The Author’s Corner with Scott Heerman

51OxW8sArCL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Scott Heerman is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Miami. This interview is based on his new book, The Alchemy of Slavery: Human Bondage and Emancipation in the Illinois Country, 1730-1865 ( University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write The Alchemy of Slavery?

SH:  I began with a question: how do you make a free society? I’m not the first to ask that question, but by focusing on Illinois before the Civil War I found a time and place where we didn’t have a good answer. I knew that slavery existed in Illinois when the French claimed it in the eighteenth century, and that eventually it became a “free state.” Yet I struggled to understand this change, as most of the forces that drove abolition in the north–a powerful free black community, newspapers and pamphlets, religious communities–seemed to be missing. Instead I found that each attempt to abolish slavery in the region, including the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, the first and second state constitutions, state supreme court rulings–failed to accomplish that task. In each instance, what I thought should have abolished slavery led only to a new variation on coerced labor taking root. In light of this I found myself forced to rethink many of the organizing concepts of the scholarship: free states and slave states, radical abolitionists and proslavery fire eaters, gradual and immediate emancipation. That this one very important place could confound so much of the conventional story led me to write The Alchemy of Slavery.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Alchemy of Slavery?

SH:  I argue that we need to set aside the idea that slavery was an institution, and instead we need to approach slavery as an adaptable set of power relationships. Slavery was not a status that people held; masters enslaved people using a wide range of ever-changing coercive practices, which for decades allowed them to reinvent slavery in the face of abolition laws.

JF: Why do we need to read The Alchemy of Slavery?

SH: This book shows that slavery and freedom are both historical processes. It is easy to think of slavery as a fixed status, but this book encourages us to think of it as an every    changing power relationship. As a consequence, slavery could look very different over time: Illinois Indians raided and exchanged their captives, Europeans held African-descended people in lifelong chattel conditions, U.S. settlers in Illinois held African Americans as lifelong, uncompensated, servants, and masters kidnapped free people, turning them into slaves. People in each of these conditions were slaves, and yet their lives looked very different. When we recognize just how adaptable the power to enslave people is we can appreciate many of the hallmarks of American history differently.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

SH: As an undergraduate student, a professor asked me a question that I still think about most days: how do the powerful stay in power? In time, I recognized that various hierarchies existed, both now and in the past, and some of them are seen as legitimate and others of them are seen as unjust. I could not stop wondering: how and why does society sort these various forms of inequality? Most interesting of all: how do kinds of inequality move from just to unjust, from being seen as normative to being seen as an affront to the values of society? It is that question of how the powerful adapt, or don’t, to changing norms in order to stay in power that motivated me to become a historian.

JF: What is your next project?

SH: I am at work on a book project that studies the international kidnapping of freed men and women. I look at cases when enslavers carried freed people, for instance, from the U.S. North to the Caribbean, from the British Caribbean to Havana, and from Haiti to the U.S. South.  It argues that there was a connection between abolition and the rise of more powerful nation states during the early nineteenth century. It is commonplace to argue that Civil War emancipation demanded new forms of state power—chiefly birthright citizenship and Civil Rights legislation that offered a ringing endorsement of black freedom and equality before the law. Yet those developments are almost always cast as a consequence of the wartime experience and crucible of radical reconstruction. Pushing against this trend, my work explores how kidnapping cases inspired new kinds of state action, and pushed ahead new types of governance. As Prime Ministers and Cabinet Secretaries, antislavery activists, and Afro-descended people tangled over these cases they confronted profound questions about the laws of nations. Theories and conceptions of subjecthood and citizenship were at the core of these cases. As various different governments confronted these cases they worked through what it meant to be part of a sovereign nation, and what rights and protections extended to its people.

JF: Thanks, Scott!

The Author’s Corner with William Green

image_miniWilliam Green is Professor of History at Augsburg University. This interview is based on his new book The Children of Lincoln: White Paternalism and the Limits of Black Opportunity (University Of Minnesota Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write The Children of Lincoln?

