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American History Tellers

American History Tellers

New episodes come out every Wednesday for free, with 1-week early access for Wondery+ subscribers.

The Cold War, Prohibition, the Gold Rush, the Space Race. Every part of your life -the words you speak, the ideas you share- can be traced to our history, but how well do you really know the stories that made America? We?ll take you to the events, the times and the people that shaped our nation. And we?ll show you how our history affected them, their families and affects you today. Hosted by Lindsay Graham (not the Senator). From Wondery, the network behind Tides Of History, Fall Of Rome and Dirty John.

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Roaring Twenties | How the Money Rolls In | 3

In 1921, Republican President Warren G. Harding entered the White House, ushering in a new era of conservative government. Harding was elected by Americans yearning for tradition and old-fashioned values. But they put in power one of the most scandal-ridden presidencies in American history.

Harding filled his administration with corrupt cronies who exploited their offices for personal gain. Americans were shocked as the details of Teapot Dome and other scandals came to light, even after Harding?s abrupt death brought his presidency to a premature end.

But no controversy could sustain Americans? attention for long in a new era of mass consumerism. As the economy boomed, a bitter rivalry between the two carmaking giants, Ford and GM, brought the power of advertising and marketing to new heights.

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2021-10-13
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Introducing: Who, When, WOW!

Created by Tinkercast and hosted by Rebecca Sheir (Circle Round), ?Who, When, Wow!? is an auditory journey into the lives of unsung heroes, unknown heroines and amazing humans. Each 20 minute ?cartoon-for-the-ear? episode immerses kids and their grown-ups in a historical narrative around one fascinating figure you don?t hear about in school but who brought WOW to our world!

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2021-10-07
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Roaring Twenties | The Age of Jazz | 2

In the 1920s, Americans moved to the city in droves, and a new, diverse generation sparked an era of dizzying social change. It was the Age of Jazz, a time when Black Americans brought a revolutionary new musical style to northern cities. Free-spirited flappers haunted urban nightclubs. And Harlem, New York became the epicenter of a renaissance in Black artistic and political expression.

But rapid changes in the city sparked fear and backlash in the countryside. Rural white Americans vigorously defended traditional religious values, and fundamentalist preachers drew massive audiences. Meanwhile, a resurgent Ku Klux Klan drew millions of new members by targeting not just Black Americans, but also Jews, Catholics, and recent immigrants. 

In 1925, the divide between urban and rural America came to a head in a sleepy town in eastern Tennessee, where the sensational ?Scopes Monkey Trial? pitted the forces of science and religion against each other.

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2021-10-06
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Roaring Twenties | Rise of the Radicals | 1

In 1919, American soldiers returned from the battlefields of Europe to face a nation torn apart by a different war. One-fifth of the nation?s workforce put down their tools and went on strike. Anarchists sent deadly bombs in the mail to congressmen and cabinet members. And a terrorist attack on Wall Street killed dozens.

As economic and political turmoil swept the country, government authorities moved to stamp out dissent. Targeting unionized workers, immigrants, and radicals, officials launched ruthless campaigns to drive out what they saw as threats to America.

It was the dawn of the Roaring Twenties, a decade of extremes that saw a rapidly changing nation caught between its past and its future.

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2021-09-29
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Encore: National Parks | Fire and Ice | 6

Alaska: big, open, frozen and wild. In 1867, the acquisition of Alaska from the Russian Empire was widely derided as ?folly.? But early explorers like John Muir saw its potential, and clamored for its preservation in the face of increasing development and calls for statehood. Then oil was discovered in Alaska, and the real fight began. Caught between angry Alaskan individualists and an ambitious federal government, the National Park Service struggled to do what was right for the land and the people who lived and depended on it.

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2021-09-22
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Encore: National Parks | Playgrounds of the People | 5

In 1914, America?s National Parks had a problem: no one was using them. And those few that were faced unmaintained roads, trails strewn with garbage, and a lack of amenities that made it hard for the average American to enjoy themselves. One man had enough, and went to Washington on a mission: establish a new National Parks Service, and transform these neglected, magic spaces into clean, approachable, fun vacation destinations.

