History Cool Kids shines a spotlight on ethnically diverse everyday lives through the ages.

‘History provides context to everything around you. Knowledge is Power.’ So goes the tagline for History Cool Kids’ most excellent Insta account, which re-focuses the spotlight on figures from history that most of us didn’t learn about at school.

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This is Ruth Lee, a hostess at a Chinese restaurant. On December 15th, 1941, on her day off, she went to the beach in Miami to sunbathe as usual. This time, however, she brings with her a Chinese flag so that she isn't mistaken for being Japanese. Just a week before, on December 7, 1941, "a date which will live in infamy", Japanese planes had attacked U.S. naval bases at Pearl Harbor, killing more than 2,300 Americans. Two months later, on February 19th, 1942, FDR gives the order to round up nearly 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry and force them into internment camps. Approximately 80,000 of them are American-born Japanese with American citizenships. The flag shown in the photo is the flag of Nationalist China which went into self-imposed exile to Taiwan after the Communist revolution. Today it is the official flag of Taiwan.

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How? By broadening the historical lens to include the ethnically and socially diverse narratives that make up the story of humankind. Who could not love to learn, for example, about abolitionist Fredrick Douglass who, the account tells us ‘was the most photographed American of the 19th-century. He never smiled in a single photo in order to counter the notion of a happy slave.?? Or not feel a stab of sorrow for Ruth Lee, a hostess at a Chinese restaurant in Miami who felt she had to take the Chinese flag to the beach in 1941 so that she wasn’t mistaken for being Japanese in the aftermath of Pearl Harbour. Did you know that Frank Sinatra was fervently anti-racist, refusing to play in establishments that didn’t allow black customers? Meanwhile, these shoes on the Danube, a Holocaust memorial in Budapest, sends uncontrollable shivers down our spine.

Many of these amazing images show moments in ordinary folks’ lives that, if not shared, could easily be forgotten forever. But thanks to History Cool Kids, here they are in glory, deepening our understanding and presenting the social histories of people from all socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds. We can’t recommend following this account highly enough.

By Nancy Alsop
June 2020


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Nancy Alsop


Nancy is a magpie for the best in design and culture.