History Podcasts

6 Violent Uprisings in the United States

6 Violent Uprisings in the United States

1. Wilmington Insurrection of 1898

On the morning of November 10, 1898, a throng of some 2,000 armed white men took to the streets of the Southern port town of Wilmington, North Carolina. Spurred on by white supremacist politicians and businessmen, the mob burned the offices of a prominent African-American newspaper, sparking a frenzy of urban warfare that saw dozens of blacks gunned down in the streets. As the chaos unfolded, white rioters descended on City Hall and forced the town’s mayor to resign along with several black aldermen. By nightfall, the mob had seized full control of the local government, some 60 black citizens lay dead and thousands more had fled the city in panic.

While it took the form of a race riot, the Wilmington uprising was actually a calculated rebellion by a cabal of white business leaders and Democratic politicians intent on dissolving the city’s biracial, majority-Republican government. Once in power, the conspirators banished prominent black leaders and their white allies from the city and joined with other North Carolina Democrats in instituting a wave of Jim Crow laws suppressing black voting rights. Despite its illegality, state and federal officials ultimately allowed the power grab to proceed unchecked, leading many historians to cite the Wilmington insurrection as the only successful coup d’etat in American history.

2. New York City Draft Riots

Only 10 days after the Union victory at the Battle of Gettysburg, New York City became embroiled in the largest popular insurrections in American history. The incident began on the morning of July 13, 1863, when hundreds of young men poured into the streets to protest the federal draft lottery. New York was deeply divided over the Civil War, and many viewed the conscription law—which excluded blacks and allowed wealthy men to buy their way out of serving for $300—as a blatant civil rights violation. The demonstration quickly turned violent when the mob stormed the draft office and beat the city’s police superintendent to a bloody pulp. As the protestors’ ranks swelled with armed malcontents, the men marched through Manhattan and began ransacking and burning the homes and offices of prominent draft supporters and other wealthy elites.

The bedlam would continue for four days, as rioters looted businesses, torched buildings and brawled with police and National Guardsmen from behind makeshift barricades. Convinced that freed blacks were a threat to their livelihood, rioters also beat and lynched several black men, demolished the homes of others and even set a black children’s orphanage ablaze. Finally, on June 16, some 4,000 federal troops marched into the city and put the uprising down by force. While the draft would resume only a month later, the riots still left a devastating mark on New York. All told, the incident claimed the lives of more than 100 people and caused millions of dollars in property damage.

3. Battle of Blair Mountain

In 1921, the winding hills of southwest West Virginia played host to the largest and bloodiest labor dispute in American history. At the time, the coal-rich region operated under the thumb of powerful mining interests who employed thuggish private detectives to harass any workers who tried to unionize. Tensions boiled over in August 1921, after company agents assassinated a pro-union lawman named Sid Hatfield. In response, as many as 15,000 miners—many of them World War I veterans—armed themselves and set off to confront the coal tycoons and organize their fellow workers.

When they approached Blair Mountain in Logan County, the army of miners clashed with a force of around 3,000 defenders marshaled by an anti-union sheriff named Don Chafin. As the miners advanced up the mountain, they were met with punishing rifle and machine gun fire, and Chafin’s forces even used a small air force of biplanes to drop explosives and tear gas. The battle raged for several days before federal peacekeeping troops finally arrived on the scene, at which point most of the exhausted miners returned to their homes or surrendered. By then, over 1 million rounds had been fired and an unknown number of men—estimates range from 20 to more than 100—had been killed. The miner’s defeat derailed union activity in the region for over a decade, and some 1,000 workers were later charged with crimes including conspiracy, murder and treason.

4. Richmond Bread Riots

By its third year, the Civil War had taken a bitter toll on the Confederacy’s civilian population. With their supply lines choked off and inflation soaring, many Southern cities erupted in mass revolts. The largest of these “bread riots” unfolded in the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. On April 2, 1863, a group of armed, half-starved women descended on the state Capitol and demanded to speak to Governor John Letcher. When Letcher shrugged off their concerns, the hoop-skirted mob marched down one of the city’s major thoroughfares, commandeered several supply carts and began violently ransacking warehouses for food.

