Category Archives: American History

Women’s History Month at the American Library 

To celebrate Women’s History Month, the American Library hosted a talk on 8 March by Professor Emma Long from the University of East Anglia, who spoke to an engaged and appreciative audience about the women justices of the United States Supreme Court. You can read all about it in fellow Library Scholar Lauren Cortese’s blog post

Professor Long highlighted a few books about the justices that are available to check out from the Library, shown at bottom. If you’re interested in the Supreme Court and the American legal system, we have additional titles, so pay us a visit and ask one of our knowledgeable librarians to assist you. 

There are a number of pressing issues facing the nation when it comes to women’s rights. One is the pending Supreme Court case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which could overturn the Court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, upholding a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion and control over her own reproductive decisions. According to the Center for Reproductive Rights:  ‘The right to safe and legal abortion is a fundamental human right protected under numerous international and regional human rights treaties and national-level constitutions around the world.’ [UPDATE: On 24 June 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court overruled Roe v. Wade, holding that the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion, in a case that has troubling implications for due process protections in America. The text of the decision can be found here. I recommend reading the dissent by Justices Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.]

There is also the necessity of confirming President Biden’s nominee to fill the vacancy left by the announced retirement of Justice Stephen Breyer. Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson is a highly qualified candidate and would be the Court’s first Black female justice, not to mention being from this writer’s hometown of Miami, Florida. I venture to predict that despite the political sideshow surrounding Judge Jackson’s nomination, Congress will do the right thing in confirming her. [UPDATE: On 7 April 2022, a bipartisan group of Senators confirmed Judge Jackson’s nomination as the 116th Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. She was sworn in and took her seat on 30 June.]

There is another, perhaps surprisingly, unresolved issue: the ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) to the US Constitution, guaranteeing equal rights for women.[1] First drafted in 1923 by leaders of the suffrage movement and finally taken up by Congress in 1972, the ERA requires the ratification of three-quar­ters, or 38 of the 50 states. Virginia became the 38th state to ratify it in 2020. However, according to the Brennan Center for Justice: ‘The rati­fic­a­tion dead­lines that Congress set after it approved the amend­ment have lapsed, and five states have acted to rescind their prior approval.’  

The resolution to this legal nail-biter rests on the issues of whether Congress can waive the time bar (a procedural limitation not mandated by the Constitution) and whether states are permitted to rescind their ratifications. The 50.8% of ‘female persons’ who make up the US population, according the 2020 US census, await the answer. It’s been nearly a century since the ERA was first put forward by suffragists. I have no doubt that even if it eludes passage this time around, it will eventually prevail. 

The text of the ERA reads: ‘Equal­ity of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appro­pri­ate legis­la­tion, the provi­sions of this article.’ If ratified, it will be the 28th Amendment to the US Constitution.  

I’ll close by noting that all opinions expressed in this post are those of the writer, and do not represent the position of the American Library, which is one of neutrality. 

–post by Suzanne Solomon 


[1] Gender equality is guaranteed under the 14th Amend­ment’s Equal Protec­tion Clause, in great part due to the brilliant legal strategy of American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawyer Ruth Bader Gins­burg, who would go on to become the Court’s second woman and first Jewish female Justice.

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Celebrating Black History Month

Members of the 99th Fighter Squadron of the Army Air Forces pose for a picture at the Anzio beachhead, 1944. Image courtesy of National Archives

February is Black History Month, ‘a celebration and a powerful reminder that Black history is American history, Black culture is American culture, and Black stories are essential to the ongoing story of America — our faults, our struggles, our progress, and our aspirations’, as President Joe Biden’s proclamation for 2022 affirms. The Biden/Harris administration became part of that history in 2021, with Kamala Harris serving as the first Black female Vice President. 

The American Library also recognizes the contributions of Black Americans in WWII, with over 2.5 million Black men registering for the draft, many going on to serve in the Army, Army Air Forces, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard, despite continuing racial discrimination and segregation. Black women also served as nurses and in the Women’s Army Corps, as well as contributing to the war effort in large numbers as volunteers.

Below are some selections from our collection as well as links to online resources to learn more about Black American history and culture. Visit the American Library to check out these books, get more recommendations and browse additional titles! You can also check out ebooks from our online collection of titles by African American authors.

The Warmth of Other Suns : the Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
An award-winning account of the mass exodus, from 1915-1970, of Black Americans from the Southern United States, seen through the eyes of three individuals who made the journey in search of opportunity and a better life.

Beneath a Ruthless Sun : a True Story of Violence, Race, and Justice Lost and Found by Gilbert King
A gripping true story of unequal justice in small town Florida by the Pulitzer Prize winning author of Devil in the Grove.

