the global economy as a source of and as a destination for investment capital. The country continues to sustain an economic life that is more diversified than any other on Earth, providing the majority of its people with one of the world’s highest standards of living.

The United States is relatively young by world standards, being less than 250 years old it achieved its current size only in the mid-20th century. America was the first of the European colonies to separate successfully from its motherland, and it was the first nation to be established on the premise that sovereignty rests with its citizens and not with the government. In its first century and a half, the country was mainly preoccupied with its own territorial expansion and economic growth and with social debates that ultimately led to civil war and a healing period that is still not complete. In the 20th century the United States emerged as a world power, and since World War II it has been one of the preeminent powers. It has not accepted this mantle easily nor always carried it willingly the principles and ideals of its founders have been tested by the pressures and exigencies of its dominant status. The United States still offers its residents opportunities for unparalleled personal advancement and wealth. However, the depletion of its resources, the contamination of its environment, and the continuing social and economic inequality that perpetuates areas of poverty and blight all threaten the fabric of the country.

The District of Columbia is discussed in the article Washington. For discussion of other major U.S. cities, see the articles Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. Political units in association with the United States include Puerto Rico, discussed in the article Puerto Rico, and several Pacific islands, discussed in Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa.

The two great sets of elements that mold the physical environment of the United States are, first, the geologic, which determines the main patterns of landforms, drainage, and mineral resources and influences soils to a lesser degree, and, second, the atmospheric, which dictates not only climate and weather but also in large part the distribution of soils, plants, and animals. Although these elements are not entirely independent of one another, each produces on a map patterns that are so profoundly different that essentially they remain two separate geographies. (Since this article covers only the conterminous United States, see also the articles Alaska and Hawaii.)

African American History Month Resources

On June 19, 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, U.S. Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3, which informed the people of Texas that all enslaved people were now free. Granger commanded the Headquarters District of Texas, and his troops had arrived in Galveston the previous day. This day has come to be known as Juneteenth, a combination of June and 19th. It is also called Freedom Day or Emancipation Day, and it is the oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. On June 17, 2021,
President Joe Biden signed a bill into law establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

General Order No. 3, issued by Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger, June 19, 1865. The order was written in a volume beginning on one page and continuing to the next. (RG 393, Part II, Entry 5543, District of Texas, General Orders Issued)

The National Archives holds a wealth of material documenting the African American experience and highlights these resources online, in programs, and through traditional and social media.

Explore our records documenting African American History through the African American Research page and within the National Archives Catalog.

Featured Documents and Online Exhibits

Martin Luther King, Jr.


Rediscovering Black History: The blog of the Black History Guide, shares records relating to the African American experience at the National Archives

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Preservation at the National Archives Tumblr: MLK's Selective Service System Draft Card

Video Resources

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King Clip Reel

Nine short stories on Martin Luther King, Jr., produced by the USIA for Black History month. Stories include: King holiday wreath-laying at the Lincoln Memorial Jesse Jackson on MLK King/Civil Rights Reagan speaking to schoolchildren MLK bust unveiled at the Capitol Andrew Young reflects MLK celebration/Atlantaand MLK celebration/Washington, DC.

Martin Luther King Press Conference

Martin Luther King, Jr., was interviewed by four journalists for “Press Conference U.S.A.,” a U.S. Information Agency (USIA) series that was distributed internationally.

The March (1963, restored)

To mark the 50th anniversary of the March for Jobs and Freedom, the Motion Picture Preservation Lab completed a full digital restoration of James Blue's monumental film, The March, in 2008.

The March on Washington in Photographs

This Inside the Vaults video short follows the subject of the photograph, Edith Lee-Payne of Detroit, who celebrated her 12th birthday by attending the March on Washington with her mother.

"Civil Rights: Then and Now"

Highlights of the National Conversation on Rights and Justice in Atlanta in 2016. Moderated by Jelani William Cobb, contributing editor to the New Yorker and associate professor of history and the director of the Institute for African American Studies at the University of Connecticut.

National Museum of American History

Matt Shepard in high school, taken in Lugano, Switzerland (NMAH)

In October 1998, a college student named Matt Shepard was brutally murdered in Laramie, Wyoming, by two young men. Matt was slight of build, 5'2", and gay. The two men who murdered him pretended to be gay in order to rob him. His killing made headlines around the world and resulted in an outpouring of grief and anger that people channeled into poetry, songs and musical compositions, movies, a charity foundation, a national Hate Crimes Prevention Act, and at least two plays, The Laramie Project and The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later .

Beyond the tragedy of how he died, Matt Shepard is of interest because of so many familiar things about how he lived for 21 years. Matt's parents recently entrusted the museum with materials related to his life. I have been piecing together a sense of him, 20 years later, through the things left to represent him, stories from his parents, and published accounts.

