How Did African Americans Remember the Civil War?

Confederate Charleston

Ashleigh Lawrence-Sanders, a Ph.D candidate in the History department at Rutgers University, tackles this question in a piece at Black Perspectives titled “Beyond Monuments: African Americans Contesting Civil War Memory.”

Here is a taste:

African Americans worked from the end of the war to this current moment to consistently affirm and interpret the Civil War’s meaning for them.  Due to its power and influence, confronting the Lost Cause is a large part of this collective memory.  The Lost Cause movement includes the historical memories, myths, commemorative events, and invented traditions of many white Southerners that first took shape after the end of the Civil War. The Lost Cause was as much about upholding white supremacy as it was about commemorating the white Southern Civil War experience.  It is not incidental, for example, that the Keystone, a publication for Southern white clubwomen and members of the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC) published stories of Confederate heroism alongside dedications to “faithful slaves” and praise for books like Thomas Dixon’s The Clansman.  White Civil War memory has long dominated conversations about how the war is remembered, even now when it involves anti-racist activism.  The idea that “both sides” should be celebrated and honored was largely an invention of white Southerners and Northerners in order to reunite the nation.  African American Civil War memory was sidelined in its service.  As a result, we know considerably less about the long tradition of Black anti-Lost Cause resistance that culminated with Bree Newsome snatching the Confederate flag down from the Statehouse grounds of South Carolina in 2015 and Takiyah Thompson toppling a Confederate monument in Durham, North Carolina on August 14 of this year.

On March 27, 1865 African Americans flooded the streets of Charleston, South Carolina to celebrate the coming end of the Civil War.  The result was a grand spectacle, with dozens of Black men marching while tied to a rope to symbolize those bound in chains while being sold down South. A hearse followed with the sign “Slavery is Dead. Who Owns Him? No one.  Sumter Dug His Grave on 13th April, 1861.” Behind the hearse, fifty Black women marched dressed in mourning clothes, but were laughing and happy. “John Brown’s Body” was a popular song among Black and white Union troops and was commonly sung in the various military parades across the South as Union troops marched in victory.  The school children marching in this parade focused on singing one verse in particular loudly: “We’ll hang Jeff Davis on a sour apple tree . . . As we Go Marching On.”

Read the entire piece here.

 

Black Boston

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Robert Gould Shaw Monument, Boston

The Tufts Center for the Study of Race and Democracy and the Tufts Data Lab are working together to document Boston’s African-American history.  Learn more about the African American Freedom Trail Project in this piece at WBUR.

Here is a taste:

Boston is a city rich in American history. Tourists come here to explore the city’s central role in some of the United States’ pivotal moments. But its historical narrative is whitewashed, often omitting the influence and accomplishments of the city’s African-American community.

That’s according to Kerri Greenidge, who teaches history at Tufts University and the University of Massachusetts Boston. She specializes in the African diaspora in New England and the Northeast.

“If you have the same people tell the story, you’re not going to get recent scholarship that challenges the story we accept,” says Greenidge.

The narrative Boston has accepted, Greenidge notes, doesn’t exactly highlight the African-American influence and experience beyond slavery.

The Tufts Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, where Greenidge is on staff, wanted to help change that. So, together with the Tufts Data Lab, the center embarked on a mission to document significant sites that reflect local African-American history.

Greenidge and Kendra Fields, the center’s director, created a digital map that both tourists and curious locals could use to explore underrepresented but important events in the city’s history.

Read the entire piece here.

Ta-Nehisi Coates and Historians

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After his article “The First White President” appeared in The Atlantic, social critic Ta-Nehisi Coates tweeted:

Coates draws heavily from the work of American history, particularly historians of race and slavery.  I first encountered Coates when he writing blog posts on Edmund Morgan’s American Slavery–American Freedom.  I have been following him ever since.  Whatever one thinks about his views on race in America, Coates has done his homework.

At The Chronicle of Higher Education, Jordan Michael Smith writes about Coates’s relationship with historians.  Here is a taste:

When I spoke with him a few weeks ago, Coates was no less effusive about the significance of scholarship. “I really enjoy talking to historians, for the most part, because there’s so much — this is going to sound elitist but it’s true — there’s just a basic ignorance about facts in American history” among members of the public. He points to recent debates over the Confederacy, spurred by attempts to have monuments of Confederate leaders removed from public spaces. The disputes over whether Confederates were fighting to preserve slavery or states’ rights “would not fly in most history programs in this country,” he says. Even among journalists, he argues, there is a dearth of knowledge about something as crucial to understanding America as the Civil War.

