The New Orleans Creoles Who Challenged Racism by Challenging Race Itself 

Alongside Homer Plessy, Mixed-Race Activists Used a Unique Legal Arsenal to Attack White Supremacy

It took years of research for me to track down a photograph of the mysterious New Orleanian E. Arnold Bertonneau. Born in 1834, this Civil War-era civil rights pioneer was famous in his day but somehow has disappeared from the national consciousness. In 1864, Bertonneau lobbied President Lincoln in the White House for African American voting rights. In 1877, he filed the first-ever federal case challenging school segregation, Bertonneau vs. Board of Directors of City Schools, on behalf of his two school-age sons, who had been excluded from a whites-only …

How Surf City USA Became the “Anti-California”

Riding a Wave of Litigation and Conspiracy-Mongering, Huntington Beach Defies the Golden State's Laws—and Its Diverse Reality

Who says you can’t build anything in California? Huntington Beach is busy constructing a wall of denial around whatever is left of its soul.

The Orange County city has long been …

The Greek-American R&B Legend Who Passed as Black

Johnny Otis Felt He Had Been ‘Saved’ by the Political, Spiritual, and Moral Force of African-American Culture 

If a role exists in black music that Johnny Otis couldn’t play, it would be hard to find. Known as the godfather of rhythm and blues, Otis was a bandleader, …

The Voodoo Priestess Whose Celebrity Foretold America’s Future

Marie Laveau, the Self-Invented New Orleans Prophetess, Blurred the Sacred and Profane While Presiding Over a Multiracial Following 

Any tourist who rolls into New Orleans’s French Quarter eventually finds themselves standing before a Bourbon Street botanica called Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo. It’s a small shop, and …

The Black Women Soldiers Who Demanded Opportunities

During World War II, Four African Americans at Fort Devens, Massachusetts Went on Strike to Do Skilled Jobs Instead of ‘Maid Work’

In late 1944, four African-American women—Mary Green, Anna Morrison, Johnnie Murphy and Alice Young—enlisted in the Women’s Army Corps, or WAC, the newly established military branch for women. All …

How African American Spirituals Moved From Cotton Fields to Concert Halls

After the Civil War, Touring Groups of Black College Singers Popularized Slavery-Era Songs, Giving Rise to a New Musical Genre

“Swing low, sweet chariot….” These words are familiar to many Americans, who might sing them in worship, in Sunday school, around campfires, in school, and in community choruses. But …