Category Archives: Civil Rights

mass incarceration

Episode 022 The History of Mass Incarceration in the US, Part 2


Why are so many Americans in prison? Right now, there are 2.3 million Americans held in US prisons. That’s a HUGE number, relative to the overall US population. The US makes up just 5% of the world’s population, but we hold 25% of the world’s prison population. Put another way, 1 in 4 people held in prison around the world is an American citizen. And a disproportionate number of these inmates are people of color, mostly African American and Latino. Furthermore, this phenomenon of mass incarceration is a relatively recent one. In 1970 the incarceration rate in the US was roughly 150 people per 100,000. In 2017 it’s well over 700 people per 100,000! How did we get here? What happened around 1970 that sent us down this path?
To answer these questions, I speak with historian Elizabeth Hinton, author of the book, From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America (Harvard University Press). She’ll help us see the key public policy decisions regarding crime and criminal justice — and the assumptions about race and poverty that shaped them — that caused the US prison population to explode after 1970.

Elizabeth Hinton, From the War on Poverty to the War on CrimeAbout Elizabeth Hinton

website

Further Reading

Elizabeth Hinton, From the War on Poverty to the War on Crime: The Making of Mass Incarceration in America (Harvard University Press)

Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness (2010)

Todd R. Clear and Natasha A. Frost, The Punishment Imperative: The Rise and Failure of Mass Incarceration in America (2013)

Jonathan Simon, Mass Incarceration on Trial: A Remarkable Court Decision and the Future of Prisons in America (2014)

Carimah Townes, “The True Cost of Mass Incarceration Exceeds $1 Trillion,” Sept 12, 2016 www.ThinkProgress.org

Peter Wagner and Bernadette Rabuy, “Mass Incarceration: The Whole Pie 2016,” March 14, 2016 www.PrisonPolicy.org

Michelle Ye Hee Lee, “Yes, U.S. locks people up at a higher rate than any other country,” Washington Post, July 7, 2015

mass incarceration graphMusic for this Episode

Jay Graham, ITPL Intro (JayGMusic.com)

Kevin McCleod, “Impact Moderato” (Free Music Archive)

The Womb, “I Hope It Hurts” (Free Music Archive)

Hyson, Signals (Free Music Archive)

Philipp Weigl, “Even When We Fall” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, “I Am History” (Free Music Archive)

Production Credits

Executive Producer: Lulu Spencer

Associate Producer, Devyn McHugh

Technical Advisors: Holly Hunt and Jesse Anderson

Podcasting Consultant: Darrell Darnell of Pro Podcast Solutions

Photographer: John Buckingham

Graphic Designer: Maggie Cellucci

Website by: ERI Design

Legal services: Tippecanoe and Tyler Too

Social Media management: The Pony Express

Risk Assessment: Little Big Horn Associates

Growth strategies: 54 40 or Fight

Snoring Beagle International, Ltd

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Episode 20 African American Soldiers in the Civil War


In this episode of ITPL, we focus on the experiences of African Americans who joined the Union Army during the Civil War and the profound impact they had on the war’s final outcome — and on American society in the decades that followed. There’s a lot more to this story than what you may have seen in the award-winning film, “Glory” (1989). So here’s the lineup:
1. First, I provide a brief backgrounder on the basic details regarding African Americans and their service in the Union Army and Navy.
2. Second, I sit down with historian Douglas Egerton to talk about his new book, Thunder at the Gates: The Black Civil War Regiments That Redeemed America (Basic Books, 2016).
3. Finally, I present a feature on the Ft. Pillow Massacre, perhaps the grimmest incident in the whole Civil War.
In The Past Lane is a production of Snoring Beagle International, Ltd.

Show notes for this episode

More About Douglas Egertonitpl-020-egerton-book-cover

His faculty page at LeMoyne College

Further Reading and Links

Douglas Egerton, Thunder at the Gates: The Black Civil War Regiments That Redeemed America (Basic Books, 2016)

Martin H. Blatt, ed., et al, Hope & Glory: Essays on the Legacy of the 54th Massachusetts Regiment (2000)

James Henry Gooding, On the Altar of Freedom: A Black Soldier’s Civil War Letters from the Front

James M. McPherson, The Negro’s Civil War: How American Blacks Felt and Acted During the War for the Union

Episode Credits

Music

Jay Graham, ITPL Intro (courtesy, JayGMusic.com)

Kevin McCleod, “Impact Moderato” (Free Music Archive)

Kevin McLeod, Impact Moderato (Free Music Archive)

Andy Cohen, “Bathed in Fine Dust” (Free Music Archive)

Ketsa, “Escape the Profane” (Free Music Archive)

Jason Shaw, “Acoustic Meditation” (Free Music Archive)

Cuicuitte, “Vivan” and “Sultan Cintre” (Free Music Archive)

Dana Boule, “We All Need to Calm Down” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, “I Am History” (Free Music Archive)

Hyson, “Signals” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, “I Am History” (Free Music Archive)