The rioters’ numbers quickly grew into the thousands as more desperate men and women took to the streets, many of them chanting “bread or blood!” Ignoring the protests of city officials, they broke down the doors of private businesses and supply houses and made off with food, clothing, jewelry and other valuables. According to some accounts, Confederate President Jefferson Davis even addressed the crowd, tossing coins at rioters and pleading, “you say you are hungry and have no money. Here is all I have.” The riot finally ended after the city’s public guard arrived and threatened to fire on the crowd. Some 60 members of the mob were arrested, and the city would later place artillery pieces in Richmond’s business district as a warning against future uprisings.

5. Battle of Athens

In 1946, a group of veterans and disgruntled citizens went to war with the local government of Athens, Tennessee. The small farming community had spent the 1940s dominated by a crooked political machine led by sheriff and legislator Paul Cantrell, who was known to rig elections in his favor through ballot stuffing and voter intimidation. Corruption ran rampant until 1945, when hundreds of young men returned to Athens fresh from the battlefields of World War II. After they experienced repeated harassment by law enforcement, the ex-GIs organized their own political party and ran several veterans for local office in the hopes of ousting Cantrell and his cronies once and for all.

The “battle” unfolded during a tense Election Day on August 1, 1946. When the veterans’ accused Cantrell of vote fraud, armed sheriff’s deputies began beating and detaining the GI’s poll watchers, and one officer even shot an elderly voter in the back. After Cantrell and his deputies confiscated the ballot boxes and barricaded themselves inside the local jail, hundreds of ex-GIs armed themselves with high-powered rifles and laid siege to the building. The two sides traded fire throughout the night, leaving several men wounded, but the deputies finally surrendered after the veterans began lobbing dynamite at the jailhouse. When the votes were counted, the GI candidates were declared the winners and immediately sworn into office. Their upstart political party would go on to restructure local government and clean up much of the corruption in Athens.

6. Shays’ Rebellion

In the years following the Revolutionary War, the United States plunged into a severe economic crisis. Tensions were especially high in Massachusetts, where overtaxed farmers began losing their property to debt collectors. In September 1786, a small army of disgruntled citizens organized mass demonstrations across the state. Led by Revolutionary War veteran Daniel Shays, the rebels eventually armed themselves and began preventing county courts from convening in the hope of curbing property seizures. Fearing revolution was in the air, Massachusetts governor James Bowdoin responded by mustering a 1,200-strong militia led by former Continental Army General Benjamin Lincoln.

In January 1787, Shays’ forces set their sights on the federal armory at Springfield, Massachusetts. The battle plan was botched, however, and the 1,500 rebels were pushed back by heavy artillery fire, leaving four men dead and another 20 wounded. Only a week later, Lincoln’s militia ambushed Shays’ camp at the town of Petersham and crushed the main rebellion. Small skirmishes continued for several weeks, but most of the insurgent leaders—including Shays—were eventually captured. The rebellion helped influence the adoption of a more robust central government at the Constitutional Convention later that year, but it would not be the last time that economic troubles provoked a revolt. Tax disputes later led to both the Whiskey Rebellion in the 1790s and Fries’s Rebellion in 1799.


When Rioting Is the Answer

A merica was founded on riots. From as far back as the days of tar-and-feathering British tax collectors, citizens have resisted power by fighting back, using fists when their voices weren&rsquot heard.

This violent tradition lives on in the country, boiling up at times in our cities. In places like Los Angeles in 1992, and Ferguson and Baltimore in the past year, urban tensions&mdashoften the result of racial and economic inequalities&mdashhave exploded into a mess of arson, looting, and police brutality.

What sort of progress is made in these periods of unrest? Do they actually make conditions better? In advance of the Zócalo/UCLA event &ldquoCan Urban Riots Cause Change?&rdquo we asked people who study, write about, and are deeply engaged with sometimes-violent protests: Have urban riots ever improved the lives of a city&rsquos residents? If so, when and how? If not, why not and what happened?

Sherry Hamby &mdash They work sometimes, but aren&rsquot great solutions

From the Boston Tea Party to the Los Angeles riots to the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, violent resistance has sometimes led to positive social change. Most often, rioting has drawn attention to oppressive authoritarian rule (sometimes by kings, sometimes by police). In some cases, it has also spurred investigations into law enforcement or other government systems. Occasionally, it has even forced corrupt or incompetent leaders to surrender or resign.