There is in Coates’s work evidence of a fanboyish enthusiasm, an earnest affection for certain people, places, and things. They include rappers (his Twitter avatar is an image from an album by a member of the Wu-Tang Clan), the French language, and comic books. Among the adored are historians, political scientists, and sociologists. “He’s like our biggest supporter, and that’s really refreshing,” says Bryant Simon, a historian at Temple University. “I don’t know anyone else who deliberately” foregrounds a reliance on the work of academics to the same degree.

[Historian Manisha] Sinha describes Coates as “one of those rare writers who can effectively mine historians’ work. He has an intuitive grasp of the issues involved.” What Sinha finds particularly interesting is that Coates will develop his own take based on his reading, making him as much an active participant in the historicizing process as the people he reads.

Indeed, part of what sets Coates apart from other journalists or public intellectuals is that he tells his audience that historians’ works need to be consulted if they want to understand American history. Like any good high-school math student, Coates shows his work, illustrating which history books lead him to his conclusions.

Read the entire piece here.

 

George Moses Horton’s Recently Discovered Prose

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George Moses Horton was an African-American poet enslaved in Chatham County, North Carolina.  Jonathan Senchyne, a book historian at the University of Wisconsin, has discovered a previously unknown essay by Horton entitled “Individual Influence.”

Learn more about Horton and this new find in Jennifer Schuessler’s piece at The New York Times:

The essay, a roughly 500-word sermonlike meditation called “Individual Influence,” was found at the New York Public Library by Jonathan Senchyne, an assistant professor of book history at the University of Wisconsin. The document, which will be published in October in PMLA — the journal of the Modern Language Association — appears to be the first prose essay in Horton’s handwriting to come to light, and one of only a handful of manuscripts in his own handwriting known to survive.

Today, while Horton is still far from a household literary name, he has been celebrated in a growing body of scholarship; in a children’s book; and in Chapel Hill, where the university renamed a dormitory in his honor, as part of continuing efforts to tell a fuller story of its historical relationship with slavery.

Any new text by Horton, scholars say, is a welcome discovery. “We’re unlikely to find much more from him, given his enslaved status,” said Faith Barrett, an associate professor of English at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, who has written about Horton. “It’s really a wonderful find.”

“Individual Influence” is interesting not just for Horton’s lofty, abstract words about the primacy of divine influence, but for the context in which they were preserved: in a scrapbook of material relating to a prominent scholar who was forced out of the university after publicly opposing slavery.

Read the entire piece here.

Clarence Thomas Makes It Into the National Museum of African American History and Culture

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Back in July we wondered why Clarence Thomas was not in the National Museum of African American History and Culture.  Read that post here.

Well, it looks the second African American Supreme Court justice will now get a place in the museum just in time for the celebration of its one-year anniversary.  Bradford Richardson reports at The Washington Times:

Just in time to celebrate its first anniversary, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture has included a display featuring Justice Clarence Thomas, one of the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative stalwarts.

Justice Thomas appears in an exhibit that was installed shortly before the one-year anniversary Sunday, a Smithsonian spokeswoman said Monday. The display honors both of the black justices who ascended to the pinnacle of the legal profession. The other is Thurgood Marshall.

Justice Thomas’ apparent omission irked conservative observers, who suspected an ideological bias among Smithsonian officials and called for the influential jurist’s inclusion in the museum.

Ronald D. Rotunda, distinguished professor of jurisprudence at the Dale E. Fowler School of Law at Chapman University, said Justice Thomas deserves to be recognized for his contributions to constitutional jurisprudence, his record of public service and his inspirational life story.

Read the entire piece here.

Does the National Museum of African American History and Culture Need to “Get Religion”

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My colleague Jim LaGrand teaches courses in African American history, Native American history, and Public History in the Messiah College History Department.  LaGrand recently visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. and has reflected on his visit in the Trinity 2017 issue of The Cresset.  LaGrand’s review of the museum is generally positive, but he believes that it could do a better job covering African American religion.

Here is a taste of his piece:

So what is the difference between the language of the individuals quoted by the museum and the language on the text panels? The words about religion and religious experience from Walker, Turner, and Tubman bristle with energy. In contrast, the words on many of the text panels are vague, abstract, and sterile. Written in the language of “social-science-speak,” these text panels end up flattening and taming religion.