WG: After 1870, when it seemed that African Americans were about to begin a period of unprecedented freedom with the ratification of the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments, white supremacy grew even more emboldened throughout the South as racial discrimination deepened throughout the North. Notably, all of this happened on the complaisant watch of Republicans who controlled the federal government and had in various ways emancipated and enfranchised the African American in the name of their martyred president. I wanted to know whether a similar dynamic – complaisance in the face of, what Eric Foner termed, “America’s unfinished revolution” – occurred in Minnesota.

I had just finished Degrees of Freedom, which examined the origins of the civil rights in Minnesota, and I found through the experiences of black residents, traits that were similar to what I saw nationally. But that book looked at the history through the experiences of black Minnesotans. The Children of Lincoln sets out to understand the motivations of often well-intended white patrons who amended the state constitution to establish black suffrage only to conclude that they had done their part, failing (or refusing) to acknowledge that voting rights alone did little to secure opportunity (i.e., farms and apprenticeships for skilled jobs) and end racial discrimination (i.e., denied service in restaurants and theatres). And yet, their expectation of gratitude from African Americans had the effect of quashing any chance for candid discussion between supposed black and white friends. I wanted this book to detail why white patrons who had fought for black equality settled for second-class citizenship, not even five years after Appomattox.

To gain insight into this dynamic, I profiled four Minnesotans – a Radical Republican senator whose public service straddled the years of war and reconstruction, an Irish Protestant immigrant farmer who enlisted in the U.S. Colored Infantry, the founder of the postwar women’s suffrage movement in Minnesota, and a St. Paul businessman and church leader who was key to founding Pilgrim Baptist Church, that would become Minnesota’s oldest black congregation. Each profile offers an often overlooked corner of Minnesota history, which, when pieced together, much like a mosaic, detail a uniquely multifaceted portrait of 19th century liberals.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Children of Lincoln?

WG: 1) The paternalism of white “friends”, though seemingly benign, was as duplicitous to black opportunity as the actions of a bigot; and 2) Self-satisfaction with one’s high-minded work was the surest way to watch the purpose and success of that work fade away.

JF: Why do we need to read The Children of Lincoln?

WG: The Children of Lincoln reminds us that after the war, with the massive influx of immigrants, farmer and labor tensions, agitation for women’s suffrage, railroad policy, expansion of industrial growth and monopolies, railroad expansion, the growth of urban centers and relocation of African Americans, the North needed its own policy of reconstruction.

I also think that The Children of Lincoln uniquely examines how little the “friends of black people” understood the nature of racism, and in particular, when blinded by hubris, were unable or unwilling to see it in themselves.

The book’s title is lifted from the address by Frederick Douglass during the dedication of the Emancipation Memorial when he said to the white listeners who had assembled for the unveiling, “You are the children of Lincoln, but we (African Americans) are at best his step-children.” He uttered these words under the likeness of the martyred president standing with outstretched arms over a freed slave forever huddled at his knee, now frozen in bronze. To white observers, the statue seemed majestic but to black onlookers, the statue seemed to commemorate the eternal duty of blacks to be both unequal and grateful to their white patrons. One year after the dedication, Rutherford B. Hayes, the Republican President-elect, withdrew federal troops from the South to mark the end of both reconstruction and federal protection.

The Children of Lincoln examines how the actions of four Minnesotans who did not know each other, came to mirror what the national party leadership did. The book explores how the welfare of the African American came to be the welfare of an abstraction, for “the Children” had allowed the idea of freedom to supplant its reality. As such, I think the book gives an important perspective, and offers issues for discussion on the nature of race relations that carries over to today.

Readers of history – lay and professional – who are interested in Minnesota, Civil War, Dakota War, reconstruction, civil rights, black history, women’s suffrage, and church history, will be interested in The Children of Lincoln.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

WG: I suppose I always had the inclination to be an American historian. Born in Massachusetts and growing up in Nashville and New Orleans, I was surrounded by history and I enjoyed learning about the events of long ago. But those were the days when I was “only” a student of history. It wasn’t until I researched material for what would be my first publication – an account of an 1860 Minneapolis slave trial – when I felt that I had become a historian. I learned the thrill of the hunt, peeling away the layers, going ever deeper into the lives and actions of people who initially only revealed pieces of themselves, discerning how my subject and the larger context affected the other, interpreting the past and acquiring the courage to follow the evidence, honing the skill of engagingly telling the story, trying always to be disciplined, patient and just in doing the work.

