12 episodes

Urban Roots is hosted by Deqah Hussein (historic preservationist and urban planner) and Vanessa Quirk (journalist and producer). Urban Roots is a podcast that takes a deep dive into little known stories from urban history. It’s brought to you by Urbanist Media, an anti-racist community preservation organization.

There are many stories that have not been told and many topics that have not been fully explored. This podcast challenges you to think beyond the familiar, and broaden the scope of what we see as urban history to conceptualize what shaped our communities.

Urban Roots Deqah & Vanessa

    • History
    • 5.0 • 34 Ratings

Urban Roots is hosted by Deqah Hussein (historic preservationist and urban planner) and Vanessa Quirk (journalist and producer). Urban Roots is a podcast that takes a deep dive into little known stories from urban history. It’s brought to you by Urbanist Media, an anti-racist community preservation organization.

There are many stories that have not been told and many topics that have not been fully explored. This podcast challenges you to think beyond the familiar, and broaden the scope of what we see as urban history to conceptualize what shaped our communities.

    Black Indy Part 2: Reclaiming Indianapolis' Black History

    Black Indy Part 2: Reclaiming Indianapolis' Black History

    In the 1950s and 1960s, Ms. Jean Spears was a young mother and burgeoning preservationist. She saved antiques from houses about to be demolished; she bought a home in a white slum and renovated it; later on, she did the same with a historic home in the black neighborhood near Indiana Avenue. In the eighties, she and some neighbors started digging into this black neighborhood’s history, uncovering the names of Black doctors, civic leaders, and other professionals who had lived there, many of whom had worked for Madam C.J. Walker. She helped rename the neighborhood to Ransom Place, in honor of Freeman Ransom, Madam Walker's prodigious lawyer. And in 1991, they succeeded in getting the Ransom Place Historic District included in the National Register of Historic Places.

    Thanks in no small part to the connection to Madam C.J. Walker, Jean Spears was able to save this pocket of Black history, in an area that — as we explained last episode — the city of Indianapolis had almost erased from memory. But black Indy history is about more than Madam Walker, and other stories and places in the city need protection, too. In this episode, we’ll introduce you to three Black women who are carrying on what Ms. Jean Spears started — safeguarding these little-known stories of the past and guiding Indianapolis toward a brighter future.

    Guests

    We talk with Claudia Polley of the Urban Legacy Lands Initiative; Kaila Austin, an artist and historian (who also shared her oral history with Flinora Frazier with us); Judith Thomas, the Deputy Mayor of Neighborhood Engagement for the City of Indianapolis; and Paula Brooks, the Environmental Justice Program Manager at the Hoosier Environment Council.

    Sponsors

    This episode, the first of a two-part series on Black Indy, was made possible by a grant from Indiana Humanities. We need help for future projects so please consider donating to Urbanist Media on PayPal, Venmo, or Patreon!

    Credits

    Host & Executive Producers: Vanessa Maria Quirk & Deqah Hussein-Wetzel

    Editor: Connor Lynch

    Mix: Andrew Callaway

    Music: Adaam James Levin-Areddy

    About Us

    Urban Roots unearths little-known stories from urban history, especially histories of women and people of color that are in danger of being forgotten. Our mission is to elevate underrepresented voices and help preserve the places significant to them.

    Find Us Online: Website | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | YouTube

    • 26 min
    Black Indy Part 1: Madam C.J. Walker and the Rise and Fall of Indiana Avenue

    Black Indy Part 1: Madam C.J. Walker and the Rise and Fall of Indiana Avenue

    Madam C.J. Walker was a brilliant entrepreneur who built a haircare empire and became the first African American woman millionaire. You might have heard about her, but not many people know that her headquarters used to be located in Indianapolis, along a once vibrant Black corridor called Indiana Avenue, a place that today is known for parking lots, high-speed traffic, and uninspiring university buildings.

    Why do so few people know this story? Because, over decades, government planners and private developers slowly and systematically erased Indiana Avenue's history. Luckily, however, some Black Hoosiers are working to uncover — and reclaim — what almost disappeared without a trace. In this episode we tell their — and the Avenue’s — story.

    Guests

    We talk with some incredibly distinguished Black Indianapolis experts: journalist and Madam C.J. Walker biographer (and descendent) A’Lelia Bundles; Susan Hall Dotson of the Indiana Historical Society; Claudia Polley of the Urban Legacy Lands Initiative; Wildstyle Paschall, an artist and community advocate; Devon Ginn of the Walker Legacy Center; and centenarian/Indiana Avenue author, Mr. Thomas Hart Ridley.