Stack of condolence cards and letters sent to Judy and Dennis Shepard in the days and weeks after their son was murdered. (Matthew Shepard Papers, NMAH Archives Center)

Is it possible to ever know which one person Matt was? He had many different kinds of friends and was still becoming himself. As a little boy in Wyoming, he was talkative and curious. He wore a Superman cape. In grade school, he was Dolly Parton for Halloween three years in a row. He camped and fished and hunted with his family and grandparents. He and his mother shared an interest in politics and culture. He liked to act and was regularly in theater productions. He was outgoing, friendly, and a kind friend who was aware of others more than many kids his age.

Matt's Superman cape from grade school (NMAH)

In a grade school fill-in-the-blank activity about emotional health, Matt wrote: "When someone you are talking to gives advice when you didn’t ask for it, it makes you feel sad like I look stuped or insecure. When someone you are talking to seems shocked or offended by something you've said, it makes you feel sorry, guilty. When someone you are talking to gazes around the room while you are talking to them, it makes you feel unimportant. What do you do? Stop talking and talk about something interesting to them." Later in the exercise, he wrote, "I am a person who likes people I am a person who enjoys listening I am a person who cares about the [well] being of others."

Matt is familiar in being unexceptional. He sometimes struggled in school due to a learning disability. He wore braces on his teeth for years. His story is familiar because he was young and restless and believed himself invincible.

Purple ribbon for his entry in the "Foods" section of the Central Wyoming Fair, 1980s (NMAH)

During his senior year of high school, Matt and some friends went to Morocco. He went out alone one night and was jumped by three men who raped him. After that, he wore loose clothes to hide his body, he had nightmares, and he tried different anxiety medications, but took them inconsistently. He drank and had periods of depression and dropped out of college for a while. He struggled to get out from under the crushing weight of the attack. He had loyal and fierce friendships and a couple of boyfriends. He purchased a ring for his imagined future husband. By the time he enrolled at the University of Wyoming in September 1998, he seemed to be getting his life together—back in the West, demons corralled, near his family, focused on school.

Ring purchased in college, in anticipation of getting married someday (NMAH)

There are many reasons that might have led to him to leave the Fireside Lounge in Laramie with two guys in a pickup truck that night. He was gay when being gay could make you especially vulnerable, and sometimes, when you are 21, you just do it. Then, as now, being LGBTQ can be joyful and fabulous as well as dangerous and a personal burden.

Twenty years on, reading through the stacks of condolence messages, thinking about the objects he left, remembering the thousands of lives he has influenced, and trying to make sense of his life does not bring a sense of peace or grace. It reminds me of how far the needle of history still needs to move to get people who are outside the box to a place of safety and acceptance.

Matthew Shepard's parents sign the deed of gift donating their son's objects to the museum. (NMAH)

This post was originally published on the National Museum of American History's blog on October 25, 2018. Read the original version here.

This post was originally published on the National Museum of American History's blog on October 25, 2018. Read the original version here.

Katherine Ott spends her time thinking, talking, and writing about how and why people in the past were tagged for being different—because of disease, gender, disability, sexuality, race, or behavior that others disapproved. She is a curator (PhD, Temple University) at the National Museum of American History and uses objects such as prosthetics, artificial skin, X-Ray tubes, and acupuncture needles to take her back in time. Number 1 on her bucket list is finding the perfect plate of vegetarian enchiladas which she suspects is hiding somewhere in the Southwest.

Whitewashing American History

One of the National Park Service’s first historic preservation projects, the Colonial National Monument, wrote people of color completely out of the story.

The founding of the Colonial National Monument (CNM) in 1931 is a case study of the way African Americans were intentionally written out of American history until well into the twentieth century. The CNM was one of the first national historic preservation projects initiated by the National Park Service. Located on Virginia’s Peninsula, the CNM united the “Historic Triangle” of the Revolutionary War site of Yorktown, Williamsburg (capital of Virginia from 1699-1780), and Jamestown (the first permanent English settlement in North America, 1607) via a connecting scenic parkway. The impetus for the monument was the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Yorktown (1781).

The elaborate four-day festivities marking the opening of the CNM included notables like General John Pershing, France’s Marshal Pétain, the Secretary of the Interior, and New York governor Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a year before his election to the presidency.

Speakers and promoters at the pageant, historian Jeffrey Kosiorek writes, celebrated the “ideals conceived at Jamestown, developed at Williamsburg, and birthed at Yorktown.” FDR’s speech called the resulting United States “a new concept of liberty for the human race.” The festivities, however, were racially segregated.