But rioting&mdashor other violent resistance&mdashdoes not always make people’s lives better. The 2005 French riots surrounding Paris led to deaths, injuries, car burnings, and arrests. The aftermath was a crackdown on immigration and blaming of musicians instead of a frank assessment of ethnic and religious tensions.

Nonviolent resistance is a relatively new path to social justice. Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., were some of the first to convince large groups of people to protest without physical fighting. Gandhi accomplished something that the early Americans did not he got rid of British colonial rule through peace, not war.

Riots are not great solutions, but riots are usually caused by real injustices. Thousands of people do not take to the streets for no good reason. That was true during the American Revolution, and it is true today. Riots are often the desperate response of people who feel they have no other recourse. We can reduce rioting by providing better access to justice for everyone.

Sherry Hamby is editor of the journal Psychology of Violence and director of the Appalachian Center for Resilience Research. Her most recent books are Battered Women’s Protective Strategies: Stronger Than You Know and The Web of Violence.

Lawrence Grandpre &mdash Their value depends upon whom you ask

If one had asked the white residents of Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1921 whether urban riots improve the lives of a city&rsquos residents, they likely would have responded with a resounding &ldquoyes.&rdquo Fresh off burning down the town&rsquos thriving black business district (the so-called &ldquoBlack Wall Street&rdquo) in retaliation for alleged black criminality, residents would have described the event as necessary for the safety and stability of their communities. As might have the rioters in 1860s New York who attacked more than 200 black men in anger over being drafted to fight for the Union, or the pro-Confederacy rioters in 1860s Baltimore.

But the recent black urban uprisings aren&rsquot seen in the same way. Even though they show a historical continuity between America&rsquos past and present, the constant reality of drug raids, pat downs, and &ldquojump outs&rdquo is often not taken seriously as a justification of violence, because these violations of bodies usually aren&rsquot violations of law.

It&rsquos presumptuous to assume those who have not experienced 400 years of anti-black violence have a right to moralize on the black community&rsquos expressions of grief and rage. As such, to the extent to which urban rebellions help expand the range of askable questions and speakable thoughts on race in America, these actions have value.

To debate whether riots help blacks win the proverbial &ldquogame&rdquo of politics ignores that the existence of such conditions should be proof enough that the game itself is not just rigged, but broken.

Lawrence Grandpre is the director of research of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, a Baltimore-based social justice think tank. He is co-author of The Black Book: Reflections from the Baltimore Grassroots.

John Hope Bryant &mdash They signal the need for change

Can urban riots cause change? It&rsquos a bit of a paradox. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said in 1968, &ldquoI think that we&rsquove got to see that a riot is the language of the unheard.&rdquo Sometimes it takes a riot to bring attention to needed change. Unfortunately, the new action often comes as a reaction to old pain.

As a witness to the riots sparked by the Rodney King beating some 23 years ago, I chose not to be driven by blind rage, but by a determination to change the very chemistry of this volatile brew of anger, recrimination, and recoil. The difference to my approach is that I was looking for the problem that lay underneath the problem. I wanted to unpack power and money and prosperity and repack it with poor people in mind, because it dawned on me that middle-class neighborhoods no matter their racial makeup didn&rsquot riot only poor ones did.

In the wake of the Rodney King riots, I founded Operation HOPE, a plan to empower the financially ill-equipped and struggling in America to participate in the only system we have: capitalism. The path I chose was based on the power of free enterprise to change lives&mdashno different from what President Abraham Lincoln did in 1865 after the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation, when he called forth the Freedman&rsquos Bureau, which created the Freedman&rsquos Bank, chartered to teach newly freed slaves about money.

I subscribe to the simple premise that rainbows only come after storms, and I see a shining light of opportunity emerging from the dark night of tragedy and tears. Let us resolve to erase the impediments to equal economic opportunity, and strife will subside, tempers will cool, and a clearer morning of hope will break through the clouds of animosity and rage.

John Hope Bryant is the founder, chairman, and CEO of Operation HOPE and Bryant Group Companies, Inc. He is a member of the U.S. President&rsquos Advisory Council on Financial Capability for Youth for President Barack Obama.

