My earlier post on the decision by the leadership of First Baptist Church–Dallas to sing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” at its “Freedom Sunday” prompted several readers to remind me that Guthrie also wrote a song about his landlord, Fred Trump.
Here are the lyrics:
I suppose that Old Man Trump knows just how much racial hate
He stirred up in that bloodpot of human hearts
When he drawed that color line
Here at his Beach Haven family project
Beach Haven ain’t my home!
No, I just can’t pay this rent!
My money’s down the drain,
And my soul is badly bent!
Beach Haven is Trump’s Tower
Where no black folks come to roam,
No, no, Old Man Trump!
Old Beach Haven ain’t my home!
I’m calling out my welcome to you and your man both
Welcoming you here to Beach Haven
To love in any way you please and to have some kind of a decent place
To have your kids raised up in.
Beach Haven ain’t my home!
No, I just can’t pay this rent!
My money’s down the drain,
And my soul is badly bent!
Beach Haven is Trump’s Tower
Where no black folks come to roam,
No, no, Old Man Trump!
Old Beach Haven ain’t my home!
Get some historical context here.
DALLAS—President Donald Trump will join Pastor Robert Jeffress to honor our veterans at the “Celebrate Freedom” Concert at 8 p.m. July 1 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. The event, which is being co-sponsored by the First Baptist Church of Dallas and Salem Media, will be a night of hope, celebration and commemoration. President Trump will deliver a powerful address honoring our veterans, hundreds of whom will be coming from D.C. area to attend the event, including patients from the Walter Reed Medical Center.
“The Kennedy Center, known for presenting the greatest performers and performances from across America and around the world, is the perfect location for an unforgettable patriotic evening that honors our veterans, celebrates our country, and proclaims a message of hope,” said Pastor Robert Jeffress. “We are honored the president of the United States will be joining us, but we are not surprised. We have in President Donald J. Trump one of the great patriots of our modern era and a president who cherishes the sacrifice and service of those in our armed forces.”
Stirring patriotic music will come from the renowned choir and orchestra of First Baptist Dallas, under the direction of Dr. Doran Bugg. The First Baptist Dallas Choir & Orchestra is no stranger to our nation’s most prestigious concert halls, having been the first church music ministry invited to perform at the world-famous Carnegie Hall in New York City.
Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of the 13,000-member First Baptist Church in Dallas and host of the radio and television program “Pathway to Victory,” seen in 195 countries, will also bring a message of hope and encouragement.
The “Celebrate Freedom” Concert is free and open to the public, but tickets must be reserved in advance by going to http://www.ptv.org/washington.
The “Celebrate Freedom” Concert rally will be the capstone of a weeklong series of events Pastor Robert Jeffress will host through the nation’s capital including speaking at a Bible study for Congressional staffers in the Capitol, a tour of Washington highlighting our country’s Judeo-Christian foundation, and personal visits with various others numbered among our nation’s leadership.
“I’m grateful that President Trump has created an atmosphere in which Evangelical Christians feel at home once again in our nation’s capital,” said Pastor Jeffress.
The Washington Post reports on this.
A few quick thoughts:
- The defenders of the Senate bill to replace the Affordable Care Act believe that the free market is the answer to all of our problems. They are free to believe this. But they also have to sleep at night realizing that 22 million people will lose health insurance as a result of this bill. It is very difficult to pull a social safety net out from under people once they already have it. Ideas have consequences.
- The defenders of the Senate bill to replace the Affordable Care Act will inevitably argue that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is wrong in its conclusions. OK, let’s grant this point. Let’s just say that the CBO is off by 10 million people. The GOP defenders of this new bill will have to go to sleep at night realizing that 12 million souls will lose healthcare by 2026.
- The defenders of the Senate bill to replace the Affordable Care Act will hurt some of the most vulnerable people in American society, including seniors and the poor. The GOP defenders of this new bill–many of them say that they value the life of vulnerable members of society–will have to sleep at night.