This is wrong, bizarrely wrong even, given the subject matter. In their time, David Walker, Nat Turner, and Harriet Tubman were compelling and notorious. They all divided opinion. More than this, Turner led one of the most ambitious and deadly slave revolts in American history. After receiving the last of his visions in the summer of 1831, Turner and a group of followers killed fifty-five whites in southern Virginia before being caught and executed and initiating a time of white mob violence against local blacks. The various degrees of controversy that Turner and many other museum subjects engendered centered on how they responded to their religious beliefs. Unfortunately, this point is lost in many of the museum’s text panels on the subject. Too many of these panels are tone deaf and biblically illiterate and, as a result, do not help us to better know and understand their subjects.

Yes, African-American Christians (like all Christians) were moved by messages “emphasizing God’s love.” More important, though, was the social levelling in Christianity—that God is no respecter of persons, that he drowns Pharaoh and his army, but rescues his children. The biblical types and patterns that filled the messages, prayers, and songs of Black Christians during the nineteenth century (and since then) are missing from text panels at the museum.

Too often, these panels miss the main point, especially this: even while enslaved, African-American Christians came to know and celebrate their full and equal humanity, and they connected this to being children of God. There is remarkably little mention about this at the museum, nor about the democratic influence of the Second Great Awakening. Instead, visitors read anodyne statements about the “transformative power of religion,” and truly head-scratching lines about how the Bible and gospel songs helped Black Christians “find grace in their communities.”

The language on the text panels on religious topics never seems sure-footed. This leads to some confusion about the role of the church during the civil rights movement. In the exhibit “Upon this Rock—The Role of Black Churches,” a text panel states: “All civil rights organizations recognized the vital importance of Black churches and sought to work with them whenever possible.” The suggestion here is that the movement developed first, by itself, and that then it discovered there were churches and church people to make use of. This gets the role of the church and Christianity in the movement backwards, as many historians have demonstrated.

In general, the museum takes a functional approach to religion and especially to Christianity. Many of the summative statements on text panels suggest that the primary purpose of religion through history was to play a part in making the world a better place and to serve as a vehicle for social movements. This view might be popular in many circles today. But it does not do justice to the experiences of countless religious believers now and in the past. It especially compromises the telling of African-American history.

Read the entire piece here.

The National Park Service and American Amnesia About Reconstruction

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Check out Maura Ewing’s piece at Pacific Standard on the ways the National Park Service is bring the Reconstruction Era to the forefront of America’s historical consciousness. Here is a taste:

During the restive years following the Civil War, the Era of Reconstruction—often referred to as the nation’s Second Founding or the first Civil Rights Movement—America saw a virulent backlash from white supremacists in response to profound political, economic, and educational gains made by African Americans. During these years, more African Americans held office than at any other period in American history; in 2014 Tim Scott became the first African-American United States Senator elected in South Carolina since Reconstruction. Newly freed slaves established churches, schools, and businesses, and negotiated labor contracts with their former owners. Simultaneously, the period saw the re-emergence of the Ku Klux Klan, which used violence to impose a race-based social order where law no longer did; black codes were created to suppress African-American freedom, and segregation was institutionalized. White supremacists lynched an average of two to three African Americans weekly.

In more recent years, a somewhat unlikely agency—the National Park Service—has stepped up to consider how and whether to mark this period by way of national historic sites. In July the NPS released a report, the product of two years of commissioned academic research, detailing what events and locations should be marked for their historic significance relative to the Reconstruction era. It is a call for communities to take the next step and erect markers, with the agency’s support. The NPS’s ambition to have events of this era designated as National Historic Landmarks could have a great effect on the public’s understanding of racism’s pervasive roots in this country—a bold, and important, move for an agency that only recently began to take on the racial complexities of the Civil War.

Read the entire piece here.

 

Slavery and the 1619 Fallacy

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Over at Black Perspectives, Davidson College early American historian Michael Guasco complicates our understanding of the “20. and odd Negroes” who arrived in colonial Virginia in 1619.  He concludes: “Unfortunately, 1619 is not the best place to begin a meaningful inquiry into the history of African peoples in America.”