Noche Diaz &mdash Rioters do what&rsquos necessary

After 1967&rsquos &ldquoLong Hot Summer&rdquo with Detroit&rsquos 12th Street riots, the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders found that (surprise!) blacks are systematically mistreated. After 100-plus rebellions following Martin Luther King, Jr.&rsquos assassination, additions to the Civil Rights Act passed.

Was it right for Baltimore youth to rise up? Or Ferguson youth before that? Will it be right the next time people are sick of police killing them off?

Eric Holder has said, &ldquopeaceful, nonviolent demonstrations&hellip have led to the change that has been most long lasting and the most pervasive.&rdquo

Get real. Tell that to police committing illegitimate violence on the regular&mdashmurder and brutality that destroys lives, futures, and whole people. Holder, and the system he represents, care more about CVS and broken cop cars. They greenlight police terror. A black president, a black attorney general, and still no federal prosecutions of cops killing unarmed black people!

Baltimore rises, suddenly six cops are charged. A light was shined on generations living under police crosshairs. Everyone is now forced to relate to the slogan &ldquoBlack Lives Matter.&rdquo This is improvement.

A Baltimore teenager said to me, &ldquoI know Freddie [Gray]&rsquos family didn&rsquot want rioting&hellip and people don&rsquot want us destroying our community&hellip but we don&rsquot want police killing us. If they won’t stop, we do what we have to.&rdquo

Society was shaken. Lines got drawn. Where this goes is on us.

Noche Diaz is freedom fighter who splits his time between Baltimore and New York City. He is currently facing jail time for protesting killings by police.


2. March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 1963

In one of the most famous speeches in American history, Martin Luther King Jr., backed by 200,000 supporters that turned out to the Lincoln Memorial, protested the racial inequality that was keeping African Americans from having the same rights as whites. After his "I Have a Dream" speech in 1963, MLK met with President Kennedy to discuss new legislation to remedy these issues.

The movement is credited with building support for the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects against discrimination based on gender, race, color, religion, or ethnicity. It also banned segregation in businesses. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibits racial discrimination in voting and successfully removed many barriers that states had used to keep African Americans from voting in elections.


Changing face of protest

In the decades that followed 1968, outbreaks of protest and conflict were more geographically isolated, but their causes and fury foreshadowed the events of 2020. In 1992, mass protests and riots exploded in Los Angeles after the acquittal of white police officers who were captured on video brutally beating black motorist Rodney King. Twenty years later, the deaths of more African Americans at the hands of police ignited public outrage, mass protests, and sometimes attacks on white-owned businesses. Activists around the country loosely banded together in the Black Lives Matter movement, founded in 2013 by Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi in response to the acquittal of a Florida man who fatally shot an unarmed 17-year-old black student, Trayvon Martin, who was visiting relatives in a gated community. The coalition uses protests, social media, and publicity to shine a bright light on police violence against African Americans.


The History Of Policing And Race In The U.S. Are Deeply Intertwined

NPR's Michel Martin speaks with professor Keisha Blain about the history of policing in the United States.

For much of this hour, we've been focusing on policing in this country. We've been digging into the changes many citizens are demanding, and we've been talking about what obstacles may stand in the way. But now we want to take a step back to ask about the history of policing in the U.S. How did we get here?

Here to tell us more about that is Keisha Blain. She is an associate professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh and a W.E.B. Du Bois fellow at Harvard University this semester. She's with us now from Cambridge, Mass.

Professor Blain, thanks so much for talking with us.

KEISHA BLAIN: Thanks so much for having me.

MARTIN: So could we just begin in the very early days of policing? Where did the kind of metropolitan police force as we know today first begin in this country, and why?

BLAIN: So generally speaking, we point to the period of the 1830s with the creation of the police force in the city of Boston. And this particular police force, we identify it as the first because it was publicly funded and supported. But if we even look a bit earlier, we could, for example, point to a group like the Charleston City Watch and Guard, which was formed in the 1790s. And this was created primarily to control the movement of the slave population at the time.

We generally don't go back that far just because within the context of modern policing, we're thinking about police forces that are fully funded, that are full-time. And through that lens, we generally point to the 1830s. And by the 1890s, every major city in the United States had a police force.

MARTIN: Talk to me, if you would, about the origin of some of these forces being rooted in the slave patrols of the South. How did that work?

