The American Yawp tells a broad story. This summer we wanted to make it broader. Fifty-eight new contributors worked with the editors to better include under-represented voices and perspectives in the American past. We have added 60 new primary sources, two per chapter, to our primary source reader. In order, they are …
This source aggregates a number of early written reports by Aztec authors describing the destruction of Tenochtitlan at the hands of a coalition of Spanish and Indian armies. This collection of sources was assembled by Miguel Leon Portilla, a Mexican anthropologist.
Cuauhtlatoatzin was one of the first Aztec men to convert to Christianity after the Spanish invasion. Renamed as Juan Diego, he soon thereafter reported an appearance of the Virgin Mary called the Virgin of Guadalupe. This apparition became an important symbol for a new native Christianity. These excerpts are translated from an account first published in Nahuatl by Luis Lasso de la Vega in 1649.
These two documents explore the hysteria and death that captured Salem, Massachusetts at the end of the seventeenth century. In the first document, Sarah Carrier testifies that her mother forced her to engage in witchcraft. Her mother, Martha Carrier, was hung one week later. In the second document, Ann Putnam recants her own deadly accusations twenty years after the witchcraft trials.
In 1731, Manuel Trujillo accused two Pueblo men, Acensio Povia and Antonio Yuba, of committing sodomy. Both Povia and Yuba denied this accusation, and Yuba invoked his status as a Christian in order to bolster his credibility. Governor Gervasio Cruzat y Góngora chose to exile Povia and Yuba to different pueblos for a period of four months, during which time they were to cease any and all communication with one another. This case explores sexual practices deemed “nefarious sins” as well as illustrates what scholars have called the colonial dilemma—the situation where indigenous peoples remained in a subjected state despite theological equality following their Christian conversion.
This Thanksgiving address was used by the six nations of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) to open and close major gatherings or meetings. The prayer was also sometimes used individually at the beginning or end of the day.
Rose Davis was born to an indentured servant white woman and a black man. Slave law claimed that children inherited the status of their mother, a law which enabled enslavers to control the reproductive functions of their enslaved women laborers. However, as race increasingly became a marker of slavery, even the children of free white women could be vulnerable to enslavement. Rose had been working as an indentured servant when she petitioned the court for her freedom. Instead, she was sentenced to a lifetime of slavery.
Sarah Knight traveled from her home in Massachusetts to trade goods. Through her diary, we can get a sense of life during the consumer revolution, as well as some of the prejudices and inequalities that shaped life in eighteenth-century New England.
Samson Occom was raised with the traditional spirituality of his Mohegan parents but converted to Christianity during the Great Awakening. He then studied for the ministry and became a missionary, minister, and teacher on Long Island, New York. Despite his successful ministry, Occom struggled to receive the same level of support as white missionaries.
The Oneida nation, one of the Six Nations of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), issued a formal declaration of neutrality on June 19, 1775 to the governor of Connecticut after the imperial crisis between Great Britain and their North American colonies erupted into violence. This declaration hints at the Oneida conceptions of their own sovereignty among the Six Nations confederacy, the independence of other Indian nations, and how the Oneida understand the conflict as a war “between two brothers.” Samuel Kirkland, a missionary living in Iroquois country, interpreted and transcribed the Oneida’s words and sent them to Governor Jonathan Trumbull of Connecticut.
Boston King was born into slavery in South Carolina in 1760. He escaped to the British Army during their invasion of South Carolina in 1780. He served as a Loyalist in the British Army, and participated in several important battles. Although captured, and once again enslaved by the Americans, King was able to escape to the British again, who secured his freedom by sending him and other black Loyalists to Canada. Many black colonists sought freedom by joining with the British, with estimates as high as 5,000. King later became a missionary and one of the first black Canadian settlers of Sierra Leone in West Africa.
In 1786, half a year before the Constitutional Convention, a collection of Native American leaders gathered on the banks of the Detroit River to offer a unified message to the Congress of the United States. Despite this proposal, American surveyors, settlers, and others continued to cross the Ohio River.
