By Debra Adams Simmons, HISTORY Executive Editor
During a chat with Lin-Manuel Miranda last week, he talked about neglected U.S. history, amplifying Black voices, and this moment’s language of revolution as much as he did about the filmed Broadway play Hamilton being streamed to Americans.
These days, the actor and composer says, he sees young people of color in the streets reclaim our country and what we stand for. He openly acknowledges phrases he wrote a decade ago for the diverse cast of the musical—“I’m past patiently waiting,” “Tomorrow there will be more of us,” “This is a movement, not a moment”—have a different and strikingly more urgent tone today.
Miranda tells me and my colleague David Beard that American history, still wrestling with the contradictions of its birth, abounds with more Hamilton moments, ripe for popularization. Look at Reconstruction, he says, referring to the brief era after the Civil War with biracial leadership in the South, until whites took away the political rights of Black people.
“We love to talk about the Civil War and the end of slavery,” Miranda says, but often we leave untold how long it took, what an arduous journey it was, and how many steps backward there were.
But who will tell those stories?
His answer is essentially a call to creatives: Don’t throw away your shot.
Miranda says he created Hamilton and In the Heights partly for self-preservation: Opportunities weren’t blossoming for young Latino actors. The only musical they had, West Side Story, was about gang life in the 1950s. The field for a musical using hip hop, a four-decade-old genre, was essentially empty, showing how out of touch Broadway was with America.
As with his musicals, the new stories Miranda envisions of America’s past should be reclaimed by new voices. (Pictured below, a Pride and Black Lives Matter march June 28 in Minneapolis).
“The charge now ... is to amplify the voices we haven’t heard from,” Miranda says. “It’s not only good business, because it’s new stories, but it makes for a richer cultural landscape.”
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Today in a minute
Like a time capsule: Through a narrow passageway in a water-filled cave beneath Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula, a pair of divers (above) encountered an 11,000-year-old mining site for red ocher pigments, complete with tools and fire pits. Nat Geo's Maya Wei-Haas reports that the stunning discovery offers clues on where and how ancient humans extracted the vibrant pigments that have been put to a host of uses around the world, including mortuary rituals, cave painting, and even sunscreen. The evidence of mining was preserved because rising seas later flooded the cave.
Increasing face mask use—and acceptance: Some changes in society take time to sink in, such as the notions of not littering or recycling. As COVID-19 cases hit record levels in vast swaths of America, polls are showing more Americans using masks and appreciative of others who do. In a National Geographic and Morning Consult poll, three-quarters of Americans have a favorable opinion of people who wear a medical or non-medical face mask in public places—and 85 percent of Americans report that they wear their masks always or sometimes while leaving their homes. Although news media give plenty of time to people ridiculing mask use, it is hard not to overestimate the broad support of masks among the 2,220 Americans polled: Strong majorities supporting masks came amid all age groups and political affiliations.
Learning from history: In 1944, the United States passed an act establishing hospitals, making low-interest mortgages available, and granting educational stipends for returning veterans. These days, many front-line workers risking their lives amid the intensifying COVID-19 pandemic (in the United States) are seeking some help after this war. “Today, many Americans laud the valiance of first responders,” the Guardian writes. “But after the applause, we should take care of the load we can actually help with—their student debt.” Readers, what do you think?
The Dutch called them freebooters: They become known as pirates, and Nat Geo’s History magazine chronicles their golden age in the Caribbean (and the Carolinas). “A tough way of life, requiring good health, physical strength, and endurance, youth was an important qualification for the job, writes historian María Lara Martínez. Subscribers can read her story here.
Instagram photo of the day
Embroidering a future: “Only God knows why I’m here,” says Anite Leila. “When the war started I had no idea that I was in the middle of it.” Anite’s husband was killed and her daughter went missing in the civil war that erupted in South Sudan in 2016. Here she stands in front of her milaya, a traditional hand-embroidered bedsheet that many refugees brought to Uganda. It is the inspiration behind the Milaya Project, a nonprofit that supports artists in Uganda’s Bidibidi refugee camp.
Subscriber exclusive: For war refugees, bedsheets are a reminder of home
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Overheard at Nat Geo
What inspires a legend? For legendary South African photographer George Hallett, who died Wednesday, it was us, says historian and contributor John Edwin Mason. Hallett made a difference focusing on people beyond his social class, shining lights on neglected parts of his native land and elsewhere. "My uncle [who was a fisherman], subscribed to Reader’s Digest and National Geographic, which must have had a big influence on me—black-and-white pictures of foreign lands," Hallett told Mason in an interview a decade ago. Pictured above, Hallett in 2009 in his native Cape Town at an exhibition of his portraits of South African Nobel Prize winners and others from the apartheid era.
The big takeaway
Blocked: More than seven million school-age migrants have been legally recognized as refugees under a U.N. mandate, and hundreds of thousands of others have asylum petitions that are still pending or are undocumented. The best chance for many migrants to find a foothold in their new country often lies with the institution their more fortunate peers love to hate: school. But even before the pandemic, economics—and sometimes organized crime—kept them away, Giovanna Dell’Orto reports for Nat Geo. Pictured, Haneen, an 18-year-old Syrian refugee in Jordan, was forced to marry at 14, but fought to get divorced and to return to school.
Related: A writer had assured her aging parents in India that she’d always be available to come back. That was before COVID-19.
In a few words
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The last glimpse
A long tradition: Pulling down statues in the United States dates back to the American Revolution, Andrew Lawler writes for Nat Geo. One dramatic event occurred on July 9, 1776, when a crowd in New York City toppled a two-ton equestrian statue of King George III. The lead was melted down to make 42,008 bullets to be used against British troops trying to stop American independence. For traditionalists saying the statue-protesting is unseemly, today’s acts are mild compared to a wave of destruction against symbols of oppression in the days after the Declaration of Independence.
Read: As monuments fall, how does the world deal with a racist past?