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Throughline

Throughline

The past is never past. Every headline has a history. Join us every week as we go back in time to understand the present. These are stories you can feel and sounds you can see from the moments that shaped our world.

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Episodes

Bayard Rustin: The Man Behind the March on Washington

Bayard Rustin, the man behind the March on Washington, was one of the most consequential architects of the civil rights movement you may never have heard of. Rustin imagined how nonviolent civil resistance could be used to dismantle segregation in the United States. He organized around the idea for years and eventually introduced it to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. But his identity as a gay man made him a target, obscured his rightful status and made him feel forced to choose, again and again, which aspect of his identity was most important.
2021-02-25
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Octavia Butler: Visionary Fiction

Octavia Butler's alternate realities and 'speculative fiction' reveal striking, and often devastating parallels to the world we live in today. She was a deep observer of the human condition, perplexed and inspired by our propensity towards self-destruction. Butler was also fascinated by the cyclical nature of history, and often looked to the past when writing about the future. Along with her warnings is her message of hope - a hope conjured by centuries of survival and persistence. For every society that perished in her books, came a story of rebuilding, of repair.
2021-02-18
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Marcus Garvey: Pan-Africanist

Decades before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey attracted millions with a simple, uncompromising message: Black people deserved nothing less than everything, and if that couldn't happen in the United States, they should return to Africa. This week, the seismic influence and complicated legacy of Marcus Garvey.
2021-02-11
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The Lasting Power Of Whitney Houston's National Anthem

Why does Whitney Houston's 1991 Super Bowl national anthem still resonate 30 years later? Listen to this episode from our friends at It's Been A Minute with Sam Sanders where they chat with author and Black Girl Songbook host Danyel Smith about that moment of Black history and what it says about race, patriotism and pop culture.
2021-02-07
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What Happened After Civilization Collapsed

What happens after everything falls apart? The end of the Bronze Age was a moment when an entire network of ancient civilizations collapsed, leaving behind only clues to what happened. Today, scholars have pieced together a story where everything from climate change to mass migration to natural disasters played a role. What the end of the Bronze Age can teach us about avoiding catastrophe and what comes after collapse.
2021-02-04
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The Anatomy Of Autocracy: Masha Gessen

Russian-born journalist Masha Gessen talks to us about how the rule of the people becomes the rule of the one, the role of the media, and what we can learn about the building blocks of autocracy from the work of philosopher and writer Hannah Arendt, and what history tells us are the ways to dismantle it.
2021-01-28
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The Anatomy of Autocracy: Timothy Snyder

When a mob of pro-Trump supporters violently stormed the U.S. Capitol on January 6, they also incited a defining moment in United States history. Now what? Historian Timothy Snyder talks to us about how we got here and what an insurrection could mean for the future of America.
2021-01-21
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Impeachment

When Andrew Johnson became president in 1865, the United States was in the midst of one of its most volatile chapters. The country was divided after fighting a bloody civil war and had just experienced the first presidential assassination. We look at how these factors led to the first presidential impeachment in American history.
2021-01-14
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Outside/In: Everybody Knows Somebody

In the mid-1980's a woman who didn't consider herself a feminist was asked to solve perhaps the biggest problem women face. How she and a small group of people seized on that rare moment and fought back in the hopes that something could finally be done.
2021-01-07
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Outside/In: War of the Worlds

The Sunni-Shia divide is a conflict that most people have heard about - two sects with Sunni Islam being in the majority and Shia Islam the minority. Exactly how did this conflict originate and when? We go through 1400 years of history to find the moment this divide first turned deadly and how it has evolved since.
2020-12-31
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Outside/In: The Dark Side Of The Moon

50 years ago the world watched as man first landed on the moon, an incredible accomplishment by the engineers and scientists of NASA. But what if some of those same engineers and scientists had a secret history that the U.S. government tried to hide? This week, the story of how the U.S. space program was made possible by former Nazis.
2020-12-24
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Outside/In: Rules of Engagement