Here is a taste:

...the most poisonous consequence of raising the curtain with 1619 is that it casually normalizes white Christian Europeans as historical constants and makes African actors little more than dependent variables in the effort to understand what it means to be American. Elevating 1619 has the unintended consequence of cementing in our minds that those very same Europeans who lived quite precipitously and very much on death’s doorstep on the wisp of America were, in fact, already home. But, of course, they were not. Europeans were the outsiders. Selective memory has conditioned us to employ terms like settlers and colonists when we would be better served by thinking of the English as invaders or occupiers. In 1619, Virginia was still Tsenacommacah, Europeans were the non-native species, and the English were the illegal aliens. Uncertainty was still very much the order of the day.

When we make the mistake of fixing this place in time as inherently or inevitably English, we prepare the ground for the assumption that the United States already existed in embryonic fashion. When we allow that idea to go unchallenged, we silently condone the notion that this place is, and always has been, white, Christian, and European.

Where does that leave Africans and people of African descent? Unfortunately, the same insidious logic of 1619 that reinforces the illusion of white permanence necessitates that Blacks can only be, ipso facto, abnormal, impermanent, and only tolerable to the degree that they adapt themselves to someone else’s fictional universe. Remembering 1619 may be a way of accessing the memory and dignifying the early presence of Black people in the place that would become the United States, but it also imprints in our minds, our national narratives, and our history books that Blacks are not from these parts. When we elevate the events of 1619, we establish the conditions for people of African descent to remain, forever, strangers in a strange land.

Read the entire piece here.

 

The Octavius Catto Memorial

CattoI first learned about Octavius Catto about ten years ago when we took our daughters to Philadelphia for a short vacation.  During our visit we took full advantage of the city’s “Once Upon a Nation” storytelling benches.  Professional storytellers at each bench–there are fifteen scattered around the Independence Hall area–tell stories about famous Philadelphians.  I don’t know if the program has changed over the years, but when my kids were young they could get a free carousel ride and an ice cream cone in Franklin Square if they visited all fifteen benches.

I vividly remember one of the “Once Upon a Nation” story tellers (I think it was outside the National Constitution Center) telling my girls the story of Catto’s civil rights activism in Civil War-era Philadelphia

I was thus pleased to see that Philadelphia will be erecting a statue near City Hall to commemorate Catto’s contribution to the city’s history.

Over at Philly.Com, writer Jonathan Lai reports on a recent program for teachers on Catto’s life and his contribution to Philadelphia’s African American history.

Here is a taste:

Catto was murdered in 1871, at just 32 years old. He sought to protect fellow African Americans who were trying to exercise their right to vote, which had just been ratified by the states the year before. But his name had been largely missing from the modern discussion of civil rights, organizers have said.

As he has been brought back into popular consciousness — a sculpture is set to be placed next month on the southern apron of City Hall — the School District of Philadelphia, the Catto Memorial Fund, and the National Archives partnered for Thursday’s event, the first in a yearlong series aimed at helping teachers include Catto in their curricula, the educational counterpart to the physical memorial.

The statue is the first of a named African American on public ground in the city. The work, titled Quest for Parity, will feature the 12-foot-tall bronze statue, a stainless-steel ballot box, and five granite pillars symbolizing streetcars.

“The Catto story is the national story. It is part of the story of our Constitution. It is the story of how ordinary citizens work, some every day, to make the Constitution live,” said V. Chapman Smith, an organizer of Thursday’s event who works at the National Archives and who is on the board of the Catto Memorial Fund.

Read the entire article here.

American Historical Association Issues Statement on Confederate Monuments

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Here it is:

The American Historical Association welcomes the emerging national debate about Confederate monuments. Much of this public statuary was erected without such conversations, and without any public decision-making process. Across the country, communities face decisions about the disposition of monuments and memorials, and commemoration through naming of public spaces and buildings. These decisions require not only attention to historical facts, including the circumstances under which monuments were built and spaces named, but also an understanding of what history is and why it matters to public culture.

President Donald Trump was correct in his tweet of August 16: “You can’t change history, but you can learn from it.” That is a good beginning, because to learn from history, one must first learn what actually happened in the past. Debates over removal of monuments should consider chronology and other evidence that provide context for why an individual or event has been commemorated. Knowledge of such facts enables debate that learns “from history.”