“Made by History” is a new blog that the Washington Post launched today. Here is a taste of the press release:
The Washington Post today launched Made by History, a new blog in The Post’s Outlook section that will explore parallels between today’s political climate and history.
“Outlook often publishes posts that draw from history to contextualize current events, and we’re excited to have created a home in our section for this type of analysis,” said Mike Madden, deputy editor of Outlook. “Through the deep historical knowledge of our contributors, Made in History will broaden readers’ views of this political moment and introduce them to diverse scholarly perspectives on the latest news.”
The blog will feature commentary from 75 historians from nationally renowned universities and institutions including Harvard University, Yale University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Virginia and more.
“It’s an exciting time to be a part of The Post,” said Brian Rosenwald, historian at UPenn and Made by History’s Editor-in-Chief. “We believe that our contributors will add a unique level of insight and expertise to the ongoing political discussion that many of The Post’s pieces currently generate.”
I am glad that the folks at “Made by History” are writing for a public audience. This has the potential to be a great blog. I know that I will read it and comment on it regularly here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.
The editors write: “The blog will feature commentary from 75 historians from nationally renowned universities and institutions including Harvard University, Yale University, University of Pennsylvania, University of Virginia and more.” Not sure what to make of this sentence. I just hope the writers don’t end up preaching to the choir.
Read a “welcome” post by the editors here.
Some evangelicals in the 1980s were obsessed with backmasking. This was the practice of placing secret messages on records that could only be heard when the record was played backwards. Perhaps the most famous case of backmasking was the Beatles’ White Album in which the words “Paul’s a dead man” was apparently heard when one of the songs was played backwards.
I joined the evangelical fold as a high school student in the mid-1980s and quickly “learned” that “secular” rock bands often used backmasking to pass along Satanic messages. The classic example was Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” This news was a shock to me since before my conversion I had been in a band (we only practiced, never played a gig) that played a lot of Zeppelin, including the iconic “Stairway.” I took my new evangelical faith (as I understood it back then) very seriously. I quit the band and stopped listening to Zeppelin for a while.
I thought about all this again when I read Erik Davis’s piece at Salon, “What exactly lurks within the backward grooves of ‘Stairway to Heaven?”
Here is a taste:
The darkest supernatural myth about Zeppelin’s most mythic song is that if you play the recording backwards, you will hear Satanic messages encoded in Plant’s vocals. The idea that some rock records contain “backmasked” messages goes back to the Beatles’ “Revolution 9,” which was rumored to contain the reversed announcement that “Paul’s a dead man.” As far as I can tell, Christian anti-rock crusaders got into the act in 1981, when a Michigan minister named Michael Mills hit Christian radio with the news that phrases like “master Satan,” “serve me,” and “there’s no escaping it” were hidden in the grooves of the Zeppelin hit. Noting wryly that words “certainly do have two meanings,” Mills argued on one program that the “subconscious mind” could hear these phrases, which is why sinful rock musicians put them there in the first place. Soon backmasking became the Satanic panic du jour, giving paranoid Christians technological proof that rock bands like Queen, Kiss, and Styx (!) did indeed play the devil’s music. While most people, Christian or otherwise, found all this rather silly, these fears did reflect more pervasive fears that the media had become a subliminal master of puppets—fears that would themselves come to inspire some 1980s metal.
