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History (Education)

Education

Voice recordings of people who were enslaved offer incredible first-person accounts of U.S. history

"The results of these digitally enhanced recordings are arresting, almost unbelievable. The idea of hearing the voices of actual slaves from the plantations of the Old South is as powerful—as startling, really—as if you could hear Abraham Lincoln or Robert E. Lee speak." - Ted Koppel

Library of Congress

When we think about the era of American slavery, many of us tend to think of it as the far distant past. While slavery doesn't exist as a formal institution today, there are people living who knew formerly enslaved black Americans first-hand. In the wide arc of history, the legal enslavement of people on U.S. soil is a recent occurrence—so recent, in fact, that we have voice recordings of interviews with people who lived it.


Many of us have read written accounts of enslavement, from Frederick Douglass's autobiography to some of the 2,300 first-person accounts housed in the Library of Congress. But how many of us have heard the actual voices of people who were enslaved telling their own stories?

ABC News' Nightline with Ted Koppel aired a segment in 1999 in which we can hear the first-person accounts of people who had been enslaved taken from interviews conducted in the 1930s and 40s (also housed in the Library of Congress). They include the voice of a man named Fountain Hughes, who was born into slavery in 1848 and whose grandfather had "belonged to" Thomas Jefferson.

As Koppel says in the segment, "The results of these digitally enhanced recordings are arresting, almost unbelievable. The idea of hearing the voices of actual slaves from the plantations of the Old South is as powerful—as startling, really—as if you could hear Abraham Lincoln or Robert E. Lee speak."

Indeed, hearing formerly enslaved people share their experiences of being bought and sold like cattle, sleeping on bare pallets, and witnessing whippings for insubordination is a heartbreaking reminder of how close we are to this ugly chapter of our history. The segment is well worth ten minutes to watch:

This article originally appeared on 03.09.20

Education

Unearthed BBC interview features two Victorian-era women discussing being teens in the 1800s

Frances 'Effy' Jones, one of the first women to be trained to use a typewriter and to take up cycling as a hobby, recalls life as a young working woman in London.

Two Victorian women discuss being teens in the 1800s.

There remains some mystery around what life was like in the 1800s, especially for teens. Most people alive today were not around in the Victorian era when the technologies now deemed old-fashioned were a novelty. In this rediscovered 1970s clip from the BBC, two elderly women reminisce about what it was like being teenagers during a time when the horse and buggy was still the fastest way to get around.



While cars were just around the corner from being the common mode of transportation toward the end of the 19th century, it's pretty wild to imagine what these women experienced. Frances "Effy" Jones explained how, at age 17, she was encouraged by her brother to check out this new machine in a storefront window. Turns out that machine was a typewriter and, after being trained on how to use it, Jones would sit in the store window typing while people outside gathered to watch. Before long, classes began popping up for women to learn how to use a typewriter, starting a new movement for women of that era.

The second woman, Berta Ruck, told the BBC that she would get into a bit of trouble at boarding school for drawing instead of completing school work. This talent took Ruck to art school in London where she rode buses around town, attempting to avoid mud getting on her long skirt. But the woman explained that it never worked and she would spend hours brushing the mud from her skirt before wearing it out again. I'm sure you're thinking, buses? They weren't the buses we would see nowadays. These were double-decker horse-pulled carriages.

I know, that's hard to imagine. That's why you should check out the video below:


This article originally appeared on 08.29.22

Education

Kids in 1966 shared their predictions for the year 2000 and it's fascinating to see now

In many ways, the future turned out much brighter than these youngsters expected it to.

Thankfully, this girl's prediction was way off.

The idea of predicting the future has been the subject of countless books, movies and televisions shows (and is basically the basis of all gambling). Outside of a few uncanny instances, no one can tell exactly what the future holds, especially for the world at large. But people sure love to predict it anyway.

The BBC shared a video compilation of kids in 1966 sharing what they imagine the year 2000 would be like, and their predictions are fascinating. After five or six kids share, it becomes clear what some of the most pressing concerns of the 1960s were. Some kids thought we'd have bombed ourselves into oblivion. Others believed we'd be so overpopulated we would be packed like sardines and wouldn't be able to build houses anymore.

Not all of the predictions were so dark. Some kids had some hilarious predictions about cabbage pills and robots. Others thought we'd have better cures for diseases and less segregation among the races, which we have.


Watch what these young folks envisioned nearly 40 years into their future—now more than 20 years into our past:

Thankfully, the year 2000 wasn't as dire as many of these kids imagined it would be. In fact, hearing these predictions might even make us feel pretty good about how humanity has fared in the past 60 years.

How about the kid predicting the future of automation? Or the kid who said people would be regarded more as statistics than people? Or the one who predicted animals being kept in buildings instead of grazing so they could produce more?

And hey, props to the kids who didn't predict an overpopulated nuclear hellscape. It can be hard to see negative news and not think the world is on a downward spiral. But if nothing else, seeing that these kids' doom and gloom predictions didn't come true is pretty heartening and a good sign that our own future may not be as dark as it sometimes appears.


This article originally appeared on 12.7.23

Strikers, Ludlow Tent Colony, 1914.


The early 1900s were a time of great social upheaval in our country. During the years leading up to the Ludlow Massacre, miners all around the country looking to make a better life for themselves and their families set up picket lines, organized massive parades and rallies, and even took up arms. Some died.