The US and Iran have been in some state of conflict for the last 40 years, since the Iranian revolution. This week, we look at three key moments in this conflict to better understand where it might go next.
2020-12-17
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Supreme

When, why, and how did the Supreme Court get the final say in the law of the land? The question of the Court's role, and whether its decisions should reign above all the other branches of government, has been hotly debated for centuries. And that's resulted in a Supreme Court more powerful than anything the Founding Fathers could have imagined possible.
2020-12-10
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The Modern White Power Movement

It has been nearly twenty years since 9/11 and during that time much of the media coverage and government attention has been directed at the threat of radical Islamist terrorism. Yet, during that time, it has been domestic terrorism from armed, mostly white American men, that has posed the biggest threat. This week, the rise of the modern white power movement.
2020-12-03
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The Spotted Owl

The story of how the Endangered Species Act went from unanimous passage under a Republican president to becoming a deeply partisan wedge. The act was passed to protect big, beloved animals like bald eagles and blue whales; no one thought it would apply to a motley, reclusive owl. In this episode from Oregon Public Broadcasting's Timber Wars, a story about saving the last of America's old growth forests and the push to roll back environmental protections.
2020-11-26
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The Invention of Race

The idea that race is a social construct comes from the pioneering work of anthropologist Franz Boas. During a time when race-based science and the eugenics movement were becoming mainstream, anthropologist Franz Boas actively sought to prove that race was a social construct, not a biological fact.
2020-11-19
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BONUS: Louder Than A Riot

This week we're bringing you something extra, an episode from the NPR Music series, Louder Than A Riot. The series examines the relationship between hip hop and mass incarceration and you can find the rest of the series here.
2020-11-16
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The Shadows of the Constitution

The Constitution is like America's secular bible, our sacred founding document. In her play, What the Constitution Means to Me, Heidi Schreck goes through a process of discovering what the document is really about ? who wrote it, who it was for, who it protected and who it didn't. Through Heidi's personal story, we learn how the Constitution and how it has been interpreted have affected not just her family but generations of Americans.
2020-11-12
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Bush v. Gore and Why It Matters in 2020

In the 2000 presidential election, results weren't known in one night, a week, or even a month. This week, we share an episode we loved from It's Been A Minute with Sam Sanders that revisits one of the most turbulent elections in U.S. history and what it could teach us as we wait for this election's outcome.
2020-11-05
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The Most Sacred Right

Frederick Douglass dreamed of a country where all people could vote and he did everything in his power to make that dream a reality. In the face of slavery, the Civil War and the violence of Jim Crow, he fought his entire life for what he believed was a sacred, natural right that should be available to all people - voting.
2020-10-29
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How We Vote

Drunken brawls, coercion, and lace curtains. Believe it or not, how regular people vote was not something the founding fathers thought much about, or planned for. Americans went from casting votes at drunken parties in the town square to private booths behind a drawn curtain. In this episode, the process of voting; how it was originally designed, who it was intended for, moments in our country's history when we reimagined it altogether, and what we're left with today.
2020-10-22
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The Electoral College

What is it, why do we have it, and why hasn't it changed? Born from a rushed, fraught, imperfect process, the origins and evolution of the Electoral College might surprise you and make you think differently about not only this upcoming presidential election, but our democracy as a whole.
2020-10-15
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(mis)Representative Democracy, A New Series From Throughline

America has never been a country of one person, one vote. And that's by design. Our system was built by a select few, for a select few. We were never all supposed to get a say.

In this series, we'll take a close look at voting in America, and how that's shaped what American democracy is, what it was meant to be, where it's failed, and what it might become.
2020-10-08
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The United States vs. Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday helped shape American popular music with her voice and unique style. But, one song in particular has become her greatest legacy ? "Strange Fruit." The song paints an unflinching picture of racial violence, and it was an unexpected hit. But singing it brought serious consequences.
2020-10-08
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The Everlasting Problem

Health insurance for millions of Americans is dependent on their jobs. But it's not like that everywhere. So, how did the U.S. end up with such a fragile system that leaves so many vulnerable or with no health insurance at all? On this episode, how a temporary solution created an everlasting problem.
2020-10-01
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The Evangelical Vote