Production

Technical Advisors: Holly Hunt and Jesse Anderson

Podcasting Consultant: Darrell Darnell of Pro Podcast Solutions

Photographer: John Buckingham

Graphic Designer: Maggie Cellucci

Website by: ERI Design

Legal services: Tippecanoe and Tyler Too

Social Media management: the Pony Express

Risk Assessment: Little Big Horn associates

Growth strategies: 54 40 or Fight

Snoring Beagle International, Ltd

 

 

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Episode 012 The History of Gay Liberation in US History

June is Pride Month in the US, so in this episode we examine the history of the gay rights struggle.
subscribe-buttonHere’s the lineup:
1) a short piece on the notion of “hidden history.”
2) an interview with Andrew Berman, Executive Director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation, an organization that has played a key role in getting historical landmark status for the famous Stonewall Inn.
3) an interview with historian Jim Downs about his extraordinary new book, Stand By Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation (Basic Books, 2016).

Episode 012 notes and credits

Further reading about the history of the Gay Rights Movement in US History

Jim Downs Stand by Me bookcoverMichael Bronski, A Queer History of the United States

David Carter, Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution

Jim Downs, Stand By Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation (Basic Books, 2016).

Music for This Episode:

Jay Graham, ITPL Intro (courtesy, JayGMusic.com)

Kevin McCleod, “Impact Moderato” (Free Music Archive)

Lee Rosevere, “Going Home” (Free Music Archive)

Andy Cohen, “Trophy Endorphins” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, “I Am History” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, “On The Street” (Free Music Archive)

Jon Luc Hefferman, “Winter Trek” (Free Music Archive)

Harriet-Tubman-bill2

Tubman on the New $20 Bill – Move Over Jackson

[Note: a version of this piece originally ran in the Huffington Post on April 23, 2016; You can also hear this and related pieces in Episode 010 of my podcast, In The Past Lane]

ITPL - Check Out ITPL Podcast image (for blog)The recent announcement by the United States Treasury Department that Harriet Tubman, escaped slave and abolitionist, would replace President Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill has garnered a lot of attention. Tubman will not only be the first African American to appear on U.S. currency, she also will be the first woman to do so in more than a century (Martha Washington and Pocahontas made cameos in the late-19th century). Meanwhile, Jackson will be demoted to the backside of the $20. Predictably, conservatives and traditionalists filled the Twittersphere and other forms of social media with outrage against what they see as the latest affront by the forces of so-called “political correctness.”

While this response is understandable – people often see change as a form of loss – it’s also misguided.  One of the central insights gained from the study of history is that, Nothing has always been. Nothing. Everything that we think of as traditional, has a point of origin that is probably not as far back in time as you think. For example, when did the United States decide it needed a massive peacetime military – you know, two million soldiers and 500 ships? The year was 1950 – less than 70 years ago. Before 1950, Americans agreed that a republic ought to have a small peacetime military. Then the Cold War happened and we changed our mind. There are countless other examples, but you get the point.

So how does this apply to the new $20 bill? First, we didn’t even have federal paper money until 1862 – that’s 74 years AFTER the ratification of the US Constitution. And second, in the coming years, many, many faces appeared on that paper money. Before Jackson, President Grover Cleveland’s face appeared on the $20 bill. Jackson bumped him in 1928 – a mere 88 years ago.  Let’s face it: the look of US paper money has changed many, many times and it wasn’t designed by God or George Washington.

President Grover Cleveland graced the front of the $20 bill until he was displaced by Andrew Jackson in 1928.

President Grover Cleveland graced the front of the $20 bill until he was displaced by Andrew Jackson in 1928.

But the negative reaction to the new $20 bill also reflects more than mere nostalgia. It indicates a shallow understanding of the purpose of civic symbols. Choosing names for public schools, establishing holidays, and building monuments to people or events are ways a society proclaims and affirms certain values. The selection of particular people to adorn U.S. currency performs a similar function. It says, in so many words, these people and what they stood for and what they did are worthy of our admiration. Their examples from the past should inspire us as we go about living our present and building our future.

Jackson was known popularly as "Old Hickory" and enjoyed a reputation as a defender of the "common man."

Jackson was known popularly as “Old Hickory” and enjoyed a reputation as a defender of the “common man.”

This understanding explains the decision to demote Andrew Jackson from his place of honor on the $20 bill. Simply put, American values have changed a lot since his presidency (1829-1837) and since his placement on the $20 bill in 1928. In his day and for decades thereafter, Jackson was hailed as a man who expanded American democracy and defended the rights of the “common man” against the predations of the rich and politically connected.

These are very important accomplishments and this aspect of Jackson’s reputation is largely accurate. But it’s also incomplete.  It obscures the fact that in Jackson’s understanding, democracy and equal rights only applied to white men. And it ignores the fact that Jackson advanced the cause of white men by promoting the expansion of slavery. Key to this policy was the opening of vast stretches of the American southeast to whites for cotton cultivation by enslaved labor. Jackson achieved this goal by forcibly expelling – in defiance of the U.S. Supreme Court – tens of thousands of Native Americans from their homelands in the American southeast. Their deadly march to Oklahoma killed thousands and became known as the “Trail of Tears.”

