After the Civil War, as national leaders hurried to consolidate and expand their reunited empire, Congress approved the largest standing force the United States had fielded in its history. This regular army included, for the first time, African American regiments—the Twenty-Fourth and Twenty-Fifth Infantry, and the Ninth and Tenth Cavalry— initially filled with hundreds of formerly enslaved men who were otherwise maligned in almost every corner of American society. As armed representatives of the state, the “Black regulars” found unusual equality in the army and performed critical roles in service to the country’s military aspirations. They helped secure United States empire in the transcontinental West and along the Mexican border, and then in the Caribbean and the Pacific. They became heroes in the Black press, and indeed,to many of their white officers, who endorsed them for combat decorations and sang their praises. For half a century, Black regulars aided in the enlargement of what expansionists by 1900 were calling the Greater United States.
But what might have been a path to equal treatment and patriotic credibility for Black soldiers instead inflamed white supremacist outrage. Over time, the fact of armed African Americans proved intolerable to many white people, from local citizens to military officials to some officers in the four regiments. Here was the uniformed Black man’s burden—he was both agent and target of white supremacy and state authority. And when bigotry and violence became unbearable, some Black regulars took on a third role as rebels against Jim Crow. In the worst but not first rupture of these impossible contradictions, men in the Twenty-Fourth Infantry staged a deadly uprising against police brutality and racism in Houston, Texas, in July 1917.
Black Man’s Burden: Jim Crow and Mutiny in an Age of Empire tells the epic, globe-spanning story of the rise and fall of the Black regiments. The book centers them in a revised history of American empire and military growth during a pivotal half-century for both, following the Black regulars as they abetted settler colonialism in the West; hemispheric dominion in Cuba and Mexico; and global empire in Hawai’i and the Philippines. For five decades, these men projected American power, attracted white supremacist violence, and responded with acts of both accommodation and resistance.Their story ends in Houston, where the rebellion of infantrymen in the Twenty-Fourth led to the largest murder trial inUnited States history and the execution of nineteen Black soldiers.
John Adams’s presidency hasn’t gotten a lot of respect. He is admired for other accomplishments, but his term as the second president tends to be treated as an exception. It would have been difficult for anyone to follow George Washington, and Adams’s various foibles, and some decisions he made in office, have consigned him to being remembered as one of the least effective presidents.
But as presidential historian Lindsay Chervinsky argues in An Honest Man: The Inimitable Presidency of John Adams, Adams’s presidency served to save a divided nation. He took office with little guidance from his predecessor, and was soon faced with an intense partisan divide, debates over immigration and citizenship, fears of political violence, potential for foreign conflict, and a citizenry unconvinced that the presidency could even function without Washington.
Adams would keep the nation on an even keel domestically and in world affairs. He defended the integrity of elections, helped to define the role of the president for future administrations, and participated in a peaceful transition of power from one party to another even when it cost him his political future.
Every once and so often there is a chance to refurbish a president’s reputation and it is past time to reconsider Adams’s term as president, which has largely been considered the low point of his political career. An Honest Man challenges that perception, suggesting that it was Adams’s ability to lead the country through disorder and disruption – and his determined actions to protect the executive branch and establish its authority – that preserved the presidency for posterity.
The Kankakee River was once the crookedest river in the world, flowing for 250 miles, but coming to its end at the Des Plaines River only 95 miles away from where it started. At one time it drained one of the largest wetlands in North America. But over time its channel was altered, to straighten its path and to allow acres of cropland to be drained for development. Its many pools and bogs, swamps and marshes disappeared as the “problem” they presented to agricultural interests was solved by engineering solutions. Advocates for draining and dredging made – and sold – the argument that the wetlands were a wasteland and that “improvement” was inevitable.
Lost in this process were vast regions that were rich in wildlife; this moisture-filled ecosystem had long been a diverse engine of biodiversity and a source of sustenance for centuries from trapping, hunting, and fishing as well as from tourism. Sometimes referred to as the “Everglades of the North,” the wetlands of the Kankakee are an underappreciated treasure.
In The Most Crooked River in the World: The Waters of the Kankakee and the Nature of Time, Jon Coleman sets out to help us understand what happened to the Kankakee by turning back the wheels of time and reversing the history of the river as if to run a movie of its life story backwards. It’s a daring move that puts the changes that were imposed on the Kankakee, and the changes that might be considered to remediate some of their impact, in a new and startling light.
In 2020, urban residents represented 55% of the world’s population and their numbers were expected to reach 66% by 2050, even in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic. Between population growth and accelerating population shifts into cities, the ranks of city-dwellers will swell by 2.5 billion people. Meanwhile, the world’s rural population is shrinking, and over the next three decades it is set to decline, not only in proportion but also in total size.
Nearly 90% of the increase in urban residents will happen in Africa and Asia. And the largest nations in that region – India, China, and Nigeria – will be responsible for about a third of the growth. The United Nations projects that by 2050, India will add 416 million people to its alreadycrowded urban areas.
In her new book, Bright Lights, Biggest Cities: The Urban Challenge to India’s Future, Alyssa Ayres explores what this urban transformation means for India by looking at how seven megacities – Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Pune, Chennai, Bengaluru, and Hyderabad – are currently grappling with aspects of unchecked growth. Their stories – and their successes and failures – have much to tell us about the way this economic and social shift will play out worldwide.