February 8, 2013
Carlotta Walls set out for her first day of 10th grade in a new dress. The year was 1957, and the school was Little Rock Central High. Walls and eight other African-American students were stopped by a white mob opposed to desegregation, and the ensuing confrontation between Arkansas and federal authorities took 20 days and Army troops to quell.
Walls recently donated the dress—patterned with numbers and letters—to the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Bill Pretzer, a curator, says her great-uncle bought it thinking, “Desegregating Little Rock merits a store-bought dress.” Walls graduated from Little Rock Central in 1960, after her home was bombed that February.
“I really did want that diploma,” she says, “to validate all of the crap that I had gone through.” Carlotta Walls LaNier, now 70, is president of the Little Rock Nine Foundation, which works for equal access to education.
For your first day of school at Little Rock Central High School, why was that store-bought dress so special?
“We didn’t purchase too often, to be honest with you, if you understand the Jim Crow South, you couldn’t try on clothes, and so forth, as I grew up. My mother was an expert seamstress, so she just made all of our clothes, including hers. My great uncle, knew that that was the case and he wanted me to have a store-bought dress to go to my new school, so he stopped by the house and asked my mother, he said, here’s the money and I want you to go get her a store-bought dress.”
What were you thinking life at your new school would be like?
“I knew that we could not do any extracurricular activity…I knew I was giving that piece up but I just figured that the following year I’d be able to get back to extracurricular activities. That part was okay. It was excitement for me, to be going to a new high school, and to be the one that was in my neighborhood. So that was what was going on in my mind.”
“Yes, I saw all of the anger, and the ugly faces across the street, but I ignored them, and I really did consider them ignorant people. To be honest with you, that is what really got me through the whole year, that I knew this was ignorance that was making these statements and not the type of people that I would associate with.”
Were your parents worried to send you?
“I think they were more proud of the fact that I had signed up to go without a discussion with them.”
“I know they were nervous by what they were reading, but they also felt confident that we were doing the right thing. When I wrote my book, I read some quotes of my father’s and he felt that, he had served in World War II, I had a right to go to that school and his tax dollars helped pay for that school, for the schooling that went on. And he felt that they didn’t separate his taxes, so why should we be separated as far as going to school?”
As the youngest, how did you relate to the rest of the Little Rock Nine?
“I listened to the seniors and juniors, even when I was in junior high school, I looked up to those who were older and were doing well, they were role models for me.”
“I must admit as the months went on, I recognized we were all equal in this, so you know my decision making got sharper and more focused, I think I was focused to start with, otherwise I wouldn’t have gone there anyway, but as far as decision making I was making some decisions that were somewhat different than some of the others because I looked at the landscape a little bit differently.”
“One in particular. . .I was thinking about Minnijean [Brown-Trickey] and Melba [Pattillo Beals] and a couple of others who bought their lunch every day in the cafeteria. That was a battleground in my mind that, you knew that you were going to have to deal with being pushed and shoved. . .in line to purchase your lunch. So I brought my lunch every day, so I wouldn’t have to deal with that. I dealt with it enough in the hallways and in the classrooms. My one break was having lunch, so why have to continue that sort of thing in the lunch line?”
But you made it through the first year and then came back your senior year, even after the governor closed the school for an entire year?
“I was determined to finish that year, I was not going to give up, because that way they would’ve won, and I was not about to let that happen. Because of my sports involvement, I was a pretty competitive person. I was just not going to let that happen. I didn’t have to go back, but after awhile, after that first and the second year the schools were closed, I went back my senior year to finish, because I really did want that diploma to validate all of the crap that I had gone through.”
“I remember being back on the campus and the fact that there were no guards there to protect us. I was cautious, there was no question about that, however, I also felt that the senior class members were in the 10th grade with me. . .they had suffered just like I had in a sense with school being out and they were low people on the totem pole too, so now that they were in a leadership position, they were determined not to have the same sort of things to go on. Not to say that they stopped a lot of things, but the tone was different and they didn’t want the schools to be closed either, they were happy to be back in school.”
Why did your mom keep your first day of school dress all those years?
“She just packed it up and put it in the cedar chest. I think not knowing, but at the same feeling that it meant something, she kept it. And I’m just happy she did.”