Jackson's expulsion of Native Americans from the US southeast became known as the "Trail of Tears" because thousands dies on the forced march to Oklahoma.

Jackson’s expulsion of Native Americans from the US southeast became known as the “Trail of Tears” because thousands dies on the forced march to Oklahoma.

These disturbing facts regarding Jackson’s presidency are not politically correct; they are simply correct and worthy of our attention. Jackson’s heroic status in the nineteenth century reflected the values of an antebellum America that was committed to territorial expansion and slavery. Similarly, the placement of Jackson on the $20 bill likewise reflected the values of a 1920s America that was dedicated to upholding a Jim Crow system of segregation and racial oppression.

A lot of history has unfolded since 1928 and with it has come an expansive notion of American citizenship that includes women, ethnic and racial minorities, immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ community. This transformation has been accompanied by an increased willingness to confront the darker chapters of American history like slavery and Japanese internment.

In light of this development, the choice of Harriet Tubman to replace Jackson is a laudable one. Symbolically, as a woman, an African American, and a former slave, Tubman stands for the Americans left out of Jackson’s vaunted “common man” constituency.

This 1850s woodcut image of Harriet Tubman depicts her as a defiant radical willing to break the law to end slavery.

This 1850s woodcut image of Harriet Tubman depicts her as a defiant radical willing to break the law to end slavery.

What’s more, Tubman embodied an essential and often undervalued American tradition of civil disobedience. Every chapter in the unfolding story of American freedom, democracy, and justice has been written by people who were willing to defy unjust laws, despite the attendant risks to their lives, reputations, and property. Tubman escaped slavery and then willingly risked her life innumerable times by returning to the South to guide others to freedom in the North along the Underground Railroad. Like later activists fighting for labor rights, women’s rights, civil rights, and gay rights (just to name a few), she broke laws to expose their unjust character and gain their repeal. What could be more American than that?

Placing Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill reflects an broadened notion of what sort of Americans and what kinds of actions are worthy of our collective admiration and commemoration. It’s no mere coincidence that this has occurred at a time when public sentiment has demanded the removal of pro-Confederate symbols from the public square. And this fact should caution us against reading too much into the new $20 bill. Symbols are important. But they are not ends in themselves. The best ones call to our attention what we value and why.

In 2016 the United States is beset by serious problems concerning poverty, inequality, and racism. Harriet Tubman’s arrival on the $20 bill will not solve these problems. Its purpose is to stand as a vivid and powerful symbol of freedom, equality, and inclusion. It’s up to us citizens to make use of it.

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Episode 009 Taxes and Tax Revolts in US History and More

This week at In The Past Lane, in honor (if that’s the right word) of Tax Day,  we take a close look at the history of the fraught relationship between Americans and their taxes.  This episode features three segments:
1) an interview with historian William Hogeland about his terrific book on one of the biggest tax revolts in US history, the Whiskey Rebellion of 1794. 2) the story of a one-man, one-day tax revolt by Henry David Thoreau that — eventually — exerted a tremendous influence on social justice struggles around the world, including women’s suffrage and civil rights for African Americans in the US. 3) a fun grab bag of things related to the history of taxes in US history, including – wait for it – a reason to be thankful for taxes … seriously …
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Episode 009 notes and credits

Further reading about the history of taxes and tax revolts

hogeland-book-cover-2Charles Adams, Those Dirty Rotten Taxes: The Tax Revolts That Built America (1998).

William Hogeland, The Whiskey Rebellion: George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, and the Frontier Rebels Who Challenged America’s Newfound Sovereignty (2010)

Thomas P. Slaughter, The Whiskey Rebellion: Frontier Epilogue to the American Revolution (1986)

Henry David Thoreau, Walden, Civil Disobedience, and Other Writings, William Rossi, Ed. (2008)

Some History Podcasts to Check Out

Ben Frankin’s World with Liz Covart
http://www.benfranklinsworld.com/

Past Present with Nicole Hemmer, Natalia Petrzela, and Neil Young
http://www.pastpresentpodcast.com/

Slate’s History of Slavery with Rebecca Onion
http://www.slate.com/articles/slate_plus/history_of_slavery.html

The Way of Improvement Leads Home with John Fea
http://www.philipvickersfithian.com/

BackStory with the American History Guys
http://backstoryradio.org/

Music for This Episode:

Jay Graham, ITPL Intro (courtesy, JayGMusic.com)

Kevin McCleod, “Impact Moderato” (Free Music Archive)

The Womb, “I Hope That It Hurts” (Free Music Archive)

Lee Rosevere, “Going Home” (Free Music Archive)

Andy Cohen, “Trophy Endorphins” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, “I Am History” (Free Music Archive)

The Bell, “On The Street” (Free Music Archive)

Jason Shaw, “Acoustic Meditation” (Free Music Archive)