Equally important is awareness of what we mean by “history.” History comprises both facts and interpretations of those facts. To remove a monument, or to change the name of a school or street, is not to erase history, but rather to alter or call attention to a previous interpretation of history. A monument is not history itself; a monument commemorates an aspect of history, representing a moment in the past when a public or private decision defined who would be honored in a community’s public spaces.

Understanding the specific historical context of Confederate monuments in America is imperative to informed public debate. Historians who specialize in this period have done careful and nuanced research to understand and explain this context. Drawing on their expertise enables us to assess the original intentions of those who erected the monuments, and how the monuments have functioned as symbols over time. The bulk of the monument building took place not in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War but from the close of the 19th century into the second decade of the 20th. Commemorating not just the Confederacy but also the “Redemption” of the South after Reconstruction, this enterprise was part and parcel of the initiation of legally mandated segregation and widespread disenfranchisement across the South. Memorials to the Confederacy were intended, in part, to obscure the terrorism required to overthrow Reconstruction, and to intimidate African Americans politically and isolate them from the mainstream of public life. A reprise of commemoration during the mid-20th century coincided with the Civil Rights Movement and included a wave of renaming and the popularization of the Confederate flag as a political symbol. Events in Charlottesville and elsewhere indicate that these symbols of white supremacy are still being invoked for similar purposes.

To remove such monuments is neither to “change” history nor “erase” it. What changes with such removals is what American communities decide is worthy of civic honor. Historians and others will continue to disagree about the meanings and implications of events and the appropriate commemoration of those events. The AHA encourages such discussions in publications, in other venues of scholarship and teaching, and more broadly in public culture; historical scholarship itself is a conversation rooted in evidence and disciplinary standards. We urge communities faced with decisions about monuments to draw on the expertise of historians both for understanding the facts and chronology underlying such monuments and for deriving interpretive conclusions based on evidence. Indeed, any governmental unit, at any level, may request from the AHA a historian to provide consultation. We expect to be able to fill any such request.

We also encourage communities to remember that all memorials remain artifacts of their time and place. They should be preserved, just like any other historical document, whether in a museum or some other appropriate venue. Prior to removal they should be photographed and measured in their original contexts. These documents should accompany the memorials as part of the historical record. Americans can also learn from other countries’ approaches to these difficult issues, such as Coronation Park in Delhi, India, and Memento Park in Budapest, Hungary.

Decisions to remove memorials to Confederate generals and officials who have no other major historical accomplishment does not necessarily create a slippery slope towards removing the nation’s founders, former presidents, or other historical figures whose flaws have received substantial publicity in recent years. George Washington owned enslaved people, but the Washington Monument exists because of his contributions to the building of a nation. There is no logical equivalence between the builders and protectors of a nation—however imperfect—and the men who sought to sunder that nation in the name of slavery. There will be, and should be, debate about other people and events honored in our civic spaces. And precedents do matter. But so does historical specificity, and in this case the invocation of flawed analogies should not derail legitimate policy conversation.

Nearly all monuments to the Confederacy and its leaders were erected without anything resembling a democratic process. Regardless of their representation in the actual population in any given constituency, African Americans had no voice and no opportunity to raise questions about the purposes or likely impact of the honor accorded to the builders of the Confederate States of America. The American Historical Association recommends that it’s time to reconsider these decisions.

This is a very useful statement.  I endorse it.  Thanks to the folks at the AHA for writing it.

National Museum of African American History and Culture Issues Statement on Charlottesville

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It’s been out for about a week now:

We, at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, are saddened by the tragic events in Charlottesville, Va. Our hearts are with the families of the victims—the three who lost their lives, the 35 injured and the millions across the country who are traumatized by this dark chapter in our nation’s history. The violent displays of racism and anti-Semitism are reprehensible. These heinous acts are an assault on our nation’s values and threaten to move our country backward to a time when many had little regard for the principles of fairness, liberty and equality.

Throughout America’s history, we have seen racism and anti-Semitism at work. The terror that shook Charlottesville over the past weekend is the most recent example in a long legacy of violence intended to intimidate and marginalize African Americans and Jews. It is crucial at this time to understand the history of white supremacy as a political ideology and the role of the Ku Klux Klan and other groups in using violence to promote that ideology. 