    We also reference the research of Dr. Olon Dotson of Ball State University. You can find the aerial photographs we mention in the episode here: https://maps.indy.gov/MapIndy/

    Sponsors

    This episode, the first of a two-part series on Black Indianapolis, was made possible by a grant from Indiana Humanities. To help us fund future projects please donate to Urbanist Media on PayPal, Venmo, or Patreon!

    Credits

    Host and Executive Producer: Deqah Hussein-Wetzel

    Host and Executive Producer: Vanessa Maria Quirk

    Editor: Connor Lynch

    Mix: Andrew Callaway

    Music: Adaam James Levin-Areddy

    About Us

    Urban Roots dives deep into little known stories from urban history, unearthing histories of women and people of color that are in danger of being forgotten. Website | Instagram | Twitter | YouTube

    • 26 min
    Remembering Biddy Mason Part 2: Building Black L.A.

    Remembering Biddy Mason Part 2: Building Black L.A.

    In our previous episode, we told you the first half of Biddy Mason’s remarkable story: how she was born into slavery in Mississippi, earned her freedom in one of the largest freedom suits in American history, and went on to become one of Los Angeles’ most well-respected healers.

    Today, in the second of our two-part series, we're telling the final half of Biddy’s story: how she went from owning nothing at all to becoming one of the wealthiest women and philanthropists in the American West by the time she died in 1891.

    You’d think this remarkable woman would be taught in every California classroom; her memory etched throughout the built landscapes of Southern California. But no. Apart from one (absurdly difficult to locate) memorial pocket park downtown, Biddy’s memory has almost been erased. The courthouse where her freedom trial was held is gone. Her first home, too. Her former real estate properties, if still standing, have no markers. Even the UCSF mural, one of only two historical depictions of Biddy, was very nearly demolished in 2020.

    But a group of organizers and historians fought back to keep the mural — and Biddy’s story — safe from destruction. Now, the Biddy Mason Collaborative is uncovering more and more about this woman who built Black L.A. — and working hard to keep her memory alive.

    Guests

    This episode we speak with folks from the Biddy Mason Collaborative. We talk with co-directors Sarah “Sally” Barringer Gordon, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and Dr. Kevin Waite, an American history professor at Durham University (in the UK) and author of West of Slavery, and Jackie Broxton, executive director of the Biddy Mason Charitable Foundation. We also speak to Laura Voisin George, an architectural historian (and PhD candidate at the UCSB) and Sky Lea Ross, a phD candidate at UCLA and a therapist with Peace Over Violence.

    About Us

    Urban Roots is a podcast that dives deep into little known stories from urban history.

    It is an offshoot of Urbanist Media, a not-for-profit anti-racist community preservation collaborative.

    Credits

    Host and Executive Producer: Deqah Hussein-Wetzel

    Host and Executive Producer: Vanessa Maria Quirk.

    Editor: Connor Lynch.

    Mix: Andrew Callaway.

    Music: Adaam James Levin-Areddy.

    Find Us Online: Website | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | YouTube

    • 25 min
    Remembering Biddy Mason Part 1: Long Road to Freedom

    Remembering Biddy Mason Part 1: Long Road to Freedom

    In the spring of 2013, Laura Voisin George was in the reading room at the Huntington library when she came across a historical detail that struck her as … unusual.

    At the time, Laura was a PhD candidate studying one of California's first surgeons. While perusing a series of articles, she discovered the existence of 10 massive murals — built into a lecture hall at U.C. San Francisco's medical school — that told the history of California medicine in a colorful, elaborate, and explicit social realism style. Laura scanned a photo of one of those murals, the one depicting the mid 1800s, and was surprised to see a Black nurse, a woman working side by side with one of the leading doctors of Los Angeles (and a former slave owner to boot). In the 1800s.

    Laura wanted to know more, so she started digging. Soon, she found this nurse's name: Biddy Mason. Then, she found so much more. 

    This season, we are dedicating two full episodes to telling the remarkable story of Biddy Mason. In Part 1, we talk about Biddy’s beginnings: how she went from an enslaved woman in Mississippi to one of the most renowned healers in Los Angeles. We also talk to a group of organizers and historians from the Biddy Mason Collaborative (or ‘the Biddy Mason Justice League’ as we like to call them) who are collaborating and uncovering more about this woman than we ever knew before — and working hard to keep her memory alive.

    If you like this episode, make sure to stay tuned for Part 2, when we tell the second half of Biddy’s life: her journey to becoming one the wealthiest women in the West — and a founder of Black Los Angeles.

    Guests

    This episode we speak with folks from the Biddy Mason Collaborative: project co-directors Sarah “Sally” Barringer Gordon, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and Dr. Kevin Waite, an American history professor at Durham University (and author of West of Slavery); as well as Jackie Broxton, Executive Director of the Biddy Mason Charitable Foundation and Laura Voisin George, an architectural historian (and PhD candidate at UCSB).