BLAIN: So I mentioned earlier the Charleston City Watch and Guard. And that provides one of the earliest examples of how this works because this was a period of slavery. And also, in the city of Charleston, as we know, the majority of the people living there at the time were black people. So the minority white population - they were very terrified about the possibility of slave uprisings and revolts, so they wanted to make sure that there was some sort of group ready to control, to make sure that people were being closely monitored, especially when they were working outside of the purview or the control of the enslaver.

So those slave patrols then began to police, and particularly focusing on the control of black people. As we move past the period of slavery and we get into the period of Reconstruction and even the period of Jim Crow, we then go into the creation of these groups that are functioning much like the slave patrols. And now, rather than upholding slavery, their job is to make sure that the black codes are being reinforced, which are the laws and policies similarly meant to control the lives and movement of black people.

MARTIN: When did policing become a profession that had - you know, you had to have specific training, you had to take a test in some places? When did that happen? Or has that never really happened in the United States? I mean, one of the things that is a feature of policing in the United States is there's no national police force with one uniform set of standards. So when did people start to see themselves, this particular job function, as a profession?

BLAIN: I would say if we look at the period of the 1960s in particular, we begin to see the kind of training that comes within a context of - so Lyndon B. Johnson's war on crime - so 1965 onward, the process of militarizing the police. So the training then shifts in a particular direction that's meant to supposedly address issues of urban poverty.

And so even though it's - we can point to various moments in the history, whether in the 19th century or even in the early 20th century, where we begin to talk about policing as a sort of professionalization. But I think in the modern context, the 1960s onward represents a key moment.

MARTIN: Why is there no national standard around policing in the United States? I mean, obviously, there are different licensing boards around other professions, but we don't seem to have any kind of sense of national standards around policing. Do you have a sense of why that is? Why is that?

BLAIN: Well, I think there's so many differences as you move from locale to locale, from space to space. And oftentimes, it is very much linked to the demographics - you know, who's actually in these communities. Certainly, there's a question of resources. There's also the class dynamics.

And so all of these, I think, mean that as we shift from place to place, it's certainly hard to imagine a kind of national force or a process that would function the same way for each particular place. All of these factors combined explain why we don't have a sort of national kind of policy that could transcend different places and spaces.

MARTIN: So now that you've brought us up to date on the history, I'm going to wheel around and ask for your opinion. I'm going to ask you why you think it is that the kinds of strategies and tactics that we have seen have persisted, despite the fact that they cause so much pain, trauma and, frankly, unrest. I mean, how many episodes of severe unrest in this country have been sparked by police violence against black people in particular? I mean, thinking of the Detroit, 1967 - you know, the current, you know uprising - I mean, this is many - many of these incidents have been caused by episodes of police violence directed at civilians. So why do you think it persists?

BLAIN: I think the fundamental problem is structural racism. And this is something that we have not actually dealt with. And so we keep having conversations about how we might tweak this or tweak that. Maybe we'll pass some policy that's anti-chokehold, and that sounds wonderful. But if you don't actually get to the root of the problem, then you'll find yourself in the same place over and over again, even if you pass a hundred different policies that say, don't choke a person don't place your knee on a person's neck.

In the end, the system has to be radically changed. And I think we're at a moment where we're having these kinds of conversations. But we haven't actually had those conversations at a national level for a long time, so I think this is a moment of change.

MARTIN: That was Keisha Blain, associate professor of history at the University of Pittsburgh and currently a fellow at Harvard University. She joined us via Skype.

Professor Blain, thank you so much for being with us.

BLAIN: Thanks for having me.

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6 Violent Uprisings in the United States - HISTORY

December 15, 2016 &bull Mae Cromwell

One overarching narrative in American life today is that our systems are so broken and the game so rigged that there is no point in participating in democracy. Now, in the face of more senseless violence against individuals and communities of color, specifically Black Americans, people in all 50 states are showing up to protest, and proving that this need not be true. In light of current events, we are re-sharing this piece, originally written in partnership with Upworthy in an effort to generate and propagate new narratives about the power of citizen voices, coupled with tools of action that anyone can use.

With so many protests taking place, America feels like it’s on the cusp of a political revolution. There’s an outcry for empathy and for concrete action to fix the inequalities baked into our society. Bernie Sanders whipped his following into a frenzy in the hope of reforming what many perceive to be a broken and outdated system.