In the aftermath of the Revolution, politics became a sport consumed by both men and women. In a series of letters sent to her sister, Mary Smith Cranch comments on a series of political events including the lack of support for diplomats, the circulation of paper or hard currency, legal reform, tariffs against imported tea tables, Shays rebellion, and the role of women in supporting the nation’s interests.
Native peoples had long employed strategies of playing Europeans off against each other to maintain their independence and neutrality. As early as 1785, the Creek headman Alexander McGillivray (Hoboi-Hili-Miko) saw the threat the expansionist Americans placed on Native peoples and the inability of a weak United States government to restrain their citizens from encroaching on Native lands. McGillivray sought the aid and protection of the Spanish in order to maintain the supply of trade goods into Creek country and counter the Americans.
Benjamin Banneker, a free black American and largely self-taught astronomer and mathematician, wrote Thomas Jefferson, then Secretary of State, on August 19, 1791. Banneker included this letter, as well as Jefferson’s short reply, in several of the first editions of his almanacs in part because he hoped it would dispel the widespread assumption that Jefferson perpetuated in his Notes on the State of Virginia that black people were incapable of intellectual achievement.
Maria Stewart electrified audiences in Boston with a number of powerful speeches. Her most common theme was the evil of slavery. However, here she attacks the soul-crushing consequences of racism in American capitalism, claiming that the lack of social and economic equality doomed black Americans to a life of suffering and spiritual death.
Rebecca Burlend, her husband, and children emigrated to Illinois from England in 1831. These reflections describe her reaction to landing in New Orleans, sailing up the Mississippi to St. Louis, and finally arriving at her new home in Illinois. This was her first experience encountering American slavery, the American landscape, and the rugged living conditions of her new home.
In 1834 anti-Catholic rioters burned the Ursuline Convent in Charestown, Massachusetts. In 1835, Rebecca Reed published a memoir about her time staying at the convent. Prior to its publication, rumors existed about Reed’s experience that may have motivated the arsonists. In these documents, we read excerpts from Reed’s account and the response from the convent’s Mother Superior Mary St. George.
Frederick Douglass was born into slavery in Talbot County, Maryland in 1818. He was separated from his mother in infancy and lived with his grandmother until he was separated from her as well at age seven. After several attempts, he finally successfully escape slavery in 1838. He became one of the most influential abolitionist speakers and before a crowd of white abolitionists in 1852, he delivered this, one of the greatest abolitionist speeches.
Women were active participants in every aspect of the abolitionist movement. In this document, Angelina Grimké, a former Southerner herself, attempts to persuade Southern women of the immorality of slavery. This tactic, called moral suasion, directed the efforts of abolitionists, especially in the 1830s and 1840s.
Dorothea Dix worked as an educator and author until she took up the campaign for improving the treatment for the mentally ill. Struggling with depression and other mental illnesses herself, Dix presented this petition to the Massachusetts state legislature after visiting a number of jails to chronicle abuses.
The coexistence of brutal oppression and genuine affection was but one of many contradictions in the antebellum slave system. In this postwar reflection, Mary Polk Branch recalls her life as an enslaver. We see here how many white southerners justified the ownership of human beings, as well as an indication of the priorities and perspectives of enslaving women.
First published in London, Clotel; or, The President’s Daughter (1853) by William Wells Brown is considered the first novel by an African-American. Brown was born in slavery in Kentucky and escaped to freedom at the age of 20. Opening with the auction of Currer, the supposed mistress of Thomas Jefferson, and their two daughters, Clotel and Althesa. Jefferson indeed had a sexual relationship with an enslaved woman named Sally Hemmings, but this story does more to expose the horrifying realities of life under slavery than explain the particular experiences of Sally Hemmings and her children.
In 1843, the Wyandotte nation was forcefully removed from their homeland in Ohio and brought to the Kansas Territory. They found themselves on a borderland between Indian Country and Missouri’s slave society, and when the national Methodist church split, debates over slavery threatened the Christianity of the Wyandotte. This letter depicts the complex relationship between recently removed Native peoples, Christianity, and slavery.
