American History

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Labor Day’s Violent Roots: The Hard Won Fight for Your Three-Day Weekend

Labor Day, workers rights


Labor Day wasn’t always about hot dogs and corn hole.

In fact, the holiday stemmed from a series of violent actions against workers in the late 19th century who were protesting miserable working conditions in an era where laborers were afforded few rights or protections. The hard fought struggles, which ultimately resulted in a marked improvement in labor conditions in many U.S. industries and helped spur an era of strong labor unions and expanded workers rights, is an essential part of American history but far too commonly overlooked.

These short videos provide a good overview on the history of Labor Day. Additionally, these articles from PBS and Scientific American give good background information, as does this Lowdown post on May Day and its relation to Labor Day.

Abigail Fisher’s Fight with Affirmative Action

Includes interactive timeline

Update July 24: The Supreme Court sent a challenge to the University of Texas’ affirmative action admissions process back to a lower court.

The compromise ruling throws out the decision by the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the Texas admission plan.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court, said the appeals court did not test the Texas plan under the most exacting level of judicial review. He said such a test is required by the court’s 2003 decision upholding affirmative action in higher education.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was the lone dissenter.


Next week the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to announce its decision on the constitutionality of race-based admissions policies at public universities. It will be the latest ruling in a long history of challenges to various affirmative action efforts. Specifically, the court will determine whether the goal of greater racial diversity on campus justifies preferential treatment for minority applicants.

Abigail Fisher, a white honors student who was rejected from the University of Texas in 2008, didn’t think so. She sued the school, claiming that its race-conscious admissions policy unfairly favored black and Hispanic applicants over whites and Asians. She said:

“There were people in my class with lower grades who weren’t in all the activities I was in who were being accepted into UT, and the only difference between us was the color of our skin… For an institution of higher learning to act this way makes no sense to me.”

The case came before the Supreme Court last October. The court’s upcoming ruling could have broad implications for universities and employers around the country.

Scroll through the timeline below for a history of game-changing events in the evolution of affirmative action.

(Best viewed in full screen mode

Why America Stopped Making Its Own Clothes

Includes data visualization and video

Try this on for size:

In 1960, an average American household spent over 10 percent of its income on clothing and shoes – equivalent to roughly $4,000 today. The average person bought fewer than 25 garments each year. And about 95 percent of those clothes were made in the United States.

Fast forward half a century.

Today, the average American household spends less than 3.5 percent of its budget on clothing and shoes – under $1,800. Yet, we buy more clothing than ever before: nearly 20 billion garments a year, close to 70 pieces of clothing per person, or more than one clothing purchase per week.

Oh, and guess how much of that is made in the U.S.: about 2 percent.

Browse through the timeline below to see how dramatically the cost and origin of our clothing has changed. And then continue reading to find out why.

Continue reading

Lesson Plan: An Educator’s Guide to Teaching Gun Control Issues

Includes downloadable lesson plan

guncontrol_guide_final2_Page_1

 

As part of a collaboration with the National Writing Project, this is the first in a series of teacher-created educator guides on key topical issues. Written by two NWP-affiliated high school English and media arts teachers – Kirsten Spall of Natomas Charter High School (Sacramento) and Chris Sloan of Judge Memorial Catholic School (Salt Lake City) – the guide helps teachers explore and navigate the highly-charged political and emotional issues behind the topic of gun control. Based on content featured on The Lowdown, the guide provides ideas for integrating the issues into English language arts and social studies curriculum. It includes Common Core Standards Alignment, a synopsis of key background information, integration tips, and lists of issue pros and cons, creative writing prompts and best classroom practices.

Download the entire guide here (PDF)

11 Million Strong: Counting America’s Undocumented Immigrants

Includes interactive map
Credit: Flickr/Jonathon Mcintosh

A roadside sign just north of the Tijuana border crossing. (Credit: Flickr/Jonathon Mcintosh)

What’s the plan for America’s 11.1 million undocumented immigrants?

It’s the million dollar question, and the most divisive element of the Senate’s sprawling new effort to overhaul the country’s messy immigration system. After months of painstaking negotiation, a bipartisan group of senators, known as the “Gang of Eight”, recently unveiled a proposal to — among other things — create a path to citizenship for the millions who live here in the shadows. But legislators have made abundantly clear that this proposal is a far cry from “amnesty”. The path they outlined for almost all the undocumented (except for young “DREAMers” who would be on a streamlined 5-year path) is a tedious, decade-plus-long process full of steep hurdles and strict conditions, in which citizenship is a distant destination at the end of a long journey. Continue reading

History of Immigration in America: A Turbulent Timeline

Includes interactive timeline and chart

Ever since the first Europeans landed here over four centuries ago, America has had a conflicted relationship with its newcomers. It’s a serial drama that continues today in the halls of Congress, as legislators wrestle over a new round of immigration reform. We are, of course, a nation of immigrants, a destination for huge numbers of people from around the world. And the vast majority of us – everyone, in fact, except for American Indians – can trace our roots to foreign lands. Despite that common thread, though, America has not always treated its newest residents with empathy.