When They Call You a Terrorist : a Black Lives Matter memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele, foreword by Angela Davis
A memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement that reignited the American civil rights struggle in the 21st century.

A Black Women’s History of the United States by Daina Ramey Berry
‘A vibrant and empowering history that emphasizes the perspectives and stories of African American women to show how they are—and have always been—instrumental in shaping our country.’

Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics During World War II by Farah Jasmine Griffin
The stories of Black women artists in the WWII era, spotlighting choreographer and dancer Pearl Primus, composer and pianist Mary Lou Williams and novelist Ann Petry.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
An ‘African American feminist classic’ from one of the celebrated authors of the Harlem Renaissance.

Traveling Black: A Story of Race and Resistance by Mia Bay
A history of segregated travel that ‘helps explain why the long, unfinished journey to racial equality so often takes place on the road.’

Letter to My Daughter by Maya Angelou
Essays on American life and letters from the celebrated poet and writer.

Passing by Nella Larsen
Two Black women, childhood friends, one of whom has chosen to pass as white, are reunited, upending both their lives, in this groundbreaking 1929 novel, now a critically acclaimed film adaptation.

The National Archives has extensive material documenting the Black experience: https://www.archives.gov/research/african-americans  

This database has resources on the Black freedom struggle in the United States: https://blackfreedom.proquest.com/

— post by Suzanne Solomon

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‘Indifference to Injustice is the Gate to Hell’

‘Memorial to the Victims of the Injustice of the Holocaust’, 1990. Photo credit: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:2010_Appellate_courhouse_Holocaust_Memorial.jpg

On the façade of the New York Appellate Division, First Department Courthouse in Manhattan, there is a Holocaust memorial sculpture carved into a column of Carrara marble, a representation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, based in part on an aerial photograph taken by the 15th Air Force, United States Army Air Forces. I discovered it quite by accident, on one of my usual long strolls in the city, often ending by stopping at a park to jot down my thoughts. The park in this instance was Madison Square Park, a green expanse popular with locals enjoying an al fresco lunch, as well as with tourists taking snaps of the nearby Flatiron Building.

‘Memorial to Victims of the Injustice of the Holocaust’, a sculpture by New York artist Harriet Feigenbaum on the Madison Avenue side of the courthouse at E. 25th Street, was installed in 1990. The artist worked from ‘photographs of the death houses and a rendering of the main camp at Auschwitz in Poland, drawn by a prison inmate in 1944’, she told the New York Times in 1988. The piece had the impact on me probably intended by makers of public art: I was startled, then riveted, then overcome. I visited the sculpture many times afterward, a regular feature of my walks, a pilgrimage to honor the memory of the dead as well as those who sacrificed their lives to stop the genocide.

The Holocaust was ‘the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jewish men, women and children by the Nazi regime and its collaborators’[1], as well as ‘at least five million prisoners of war, Romany, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and other victims’.[2] Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp, was liberated by Soviet troops on 27 January 1945, commemorated in the UK and Europe as Holocaust Memorial Day. Over a million people[3] were murdered there, the vast majority Jews who had been deported from countries all over Europe in furtherance of the Nazis’ ‘final solution’ to annihilate the Jewish population.

Auschwitz was only one of a network of 44,000 concentration, forced labor and death camps and other incarceration sites in the Nazi-occupied countries. Dachau was the first such camp, opened in Germany in 1933 to intern political prisoners. It ‘served as a model for all later concentration camps and as a “school of violence” for the SS men under whose command it stood.’ [4] Over a twelve-year period, the camp imprisoned political opponents of the Nazi regime, Jews, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Roma (Gypsies), homosexuals, ‘asocials’ and repeat criminal offenders.[5] The prisoners were used for forced labour. German doctors performed medical experiments on others. Over 200,000 people were detained there; of those, at least 28,000 died. American forces liberated the camp on 29 April 1945. ‘As Allied units approached, at least 25,000 prisoners from the Dachau camp system were force marched south or transported away from the camps in freight trains. During these so-called death marches, the Germans shot anyone who could no longer continue; many also died of starvation, hypothermia, or exhaustion. … In early May 1945, American forces liberated the prisoners who had been sent on the death march.’[6]

Photograph of the Dachau Concentration Camp circa May 1945, taken by the author’s father, Flight Officer Eugene L. Solomon. On the reverse, he wrote: ‘moat, barbed wire, high tension wire, living quarters.’

In October’s post for this blog, I wrote about my father’s service as a Jewish B-17 pilot with the 384th Bomb Group, stationed at Grafton Underwood. In a 2006 family interview, he described a mission in May of 1945, when he and his crew flew to an air station outside Munich to pick up supplies ‘destined for Dachau concentration camp.’ They then drove to the camp. When they went through the gates, they saw these ‘thousand men in striped uniforms.’ They were ‘walking bones – their eyes were sunk into their heads, and they would look at you and … mumble and try to talk. We were just stunned … looking at these people that are literally walking dead.’ He went into the commanding officer’s office and found in his desk ‘a series of little insignias. One was a gas mask.’ The crew walked through the gas chamber and saw ‘pipes with the false spray heads.’