In retrospect, what stands out most in the backmasking controversy is the marvelous image of all these preachers screwing around with turntables. Though one doubts that Minister Mills was chillin’ with Grandmaster Flash or DJ Kool Herc, rap musicians and Christian evangelicals both recognized that popular music is a material inscription, one that can be physically manipulated in order to open up new vectors of sense and expression. For both evangelicals and rap DJs, the vinyl LP was not a transparent vehicle of an originally live performance, but a source of musical meaning itself, a material site of potential codes, messages, and deformations of time. Alongside the more kinetic and rhythmic innovations introduced by scratch artists like DJ Grand Wizard Theodore, we must also speak of a “Christian turntablism”: slow, profoundly unfunky, obsessed with linguistic “messages.” Some evangelical TV broadcasts from the early 80s even include top-down shots of the minister’s DJ decks so that viewers can admire the technique of squeezing sense from sound. However, while rap and all the sampled music that follows it treats the vinyl LP as an open form capable of multiple meanings and uses, Christian turntablists remained literalists, convinced that they were revealing a single “fundamental” message intentionally implanted in the grooves by a diabolical author. Unfortunately, when it came to “Stairway to Heaven,” these DJs for Jesus could not agree on the exact wording of Led Zeppelin’s insidious messages. Once again, ambiguity trumps.
Read the rest here.
Here’s a non-backmasked (I think) Zeppelin tune:
Saturday was our ninth birthday here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home! Not many blogs last this long, so we appreciate all of your support over the years!
This year we saw some new developments:
- We began our Patreon campaign for the podcast. If you are not already supporting our work please consider helping us keep this podcast going! There are even free books, mugs, and special episodes for patrons! Click here.
- We added a “Morning Headlines” this year. We hope to accomplish two things with this feature. First, we want to help our readers to be more informed citizens. Second, we want to foster critical and historical thinking. Several social studies teachers are using the headlines to teach students how to read documents and identify bias in the news.
- We had a staff transition this year. We said goodbye to Abby Blakeney and hello to Devon Hearn.
We will continue to bring you the kind of content you expect from The Way of Improvement Leads Home. Keep reading and spread the word about what we are doing here via social media.
Check out Michael Kruse’s piece at Politico on Donald Trump’s tweets as a primary source for future historians.
Here is a taste:
The people, though, who want Trump to keep tweeting are the people who rely on his words to do their jobs—reporters, biographers, political scientists and strategists, and presidential historians. They often are appalled by the content of the tweets, just plain weary like everybody else of the volume and pace of the eruptions and deeply worried about their consequences as well—but still, they say, the more Trump tweets, the better.
Trump’s Twitter timeline is the realest real-time expression of what he thinks, and how he thinks. From his brain to his phone to the world, the “unfiltered” stream of 140-character blurts makes up the written record with which Trump is most identified. “I think Twitter,” one White House official told POLITICO, “is his diary.”
It is, presidential historian Robert Dallek told me, “a kind of presidential diary.”
“A kind of live diary,” Princeton University political scientist Julian Zelizer said.
“His version of a diary,” said Douglas Brinkley, editor of The Reagan Diaries.
Many modern presidents have kept a diary of some sort—that no member of the public sees until long after the author has left the Oval Office. The White House didn’t respond to four requests for comment on whether Trump is following suit, but people who know him well say it’s all but impossible to imagine him sitting down with a pen and paper in a quiet moment. “Absolutely zero chance,” one of them said. In the presumed absence, then, of a more traditional version of the form, Trump’s collected tweets comprise the closest thing to a diary this presidency will produce. And that is what makes the messages from @realDonaldTrump, almost 800 and counting since January 20, 2017, such a prize to those who care the most about lasting insight into the president and this administration. If @realDonaldTrump was to go dark, and Trump stopped tweeting to his more than 32 million followers, humans and bots alike, the loss from a historical standpoint would be acute. What else would there be to memorialize the breathtaking bluntness of the 45th president of the United States? But can the nation weather the daily injury of Trump’s epistolary eye-pokes?
Read the rest here.
It may be the oldest building in Manassas, Virginia. Grace United Methodist Church has restored it and opened it to the public.
Here is a taste of a Washington Post story on this restored slave cabin:
Grace United Methodist in Manassas combined two historical matters in one event June 11.
One was the unveiling of a city historical marker for the church, which has ministered to Manassas-area residents for 150 years. That was a cause for celebration, the Rev. Rudy Tucker said.