February 4, 2013
In the early 1900s, a small utopian settlement of African American families took shape in the New Mexico plains about 20 miles south of Roswell. Founded by homesteader Francis Marion Boyer, who was fleeing threats from the Ku Klux Klan, the town of Blackdom, New Mexico, became the state’s first community of African Americans. By 1908, the town had reached its zenith with a thriving population of 300, supporting local businesses, a newspaper and a church. However, after crop failures and other calamities, the town by the late 1920s had rapidly depopulated. Today little remains of the town—an ambitious alternative to the racist realities elsewhere—except a plaque on a lonely highway. But a small relic now lives on at the National Postal Museum, which recently acquired the postal account book kept for Blackdom from 1912 t0 1919.
“Here the black man has an equal chance with the white man. Here you are reckoned at the value which you place upon yourself. Your future is in your own hands.”
Lucy Henderson wrote these words to the editor of The Chicago Defender, a black newspaper, in December, 1912, trying to persuade others to come settle in the home she had found in Blackdom. She said, “I feel I owe it to my people to tell them of this free land out here.”
Boyer traveled more than 1,000 miles on foot from Georgia to New Mexico to start a new life and a new town in the land his father once visited during the Mexican-American War. With a loan from the Pacific Mutual Company, Boyer dug a well and began farming. Boyer’s stationery proudly read, “Blackdom Townsite Co., Roswell, New Mexico. The only exclusive Negro settlement in New Mexico.” Though work on the homesteading town began in 1903, the post office would not open until 1912.
When it did, Henderson was able to brag to Chicago readers, “We have a post office, store, church, school house, pumping plant, office building and several residents already established.”
“The climate is ideal,” Henderson claimed in her letter. “I have only this to say,” she went on, “any one coming to Blackdom and deciding to throw in their lot with us will never have cause to regret it.”
By the late 1920s, the town was deserted, after a drought in 1916 and less-than-plentiful yields.
The post office spanned nearly the entire life of the town, operating from 1912 to 1919. Records in the account book detail the money orders coming in and out of Blackdom. “When you look at a money order,” explains Postal Museum specialist Lynn Heidelbaugh, “particularly for a small community setting itself up, this is them sending money back home to their homes and families and setting up their new farms.”
Though Blackdom did not survive and never expanded to the size Lucy Henderson may have hoped, black settlements like it were common elsewhere during a period of migration sometimes called the Great Exodus following the Homestead Act of 1862, particularly in Kansas. According to a 2001 archaeological study on the Blackdom region from the Museum of New Mexico, “During the decade of the 1870s, 9,500 blacks from Kentucky and Tennessee migrated to Kansas. By 1880 there were 43,110 blacks in Kansas.”
Partly pushed out of the South after the failures of Reconstruction, many of the families were also pulled West. The report goes on, “Land speculators used a variety of methods in developing a town’s population. They advertised town lots by distributing handbills, newspapers, and pamphlets to a target population. They sponsored round-trip promotional excursions that featured reduced rail fares for Easterners and offered free land for schools and churches.”
The towns had varying degrees of success and many of the promises of paid passage and waiting success proved false. Still, the Topeka Colored Citizen declared in 1879, “If blacks come here and starve, all well. It is better to starve to death in Kansas than to be shot and killed in the South.”
After the Blackdom post office closed, the money book was handed off to a nearby station. The book sat in the back office for decades until a savvy clerk contacted a historian with the Postal Service, who helped the document find a new home at the Postal Museum, years after its old home had vanished.
February 1, 2013
Black soldiers could not officially join the Union army until the Emancipation Proclamation was issued on January 1, 1863. But, on the ground, they had been fighting and dying from the beginning.
When three escaped slaves arrived at Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia, in May, 1861, Union General Benjamin Butler had to make a choice. Under the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, he was compelled to return the men into the hands of the slaveowner. But Virginia had just signed the ordinances of secession. Butler determined that he was now operating in a foreign territory and declared the men “contraband of war.”
