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menuAmerican Social History Project  ·    Center for Media and Learning

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Workers Applaud the New Deal's Works Progress Administration

In this letter to President Roosevelt written in 1936, Michigan workers express their gratitude for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) programs and urge the president to continue WPA efforts. The letter describes how working improves their [...]

A Free Black Woman Writes to Imprisoned John Brown

In October 1859, a militant white abolitionist named John Brown led a small band of black and white anti-slavery fighters in a bold assault on the federal arsenal at Harper's Ferry, West Virginia. Their goal was to capture a large store of weapons, [...]

Item Type: Diary/Letter
Black "Exodusters" Explain their Reasons for Leaving the South

Beginning in the mid-1870s, as Northern support for Radical Reconstruction retreated, thousands of African Americans chose to leave the South in the hope of finding equality on the western frontier. Taking their cue from the Book of Exodus in the [...]

Martin Luther King Speaks Out Against Injustice

These two letters from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., composed four years apart, provide insight into the evolution of King's struggle against injustice. In the excerpt from "Letter from Birmingham Jail," written following King's arrest at a peaceful [...]

A Young Visitor Describes the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition

In July 1876, 17-year-old Frank Thomas recorded his experiences on a trip in Philadelphia in these diary entries. Chief among the city's attractions was the Centennial Exhibition. A showcase for American industry, agriculture, art, and architecture [...]

The President of the B&O Railroad Announces Wage Cuts

After the Panic of 1873 plunged the U.S. economy into a severe and lasting depression, corporations such as the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company found themselves cutting costs, usually by reducing employees' wages, as this letter from the [...]

A Company Town Faces Starvation during the Pullman Strike

George Pullman, owner of the Pullman Palace Car Company, exemplified the paternalistic "welfare capitalist." Believing that labor unrest was caused by poor pay and living conditions, he initially paid his workers high wages and housed them in a [...]

A Hotel Worker Requests Labor Laws for Women

In this letter to Eleanor Roosevelt, an aging Southern hotel worker describes long hours and hard working conditions. Advocating on behalf of women hotel laborers, she requests a six day, 48 hour work week, and an improved pension for older workers. [...]

An Irish Emigrant to New York Writes Home

This letter home from 23-year-old Irish emigrant Margaret McCarthy captures both the opportunity and adversity awaiting arrivals to a new land. McCarthy sailed from Liverpool on the Columbus on September 7, 1849, and arrived in New York on October [...]

Colonial New York's Governor Reports on the 1712 Slave Revolt

In 1712, Manhattan's population was about 6,000 living in an area twenty blocks long by 10 blocks wide; 10-15% of those inhabitants were enslaved Africans. Within this small area, slaves lived with their masters and worked along side white servants [...]

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