With the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the president is hoping to fill the seat with a more ideologically conservative justice. And evangelical Christians, who've become a powerful conservative voting bloc, have been waiting for this moment. But how and when did this religious group become so intertwined with today's political issues, especially abortion? In this episode, what it means to be an evangelical today and how that has changed over time.
2020-09-24
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James Baldwin's Fire

In a moment when America is undertaking an uncomfortable reckoning with its racial inequality and violence, we wanted to look back at someone who concentrated on race in America his entire life. Considered to be one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, James Baldwin wrote incessantly about the societal issues that still exist today.
2020-09-17
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The Postal Service

The US Postal Service has played a role throughout American history - from the Declaration of Independence to today's mail-in voting. It was conceived of by the founders as the way to create a united, informed and effective American democracy. But today, the postal service's future is in danger. How the postal service created the United States and the case for this pivotal institution.
2020-09-10
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Reframing History: Mass Incarceration

The United States imprisons more people than any other country in the world, and a disproportionate number of those prisoners are Black. What are the origins of the U.S. criminal justice system and how did racism shape it? From the creation of the first penitentiaries in the 1800s, to the "tough-on-crime" prosecutors of the 1990s, how America created a culture of mass incarceration.
2020-09-03
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Reframing History: Bananas

The banana is a staple of the American diet and has been for generations. But how did this exotic tropical fruit become so commonplace? How one Brooklyn-born entrepreneur ruthlessly created the modern banana industry and the infamous banana republics.
2020-08-27
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Reframing History: The Commentator

Today the foundations of philosophy are seen as a straight line from Western antiquity, built on thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle. But, between the 8th century and 14th century, the West was greatly overshadowed by the Islamic world and philosophy was in very different hands. This week, how one Medieval Islamic philosopher put his pen to paper and shaped the modern world.
2020-08-20
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Reframing History: The Litter Myth

There is more waste in the world today than at any time in history, and the responsibility for keeping the environment clean too often falls on individuals instead of manufacturers. But, why us? And why this feeling of responsibility? This week, how one organization changed the American public's relationship with waste and who is ultimately responsible for it.
2020-08-13
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America's Caste System

"Race" is often used as a fundamental way to understand American history. But what if "caste" is the more appropriate lens? In conversation with Pulitzer Prize winner Isabel Wilkerson, we examine the hidden system that has shaped our country.
2020-08-06
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A.D.A. Now!

This month marks the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which is considered the most important civil rights law since the 1960s. Through first-person stories, we look back at the making of this movement, the history of how disability came to be seen as a civil rights issue, and what the disability community is still fighting for 30 years later.
2020-07-30
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Lives Of The Great Depression

The Great Depression was a revolutionary spark for all kinds of things ? health insurance, social safety nets, big government ? all of which were in response to a national crisis. Through the personal accounts of four people who lived during the Great Depression, we look back at what life was like back then and what those stories can teach us about the last time the U.S. went through a national economic cataclysm.
2020-07-23
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Borinquén

Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory in 1898 and for much of the next fifty years Puerto Ricans fought fiercely about this status. Should they struggle for independence, or to be a U.S. state, or something in between? In this episode, we look at Puerto Rico's relationship with the mainland U.S. and the key figures who shaped the island's fate.
2020-07-16
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The Long Hot Summer

Starting in 1965, summer after summer, America's cities burned. There was civil unrest in more than 150 cities across the country. So in 1967, Lyndon Johnson appointed a commission to diagnose the root causes of the problem and to suggest solutions. What the so called "Kerner Commission" returned with was hotly anticipated and shocking to many Americans. This week, how that report and the reaction to it continues to shape American life.
2020-07-09
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Mecca Under Siege

Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, is effectively canceled this year, due to concerns around the spread of the coronavirus. But, for two weeks in 1979, visits to the holy site were also upended when a group of Islamic militants seized Mecca, taking thousands of visitors hostage.
2020-07-02
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There's Something About Mary

