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Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
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The Underground Railroad, the secret system that ferried thousands of enslaved people from bondage to freedom, had stops in cities across a wide expanse of our country – and some of the “stations” were in places that were not in a direct line from a slave state to a free one.

“While primary attention is given to the drama of slave escapes to the free states of the North and to Canada, there was also a flow of runaways into Spanish Florida and into Spanish Mexico and the subsequent Mexican Republic,” notes the National Park Service.

Whatever path an enslaved person took for their escape – wagons, boats, river crossings – they often found their way to hiding places within private homes, churches and barns. Helping them along were abolitionists, including free blacks and others sympathetic to their plight who risked fines and imprisonment for aiding them.

Look for upcoming posts about cities such as Atlanta, Cincinnati and New York – all known for their efforts to help enslaved persons become free men and women. Check out this link to see various routes of the Underground Railroad:

What are some barriers that formerly enslaved people faced once they made it to freedom, or during their journey North?

Image: Charles T. Webber. The Underground Railroad. 1893.
Sources on the Underground Railroad.
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The Crisis magazine, which was first published by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1910, continues its long-term goal of educating its readers about the challenges facing people of color. W. E. B. Du Bois founded the magazine with the intention of showing both negative images of racial prejudice and positive depictions of black progress despite discrimination.

During the Harlem Renaissance, it introduced and highlighted the work of black poets, artists and photographers, some of whom had were first published in the magazine. It featured the writings of James Weldon Johnson, Langston Hughes and Claude McKay in the 1920s. Artist Romare Bearden’s political cartoons were reproduced in The Crisis in the 1930s.

Its Summer 2014 issue, with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor gracing its cover, includes looks forward and back: the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, the movie “Belle” (inspired by the story of a mixed-race woman who grew up in the English aristocracy of the 18th century); and the national influence of “Moral Monday” demonstrations in North Carolina that are challenging injustices.

The Crisis has entered the digital age, with its website showcasing elements of its print magazine as well as the latest tweets related to race relations. Its social media recently noted the call by the Justice Department for an additional autopsy of Michael Brown, the unarmed teen shot and killed by a Ferguson, Mo., police officer, as well as the first-time shutout in the Little League World Series by Philadelphia pitcher Mo’ne Davis.

Check out this link to Crisis’ October 1963 issue with its cover photo of the crowds at the March on Washington that year:


Photo: First issue of The Crisis. Library of Congress.
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“The V for victory sign is being displayed prominently in all so-called democratic countries which are fighting for victory over aggression, slavery, and tyranny. If this V sign means that to those now engaged in this great conflict, then let we colored Americans adopt the double V V for a double victory. The first V for victory over our enemies from without, the second V for victory for our enemies from within. For surely those who perpetuate these ugly prejudices here are seeking to destroy our democratic form of government just as surely as the Axis forces.” (James G. Thompson, 1942)

The Pittsburgh Courier was once the most widely circulated black newspaper, at its peak reaching almost 200,000 people. From its beginning in 1907, the paper called for improvements in housing, education and health. It also protested slum conditions that black people were forced to live in throughout Pittsburgh and other parts of the country.

When one million African Americans who served in the military faced segregation and discrimination in combat, the Courier told their stories. Shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor James Thompson proposed the concept of a Double Victory. He called for African Americans to support our country abroad while also gaining a victory at home: full civil rights.

The Courier showed its patriotism by giving U.S. flags to all those who subscribed. It also encouraged its readers to support the nation by buying war bonds. Although it is difficult to define concrete accomplishments of the campaign, it provided a way for people to voice their concerns about racial discrimination while still supporting our country. For more information on the Double V Campaign, click here:

Photo: "V" home campaign, Washington, DC. October 1942. National Archives and Records Administration.
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Hale Woodruff portrays the heroic efforts of resistance to slavery in three murals that tell the story of the Amistad. This first cycle includes the murals “The Mutiny on the Amistad,” which depicts the uprising on the slave ship La Amistad, “The Trial of the Amistad Captives,” depicting the court proceedings that followed the mutiny, and “The Repatriation of the Freed Captives,” portraying the subsequent freedom and return to Africa of the Amistad captives.

These three works of art are monumental images. If you have never seen the murals before, don’t worry! The High Museum of Art has created an excellent tool for exploring the murals online. We encourage you to visit their site and click the “Explore” tab to see the digitized murals and learn more about them:

What do you notice in Woodruff’s murals? What are your thoughts on his use of color? Let us know what you think about his work in the comments below.

On Friday, 11/7, you can see the murals in person in our temporary exhibit space at the National Museum of American History. The exhibit is on the second floor, east side of the building. Remember to use the hashtag ‪#‎RisingUp‬ when you visit!
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Are you looking for some Halloween tricks? You could consult Black Herman's book The World's Greatest Magician: Black Herman.