During a trip to the United States Venezuelan General Francisco de Miranda worked to launch a revolution in Venezuela that he expected would spread throughout South America. He made a series of high-level contacts, as indicated in the letters below. The American public saw South American revolutionaries as “fellow republicans.” At least three American ships, numerous American guns, and about 200 recruits participated in Miranda’s failed attempt at Revolution.
William Still was an African-American abolitionist who frequently risked his life to help freedom-seekers escape slavery. In these excerpts, Still offers the readers some of the letters sent to him from abolitionists and formerly enslaved persons. The passages shed light on family separation, the financial costs of the journey to freedom, and the logistics of the Underground Railroad.
Writer, activist, and teacher Charlotte Forten was born in Philadelphia in 1837 to a well-to-do African American family. Forten’s diary entries from 1854 illuminate sectional tensions, especially in her discussion of the trial of Anthony Burns, a fugitive from slavery. She also expressed frequent frustration over the racism she encountered in Boston.
Music played an important role in the Civil War. Songs celebrated the cause, mourned the loss of life, and bound sings together in shared commitments to mutual sacrifice. These two songs, both written by women, one in the North and the other in the South, show the flexibility of Civil War music. The first is an example of the somber, sacralizing function of music, while the latter is an example of a lighthearted attempt at humor.
William Henry Singleton was born to his enslaved mother, Lettice, and her master’s brother, William Singleton. At the age of four he was sold away from his mother, but ran back to her several times throughout his life. When the war broke out, he escaped to Union lines and volunteered for service. After being dismissed, he rallied one thousand black soldiers and received a promotion as a sergeant.
Reconstruction began before the War ended. After his famous March to the Sea in January of 1865, General William T. Sherman and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton met with twenty of Savannah’s African American religious leaders to discuss the future of the freedmen of the state of Georgia. In the excerpt below, Garrison Frazier, the chosen spokesman for the group, explains the importance of land for freedom. The result of this meeting was Sherman’s famous Field Order 15, which set aside confiscated plantation lands along the coast from Charleston, S.C. to Jacksonville, FL. for black land ownership. The policy would later be overruled and freedpeople would lose their right to the land.
These documents chronicle a case in the wider wave of violence that targeted people of color during Reconstruction. The first document includes Frances Thompson and Lucy Smith’s testimony about their assault, rape, and robbery in 1866. The second document, demonstrates one way that white Southerners denied these claims. In 1876, Thompson was exposed for cross-dressing. For twenty years she successfully passed as a woman. Southerners trumpeted this case as evidence that widely documented cases of violence, sexual and otherwise, were fabricated.
The Colored Farmers’ Alliance, an African American alternative to the whites-only Southern Farmers’ Alliance, organized as many as a million black southerners against the injustices of the predominately cotton-based, southern agricultural economy. Black Populists, however, were always more vulnerable to the violence of white southern conservatives than their white counterparts. Here, the publication The Forum publishes an account of violence against black Populists in Mississippi.
Lucy Parsons was born into slavery in Texas, married a white radical, Albert Parsons, and moved to Chicago where they both worked on behalf of radical causes. After Albert Parsons was executed for conspiracy in the aftermath of the Haymarket bombing, Lucy Parsons emerged as a major American radical and vocal advocate of anarchism. In 1905, she spoke before the founding convention of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).
On February 11, 1891, a Sioux delegation met with the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Washington D.C. and gave their account of the Wounded Knee Massacre six weeks prior.
The United States used education to culturally assimilate Native Americans. Laura Cornelius Kellogg, an Oneida author, performer, and activist who helped found the Society of American Indians (SAI) in 1913, criticized the cultural chauvinism of American policy. Speaking to the SAI, she challenged her Indian audience to embrace modern American democracy while maintaining their own identity.
In 1881, Helen Hunt Jackson published A Century of Dishonor, a history of the injustices visited upon Native Americans. Exposing the many wrongs perpetrated by her country, she hoped “to redeem the name of the United States from the stain of a century of dishonor.”
Rose Cohen was born in Russia in 1880 as Rahel Golub. She immigrated to the United States in 1892 and lived in a Russian Jewish neighborhood in New York’s Lower East Side. Her, she writes about her encounter with the world outside of her ethnic neighborhood.