The other, the public opening of a restored slave cabin on the church property, was more solemn. But while refurbishing the building meant researching one of the most gruesome times in American history, Grace United Methodist and local historic preservation volunteers considered it an important task.
“With nooses showing up on public school grounds, college campuses, and even national museums, and Klan rallies occurring with alarming frequency, we are reminded as we stand before this 19th-century building which once housed slaves that racism remains an issue we are still dealing with in this country,” Tucker said in remarks prepared for the June 11 ceremony, attended by a crowd of at least 150.
Grace United Methodist took over ownership of the slave cabin in 1987. The Johnson family, which owned and operated the last farm in Manassas, donated eight acres of land on Wellington Road to the congregation so it could build a new church building. But the family stipulated that a cemetery on the tract be preserved, along with the 1½-story structure that housed slaves who worked on the property, known as Clover Hill Farm.
Read the rest here.
Back in 2004, New York Times columnist David Brooks understood that not all evangelicals are the same. Here is a taste of his op-ed “Who is John Stott?” The piece is probably better known in some evangelical circles for its closing line: “Not Falwell, but Stott.”
Tim Russert is a great journalist, but he made a mistake last weekend. He included Jerry Falwell and Al Sharpton in a discussion on religion and public life.
Inviting these two bozos onto “Meet the Press” to discuss that issue is like inviting Britney Spears and Larry Flynt to discuss D.H. Lawrence. Naturally, they got into a demeaning food fight that would have lowered the intellectual discourse of your average nursery school.
This is why so many people are so misinformed about evangelical Christians. There is a world of difference between real-life people of faith and the made-for-TV, Elmer Gantry-style blowhards who are selected to represent them. Falwell and Pat Robertson are held up as spokesmen for evangelicals, which is ridiculous. Meanwhile people like John Stott, who are actually important, get ignored.
It could be that you have never heard of John Stott. I don’t blame you. As far as I can tell, Stott has never appeared on an important American news program. A computer search suggests that Stott’s name hasn’t appeared in this newspaper since April 10, 1956, and it’s never appeared in many other important publications.
Yet, as Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center notes, if evangelicals could elect a pope, Stott is the person they would likely choose. He was the framer of the Lausanne Covenant, a crucial organizing document for modern evangelicalism. He is the author of more than 40 books, which have been translated into over 72 languages and have sold in the millions. Now rector emeritus at All Souls, Langham Place, in London, he has traveled the world preaching and teaching.
When you read Stott, you encounter first a tone of voice. Tom Wolfe once noticed that at a certain moment all airline pilots came to speak like Chuck Yeager. The parallel is inexact, but over the years I’ve heard hundreds of evangelicals who sound like Stott.
It is a voice that is friendly, courteous and natural. It is humble and self-critical, but also confident, joyful and optimistic. Stott’s mission is to pierce through all the encrustations and share direct contact with Jesus. Stott says that the central message of the gospel is not the teachings of Jesus, but Jesus himself, the human/divine figure. He is always bringing people back to the concrete reality of Jesus’ life and sacrifice.
Read the rest here.
The best scholarly biography of Stott is Alister Chapman, Godly Ambition: John Stott and the Evangelical Movement (Oxford University Press, 2014).
— Dr. Robert Jeffress (@robertjeffress) June 25, 2017
Yesterday was “Freedom Sunday” at the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. The pastor of First Baptist is Robert Jeffress. He is a Trump supporter, Christian nationalist, and prominent court evangelical. As the pictures attached to this tweet indicate, it was a day of patriotic celebration in the church sanctuary.
People waved American flags during the service.
The last time I checked, the waving of the American flag was a sign of support or loyalty to the nation. Jeffress had no problem allowing such an act to take place in a church sanctuary–the place where Christians worship God as a form of expressing their ultimate loyalty. Patriotism is fine. Flag-waving is fine. But I wonder if any of the congregation felt uncomfortable that all of this took place in the church sanctuary on a Sunday morning.
