On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that school segregation on the basis of race violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee to equal protection under the law.
The landmark decision, Brown v. Board ofEducation, galvanized the U.S. Civil Rights Movement and had far-reaching implications for American public life.
By overturning the 1896 doctrine that allowed separate public facilities for whites and African Americans — provided facilities were deemed equal — the Brown ruling destroyed the legal basis for racial segregation, not only in schools, but also in housing, transportation and other public places.
Yet the full impact of the Brown decision, often described as “the case that changed America,” would take years to be fully realized, says Harvard University scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Dismantling ‘separate but equal’
“Ending legal segregation was a monumental shift,” Gates told ShareAmerica. Yet, the decision was only one salvo in a long-running battle for equality. Resistance to desegregation remained fierce, especially in the Deep South.
“The Court did not include an enforcement measure, meaning many schools dragged their feet and refused to desegregate until forced by court order during the 1960s,” Gates said.
In 1957, federal troops were sent to enforce the Brown ruling, and nine African American teenagers — known as the Little Rock Nine — integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. It took until the 1960s for most U.S. public schools to be integrated.
Playing ‘the long game’
The Brown decision made Thurgood Marshall, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People lawyer who successfully argued the case, a household name. Marshall would go on to serve as the first African American U.S. Supreme Court justice.
But Marshall was not solely responsible for dismantling the separate-but-equal doctrine. NAACP lawyer Charles Hamilton Houston had begun laying the legal foundation for overturning school segregation in the 1930s, Gates said.
In working to overturn the separate-but-equal doctrine and the so-called ‘Jim Crow’ laws that enforced racial segregation in the South, Houston and Marshall “understood that they needed to play the long game,” Gates said.
Marshall recruited a brilliant team, including lawyers Constance Baker Motley and Robert Carter, that “won higher-education desegregation cases to set the precedent, and litigated many lower-court secondary cases in the lead-up to Brown,” Gates said.
Commemorating the struggle
The triumph in Brown and other court cases provided momentum for the U.S. Civil Rights Movement that swept the nation in the 1950s and 1960s. The movement led to passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, prohibiting discrimination in public places, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
The United States honors the lawyers and others who fought for racial equality. Marshall is memorialized by a statue in Annapolis, Maryland, near the courthouse where he argued early civil rights cases.
The United States Civil Rights Trail, spanning sites in 15 states, commemorates landmark events in the Civil Rights Movement. A monument called “Testament” on the grounds of the Arkansas State Capitol honors the Little Rock Nine who integrated Central High School in 1957. The monument features bronze statues and plaques with the students’ quotations.
“Visiting historical sites can be educational, even inspiring,” Gates said. “Historical sites force us to reckon with the past and how it echoes today. Equally important, they also allow us to celebrate the brave Black Americans who forced the nation to change.”
When Edie Ceccarelli was born in 1908, horse-drawn carriages still ran the streets of her hometown of Willits, California. She was in her 30s when World War II broke out.
While she has outlived several close relatives, she is not alone. Ceccarelli still lives in the small city of Willits, and the whole town celebrated her 116th birthday, which falls on February 5, with a parade. Neighbors waved and shouted “Happy birthday!” during the parade, held Sunday, February 4.
Edie Ceccarelli, at 116, is the oldest known person in the U.S. and the second oldest on Earth.
In fact, residents of Willits have held festivities on Ceccarelli’s birthday every year since she turned 100 years old. In a past year, she’s said her secrets to longevity are “a couple of fingers of red wine with dinner, and mind your own business,” the Press Democrat of Santa Rosa, California, reports.
As the oldest person living in the U.S. and the second-oldest person in the world, Ceccarelli, along with the city of Willits, has drawn the attention of a documentary featuring the world’s oldest people and of media outlets in places as far as New York and London.
“Her birthday, ever since she was 100, has always been a community thing, a public party,” parade organizer Suzanne Picetti told USA Today. “It brings community together to celebrate a really special human being. It bring[s] a lot of joy and happiness to our community.”
Since its introduction in the mid-19th century, photography has shaped public perception of U.S. presidents during their lifetimes and long after. So American presidents, always among the most photographed people on earth, learned to use photography to mold how they were presented, says Cara Finnegan, a professor of communications at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
In her book, Photographic Presidents: Making History from Daguerreotype to Digital, Finnegan traces U.S. presidents’ evolving relationship with photography.
