Miss Black America was born to tell the country that black is beautiful

Contestants from the Miss Black America pageant during the evening gown competition in 1972

By Paige Welch

Duke University

At 2016’s Miss America pageant, the first openly lesbian contestant, Erin O’Flaherty, competed for the crown in Atlantic City. Flaherty’s participation represented yet another step toward a more inclusive and diverse pageant. She followed other trailblazers like Bess Myerson (the first Jewish titleholder), Vanessa Williams (the first African-American titleholder) and Heather Whitestone (the first deaf titleholder).

For a pageant with a historically narrow definition of beauty, this progress hasn’t come easy.

The most well-known demonstration against the pageant is the 1968 liberation picket, in which hundreds of women protested the pageant’s oppressive ideal of femininity…

They weren’t doing for the sake of a multiracial democracy

Civil Rights advocates protesting against descriminatory voting laws in 1964 (AP Photo/ Bob Daugherty)

By Richard Johnson

Lancaster University

During a recent campaign rally in Tennessee, Donald Trump claimed that most African Americans have been voting for the Democratic Party for over a century. He told supporters, “African Americans vote for Democrats, for the most part. Vast majority. They’ve been doing it for over a hundred years.”

A number of commentators have pointed out that Trump’s comment is historically inaccurate because most African-Americans in the south could not vote until the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965. Additionally, many African Americans who could vote before the 1960s — located mostly in the north…

The U.S. used triumphant rhetoric and philanthropy to mask horrifying conditions

Men building the Panama Canal in 1912 (Science & Society Picture Library / Getty)

By Caroline Lieffers

PhD Candidate, Yale University

It was the greatest infrastructure project the world had ever seen. When the 77 kilometre-long Panama Canal officially opened in 1914, after 10 years of construction, it fulfilled a vision that had tempted people for centuries, but had long seemed impossible.

“Never before has man dreamed of taking such liberties with nature,” wrote journalist Arthur Bullard in awe.

But the project, which employed more than 40,000 laborers, also took immense liberties with human life. Thousands of workers were killed. The official number is 5,609, but many historians think the real toll was several…

When Filipino and Mexican laborers united, they had more power

Filipino crew of 55 workers cutting and loading lettuce. Imperial Valley, California. (Library of Congress)

Larry Itliong was just one of the thousands who arrived on the West Coast from the Philippines before the country won its independence. Most labored quietly in the fields, despite the many challenges facing them. Itliong, however, took up numerous leadership roles in Stockton’s “Little Manila” and eventually led the famous Delano Grape Strike, which united Mexican and Filipino farmworkers. Filipinos remain the second-largest group of Asian Americans in California.

She was a fearless radical, and the FBI watched her every move

Lucy Parson after an arrest for rioting in 1915 (Library of Congress)

Lucy Parsons is not a woman celebrated in many mainstream history textbooks, but to many working-class Americans she was a hero, fighting for their rights at a time of robber barons and great wealth inequality. Parsons is a controversial figure because she advocated for direct action, at times espousing violence against the institutions of the rich and powerful. Some also see betrayal in her denial of her origins: she had been enslaved but told the story that she came from Native American and Mexican origins. What’s certain is that Parsons was bold and brave and spoke so widely championing workers’ rights that hers was a household name in America.

‘Chan Is Missing’ was a fresh look inside San Francisco’s Chinatown

Wood Moy on the set of ‘Chan Is Missing’ (Zand Gee)

The whole plot of Chan Is Missing hints at an Asian American stereotype, with the search for Chan evoking the mysterious, impenetrable Asian character that Hollywood seems to love. But the film was fresh, conversational, and natural. It defied convention and succeeded, winning director Wayne Wang accolades from critics and audiences alike. Chan Is Missing was a small and cheap film (made for an implausible $20,000) with a big impact, and it paved the way for Wang’s next project: directing Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club.

Despite his success, the sport Isaac Burns Murphy helped build disappeared from beneath him as white men pushed black jockeys out

Isaac Murphy portrait on a cigarette card for Goodwin & Co. tobacco, 1888. (Library of Congress)

By Erin Blakemore

Jackie Robinson. Jesse Owens. Isaac Burns Murphy?

No one would blame you for not knowing the third man on this list of accomplished African American athletes. But Murphy was one of the most significant jockeys in the history of horse racing. He was the first person to win the Kentucky Derby three times, was the highest-paid jockey in the United States, and had the best winning average in horse-racing history, which makes his obscurity all the more baffling.

Born into slavery in Clark County, Kentucky, in 1861, Murphy moved to Lexington with his mother after the…

Wilma Rudolph went on to become an international sports icon after winning three gold medals in 1960

American sprinter Wilma Rudolph during competition at the 1960 Rome Olympics. (Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)

By Erin Blakemore

Six-year-old Wilma Rudolph was different from the other kids. They could walk, run, and jump, but she was hampered by a paralyzed, twisted left leg. At her elementary school in Clarksville, Tennessee, she was harassed and teased by children who could run and play in ways she had never been able to. “I used to cry,” wrote Rudolph, recalling those days, “but no more.”

Rudolph had reason not to cry. By the time she wrote those words in her 1977 biography, she was a household name. The child whose body had once made movement nearly impossible…

This amazing footage documents a brilliant youth program that changed the city

The so-called gangs were largely divided by race or ethnicity, just like San Francisco’s neighborhoods at the time, and apparently inter-gang rumbles were a citywide problem, as was petty crime. Neighborhoods like the Mission, Bayview–Hunters Point, and the Fillmore all were thriving enclaves in a city vastly different from today’s tech-gentrified SF. In this footage documented by filmmaker David Myers, the teenage boy gangs seem almost quaint, with insignias stitched onto letter jackets, and adorably elaborate hairdos. But what’s most endearing is their yearning to help out their communities, despite the stigmas against them, an opportunity afforded them by a…

Molly Ivins can’t say that, can she?

Newspaper columnist and political commentator Molly Ivins during an interview with host Jay Leno on May 29, 1992 (Photo by Chris Haston/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

“As they say around the Texas Legislature, if you can’t drink their whiskey, screw their women, take their money, and vote against ’em anyway, you don’t belong in office.”

― Molly Ivins

Newspaper columnist Molly Ivins made a living poking fun at politicians, whether they were in her home state of Texas or in the White House. Born in 1944, the daughter of a conservative oil company executive, Ivins was raised among Houston’s moneyed elite. She said she felt out of place, describing herself as “a Clydesdale among thoroughbreds.” She strayed from her family’s politics as a teenager, campaigning for…


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