There have been four major waves of immigration to America, the last of which – mainly from Mexico, other Latin American countries, and Asia – continues today. Several themes play out consistently in all four chapters:

  • Each successive wave of immigrants has been, to an extent, a reflection of social and economic conditions elsewhere in the world, and within the U.S. itself.
  • Nearly every cycle of newcomers has faced animosity and backlash from already assimilated communities.
  • The history of America’s immigration policy is a swinging door that often opens during periods of economic prosperity and slams shut when times get tough.

Scroll through the timeline below to follow the tangled history of America’s ever-changing immigration policies. (Easiest to view in full-screen mode) The interactive chart beneath it shows rates of legal immigration from 1820 to the present (use the scroll bar to zoom into specific chunks of time).

Immigrants obtaining legal permanent residency, 1820 to 2012

Note: In 1820, 8,385 immigrants legally entered the United States. The Census from that same year listed the total U.S. population at 9,638,453 (of which 1,538,022 were slaves.)  In 2012, the U.S. population was 312,780,968, and there were 1,031,631 legal immigrants.

Source: Department of Homeland Security, Office of Immigration Statistics

View data table

The Bomb That Shook San Francisco A Century Ago

Includes primary source video
Mooney

A mural by Anton Refregier depicting San Francisco’s 1916 bombing and the two men wrongfully accused of the act. The mural is on public display at San Francisco’s Rincon Center.

 

Although incredibly infrequent, bombings in crowded public places are unfortunately not a new phenomenon in America. This week’s Boston Marathon explosion harkens back to an often forgotten local tragedy nearly 100 years ago, when a bomb tore through downtown San Francisco during a major public event, killing 10 people and leaving scores of others seriously wounded.

The Preparedness Day Bombing, as it became known, was the worst act of terrorism in San Francisco’s history. It occurred just after 2 p.m on July 22, 1916 during a huge San Francisco parade that had been organized to drum up public support for the United States’ imminent entry into World War I. Not long after the 50,000 person march began, a huge blast echoed through the streets, set off by a pipe bomb filled with explosives and steel slugs that was hidden inside a suitcase and placed near the intersection of Steuart and Market streets, a stone’s throw from the Ferry Building. Continue reading

The Supreme Court Ended Mixed-Race Marriage Bans Less than 50 Years Ago

Includes video and map

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The last time the Supreme Court took up a case on marriage equality was 46 years ago when about one-third of all states in the country still had laws that banned people of different races from marrying each other. This week all eyes are on the High Court as it prepares to hear oral arguments on two cases related to same-sex marriage. At issue is whether gay marriage bans violate the rights those couples have to equal treatment under the law, as guaranteed by the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution. The Court’s rulings on both cases – expected by June – will likely be considered landmark decisions, ones that could potentially result in a dramatic widening of marriage rights for same-sex couples throughout the country … or a preservation of the status quo. The issue, though, harkens back to another, often forgotten, landmark civil rights decision from 1967 that similarly addressed marriage equality and the concept of equal protection of the law,  long before the notion of legalized same-sex marriage was considered even a remote possibility. Continue reading

10 Years After the Invasion: Visualizing Key Details on the War in Iraq

Includes multimedia visualizations and video

On March 20, 2003 U.S. forces invaded Iraq under the false pretense that its government was harboring weapons of mass destruction. Intended to be a brief mission to overthrow Saddam Hussein’s regime and find the weapons, the Defense Department estimated the effort would cost about $60 billion.  Today, 10 years later, Iraq is still reeling from a prolonged conflict that, according to a recent study, has cost the U.S. more than $2 trillion (and growing) and brought a death toll of nearly 190,000 civilians, soldiers, journalists and aid workers.

While the U.S. occupation did lead to the overthrow of Hussein and the semblance of a fragile democracy, it also launched the country into a state of civil war, fueled by an ongoing period of political instability and intense sectarian violence. The U.S. occupation officially ended in December of 2011, but today the bloodshed continues on a nearly daily basis as large swaths of Iraq remain mired in conflict.

This collection of visualizations illustrates some of the war’s cold hard facts, the big milestones, and the many layers of miscalculation and deception. Continue reading

Is It Time To Raise The Federal Minimum Wage?

Includes interactive maps, video, audio
Source: NPR

Source: NPR

 

Much of President Obama’s State of the Union address last Tuesday centered on the theme of boosting America’s dwindling middle class.

“It’s our generation’s task,” he implored, “to reignite the true engine of America’s economic growth — a rising, thriving middle class.”

Among the more tangible policies mentioned that evening to further that objective,  the president proposed raising the federal minimum wage – from $7.25 per hour to $9 by the end of 2015 –  and provide for annual cost of living adjustments. (This would apply to most hourly jobs, with some exceptions, including some tip-based work.)

“Let’s declare that in the wealthiest nation on earth, no one who works full time should have to live in poverty,” he said. “Working folks shouldn’t have to wait year after year for the minimum wage to go up, while CEO pay has never been higher. So here’s an idea that Gov. Romney and I actually agreed on last year: Let’s tie the minimum wage to the cost of living, so that it finally becomes a wage you can live on.” Continue reading