When more enslaved men, women and children arrived at the fort, Butler wrote to Washington for advice. In these early days of the Civil War, Lincoln avoided the issue of emancipation entirely. A member of his cabinet suggested Butler simply keep the people he found useful and return the rest. Butler replied, “So should I keep the mother and send back the child?” Washington left it up to him, and he decided to keep all of the 500 enslaved individuals who found their way to his fort.
“This was the beginning of an informal arrangement that enabled the union to protect fugitive slaves but without addressing the issue of emancipation,” says Ann Shumard, senior curator of photographs at the National Portrait and the curator behind the new exhibit opening February 1, “Bound For Freedom’s Light: African Americans and the Civil War.”
Though many know of the actions and names of people like Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth, hundreds of names have been more or less lost to history. Individuals like those who made the dangerous journey to Fort Monroe tell a very different story of the Civil War than usually rehearsed.
“They were very much active agents of their own emancipation in many instances and strong advocates for the right to participate in military operations,” says Shumard, who gathered 20 carte de visite portraits, newspaper illustrations, recruitment posters and more to tell this story.
Amid the stories of bravery both inside and outside of the military, though, rests a foreboding uncertainty. There are reminders throughout the exhibit that freedom was not necessarily what waited on the other side of the Union lines.
“There were no guarantees that permanent liberty would be the outcome,” says Shumard. Even grand gestures like the Emancipation Proclamation often fell flat in the daily lives of blacks in the South. “It didn’t really free anybody,” says Shumard. The Confederates, of course, did not recognize its legitimacy. All it truly ensured was that blacks could now fight in a war in which they were already inextricably involved.
Events like the July, 1863 draft riot in New York City, represented in the exhibit with a page of illustrations published in Harper’s Weekly, served as a reminder that, “New York was by no means a bastion of Northern support.” According to Shumard, “There was a strong amount of sympathy for the Confederacy.” Though the five-day riot began in protest against the unequal draft lottery policies that would allow wealthy people to simply pay their way out of service, anger quickly turned against the city’s freed black population. “No one was safe,” says Shumard. Shown in the illustrations, one black man was dragged into the street, beaten senseless and then hanged from a tree and burned before the crowd.
Joining the Union cause was also an uncertain prospect. Before the emancipation proclamation, it was unclear what might happen to escaped slaves at the end of the war. One suggestion, according to Shumard, was to sell them back to Southern slaveowners to pay for the war.
“There were times when one might have thought that the outcome of a battle or something else would have discouraged enlistment when in fact it actually only made individuals more eager to fight,” Shumard says.
Meanwhile, black soldiers had to find their place in a white army. Officers from an early Louisiana guard of black troops organized by Butler, for instance, were demoted because white officers “objected to having to salute or otherwise recognize black peers.”
Frederick Douglass encouraged service nonetheless, calling on individuals “to claim their rightful place as citizens of the United States.”
Many did, and many, in fact, had already.
A celebrated tale at the time, the story of deckhand Robert Smalls’ escape from the Confederates inspired the North. Smalls had been sent away as a young child in South Carolina to earn wages to send back to his slave master. By 1861, he was working on a Confederate ship. With his shipmates, he plotted to commandeer the vessel while the white crew was ashore. Before the sun rose one morning in May, 1862, the group set to work, navigating their way toward Union lines. Disguised with the captain’s straw hat and comfortable moving around the fortifications and submerged mines, Smalls made his way to safety and went on to pilot the same boat for the Union army. Shumard says, “There was great rejoicing in the North at this daring escape because he had not only escaped with his shipmates, but they had also picked up members of their families on the way out.”
But often these stories were treated with derision by the popular press, as in the instance of a man known simply as Abraham who was said to have been literally “blown to freedom.” As a slave working for the Confederate army, Abraham was reportedly blasted across enemy lines when Union soldiers detonated explosives beneath the Confederate’s earthen fortifications.
“The Harper’s Weekly article that was published after this happened tended to treat the whole episode as a humorous moment,” says Shumard. “You find that often in the mainstream coverage of incidents with African American troops, that it can sometimes devolve almost into minstrelsy. They asked him how far he had traveled and he was quoted as saying, about three miles.”
Abraham stayed with the Union troops as a cook for General McPherson.
“By the end of the Civil War, roughly 179,000 black men (10 percent of the Union Army) served as soldiers in the U.S. Army and another 19,000 served in the Navy,” according to the National Archives. “Nearly 40,000 black soldiers died over the course of the war—30,000 of infection or disease.”