Mary Tape, a Chinese immigrant mother, fought for her daughter, Mamie Tape, to integrate public schools in California. The case, Tape v. Hurley (1885), reached the California Supreme Court in 1885 and, despite a favorable ruling for Tape, the San Francisco Board of Education built a segregated Chinese school which Mamie Tape was forced to attend. In the following letter, Mary Tape protested the denial of her daughter’s entry to Spring Valley School; Lee Chew immigrated from China at the age of 16. He worked as a domestic servant for an American family in San Francisco, started a laundry business, and later ran an importing business in New York City. In the following passage, he attacked anti-Chinese prejudice in the United States.
Thousands of African-American troops served in in the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars. Confronted with racial violence and discrimination at home, they did so with a mix of hope, skepticism, satisfaction, and disappointment. Here, the Indianapolis Freeman reports on recruiting efforts in Hartfod, Connecticut.
In 1910, a newly invigorated Theodore Roosevelt delivered his outline for a bold new progressive agenda, which he would advance in 1912 during a failed presidential run under the new Progressive, or “Bull Moose,” Party.
Lutiant Van Wert, a Native American woman, volunteered as a nurse in Washington D.C. during the 1918 influenza pandemic. Here, she writes to a former classmate still enrolled at the Haskell Institute, a government-run boarding school for Native American students in Kansas, and describes her work as a nurse.
During World War I, Woodrow Wilson set forth a vision for a new global future of democratic self-determination. The United States had controlled the Philippines since the Spanish-American War. After World War I, the U.S. legislature held joint hearings on a possible Philippine independence. Manuel Quezon came to Washington as part of a delegation to make the following case for Filipino independence. It would be fifteen years until the United States acted and, in 1935, Manuel Quezon became the first president of the Philippines.
By 1922, “the Flapper” had become a full-blown cultural phenomenon. In the following article, Ellen Welles Page, a self-described “semi-flapper,” attempted to explain the appeal of the flapper and pled with America’s mothers and fathers not to reflexively judge their flapper daughters.
Alain Locke, a leading figure of the Harlem Renaissance, was a distinguished academic—the first African American Rhodes Scholar, he obtained a Ph.D. in philosophy from Harvard—who taught at Howard University for 35 years. In 1925, he published an essay, “Enter the New Negro,” that described an African American population busy seeing “a new vision of opportunity.”
Bertha McCall, general director of the National Travelers Aid Association, acquired a special knowledge of the massive displacement of individuals and families during the Great Depression. In 1940, McCall testified before the House of Representatives’ Select Committee to Investigate the Interstate Migration of Destitute Citizens on the nature of America’s internal migrants.
Amateur night at the Apollo Theater attracted not only Harlem’s African American population but a national radio audience. In this account, written through the New Deal’s Federal Writers’ Project, Dorothy West describes an amateur night at the theater in November 1938 and reflects on the relationship between entertainment, race, and American life.
Aiko Herzig-Yoshinaga was born in 1924 in Los Angeles, California. A second-generation (“Nisei”) Japanese American, she was incarcerated at the Manzanar internment camp in California and later at other internment camps in Arkansas. Her she describes learning about Pearl Harbor, her family’s forced evacuation, and her impressions of her internment camp.
As the United States prepared for war, black labor leader A. Philip Randolph recoiled at rampant employment discrimination in the defense industry. Together with NAACP head Walter White and other leaders, Randolph planned “a mass March on Washington” to push for fair employment practices. President Franklin Roosevelt met with Randolph and White on June 18, and, faced with mobilized discontent and a possible disruption of wartime industries, Roosevelt signed Executive Order 8802 on June 25. The order prohibited racial discrimination in the defense industry. Randolph and other leaders declared victory and called off the march.
Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine condemned the tactics of Senator Joseph McCarthy in a congressional speech on June 1, 1950. She attacked McCarthy’s conspiratorial charges and broken lives left in their wake. She blamed political leaders of both parties for failing to corral McCarthy’s wild attacks.