But in taking the reins, mining tycoon and marketing genius Stephen Mather would face many challenges: wolves, bears, fires, and his own internal torment.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, here are some additional resources:

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National Alliance on Mental Illness: 1-800-950-6264

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2021-09-15
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Introducing: 9/12

How did 9/11 the day become 9/11 the idea? That question drives award-winning host Dan Taberski (Missing Richard Simmons, Running From COPS, The Line) to shift his focus to what happened on 9/12, and every day after that. 9/12 is a poignant, surprising, and surprisingly funny seven episode series about people who wake up on 9/12 having to navigate a new, radically altered world. A teenager gets caught up in an out-of-control conspiracy theory that he helped start. A Pakistani business owner finds hundreds of his Brooklyn neighbors are disappearing. Joke-writers at The Onion must figure out just how soon is ?too soon?? 9/12 asks what it all means. We know what happened on 9/11. But what happened on 9/12 to alter our memory and our perspective forever? 

Listen to 9/12: wondery.fm/9_12_HistoryTellers

All seven episodes of 9/12 are available to stream now on Amazon Music or Wondery+. Episodes will release weekly everywhere starting September 8th.

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2021-09-09
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Encore: National Parks | The Great Disaster | 4

In the early morning hours of Wednesday, April 18, 1906, the city of San Francisco was torn apart by a huge earthquake and devastating fire. As the city rebuilt, it also sought to ensure that if fire were to strike the city again, abundant water would available to fight it.

But a new reservoir for the city would require flooding a treasured portion of Yosemite, the Hetch Hetchy Valley, one of John Muir?s favorite locations. He fiercely opposed the plan, setting up a showdown between Muir?s newly formed Sierra Club and political forces in both San Francisco and Washington, D.C. - including Muir?s former ally in the conservation movement, Teddy Roosevelt.

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2021-09-08
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Encore: National Parks | Rough Rider | 3

Vice President Theodore Roosevelt was atop a mountain when he heard the news: an assassin?s bullet would likely take President McKinley?s life, and make Roosevelt president.

Upon his inauguration shortly thereafter, Roosevelt brought his lifelong love of the natural world to the White House. With a stroke of his executive pen, he set aside vast swaths of land as preserves and monuments. And later, with an election looming, he embarked on the most comprehensive tour of America?s natural wonders any president had ever made, visiting the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and taking ?the most important camping trip in history? with John Muir in Yosemite.

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2021-09-01
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Encore: National Parks | Calling in the Cavalry | 2

Yellowstone was our nation?s first national park. Its strange, wondrous landscapes were perfect for exploration - and exploitation. Upon Yellowstone?s discovery by white Americans, two races began: one to build a railroad to the park to capture its commercial potential, another to protect the land from desecration. One will fail, bringing down with it the nation?s economy. The other will require the U.S. Army to succeed, but leave thousands of animals slaughtered and Native American tribes displaced.

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2021-08-25
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Encore: National Parks | The Business of Nature | 1

America's national parks are truly among our country's greatest treasures. But many of these beautiful landmarks have ugly pasts. On this series, we?ll explore the often forgotten histories of some of America?s most breathtaking natural wonders, starting with the park that began the conservationist movement in the 1800s: Yosemite.

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2021-08-18
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Wondery Presents - Dr. Death: Miracle Man

Paolo is a smart and handsome surgeon, renowned for his ability to perform surgeries that transform his patients? lives. When television producer Benita covers him for a story, he?ll transform her life too, but not in the ways she expects. As Benita crosses professional lines to be with him, she learns how far Paolo will go to protect his secrets. And halfway around the world, four doctors at a prestigious medical institute make shocking discoveries of their own that call everything into question. From Wondery comes Season Three of the hit podcast, Dr. Death. MIRACLE MAN tells the story of a globe-trotting surgeon who seduces the medical world, and sweeps one woman off her feet. Hosted by Laura Beil.

 Listen to Dr. Death Season 3: wondery.fm/DDS3_HistoryTellers

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2021-08-16
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The Fight for the First U.S. Olympics | Passing the Torch | 4

The 1904 St. Louis Olympics were marred by controversy and poorly organized events like the marathon. But at least they took place as scheduled. In 1916, after the outbreak of World War I, they were canceled entirely. A century later, in 2020, the Olympics faced another kind of test: a global pandemic that forced the first postponement of the Games in their history.