Posed near the final print of the exhibit showing a triumphant Lincoln striding through crowds of adoring supporters in Richmond, Virginia, in 1865, are portraits of two unidentified black soldiers, a private and a corporal. The images are commonplace mementos from the war. Soldiers white and black would fill photography studios to get their pictures taken in order to have something to give to family left behind. The loved ones, “could only wait and hope for their soldier’s safe return.”
The now anonymous pair look brave, exchanging a steady gaze with the viewer. But they were not simply contemplating an uncertain fate of life or death, a soldier’s safe return. Instead, they stared down the uncertainty of life as it had been and life as it might be.
”Bound For Freedom’s Light: African Americans and The Civil War” is on view through March 2, 2014 at the National Portrait Gallery.
December 11, 2012
Last week’s holiday gift guide had a little something for everyone: science lover, wordsmiths, artsy types and history buffs. But this week, we’re bringing you the unabridged list of history picks, each of which were recommended by researchers, curators and staff at the Institution so they’ve got the smarty stamp of approval.
So stop sneezing over perfume samples and sorting through silk ties, this list of more than 30 titles, from hip-hop history for newcomers to the Civil War canon, is all you’ll need this holiday season.
Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff. The Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer delivers a dramatic account of one of the most famed but misunderstood women of all time. The New York Times called it “a cinematic portrait of a historical figure far more complex and compelling than any fictional creation, and a wide, panning, panoramic picture of her world.” (Recommended by Laurel Fritzsch, project assistant at the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation)
The Lost World of James Smithson: Science, Revolution, and the Birth of the Smithsonian by Heather Ewing. Learn more about this British chemist and the Institution’s founder, who left his fortunes to a country he’d never even set foot in, all in the name of science and knowledge. (Recommended by Robyn Einhorn, project assistant for armed forces history at the American History Museum)
Young Romantics: The Tangled Lives of English Poetry’s Greatest Generation by Daisy Hay. In addition to the celebrated figures of Lord Byron, Mary Shelley and John Keats, Hay’s book also weaves in mistresses, journalists and in-laws for a riveting tale of personal drama. (Recommended by Laurel Fritzsch, project assistant at the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation)
Genius of Place: The Life of Frederick Law Olmsted by Justin Martin. “Olmsted did so many different things in life, that it’s like reading a history of the country to read about him,” says the Institution’s Amy Karazsia. Not just the landscape architect behind everything from Central Park to Stanford University, Olmsted was also an outspoken abolitionist, whose social values informed his design. (Recommended by Amy Karazsia, director of giving at the American History Museum)
Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature by Philip Nel. Not as famous as their mentee Maurice Sendak, Johnson and Krauss lived just as colorful a life creating children’s classic, including Harold and the Purple Crayon, that endure even today. (Recommended by Peggy Kidwell, curator of medicine and science at the American History Museum)
Big Chief Elizabeth: The Adventures and Fate of the First English Colonists in America by Giles Milton. A look at some of the first settlers, including a Native American who had been taken captive, traveled to England and then returned to America as Lord and Governor before disappearing. Milton unravels the mystery of what happened to those early settlers. (Recommended by Carol Slatick, museum specialist at the American History Museum)
The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilization, 1600-1675 by Bernard Bailyn. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author who has written profusely on early American history here turns his eye to the people already on North America’s shores when the British arrived and their interactions with the colonists. (Recommended by Rayna Green, curator of home and community life at the American History Museum)
Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different by Gordon S. Wood. For those who think they have the complete picture of the founding fathers, allow Pulitzer Prize-winning author Gordon S. Wood to fill in the details and explain what made each unique. (Recommended by Lee Woodman, senior advisor for the office of the director at the American History Museum)
Empire of Liberty: A History of the Early Republic, 1789-1815 by Gordon S. Wood. And for those who like their Pulitzer Prize winners to take a broader look, Wood’s Empire of Liberty examines the larger context in which those greats from his Revolutionary Characters worked. (Recommended by Timothy Winkle, curator of home and community life at the American History Museum)