Black Lives Matter marches have taken over streets and highways, demanding justice for slain black men, women, and kids. There have been violent clashes as various groups fight to be heard. With protest after protest, many people may be asking themselves: Do protests actually make a difference?

Here’s the answer: They do, even if it takes a while to see results.

Here are seven moments of proof throughout US history when protests yielded real results:

1. The Boston Tea Party: December 16, 1773.

The Boston Tea Party was an act of defiance against British rule. Parliament tried to help The East India Company boost its revenue by taxing tea at the colonies’ expense. The colonies didn’t appreciate this tactic. In Boston, the Sons of Liberty disguised themselves as Native Americans, snuck on board ships in the harbor, and threw 342 chests of tea into the water. A large, supportive, crowd watched the entire thing.

Parliament, fed up with Boston and the American resistance to its rule, retaliated with the Coercive Acts in 1774. These were meant to punish the colonies and assert dominance, but it backfired, pushing the soon-to-be Americans toward a war for independence.

2. The Quaker Petition Against Slavery: April 16, 1688.

While slaves had been fervently protesting their inhumane bondage since the beginning of the slave trade, it wasn’t until 1688 that a group of white men decided to speak up against it. Four Quakers drafted and presented the document, in which they stated that “to bring men hither, or to rob and sell them against their will, we stand against.” The petition fell on deaf ears — the men were told that the timing wasn’t right for the community to make a decision surrounding slavery. Fifteen years later, a group of Chester Quakers also spoke up.

It would take 92 years and many more petitions and presentations at community meetings, but in 1780, a Pennsylvania state law was finally passed to gradually emancipate slaves. Without those four men, the larger Quaker community may not have had the courage to speak up.

3. The Seneca Falls Convention: July 19, 1848.

Women have spent many years fighting to be seen as more than second-class citizens. In 1848, led by abolitionists Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a small group of women met at Stanton’s home and wrote an announcement, published in the Seneca County Courier, calling for a women’s conference.

In July, 200 women gathered at the Wesleyan Chapel to discuss women’s rights. Stanton shared the “Declaration of Sentiments and Grievances,” which she’d drafted, modeled after the Declaration of Independence, in which she asserted that women were being denied basic rights, including the right to vote. On the second day of the convention, the declaration was signed by the assembly.

The public thought the declaration was ridiculous, but their disdain couldn’t stop the movement. Two weeks later, a larger convention was held, and in the years that followed, women’s rights conventions became annual occurrences. In 1920, as a result of this movement, the 19th Amendment was passed, granting women the right to vote.

4. The GM Sit-Down Strikes: December 30, 1936.

In the 1930s, big corporations were thriving on the backs of their workers, and the workers had had enough. They tried to form unions but were essentially dismissed. The power lay in the hands of the corporations. So, inspired by the sit-down strikes taking place throughout Europe, the workers decided to do something about the problem.

On Dec. 30, 1936, workers walked into the General Motors plant in Flint, Michigan, sat down, and stopped working, shutting down the company and forcing its heads to take notice. They remained there through mid-February. GM tried to force an evacuation and police attempted to cut off their food supply, but the workers prevailed. Finally, GM signed an agreement recognizing the union. Workers received 5 percent raises and were allowed to speak in the lunchroom. They’d won.

5. The Montgomery Bus Boycott: December 5, 1955.

This started with one woman you might know: Rosa Parks, who was told to give up her seat on the bus for a white man. She refused. This simple act stoked a fire that had long been simmering. Parks was arrested and fined, and the black community came together, refusing to use public buses. Black taxi drivers lowered their fares significantly for their black riders, carpools were organized, and many people chose to simply walk to their destinations.

This protest lasted more than a year — 381 days to be exact — and forced Montgomery, Alabama, to integrate its bus system. And something else very special came out of this boycott: Martin Luther King Jr. emerged as a leader of the civil rights movement.

6. The March on Washington: August 28, 1963.

In 1963, 200,000 people marched through Washington to bring attention to the issues that black people continued to face in America. The march culminated in one of the most powerful speeches of our time, King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The crowd demanded that America step it up and move toward racial justice and equality.