 

In this episode, Lindsay discusses troubled Olympics past and present with Dr. Susan Brownell, a former nationally ranked track-and-field athlete turned scholar and Olympic historian. They?ll look at how war, disease, boycotts and political turmoil have repeatedly threatened the Games throughout their history, and how the Olympics have survived such challenges to unite the world in its love of sport.

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2021-08-11
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The Fight for the First U.S. Olympics | The Home Stretch | 3

In the summer of 1904, the young women of the Fort Shaw Indian School basketball team took the St. Louis Olympics and the World?s Fair by storm with their fast-paced, dynamic play. But could they keep their undefeated record and win the world championship against their toughest opponent yet -- a team of white all-stars from the best high school team in Missouri? 

As the Fort Shaw girls prepared for their championship game, another Olympics drama unfolded: the marathon. Covering 25 miles of steep hills and dusty dirt roads, it would be the ultimate test of athletic endurance. But for some runners, it would nearly end in disaster.

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2021-08-04
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The Fight for the First U.S. Olympics | Let the Games Begin | 2

In 1904, St. Louis was thrust into the national spotlight, as it played host to both the World?s Fair and America?s first Olympic Games. After a bitter fight over which American city would host, Olympic founder Pierre De Coubertin had disavowed the St. Louis games entirely, passing the torch to amateur sports magnate James Sullivan. But Sullivan brought controversial ideas to the Games -- especially in the form of a contest between ?uncivilized? peoples called Anthropology Days.

Bad weather and a lack of international athletes hampered the Olympics further, and kept attendance low. Still, as the games continued, a handful of star athletes emerged, including a one-legged gymnast and a group of Native American women from Montana, who brought a revolutionary spin to the new sport of basketball.

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2021-07-28
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The Fight for the First U.S. Olympics | A Tale of Two Cities | 1

In the late 1800s, European fascination with the culture of ancient Greece, and a growing interest in physical education and fitness, led to the idea of resurrecting the Olympic Games of antiquity. A French nobleman named Pierre de Coubertin took up the cause, and under his leadership, the first international Olympiad took place in Athens in 1896.

Coubertin loved America, and wanted to bring his modern Games there. But finding an American city to host his sporting spectacle proved to be a competition in itself. Before the Games began, civic grudges and political backstabbing ignited a war between two rival cities, St. Louis and Chicago, over who would garner the glory of hosting the first U.S. Olympics.

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2021-07-21
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Lost Colony of Roanoke | Searching for Traces | 3

The mystery of what became of the first English colonists has baffled historians for centuries. But over the past decade, archaeologists have uncovered some compelling clues, including parts of a 16th century gun, and fragments of English pottery at a place called ?Site X,? both of which suggest that the Roanoke colonists survived longer than previously documented.

In this episode, Lindsay discusses those findings with author and journalist Andrew Lawler. In his book, The Secret Token: Myth, Obsession, and the Search for the Lost Colony of Roanoke, Lawler explores the latest archeological evidence, as well as some of the most persistent myths surrounding the fate of the Roanoke colonists. 

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2021-07-14
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Lost Colony of Roanoke | The Vanishing | 2

On April 26, 1587, 117 colonists sailed from England to establish a permanent settlement on the east coast of North America. After a long voyage fraught with storms and spoiled food, they landed on the island of Roanoke, in the Outer Banks region of what is now North Carolina. 

Under the leadership of John White, the settlers built a fort and homes, but faced hunger and harsh conditions. At the end of the summer, White was forced to leave his family and his newborn granddaughter, Virginia, to sail back to England for more supplies. While he was there, war broke out between England and Spain, and he could not return for three long years. When he finally did, he found Roanoke completely deserted, with only a few puzzling clues left that have haunted historians ever since.

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2021-07-07
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Lost Colony of Roanoke | In the Name of the Queen | 1

In the 16th century, Queen Elizabeth the First of England was locked in a battle for global dominance with Spain. She picked her favorite advisor, Walter Raleigh, to claim land in North America. In the coming years, Raleigh?s men made several voyages and explored the area known as the Outer Banks, in what is now North Carolina. There, they identified one island as a promising site for a future colony: Roanoke.

But as relations with the area?s indigenous people soured, and a drought brought famine to the region, England?s first attempts to establish a permanent base on Roanoke ended in failure. Still, the Queen knew that success on the new continent was key to her empire. Soon, she would send 117 men, women, and children to establish a permanent colony in the New World. But none of them could possibly imagine the hardships that lay ahead.

