On Christmas Eve 1855, Barnaby Grigsby and his Mary Elizabeth, Emily Foster and her intended Frank Wazner, along with two other slaves, took their masters best team of horses and his carriage, packed it knives and guns, and fled slavery. Grigsby and Elizabeth were married. Wazner and Foster were engaged.
The party suffered from hunger and exposure during the journey and were, by William Still's lights, in ill humor when they found themselves set upon by a group of patrollers:
The spokesman amongst the fugitives, affecting no ordinary amount of dignity, told their assailants plainly, that "no gentleman would interfere with persons riding along civilly"--not allowing it to be supposed that they were slaves, of course. These "gentlemen," however, were not willing to accept this account of the travelers, as their very decided steps indicated. Having the law on their side, they were for compelling the fugitives to surrender without further parley.
At this juncture, the fugitives verily believing that the time had arrived for the practical use of their pistols and dirks, pulled them out of their concealment--the young women as well as the young men--and declared they would not be "taken!" One of the white men raised his gun, pointing the muzzle directly towards one of the young women, with the threat that he would "shoot," etc.
"Shoot! shoot!! shoot!!!" she exclaimed, with a double barrelled pistol in one hand and a long dirk knife in the other, utterly unterrified and fully ready for a death struggle. The male leader of the fugitives by this time had "pulled back the hammers" of his "pistols," and was about to fire! Their adversaries seeing the weapons, and the unflinching determination on the part of the runaways to stand their ground, "spill blood, kill, or die," rather than be "taken," very prudently "sidled over to the other side of the road," leaving at least four of the victors to travel on their way.
At this moment the four in the carriage lost sight of the two on horseback. Soon after the separation they heard firing, but what the result was, they knew not. They were fearful, however, that their companions had been captured....
The two were indeed captured. I encourage you to read through Still's files as he girds his own account of the escape with newspaper articles. But I also want to focus on the result of the young lady leaping from the wagon "with a double barrelled pistol in one hand and long dirk in the other" daring the patroller to shoot her down:
In Syracuse, Frank (the leader), who was engaged to Emily, concluded that the knot might as well be tied on the U.G.R.R., although penniless, as to delay the matter a single day longer. Doubtless, the bravery, struggles, and trials of Emily throughout the journey, had, in his estimation, added not a little to her charms. Thus after consulting with her on the matter, her approval was soon obtained, she being too prudent and wise to refuse the hand of one who had proved himself so true a friend to Freedom, as well as so devoted to her. The twain were accordingly made one at the U.G.R.R. Station, in Syracuse, by Superintendent--Rev. J.W. Loguen. After this joyful event, they proceeded to Toronto, and were there gladly received by the Ladies' Society for aiding colored refugees.
Sharp-eyed readers will note the presence of J.W. Loguen--our old friend Jarm Logue. I want to emphasize that it is not uncommon to see black women in this sort of aggressive, violent and self-assertive role. The first thing is that slavery was, itself, violent, gender regardless. There are numerous reports of slave-mistresses inflicting terrible brutality on their charges (especially children.) So there's no real reason to expect black women, whatever the 19th century mores might be, to be much different in their willingness to go for the guns, then men.
And there's also this--undermined "traditional" gender roles. It's very hard to claim to "the man of the house" when you are not. This creates room for broader agency among black women. So its nothing to hear about Harriet Tubman threatening to shoot black men who are scared to finish the journey to freedom. It make sense to hear William Parker's wife, in the midst of the Christiana rebellion, grabbing a corn-cutter and threatening to "cut off the head of the first one who should attempt to give up." There's no real "ladyhood" under slavery. And I bet that even after slavery, the ladyhood that emerges is something different. I don't think it's a mistake that Harriet Tubman is the first woman--of any color--credited with leading an American military raid
I need to be clear here--slavery no more "ended" black male chauvinism, than the integration of the military ended racism in the Army. But as with the military, the presence of death tends to turn bigotries into expensive luxuries. And even after the immediate danger fades something remains--so much that Frank Wazner would find himself attracted to a woman who willingly acted within the sphere of male power.
*The above drawing, depicting the Maryland encounter, accompanied the publication of William Still's mammoth compendium of primary sources, The Underground Railroad: A Record of Facts, Authentic Narrative, Letters etc.
The same part of the brain that allows us to step into the shoes of others also helps us restrain ourselves.
You’ve likely seen the video before: a stream of kids, confronted with a single, alluring marshmallow. If they can resist eating it for 15 minutes, they’ll get two. Some do. Others cave almost immediately.