JF: What is your next project?

WG: I have a manuscript on the history of liberalism in mid-19th century Minnesota that is being reviewed for publication; and I’m presently working on a biography of an African American woman who was active in the colored women’s club movement and women’s suffrage, and who drafted and successfully lobbied for passage of an anti-lynching bill in 1921.

JF: Thanks, William!

The Author’s Corner with Loren Schweninger

9780190664282Loren Schweninger is Professor Emeritus of History at UNC Greensboro. This interview is based on his new book Appealing for Liberty: Freedom Suits in the South (Oxford University Press, 2018).

JF: What led you to write Appealing for Liberty?

LS: For many years I have been interested in freedom suits in the South, beginning in 1970 when I discovered a suit for a family–Thomas/Rapier–that became the basis for my doctoral dissertation at the University of Chicago on James Rapier and Reconstruction.  During the period 1991 thru 2009 I headed a project titled “The Race and Petitions Project” at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (now on line at the University with some 60,000 “hits” each month and part of Proquest’s Slavery and the Law Collection”. Most of the freedom Suits in this study come from this collection.

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of Appealing for Liberty?

LS: The book argues that African Americans were involved in contacting lawyers and bringing the suits to court and that to a surprising degree many among them are successful, in about three fourths of the cases. 

JF: Why do we need to read Appealing for Liberty?

LS: Anyone interested in the African American experience, race relations, and the coming of the Civil War should be interested in this volume.

JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?

LS: I became an American historian in 1966 under to tutorship of John Hope Franklin, a life-long mentor and friend. I’m now a professor emeritus, retired in 2012, at the University where I taught African American history for forty years.

JF: What is your next project?

LS: With regard to my next project I’ve been thinking about an examination of Slavery and Freedom in the District of Columbia, but this is in its very early stages.

JF: Thanks, Loren!

W.E.B Du Bois Forum at *Black Perspectives*

Du Bois

This week, for the anniversary of Du Bois‘s death on August 27, 1963, the editors of the online magazine Black Perspectives have republished an online forum on Du Bois that originally appeared in February.  The forum includes short pieces from Whitney Battle-Baptiste, Edward Carson, Roopika Risam, Lavelle Porter, and Philip Luke Sinitiere.

Here is a taste of Carson’s piece, “Race, Religion and Radicalism: King and Du Bois“:

King is largely remembered for having a dream. And while his “I Have a Dream” speech and other rhetorical flourishes stand at the pinnacle of what Americans know about him, his objectives remain unrealized. King articulated a radical socialist message, still unheard and often disputed, due to his anti-poverty, anti-materialism, and anti-war convictions, perspectives shaped within the framework of challenging American capitalism. Like Socrates, King’s teachings threatened the ruling class and the pervasive comfort of liberals. Today’s proclamation of King, witnessed recently in the appropriation of his words for a Super Bowl LII commercial, presents a revisionary tale. Months before King’s assassination, his assault on capitalism earned him a rebuke by many Black folks, who did not care for his evolving vision in challenging the economic inequalities promulgated by capitalism, and still more white folks, who expressed a disdain toward him.