It's always worth considering why history like this was never taught in school before. Could it be that the powers that be would rather keep this kind of thing under wraps?


Here is Woody Guthrie's tribute to the good people who fought in the battles of Ludlow to help make a better tomorrow for everyone — you can just start the video and then start reading, if you wish:

Coal Country, Colorado

100 years ago, the Rocky Mountains were the source of a vast supply of coal. At its peak, it employed 16,000 people and accounted for 10% of all employed workers in the state of Colorado. It was dangerous work; in just 1913 alone, the mines claimed the lives of over 100 people. There were laws in place that were supposed to protect workers, but largely, management ignored those, which led to Colorado having double the on-the-job fatality rate of any other mining state.

It was a time of company towns, when all real estate, housing, doctors, and grocery stores were owned by the coal companies themselves, which led to the suppression of dissent as well as overinflated prices and an extreme dependence on the coal companies for everything that made life livable. In some of these, workers couldn't even leave town, and armed guards made sure they didn't. Also, if any miner or his family began to air grievances, they might find themselves evicted and run out of town.

strike, economy, money works, Union parade

Strikers, Ludlow Tent Colony, 1914.

Union Parade, Trinidad, Colorado, 1913. Images via Colorado Coal Field War Project/University of Denver Library.

The Union

The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) had been organizing for many years in the area, and this particular company, Colorado Fuel and Iron, was one of the biggest in the West — and was owned by the Rockefeller family, notoriously anti-union.

Put all this together, and it was a powder keg.

The Ludlow colony, 1914 massacre, Colorado Coal Field War

The Ludlow Colony before the massacre, 1914.

Photo from Youtube video.

tent colony, mining, miners

Strikers, Ludlow Tent Colony, 1914.

Photo from Youtube video.

families, National Guard, unions

Strikers, Ludlow Tent Colony, 1914.

Photo from Youtube video.

Strike!

When a strike was called in 1913, the coal company evicted all the miners from their company homes, and they moved to tent villages on leased land set up by the UMWA. Company-hired guards (aka “goons") and members of the Colorado National Guard would drive by the tent villages and randomly shoot into the tents, leading the strikers to dig holes under their tents and the wooden beams that supported them.

Why did the union call for a strike? The workers wanted:

  1. (equivalent to a 10% wage increase),
  2. Enforcement of the eight-hour work day,
  3. Payment for "dead work" that usually wasn't compensated, such as laying coal car tracks,
  4. The job known as “Weight-checkmen" to be elected by workers. This was to keep company weightmen honest so the workers got paid for their true work,
  5. The right to use any store rather than just the company store, and choose their own houses and doctors,
  6. Strict enforcement of Colorado's laws, especially mine safety laws.
calvary, Trinidad, striking women

Cavalry charge on striker women in nearby Trinidad.

Photo from Youtube video.

UMWA, Rocky Mountains, President Woodrow Wilson

Militia and private detectives or mine guards, Ludlow.

Photo from Youtube video.

The Powder Keg Explodes

The attacks from the goons continued, as did the battles between scabs (strikebreakers) and the miners. It culminated in an attack on April 20, 1914, by company goons and Colorado National Guard soldiers who kidnapped and later killed the main camp leader and some of his fellow miners, and then set the tents in the main camp ablaze with kerosene. As they were engulfed, people inside the tents tried to flee the inferno; many were shot down as they tried to escape. Some also died in the dugouts below the burning tents. In the first photograph below, two women and 11 children died in the fire directly above them. A day that started off with Orthodox Easter celebrations for the families became known as the Ludlow Massacre.

Woody Guthrie, child labor laws, worker rights

The "Death Pit."

Photo from Youtube video.

colony, coal country, University of Denver

Rear view of ruins of tent colony.

Photo from Youtube video.

funeral procession, Louis Tikas, Greek strikers

Funeral procession for Louis Tikas, leader of Greek strikers.

Photo from Youtube video.

The 10-Day War

The miners, fresh off the murders of their friends and family members, tried to get President Woodrow Wilson to put a stop to the madness, but he deferred to the governor, who was pretty much in the pocket of the mine companies.

So the miners and those at other tent colonies quickly armed themselves, knowing that many other confrontations were coming. And they went to the mines that were being operated by scabs and forced many of them to close, sometimes setting fire to the buildings. After 10 days of pitched battle and at least 50 dead, the president finally sent in the National Guard, which promptly disarmed both sides.

Union Victory

While close to 200 people died over the course of about 18 months before and after the battles at Ludlow and the union ultimately lost the election, the Ludlow Massacre brought a congressional investigation that led to the beginnings of child-labor laws and an eight-hour workday, among other things.

But it also brought national attention to the plight of these miners and their families, and it showed the resilience and strength that union people could display when they remained united, even in the face of extreme corporate and government violence. Historian Howard Zinn called it "the culminating act of perhaps the most violent struggle between corporate power and laboring men in American history." And the primary mine owner, John D. Rockefeller Jr., received a lot of negative attention and blame for what happened here.

monuments, April 20, 1914, coal miners, revolution

The UMWA is still a solid union today, and there is a monument in Colorado to those who died in the Ludlow Massacre.

Image by Mark Walker/Wikimedia Commons.

This article was written by Brandon Weber and originally appeared on 08.14.14