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2021-06-30
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The Walker Affair | The Gray-Eyed Man of Destiny | 1

In the mid-1800s, the United States was a young nation awash with mercenaries, adventurers, and entrepreneurs looking to take advantage of the country?s ever-expanding boundaries. Into this chaotic atmosphere stepped a young lawyer and newspaper editor from Tennessee named William Walker, who wrapped his personal ambitions in the cloak of American expansionism and the credo of ?Manifest Destiny.?

Hoping to establish his own republic, Walker became a ?filibuster,? a 19th century term for American mercenaries who attempted to colonize foreign lands without government authorization. He set his sights on a remote corner of Mexico, on the Baja Peninsula. But Walker?s ragtag band of American mercenaries quickly ran afoul of the Mexican authorities. Outgunned, and cut off from reinforcements, they retreated to the U.S. border, where federal soldiers stood waiting to arrest Walker for his unsanctioned invasion of a sovereign nation.

This is a sneak preview of a Wondery+ exclusive season of American History Tellers. To listen to the entire season, join Wondery+ in the Wondery app now. https://wondery.app.link/americanhistorytellers.

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2021-06-25
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Encore: Tulsa Race Massacre | Bearing Witness | 5

Like many Americans, Anneliese Bruner didn?t hear about the Tulsa Race Massacre growing up. But what made it surprising in her case was that her grandmother and great-grandmother were survivors of the massacre. Still, a conspiracy of silence surrounded the events of May 31 and June 1, 1921, even in Bruner?s own home.

Today, Bruner is fighting to change that. This year, she re-published her great-grandmother Mary Parrish?s written account of the destruction under the title The Nation Must Awake: My Witness to the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. On this episode, she joins Lindsay to discuss the massacre?s legacy, the efforts to restore its place in American history, and the case for offering reparations to survivors and their descendents.

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2021-06-23
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Encore: Tulsa Race Massacre | Rebirth | 4

On June 2, 1921, thousands of black Tulsans interned at the Tulsa Fairgrounds woke under armed guard. Many had no idea where their loved ones were or if they were still alive; they didn?t know whether their homes were still standing or if they?d been ransacked by the white mob. As Greenwood residents worked to restart lives that had been violently interrupted, city officials and greedy real estate speculators had other ideas ? ideas that would push Greenwood residents off their valuable land forever.

But those white elites would fail to account for the ambition, leadership and tight bonds of community that Greenwood?s people had built over the years. Though the neighborhood would never be the same, against all odds, Black Wall Street would rise from the ashes.

If you?d like to learn more about the Tulsa Race Massacre, we recommend a few great books we drew on for this series:

Black Wall Street: From Riot to Renaissance in Tulsa?s Historic Greenwood District by Hannibal Johnson

Reconstructing the Dreamland: The Tulsa Riot of 1921 by Alfred Brophy

Riot and Remembrance by James S. Hirsch

This episode originally aired in 2019.

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2021-06-16
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Encore: Tulsa Race Massacre | The Invasion | 3

On the night of Tuesday, May 31, 1921, a violent white mob attacked the prosperous Black neighborhood of Greenwood in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As the night progressed, the disorganized mob transformed into something even more deadly: a highly organized force led by volunteer soldiers.

On the morning of Wednesday, June 1, that force sprang into action. All over Greenwood, men, women and children found themselves under siege. Their homes, businesses and churches were under attack from land and sky ? calling the very survival of their fabled community into question.

This episode originally aired in 2019.

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2021-06-09
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Encore: Tulsa Race Massacre | The Powder Keg | 2

As Black teenager Dick Rowland sat in a jail cell at the Tulsa courthouse, news of his arrest flew through the town. Egged on by rumors about his alleged rape of white teenager Sarah Page, a white mob bent on a lynching Rowland began assembling outside the courthouse. By that evening, the crowd had swelled to thousands. 

Meanwhile, some young African American veterans of the recent world war were determined to defend Rowland, with their lives if necessary. When they arrived at the courthouse Tuesday night, they found themselves thrust into a situation far more volatile than they were prepared for.

This episode originally aired in 2019.