There were fireworks. Yes, fireworks. Somehow the pyrotech crew at First Baptist figured out a way to pull this off without burning the place down. I assume that these fireworks did not represent the pillars of fire that led the Israelites through the wilderness in the Old Testament. (Although it wouldn’t surprise me if someone during the service connected these patriotic fireworks to God’s leading of his new “chosen people”–the United States–through the desert of extreme religious persecution). I also don’t think the fireworks were meant to represent the “tongues of fire” present on the day of Pentecost as recorded in the book of Acts, chapter 2. (Also, from what I am able to tell from the church website, First Baptist did not celebrate Pentecost Sunday on June 4, 2017).
It also looks like the congregation of First Baptist sung the Woody Guthrie classic “This Land is Your Land.” I am guessing they did not sing all of the original verses.
How can this not be a form of idolatry?
Tera Hunter is Professor of History and the Center for African American Studies. This interview is based on her new book Bound in Wedlock: Slave and Free Marriages in the Nineteenth Century (Harvard University Press, 2017)
JF: What led you to write Bound in Wedlock?
TH: I started thinking a lot about marriage during slavery as I was researching my book: To ‘Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors after the Civil War (Harvard Press, 1997). I was especially drawn to documents that I found during the period of Reconstruction, which demonstrated the depth and feelings and the challenges that former slaves faced in reconstituting their family ties after slavery ended. These records are tremendously rich and I felt like felt like I could not go deep enough to fully capture the complexity and range of intimate relationships that I saw. They raised a lot of interesting questions that could not be easily answered by focusing on the period following emancipation alone. To fully understand post-slavery marriage and family, I needed to trace them over the entire nineteenth century.
I was also very interested in closely examining the internal lives of African Americans. The literature on family was preoccupied with whether or not they conformed to dominant ideas about nuclear structure and gender norms of male-headed households. This led to a very limited view of both the internal values and meaning of marriage to African Americans and also the external constraints that they faced in creating and sustaining these relationships.
More recent debates about the status of black families in the twenty-first century have often invoked the legacy of slavery, often in very ahistorical and problematic ways. I wanted to scrutinize the misinformed assumptions often articulated by both liberal and conservative scholars, commentators, and political pundits. There is a long history of black families being stigmatized. These perceptions are used as a barometer to discern the capacities of black humanity and fitness for citizenship, with insufficient appreciation of the historical forces they were up against.
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Bound in Wedlock?
TH: The history of African-American marriage in the nineteenth century teaches us about a pattern that has been continually replicated with each iteration of the seemingly forward movement toward greater freedom and justice. African-American marriage under slavery and quasi-freedom is a story of twists and turns, of intimate bonds being formed, sustained, broken, and repeatedly reconstituted under the duress of oppressive conditions and yet vilified for not conforming to dominant standards.
JF: Why do we need to read TITLE?
TH: To fully understand the history of slavery in the U. S., we need to know the role that the denial of marriage and family rights played in preserving the system. Slaves were not allowed to marry legally, although they were allowed to marry informally, at the discretion of slaveholders. The main reason why those relationships were denied legal standing was to preserve enslavers’ preeminent rights to control their chattel property and to profit from the literal reproduction of slaves as capital. Legal marriages granted couples control over women’s sexuality and labor, and parental rights over their children. All of those privileges were associated with freedom and conflicted with the very definition of slavery as an inheritable, permanent system of exploitation.
To fully grapple with the devastation that slavery caused black families, we need to know how they fought against the degradation, how they managed to create meaningful relationships despite the enormous constraints that they were up against. They established their own standards for conjugal relationships, which involved accepting, revising, and even rejecting conventional ideas about marriage. They were always creative, resourceful, and practical in responding to conditions of cruelty and uncertainty of slavery and post-emancipation life.
