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Smithsonian Magazine

Smithsonian Magazine January/February 2020

Smithsonian Magazine takes you on a journey through history, science, world culture and technology with breathtaking images from around the world.

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United States
Smithsonian Institute
11 Issues

in this issue

2 min.
“figuring out a clue sharpens my intuition, memory and appetite for life.”

Constitutional Clarity I have long known that our Constitution (“The Funny Thing About the Law,” December 2019) was created and written by white men, but I never truly appreciated how dramatically it excluded everybody else. Ms. Schreck paints a brilliant picture and does it extraordinarily well. Thanks for the opportunity to enjoy it. —Jon M. Jumper | Santa Ana, California Invigorating Crosswords “Block Party” (December 2019) by Deb Amlen and Sam Ezersky, tracing the development of the crossword puzzle, brought a smile to my face. I am one of many who daily solve crosswords for personal entertainment, mental stimulation, and because, as the authors point out, it helps work through self-doubts by forging order out of chaos. Figuring out a clue sharpens my intuition, memory and appetite for life. Educators should include crosswords in…

4 min.

MAYA ANGELOU PUBLISHED the first of her seven memoirs not long after she distinguished herself as the star raconteur at a dinner party. “At the time, I was really only concerned with poetry, though I had written a television series,” she would recall. James Baldwin, the novelist and activist, took her to the party, which was at the home of the cartoonist-writer Jules Feiffer and his then-wife, Judy. “We enjoyed each other immensely and sat up until 3 or 4 in the morning, drinking Scotch and telling tales,” Angelou went on. “The next morning, Judy Feiffer called a friend of hers at Random House and said, ‘You know the poet Maya Angelou? If you could get her to write a book… ’” That book became I Know Why the Caged Bird…

1 min.
beyond the page

1959 ACTOR PORGY & BESS After dancing across Europe with a touring production of Porgy & Bess, Angelou appeared, uncredited, in the Otto Preminger film. 1972 SCREENWRITER GEORGIA, GEORGIA The film, about a love affair between a black American singer and a white American deserter she meets in Sweden, was one of the first movies in America scripted by a black woman. 1977 ACTOR “ROOTS” In this serialized adaptation of Alex Haley’s best-selling novel, Angelou portrayed Nyo Boto, grandmother to Kunta Kinte; Angelou’s role was a composite character drawn from several in the book. 1993 ACTOR THERE ARE NO CHILDREN HERE Based on the nonfiction book by Alex Kotlowitz, the film follows two brothers, Lafeyette and Pharoah Rivers, as they grow up in the turbulent Chicago of the 1980s. Angelou plays their grandmother, and Oprah Winfrey, right, plays their mother. 1996 ACTOR “SESAME…

1 min.
flower power

A TEN-YEAR revolution had united Mexico under a progressive constitution, but in the 1920s the country remained culturally fragmented. So the government commissioned monumental artworks that celebrated Mexico’s culture and history and valorized its common people—especially the indigenous peasants whom artists saw as representing “the real Mexico,” says Barbara Haskell, curator of a new exhibition focused on Mexican muralists, opening at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art in February. These muralists also inspired a generation of American artists, who admired their heroic depictions of popular struggle. “Most of us grew up thinking that the dominant influence in the U.S. in the 20th century came from France,” Haskell says. But “looking at those decades, 1925 to 1945, what becomes clear is the huge impact of the Mexican muralists, who created…

8 min.
tracing the enslaved

IN 1834, A 22-YEAR-OLD Yoruba man who would come to be known as Manuel Vidau was captured as a prisoner of war and sold to slave traders in Lagos, today the largest city in Nigeria. A Spanish ship transported him to Cuba, where he was sold to a white man who forced him to roll 400 cigars a day (if his pace slowed, he recalled, he would be “stripped, tied down and flogged with the cow hide”). A decade later, however, Vidau secured permission from a new owner to hire himself out, and with his earnings he bought a share in a lottery ticket—and won. That allowed him finally to buy his freedom. He married a fellow former slave, Maria Picard, and they adopted a young relative whose parents had…

1 min.
still standing

WHEN JOBIE HILL first stepped over the threshold of a slave house, her experience was visceral. “You notice the size, the amount of light, the ventilation,” she says, “and you can imagine what it would have been like for you, personally, to live there.” Hill, an Iowa architect specializing in historic preservation, has spent the past seven years visiting former slave dwellings. At each location, she records GPS coordinates, makes photos and sketches a site plan. She adds these drawings to a digital database, called “Saving Slave Houses,” which currently includes 145 sites across the United States. When possible, she includes descriptions of the homes from the enslaved African-Americans who lived in them. To locate the slave houses, Hill relies largely on a government survey from the 1930s that included about 500…