The American History Podcast

A Program Of Virginia Foundation for the Humanities


Black History Month: BackStory Playlist

It’s Black History Month, when we recognize the achievements and history of African Americans throughout US history. BackStory frequently highlights these stories, whether across a whole show or in a specific interview. So to celebrate, we’ve put together a playlist of some of our favorites from different time periods, generations, and viewpoints.

The topics range from the long history of plantations, to the unique African American UFO tradition. Enjoy, and let us know your thoughts in the comments below!


Burnt Corks & Cakewalks: The Toxic Legacy of Blackface in American History

Ed, Nathan and Brian explore the history of blackface, from its heyday as the most popular form of entertainment in America to its afterlife in the controversial images that appear in college yearbooks. What explains the long life of blackface in American culture?


The Civil War in the 21st Century: A New Museum Marks an Old Conflict

On May 4, 2019, the American Civil War Museum opened in Richmond, Virginia. It’s a historic endeavor, building upon a merger of several museums and historical sites in the region, including the former Museum of the Confederacy. The museum’s goal is to tell an inclusive and balanced version of the Civil War. But for an event that’s arguably the most contentious conflict in American history, that’s a tall order. So on this episode, BackStory gets an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the museum to explore what it means to tell new narratives of the Civil War in public spaces.


How Reconstruction Transformed the Constitution: A Feature Conversation With Pulitzer Prize-Winning Historian Eric Foner

If you turn on the news, you’re likely to find a heated debate about big issues, from citizenship to voting rights. For Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Eric Foner, these issues are at the heart of what are often called the “Reconstruction Amendments”: the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the US Constitution. They were passed in 1865, 1868 and 1870, respectively. And if you ask Eric, they’ve been misinterpreted and overlooked for generations.


A History of Stonewall, the Riot That Started the LGBTQ Revolution

In the early hours of June 28, 1969, a riot broke out at a rundown gay bar in New York City. Today the Stonewall uprising is famous around the world as a clash that helped spark a gay political revolution. Brian and Nathan talk to scholars and participants and discover how Stonewall led to a wave of activism, protest and political agitation.

Listen for the “United We Stand” segment. In it Eric Marcus, creator and host of the Making Gay History podcast, brings us an interview with Marsha P. Johnson and her room mate, the mainstream gay political activist Randy Wicker.

Skip to 19:37 for “United We Stand.”


Paying for the Past: Reparations and American History

On this episode, Nathan, Ed and Brian explore the complicated – and often contentious – history of reparations, from the first mass reparations movement led by Callie House, an ex-slave, to a unique moment when African-Americans in Florida received compensation for the destruction of their community.


The Long Shadow of the Plantation: How a Weighted Past Creates a Complicated Present

There are hundreds of plantations in the U.S. that have been repurposed for a variety of reasons. Many are museums for tourists to visit, while others have been transformed into event spaces. But how does the complicated and nuanced history influence the ways plantations are used today? On this episode of BackStory, Ed, Joanne, and Nathan explore how people are repurposing plantations and engaging with the sites’ nuanced histories.


1619: The Arrival of the First Africans in Virginia

Last year marked the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first Africans to land on what would become British North America. It wasn’t the first time Africans set foot in what became the United States – they’d arrived some 100 years earlier with Spanish colonists. But 1619 looms large in American history because it marks the beginning of slavery’s development in the Virginia colony and later the entire nation.


Teen Activists: A History of Youth Politics and Protest

In this episode, Joanne, Brian & Ed talk about the role young people have played in American politics. They’ll look at how the desegregation movement in Virginia was sparked in part by a 16-year-old girl, how young Americans made it okay to be independent voters and thinkers in the early centuries, a 1945 student walkout against integration, and the story of a young Lakota activist who travelled to Standing Rock when she was in high school.

This episode begins with the segment “The Legend of Barbara Johns & The Moton High Strike.” In 1951, a strike considered to signal the start of the desegregation movement takes place in Farmville, Virginia. It’s leader? A 16-year-old Black girl.


Close Encounters: UFOs in American History

On this week’s episode, Nathan, Brian and Ed discuss things in the sky we can’t explain – unidentified flying objects. What the heck are they? And what do they say about American history?

Listen for “Mothership Connection,” a segment that looks at the history of Afro-futurism. Aside from Barney Hill, most African-Americans describe close encounters in overwhelmingly positive terms. Historian Stephen C. Finley tells Nathan about a wholly separate and unique UFO tradition.

Skip to 24:25 for “Mothership Connection.” 


Death on the Assembly Line: Industrial Tragedies in American History

From explosions to pollution, tragedies have wreaked havoc on Americans and their communities throughout history. This week, BackStory considers the history of industrial disasters and how they’ve changed the nature of American capitalism.

Hear how a fire in a rural factory disproportionately effected a town’s Black residents in “The Hamlet Fire” segment. On September 3rd, 1991, a fire erupted at the Imperial Food Products chicken processing plant in Hamlet, North Carolina. The blaze and toxic smoke killed 25 people and injured dozens. Many of the employees tried to escape through the exits, but they were trapped because several of the doors were padlocked from the outside. 28 years later, Hamlet residents and former employees of the plant are still grappling with the painful memories. Producer Charlie Shelton-Ormond travels to Hamlet to learn more.

Skip to 09:45 for “The Hamlet Fire.”