Those who identify as Black or African American make up just over thirteen percent of the U.S. population, and their stories are a valuable asset to American culture. This community’s influence is evident across a wide variety of fields, including politics, agriculture, medicine, literature, sports, fashion, comedy, and music. We celebrate revolutionary historic Black heroes like Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King Jr., and contemporary ones like Simone Biles and Barack Obama because they represent the ideals of the American dream. In these figures, we see resilience and ingenuity because a history of inequality has not stopped Black people from working to achieve personal success and social progress. There are many other stories of lesser known individuals whose experiences also both inform and reflect American society. This audio story collection features stories of Black people whose success and struggles are a reflection of our country’s values, and its rich and complex history.
The Great Migration was a period of African American migration from the Jim Crow South to the North from 1915 to the 1970s. People left their rural southern lives behind in the hope that there would be more opportunity and equality in northern cities like New York City, Chicago and Detroit. Artist Jacob Lawrence was raised in New York City but he was the child of two Southern migrants. Lawrence saw the Great Migration first hand and vividly painted the stages of migration, from boarding trains to finding racism in the North. Listen to learn more about this period in history and how it is represented in art and music from the era.
During Jim Crow, systemic racism cut into virtually every aspect of political, social, and economic life. This included an act as seemingly simple as shopping. For African-Americans, shopping in a store meant being badly treated including being ignored by sales people. The Sears Catalog, which had photographs of hundreds of products and gave people the ability to order them by mail, was revolutionary for black Americans because it allowed them to have the same shopping experience as white Americans. This audio story deals with the ways in which the idea of shopping by catalog leveled the economic playing field during Jim Crow.
Poet Joshua Bennett has published a poetry collection of odes titled Owed that celebrates people, places, and objects that he feels have not received the positive recognition they deserve. In this interview, he reflects on his experience as a Black teenager attending an elite private school. He explains how it influenced the subjects of his poetry. Bennett also shares how his perspective has changed about his writing process and his family. Listen to learn more about Owed and to hear Bennett read excerpts of his work.
The holiday known as Kwanzaa celebrates African heritage and culture and is observed for seven days, ending on January 1. The holiday includes lights, a feast, and gift-giving, and surrounds the holidays of Christmas and Hanukkah. Kwanzaa was created within the last century and has gone through changes in who celebrates it and how it is observed. Now, more religions are celebrating the holiday than initially intended. Listen to learn about how Kwanzaa began and how it has changed.
In the United States during the era of slavery, it was illegal for all African Americans, enslaved and free, to learn to read and write. But in 1863 the first school for freed slaves opened and by the end of the 19th century, black colleges supported civil rights activism and helped redefine what it meant to be black in America. A new documentary tells about the history of black colleges and the goals of these educational institutions. Listen to this story to hear more about the creation and development of historically black colleges and universities.
The state of Virginia has been steeped in controversy about past actions of key elected leaders, including calls for their resignations. Both the governor and the attorney general have revealed that they wore blackface when in costume years ago, saying that they did not realize how offensive it is. Many are not aware of the history of blackface, dating to the late 19th century, when white people would darken their faces and perform minstrel shows, which depicted African-Americans in derogatory, dehumanizing ways. Listen to this interview with a journalist who explains the history of blackface in America and why it remains controversial today.
For Black History Month, a major bookseller placed “Diverse Editions” on its shelves with classic books by white authors featuring black faces on the covers. The bookstore says it hoped the covers would help to engage new audiences in classics like The Wizard of Oz, Frankenstein, and Romeo and Juliet. However, the action sparked outrage among many who say the bookseller is cashing in on Black History Month without truly honoring black authors. Listen to hear a writer explain why she considers the move to be “literary blackface” and what bookstores can do to support diversity.
A videotaped act of violence in Georgia has highlighted the challenges black men around the country face in their everyday lives. Ahmaud Arbery, an unarmed young black man, was shot by two white men who said they believed he was a burglar. Arbery was jogging when he was attacked and killed. Research shows that black men of all social classes often feel threatened as they go about their daily routines. Listen to a sociologist describe his research on what black men do to appear less threatening and how the threat they regularly feel impacts their lives.