Du Bois, on the other hand, was a global intellectual within a radical leftist framework; he fought for the liberation of peoples in the darker lands, as well as those occupied by the oppressive forces of capitalism. Du Bois persistently juxtaposed the American race problem with the endemic forces of global imperialism and capitalism. “The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line”: a recasting of that sentence’s inaugural iteration—most famously published in The Souls of Black Folk, but also the concluding sentence of the “To the Nations of the World,” collectively constructed by those attending the Pan-African Congress of 1900. We must also recognize that Du Bois’s radical evolution started with the Russian Revolution (1917). In seeking a solution to Black oppression, he became aware of his inner Bolshevism when and proclaimed, “I am a Bolshevik” after a 1926 visit to the Soviet Union. One must not attempt to recount Du Bois’s life and legacy just as a Pan-Africanist or civil rights activist, which society has done to King, but measure Du Bois and his internal struggles and maturation as an evolving radical and eventual member of the Communist Party USA (CPUSA). While King and Du Bois shared much in working for a reconfiguration of society, only Du Bois proclaimed in a pronounced fashion his full radicalness, leaving questions about King up for interpretation. Yet, both men had a dream and that dream was a society removed from capitalism’s despair.

Read the rest here.

William & Mary Will Honor Black Americans Enslaved by the School

William and Mary

William & Mary is the latest college to face-up to its legacy of slavery.  Here is a taste of Joe Heim’s article at The Washington Post:

The College of William & Mary is seeking ideas for a memorial to black Americans who were enslaved by the school or whose work as slaves enriched it.

The public university in Williamsburg, Va., 150 miles south of Washington, announced an open competition for memorial concepts as part of the school’s ongoing effort to address its historical reliance on slavery.

“This memorial is such an important project for our community,” President Katherine A. Rowe said in a statement. “African-Americans have been vital to William & Mary since its earliest days. Even as they suffered under slavery, African-Americans helped establish the university and subsequently maintained it.”

Founded in 1693, William & Mary is the country’s second-oldest university — only Harvard is older — and for more than half of its existence, it relied on slave labor and participated in the buying and selling of enslaved people, according to university documents.

The memorial project continues work that began in 2007 when a student assembly resolution called on the university to research its history of slavery and make the information public, said Jody L. Allen, an assistant professor of history at the university and director of the Lemon Project, which explores William & Mary’s role as a slaveholder and, later, a supporter of Jim Crow laws.

Read the rest here.

The “First Africans Tour” at Historic Jamestowne

jamestown

2019 is the 400th anniversary of the first Africans to arrive in the Jamestown colony.  The Historic Jamestowne historical site is commemorating the arrival of these Africans and the legacy of slavery in the settlement with its “First Africans” tour.  Learn more in this Associated Press article.

A taste:

On a recent afternoon, tour guide Justin Bates pointed to the spot where historic Jamestown’s legislature first convened in July 1619. He then gestured toward a spot nearby where some of the first slaves in English North America arrived a few weeks later.

“Freedom over there,” Bates told visitors near the banks of Virginia’s James River. “Slavery over here.”

Jamestown has long been associated with the legend of Pocahontas and more recently as a place where a harsh winter turned some colonists into cannibals. But the historic site is now offering a regular tour that encourages visitors to consider the beginnings of American slavery.

The “First Africans” tour is the first of its kind at Historic Jamestowne, a heritage site at the location of the 1607 James Fort. But it’s part of a much larger reckoning over slavery, an institution that took root in England’s first permanent colony 12 years after its founding.

In January, President Donald Trump signed into a law the “400 Years of African-American History Commission Act.” It requires a commission to develop programs that acknowledge the Africans arrival in 1619 and slavery’s impact.

Meanwhile, Virginia has launched its 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution. It recognizes the first English-style legislature in North America in Jamestown and other historical milestones from four centuries ago, including the Africans’ arrival.

In 1619, the Africans came on two ships, the White Lion and the Treasurer, that had recently raided what’s believed to have been a Spanish slave vessel in the Gulf of Mexico. Sailing into the Chesapeake Bay to what is now Hampton, Virginia, the ships traded more than 30 Africans for food and supplies.

Read the rest here.

Court Evangelical Eric Metaxas Continues to Play Fast and Loose With American History

Eric Metaxas is one of the court evangelicals in attendance tonight at the White House.  Here he is with Mike Pence:

Metaxas at Party

Earlier tonight, Metaxas tweeted this:

Metaxas Tweet

I am thankful to several folks who sent this tweet to me.  Eric Metaxas blocked me from seeing his Twitter feed after I wrote a multi-part series criticizing his fast-and-loose (and mostly erroneous) use of American history in his book If You Can Keep It.  You can read that series, and Metaxas’s dismissal of it, here.