    About Us

    Urban Roots is a podcast that takes a deep dive into little known stories from urban history. It is an offshoot of Urbanist Media, a not-for-profit anti-racist community preservation collaborative.

    Credits

    Host and Executive Producer: Deqah Hussein-Wetzel.

    Host and Executive Producer: Vanessa Maria Quirk.

    Editor: Connor Lynch.

    Mix: Andrew Callaway.

    Music: Adaam James Levin-Areddy. 



    Support us by Donating: Venmo | PayPal

    • 26 min
    Unearthing Black History in Brooklyn: Green-Wood Cemetery’s Freedom Lots

    Unearthing Black History in Brooklyn: Green-Wood Cemetery’s Freedom Lots

    Founded in 1838, Green-Wood Cemetery is one of the earliest (and most famous) rural cemeteries in America. Its grandiose, park-like setting is scattered with notable burial sites and architectural masterpieces. But, in our interviews with Green-Wood staff members (Neela Wickremesinghe, Jeff Richman, and Darryl Jones), we learn about a lesser-known area: the Freedom Lots, where African Americans were buried.

    In 2017, these seven lots were in very rough shape — some of the graves were destroyed past recovery. This episode tells the story of the people of color who took action to not only preserve what was left of these physical graves, but to commemorate the memories of the people buried there.

    GUESTS

    Green-Wood’s Director of Restoration and Preservation, Neela Wickremesinghe; staff Historian, Jeff Richman; and Darryl Jones (Neela’s former intern who now works for the cemetery full time)! 

    ABOUT US

    Urban Roots is a podcast that takes a deep dive into little known stories from urban history. The pod is an offshoot of Urbanist Media, a not-for-profit anti-racist community preservation collaborative.

    CREDITS


    Host and Executive Producer: Deqah Hussein-Wetzel.
    Host, Editor, Executive Producer: Vanessa Maria Quirk.
    Editor: Connor Lynch
    Story Editor: Cheryl Devall
    Mix: Andrew Callaway.
    Theme Music: Adaam James Levin-Areddy.



    SUPPORT US BY DONATING:
    PayPal | Venmo

    FIND US ONLINE:
    Website | PayPal | Instagram | Twitter | Facebook | YouTube

    • 24 min
    Season 2 Teaser

    Season 2 Teaser

    Welcome back, folks! We hope you’re ready for another season of Urban Roots because Season 2 is coming soon – Juneteenth (June 19th) to be exact. Please join us on an urban journey as we explore hidden African American history in cities across the country.

    Join us in Brooklyn, New York where we visit Greenwood Cemetery’s Freedom Lots — in  Los Angeles, California where we find all the places Biddy Mason’s memory has been preserved — and in Indianapolis, Indiana, where we uncover the hidden gem of Indiana Avenue and learn why Madam C.J. Walker relocated her headquarters there in 1910 .

    Our Indianapolis episodes are made possible thanks to funding from Indiana Humanities!



    Credits


    Host and Executive Producer: Deqah Hussein-Wetzel.
    Host and Executive Producer: Vanessa Maria Quirk.
    Editor: Connor Lynch.



    About Us

    Urban Roots is a podcast that takes a deep dive into little known stories from urban history and is brought to you by Urbanist Media, an anti-racist community preservation organization.



    Follow us on Instagram and Facebook — @urbanrootsculture

    Follow us on Twitter — @urbanrootspod and @urbanistmedia

    Subscribe to our Urban Roots Podcast YouTube channel!

    • 2 min

Customer Reviews

5.0 out of 5
34 Ratings

34 Ratings

TheBirdmanRisesAgain ,

Black History Excellence

One of the most interesting podcasts I’ve listened too. The amount of historical knowledge presented in this show is amazing. The two hosts really keep the topics engaging. Plus the amount of Black history in this podcast is amazing. So many Black historical figures that I never knew about until I discovered this podcast. I hoping that we get a third season.

The Caprese ,

Great!

An really well-done, informative podcast that highlights history too often forgotten. Highly recommend!

DELICIOUSFISHES ,

Exciting and informative!

Urban Roots is a great podcast that’s definitely worth a listen. I appreciated learning so much about Cincinnati’s urban past, especially how racial inequality is literally built into the city’s infrastructure.

The podcast also features interviews and oral histories with locals, which I found to be very interesting, as their historical perspectives offer valuable insights for urban politics today. These narratives of the past are critical for anyone interested in charting a course for a more just, equitable, and sustainable future.

Overall, this is a fun and informative podcast that I highly recommend!

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