As Kosiorek details, the CNM erased the history of blacks in the colonial era, a history dating at least to 1619. Two and a half centuries of American slavery went unmentioned. (Native Americans hardly fared better: white re-enactors in redface portrayed them because festival organizers said contemporary Native Americans in the region had “a very large mixture of Negro blood” and were “people of low morals.”)

Removing blacks and Indians from the colonial and Revolutionary past, indeed from the American past, presented more clearly the racial composition of the imagined national identity offered as the sesquicentennial and CNM. It also avoided confronting the contradictions between the vaunted ideals America brought forth and the country’s historic treatment of these groups.

This revision of the American past as a whites-only affair was conscious decision on the part of the organizers. These federal, state, and local officials and citizens crafted a racial narrative informed by the restrictive immigration policies of the 1920s: American history was to be culmination of Northern European Protestant destiny.

The forces that brought together the CNM pointedly ignored the remains of the Civil War in the area. (The Peninsula Campaign of 1862 saw more than 52,000 casualties.) What Kosiorek calls the “emancipationist memory” of that conflict, which “highlighted the end of slavery and equality of blacks as the chief meaning of the conflict” was officially suppressed. The “new birth of freedom” declared by Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg wasn’t on the monument’s agenda.

Meanwhile, the NPS decided to route Colonial Parkway through a black neighborhood that traced its history to Emancipation. This meant condemning the property and destroying homes, “something they carefully avoided doing to houses in and around Williamsburg.”

Once a Week

Because of the spread-out nature of the CNM and paucity of park rangers, pamphlets were the main media of information at the sites in the historic triangle. These, Kosiorek writes, made no mention of slavery until they were revised in 1946.

Nevertheless, African Americans living on the Peninsula, more than half the area’s population, “long had their own set of commemorations, highlighting their membership in the nation.” These culminated on the annual May 13th celebration of Emancipation Day, when a procession would lead to the black burial ground “outside the walls of the national cemetery” at Yorktown—just a “few miles from where the first Africans landed in the British mainland colonies.”

45d. The Treaty of Versailles and the League of Nations

As the war drew to a close, Woodrow Wilson set forth his plan for a " just peace ." Wilson believed that fundamental flaws in international relations created an unhealthy climate that led inexorably to the World War. His Fourteen Points outlined his vision for a safer world. Wilson called for an end to secret diplomacy, a reduction of armaments, and freedom of the seas. He claimed that reductions to trade barriers, fair adjustment of colonies, and respect for national self-determination would reduce economic and nationalist sentiments that lead to war. Finally, Wilson proposed an international organization comprising representatives of all the world's nations that would serve as a forum against allowing any conflict to escalate. Unfortunately, Wilson could not impose his world view on the victorious Allied Powers. When they met in Paris to hammer out the terms of the peace, the European leaders had other ideas.

The Paris Peace Conference

Most of the decisions made at the Paris Peace Conference were made by the Big Four , consisting of President Wilson, David Lloyd George of Great Britain, Georges Clemenceau of France, and Vittorio Orlando of Italy. The European leaders were not interested in a just peace. They were interested in retribution. Over Wilson's protests, they ignored the Fourteen Points one by one. Germany was to admit guilt for the war and pay unlimited reparations. The German military was reduced to a domestic police force and its territory was truncated to benefit the new nations of Eastern Europe. The territories of Alsace and Lorraine were restored to France. German colonies were handed in trusteeship to the victorious Allies. No provisions were made to end secret diplomacy or preserve freedom of the seas. Wilson did gain approval for his proposal for a League of Nations . Dismayed by the overall results, but hopeful that a strong League could prevent future wars, he returned to present the Treaty of Versailles to the Senate.

Defeating the League of Nations

Unfortunately for Wilson, he was met with stiff opposition. The Republican leader of the Senate, Henry Cabot Lodge , was very suspicious of Wilson and his treaty. Article X of the League of Nations required the United States to respect the territorial integrity of member states. Although there was no requirement compelling an American declaration of war, the United States might be bound to impose an economic embargo or to sever diplomatic relations. Lodge viewed the League as a supranational government that would limit the power of the American government from determining its own affairs. Others believed the League was the sort of entangling alliance the United States had avoided since George Washington's Farewell Address . Lodge sabotaged the League covenant by declaring the United States exempt from Article X. He attached reservations, or amendments, to the treaty to this effect. Wilson, bedridden from a debilitating stroke, was unable to accept these changes. He asked Senate Democrats to vote against the Treaty of Versailles unless the Lodge reservations were dropped. Neither side budged, and the treaty went down to defeat.