Just a few quick responses to this tweet

1. There were some founding fathers who might be described as “evangelical.”  They included John Witherspoon, John Jay, Roger Sherman and Samuel Adams.  But just because a given founder was an evangelical does not mean that he was indispensable to the American Revolution or that his evangelical faith informed the quest for independence from Great Britain.  I have written extensively about the myth of an evangelical founding in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction.  But perhaps Eric Metaxas is suggesting, as he did in If You Can Keep It, that there was a direct correlation between the First Great Awakening (an evangelical revival in the 1740s) and the American Revolution.  I critiqued that view here.  The bottom line is this:  The American Revolution would have happened with or without American evangelicals.

2. Evangelicals were very active in the abolitionist movement, but so were non-evangelicals.  The question of whether abolitionism would have happened without evangelicals is a debatable point.  For a nuanced picture–one that treats religion fairly–I suggest you read Manisha Sinha’s excellent book The Slave’s Cause: A History of Abolition.  We also interviewed her on Episode 16 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.

3.  The idea that the Civil Rights Movement would not have occurred without evangelicals is absurd.  While there were certainly black preachers involved who might be labeled “evangelical,” most of the clergy who led the movement were deeply shaped by the Black social gospel.  White evangelicals in the South defended segregation.  White evangelicals in the North did not have a uniform position on civil rights for African-Americans.  The white evangelicals associated with magazines like Christianity Today did little to advance the movement.  Some good stuff on this front comes David Chappel in A Stone of Hope: Prophetic Religion and the Death of Jim Crow. Chappel’s student, Michael Hammond, has also done some excellent work on this front.  Mark Noll’s God and Race in American Politics: A Short History also provides a nice introduction.

4. If you are a fan of the Reagan Revolution, I suppose you could make the argument that conservative evangelicals had a lot do with it.  The 1980s was the decade in which evangelicals made an unholy alliance with the Republican Party.  There are a lot of good books on this subject.  I would start with Daniel K. Williams, God’s Own Party: The Making of the Christian Right.  I also write about this story in Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump and Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?

Don’t get me wrong–evangelicals have played an important role in the shaping of our nation.  I recently wrote about this in a piece at The Atlantic.  You can read it here.

An African-American Evangelical on the Brett Kavanaugh Nomination

 

Kavanaugh

President Donald Trump announces xxxxx as his Supreme Court nominee, in the East Room of the White House, Monday, July 9, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

John C. Richards, the Managing Director of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, is not overjoyed about Donald Trump’s pick of Brett Kavanaugh to replace the retired Anthony Kennedy.  Here is a taste of his piece at Christianity Today:

This tenuous relationship between judicial appointments and partisanship is why I am less excited about Kavanaugh’s nomination—especially when couched in terms of conservatism. While a more conservative court may be good for America, it hasn’t always been good for Blacks in America.

For many Black Christians, conservative strategies have historically had a disparate impact on our communities.

In Dred Scott vs. Sandford, a conservative court previously held that people of African descent could not be U.S. citizens. For the record, in the history of the Supreme Court, the Dred Scott case is regarded as the court’s worst decision.

Conservative strategies created the War on Drugs in the 1990s that has led to the U.S. far outpacing any other nation in the world in mass incarceration rates—which has resulted in a disproportionate amount of people of color in prisons across our country.

The truth is that many Black Christians aren’t so much looking for a more conservative court as they are looking for a more fair and neutral court—devoid of political influence.

Tempered Celebration

Ultimately, I want to encourage my White brothers and sisters in Christ to temper their celebration a bit. To be fair, many Black Christians would render a hearty amen to right to life and religious freedom issues that led many White Evangelicals to vote the way they voted in November 2016.

But let me be clear here. If there’s any concern about the Black exodus from Evangelicalism, we need to be sure that right to life is a womb-to-tomb issue—valuing human life and rights from conception to death.