Six Frigates: The epic history of the founding of the US Navy, by Ian W. Toll. Our Smithsonian recommender wrote that this book is a, “real page-turner about the politics surrounding the creation of a navy, the shipbuilding process, the Navy culture of the time, characteristics of each ship and the characters who served on them,” from the War of 1812, the Mediterranean naval actions and more. (Recommended by Brett Mcnish, supervisory horticulturalist at Smithsonian Gardens)
The Burning of Washington: The British Invasion of 1814 by Anthony Pitch. The story of how Dolly Madison rescued George Washington’s portrait from the White House when it was engulfed in flames during the British attack is by now common classroom stuff. But Pitch breathes new life into the now quaint tale, delivering a gripping account of the actions as they unfolded. (Recommended by Cathy Keen, archives curator at the American History Museum)
What This Cruel War Was Over: Soldiers, Slavery, and the Civil War by Chandra Manning. We remember the Civil War through the words of famous men, but Manning returns the struggle’s voice to those who fought, including both black and white soldiers as she pulls from journals, letters and regimental newspapers. (Recommended by Barbara Clark Smith, curator of political history at the American History Museum)
The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery by Eric Foner. Though we learn more about the man every year, Abraham Lincoln’s true relationship to the issue of slavery remains buried somewhere between pragmatism and indignation. This account from the Pulitzer Prize-winning Foner brings out the nuance of the full conversation, not shying away from the difficult and sometimes contradictory parts. (Recommended by Arthur Molella, director of the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation)
Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard. The best-selling book just released in June details the attempted assassination of President Garfield in 1881. Full of intrigue, the book found fans in the Smithsonian partly because the apparatus Alexander Graham Bell used to find the bullet which wounded the President is actually in the collections. (Recommended by Roger Sherman, curator of medicine and science for the American History Museum)
Guest of Honor: Booker T. Washington, Theodore Roosevelt and the White House Dinner That Shocked a Nation by Deborah Davis. Though enslaved African Americans built the White House, none had ever dined there until Booker T. Washington was invited to by President Roosevelt. The incredibly controversial dinner engulfed the country in outrage but Davis places it within a larger story, uniting the biographies of two very different men. (Recommended by Joann Stevens, program director of Jazz Appreciation Month at the American History Museum)
Freedom Summer: The Savage Season of 1964 That Made Mississippi Burn and Made America a Democracy by Bruce Watson. Racism consumed the entire nation, but the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee chose Mississippi as one of the worst offenders. A modest army of hundreds of students and activists went to the state to man voter registration drives and fill the schools with teachers. Though the summer produced change, it also witnessed the murder of three young men whose deaths would not be solved until years later. (Recommended by Christopher Wilson, program director of African American culture at the American History Museum)
The Years of Lyndon Johnson by Robert Caro. This four-volume monolith by the Pulitzer Prize winning Robert Caro runs more than 3,000 pages and yet it captured the adoration of nearly every reviewer for its painstakingly thorough and engaging biography of a complicated man and era. (Recommended by Rayna Green, curator of home and community life at the American History Museum)
Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era by James McPherson. As Alex Dencker says, this is, “not a typical Civil War book.” McPherson deftly handles the Civil War while also creating a portrait of what made America unique, from its infrastructure, to its agriculture to its populations, to set the stage in a new way. (Recommended by Alex Dencker, horticulturalist at Smithsonian Gardens)
City of Scoundrels: The 12 Days of Disaster That Gave Birth to Modern Chicago by Gary Krist. July 1919 proved particularly eventful in Chicago, with a race riot, the Goodyear blimp disaster and a dramatic police hunt for a missing girl. Krist looks beyond the buzz of headlines to capture a city in transformation. (Recommended by Bonnie Campbell Lilienfeld, supervisor curator of home and community life at the American History Museum)
Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America by Juan Gonzalez. A revised and updated edition of a comprehensive work from columnist Juan Gonzalez provides a contemporary look at the long history of a diverse group whose national profile continues to rise. (Recommended by Magdalena Mieri, program director in Latino history and culture at the American History Museum)