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2021-06-02
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Encore: Tulsa Race Massacre | The Promised Land | 1

In 1921, Tulsa, Oklahoma boasted one of the nation?s most prosperous African-American communities. Greenwood was home to 108 Black-owned businesses, two theaters, 15 physicians, two newspapers, and a luxury hotel. It was nicknamed ?the Black Wall Street.?

Then, on May 30th, a Black shoeshine boy named Dick Rowland was accused of assaulting a white teenaged elevator operator, Sarah Page. What happened next would ultimately lead to the destruction of Greenwood and the deaths of over 300 African Americans -- a massacre that, until recently, was virtually erased from American history.

This episode originally aired in 2019.

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2021-05-26
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The Mystery of D.B. Cooper | The Man in Row 18 | 1

On November 24th, 1971, a man on a Boeing 727 bound for Seattle handed a flight attendant a note that read, ?Miss, I have a bomb here.? No one knew the man?s real name. But soon, the press was calling him D.B. Cooper -- and his hijacking of Northwest Orient Flight 305 would go down as one of the most audacious in aviation history.

Cooper parachuted out of that flight with $200,000 in cash, then disappeared without a trace. Over the decades that followed, FBI agents and amateur investigators would pursue thousands of leads and hundreds of suspects. And the mystery of what really happened in the skies over Washington that night has only grown deeper.

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2021-05-19
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Bleeding Kansas | The Man Who Sparked the Civil War | 5

John Brown has been called many things: fanatic, hero, terrorist, martyr, zealot. Some of his contemporaries, including Frederick Douglass, believed that were it not for his raid on Harpers Ferry, the Civil War would never have started. But did Brown?s actions really bring about slavery?s eventual downfall? And can his impact still be seen today in a nation that remains deeply divided over issues of race?

In this episode, Lindsay discusses Brown?s complex legacy with historian David S. Reynolds, author of John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights.

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2021-05-12
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Bleeding Kansas | His Soul Goes Marching On | 4

On October 17th, 1859, John Brown was barricaded inside the federal armory at Harpers Ferry with his hostages and his remaining followers. His attempt to lead an antislavery insurrection had failed. A detachment of U.S. Marines led by Colonel Robert E. Lee had the armory surrounded. For the radical abolitionist, it was his last stand.

But after he was captured and sentenced to death, Northern abolitionists rallied to Brown?s cause. By the time he ascended the scaffold and prepared to meet the hangman?s rope, Brown had become a martyr and folk hero. His bold, violent actions polarized Americans on both sides of the slavery debate, and hurtled the nation closer to the brink of the Civil War.

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2021-05-05
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Bleeding Kansas | The Raid on Harpers Ferry | 3

In December 1858, John Brown was back in Kansas and Missouri, making headlines for dramatic and deadly raids on plantations. He and his followers freed 11 enslaved men and women and led them on an 1,100-mile journey to freedom in Canada.

But all the while, Brown was focused on finally launching his long-planned attack on slavery in Harpers Ferry, Virginia. After months of preparation, on the night of October 16th, 1859, Brown and his ?army? captured the town?s federal arsenal and armory. It was the start of 36 hours of chaos and bloodshed that would shake America to its core.

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2021-04-28
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Bleeding Kansas | The Pottawatomie Massacre | 2

On the night of May 24th, 1856, radical abolitionist John Brown and seven of his followers crept along the banks of Kansas?s Pottawatomie Creek and stormed a proslavery settlement. They dragged five men from their cabins and killed them in cold blood. 

Soon, Brown?s name was splashed across the nation?s newspapers, making him a lightning rod for controversy. He would exploit his notoriety to escalate his crusade against slavery, taking his guerrilla war to a new theater: the slaveholding South.

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2021-04-21
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Bleeding Kansas | John Brown's Crusade | 1

In the 1850s, the United States was lurching toward a crisis over slavery -- and abolitionist John Brown stepped into the fray. Brown believed it was his God-given destiny to destroy slavery. His crusade took him from abolitionist meetings in the Northeast, to the Underground Railroad in Ohio, to the bloody plains of Kansas.

In 1854, a fierce conflict erupted over whether the territory of Kansas would join the Union as a free state or slave state. As tensions escalated, Brown would rush to the center of the gathering storm and hatch a violent plan for striking back against proslavery forces.