As technology changed how photographs were produced and disseminated, presidents adapted their efforts to present a positive image. The complex relationship dates back to photography’s earliest form: the daguerreotype.
A new form of portraiture
John Quincy Adams, who served as president from 1825 to 1829, considered the daguerreotype a “wondrous” invention. Presented by inventor Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre in Paris in 1839, the process used mercury vapor to create images on a plate. By the early 1840s, photography studios had cropped up in most major cities, and people flocked to have their portraits made.
Adams was among them. But having sat for painters and sculptors his whole life, the sixth U.S. president had a fraught relationship with portraiture. “He believed portraits should be an index of someone’s moral character — what he called ‘true portraiture of the heart,'” Finnegan told ShareAmerica. “And he felt that photography could not capture that.” Adams described his photographic portraits as “hideous.”
An 1843 daguerreotype, taken 14 years after Adams left the White House, is the earliest surviving photograph of a U.S. president. An 1849 daguerreotype of James K. Polk, the 11th president, is the earliest surviving photograph of a sitting U.S. president.
Abraham Lincoln was photographed more than 120 times, mostly in the ambrotype format. The process, common in the 1850s, still used chemicals to create an image on a glass plate but allowed for portable equipment. Photographers left their studios, traveled and produced compact portraits known as “cartes de visite.” By the mid- to late 1860s, the ambrotype was succeeded by the more economical tintype, printed on iron.
Lincoln, the 16th president, sat for his last official portrait in February 1865, just weeks before his assassination. The resulting “cracked plate” image, made on glass that was accidentally damaged, captures a careworn president wrestling with the fate of a nation in the midst of civil war.
The rise of photojournalism
Dry plate photography, invented in 1871 and popularized in the 1880s, further enhanced photographers’ mobility. New gelatin-coated plates could be stored for a month before exposure, freeing photographers from messy and inconvenient production processes.
New York entrepreneur George Eastman launched a dry plate manufacturing company and began experimenting with and producing film in the mid-1880s. In 1888, Eastman’s company “introduced film rolls sufficient for 100 exposures — mounted in a small box camera called the Kodak,” according to the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Changes in technology brought presidents both greater publicity and increased risk of unflattering images. While presidents were once photographed only in photographers’ studios, Finnegan said, “anyone out on the street could now capture a photo of you.”
In the early 20th century, the advent of newsreels and the rise of photojournalism brought presidents even greater visibility. Theodore Roosevelt, who became the 26th U.S. president in 1901, “was savvy about arranging photo opportunities,” Finnegan said.
In the 1920s, Warren Harding, the 29th president and a former newspaperman, and his successor, Calvin Coolidge, also embraced “photo ops.”
Capturing the president’s image became a full-time job in 1961, when President John F. Kennedy made Cecil Stoughton the first official White House photographer. Previously, military photographers had photographed White House events and captured candid moments of first families.
With the exception of Jimmy Carter, every U.S. president since has had an official photographer. After taking office in 1963, Lyndon Johnson gave photographer Yoichi Okamoto unprecedented access, and Okamoto’s work still inspires presidential photographers today, Finnegan said.
Barack Obama’s election in 2008 coincided with increasing social media use in the U.S. The 44th U.S. president embraced the new platform, Finnegan said, creating a social media team and a White House Flickr page to engage global audiences.
Pete Souza, White House photographer for both Obama and Ronald Reagan, the 39th U.S. president, had free rein to take behind-the-scenes photographs, as Okamoto had, Finnegan said.
“Circling back to John Quincy Adams and his notions of ‘portraiture of the heart,’ the Johnson and Obama photos do, in fact, reveal quite a lot about the characters of these presidents.”
When the Most Reverend Michael Curry was a boy, he gave up Bazooka bubble gum for Lent, just as many Christian children give up chocolate or some other candy.
Now, as presiding bishop and primate of The Episcopal Church, Curry sees more clearly what Lent means.
“It’s bigger than a Hershey bar,” he said. The 40 days of prayer, fasting and giving to others started as preparation for people joining the church at Easter. But the season has been broadened to include all Christians seeking a deeper connection to their faith.
The period leading up to Easter mirrors the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness praying, fasting and getting ready for his ministry. American Christians echo those efforts with various approaches. They may give up bad habits, abstain from some foods or forms of entertainment, take Bible study classes, serve others or make charitable donations.
