Some real history was made last night at the Olympics that sheds light on one of the lasting legacies of Jim Crow in America. Simone Manuel is the first African American woman to win an individual gold medal in swimming, but the story is deeper than that. It is estimated that 70% of blacks do not know how to swim, and that is largely the product of the fact African Americans were long denied access to pools in the Jim Crow era (as well as beaches), and once legal segregation ended, white flight left municipal facilities to languish and deteriorate. Or whites simply created “members only” private pools. Further, what new pools were built in black neighborhoods were usually of poor quality and small. Thus, swimming never became as large a part of African American culture as it has long been for white Americans. The fact that so few blacks know how to swim was often blamed on ridiculous and disgusting ideas involving bone density or the lack of buoyancy of black people, instead of the real culprit. So Manuel’s victory last night is significant on many levels, hopefully signals progress in several ways, and will inspire more black kids to hit the pools.
I expected there would be some sort of response to that Atlantic article that recommended a White House Council of Historical Advisors, and now we get the first big one in the Chronicle of Higher Education. My initial qualm with the idea revolved around the fact that there would be political pressure to cherry pick evidence and practice agenda-driven history. But Princeton University Professor Jeremy Adelman “call[s] for a little more humility about what we historians have to offer.” (I can’t help feeling this way too after attending any of the major historical societies’ yearly conferences).
Today we get more news about the upcoming Drunk History episode featuring Lin-Manuel Miranda telling the story of the Hamilton/Burr duel. It isn’t airing until November 29th (ugh). But the most interesting news: there’s some gender-bending in the casting.
Pretty neat: some dude used the New York City Public Library’s collection of over 80,000 historic photographs to create a Google-style map of late 1800s and early 1900s NYC. How fun would it be to get out on the streets with an iPad and this website?
Check out this high school history teacher in Washington state that dresses up as Theodore Roosevelt for his classes. I’m sure the kids get a kick out of it, but it takes a lot of nerve to get up in front of a group of teenagers like that. My hat is off to him.