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2021-04-14
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America's Monuments | The Trouble With Confederate Statues | 7

In recent years, there?s been a movement to remove statues of Confederate leaders and other monuments that some see as celebrations of America?s racist history. But does taking down these statues help address the racial inequities that plague our nation to this day? Or is it just erasing history? 

In his forthcoming book How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning With the History of Slavery Across America, author Clint Smith tackles these and other questions around what our public monuments say -- or, sometimes, fail to say -- about America?s past. He and Lindsay discuss such landmarks as Monticello, the Whitney Plantation, and the Statue of Liberty, and explore the different meanings they have for different Americans, especially in our present moment of racial reckoning.

For more on Clint Smith: https://www.clintsmithiii.com/ 

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2021-04-07
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America's Monuments | 58,000 Names | 6

The Vietnam War was one of the most divisive conflicts in American history. Over 58,000 Americans died in the fighting; many more returned home with wounds both visible and hidden. 

When veterans lobbied for a memorial to honor American soldiers lost in Vietnam, a young college student named Maya Lin was picked from a blind competition to design it. Her unconventional vision would lead to a bitter dispute over the nature and purpose of public art in America ? and how a nation heals its wounds after a collective loss. 

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2021-03-31
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America's Monuments | The Mansion of the King | 5

Few historic residences are more synonymous with their owners than Graceland. Purchased by Elvis Presley in 1957, the stately Memphis mansion was the heart of his private world and his most prized possession. He always swore he?d never sell it.   

But after Elvis?s sudden and tragic death, Graceland faced an uncertain future. It would take a risky move by his ex-wife Priscilla to save the mansion and secure its place as a lasting monument to one of America?s greatest musical icons.

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2021-03-24
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America's Monuments | The Longest Bridge | 4

In the early 1920s, San Francisco was a picturesque city on a narrow, isolated peninsula. Known for its scenic, natural beauty, it had the potential to become one of America?s leading metropolises. But to fuel its economic growth, it needed a bridge -- across one of the most treacherous bodies of water on the Western seaboard.

To build a bridge across the strait known as the Golden Gate, engineers and construction crews would have to fight against blistering winds, vicious currents, and punishing weather. Workers would dive below the frigid water, and ascend to breathtaking heights. In the end, they would forge an engineering marvel at the western entrance to America ? and capture the spirit of an iconic city.

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2021-03-17
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America's Monuments | Four Faces | 3

In 1927, workers began blasting granite rock off a towering cliff in South Dakota?s Black Hills. It was the start of an arduous 14-year struggle to carve the portraits of four American presidents into Mount Rushmore.

The feat required grueling labor in extreme conditions. And it was led by an obsessive sculptor named Gutzon Borglum. Borglum was the creative genius behind Rushmore, with a talent and ego as big as the monument itself. But he was also the biggest threat to its completion.

His masterpiece would become one of the most iconic ? and controversial ? monuments in America. 

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2021-03-10
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America?s Monuments | A Passage Through Panama | 2

For centuries, sailors and merchants dreamed of finding a passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans across the narrow isthmus of Central America. But no natural passage existed. To get ships across the fifty-mile stretch of land, someone would have to dig a canal.

The French tried first, and failed. Then, in 1904, President Theodore Roosevelt and the U.S. took on the challenge. Struggling against harsh weather, forbidding terrain and political turmoil, the United States would endeavor not just to build a canal ? but to establish itself as a formidable international power in the new century.

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2021-03-03
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America?s Monuments | The Colossus of New York Harbor | 1

It?s perhaps the most iconic of American monuments -- the Statue of Liberty. A towering 305-foot sculpture of copper and steel that is synonymous with American values of liberty, freedom and self-determination. But it began as a gift from France. And when it first arrived on American soil, its future was far from certain.

For over a decade, artists, craftsmen and everyday people from France and the United States worked together on what would be dubbed America?s ?New Colossus.? The statue they built would take on new associations with the passage of time -- but it would forever remain a symbol of America?s loftiest ideals.

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2021-02-24
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Great Chicago Fire | Out of the Ashes | 4

After the 1871 fire destroyed a third of their city, Chicagoans wanted to do more than rebuild. They wanted to envision a new kind of American city. That included everything from changes to fire codes and labor laws to an entirely new style of architecture -- the skyscraper.