Lent is “spring cleaning for the soul,” and the abstinence — whether from candy, social media or whatever a person chooses to give up — is a way of getting rid of distractions that take away from spiritual awareness, said Ryan Dunn, minister of online engagement for the United Methodist Church, which has 30,000 churches in the U.S.
Curry says practicing willpower helps one “become aware of how selfishness can lead us astray and how it rises up within us.”
Connecting and reflecting
Many Catholic parishes in America offer meatless Friday dinners in their gathering halls, which buzz with the activity of parishioners volunteering, kids darting around and adults chatting. Parishioners join a devotional exercise called Stations of the Cross, a way to reflect on the last events of Jesus’ life.
Lenten activities culminate with Holy Week, which begins with Palm Sunday and leads up to Easter. Holy Week is packed with extra services, and church pews fill with people.
Lenten observations can refocus Christians, Curry said, relating the New Testament story of Jesus walking on water toward his disciples, who were in a boat and struggling against dangerous winds. “That’s what Lent is trying to teach you to do — walk on the water in a storm, which life often is,” he said.
A version of this story was previously published March 20, 2023.
Remember when the news was all about the Ever Given? The massive container ship ran aground in the Suez Canal and blocked the vital Red Sea shipping corridor for six days. The resulting delays suffered by other ships transporting goods cost $9 billion per day.
Since November 2023, dozens of Houthi attacks on ships in the Red Sea and nearby Gulf of Aden have raised costs for businesses and consumers again. The Houthi attacks have forced transportation companies to reroute ships around the southern tip of Africa. (By late January, after two months of Houthi attacks, container ships transiting the Suez Canal fell by 67%.)
The significantly longer route delays deliveries of food, clothing, medicine and humanitarian aid. The longer route adds $1 million in fuel costs for a ship bound for northern Europe around the Cape of Good Hope, Reuters reports. Costs generally are passed along to the end users, or consumers. Lengthened shipping routes increase emissions too, which in turn can harm Earth’s climate.
“We often underestimate or completely ignore the impact of the maritime space on life on land,” said Ian Ralby, a U.S. author who advises governments and industry on maritime matters. “If shipping doesn’t flow, you [the consumer] don’t have the goods you’re used to buying from almost any store.” Or you pay more for them.
Suzuki Motor Corporation, Tesla Incorporated and Volvo Car AB temporarily closed plants or stalled manufacturing in Europe because they did not receive parts they needed in a timely fashion, the Associated Press reports. A U.S. producer of medical equipment, Man & Machine, has reported delays receiving parts from Asia.
Jan Hoffmann, head of logistics for the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, faults Houthi attacks in the Red Sea for raising global food and energy prices at a time when Russia’s war against Ukraine has already cut grain exports from Europe and when lower water levels from drought are delaying shipping through the Panama Canal, another vital channel.
“Developing countries are particularly vulnerable to these disruptions,” Hoffman said of the cumulative pressures on global supply chains.
David Simchi-Levi, a logistics specialist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says consumers may not see bare shelves from the recent disruptions, which he calls “short term.” That’s because companies strengthened supply chains after the Ever Given incident and retailers have stocked up in reaction to surging demand after the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, Ryan Petersen, of the supply chain management firm Flexport, told the Associated Press that, if sustained for a year, Houthi attacks on shipping could increase inflation of goods by up to 2% globally. “What’s happened right now is short-term chaos, and chaos leads to increased costs,” Peterson said in January.
While container ships carry goods that industry and consumers rely on, Ralby said, the effects of rerouting — like backlogs of ships waiting at ports — may take weeks to appear. “All kinds of different markets are being affected, but the extent of it isn’t really palpable yet,” he warned.
Recognizing the importance of navigational rights and freedoms, the U.N. Security Council adopted a resolution (2722) January 10 underscoring that the transit passage of merchant and commercial vessels through the Red Sea must continue unimpeded.
Shipping near the Red Sea also endured an uptick in piracy in late 2023 and early 2024, Ralby notes. The confluence of pressures that lead to rerouting, rising costs and delays will likely be felt most by those who have the least. “Humanitarian aid, food aid, medical supplies and water supplies destined for specific locations may not get there in time,” according to Ralby, who cites ongoing crises in Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea.