While, again, things didn’t change overnight, the march is credited with pressuring President John F. Kennedy and Congress to take action in favor of the civil rights movement, leading to the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

7. Selma: March 9, 1965.

Just a few years after the march on Washington, another major march of protest took place. Black Americans had gained the right to vote, but voter suppression made that right mostly symbolic. In Selma, the Dallas County sheriff led an opposition to black voter registration, and it was working — only 300 out of 15,000 eligible black voters had been able to register. During a peaceful protest against this suppression, a young black man was shot and killed by state troopers.

Civil rights leaders attempted a march from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery on March 7, 1965, but they were brutally attacked by state troopers and forced to retreat. The nation witnessed the event on television. On March 9, they tried again. This time, state troopers blocked the road. That night, segregationists beat a young, white protester to death. On March 21, the activists tried yet again. This time, with the National Guard for protection and President Lyndon B. Johnson’s support, they made it. The Voting Rights Act was passed that August, protecting black voters from suppression and discrimination.

Change doesn’t happen overnight. But when people band together, they have the power to make a difference.

The largest Native American protest in history took place this year in North Dakota. An oil pipeline threatened to disrupt sacred Native American sites and burial grounds and risks polluting a major water source. Thousands of people stood together in solidarity and desperation, trying to force the public to notice and the government to take action. And it paid off. The Army Corps of Engineers put plans for the Dakota Access Pipeline on hold while it explores alternate routes.

It’s a perfect example that, no matter how bleak the outcome may look, our voices are powerful. Protests matter. And remembering that possibility for change is often all the hope that we need in the midst of chaos.

This was a part of a special Upworthy series about citizen empowerment, made possible by the Pluribus Project.


Feudalism in Medieval Europe

One of the most immediately obvious details of this map of medieval Europe is how fragmented Western Europe was at the time.

This vast array of independent territories technically made up the Holy Roman Empire (the empire’s borders are highlighted in green on the map). But why was the Holy Roman Empire so fragmented?

The empire was subdivided into individually governed entities at the time. These independent territories were governed by nobility rather than an absolute monarch. This was possible because the empire was run by the feudal system.

For the non-history buffs reading this, the feudal system was a socio-political system largely characterized by its lack of public authority. Theoretically, it was meant to have a distinct hierarchy:

  1. Monarchs
    At the top of the feudal food chain, monarchs were meant to hold absolute power over their land. However, many lords held so much power over their manors that the monarch acted more as a figurehead.
  2. Lords and Ladies (Nobility)
    The nobility was supposed to act as middle management— they were in charge of managing the land and the peasants who worked on it.
  3. Knights
    Protectors of the land, knights followed a strict code of conduct, known as chivalry. If they failed to follow their chivalry, their title and land was taken from them.
  4. Peasants
    A majority of the medieval population was made up of peasants, who did all the work on the land so lords and knights could plan and prepare for war.

Between the 1200-1400s, battles between nobles and monarchs were almost constant, and the map shows a time when estates were largely governed by the nobility. However, it’s important to note that in the years following 1444, monarchs gradually began to regain their power.

Eventually, governing became more consolidated, and this gradual transition to absolute monarchy marked the early stages of what we now recognize as nation states.

Mighty Lithuania

One very prominent and perhaps surprising section of the map is the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which today would include large portions of Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine. This snapshot depicts Lithuania at the height of its power, when their territory stretched all the way from the Baltic Sea down to the Black Sea, near Crimea.

Over time power ebbs and flows, and today Lithuania is a much more compact nation.

Staying Power

Europe’s borders have shifted constantly over the long history of the continent, but one area has remained remarkably consistent. On the map above, Portugal looks nearly identical to its present day form. This is because the country’s border with Spain–one of the world’s oldest–has barely shifted at all since the 13th century.


2020 Ends as One of America's Most Violent Years in Decades

A cross the U.S., this year has taken a heavy toll. The coronavirus has upended daily life and resulted in the deaths of over 300,000 people 2020 is on track to be the “deadliest year in U.S. history,” according to The Associated Press, with a projected rise of 15% in total deaths from 2019. The pandemic’s economic impact has left hundreds of thousands of people out of work, struggling to provide for themselves and their families. Other stresses and pressures related to lockdowns and prolonged periods of isolation have also carried significant burdens.

And for many, COVID-19 hasn’t been the only life-altering hurdle to face.

