A Slice of History: From the Journalist Historians of 2018

The Disappeared

By David Mora

Judith Kaye saw the second plane hitting the World Trade Center on TV in Albany. Minutes after American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the first tower, one of her clerks had rushed in and turned on a small TV that sat on a table in front of her, among piles of documents and files. In the time it took her to absorb the immediate horror of the images, dozens of colleagues, clerks and judges, had flocked into her chambers, with no one knowing the whereabouts of their loved ones

New York City was home to Judith Kaye, but in those years she spent two weeks out of every five in the state capital, where the Court of Appeals met. That Tuesday, September 11, not only did the court have oral arguments from different cases listed on its agenda, but the entire state judicial system had scheduled a conference. Judith Kaye, a Court of Appeals judge and the chief judge of the State of New York, was keynote speaker for the night. Continued. . .


The Exclusion Years: How a Law Shaped the Chinese American Experience

By Clarence Leong

Kingdon Swayne was a Quaker from Bucks County, Philadelphia, who graduated cum laude from Harvard and earned a Bronze Star for his service during World War II. The high point of his career as a Foreign Service officer came when he was asked to be the translator for the Japanese prime minister at a White House luncheon when John F. Kennedy was president. More than a decade before, at the start of his career, he was assigned to do a less glamorous job—processing applications for American citizenship by Chinese who claimed their fathers had migrated to America and become citizens. This whole scheme “was a scam,” read his obituary, published in 2009 after he had died at 88. “And he was proud that he broke it up.”

One of the many Chinese whose applications Swayne processed was Fow Sang Chin, a Toishan native who arrived in Boston by plane in 1951. Like the thousands of compatriots who had come before him, Chin spent months—even years—preparing for this trip. He had to reinvent his identity completely, taking a new name, learning about new family members, even memorizing the physical layout of the village he now said he was from. Between him and the promise of a prosperous life—the likes of which Toishan could never provide—was Swayne and the interviews. Swayne’s task was to catch any discrepancy in his testimonies, prove that he was an impostor, and deport him back to China. Continued. . .


The Third Race: How Asians Have Defied America’s Binary View of Race

By Jonathan Lee

On March 3, 1991, surrounded by more than 20 Los Angeles police officers, taxi driver Rodney King was ordered out of his car. After King was forced to the ground, four of the officers tased him and beat him with batons. George Holliday, a witness, recorded the incident, which sparked national outrage once it aired on local news station KTLA. King, an AfricanAmerican, became a symbol of American police brutality. Stacey Koon, one of the officers on the scene, would later claim in court that King initially acted violently, and that the officers suspected King of being on PCP. However, the tape revealed that King was beaten every time he made an attempt to move. Continued. . .


The Devout Communist: A Portrait of an Assyrian Family in Iran

By Denise Hassanzade Ajiri

My Assyrian great grandfather planned to become a priest. He became a communist instead.

I first came to know him as a child at the house of his daughter, my mother’s maternal aunt, Nora, in Iran’s capital, Tehran. His midsize photo hung on the dining room wall. A black and white portrait of an unsmiling middle-aged man. I cannot say I liked the photo. His glass-eyed emotionless gaze scared me a little bit. He seemed to have nothing in common with that household and my family. Continued. . .


The Disarmament Race

By Alina Entelis

On December 8, 1991, at 1:08 p.m. Washington time, U.S. President George H.W. Bush received a telephone call.

On the line was Boris Yeltsin, president of the Russian Soviet Republic. Yeltsin was in the company of the president of the Ukrainian Soviet Republic, Leonid Kravchuk, and Belarusian parliament chairman Stanislau Shushkevich. The three leaders were gathered in a remote hunting lodge in Belavezha (“White Tower”) Forest in Belarus, where they have just signed a document that changed the course of world history.

The document, which would come to be known as the Belavezha Accords, states in its preamble: “The Soviet Union, as a subject of international law and a geopolitical reality, is ceasing its existence.” The paper then announced creation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in its place. Continued. . .


The Headless King: The Journey of a 4,400-Year-Old Looted Statue From Baghdad to Queens during the Iraq War

By Adiel Kaplan

The night of April 8 passed quietly for the journalists holed up in the Palestine Hotel. In the morning, they awoke to find their Iraqi government minders had not shown up for work. They were alone.

American troops had only reached the city outskirts four days earlier, but there was a sense of victory in the air. The invading forces were getting close to the journalists, the Iraqi army was crumbling and reports of celebrations across the city were flooding in, all against a backdrop of intermittent gunfire.

Eyewitnesses and messages from the military told them that the east city was mostly secure, with pockets of resistance holding out on the west side of the river. Without their government minders, a few of the more enterprising journalists began to venture out onto the streets. Continued. . .