“If all the sudden, there is a two-week delay in things that are desperately needed, that’s tough for people,” he said.
Back in school, near the turn of the century, Ismelda Ornelas won a competition that landed her drawing on a stamp used by her hometown post office in Valentine, Texas. The image was of a male horse offering a flower held in his mouth to a mare wearing a bow.
Years later, Ornelas, now the Valentine, Texas, postmaster, spends long hours each February stamping another child’s winning drawing onto thousands of Valentine’s Day cards.
“Knowing I play a role in sending someone a small token of love from another person, with a hand-stamp from Valentine, TX, is truly special,” she says.
The town is one of a handful of places named Valentine across the United States. Each year, in the days and weeks leading up to February 14, these towns are swamped with mail from people who not only want to send their love, but make it official, stamped “Valentine.”
Ornelas postmarks 10,000 to 12,000 pieces of Valentine’s Day mail each year. Senders mail in their postage-paid cards in a separate envelope. The mail receives a “Valentine, Texas,” postmark over the stamp and the sender’s return address also receives a stamp with the winning child’s drawing.
Valentine, Nebraska, a small town of only 2,600, is located so far from city lights that the Milky Way casts shadows on the ground. Yet February is a busy time in Heart City, as it’s called. At the post office, “Cupid’s Mailbox” receives thousands of Valentine’s Day cards. Each will be postmarked with a special stamp designed by a contest-winning artist.
The town holds a pageant every year in which kings and queens are crowned among both children and senior citizens. And a “heart drop” celebration brings families to the fairgrounds. The celebration, inspired by New York City’s Times Square New Year’s Eve ball drop, rains down ping-pong balls from a raised heart. Each ball contains a voucher for children’s treats such as ice cream or fast-food sandwiches.
After February 14, Valentine is quiet until summer brings tourists to the region dotted with grass-covered sand dunes, wildlife refuges teeming with bison, and the cliffs and waterfalls near the Niobrara National Scenic River.
“If you love the outdoors, Valentine is the place to be,” says Regina Osburn, director of the Cherry County Tourism & Valentine Visitor’s Center.
Valentines, Virginia, also has a special postmark, according to the U.S. Postal Service. The Virginia town is the sort of place where the recent closure of a local market prompted residents to mourn its loss on Facebook and ponder how to re-create their convivial meeting spot.
Valentine, Texas, also sees its population jump around February 14 each year. That’s when a Valentine’s in Valentine party in an old mercantile building draws a crowd bigger than the town’s population.
The town’s only store has closed. The closest thing is an art installation outside of town that masquerades as a luxury shop, complete with handbags — bottomless to deter would-be thieves — and shoes that don’t match.
For Ornelas, what’s left is the town she loves, which includes a school, the post office and businesses around cattle ranching. As postmaster, most of the town’s 90 or so residents are also her customers, whom she knows by name. Some are cowboys, a detail Ornelas likes to share with incredulous city types. There’s also the clean air, the blue skies and the glittering night stars — all reasons she doesn’t mind the extra work stamping all those valentines.
Sixty years ago, on a snow-covered night, the Beatles played their first U.S. concert at a Washington coliseum.
The packed event February 11, 1964, followed an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show in New York earlier in the week. The visit, or the beginning of the “British Invasion” as some called it, was a milestone for rock ’n’ roll musicians and fans alike. (The Beatles’ set list included their own take of a classic song, “Long Tall Sally,” by American performer Little Richard.)
The Beatles’ several-city tour was followed by other British touring bands, which became part of the Invasion.
For their part, the Beatles were influenced by American musicians such as Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley. And the Beatles revered American folk icon Bob Dylan, who had performed in London.
Years later, Beatles drummer Ringo Starr said those American influences gave the band’s first U.S. shows special significance. “We were excited when we came to America, with the Beatles,” Ringo told AXS TV. “Because all our music had come from there.”
Before the war, Anastasiia Minchukova taught English. Now, wearing heavy protective equipment and carrying a metal detector, she clears away explosives left by the Russian army, making parks for children, fields for planting, and streets for walking safe.
“There is a huge demand on people who know how to do demining,” Minchukova told the Associated Press when asked why she volunteered. “There is so much work to be done, and I think that I’ll be helpful.”
