Category Archives: History

How the Canadian Government Tried to “Remove the Indian From the Child”

Betty Ann Adam was three years old when she was taken from her mother in what is known as the “’60s Scoop,” a period spanning 30 years in which indigenous children in Canada were removed from their homes to be placed with white families as church-run residential schools were closing. “The government’s stated intention with the residential schools was to ‘remove the Indian from the child,’ by removing them from their parents and having them educated by white Christians” — another horrific, government-endorsed attempt at cultural genocide.

At the Saskatoon StarPhoenix, Betty Ann Adam recounts her abduction, her trials fitting into white society, and her trepidation — and eventual joy — at being reunited with her blood relatives.

I’m in a police car. It’s a hot summer day and the seat is burning my legs. The woman puts me on her lap. Next, I’m in an airplane looking down at tiny cars on the road. Finally, I’m at the farm where I find myself, without knowing why, living a new life.

I was part of the Sixties Scoop. I’m an indigenous woman who was raised as a foster child in a non-native home. My birth mother, Mary Jane Adam, attended Holy Angels Indian Residential School in Fort Chipewyan, Alta. She left the school in her teens but never returned to the reserve to live.

I realized my indigenous identity had felt like a shadow that followed me and that I had feared all my life. When I stopped running and turned to meet it, I saw a friend. I saw my family. I saw myself.

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The Tears and Tenacity of the Mothers of the Disappeared

During the ’70s and early ’80s, 30,000 people “disappeared” during Argentina’s Dirty War — some of them pregnant women who gave birth in detention centers, had their babies stolen, and were then killed. Delia’s daughter Stella was one of those women. Aided by other mothers and grandmothers, Delia never stopped looking for her lost grandson. Bridget Huber tells the story of Delia’s search in California Sunday magazine.

Delia counted the days until Stella’s due date. Then she started looking for Martín, too. A neighbor whose own son was missing told her that searching mothers were meeting in the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires. The first time Delia went, there were just a handful of mothers, but their numbers multiplied each week. The women made head scarves from cloth diapers they’d saved from their children’s infancy and embroidered them with their missing sons’ and daughters’ names; their white kerchiefs would come to symbolize the search. Public assemblies were forbidden, so the women would make counter­clockwise laps around the plaza, sometimes prodded along by soldiers’ gun barrels. (Within a year, three of the mothers would disappear.) In the plaza, Delia met other women who were looking for pregnant daughters or daughters-in-law. Soon they were meeting in parks and coffee shops. They’d bring props like knitting or birthday gifts to pass themselves off as harmless grandmothers on a social call. But really they were plotting investigations. The women made the rounds at candy stores and orphanages and spied on families that might have acquired a child under murky circumstances. They gathered evidence and stuck it in tin cans that they buried in their gardens.

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The Revolution Will Be Handmade!

At one time, women’s education included critical training in needle arts like sewing and knitting, which were “not only necessary skills but also political tools for the women involved in resisting authority.” At PBS, Corinne Segal reports on pussy hats and brain hats as just two examples in a long line of handmade symbols of women pitting themselves against the status quo. Then and now, knitting circles are perfect environments in which to sew the seeds of political and social discontent.

In October 2014, Sewell and Payne helped form the Yarn Mission, a knitting collective aimed at fighting racial injustice through community organizing and by supporting black creators’ work. The quiet setting of a knitting circle has helped them discuss difficult topics, Payne said. “A lot of times what we’re talking about is really traumatic,” she said. “It’s the only way I’m able to talk about a lot of the things that have happened in Ferguson and continue to happen in St. Louis.”

Recent marches such as the Women’s March on Jan. 21 and the March for Science on Saturday have brought knitting into the international spotlight and lured newcomers to a symbol of activism that dates back hundreds of years.

Academics and historians say that these new knitters are tapping into a long history of needle arts in the U.S. that is inextricably bound up in race, gender and class issues. Its recent popularity is only the latest chapter.

