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Ashawnta Jackson

Ashawnta Jackson

Ashawnta Jackson is a reader, writer, and record collector living in New York. She has written for NPR Music, Bandcamp, Artsy, Atlas Obscura, and GRAMMY.com, among others. You can read more of her work at heyjackson.net.

A Vocalion Records advertisement, 1929

“It’s Tight Like That”

A "dirty" song recorded by Georgia Tom and Tampa Red in 1928 launched the "hokum" blues.
The cover of Kwame Brathwaite: Black Is Beautiful by by Kwame Brathwaite, Tanisha C. Ford and Deborah Willis, 2019

Kwame Brathwaite Showed the World that Black is Beautiful

Photographing everyone from musicians to athletes to the person on the street, Brathwaite found the beauty in Blackness and shared it with the world.
African american jazz musician with saxophone in front of old wooden wall.

The Debtor’s Blues: Music and Forced Labor

Debt peonage is often associated with agricultural labor, but in the early twentieth century, Black musicians found themselves trapped in its exploitative cycle.
World welterweight champion Emile Griffith in training at the Thomas a Beckett Gymnasium in London, for his upcoming fight against Britain's Dave Charnley, November 20th, 1964

Masculinity, Boxing, and the “Wild Brawl” That Changed the Sport

Bennie “Kid” Paret and Emile Griffith were both ready to fight, but it was unlikely either boxer was prepared for the outcome of their final bout.
Still-life of a Pioneer brand laserdisc player

From DiscoVision to SelectaVision

While these videodisc formats ultimately failed, they signaled that consumers were hungry for control of their home viewing.
An illustration of an audience pelting the cast with cats, eggs, onions, turnips, and other vegetables and fruits

Riot! At the Theater

One audience demanded more censorship, another less. Both challenged the reach of anti-obscenity laws in the early twentieth century.
A Black man in the dock following claims of a plot by enslaved people in New York to revolt and level New York City with a series of fires, at an unspecified court in New York, 1741

Was the Conspiracy That Gripped New York in 1741 Real?

Rumors that enslaved Black New Yorkers were planning a revolt spread across Manhattan even more quickly than fires for which they were being blamed.
A woman smiles while holding bottles of various types of alcohol, including peach brandy, port wine, gin, absinthe, and forbidden fruit.

Whiskey, Women, and Work

Prohibition—and its newly created underground economy—changed the way women lived, worked, and socialized.
Illustration of women fighting from 19th century.

How to Fight Like a Girl

Women have been punching each other in the face (during boxing matches) since the early 1700s.
Vincent Mason aka P.A. Pasemaster Mase aka Maseo aka Plug Three, David Jude Jolicoeur aka Trugoy the Dove aka Dave aka Plug Two and Kevin Mercer aka Posdnuos aka Mercenary aka Plug Wonder Why aka Plug One of the hip hop trio De La Soul

Musicians Fought the Law, and the Law Won—Sometimes

De La Soul are known for the effect their use of samples had on their music sales and availability on streaming sites. They’re finally streaming. Why now?
Portrait of Nancy Clem

Money, Murder, and Mrs. Clem

Nancy Clem was a Gilded Age con artist whose swindles eventually turned deadly. Her crimes would test the era’s assumptions about class, gender, and criminality.
A train yard in Montgomery, Alabama

The Ballad of Railroad Bill

The story of Morris Slater, aka Railroad Bill, prompts us to ask how the legend of the "American outlaw" changes when race is involved.
Bessie Smith poses for a portrait circa 1924.

The Flood Behind Bessie Smith’s “Back-Water Blues”

The Mississippi River flood that Smith allegedly memorialized happened weeks after she'd written and released her song. Where was the real “Back Water”?
Portrait of Margaret Bonds, 1956

Keeping Scores: Unearthing the Works of Black Women Composers

Black women composers have been active in the US since at least the mid-nineteenth century, yet they’re largely omitted from scholarship on women musicians.
An aged photo of the Leatherman wearing a thick leather coat and leather pants, looking at the camera while sitting and eating, circa June 9, 1885

The Legend of the Leatherman

From 1857 to 1889, he could be found walking a 365-mile loop in western Connecticut and eastern New York. Everybody recognized him, but no one knew his name.

Secret Societies and the Fight for Black Freedom

Dating to the pre-Revolutionary era, mutual aid and benevolent societies supported Black Americans and the fight for civil rights and justice.
The Wrangel Island Expedition team in 1921: Ada Blackjack, Allan Crawford, Lorne Knight, Fred Maurer, Milton Galle, and Victoria the cat.

Women in the Age of Polar Exploration

Opportunities were restricted during the so-called Heroic Age, but women still dreamed of exploration...and sometimes managed to reach the polar regions.
Fanny Cradock, 1976

The Rise and Fall of Fanny Cradock

Cradock was one of Britain's first celebrity chefs, but in what her viewers called “the Gwen Troake Incident,” she fell from her pedestal—hard.
Nineteenth century typesetters

On Your Mark, Get Set… Print!

The Boston Typesetting Races of 1886 demonstrated the speed of women compositors, helping to lower the barriers to workplace equity for female “swifts.”
headphones with a plug and decorative elements

Good Times With Bad Music

We've all got our tastes, but can anyone really define what makes music “good” or “bad”?
Lester Young playing at a charity concert held at the Philharmonic Hall, 1953

The Scholars Charting Black Music’s Timeline: Douglas Henry Daniels & Paul Austerlitz

Daniels and Austerlitz tell the story of jazz, from its origins in the blues, gospel, and funk to its impact on music around the world.
The last known photo of Frank Lenz, 1894

The Adventurous Life and Mysterious Death of Frank Lenz

In 1892, the master cyclist set out to tour the world on wheels. A few months later, he disappeared, never to be heard from again. What happened to Frank Lenz?
A treasure chest in the woods

The Plight of the Hunter

Seeking buried treasure has long been an American pastime, but its the failure to find the gold that keeps the hunt—and the story—alive.
A detail of an illustration depicting a husband and wife chained together and fighting in a courtroom

The Lost History of No-Fault Divorces

The regulation of divorce has changed a lot in the twentieth century. The National Association of Women Lawyers was instrumental in making that change happen.
A still from Molly Moo Cow and the Butterflies, 1935

The Pre-Captain Planet Eco-Heroes of Animation

Environmentally oriented films from the classical era of Hollywood animation delivered powerful messages about the negative consequences of technological progress.