As you walked in there were tons of shoes and clothing and all and you would see piles of adult shoes and piles of children’s shoes … when you came out the other end, you walked into the crematorium—there were three crematoriums there. There was a table there with a grinder, so if any of the bones weren’t completely demolished, they would put them into that grinder and grind them up and there was a basket there to catch it. And then they would take all of the ashes and bring it in the back. There was a huge field back there where for several years they were dumping ashes. … You’re twenty years old and you see that, it really shakes you up. And you don’t know what to say to the people. You don’t speak their language … You go through the barracks where they had nothing but a flat board where like nine people would sleep, and then there would be another deck and another deck, and they would crowd them in there. … There were thousands of US troops in there, and they brought food in. … We brought an airplane full of supplies. … There were men, there were women, there were Jews, there were Gentiles, there were gypsies. There were all kinds of people. [My mother asks, off camera: ‘Children’?] ‘Oh, yeah, there were children. … It was a terrifying sight.

It’s not hard to conclude that what my father and his crew witnessed, the horrific aftermath of unspeakable acts, was in fact, as the Holocaust memorial sculptor back in Manhattan saw it, ‘the gate to hell.’ If it was evil that conceived of and created this hell, it was indifference that facilitated it, and all the genocides afterward.

Holocaust Memorial Day commemorates the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust and the millions of other people killed under Nazi persecution of other groups and in genocides that followed in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. The theme for this year’s remembrance is ‘One Day’. As Holocaust survivor Iby Knill said: ‘You didn’t think about yesterday, and tomorrow may not happen, it was only today that you had to cope with and you got through it as best you could.’ 

You can find resources on genocide and the Holocaust at the American Library and check out e-books in our collection here. The Imperial War Museum’s Second World War and Holocaust Partnership Programme collaborated with writers to create an online exhibit, One Story, Many Voices, featuring the accounts of survivors. Other resources are available on the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust website.

–post by Suzanne Solomon


[1] United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/documenting-numbers-of-victims-of-the-holocaust-and-nazi-persecution.

[2] The National WWII Museum https://www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/holocaust.

[3] USHMM https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/auschwitz.

[4] Dachau Memorial site https://www.kz-gedenkstaette-dachau.de/en/.

[5] USHMM https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/dachau

[6] USHMM https://encyclopedia.ushmm.org/content/en/article/dachau.

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Native American Heritage Month

As Americans celebrate Thanksgiving at the end of the month, fittingly, November is Native American Heritage Month, with the theme ‘Gifts of Our Ancestors: Celebrating Indigenous Knowledge and Cultures.’ Indigenous people are believed to have inhabited the North American continent since at least 15,000 years ago, and were stewards of the vast natural resources, from sea to shining sea, that European explorers found when they landed in 1492.

As President Joseph Biden said in his Proclamation of National Native American Heritage Month:

Despite a painful history marked by unjust Federal policies of assimilation and termination, American Indian and Alaska Native peoples have persevered.  During National Native American Heritage Month, we celebrate the countless contributions of Native peoples past and present, honor the influence they have had on the advancement of our Nation, and recommit ourselves to upholding trust and treaty responsibilities, strengthening Tribal sovereignty, and advancing Tribal self-determination. 

One notable fact stood out for me:  Native Americans, resident in America before anyone else, were not granted citizenship until 1924, when President Calvin Coolidge signed the Indian Citizenship Act, motivated in part by their high rates of enlistment in WWI. However, it took until 1962 for all 50 states to guarantee Native Americans the right to vote.

On a lighter note, hockey fans may be interested to know that Native Americans are credited with inventing the sport, which they called ‘shinny ball’.

Nacoista drawing of man and woman playing shinny ball game, ca. 1881-1891
National Museum of Natural History https://www.si.edu/object/archives/sova-naa-ms166931

The Library of Congress kicked off the month with an event featuring Joy Harjo, the first Native American U.S. Poet Laureate, and Deb Haaland, the first Native American cabinet secretary. Libraries around the United States have been celebrating by holding readings and making book recommendations.

Here at the  American Library, former Scholar and staff member Linda Sheppard did a deep dive into our collection to highlight titles exploring Native American history, culture, art, literature, culinary traditions, wartime contributions and more.

Here are a few:

We’d love to see you at the American Library where you can browse the full display and take books home to learn more about the rich and diverse heritage of Native Americans and their many individual tribes.

–post by Suzanne Solomon

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