When a cook who carried typhoid fever refused to stop working, despite showing no symptoms, the authorities forcibly quarantined her for nearly three decades. Perfect villain or just a woman scapegoated because of her background? What the story of Typhoid Mary tells us about journalism, the powers of the state, and the tension between personal responsibility and personal liberty.
2020-06-25
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Why 2020 Isn't Quite 1968

Protests, racial divisions, political polarization, and a law-and-order president ? it's easy to draw comparisons between 2020 and 1968. But, Adam Serwer, who covers politics at The Atlantic, says that a much better point of comparison actually starts a century earlier ? 1868. This week, we share an episode we loved from It's Been A Minute with Sam Sanders that explores a moment when white Republicans fought for years for the rights of Black Americans, before abandoning them to pursue white voters.
2020-06-18
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Presidential Power

What can and can't the president do, and how do we know? When the framers of the U.S. constitution left vague the powers of the executive branch they opened the door to every president to decide how much power they could claim. This week, how the office of the presidency became more powerful than anything the Founding Fathers imagined possible.
2020-06-11
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American Police

Black Americans being victimized and killed by the police is an epidemic. A truth many Americans are acknowledging since the murder of George Floyd, as protests have occurred in all fifty states calling for justice on his behalf. But this tension between African American communities and the police has existed for centuries. This week, the origins of American policing and how those origins put violent control of Black Americans at the heart of the system.
2020-06-04
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Hong Kong

Last week, the Chinese government made the latest and perhaps the most serious move yet to crack down on Hong Kong's semi-autonomy. It's just the latest such effort by Beijing in the decades-long tensions between China and Hong Kong and it seems to take advantage of the quarantine calm that has subdued months of protests. But when did these tensions begin and what have Hong Kongers been fighting for?
2020-05-28
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Conspiracy

Since the beginning of the pandemic, conspiracy theories about the coronavirus have exploded. But conspiracy theories themselves are nothing new - in fact, they're fundamental to American life. In this episode, how conspiracy theories helped to create the U.S. and became the currency of political opportunists.
2020-05-21
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The Mask

The N95 respirator has become one of the most coveted items in the world, especially by medical professionals. But how did this seemingly simple mask become the lifesaving tool it is today? From bird beaks to wrapping paper to bras, we follow the curious history of one of the most important defenses in our fight against COVID-19.
2020-05-14
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Endless War

North Korea's famous for being a black box, one of the most secretive and authoritarian countries in the world. It has a nuclear stockpile. A history of erratic behavior. And a particular fixation on antagonizing the outside world ? especially the United States. This cycle of antagonism isn't an accident ? the U.S. has played a formative role in the history of North Korea. And North Korea's leaders have been invoking that history from the very beginning.
2020-05-07
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Meltdown

In the early hours of March 28, 1979, a system malfunction began what would become the worst nuclear accident in American history. What ensued punctured the public's belief in the safety of nuclear energy and became an awful study in the consequences of communication breakdown during a crisis. This week, the fallout of who and what to trust when a catastrophic event occurs.
2020-04-30
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Aftermath

In 1927, the most destructive river flood in U.S. history inundated seven states, displaced more than half a million people for months, and caused about $1 billion dollars in property damages. And like many national emergencies it exposed a stark question that the country still struggles to answer - what is the political calculus used to decide who bears the ultimate responsibility in a crisis, especially when it comes to the most vulnerable? This week, the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and what came after.
2020-04-23
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Buzzkill

In the whole of human history, no predator has killed more of us than the lowly mosquito. And this killing spree, which we still struggle in vain to stop, means the mosquito has been an outsized force in our history ? from altering the fate of empires to changing our DNA. This week, three stories of the quiet legacy and the potential future of the mosquito.
2020-04-16
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Throughline Presents: Code Switch

The Principal Chief of Cherokee Nation told his people to stay strong during this pandemic, and to remember how much they've endured over a long history that includes the Trail of Tears. This week, we share an episode from Code Switch that takes a look at an almost 200-year-old Cherokee family feud, the right to representation and what both things have to do with the Trail of Tears.
2020-04-09
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