This “Marshmallow Test,” first conducted in the 1960s, perfectly illustrates the ongoing war between impulsivity and self-control. The kids have to tamp down their immediate desires and focus on long-term goals—an ability that correlates with their later health, wealth, and academic success, and that is supposedly controlled by the front part of the brain. But a new study by Alexander Soutschek at the University of Zurich suggests that self-control is also influenced by another brain region—and one that casts this ability in a different light.
Why the ingrained expectation that women should desire to become parents is unhealthy
In 2008, Nebraska decriminalized child abandonment. The move was part of a "safe haven" law designed to address increased rates of infanticide in the state. Like other safe-haven laws, parents in Nebraska who felt unprepared to care for their babies could drop them off in a designated location without fear of arrest and prosecution. But legislators made a major logistical error: They failed to implement an age limitation for dropped-off children.
Within just weeks of the law passing, parents started dropping off their kids. But here's the rub: None of them were infants. A couple of months in, 36 children had been left in state hospitals and police stations. Twenty-two of the children were over 13 years old. A 51-year-old grandmother dropped off a 12-year-old boy. One father dropped off his entire family -- nine children from ages one to 17. Others drove from neighboring states to drop off their children once they heard that they could abandon them without repercussion.
Americans are optimistic about the communities they live in—but not their nation. Why?
I have been alive for a long time. I remember the assassination of John F. Kennedy, when I was a 10th-grader, and then watching with my family through the grim following days as newscasters said that something had changed forever. The next dozen years were nearly nonstop trauma for the country. More assassinations. Riots in most major cities. All the pain and waste and tragedy of the Vietnam War, and then the public sense of heading into the utterly unknown as, for the first time ever, a president was forced to resign. Americans of my children’s generation can remember the modern wave of shocks and dislocations that started but did not end with the 9/11 attacks.
Through all this time, I have been personally and professionally, and increasingly, an American optimist. The long years I have spent living and working outside the United States have not simply made me more aware of my own strong identity as an American. They have also sharpened my appreciation for the practical ramifications of the American idea. For me this is the belief that through its cycle of struggle and renewal, the United States is in a continual process of becoming a better version of itself. What I have seen directly over the past decade, roughly half in China and much of the rest in reporting trips around the United States, has reinforced my sense that our current era has been another one of painful but remarkable reinvention, in which the United States is doing more than most other societies to position itself, despite technological and economic challenges, for a new era of prosperity, opportunity, and hope.
Strangling public-sector unions in Wisconsin has shrunk teachers’ pay and benefits. Who’s next?
Back in 2009, Rick Erickson was happy with his job as a teacher in one of the state’s northernmost school districts on the shores of Lake Superior. He made $35,770 a year teaching chemistry and physics, which wasn’t a lot of money, but then again, he received stellar healthcare and pension benefits, and could talk honestly with administrators about what he needed as a teacher every two years when his union sat down with the school district in collective bargaining sessions.
Then, five years ago, Wisconsin passed Act 10, also known as the Wisconsin Budget Repair Bill, which dramatically limited the ability of teachers and other public employees to bargain with employers on wages, benefits, and working conditions. After Act 10,Erickson saw his take-home pay drop dramatically: He now makes $30,650. His wife is a teacher, too, and together they make 11 percent less than they did before Act 10. The local union he once led no longer exists, and so he can’t bargain with the school district for things like prep time and sick days. He pays more for health care and his pension, and he says both he and his wife may now not be able to retire until they are much older than they had planned.
Babylonian tablets suggest that Earth’s rotation is slowing less than expected.
On the morning of April 15, 136 B.C.E., residents of the ancient city of Babylon, in what is now Iraq, experienced quite a sight. An hour and a half after sunrise, the moon moved across the face of the sun, blotting it out so only the golden halo of its atmosphere was visible. The sky went dark.
“Venus, Mercury and the Normal Stars were visible; Jupiter and Mars, which were in their period of disappearance, were visible in that eclipse,” a Babylonian astrologer inscribed in cuneiform, on a clay tablet now stored in the British Museum.
To measure the eclipse’s duration, the astrologer would have used a cylindrical vessel called a clepsydra, or a water clock, whose slow draining marked the passage of time. “It moved from SW to NE. 35 us [time duration] for obscuration and clearing up. In that eclipse, north wind which...” The rest of the observation is on a missing chunk of tablet and was lost to history, but the astrologer may have been noting that the wind shifted direction, which happens during a total eclipse.