And during the movement for abolition, sewing circles continued to serve as a place for women to exchange ideas and talk about political work. The Liberator, an abolitionist newspaper published by William Lloyd Garrison between 1831 and 1965, wrote on Dec. 3, 1847:

“Sewing Circles are among the best means for agitating and keeping alive the question of anti-slavery. … A friend in a neighboring town recently said to us, Our Sewing Circle is doing finely, and contributes very much to keep up the agitation of the subject. Some one of the members generally reads an anti-slavery book or paper to the others during the meeting, and thus some who don’t get a great deal of anti-slavery at home have an opportunity of hearing it at the circle.”

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Tell Me What Donut You Prefer, and I’ll Tell You Who You Are

freshly glazed donuts on a conveyer belt

Have you ever thought really hard about donuts? Like, 7,000 words hard? Keaton Lamle did, The Bitter Southerner published it, and it’s very much worth the reading — an extended meditation on food, America, capitalism, regional identity, and the future. Turns out we have a lot to learn from donuts.

Lamle, who can be forgiven for reserving his most effusive gushing for Krispy Kreme rather than Dunkin’ by the accident of his Southern birth, gets a bit more personal when reminiscing about the famous Krispy Kreme “Hot Now” sign. And I’ll give him that; a freshly-fried donut is a thing of beauty and joy forever.

They are very much not all over Atlanta, or Birmingham, or Charlotte. Despite expansion around the turn of the 21st century, you’ve still got to go out of your way to find Krispy Kreme stores. In fact, it’s almost like they find you. You’re driving down Atlanta’s magnolia-draped Ponce De Leon Avenue, and red, cursive neon, evocative of a ’50s downtown movie marquee, unexpectedly beckons. Majestic Ks that trail to the end of each word — somehow without connoting the South’s tortured history with such plosive consonants and alliterative acronyms — calling you to come.

The inevitable dilemma comes when you spot that anachronistic “Hot Now” neon sign ablaze. The promise you’ve made to yourself or spouse or kids: that if it’s hot, we stop. But shit, that’ll mean pulling a U-turn across three lanes of traffic. That’ll mean turning around and fighting to get in the parking lot. Is anybody in this car even hungry? Can’t we let it slide this one time? What inviolable principle are we even abiding by with this “it’s hot, we must stop” directive, anyway?

For me, the prospect of wearing the paper sailor’s hats on Instagram usually ends the argument.

You’ll still pry my Dunkin’ Donuts medium iced latte and Bavarian cream donut out of my cold, powdered-sugar-covered, New Jersey-born hands, but Lamle’s piece is piped full of food for thought. (Zing!)

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Where Were You the First Time You Realized the Government Wasn’t Always On the Ball?

Pacific Standard writer Kate Wheeling and editor Max Ufberg wrangled a comprehensive, meticulous, and fascinating oral history of the 1969 oil spill off Santa Barbara, California, that galvanized environmental activism, ultimately leading to the creation of a slew of federal environmental regulations and agencies. The whole read is great—Wheeling and Ufberg pulled in everyone from local activists to oil company lawyers to journalists—but one section on cleanup tactics stands out as both interesting and quaint.

Bottoms: The way they cleaned it up was they brought in straw. Bales and bales of straw.

Hazard: They didn’t have the oil response teams that they have now. We were totally unprepared for it. You know, what were we going to do?

Relis: I thought these oil companies and the federal government had sort of a game plan, but this was a joke. They were throwing straw down on the beach to lap up the oil with pitchforks and hiring people off the street! I mean, this was funky.

Bottoms: And they’d throw the straw out into the harbor too, and they’d take pitchforks and get convicts down there in little barges and lift the straw out of the ocean and drive the straw up the coast to a dump.

Relis: That was kind of eye-opening — that big companies and big government can be so incompetent.

It’s true, kids! Barely more than 40 years ago, government and corporations were assumed to be generally competent and responsible. The times, how they change.

