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Podcast roundup: Transformative moments in Black history

A man sits on the subway listening to headphones and looking thoughtfully at his phone

On June 19, 1865, over 250,000 Black Americans were freed from slavery in the state of Texas, representing a significant end to much of pre–Civil War enslavement in the United States.1 For more than a century, Black communities have recognized June 19 as a day of independence and liberation. In 2021, President Joe Biden declared Juneteenth a national holiday.2

Although that date in 1865 marked the legal abolishment of slavery, millions of people continued to carry the trauma of having been enslaved—and that trauma has echoed through generations to the present day. Racism still permeates our cultural, social, and governmental systems, including access to physical and mental health care.

But there have also been moments of profound change, both systemically and individually. In honor of Juneteenth this year, we’ve compiled a selection of podcast episodes centering transformative moments in Black history and culture. From the first Black woman to earn an MD degree in the United States to a young boy with a Walkman in 1990s Ohio, these storytellers capture their unique sources of strength and inspiration as Black Americans.

The 1619 Project

How the Bad Blood Started
In the fourth episode of this powerful audio series based on her reporting in the New York Times Magazine, host Nikole Hannah-Jones explores the history of a segregated US medical system designed to marginalize communities of color after the Civil War. Weaving together the stories of Rebecca Lee Crumpler, the first Black woman to graduate from medical school in the United States, and William Montague Cobb, an outspoken and respected Black doctor practicing nearly a century later, Hannah-Jones illustrates the tireless work needed to change a health care system steeped in racism.3, 4

Historically Black

The Fiddler Who Charmed Missouri
To commemorate the opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History & Culture in 2016, the Washington Post asked people across the country to submit personal objects from their lives to create a “people’s museum” of the Black experience. In this episode, storyteller Raffeal Sears shares a recording of his great-great-grandfather Bill Driver, an accomplished fiddler in rural Minnesota. Through the lens of Driver’s music, we hear the story of the fiddler and his wife, Violet Williams, a descendant of a White enslaver’s son and a young Black woman who lived on the property after her family had been freed.

Code Switch

The Women Behind the Montgomery Bus Boycott
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for her refusal to give up her seat on a city bus to a White passenger. Her action helped spur a growing movement of resistance into the 13-month Montgomery Bus Boycott, which ultimately ended segregation on public transportation.5 In this episode, we hear narratives from Parks along with other women who’ve often been overlooked in retelling this historic event—such as 15-year-old Claudette Colvin, who had refused to change her seat months earlier on a ride home from school.

The 11th

Time Machine: The Score (Side A)
In 1996, poet Hanif Abdurraqib needed two things to live happily: a bicycle and his copied cassette of the Fugees’ breakthrough album “The Score.” In four vignettes, Abdurraqib touches on the joy of an analog childhood, music as the soundtrack of adolescence, and the beautiful complexity of one of hip-hop’s seminal albums. (If you love this episode, you’ll be glad to know there’s also a Side B.)

Going Through It

The Confidence to Try Anything with Sasheer Zamata
When Sasheer Zamata enrolled in the theater department at the University of Virginia, she met new professor Theresa Davis, a Black female director with a vision of spotlighting Blackness in a traditionally white theatrical community. Davis helped Zamata find confidence in her voice and her Blackness through an inspired production of the 1976 Ntozake Shange choreopoem “for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf.”6 Zamata went on to become a comedian, writer, actor, and one of the stars of “Saturday Night Live.”

The Assignment with Audie Cornish

Trauma, Trauma Everywhere
In this episode of her new podcast for CNN, award-winning journalist Audie Cornish talks with professor and author Thema Bryant, PhD, MDiv, the current head of the American Psychological Association (APA), about Bryant’s work as a trauma specialist and the APA’s official apology to communities of color in 2021.7 Bryant explains what generational trauma looks like in the everyday lives of Black Americans, including herself, and discusses new ways that therapists can focus on what she calls “the wisdom” rather than “the wound.”

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