Professor Ann Keating is an urban historian and expert on Chicago history both before and after the Great Fire. She and Lindsay discuss the rapid growth and social changes that made Chicago so vulnerable, what lessons city leaders learned -- or failed to learn -- in the fire?s aftermath, and the parallels between the Great Chicago Fire and other, more recent urban disasters.

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2021-02-17
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Great Chicago Fire | The Great Rebuilding | 3

As dawn broke on October 10, 1871, the dazed survivors of the Great Chicago Fire stumbled through their burned and battered city. A 30-hour inferno had reduced Chicago to ashes.

Homes and business were replaced by gaping holes and smoldering rubble. Tens of thousands of people had lost their houses and jobs. Many had lost loved ones. As aid poured into the city, officials turned their attention to the challenges of distributing relief and maintaining order.

But the embers had barely cooled when residents went to work throwing up makeshift structures and reopening their businesses. Over the next two years, Chicagoans would rapidly rebuild their city. It was the start of a recovery that would spur architectural innovation and urban renewal, turning Chicago into a modern metropolis.

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2021-02-10
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Great Chicago Fire | Fleeing the Flames | 2

Just before midnight on October 8, 1871, the inferno that had ravaged Chicago?s West Side leapt the Chicago River. A wall of flames surged toward downtown, threatening to devour Chicago?s most magnificent hotels, offices, and government buildings. Mayor Roswell B. Mason raced to the Chicago courthouse, but he would soon find he was helpless to save his city.

Panic-stricken South Side residents streamed out of their homes and fled to the North Side, the stately residential area they were certain was safe. Dodging flaming debris and crashing buildings, they flooded the streets. But the fire?s path of destruction was relentless. The flames were following the refugees to the North Side, hurtling straight toward the Chicago Waterworks.

It was the final link in the city?s defense. Chicagoans knew that if the Waterworks burned, their city was doomed.

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2021-02-03
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Great Chicago Fire | We Are Going to Have a Burn | 1

In 1871, Chicago was the fastest growing city in the world. Built almost entirely of wood, it was also a tinderbox. That October, a severe drought ravaged the city. Fires ignited constantly, and Chicago?s firefighters were at their breaking point. But the worst was yet to come.

On a hot, windy night, a fire broke out in a barn owned by Irish immigrants Catherine and Patrick O?Leary. By the time firefighters arrived to the scene, gale-force winds were fanning the flames with astonishing speed. Over the next 30 hours, Chicago would battle a raging inferno more destructive than any ever faced by an American city. 

But from the ashes would also come rebirth?a transformation that would turn Chicago into a modern metropolis.

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2021-01-27
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Presidential Inaugurations: Traditions, Crisis, and Unity | 1

As America prepares to swear in a new president, we?ll look back to the inaugurations of the past. Jim Bendat, author of Democracy's Big Day: The Inauguration of Our President, 1789-2013, joins us as we cover the friction between the outgoing and incoming president, the Capitol Hill breach on January 6th, and how inaugurations have served as a powerful reminder of the strength of American democracy, even in times of crisis.

For more on Jim Bendat: https://www.inaugurationbook.com/.

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2021-01-20
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Coal Wars | Charles Keeney on Restoring His Great Grandfather?s Legacy | 5

Once the coal miners lost the Battle of Blair Mountain, the story of their uprising was suppressed, and their leader Frank Keeney eventually faded into obscurity?even among members of his own family. But historian Charles Keeney, Frank Keeney?s great grandson, has made it a personal mission to raise public awareness of the mine wars and the pivotal role his ancestor played. 

Charles Keeney is the founder of the West Virginia Mine Wars Museum and author of The Road to Blair Mountain: Saving a Mine Wars Battlefield from King Coal. He?s also the vice president of Friends of Blair Mountain, an organization dedicated to the preservation and development of the Blair Mountain Battlefield site. He and Lindsay discuss the circumstances that led to Frank Keeney?s radicalization, his friendship with Mother Jones, and why the miners? uprising resonates with younger generations today. 

For more on Charles Keeney: https://twitter.com/cbelmontkeeney 

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2021-01-13
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Coal Wars | The Battle of Blair Mountain | 4

The Coal Wars reached an explosive climax in August 1921, as thousands of miners furious over the death of their hero Sid Hatfield shouldered their weapons and marched south. Their destination was Mingo County, where they hoped to free their fellow miners jailed under martial law.