Long-shot efforts to stop Donald Trump or change the election system risk taking up time and energy with little to show at the end.
As Donald Trump’s inauguration draws near, Democrats are channeling time and energy into long-shot political fights focused on the Electoral College. But while their efforts have generated media attention, they ultimately seem unlikely to win back the power liberals lost in the presidential election.
A group of Democratic electors areleading the charge for an Electoral College revolt by attempting to convince electors to deny Trump the White House when they vote for president later this month. At least one Republican elector has also publicly advocated for his colleagues to reject Trump: “I believe electors should unify behind a Republican alternative,” he wrote in a New York Times op-ed on Monday.
In a completely new approach, scientists reduced a hallmark of the disease in mice by stimulating their neurons with flickering lights.
When a crowd starts to applaud, each person initially does so to their own rhythm. But in some cases, those claps can synchronize, with hundreds or thousands or millions of hands striking in unison.
Something similar happens in the brain. When a single neuron fires, it sends an electrical pulse down its length. But large networks of neurons can also fire together, creating regular cycles of electrical activity that resemble the synchronized applause of a rapturous crowd. Formally, these are called neural oscillations; more colloquially, they’re brain waves.
These waves are classified by how frequently the neurons fire in a single second. If they fire one to four times, that’s a delta wave, which occurs during deep sleep. If they fire 12 to 30 times, that’s a beta wave, which is typical of normal wakefulness. And if they do so 30 to 90 times, that’s a gamma wave, which has been linked to higher mental abilities, like memory, attention, and perception. It’s no surprise, then, that scientists have seen disrupted gamma waves in many types of brain disorders, including injuries, schizophrenia, and Alzheimer’s disease.
Unless he divests himself of his business holdings, the president-elect could violate constitutional rules meant to guard against corruption.
With the recent news that two Republican electors are refusing to vote for Donald Trump, we have been inundated with inquiries asking whether other electors should decline to select Trump because of a particular constitutional issue. It’s one we worked on when we were advising Presidents Bush and Obama, respectively: the Emoluments Clause.
Every elector must search his or her own conscience, but after a blizzard of reporting on the president-elect’s foreign business relations in recent days, it appears that Trump will be in violation of this clause of the Constitution from the moment he takes office—and the plan for his business that he hinted at on Twitter last week does not solve the problem.
Trump’s nominee for attorney general claims to have “filed 20 or 30” desegregation cases as U.S. attorney in Alabama, but there’s little evidence to support that.
Civil-rights organizations balked when Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, who was rejected for a federal judgeship in 1986 over allegations he made racist remarks, was chosen to succeed Loretta Lynch as attorney general. Sessions’s allies have sought to portray those criticisms as unfair, in part by pointing to his record of filing desegregation lawsuits as U.S. attorney in Alabama.
Sessions himself claims to have been a champion of desegregation. “I filed 20 or 30 civil-rights cases to desegregate schools and political organizations and county commissions when I was a United States attorney,” Sessions told National Review in 2009. Trump spokesman Jason Miller offered a similar claim in November, telling reporters on a conference call that “when Senator Sessions was U.S. attorney, he filed a number of desegregation lawsuits in Alabama.” Miller’s claim about his record has been reported by outlets including Politico, Wired, and The Washington Times. Conservative outlets have dismissed the questioning of his civil-rights record as "another in a long line of liberal smears" against a principled conservative, in part by citing his record on school desegregation.
Everyone has someone on their holiday shopping list who’s impossible to buy for. For the second year in a row, we asked Atlantic readers to describe their someone, and brainstormed a few perfect gift ideas for them.
There should be a word for it—the agony of loving someone, or feeling familially obligated to them, and having no idea what to buy them as the next gift-giving occasion draws near. Liebengeschenkenschmerz? We’ll workshop it.
Even if you’re a winter-holiday fanatic, that anxiety can put a damper on seasonal festivity. So, for the second year in a row, we set out to help, with a different take on the traditional gift guide. Last month, we put out a call to Atlantic readers to describe the person on their shopping list who’s the most difficult to buy for. We picked 15 across the spectra of relationship, age, gender, and location, and a collection of Atlantic staffers buckled down to brainstorm some fitting gift ideas. (Note: The descriptions from readers, in italics below, have been edited lightly for style and clarity.) Maybe one of our suggestions will suit the impossible someone on your list, or otherwise inspire some gift-giving greatness.