We need to be sure that religious freedom and free speech extends to athletes who silently protest social issues in public spaces. We need to call out the hypocrisy of NFL owners who ask athletes to “just play football” and turn around and endorse federal judicial nominations on team Twitter accounts.

To make this nomination about Roe and dough (i.e. the religious freedom highlighted in the Christian baker case) ignores other essential issues Christians should care about—including immigration, health care, and labor laws.

Read the entire piece here.

African American Anglicans

Curry

In the wake of bishop Michael Curry’s sermon at the recent royal wedding, Grant Shreve offers us a brief introduction, with scholarly links, to the African American experience in the Anglican Church.  Here is a taste of his piece at JSTOR Daily:

Curry’s message was made all the more urgent and vital by the fact that the history of the Anglican Church in America—which came to be called the Protestant Episcopal Church here—is marred by centuries of complicity and neglect on matters of race. Indeed, as historian Robert A. Bennett has argued, black Episcopalians have had to struggle mightily to maintain their “ethnic-racial identity in a larger Church body which has not readily acknowledged [their] presence.”

This lamentable history began in the eighteenth century when the Anglican Church devised one of the first concerted efforts to evangelize to slaves. In 1701, it established the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (SPG), an organization whose mission was to spread the Christian gospel to non-Christian peoples across the globe—including American Indians and enslaved Africans. Although the message of its early missionaries did not fully distinguish between spiritual and political freedom, the SPG eventually caved to the demands of slaveholders and preached a theology maintaining that “conversion did not . . . imply manumission.”

Read the entire piece here.

Cushwa Center Seminar on Judith Weisenfeld’s *New World A-Coming*

Here is a taste of Ben Wetzel’s summary of the event:

The Seminar in American Religion convened on March 24, 2018, to discuss Judith Weisenfeld’s prize-winning book, New World A-Coming: Black Religion and Racial Identity during the Great Migration (NYU Press, 2016). About 80 people attended the seminar, which was moderated by Thomas Kselman, professor emeritus of history at the University of Notre Dame.

Weisenfeld is the Agate Brown and George L. Collord Professor in the department of religion at Princeton University and has written several other major studies analyzing African American religious experiences in the early 20th century. The seminar’s commentators included Paul Harvey, distinguished professor and presidential teaching scholar in the department of history at the University of Colorado Colorado Springs; and Jennifer Jones, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Notre Dame.

In 2017, New World A-Coming received the Albert J. Raboteau Book Prize for the best book in Africana religions. Raboteau (Weisenfeld’s colleague at Princeton, now emeritus), while studying most facets of African American religions, tended to focus on Protestant and Catholic Christianity. New World A-Coming, by contrast, highlights smaller religious groups like the Nation of Islam, the Moorish Science Temple, the Ethiopian Hebrew congregations, and the Peace Mission of Father Divine. These movements merged religious and racial identity, offered stark contrasts to mainstream Christianity, provided hope and vision to their adherents, and flourished in the urban north during the Great Migration even while they remained on the margins of American religious life as a whole.

Read the entire piece here.

The Blues Is Not “Slave Music”

charley-patton-large

Bluesman Charlie Patton

I learned a lot from Lamont Pearley Jr.’s piece at Black Perspectives on the historical roots of blues music.  Here is a taste:

Contrary to what some people believe, the blues is not “slave music.” Although it was cultivated by the descendants of slaves, the blues was the expression of freed African Americans. The Great Migration directly influenced the blues’ many evolutions. As Black people moved from the South to northern cities, the music reflected the new urban terrain in which the people set up communities. However, the general belief that the blues comes out of slavery lasts to this day, passed down from its predecessors, including the Black SpiritualsSlave SecularsCorn Ditties (also known as “Field Hollers” and “Corn-Field Ditties”), and String music. As a folklorist who performs the traditional style of blues music, I have had the opportunity to speak with and interview many who revere the blues, yet are misinformed about the culture and experience of the blues people who created the musical expression.

