Category Archives: Social Justice Movements

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 016 The History of Women Seeking the White House – Convention Edition!


subscribe-buttonThis week, as the Democratic National Convention prepares to make history by nominating a woman for the presidency, In The Past Lane takes a close look at women who have sought the nation’s highest office. Here’s the lineup:
1) First, I bring you a short segment on a curious voting controversy that few people have ever heard of.
2) Next, I speak with historian Ellen Fitzpatrick about her terrific new book, The Highest Glass Ceiling: Women’s Quest for the American Presidency.
3) Finally, I speak with William Hazelgrove, author of a forthcoming book, Madam President: The Secret Presidency of Edith Wilson. Wait, does that mean the United States already had a woman president? Listen and learn!

Ellen Fitzpatrick - The Highest Glass CeilingFurther Reading

Shirley Chisholm, Unbought and Unbossed; Expanded 40th Anniversary Edition 40th Edition (2010)

Ellen Fitzpatrick, The Highest Glass Ceiling: Women’s Quest for the American Presidency (Harvard University Press, 2016)

William Hazelgrove, Madam President: The Secret Presidency of Edith Wilson (forthcoming, Regnery History, October 2016)

Myra MacPherson, The Scarlet Sisters: Sex, Suffrage, and Scandal in the Gilded Age (2014)

Hazelgrove - Madam President cover copyPatricia L. Schmidt, Margaret Chase Smith: Beyond Convention (1996)

Janann Sherman, No Place for a Woman: A Life of Senator Margaret Chase Smith (1999)

Gloria Steinem, The Woman Who Ran For President: The Many Lives of Victoria Woodhull (1995)

Barbara Winslow, Shirley Chisholm: Catalyst for Change (2013)

Dinesh Sharma, “America’s Exceptional Lack of a Female President,” The New Republic, May 12, 2016

Pew Research Survey – Despite progress, U.S. still lags many nations in women leaders

Music

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

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

Jason Shaw, River Meditation (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)

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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)

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Episode 011 Scandal! In American History


subscribe-buttonWho doesn’t love a good scandal (so long as it doesn’t involve them)? This week at In The Past Lane we examine the important — and often positive — role scandals have played in American history. Here’s the lineup:
1) a short segment on the role of scandals in US history
2) an interview with historian Daniel Czitrom about his new book, New York Exposed: The Gilded Age Police Scandal That Launched the Progressive Era (Oxford U Press, 2016). We talk about the famous 1894 Lexow Commission investigation into allegations of widespread corruption involving the political machine Tammany Hall and the New York City Police Dept. Dan also draws important links to key issues confronting American society in 2016 – police violence and the origins of the so-called “blue wall of silence” and voting suppression efforts.
3) a look at the scandal in the meatpacking industry triggered by the publication in 1906 of Upton Sinclair’s famous novel, The Jungle.

Episode 011 notes and credits

Further reading about the history of Scandals in American History

Daniel Czitrom book cover copy: The Gilded Age Police Scandal That Launched the Progressive Era (Oxford U Press, 2016)

Andy Hughes, A History of Political Scandals: Sex, Sleaze and Spin (2014)

George C. Kohn, The New Encyclopedia of American Scandal (2001)

Laton McCartney, The Teapot Dome Scandal: How Big Oil Bought the Harding White House and Tried to Steal the Country (Random House, 2009)

Mitchell Zuckoff, Ponzi’s Scheme: The True Story of a Financial Legend (Random House, 2006)

Andrew Burt, “The 1826 Kidnapping, Allegedly by a Cabal of Freemasons, That Changed American Politics Forever,” Slate.com May 15, 2015

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)

The Womb, “I Hope That It Hurts” (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.