We now live in a time in which the U. S. Supreme Court has sanctioned marriage equality for all, making marriage rights available to lesbians, gays, and transsexuals. Many people assume that the history of heterosexual marriage has always been a privilege accessible and enjoyed by all straights, but that has not been the case. It took centuries of struggle for African American heterosexuals to achieve marriage equality in the law.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
TH: I became fascinated with history my first year of college. I entered thinking I would become a lawyer, but I became increasingly interested in doing historical research and writing. I had very good teachers in college who opened new ways of thinking about the past, and offered an introduction to primary research, which I had not encountered in high school and fell in love with.
I wrote an honors thesis in my senior year, which confirmed that I wanted to go to graduate school to pursue a Ph.D. Ultimately. I saw doing historical research as an alternative, and a more compelling way, to achieve some of what I wanted to do as a lawyer. I could address some of the travesties of injustice by unearthing stories of common people to paint a more comprehensive and complex portrait of our collective past.
JF: What is your next project?
TH: My next project grows out the epilogue in the book. I’m interested in exploring twentieth century African-American marriage. By the turn of the century, marriage was nearly universal, with blacks marrying slightly more than whites. But that began to change most dramatically starting in the post-World War II era. A racial gap in marriage has widened every decade since. The marriage rates for African Americans declined significantly over the course of the twentieth century. Scholars in other fields, like Sociology, have researched aspects of this trend. I think we need a longer historical perspective to understand the various economic, social, and political factors that have encouraged this decline including growing permanent unemployment, pre-mature mortality rates, and mass incarceration.
JF: Thanks Tera!
A few things online that caught my attention this week:
Do the Democrats have a religion problem?
When a grandmother dies during finals week.
Military bikes and African American history
Can academics recapture the public trust?
Eric Hershthal reviews Fred Kaplan, Lincoln and the Abolitionists: John Quincy Adams, Slavery, and the Civil War. Eric Foner reviews it here.
Rhode Island’s 1780s experiment in radical democracy
Is Bernie Sanders an anti-evangelical bigot?
Prisons and environmental history
A guide for doing research at Oxford University’s Bodleian libraries
Eran Zeknik interviews Robert Parkinson, author of The Common Cause: Creating Race and Nation in the American Revolution
The “spiritual geography” of Black Washington D.C.
Hey Todd Allen, I think you should include something about Ed Sullivan in your Return to the Roots of Civil Rights bus tour.
Here is a taste of an article about a forthcoming documentary titled “Sullivision: Ed Sullivan and the Struggle for Civil Rights”
Ed Sullivan and the Struggle for Civil Rights tells the story of the man who single-handedly changed the face of popular culture and impacted the minds and lives of both his performers and his viewers. This long-awaited, 70-minute documentary takes a surprising look at the man who was once television’s most influential personality. Visit www.mpslegacyproductions.com to learn more.
Suzanne Kay, daughter of the iconic actress and singer Diahann Carroll, and Margo Precht Speciale, granddaughter of Ed Sullivan, are Producers. They will participate in the film festival panel along with Diahann Carroll, Dwandalyn R. Reece, Ph.D., Curator of Music and Performing Arts, National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Ed Sullivan is best known for creating television’s longest running variety show and for introducing The Beatles to America. But he was also a risk-taker who consistently booked African-American artists despite threats from southern sponsors and letters from irate white viewers. He showcased unknown artists who are household names today, and he treated them with grace and dignity at a time when racism was the norm, challenging America to do the same.
Based on interviews with celebrities, Sullivan’s family members, and media analysts, this documentary shines a light on a little known chapter in America’s struggle for racial justice. Harry Belafonte, Diahann Carroll, Berry Gordy of Motown, Diana Ross, Oprah Winfrey, and Whoopi Goldberg are just some of those interviewed as they talk about how the show was a launching pad for their careers and changed their vision of America and America’s vision of African-Americans.
Read the entire article here
Next weekend marks the 154th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. It looks like Gettysburg will once again be a battleground, but this time the “war” is a cultural one, focused on modern debates about free speech, the Trump presidency, and Confederate monuments.