In the 1920s, the Ku Klux Klan counted between 3 and 6 million members. It advocated “One Hundred Percent Americanism” by attacking Jews, Catholics, African Americans and recent immigrants. Acts of violence and intimidation have been their staple strategies. The Klan has been associated with some of the most infamous murders of the 1950s and ’60s, including those of Henrietta and Harry Moore, Medgar Evers, Viola Liuzzo and the bombing of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church in which four black girls were killed. In the 21st century, Neo-Nazis and other anti-government groups have joined with the Klan in promoting white racial superiority and terrorizing blacks and other minority groups.  

Recognizing the history of violence in support of white supremacy is only part of fully understanding the events of recent days. The white supremacists who gathered in Charlottesville announced that they were there to protect a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. We should consider the political context in which these Confederate statues and monuments have been erected.

According to a recent report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, more than 1,500 symbols of the Confederacy can be seen in public spaces in 31 states and the District of Columbia. These include more than 700 monuments and statues on public property (often courthouse lawns) and at least 109 public schools named for prominent Confederates.

Since 1894, there has been a concerted campaign to commemorate the Confederacy through memorialization and education. Organizations like the United Daughters of the Confederacy, founded in 1894 to “perpetuate the memory of our Confederate heroes and the glorious cause for which they fought,” promoted Confederate monuments, museums and educational activities that emphasized states’ rights rather than slavery as the cause of the Civil War.

It is not surprising then to find that the dedication of Confederate monuments spiked in two distinct time periods: the first two decades of the 20th century and the 1950s and ’60s. The first encompassed the years when states were passing Jim Crow laws disenfranchising African Americans and the second corresponds to the modern civil rights movement. These monuments are symbols that tell us less about the actual Civil War but more about the uncivil peace that followed.

It is often easier to take our attention away from the harsh realities of history. At the National Museum of African American History and Culture, we are committed to bringing history—with all of its pain and its promise—front and center. Only when we illuminate the dark corners and tell the unvarnished truth can we learn history’s lessons and bridge the gaps that divide us.

Our First Summer “Patrons-Only” Episode is Here

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Todd Allen

If you are a patron of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast, you have heard from producer Drew Dylri Hermeling this morning about how to access our first patrons-only summer mini-episode.

Our guest on the episode is Todd Allen, the new assistant Special Assistant to the President and Provost for Diversity Affairs at Messiah College.  Todd is a scholar of the rhetoric of the Civil Rights Movement and wrote his doctoral dissertation on museum interpretations of the Selma to Montgomery March of 1965.

For more than a decade Todd has led “Returning to the Roots of the Civil Rights Bus Tour,” a premier Civil Rights bus tour that takes participants to nearly every major historical site associated with the Movement.  Stops on the tour include Greensboro, NC; Atlanta, GA; Albany, GA; Montgomery, AL; Birmingham, AL; Memphis, TN; and Nashville, TN.  The tour combines historical site and museum visits with lectures, conversations with major Civil Rights Movement veterans, and documentary films.  I took the tour in June 2017 and wrote about it here.

In this episode, Todd talks about the origins of the tour, Civil Rights Movement tourism, his building of relationships with the veterans of the Movement, and a whole lot more.

We are thrilled to share this special episode with our patrons and send it along to all future patrons as well.  Please consider becoming a patron by visiting our Patreon page and making a pledge.

Why Isn’t Clarence Thomas in the National Museum of African American History and Culture?

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Today someone sent me a short article about a pro-life African American group that is critical of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington D.C. because it has excluded “notable figures such as Clarence Thomas, Mia Love, [and] also the title or anything referenced to eugenics….”

There have only been two African American Supreme Court justices and Clarence Thomas is one of them.  I do not know much about Mia Love, but she is the first black female Republican to be elected to Congress.  She is also a Mormon.  And yes, eugenics (as it relates to abortion) is a part of the African American story.

When I first received this article by the Life Education and Resource Network I initially treated it as a piece of political propaganda, but as I read it it peaked my attention enough to see if the organization’s assessment of the new Smithsonian museum was accurate.

Here is what I found:

Yes, Clarence Thomas is largely absent.  I am not sure why.  It would seem he deserves to be there.

It does not look like Mia Love is in the museum.  Having said that, she has only been in Congress since 2015.

I haven’t been able to find anything about how the museum treats eugenics. Can anyone help me out here?  I have yet to visit the museum.

What do you think?  Does the Life Education and Resource Network have a legitimate complaint?

Phillis Wheatley: “On Virtue”

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Michael Monescalchi is a graduate student in English at Rutgers University.  Over at Common-place he reflects on Phillis Wheatley‘s poem “On Virtue” and her engagement with the theology of Jonathan Edwards.