But first, they would have to cross Blair Mountain and armed men led by Logan County?s ruthless anti-union Sheriff Don Chafin. With machine guns and private planes at his disposal, Chafin was prepared to defeat the miners at any cost. Soon, two civilian armies erupted in war, and Blair Mountain became the battleground for the largest armed uprising since the Civil War.

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2021-01-06
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Coal Wars | Bloody Mingo | 3

In May 1920, Sheriff Sid Hatfield won the loyalty of Mingo County?s miners after a deadly gun battle that left seven Baldwin-Felts agents dead on the streets of Matewan, West Virginia. That summer, the coal companies brought in trainloads of strikebreakers to get the mines running again. But local miners were electrified by the Matewan Massacre and they waged an all-out guerilla war as Hatfield awaited trial for murder. 

For months, gunfire and explosions echoed over the hills of Mingo County as the coal companies and their hired guards fought back with equal force. As ?Bloody Mingo? made national headlines, the Governor moved to stop the unrest, imposing martial law. Soon, the military regime ruling Mingo County unleashed new atrocities against the miners and their families. And a shocking assassination sparked calls for revenge.

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2020-12-30
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Coal Wars | The Matewan Massacre | 2

In March 1913, famed labor activist Mother Jones was locked up in a shack in Pratt, West Virginia, suffering from pneumonia and a high fever as she awaited court martial. For a year, the striking miners she led endured hunger and violence as they waged their desperate battle for the right to organize. Now, their struggle hung in the balance. West Virginia was under martial law, and hope for victory over the powerful coal companies seemed dimmer than ever. 

Newly inaugurated Governor Henry Hatfield vowed to end the crisis. But the deal would drive a wedge through the miners? movement. New leaders took charge of the union, steering the miners through World War I and a daring new campaign into the state?s isolated southern counties. Soon, a violent showdown in the mountain town of Matewan would ignite a new, dangerous escalation in the conflict.

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2020-12-23
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Coal Wars | The Most Dangerous Woman in America | 1

In the early 20th century, coal was the fuel that powered the nation. But the men who mined it in the rugged and remote hills of West Virginia endured harsh exploitation by the coal companies that controlled their lives. In the spring of 1912, miners in West Virginia?s Kanawha Valley rose up against the companies and their powerful allies in law enforcement with a strike for their right to join a union.

But the mine operators responded with force. They hired private security agents to attack the miners and their families and evict them from their homes. Soon, the escalating conflict brought the era?s most notorious labor activist, Mother Jones, to the scene. A self-described ?hellraiser,? Jones joined forces with miners on the ground, sparking a series of bloody armed clashes that would rage across West Virginia for the next decade.

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2020-12-16
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Supreme Court Landmarks | The Outsize Power of the Supreme Court Today | 8

Throughout our series, we've seen how social movements and partisan politics helped influence the decisions of landmark U.S. Supreme Court cases, and thus shape America itself. But how did the Supreme Court get so powerful when America's founders imagined a more limited role? Today, the idea of court-packing, first proposed by Roosevelt to push through his New Deal agenda, is back as a way to rein in the power of the Court. In this episode, Lindsay speaks with Rachel Shelden, an associate professor of history at Penn State and director of the George and Ann Richards Civil War Era Center about how the Court?s power has grown since its founding, and how politicians and presidents could use that to their advantage.

For more on Rachel Shelden: https://history.la.psu.edu/directory/ras6620

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2020-12-09
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Supreme Court Landmarks | Jane Roe | 7

In 1970, a 22-year-old woman in Texas named Norma McCorvey tried and failed to get an abortion from her doctor. Abortion was illegal in Texas, just as it was in most states. Women hoping to terminate their pregnancies had few options, and many resorted to risky back-alley procedures.

McCorvey was soon introduced to a pair of young lawyers who hoped to go to court to challenge the Texas law banning abortion. Before long, McCorvey became the plaintiff known only as ?Jane Roe.?

Her case eventually made its way to the Supreme Court, where the Justices would rule on whether the constitutional right to privacy applied to abortion. The Court?s landmark ruling changed the lives of American women, and unleashed intense controversy, dividing the nation for decades to come.

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2020-12-02
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