Read Dustin Levy’s piece at the York Daily Record. Here is a taste:
The Gettysburg National Military Park has issued three special use permits for first amendment activities on July 1, according to a Thursday news release.
“As custodians of land owned by the American people, the National Park Service has a responsibility to make that land available for exercising those rights,” Bill Justice, acting park superintendent, said in the release.
“As with any First Amendment activities, Gettysburg National Military Park’s objectives are to provide for public safety, minimize impacts on historic resources of this park, and afford visitors an enjoyable experience.”
The Sons of Confederate Veterans Mechanized Cavalry and Real 3% Risen will gather north of Meade’s Headquarters near 160 Taneytown Road from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The park expects 250 to 500 participants with the Sons of Confederate Veterans and 500 to 1,500 participants with Real 3% Risen, a Facebook group dedicated to protecting American freedoms.
Ski Bischof, of Allentown, helped organize the events with a Facebook event called “Support America and Her History.” Together, they are joining up with the other groups to form a united front against a group that might be there to protest against President Trump and/or the Confederate flag, according to the Facebook event page.
A third group, Maryland Sons of Confederate Veterans, consisting of about 20 people, is planning to march in formation from the North Carolina Memorial to the Virginia Memorial, with small ceremonies along the way, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The events came about, in part, because of unsubstantiated reports of an activist group coming to the battlefield on July 1. The allegations of this group’s intended activities have spread on social media the past couple weeks, infuriating many.
Read the entire article here.
The Fall 2018 meeting of the Conference on Faith and History (CFH) will be meeting at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan from October 4-6, 2018. This year’s conference theme is “History and the Search for Meaning: The CFH at 50. Mark your calendars!
I am happy to report that we have secured the following keynote speakers:
Thursday Night Plenary: Peggy Bendroth, Congregational Library—“The Spiritual Practice of Remembering”
Friday Afternoon Plenary: Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn, Syracuse University—Title TBD
Friday Banquet Speaker: Beth Barr, CFH President
Saturday Morning Plenary: Robert Orsi, Northwestern University, “History and Presence”
I hope to see you all there. Let’s have a record turnout for our 50th anniversary conference. Stay tuned. The Call for Papers will be released in a few months.
Lonnie Bunch, the founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, has turned to the op-ed pages of The New York Times to address the noose found recently at the museum.
Here is a taste of his piece:
The person who recently left a noose at the National Museum of African American History and Culture clearly intended to intimidate, by deploying one of the most feared symbols in American racial history. Instead, the vandal unintentionally offered a contemporary reminder of one theme of the black experience in America: We continue to believe in the potential of a country that has not always believed in us, and we do this against incredible odds.
The noose — the second of three left on the National Mall in recent weeks — was found late in May in an exhibition that chronicles America’s evolution from the era of Jim Crow through the civil rights movement. Visitors discovered it on the floor in front of a display of artifacts from the Ku Klux Klan, as well as objects belonging to African-American soldiers who fought during World War I. Though these soldiers fought for democracy abroad, they found little when they returned home.
That display, like the museum as a whole, powerfully juxtaposes two visions of America: one shaped by racism, violence and terror, and one shaped by a belief in an America where freedom and fairness reign. I see the nooses as evidence that those visions continue to battle in 2017 and that the struggle for the soul of America continues to this very day.
Read the entire piece here.
I also recommend this conversation between Bunch and American Historical Association director Jim Grossman.
Check out John Allen‘s interview with Father Juan Julian Carron, leader of the Catholic movement Communion and Liberation. Carron offers some important reflections on how Christians need to live in this world. I hope the court evangelicals are reading.
Here is a taste:
Allen: Rod Dreher recently argued that Christians should abandon the culture wars in the West because we’ve already lost, and the most we can hope for is a ‘Benedict option,’ meaning creatively preserving small islands of the faith amid a decaying and hostile culture. You too seem to be saying that we should get past the culture wars, without abandoning those positions, but for a different reason.