The beginnings of the blues can be traced to the late 1860s, arguably the most vicious and violent period in the United States. Vigilante justice was at an all-time high, and by 1889, the lynching of African Americans surged dramatically. The bluesman and blueswoman emerged in this difficult period, along with the stories of folk heroes translated to song and the new venues in which the music would be performed. The blues did not speak of the life of the enslaved but of the experiences of freed men and women during the periods of Reconstruction and Jim Crow. It spoke of cotton bales/gins, boll weevil, juke houses, and sharecropping. Farming and sharecropping were the starting places for most of the legendary blues musicians celebrated today, including Charlie PattonRubin LaceySon HouseHowling WolfMuddy Waters and the most famous in recent generations, B.B. King.

Read the rest here.

My Review of Gary Dorrien’s *Breaking White Supremacy*

DorrienThe Christian Century just published my review of Gary Dorrien’s Breaking White Supremacy: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Black Social Gospel.

Here is a taste:

Pick up any general survey of Christianity in America and turn to the section on the social gospel. It is likely that the narrative will be dominated by the names of two white pastors: Washington Gladden and Walter Rauschen­busch. Along with some other lesser-known white social gospel Prot­estants, they sought to Christianize America through reforms, government programs, and voluntary societies de­signed to address poverty, disease, immorality, and all forms of injustice resulting from industrialization, urbanization, and immigration.

It is highly unlikely that the names Mordecai Johnson, Benjamin Mays, or Howard Thurman appear alongside Gladden and Rauschenbusch in the typical textbook narrative. But according to Gary Dorrien, these leaders of the black social gospel movement represented an intellectual tradition in American Chris­tianity that was “more accomplished and influential” than the white movement led by Gladden and Rauschenbusch.

Read the rest here.

Kanye West’s #SlaveryWasAChoice Rant in Historical Context

Here is Kanye’s appearance on TMZ:

A lot of historians are weighing-in on Kanye’s misinformed and generally incoherent ramblings.  Over at Slate, Rebecca Onion puts it all in context.  Here is a taste of her piece “Kanye’s Brand of ‘Freethinking’ Has a Long, Awful History“:

Kanye West’s “freethinking” condemnation of generations of enslaved people’s failure to rebel is drawn—whether he knows it or not!—from a dangerous ideology that’s older than the United States. Twitter has spent the past few days dragging West for his willful ignorance, and #SlaveryWasAChoice has already made the absurdity of his comments abundantly clear. But West’s particular approach to history—projecting his own self-concept and psychology onto people long dead, without giving a thought to the complexity and pitfalls of such an enterprise—is a temptation we all indulge in, from time to time. Let’s use West’s outlier example to remember how harmful it can be.

First, there’s the long history behind the argument “slavery is a choice.” Before the American Revolution, Francois Furstenberg writes in In the Name of the Father: Washington’s Legacy, Slavery, and the Making of a Nation, white Americans pushing for independence from Britain argued that people “proved their virtue by maintaining their freedom; they proved their lack of it by submitting to slavery.” There are constant invocations of the word slavery in slaveholding colonists’ assessments of their relationship to the Crown. This looks painfully ironic to the contemporary eye, but the colonists, Furstenberg argues, were thinking through the nature of freedom—deciding who was meant to be free, and who was not.

After the Revolution, the “conceptual opposites” of slavery and freedom were increasingly “moralized,” as Furstenberg puts it. This framework “helped promote the idea that a virtuous person would resist slavery, even at the cost of life itself.” As the 19th century began, Americans who might otherwise have been uneasy with the continuation of the institution of slavery in a proudly republican nation convinced themselves that the enslaved people had given what Furstenberg terms “tacit consent” to remain in their positions. This is what drove contemporary apologists to mention, over and over, enslaved people’s affection for their masters—to tell, again, the story that Washington’s whole household cried and grieved when he died. (You’ll still see this idea of the “happy slave” circulate among slavery apologists today.)

Read the rest here.