The House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC) held hearings in 1947 on Communist activity in Hollywood. Many were called to testify and some, like playwright and screenwriter Lillian Hellman, refused to “name names”—to inform on others. Hellman invoked the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. Her decision landed her on the Hollywood “blacklist” and film companies refused to hire her. In the following letter to HUAC’s chairman, Hellman offered to testify as to her own activities if she would not be forced to inform on others.
Paul Robeson was a popular performer and African American political activist. He attacked racism and imperialism and advocated for African decolonization. He appeared before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1956. He invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to cooperate.
In 1950, Representative Arthur L. Miller, a Nebraska Republican, offered an amendment to a bill requiring background checks for employees of the Economic Cooperation Administration (ECA). Miller proposed to bar homosexuals from working with the ECA. Although his amendment was rejected, his views of homosexuality revealed much about postwar American views.
In this unfinished correspondence and undated personal notes, Rosa Parks recounted living under segregation in Montgomery, Alabama, explained why she refused to surrender her seat on a city bus, and lamented the psychological toll exacted by Jim Crow.
The Port Huron Statement was a 1962 manifesto by the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), written primarily by student activist Tom Hayden, that proposed a new form of “participatory democracy” to rescue modern society from destructive militarism and cultural alienation.
Civil rights activists struggled against the repressive violence of Mississippi’s racial regime. State NAACP head Medger Evers was murdered in 1963. Freedom Summer activists tried to register black voters in 1964. Three disappeared and were found murdered. The Mississippi Democratic Party continued to disfranchise the state’s African American voters. Civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer co-founded the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) and traveled to the Democratic National Convention in 1964 to demand that the MFDP’s delegates, rather than the all-white Mississippi Democratic Party delegates, be seated in the convention. Although unsuccessful, her moving testimony was broadcast on national television and drew further attention to the plight of African Americans in the South.
The first Congressional hearing on the equal rights amendment (ERA) was held in 1923, but the push for the amendment stalled until the 1960s, when a revived women’s movement thrust it again into the national consciousness. Congress passed and sent to the states for ratification the ERA on March 22, 1972. But it failed, stalling just three states short of the required three-fourths needed for ratification. Despite popular support for the amendment, activists such as Phyllis Schlafly outmaneuvered the amendment’s supporters. In 1970, author Gloria Steinem argued that such opposition was rooted in outmoded ideas about gender.
In November 1969, Native American activists occupied Alcatraz Island and held it for nineteen months to bring attention to past injustices and contemporary issues confronting Native Americans, as state in this proclamation, drafted largely by Adam Fortunate Eagle of the Ojibwa Nation.
Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly fought against feminism and other liberal cultural trends for decades. Perhaps most notably, she led the campaign against the Equal Rights Amendment, turning what had seemed an inevitability into a failed effort. Here, she testified before Congress about what she saw as the largely imagined problem of sexual harassment.
After a groundbreaking yet unsuccessful campaign to capture the Democratic Party’s nomination for president, Jesse Jackson delivered the keynote speech at the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco. He had campaigned on the idea of a “rainbow coalition,” a political movement that drew upon the nation’s racial, religious, and economic diversity. He echoed that theme in his convention speech.
Pedro Lopez immigrated to Postville, Iowa, with his family as a young child. On May 12, 2008, Pedro Lopez’s mother, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, was arrested, jailed, and deported to Mexico. Pedro was 13. Here, he describes the experience.
Chelsea Manning, a U.S. Army intelligence analyst, was convicted in 2013 for violating the Espionage Act by leaking classified documents revealing the killing of civilians, the torture of prisoners, and other nefarious actions committed by the United States in the War on Terror. After being sentenced to thirty-five years in federal prison, she delivered a statement, through her attorney, explaining her actions and requesting a pardon from President Barack Obama. Manning’s sentence was commuted in 2017.
On January 18, 2015, Stanford University student Brock Turner sexually assaulted an unconscious woman outside of a university fraternity house. At his sentencing on June 2, 2016, his unnamed victim (“Emily Doe”) read a 7,000-word victim impact statement describing the effect of the assault on her life.