Carron: Certainly, absolutely. It’s always struck me, the contraposition between trying to make Christianity into a civil religion, on the one hand, and on the other, trying to make it entirely private. To me, it’s like trying to amend the design of God. I ask myself, who would ever have bet that God would begin to reach out to the world by calling Abraham? It was the most unlikely, most confusing, way of going about it anyone could have imagined.
The choice can’t come down to either the culture wars or a Christianity emptied of content, because neither of those options has anything to do with Abraham and salvation history. Abraham was chosen by God to begin introducing into history a new way of living life, that could slowly begin to generate an external reality with the capacity to make like dignified, to make it full.
I imagine that if Abraham were around today, in our minority situation, and he went to God and said, ‘Nobody’s paying any attention to me,’ what would God have said? We know very well what he’d say: ‘That’s why I chose you, to begin posing to reality a presence significant enough, even if no one believes it, that I will make of you a people so numerous that your descendants will be like the stars in the sky.’
When he sent his son into the world, stripped of his divine power to become man, he did the same thing. It’s like St. Paul said, he came to give us the capacity to live life in a new way. That’s what generates a culture. The question for us is whether the situation we’re in today gives us the chance to recover the origins of the design of God.
Allen: You seem fairly optimistic that’s still possible.
Carron: Yes, absolutely. I’m completely optimistic, because of the nature of the faith itself. I’m an optimist based on the nature of the Christian experience. It doesn’t depend on my reading of things, my diagnosis of the sociological situation. The problem is that to be able to start over again from this absolutely original point of departure, we have to go back to the roots of the faith itself, in what Jesus said and did.
If there’s a case for pessimism, it’s that too many times we’ve reduced Christianity either to a series of values, an ethics, or simply a philosophical discourse. That’s not attractive, it doesn’t have the power to seduce anyone. People don’t feel the attractive force of Christianity. But precisely because the situation we’re living in today is so dramatic, from every point of view, paradoxically it’s easier to get across the novelty of Christianity.
Read the entire interview here.
Seth Meyers has some fun while making a stinging critique of Trump and the GOP healthcare bill:
Here is my favorite part of the interview:
JUNTO: When we spoke, you stressed the importance of storytelling as a means of getting a variety of people interested in history. How does storytelling factor into the work that you do? How does it connect to your research and writing?
BENDROTH: I invite a lot of academics to give talks at the Library—we have a monthly “History Matters” series that brings in a mix of people in our downtown area. I get twitchy when a presenter starts talking about “negotiating” and “complicating” and “constructing.” It’s not that these words are bad—they’re great at academic conferences and I love most of them dearly. But (and I’m overstating a bit) the people in our audience profoundly do not care. It’s not that they can’t understand the concepts—I’m sure most of them could—but that’s not why there are there. I think that, like most human beings, they are looking for connection. They want to hear about other human beings, other lives, stories that make someone from the past both totally foreign and utterly familiar.
We should never forget that. I’m not saying that every historian has to be David McCullough or Doris Kearns Goodwin—would that we could sell that many books! But if we can’t explain our ideas in clear simple language that the average person, they we don’t really understand them ourselves.
JUNTO: Any other thoughts on career diversity for Early Americanists?
BENDROTH: I do have a word of caution. Combining the life of the mind with lots of administrative responsibilities is not for beginners! If you do not already have a scholarly agenda, a network of friends, and some solid achievements on your resume, the job will devour you. It is so much easier to answer an email or plan a meeting than it is to think and write. My day is full of 10 to 20 minute slots where I’m waiting for a phone call or between meetings, and I used to think I could (or should) switch over to some more academic intellectual task. It took me way too long to realize that this is ineffective and ultimately exhausting—you can only care about so many things at once. Thinking and writing requires days at a time, a place apart from your office and computer. It sometimes means going for a walk, “wasting” time staring out windows. Scholarly work also means having the support of a visionary board and regular explanations to your staff that “working at home” is not a euphemism for goofing off.
Read the entire interview here.