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Popular Culture, History, and Current Events

Reconciliation with the Dakota Sioux in Mankato

By Roger Nichols


Everyone reading this blog has seen monuments to historical events or national heroes. But how many of you have seen a memorial to a mass hanging? Outside the movies or TV, few people today have ever seen a public hanging. That was not true a hundred years ago when criminals’ lives often ended at the end of a noose. The largest public hanging in American history took place on December 26, 1862, in Mankato, Minnesota. That day, federal troops executed 38 Dakota Sioux Indians for their part in the Minnesota Sioux War that had just ended. By some accounts, up to 4,000 whites jammed the town square or sat atop nearby buildings to watch the mass execution. The crowd cheered loudly when the trapdoors opened and all 38 men hung at the end of the ropes. Why not take a few minutes to find out why this gruesome spectacle happened 134 years ago and how the city of Mankato – often associated with the Little House on the Prairie TV series – has dealt with this legacy? Read more »

Getting to Know You

By Bobbie Kirkhart

my university school days – at least on the student side of the desk – are two decades past now, but I daresay this story is still playing out today, in graduate schools and other places where thinking people with different experiences collide.

On the first night of class, we started with an icebreaker: paired off, we were to interview each other and then introduce our colleague to the class. I was partnered with a woman who, as soon as the professor said “begin,” narrated her life story. I knew everything about her in 10 minutes without having asked a single question.  She concluded her soliloquy with the statement, “I’m very active in my church.”

When she interviewed me, I concluded, “I’m an atheist activist.” I was almost expecting a negative response, but she simply commented, “that’s interesting.”

When we were called on, she introduced me, my school, my specialty, my hobbies, and then turned to me and asked, “Shall I tell them the secret?” Read more »

Adding Color to White Marble: The National Museum of African American History and Culture

Photo Credit: Rex Hammond

The National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), established by an Act of Congress in 2003, opened its doors to the public on Sept. 24, 2016. Wrapped in bronze and inspired by the three-tiered crowns used in West African art, the museum’s outer skin shines brightly near the center of the National Mall.  Read more »

Following Convention (or Political Mathematics)

By Bobbie Kirkhart

Photo credit: Sean MacEntee
Photo credit: Sean MacEntee

The political parties spend countless hours planning their conventions. This is, after all, four nights of free advertising and their first chance to introduce their candidates to the public, who haven’t been paying attention through the primary elections. Everybody works for a great start. It almost never happens. This year was no exception. Interestingly, you could say that it was the same woman who saved both conventions. Read more »

Memorial Service

By Bobbie Kirkhart


Recently, I attended a memorial service for an old friend. Peg had led a long and accomplished life before her final years of excruciating pain and frustrating helplessness, so while we mourned her loss, we were there to share the joy of having known her. Peg was a firm atheist, a founding member and generous supporter of Atheists United, but most of her time was spent riding the horse trails that she loved, so it didn’t surprise me that I was the only person from the freethought community at the invitation-only event.

Her oldest son led off with a long remembrance, and then various friends and family shared anecdotes and enumerated Peg’s many contributions to the community. Peg’s involvement in freethought wasn’t mentioned. It was not that people were avoiding controversy; Peg’s colorfully negative opinion of Republicans was fondly recalled. Still, even in liberal Southern California, atheism is a whole different measure of controversy.

Read more »