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Archive for Behind the Headlines

Abraham ... Who?

On June 14, the National Assessment of Educational Progress released a study that claimed only 9% of fourth graders were able to both identify Abraham Lincoln and give two reasons why he was significant to American history.

The results of the study have prompted a barrage of criticism for the American educational system, yet many are quick to point out that, historically speaking, history has always been students’ worst subject. NPR’s All Things Considered ran a story on June 19 that pointed out that on a similar test in 1943, only 22% of students could answer the same question about Lincoln. NPR said that students “face rote textbooks and a system dominated by multiple-choice testing that encourages ‘teaching to the test’ instead of deeper, contextual learning.”

Remembering Original Freedom Rider Reverend Benjamin Elton Cox

In 1961, 436 Freedom Riders risked their lives in the name of equality. In the case of the Freedom Riders, that equality came in the form of desegregated buses, trains and travel facilities in the Deep South. Each one of them demonstrated unimaginable courage and dignity and all deserve deep gratitude and recognition. But in the beginning, there were just 13 Riders -- 13 people who didn't know what they would face, didn't know if the movement would gain any traction, and didn't know if they'd even live to see the results. June 6 marked the passing of one of those original 13 Freedom Riders, the Reverend Benjamin Elton Cox, who died at the age of 79.

Freedom Riders on Oprah

On May 16, AMERICAN EXPERIENCE will premiere Freedom Riders, a film about the 436 Americans who risked their lives by deliberately violating Jim Crow laws in the Deep South in the summer of 1961.

This Wednesday, May 4, Oprah Winfrey will dedicate her entire program to the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Freedom Rides. The Oprah episode will highlight clips from the film as well as selections of content from the AMERICAN EXPERIENCE Freedom Riders website.


Conspiring to Assassinate an American President

On July 7, 1865, three men and one woman were hanged for the crime of conspiring to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln. After the surrender of Confederate general Robert E. Lee and the announcement that Lincoln would serve a second term as president, John Wilkes Booth, a young southern actor and patriot of the Confederacy, began plotting the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. After hearing the announcement that President Lincoln would be attending a performance at the Ford TheaterBooth assigned the tasks of assassinating both Secretary of State William Seward and Vice President Andrew Johnson to a group of fellow conspirators. Although it was Booth who fired the bullet that killed the 16th president, this group of eight lesser-known conspirators aided Booth his scheme. 

Last Surviving Stage Assistant to Harry Houdini Passes Away at Age 103

Dorothy Young, the last surviving stage assistant to famed illusionist Harry Houdini and accomplished dancer, passed away Sunday at her retirement home in Tinton Falls, New Jersey. The entertainer was 103.

The news of Young's passing strangely coincides with the 137th birthday of her employer, Harry Houdini.

Born Erik Weisz in Budapest, Hungary, Harry Houdini, a legendary name in magic, became an international sensation after accomplishing incredible feats as an illusionist and escape artist extraordinaire. In the AMERICAN EXPERIENCE documentary Houdini, old photographs, film clips and a breadth of interviews give an in depth look into the life of the master magician. Houdini died in 1926 from a widespread infection from an appendix burst. He was 52 years old.

Nautical Discovery Sheds Light on the Hazards of 19th Century Whaling

Almost two centuries ago, the Two Brothers, a Nantucket whaling ship, sank 600 miles off the coast of Honolulu. Last week, officials from the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument -- one of the world's largest ocean reserves -- reported that marine archaeologists had discovered the 1823 wreckage along with artifacts including harpoons and try-pots, were used to liquefy whale blubber into oil.

A typical vessel of American whaling's "golden age" in the 19th century, the Two Brothers was captained by George Pollard, who was no stranger to shipwrecks. Three years before sinking Two Brothers, Pollard had captained the infamous voyage of the whaling ship Essex. The tale of the Essex, recounted in the AMERICAN EXPERIENCE documentary Into the Deep: America, Whaling & the World, was the inspiration for Herman Melville's classic novel Moby Dick.