Update: Since this story aired, Ahmaud Arbery’s attackers have been arrested and charged with murder and aggravated assault.
Presidential candidate Joe Biden has announced that Kamala Harris will be his vice presidential running mate. Harris will be the first black woman to run on a presidential ticket. Her candidacy comes in the midst of national protests over racial inequities, and many leaders of color are marking this historic moment. Listen to learn about Kamala Harris’s background and views, and hear how other leaders have reacted to the announcement.
High school students in Colorado took a trip that changed the way history is taught at their school. After the group traveled with their principal to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture in Washington, D.C., they realized that aspects of Black history were left out of their school’s American history curriculum that they thought should be included. Listen to hear the principal explain how the students pushed for change and what effect she hopes the new curriculum will have on teaching and learning.
When a recruiter invited Black high school students in Chicago to take up rowing, most initially declined. Crew was a predominantly white sport and seemed to have nothing to do with them. Those students who eventually joined, however, learned skills and gained insight that transformed their lives. Listen to an author reflecting on his experiences as a member of the first all-Black high school crew team, and hear how being on the team helped him succeed.
African Americans have been hit especially hard by the pandemic, and many are feeling extra stress. Barbershops in African American communities have long been hubs of communication and camaraderie. A program called the “Confess Project” is aiding barbers who serve these communities in counseling their customers, offering helpful emotional support as well as a haircut. The program aims to offer African American men, in particular, a safe space to share their feelings and get advice. Listen to hear a participating barber explain what attracted him to the program and how his work improves his clients’ mental health.
A 12-year-old student from Georgia is enrolled in college with dreams of becoming an aerospace engineer. Caleb Anderson was an exceptionally smart baby, according to his parents. They recognized his gifts and supported him as he advanced quickly through school, outpacing his peers. Caleb’s unusual journey was not always smooth, though. Listen to hear how Caleb felt as the youngest kid in his 7th grade class, and learn why Caleb’s dad believes his son’s story can inspire other Black boys.
Although President Lincoln outlawed slavery in 1863, it was not until two years later that enslaved people in Texas learned the news, when a Union general rode into Galveston to announce it. Black communities have long celebrated Juneteenth – June 19 – to remember that day in 1865 and celebrate freedom. Many other Americans are unfamiliar with the event, but recently, Congress unanimously voted to make Juneteenth a national holiday. Listen to learn more about the meaning and importance of Juneteenth and how recent events helped raise awareness of the holiday.
Zaila Avant-garde became the first African American to win the Scripps National Spelling Bee. In this audio story, the 14-year-old from Louisiana discusses her love of spelling, how she first started competing, and the other ways she channels her competitive spirit. Listen to hear thoughts from an accomplished spelling bee champ who hopes to become a role model for other girls.
Marsai Martin is Hollywood’s youngest executive producer. The 14-year-old pitched the idea for Little, a new comedy about a powerful executive who wakes up one morning in a child’s body, and she stars in the film as well. The teen actor got her acting breakthrough at age 10 on the hit sitcom Black-ish. She is not classically trained, but her colleagues say she is wise beyond her years. Listen to hear more about how Little came to be and how Marsai Martin became its executive producer.
Two photographers in Atlanta have undertaken an unusual project: turning kids into real-life versions of their wildest dreams. Whether it’s a creature from a fairy tale or an ancient prince, kids are invited to imagine who or what they might like to become, and to express their personalities in creative ways in front of the camera. Listen to hear the reactions of kids who have participated in an imaginative photo shoot, and find out what the photographers hope to accomplish through their project.
The movie about the superhero Black Panther is a phenomenon. The stars of the movie are black actors and it takes place in a fictitious African country that was never colonized by Europeans. The Black Panther has characters who are rulers of kingdoms, inventors, creators of advanced technology, and fierce women warriors who protect the king. Crowdfunders across the U.S. are raising money to take entire groups of kids to see this movie. Listen to this story to hear the reaction of fifth grade students after they saw the Black Panther.
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