This year, many Americans have experienced significantly higher levels of violence both wrought on and within their communities. Gun violence and gun crime has, in particular, risen drastically, with over 19,000 people killed in shootings and firearm-related incidents in 2020. That’s the highest death toll in over 20 years, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive (GVA), an online site that collects gun violence data, and the Britannia Group’s non-partisan site procon.org.

This total includes victims of homicides and unintentional deaths but does not include gun suicides. And despite there being no “large-scale” shootings in 2020, the number of mass shootings&mdashwhich are classified as an incident in which four or more people are shot and injured or killed&mdashhas actually risen, drastically, to over 600, the most in the past 5 years and a nearly 50% increase in 2019’s total.

Much of this violence has most significantly impacted poor Black and brown communities, exacerbating disparities already apparent in historical patterns. (Within inner-city minority communities that deal with high levels of gun violence, it’s not uncommon for there to be multiple shooting victims at one particular incident.) According to Everytown for Gun Safety, a non-profit organization that advocates for stricter gun laws, Black Americans make up 68% of homicide victims in larger cities, many of them victims of gun violence.

“Poor people of color are suffering disproportionately from COVID, suffering from excessive and deadly force from police and suffering from excessively high rates of violence. Those are all concentrated on the very same population,” Thomas Abt, the Director of the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice (NCCCJ) tells TIME.

According to a report from the NCCCJ, homicides increased by 36% across 28 major U.S. cities&mdashincluding Los Angeles, Atlanta, Detroit and Philadelphia&mdashbetween June and October 2020, when compared to the same time period last year. Per the GVA, 2020’s total gun homicides had, by the end of October, already exceeded that of the past four years. Many commentators have pointed to an uptick in violence apparent since May, following widespread protesting and unrest following the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, but experts make it clear the upward trend was apparent from the beginning of the year.

According to Patrick Sharkey, professor of sociology and public affairs at Princeton, 75 of the 100 largest cities in the country saw an increase in fatal shootings in the first quarter of 2020. “All the sources of data tell us that, right from the start of 2020, it’s been a year with very high violence,” Sharkey tells TIME. “There has been a real increase since May, but there was change going on before that.”

In Chicago, 3,237 shooting incidents have occurred as of Dec. 27, an increase of over 50% from the 2,120 incidents reported in the same time frame in 2019. The city also saw a 55% increase in homicides. New York City has had 1,824 shooting victims this year as of Dec. 20, compared to 896 in the same time period last year, and a 39% increase in homicides year on year&mdashthe New York Times reporting that 2020 has been the city’s deadliest in “nearly a decade.” (Local news reports out of Philadelphia and Charlotte, N.C., meanwhile, confirm that the cities have each seen the most homicides this year since the 1990s.)

In Minneapolis, where Floyd was killed, there has been a 77% increase in murders.

“I think the best way to describe what’s happened in terms of violent crime is [as] sort of a perfect storm,” Abt says. Social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders implemented to curb the spread of coronavirus have curtailed the work of violence interrupters and gun violence prevention activists in many inner-city neighborhoods, for example, and limited the potential for mental health outreach, social programs and conflict de-escalation initiatives.

But experts also cite systemic issues long apparent in disenfranchised communities&mdasha lack of opportunities, access to suitable education, food and healthcare&mdashas causative factors, as well as widespread perceptions that police departments have stepped back from their responsibilities in response to this year’s racial justice protests.

“Officers are afraid to do anything because they don&rsquot want to make a mistake and get in trouble,” a New York Police Department sergeant, speaking recently with THE CITY, explained of his colleagues. “They&rsquore afraid to stick their neck out to do anything because they don&rsquot want to get fired.”

2020 has also been a record-breaking year when it comes to Americans buying firearms. And there is fear amongst activists and experts that this violence will continue in 2021 unless evidence-based, community-led initiatives that can quell the problems are enacted. Sustained financial investment within communities that face daily gun violence is seen by many as the most necessary first step.

“Gun violence is a problem that is really hard to deal with. It’s hard for social service agencies to deal with, it’s hard for other community organizations to deal with. Let’s emphasize the investment needed for an alternative model built around residents and community organizations,” Sharkey says. “That should be the starting point.”


(Getty Images)

North Korea releases the Pueblo crew but keeps the ship. It is now an exhibit in the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum in Pyongyang.

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This article is a selection from the January/February issue of Smithsonian magazine


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