Monescalchi writes: “Wheatley’s saying that her soul touched by Virtue can ‘guide [her] steps” is thus more than just a metaphor for God’s ability to change a converted person’s life: it is an acknowledgment of the immense power that God’s virtuous character can have over a person’s body and soul.”

Here is a taste of this piece:

In agreement with Edwards, Wheatley argues that Virtue is a divine and “sacred” quality (it is “array’d in glory from the orbs above”). Yet Wheatley additionally alludes to Edwards when she asks Virtue to “embrace” her soul and “guide [her] steps to endless life and bliss.” For in Freedom of the Will, Edwards also claims that one’s soul is capable of influencing the way one walks: “And God has so made and established the human nature . . . that the soul preferring or choosing such an immediate exertion or alteration of the body, such an alteration instantaneously follows. There is nothing else in the actings of my mind, that I am conscious of while I walk . . .” The reason that Edwards is conscious of nothing while he walks is because his newly converted soul has suspended “the actings of [his] mind.” By saying that his body only moves as a result of his soul’s and not his mind’s “preferring or choosing,” Edwards argues that when one undergoes a conversion experience and gives one’s self up to God, one no longer has complete control over one’s own body. Wheatley’s saying that her soul touched by Virtue can “guide [her] steps” is thus more than just a metaphor for God’s ability to change a converted person’s life: it is an acknowledgment of the immense power that God’s virtuous character can have over a person’s body and soul. 

This idea that one’s spiritual status is reflected in the way one walks recurs in black evangelical writing in the early-national period, most especially in Lemuel Haynes’s sermons. Like Edwards and Wheatley before him, Haynes, in his 1776 sermon on John 3:3, argues that a converted man “evidences by his holy walk that he has a regard for the honour of God.” Though she was not a minister, Wheatley was, like Haynes, deeply invested in Edwards’s theology and advanced his theory of conversion. Placing Wheatley’s “On Virtue” in dialogue with the writings of other evangelical ministers, black or white, is one of the many ways that scholars can begin to value Wheatley as a formidable theological thinker in the colonial era.

Read the entire piece here.

 

FOUND: The Slave Quarters of Sally Hemings

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Slave manacles from Monticello (Creative Commons)

She was mother to six of Thomas Jefferson’s children.  She was also Thomas Jefferson’s slave.  Archaeologists at Monticello have discovered the living quarters of Sally Hemings.

Here is a taste of a report from NBC News:

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Archaeologists have excavated an area of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello mansion that has astounded even the most experienced social scientists: The living quarters of Sally Hemings, the enslaved woman who, historians believe, gave birth to six of Jefferson’s children.

“This discovery gives us a sense of how enslaved people were living. Some of Sally’s children may have been born in this room,” said Gardiner Hallock, director of restoration for Jefferson’s mountaintop plantation, standing on a red-dirt floor inside a dusty rubble-stone room built in 1809. “It’s important because it shows Sally as a human being — a mother, daughter, and sister — and brings out the relationships in her life.”

Hemings’ living quarters was adjacent to Jefferson’s bedroom but she remains something of an enigma: there are only four known descriptions of her. Enslaved blacksmith Isaac Granger Jefferson recalled that Hemings was “mighty near white . . . very handsome, long straight hair down her back.”

Her room — 14 feet, 8 inches wide and 13 feet long — went unnoticed for decades. The space was converted into a men’s bathroom in 1941, considered by some as the final insult to Hemings’ legacy.

Read the entire news report here.

I am sure Annette Gordon-Reed‘s phone has been ringing today.

Author’s Corner with Mark Goldberg

MarkGoldenberg

Mark Goldberg is an Assistant Professor of History at the University of Houston. This interview is based on his new book, Conquering Sickness: Race, Health, and Colonization in the Texas Borderlands (University of Nebraska Press, 2017).

JF: What led you to write Conquering Sickness?

MG: In graduate school, I became interested in how people in multiracial spaces negotiated power. I am also from Texas, and a particular exclusive set of stories about the 18th and 19th century tend to dominate here, flatting the texture and nuance of Texas history and silencing many narratives.  During research for my master’s thesis, which analyzed Caddo Indian trade in east Texas, I came across many interesting discussions about disease and healing practices that people employed, including peyote and amulets. I also had the opportunity to take a graduate course that traveled around the U.S. West, studying the history of race in the region. We visited the Levi Jordan Plantation in Brazoria, Texas, where archaeologist Ken Brown has led a team that uncovered a curer’s cabin, highlighting the healer’s use of syncretic African and African American healing practices in postemancipation Texas. These experiences pushed me towards the study of health and healing in Texas. 