The Fork in the Mountain Road

By Caitlin Foster

Twenty-three gunshots rang out in the night. Or was it 30? The quick flashes of light bursting from the rifle’s muzzle were not enough to illuminate the shooter, who remained shrouded in darkness. The two men who returned fire—the only two who could quickly access their weapons—fired in the wrong direction, spraying bullets into a void. Chaos ensued; some men rushed to grab their rifles, a natural reaction when soldiers come under enemy fire. Others ran to secure the watchtowers overlooking the scene. When the shooting stopped, some ran to assist the five men who had been wounded. Occupied by these efforts, the responders could not have noticed the solitary figure of a man, quietly slipping out into the endless Afghan night. Continued. . .

Salvation: The Curious Journey of the World’s Most Desired Painting

By Audrey Fein

t was a crisp fall evening on November 15 in New York City. A mixture of spruce leaves and candy wrappers littered the streets as the last bit of warmth from the sun glittered over the Hudson. The city was on the edge of winter, but not quite there yet. New York was waiting for first the first frost, for the last golden leaf to fall into a gutter. The city was waiting for something to happen.

In Midtown Manhattan, a stream of people began to pour into the Christie’s New York headquarters at 20 Rockefeller Center. The first guests arrived at 5:30, and then they came in in waves, until 7:00 when that evening’s auction was set to begin. They arrived by subway, in limos, town cars, Ubers, and on foot. Ladies donned fur coats that matched the leaves on the sidewalk, in shades of brown, gold, and yellow. Their bags were snakeskin, leather, and expensive. Men wore wool trench coats over sharp suits and ties. Continued. . .


Wild and Wonderful: The Story of Thurmond, West Virginia

By Isaac Fornarola

It’s late March, and the ashen coal fields of West Virginia that surround a vast gorge are covered in white, heavy snow. The visitor center of the New River Gorge National River is nestled in a thick forest looking out over the expanse of frozen water. The National Park Service has built a wooden stairway down to the river, which is covered in slush and patches of black ice. A posted sign near the entrance of the park warns visitors of the danger of the hike to the bottom. “The way down is easy,” it reads. “The way up is strenuous.”

Another sign at the entrance to the visitor center details the history of the region. “Until 1873, the slopes of the New River Gorge were virtually untouched. Railroads and coal changed that.” By 1900, it says, the region had become a bustling and prosperous region. “Then, coal profits dwindled, people left, the towns died. Now, forest is reclaiming the abandoned towns.” Continued. . .


LeFrak City and The Politics of Place

By Lindsay Holcomb

On a warm spring morning in 1954, Samuel LeFrak walked out of his luxury pre-war building overlooking New York’s Central Park and jumped into the driver’s seat of his navy Cadillac El Dorado. The famed real estate developer was on a mission to scout out a property where he could build the project he had been dreaming of for the past three years: a city within a city, a set of nearly two dozen uniform buildings surrounded by enough green space to rival a suburban area.

To build a neighborhood, though, LeFrak would need a substantial area of land, something quite difficult to acquire in an increasingly densely packed city. Luckily, LeFrak had a place in mind. Several years earlier, while driving out to a development in Forest Hills, Queens he had noticed an enormous 40-acre lot of swamp and marshland in nearby Corona at the intersection of the Long Island Expressway and Junction Boulevard. Flat as a board and covered in weeds, the parcel looked like a midwestern farm. Continued. . .


The Last Time It Worked: A Story of Working Across the Aisle

By Tess Orrick

Russ Feingold had always hated anyone talking on his behalf, which made life tough for anyone who agreed to be his press secretary. But if he was going to have someone be his voice in his reelection campaign, he wanted it to be his former press secretary Mike Wittenwyler.

Feingold had a target on his back and the Republican Party was prepared to spend whatever it took to oust the leading Democratic opponent of soft money.[1] Incumbents are meant to have all the advantages in an election. Fundraising for the next campaign begins early in a member’s term in office. In 1996 senators raised $16,000 a week, a 32 percent increase from 1992. Continued. . .


Why Does Everyone Hate Richard Prince?

By Cody Elliott

Richard Prince walked into the room one day in spring, 2014. He was inherently both dad-like and not dad-like.  He had that fundamental juxtaposition that cool people have, that bred-in impulse that once led Lou Reed to buy beige shag carpet. He looked over at his daughter, lying on the couch, thumbing through something on her phone, and inquired about what she was doing.  She replied that she was just on Tumblr. Continued. . .


Glamour and Grime: The Dark Past of Greenwich Village

By Megan Messana

It was 6:30 a.m. when the 911 call came in. Hedda Nussbaum told the dispatcher that her adopted daughter Lisa had recently stopped breathing. She left out that Lisa had been unconscious for nearly 12 hours at that point.

Nussbaum had been mostly home alone with the 6-year-old since 7:00 pm the night before, when Nussbaum’s partner Joel Steinberg had hit the child on the head. In and out of the apartment since, smoking cocaine with Nussbaum when he was present, Steinberg finally told her to call 911 in the morning after his attempts to wake Lisa failed. The couple’s other adopted child, 14-month-old Mitchell, was also home. Continued. . .