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Coretta Scott King Fuelled the Civil Rights Movement with ‘Courage, Dignity, and Poise’

Did you know that after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated, the Memphis Fire Department sent his widow, Coretta Scott King, a bill for transporting him to the hospital? At Lenny, resident historian Alexis Coe talks with Wayne Dowdy, manager of the history department in the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library in Memphis, Tennessee, on how racist tension and discrimination created the environment in which King was assassinated and how Coretta Scott King’s “courage, dignity, and poise” in the face of horrific tragedy fueled the civil rights movement.

Alexis Coe: Coretta Scott King returned to the city where her husband had been assassinated three days after claiming his body. This was truly extraordinary. On a national level, she’s demonstrating that the civil-rights movement would not be deterred by the death of its leader. If she could, in the most nascent days of her widowhood, with small children at home mourning the loss of their father, show up to fight, so should everyone else. And on a local level, she’s telling Memphis, and Mayor Loeb, this needs to end. Now. How closely was the country watching her and, by extension, Loeb?

Wayne Dowdy: The courage, dignity, and poise shown by Mrs. King impressed many Americans and certainly influenced the many white Memphians who pressured Loeb to settle the strike. In addition, Mrs. King’s two visits must have influenced the conduct of the majority of Memphians who, unlike those in other urban centers, stayed true to Dr. King’s philosophy of nonviolence.

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On the Hunt for the Romanov Easter Eggs

Tsarevich Fabergé Egg

When Czarina Maria Feodorovna opened the plain white enameled egg on that early Easter day, she was met with a series of delightful surprises.

First, she found a round yolk made entirely of gold. That opened to reveal a beautiful gold hen with ruby red eyes. The midsection of the hen swung up, and inside was a small, diamond-encrusted replica of a royal crown and a tiny, delicate ruby egg.

Take a peek, Fabergé has a slide show of a few of the eggs. Kind of takes the thrill out of your Cadbury Creme, your Kinder Surprise.

After the fall of the Romanov dynasty, the royal art collections were plundered. The stunning Easter eggs, save one ferried away by the fleeing Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, were packed up and taken to Moscow, stashed away in a dark corner of the Kremlin Armory.

Empires fall, eggs break. Or, in this case, are sold off by Stalin to fund the regime.

Allison McNearny describes the intricate creations, their history, and the accidental discovery of one lost egg at The Daily Beast.

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Is That a Pillowcase Full of Human Hair, or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

a collection of wigs, in different lengths, styles, and h

Annie Correal’s New York Times story on the last of New York’s custom wigmakers has a little bit of everything—celebrity gossip, history, international trade, religious scandal, trash-talking Italian wig artists*, and the sentence “Nicholas Piazza keeps 600 pounds of hair in his Staten Island garage.”

The three-foot braids in Mr. Piazza’s garage came into his possession in the mid-1990s. One day, two Russian men appeared in his shop carrying suitcases. “Natural blonds, natural reds, straight off people’s heads,” he said. It was the kind of hair known in the industry as “liquid gold” — Caucasian hair untouched by Western chemicals, long and remy. “I say, ‘Whoa, fellows, you don’t have to go no further; let’s talk.’”

Of his Russian dealer’s shipments, Mr. Piazza recalled: “Sometimes it came stitched in pillows. Sometimes he would ship 20, 30 kilos of hair at a time. Sometimes I’d be going to an apartment in Brighton Beach at 2 in the morning or meeting a plane at Kennedy. He’d hand me a suitcase, and I’d hand him an envelope.”

* My new favorite insult: “hairpiece finagler.”

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Arkansas’ Capital Punishment Spree: ‘It Ain’t Gonna Work on Some of Them’

the table in the lethal injection room at san quentin prison in california

Arkansas is running out of time to execute seven death row inmates. The supply of one of the drugs the state plans to use in the lethal injections—drugs which will be used for the first time—expires at the end of April, and finding a new supply won’t be easy. “It ain’t gonna work on some of them,” says Jeff Rosenzweig, a veteran Arkansas defense attorney who’s working on clemency petitions for several of the condemned. Botched executions using questionable new methods are not new for the state of Arkansas, reports Liliana Segura at The Intercept.