Health is one of the most basic elements of life, so it offered me a window into popular culture in the 18th and 19th century.  The history of health and healing in Texas addressed my intellectual curiosities and my desire to write against mythic, popular representations of the Lone Star State.  The era that I cover, roughly 1780 to 1880, saw multiple waves of colonization in moments when Native peoples dominated much of the region.  It was ripe for the study of race, popular culture, and power, as different nation-states tried to assert control over Texas, while Comanches and Karankawas held the upper hand in many instances.  Power was fluid in this borderland, so what did cross-cultural interactions and exchanges mean in this place undergoing conquest? 

JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Conquering Sickness?

MG: The desire to build healthy settlements drove Spanish, Mexican, and Anglo conquests of Texas. Spaniards, Mexicans, and Anglo Americans defined healthiness environmentally and culturally, based around perceptions of how people lived, and they differentiated their own “healthy” behaviors racially, against Native and (during Anglo migrations) Mexican “unhealthy” ways of living.

JF: Why do we need to read Conquering Sickness? 

MG: First, I would say, for the stories.  I uncovered many fascinating examples of how individuals treated disease and how they thought about sickness and health.  The first story that caught my eye, which I still find captivating, concerns how the Mexican state of Coahuila and Texas (one state at the time) confronted the 1833 cholera epidemic.  After a series of public health initiatives regulating when people were out and about, how they prepared food, town cleanliness, and leisure activities, failed to stem the tide of disease, the government came to employ a peyote remedy as its official prescription.  How could a nation-state, which was in the process of being built, promote a practice associated with so-called Indian superstition, when to be Mexican at the time meant culturally not Indian?  These types of healing exchanges occurred throughout the century under study, as did state governments’ efforts to legitimize their use of medicine that they simultaneously scorned.  Colonialism was largely about instituting particular ways of living beyond methods of healing, which colonizers in Texas often defined against nonwhite residents. Spanish missionaries, for example, justified conquest by trying to mold Indians into proper, civilized, healthy Catholics. Conversion, and by extension conquest, was not only about spirituality, but also about how one carried oneself. 

I also think it is important to see how a common idea—healthiness—was (and is) defined culturally and how science, which appears objective, has been shaped by local cultures and desires. For example, to live a healthy life in post-1848 Texas meant to embrace white, middle class values—temperance, sedentary agriculture, sexual restraint—showing the close relationship Anglo newcomers drew between morality and health. They often saw Mexicans and Indians as immoral and therefore unhealthy. Ultimately, then, this raises a question relevant today:  in what ways might we define something like healthiness in a culturally, religiously, racially, and sexually loaded manner?     

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

MG:  I was always interested in history, but when I was an undergraduate, I was premed with an art history major for most of college. I only decided not to pursue a medical career and to become an academic historian during my senior year. I realized that my passion was trying to understand histories that never fit into a neat, master narrative. My own family history of multigenerational migrations; Eastern European, Jewish, Latin American, Latina/o, and Texas histories; and U.S. immigration does not easily meld into a dominant national narrative, so perhaps that influenced my interests. I started graduate school focusing on 20th-century U.S. history and ties between the civil rights movement and Latin America. I moved back in time and across regions, but my interest in race and U.S.-Latin American connections continued as I came to study of the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.

JF: What is your next project?

MG: I am bringing together my background in Latina/o history with a new interest in Jewish Studies. Continuing to ask questions about race, ethnicity, national identity, and cultural boundaries, I am examining Jewish Latina/o history and studying the connections among Latina/o, Jewish, and American identities. I am interested in how Jewish Latina/os in the 20th century have used different forms of storytelling—about the colonial past, around food and music—to link those identities. It is also a personal study, allowing me to apply my interests in the American West and borderlands, Latina/o history, and cultural history to my family and community’s story. 

JF: Thanks, Mark!

The Author’s Corner with Tera Hunter

WedlockTera Hunter is Professor of History and 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!

Ed Sullivan and Civil Rights

Supremes

The Supremes on the Ed Sullivan Show, 1966

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