Why did the United States fail to ratify the Versailles Treaty and join the League of Nations? Personal enmity between Wilson and Lodge played a part. Wilson might have prudently invited a prominent Republican to accompany him to Paris to help ensure its later passage. Wilson's fading health eliminated the possibility of making a strong personal appeal on behalf of the treaty. Ethnic groups in the United States helped its defeat. German Americans felt their fatherland was being treated too harshly. Italian Americans felt more territory should have been awarded to Italy. Irish Americans criticized the treaty for failing to address the issue of Irish independence. Diehard American isolationists worried about a permanent global involvement. The stubborness of President Wilson led him to ask his own party to scuttle the treaty. The final results of all these factors had mammoth longterm consequences. Without the involvement of the world's newest superpower, the League of Nations was doomed to failure. Over the next two decades, the United States would sit on the sidelines as the unjust Treaty of Versailles and the ineffective League of Nations would set the stage for an even bloodier, more devastating clash.

Quick History of the National Park Service

By the Act of March 1, 1872, Congress established Yellowstone National Park in the Territories of Montana and Wyoming "as a public park or pleasuring-ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people" and placed it "under exclusive control of the Secretary of the Interior." The founding of Yellowstone National Park began a worldwide national park movement. Today more than 100 nations contain some 1,200 national parks or equivalent preserves.

In the years following the establishment of Yellowstone, the United States authorized additional national parks and monuments, many of them carved from the federal lands of the West. These, also, were administered by the Department of the Interior, while other monuments and natural and historical areas were administered by the War Department and the Forest Service of the Department of Agriculture. No single agency provided unified management of the varied federal parklands.

Roosevelt Arch at Yellowstone National Park

On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the act creating the National Park Service, a new federal bureau in the Department of the Interior responsible for protecting the 35 national parks and monuments then managed by the department and those yet to be established. This "Organic Act" states that "the Service thus established shall promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments and reservations…by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purpose of the said parks, monuments and reservations, which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations."

An Executive Order in 1933 transferred 56 national monuments and military sites from the Forest Service and the War Department to the National Park Service. This action was a major step in the development of today's truly national system of parks—a system that includes areas of historical as well as scenic and scientific importance. Congress declared in the General Authorities Act of 1970 "that the National Park System, which began with the establishment of Yellowstone National Park in 1872, has since grown to include superlative natural, historic, and recreation areas in every region…and that it is the purpose of this Act to include all such areas in the System…."

The National Park System of the United States now comprises more than 400 areas covering more than 84 million acres in 50 states, the District of Columbia, American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, Saipan, and the Virgin Islands. These areas are of such national significance as to justify special recognition and protection in accordance with various acts of Congress.

Additions to the National Park System are now generally made through acts of Congress, and national parks can be created only through such acts. But the President has authority, under the Antiquities Act of 1906, to proclaim national monuments on lands already under federal jurisdiction. The Secretary of the Interior is usually asked by Congress for recommendations on proposed additions to the System. The Secretary is counseled by the National Park System Advisory Board, composed of private citizens, which advises on possible additions to the System and policies for its management.

The National Park Service still strives to meet its original goals, while filling many other roles as well: guardian of our diverse cultural and recreational resources environmental advocate partner in community revitalization, world leader in the parks and preservation community and pioneer in the drive to protect America's open space.

Today more than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for America's 400+ national parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities.

The Tools at Hand

    the natural abilities of the young that cry out to be developed and the undiminished concern of parents for the well-being of their children

These raw materials, combined with the unparalleled array of educational organizations in America, offer us the possibility to create a Learning Society, in which public, private, and parochial schools colleges and universities vocational and technical schools and institutes libraries science centers, museums, and other cultural institutions and corporate training and retraining programs offer opportunities and choices for all to learn throughout life.

Remarkable Legacies of American Women

From the lives of young, immigrant women who worked the textile mills at Lowell National Historic Park to those of the female shipyard workers who were essential to the home front during World War II at Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historic Park, women’s history can be found at every park.

If you want to understand our nation’s history, explore the remarkable legacies of American women.

The Women’s History website is produced in concert with NPS partners including the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers.

19th Amendment

Discover the story of the Nineteenth Amendment and how it impacted the rights of women and others.

Introduction to Women’s History

Read about the amazing stories of both ordinary and extraordinary people.

The 15th & 19th Amendments

In commemoration of the 400 years of African American history, learn more about the connection between the 15th and the 19th Amendments.


On September 14, 1814, U.S. soldiers at Baltimore’s Fort McHenry raised a huge American flag to celebrate a crucial victory over British forces during the War of 1812. The sight of those “broad stripes and bright stars” inspired Francis Scott Key to write a song that eventually became the United States national anthem. Key’s words gave new significance to a national symbol and started a tradition through which generations of Americans have invested the flag with their own meanings and memories.


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