The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued their Bosses and Changed the Workplace by Lynn Povich. Valeska Hilbig, from the American History Museum, loved the way this book, “as compelling as any novel,” also provided “an accurate, intimate history of new women journalists invading the male journalistic world of the 1970s” to reveal how women’s struggle for recognition in the workplace may just be beginning. (Recommended by Valeska Hilbig, public affairs specialist at the American History Museum)
At Home: A Short History of Private Life by Bill Bryson. If you happen to, like Bill Bryson, live in a 19th century English rectory, you might assume your home is full of history. But Bryson shows us, in addition to touring his own home, that these private and often ignored spaces hold the story of human advancement. (Recommended by Laurel Fritzsch, project assistant at the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation)
Poisons of the Past: Molds, Epidemics, and History by Mary Kilbourne Matossian. Could food poisoning have been at the heart of some of Europe’s strangest moments in history? That’s what Matossian argues in her look at how everything from food preparation to climate may have shaped a region’s history. (Recommended by Carol Slatick, museum specialist at the American History Museum)
Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs: Biological and Chemical Warfare in the Ancient World by Adrienne Mayor. An easy read that looks at the often dark and very long history of biological warfare, using everything from Greek mythology to evidence from archeological dig sties. (Recommended by Carol Slatick, museum specialist at the American History Museum)
The Republic of Nature: An Environmental History of the United States by Mark Fiege. In a sweeping history, Fiege persuasively argues that no moment in time can be separated from its environment, brining together natural and social history. (Recommended by Jeffrey Stine, supervisory curator of medicine and science at the American History Museum)
Sea of Glory: America’s Voyage of Discovery, The U.S. Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842 by Nathaniel Philbrick. Our insider, Brett McNish, described the text and its connection to the institution saying it was, “a brilliant read about the U.S. Exploring Expedition (a.k.a. Wilkes Expedition) and what would become the basis of the Smithsonian’s collection,” noting that, “Smithsonian Gardens has descendants of some of the plants Wilkes brought back in our Orchid Collection and garden areas.” (Recommended by Brett McNish, supervisory horticulturalist of grounds management)
The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson. 1854 London was both a thriving young metropolis and the perfect breeding ground for a deadly cholera outbreak. Johnson tells the story not just of the outbreak, but how the outbreak influenced that era’s fledgling cities and scientific worldview. (Recommended by Judy Chelnick, curator of medicine and science at the American History Museum)
The Arcanum The Extraordinary True Story By Janet Gleeson. The search for an elixir has long obsessed man, but in the early 18th century, Europeans were hard at work on another mystery: how exactly the East made its famed and envied porcelain. Gleeson tells the diverting tale of that fevered search with flourish. (Recommended by Robyn Einhorn, project assistant for armed forces history at the American History Museum)
The Skull Collectors: Race, Science, and America’s Unburied Dead by Ann Fabian. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, the story of skull collecting in a misguided effort to confirm racist stereotypes of the 1800s is a dark, even ghoulish tale. Fabian takes one noted naturalist, Samuel George Morton, who collected hundreds of skulls over his lifetime as she unpacks a society’s cranial obsession. (Recommended by Barbara Clark Smith, curator of political history at the American History Museum)
The Poisoner’s Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum. For years, poisons had been the preferred weapon of the country’s underworld. All that changed, however, in 1918 when Charles Norris was named New York City’s chief medical examiner and made it his mission to apply science to his work. (Recommended by Laurel Fritzsch, project assistant at the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation)
Groove Music: The Art and Culture of the Hip-Hop DJ by Mark Katz. Told from the point of the view of the very people at the center of the genre’s creation, Katz’s history of hip-hop relies on the figure of the DJ to tell its story and reveal the true innovation of the craft that began in the Bronx. (Recommended by Laurel Fritzsch, project assistant at the Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention and Innovation)
Underground Dance Masters: Final History of a Forgotten Era by Thomas Guzmán Sánchez. According to the Institution’s Marvette Perez, the text “captures the essence of hip-hop culture in California, not only from a great student of hip hop and popular culture, but one who was part of the movement back in the day, a great account.” Looking at the break dance movement that predated hip-hop’s origins, Sánchez details what made California’s scene so unique. (Recommended by Marvette Perez, curator of culture and the arts at the American History Museum)
Read more articles about the holidays with our Smithsonian Holiday Guide here