It did not take long for this lie to be dramatically exposed. Nine years after killing Simms, Arkansas carried out one of the most grotesque executions the country had ever seen. Following the departure of the longtime warden at the state penitentiary, prison officials selected an unidentified “volunteer” executioner—an English car salesman who had taken a correspondence course in electricity, according to a 1922 article in the Arkansas Democrat—who flipped the switch to kill an 18-year-old black man named James Wells. To the horror of witnesses, most of whom fled minutes into the execution, Wells stayed alive over repeated attempts to send lethal currents through his body. On the twelfth try, the young man finally died.

Newspapers decried the spectacle. The Democrat’s editorial page called it a “horrible and revolting disgrace on the state of Arkansas,” calling for experts to carry out executions, and exhorting the governor to ensure that “there are no repetitions of this horrible human butchery.” Yet less than a year later, Arkansas carried out a quadruple execution, only to realize as officials prepared to bury the four men, that one of them was still alive. This time, the press was a bit more matter-of-fact. “He was taken from the coffin and again placed in the electric chair,” according to one report.

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Considering the Wall

Max Adams | In the Land of Giants: A Journey Through the Dark Ages | Pegasus | October 2016 | 15 minutes (4,012 words) 

Below is an excerpt from In the Land of the Giants, by Max Adams. This story is recommended by Longreads contributing editor Dana Snitzky.

* * *

I am surprised when I come suddenly upon the Wall.

Just after dawn on a late November day the North Pennines air is rigid with cold. A thick hoar of frost blankets pasture and hedge, reflecting white-blue light back at an empty sky. The last russet leaves clinging to a copse of beech trees set snug in the fold of a river valley filter lazy, hanging drifts of smoke from a wood fire. The sunlight is a dreamy veil of cream silk.

I am surprised when I come suddenly upon the Wall. I have not followed the neat, fenced, waymarked route from the little village of Gilsland which straddles the high border between Northumberland and Cumbria, but struck directly across country and, with the sun in my eyes, I do not see Hadrian’s big idea until I am almost in its shadow. Sure, it stops you in your tracks. It is too big to climb over (that being the point), so I walk beside it for a couple of hundred yards. The imperfect regularity of the sandstone blocks is mesmerizing, passing before one’s eyes like the holes on a reel of celluloid. This film is an epic: eighty Roman miles, a strip cartoon story that tells of military might, squaddy boredom, quirky native gods, barbarian onslaught, farmers, archaeologists, ardent modern walkers and oblivious livestock. I am somewhere between Mile 49 and Mile 50, counting west from Wallsend near the mouth of the River Tyne. The gap in the Wall, when I find it, is made by the entrance to Birdoswald fort. Birdoswald: where the Dark ages begin.

There is no one here but me on this shining day. The farm that has stood here in various guises for around fifteen hundred years is now a heritage center. On a winter weekday I have Birdoswald to myself. Just me and the shimmering light and the odd chough cawing away in a skeletal tree. In places the stone walls of this once indomitable military outpost still stand five or six feet high. Visible, in its heyday, from all horizons, the Roman fort layout was built on a well-tested model: from above, it is the shape of a playing card, with the short sides facing north and south. Originally designed so that three of the six gates (two in each long side, one at either end in the center) protruded beyond the line of the Wall, the fort was not so much part of a defensive frontier, more a launching pad for expeditions, patrols and forays in the lands to the north. Rome did not hide behind its walls; the legions did not cower. Any soldier from any part of the Empire would have known which way to turn on entering the gate; where the barrack rooms would be; where to find the latrines and bread ovens; how to avoid the scrutiny of the garrison commander after a late-night binge or an overnight stay in the house of the one of the locals. Uniformity was part of the Roman project. Read more…