Black Herman was a prominent magician and illusionist in the early 20th century. Born as Benjamin Rucker in Virginia in 1892, he learned the craft from his mentor. Rucker studied under a showman and peddler named Prince Herman. By the time of the Prince’s death, Rucker had enough skill to develop his own show.

After travelling throughout the South, Black Herman landed in Chicago before finally settling in New York City during the Jazz Age. His show mixed fortune telling, mind-reading tricks, comedy, vaudeville theater, and religious oratory. His most noted accomplishment was headlining a show at Liberty Hall in 1923. For one month, he sold out the four-thousand-seat hall.

Black Herman was one of the most successful African American magicians of the twentieth century. He utilized his stage craft to connect with diverse audiences and receive great applause. To learn more about him, please visit:
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Sepia magazine was one of a cluster of African American magazines whose photographs and stories celebrated the successes of black U.S. residents. Compared to Life magazine, Sepia featured blacks’ achievements – it originally was called “Negro Achievements” – but also was a vehicle for understanding race relations. Within its pages appeared columns by writer John Howard Griffin, a white man who darkened his skin and wrote about his treatment in the segregated South, that eventually became the best-selling book “Black Like Me.”

“In a sense, Ebony provided the African American community with optimism, while Sepia offered realism,” wrote scholar Mia Chandra Long in a comparison of the two magazines.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame featured a collection of images from Sepia’s photo archives spanning 1948 to 1983 that was a who’s who of black artistry: Ray Charles, Bob Marley, James Brown, Mahalia Jackson and Dizzy Gillespie.

“Sepia magazine was a vital voice in the African-American community for many decades,” said Howard Kramer, the curatorial director at the time of the 2009 exhibit at the hall of fame. “The knowledge and information it presented spoke much about its audience, and its audience cared about and loved music.”

See more information about black pictorial magazines from a joint exhibit of the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the University of Maryland’s Center for Art, Design and Visual Culture:


Photo: Sepia, November 1959. Collection of Civil Rights Archive/CADVC-UMBC, Baltimore, Maryland, 2005.206
The picture magazines of the 1940s did for the public what television did for audiences of the 1950s: they opened new windows in the mind and brought us face to face with the multicolored possibilities of man and woman. John H. Johnson. The birth of the modern African American pictorial magazine ...
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One of the most stirring examples of the influence of black magazines was Jet magazine’s decision to publish photos of Emmett Till, the 14-year-old black Chicagoan whose mutilated body was found in Mississippi’s Tallahatchie River. Two white men charged in the murder were later acquitted.

Lerone Bennett Jr., a former associate editor of Jet, told NPR in a 2004 story about the publishing decision by Jet founder John H. Johnson, who determined “the world should see this” in the magazine’s Sept 15, 1955 edition.

Across the country, word spread of the contents of that particular issue. People lined up to purchase it and read about Till and see the photos for themselves under the story headlined “Nation Horrified by Murder.” Some readers were inspired to contribute to the civil rights struggle. One was author Charles Cobb, who developed the “Freedom Schools” that worked to register black voters in Mississippi 50 years ago.

“People in the black community have said for years there is a motto: ‘If it wasn’t in Jet, it didn’t happen,’” Bennett said.

Jet announced in May that it was halting its print edition but would continue to be published in a digital magazine app.

Photo: Jet. Sep 15, 1955. Vol. 8, No. 19. ISSN 0021-5996. Published by Johnson Publishing Company.
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African American magazines have long played a role in the consciousness of the U.S. black population and affected the course of events in our nation’s history. From the publishing decisions of The Crisis, which is more than a century old, to Jet magazine’s path-breaking photos five decades ago, African-Americans could read stories of hope and discouragement that spurred them on to join the civil rights movement and work for justice in other ways.
Do you recall particular magazines on your family’s living room table when you were growing up? What difference did they make?

Photo: Our World, August 1954. 13 3/8 x 10 5/16 in. Collection of Civil Rights Archive/CADVC-UMBC, Baltimore, Maryland, 2005.70
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African Americans have participated in the fight for freedom since the founding of our country. In each conflict, they served bravely in every area of the war effort. In honor of Veterans Day, we will take a closer look at African American contributions to WWII this week. Later this week we will examine the Double V Campaign, involvement in D-Day, and women in the war effort.

Barbara Lewis Burger, for The National Archives, writes, “...often overlooked in our remembrances are the valiant efforts of African Americans. Throughout the war years they repeatedly had to battle adversaries on two fronts: the enemy overseas and racism at home. Black Americans recognized the paradox of fighting a world war for the ‘four freedoms’ while being subjected to prejudicial practices in the United States.”

This week we will post in remembrance of those who served our country. We honor all of our country’s veterans, past and present. Thank you for all that you do and all that you’ve done. Happy Veterans Day!

Photo: Group of recently appointed Negro officers. National Archives and Records Administration.
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The Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture seeks to understand American history through the lens of the African American experience.
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