Two New Sites Dedicated to the History of Lynching Open in Montgomery, Alabama

Lynching

April 26, 2018 marks the opening of two public history sites in Montgomery, Alabama:  The Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.  Both sites are operated by the Equal Justice Initiative, Bryan Stevenson’s non-profit organization dedicated to providing legal services to prisoners who may have been wrongfully convicted of crimes.  You can learn more about Stevenson here.  He is perhaps best known for his book Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption.

Here is a round-up of articles devoted to the grand openings of these two sites:

NPR

Washington Post

New York Times

Los Angeles Times

The Conversation

VOX

Time

Montgomery Advertiser

CBS News

The Poet Laureate of the 1969 Miracle Mets

Ed Charles

If you are a New York Mets fan, a general baseball fan, a poet (it’s National Poetry Month), or a student of the African-American experience you must read Gettysburg College historian Tim Shannon‘s recent Penn Live (Harrisburg Patriot-News) piece on Ed Charles.  (I should also add that Shannon will be our guest on Episode 36 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast.  It drops tonight).

I was too young to see Ed Charles play third base for the Mets (1967-69), but I have fond memories watching him play in the “Miracle Mets” highlight footage that WWOR (Channel 9) used to show during Mets rain delays in the 1970s.

Tim Shannon is one of the few writers who can connect Ed Charles’s poetry to Phillis Wheatley and the Atlantic slave trade.

Here is a taste of his op-ed:

Ed Charles, the third baseman for the “Miracle Mets” team of 1969, died last month at the age of 84.

When the New York Times ran his obituary, it included several photos, including two shots of Charles on the field. One showed him diving for a ball with the agility that earned him his nickname, “The Glider.” 

Another showed him leaping with joy along with pitcher Jerry Koosman and catcher Jerry Grote after the Mets recorded the final out of the ’69 World Series.

These two shots of Charles in action on the diamond were accompanied by a very different one of him taken in the Shea Stadium locker room in 1967, not long after he had been traded to the Mets by the Kansas City A’s. 

Charles sits on stool by his locker, dressed in his uniform, with a pad of paper on his knee and a pen in his hand He looks away from the camera, his eyes raised above the horizon. The photographer, it would seem, has caught “The Glider” in a different kind of action. 

Rather than being in mid-air, he is in mid-thought. 

Charles was a locker room poet. 

Read the entire piece here.  Here is Charles the poet:

cHARLES pOET

 

Martin Luther King and the Televangelist

Michaux

Elder Michaux (on the far right) at the White House with boxer Jersey Joe Walcott (second from left)

This is a fascinating piece.  Over at Religion & Politics, Washington University professor Lerone Martin shows how the FBI used Elder Lightfoot Solomon Michaux, a popular black radio preacher and televangelist, to discredit Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement.

Here is a taste:

In an FBI memo following the historic March on Washington, the FBI labeled King “the most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country” and the nation’s top domestic security risk. The bureau had no evidence that King was a communist; in fact, the FBI concluded King and the civil rights movement he led were too religious to be influenced by communism. Contrary to the evidence, though, Hoover persisted in believing King had fallen under the influence of godless communism. King was leading the nation “in a form of racial revolution,” so he had to be stopped. On the same day the memo was drafted, the FBI sought Michaux’s help. The evangelist immediately launched a coordinated public critique against King and the gospel the civil rights minister preached. Michaux preached a radio sermon from the nation’s capital on CBS Standard and FM radio affiliates. The homily opposed the March on Washington and King’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech. Michaux used the Lord’s Prayer from the Gospel of Luke as his sermon text, proclaiming that King’s dream of racial equality would only materialize when God’s rule was established in the hearts of men. “Yes, righteousness will flow like a mighty stream,” Michaux said, quoting King. However, he qualified, it would only happen “when the kingdoms of this world become the Kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ—but not until then according to God’s Word.” Advocating for legislative change was futile, according to Michaux; changing hearts was the only way to bring about racial equality. He closed the sermon by telling his listeners to cease marching and simply “seek to do the will of God and be blessed.” It was one thing to hear this from white evangelists like Billy Graham, but it was a weightier matter to hear it from a pioneering black cleric.

Read the entire piece here.

Here is an example of Michaux in action: