The 21st Show

ENCORE: ‘American Legion’ Photography Book; Sundown Towns; ‘Hit The Wall’ Play Tackles Stonewall Riots


Mariah Karson

This week, we're revisiting some of our favorite history conversations. Today, we hear about a photography book highlighting members of the American Legion. Plus, the people behind a production of the play 'Hit The Wall,' which explores the 1969 Stonewall Riots. And, the backstory of 'sundown towns' throughout Illinois and the country.

One hundred years ago, the American Legion was founded. I'ts played a big role in our nation’s history, not just as the largest veterans organization in the country, but also because their members helped create things like the G.I. Bill and the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

Today, there are millions of members and, there are American Legion posts in towns big and small, where veterans gather and host community events.

Some of those veterans are the subject of a book called “American Legion” by Chicago photographer Mariah Karson. 

Plus - 

You’ve probably heard of Stonewall Inn. The six days of rioting and disturbances in the summer of 1969 in and around Stonewall are commonly thought of the beginnings of the LGBT civil rights movements. President Obama designated the Stonewall Inn and surrounding areas in New York’s Greenwich Village as the first-ever monument to the LGBT movement. But how much do we actually know about what happened? Those events have been dramatized in a play that opens January 31 and then runs through February 10 at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.

Robert Gerard Anderson is the play’s director. He’s also an associate professor at the University of Illinois’ Department of Theatre. Madeline Whitesell is the play’s dramaturg and a master’s student in that same department. We speak with both of them on the show. 

And - 

After the Civil War and Reconstruction, white Southerners took action to restrict the rights of black men, women, and families. Today most of us know them as Jim Crow laws. And these laws were in many ways a backlash to the abolition of slavery.

Well, according to historian and scholar James W. Loewen, another kind of backlash was happening in the north. Sundown towns. Places where black citizens were not only barred from living in, but where they wouldn’t be safe if they stayed in town after dark.

This is also one part of the movie “Green Book” which came out last fall. But Jim has been writing about this for years. His 2005 book Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism is one of the few scholarly works on this topic. He’s originally from Decatur and is now professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Vermont.

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