Until a few years ago, clearing land mines was one of hundreds of jobs legally forbidden to women because of holdover laws from the Soviet Union. A law passed in 2018 gave Ukrainian women equality in working jobs legally considered “dangerous,” and women gradually moved into combat positions in the military.
The United States has committed $182 million in humanitarian demining assistance to Ukraine since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion, and 36% of the deminers and other staff are women.
The roles of Ukrainian women in all sectors of life have continued to change completely since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion, said Tetiana Yehorova-Lutsenko, chairperson of the Kharkiv Regional Council, speaking at the U.S. Institute of Peace in March 2023.
The latest Ukrainian State Unemployment Service (SES) report found that the number of women in construction and mining jobs has nearly doubled since 2021.
One of those women, Krystyna, from the town of Pavlograd, works 500 meters below ground in a coal mine in the Dnipropetrovsk region while her mother cares for her 4-year-old son.
The mine — which provides vital fuel to Ukrainians suffering energy shortages as a result of Russia’s invasion — was in dire need of workers after the start of the war. Many of its male workers — among them Krystyna’s brother — joined the army to defend their country.
Krystyna says she signed up to work in the mine from a sense of duty. “We cannot leave all of this behind and go for other jobs, letting our boys down,” she told Reuters.
These evolving gender roles demonstrate not just bravery but a deep commitment to their nation’s future, Ukrainian first lady Olena Zelenska told the 7th Ukrainian Women’s Congress in November 2023.
“It is hard to live on the pages of a history textbook, but that is what we do. … We didn’t want to break stereotypes this way,” she said.
It’s time for the Super Bowl again. The National Football League (NFL) championship game is the biggest date on the U.S. sports calendar and an American obsession.
On February 11, more than one-third of the U.S. population is expected to watch Super Bowl LVIII, the halftime show starring Usher and all those attention-grabbing TV ads. In fact, some expect viewership of the game held in Las Vegas to outpace last year’s 115 million viewers, as reported by Sports Media Watch.
This year, the Kansas City Chiefs will take on the San Francisco 49ers in a rematch of the 2020 Super Bowl, which ended with the Chiefs’ 31–20 comeback win. The teams earned their rematch by way of a 17-game regular season, followed by a 14-team playoff, spread over three weekends.
While the Super Bowl attracts everyone from avid sports fans to those just wanting to spend time with family and friends, here are a few of the storylines that will be vying for their attention.
Teams need great top-notch passers to scramble to the top of the NFL, and this year’s quarterbacks are no exception. But the Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes II and the 49ers’ Brock Purdy took very different paths to the NFL.
Mahomes was the 10th player selected in the 2017 NFL draft and has become the league’s unquestioned leading man. He’s earned both the NFL’s most valuable player (MVP) award and Super Bowl MVP award twice, including in the Chiefs’ 2023 Super Bowl win. He is appearing in his fourth Super Bowl in just six seasons.
Though Mahomes didn’t have his best regular season, he is a master of the postseason. During his 17 playoff games, he has thrown a combined 39 touchdown passes to just seven interceptions.
Purdy, on the other hand, is headed to his first Super Bowl, despite an unheralded resume. As the last player selected in the 2022 draft, he earned the distinction as that year’s “Mr. Irrelevant.” In the 2022 draft, 261 players, including seven quarterbacks, were picked before Purdy.
Yet with Purdy starting at quarterback, the 49ers have a regular season record of 17 wins and four losses. Though not as dynamic as Mahomes, Purdy is an accurate passer and leads a potent 49ers offense that features top-flight players in running back Christian McCaffrey, wide receiver Deebo Samuel and tight end George Kittle.
This year’s Super Bowl spotlight will also fall on Kansas City Chiefs’ All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce. Kelce is dating pop music superstar Taylor Swift, whose Eras Tour has already grossed more than $1 billion, according to entertainment publications. The couple met after Kelce attended one of Swift’s July 2023 concerts in Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium, where the Chiefs play.
Attention to the celebrity couple has reached such a fever pitch that fans can hire someone who looks like Travis Kelce to attend their Super Bowl party for $1,500. The couple’s celebrity may bring even more eyes to this year’s Super Bowl matchup. Given the two terrific, but very different, quarterbacks, Usher’s halftime show and the legions of devoted Swift fans, Super Bowl LVIII may be the most watched ever.
This story was written by freelance writer Fred Bowen.