American Epistles tells our history through the letters, journals, and diaries of "ordinary" Americans.
“They hit me and threw me down.” (Mine Wars, Part 2)
The problems that had been brewing in West Virginia coal fields came to a violent boil during the Mine Wars. For years, WV mine operators had employed guards from the Baldwin-Felts detective agency. The guards were often “clothed with some semblance of the authority of the law, either by being sworn in as railroad detectives, as constables or deputy sheriffs.”* They were accused of harassing, beating, and even killing miners with impunity.
Like workers all over the country during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, WV miners railed against long hours, low pay, and what some called un-American living conditions. And like many laborers during this tumultuous period, they found comfort and courage in the fiery words of Mary Harris Jones, aka Mother Jones.
This second episode in a three-part series focuses on the Paint Creek and Cabin Creek Strikes, during which martial law was declared three separate times. At least 20 people were killed.
“The worst of the explosion occurred in the No. 8 mine.” (Mine Wars, Part 1)
The West Virginia Mine Wars were violent conflicts between mine workers and mine owners, that took place between 1912 and 1922. In all there were five armed battles over that 10-year period. This first episode in a three-part series focuses on the history of the mining industry, and the conditions and events that led up to the Mine Wars.
“We lived with constant fear.” (Encore: Freedom Summer, Part 2)
John Robert Lewis was born on February 21, 1940, in Pike County, Alabama. As he learned during a filming of Finding Your Roots, his great-great-grandfather Tobias Carter, registered to voted in 1867, 2 years after the abolition of slavery. But almost 100 years later, Lewis, his sharecropper parents, and thousands of other descendants of enslaved people were prevented from voting.
Inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Montgomery bus boycott, Lewis organized non-violent protests such as sit-ins, and joined the 1961 Freedom Rides. Lewis assumed leadership of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) in 1963. In '64, SNCC and other civil rights groups led an effort to educate African Americans in Mississippi, and register them to vote.
“We have to be shot down here like rabbits.” (Encore: The Great Migration, Part 1)
The Civil War was supposed to mean the end of slavery and the beginning of freedom, franchise, and full citizenship for African Americans. And in the decades after the war, many blacks did make legislative, educational, and financial gains. But as we learned in the first episode of American Epistles, many more formerly enslaved people and their children faced limited economic opportunity and the constant threat of violence.
“His Intelligence from the Enemy’s Camp were Industriously Collected…” (James Armistead Lafayette, Mini Episode)
During the Revolutionary War, enslaved American James Armistead acted as a double agent and provided valuable information to French general Marquis de Lafayette. Five years after the war, Armistead was granted his freedom and added "Lafayette" to his name.
“The more I read, the more I fought against slavery.” (Slave Narratives and the Pursuit of Literacy, Part 3)
For enslaved Americans, literacy was a path to freedom.
Those who could write forged the “tickets” that both enslaved and free blacks needed to move about. Some of these tickets took enslaved people all the way to free states, and even to Canada.
Literacy provided spiritual freedom. It enabled people in bondage to read the whole Bible, and not just the sections that enslavers quoted. The Bible represented liberation, both on earth and in eternity. Enslaved Christians identified with the Israelites, whom Moses led out of Egypt and into the Promised Land.
And in sharing their stories, people who had escaped slavery hoped to awaken sympathy in their fellow Americans and achieve freedom for all enslaved people.
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Powerful sources, beautiful writing
One of my favorite history podcasts. Susan has such an incredible eye for sources and brings the listener into a moment in history with just the right amount of historical context. With its focus on ordinary lives, this is social history done right: thoughtful, accessible, and beautifully written. Highly recommended.
Excellent, warmly produced history
“Warm” is an odd word to describe a podcast, especially one that can deal with some heavy subject matter. But that’s what I get out of American Epistles: warmth. And the sense that I’m going to learn something which I always do (and which inspires me in my own podcast). Can’t recommend this podcast enough for not just African American history junkies, but history podcast fans in general. Truly good stuff.
Great Format, Well Done
A new podcast, this is already a favorite of many of us who have been at it for a while. The format is unique, the episodes are well researched, the story telling style is engaging and personable without being informal. The topics are vitaly important for american history but are less well known. all around, one of the best new podasts you can find.